Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hiatus (definitely) over!

July was a month of transition. A new job, no school, tons of small projects, and tons of catching up to do. However, the hiatus from working in and around the house came to an unceremonious end, as we kicked the work into high gear to get ready for next weekend. More info to come, along with pictures of our dining room renovation!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exterior progress, and priming for a start on the interior

The garden is chugging along! We're gathering notes on improvements that we want to make, and are planning for the fall season and for next spring. A few more raised beds, a ground plot, and a greenhouse are all planned for the future!

We're starting to get some small fruits of our labor, but the late start due to a late freeze, and the drip irrigation not being installed until the end of May led to a late harvest. We're hoping to get a bit more out of the garden before the heat kills everything.

On the inside, we're still in a holding pattern, waiting for funding and time to do some more work. We're looking to start with re-drywalling the entryway and dining room (and checking for any termite damage), and then getting new trim up in the living area. We're beginning to formulate a kitchen remodel plan, but don't know exactly when that will happen. Perhaps next spring?

I've been a bit busy over the last few weeks fixing some plumbing issues. The faucet had started leaking in the master bath, and so I had to replace it. As part of that, I needed to replace the drain pipe as well. Upon further investigation, I realized that I needed to replace all of the drain under the sink, all the way to the wall!

Here are a few tips from that experience:
  • There is ALWAYS a proper pipe for the thing you need to do... don't compromise and silicone things together (this is why I decided to replace the whole thing... there was a pretty sketchy silicone job on one of the joints)
  • Avoid rubber adapters like the plague. If you need to use a flexible line, make sure it's the same diameter at both ends. 
  • Also, avoid vinyl flex line... It's practically impossible to get a watertight seal!
  • Plumber's putty makes a better seal than silicone, in my experience. The first run-through, the silicone didn't adhere to the drain nor the sink. The second run-through had no leaks using plumber's putty
  • Assemble the entire thing outside the sink before trying to install it. You'll find so many issues doing that.
  • Get a pile of towels and a bucket or two... water will leak, and it will soak into the cabinet.
  • There is a right direction and a wrong direction for the little plastic O-rings between the pipes. If you get it right, it's watertight. If you get it wrong, you can tighten it to Hulk-like tightness, and it will still leak.

One of the big outdoor things that needs to happen ASAP is a trellis structure between the raised beds. Currently everything is growing on the ground, and while that is OK, it would be so much nicer to have the cucumbers, squash, beans, and tomatoes growing up rather than out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Good Recipe: Grilled Zucchini

This was a good recipe we had last night alongside crab legs. I think it could have used a little more marinating time, but overall it was a good recipe.

4x Zucchini sliced longways
Pinch of salt
Olive oil (enough to coat the zucchini when marinating)
Fresh basil leaves, torn
roasted garlic, minced

Freezer bag

1) Slice the Zucchini and place into the freezer bag
2) Add olive oil, salt, and garlic to the bag
3) Tear the basil leaves and add to the bag
4) mix the marinade around in the bag and let sit for an hour or so (I didn't do this step, and it still turned out ok, just a little bland
5) Set the grill to a medium-high heat
6) place the zucchini on the grill and let it cook
7) flip the zucchini and let cook for a bit longer
8) Serve hot.

Monday, June 2, 2014

To-Do List for this summer: Indoors becomes a priority again

As of early this year, we had put a hold on major indoor projects, because the outdoor projects needed to be finished before the summer heat took hold. Now that we have raised beds, drip irrigation, no giant pile of branches next to the patio, and producing blackberry bushes, we can focus more on the interior work. The only major exception is a sun shade that needs to be installed over the tomatoes, but that will be 30 minutes' worth of work.

The interior work will consist of a few major projects and a bunch of minor ones. The major projects are
1) entryway/sitting room remodel - The project is almost done in the entryway, but I am not entirely happy with the results. I had bought the incorrect thickness drywall, and it doesn't look quite right. Since we are tearing out the drywall in the sitting room anyway, we may as well tear out the small parts that were installed incorrectly and redo those as well. Once all of that is torn out, I'll take stock of any additional termite damage, fiberglass insulation that needs replaced, and electrical rerouting to be done before closing the walls back up and painting them. Further, there is still a small piece of footer that needs to be removed in the new entryway opening, and a row of wood flooring needs to be added to cover the hole.

2) Trim - Since we tore out the wood paneling, much of the baseboards and the trim went along with it. This needs to be remedied, and will be replaced after the entryway project

3) Cozy Room Fan - I hated that fan so much that I tore it out before having all the materials needed to replace it. We have a new fan, but I want to rewire the outlet to have independent fan and light switches. This will be a relatively minor project, but will involve traipsing around the attic for an afternoon.

4) Mantle - Ever since we ripped out the old mantle, we've been looking for a new one. We'll look to find something to serve as a mantle this summer, and install it once we find it.

5) Paint and resurface various pieces of furniture - Lauren's main solo project this summer is painting and resurfacing a few chairs and cabinets that she has found at sales and flea markets.

Beyond the main projects, we also have some side projects involving plumbing, patching holes in walls, replacing light fixtures, massive amounts of portrait/picture/painting hanging, and rehoming some furniture. We are planning for a garage sale in August, so it's hard to find temporary storage room at the moment. We're hoping to remedy some of that, but it would be nice to hang some shelving, clear out the shed/organize it, and find final homes for much of the stuff in the house.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Traveling and not worried about it!

Things are growing well, especially now with the drip irrigation system fully installed and set on a timer. The potato cages have made the potatoes into superstars! They've grown about 6 inches even since the above photos were taken! I'm going to add a shovel full of compost to each in order to promote more tuber growth, but I'm super happy with the results in the potato cages! 

The rest of the vegetable garden have similarly grown a bit since the photo, but you can see the little black drip irrigation tubes running through all the beds. They're doing a great job keeping the plants green and growing! We've got some small veggies on the way soon! 
First Bell Pepper of the season!

The kitten got into the compost, trying to figure out why we're throwing all the perfectly good food in the yard!

I got the irrigation done just in time, as we've been traveling, and will be traveling for the next 2 weeks! We went to the Indy 500, and Lauren loved the track tenderloin!

The tenderloin is a meal just itself!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finally Have Time!

After 8 months of law school, I'm finally free!!! Even in the first weekend, we have accomplished a ton! I got a full mowing of the yard, front and back, even under the brush pile! The brush pile is now two smaller "needs chainsaw" piles, and the chainsaw just needs to be cleaned out and refueled to get all the gunky old gas out of it. We had a good, but very fast and hot bonfire to get rid of the rest of the brush, and may have a smaller one to get the remnants of the chainsaw pile later on.

The garden is looking good! We're already getting tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplant growth, so we'll see if they stay. Only one strawberry plant has survived so far, but I may try to plant some more dormant ones and see if the late planting will survive the heat of the summer. The berry patch is producing like wild! There are hundreds of blackberries ready to start ripening, most from the plants that came with the house! The new raspberries are too young to fruit, but I'm hoping for a good fall season with a few berries from those plants. My transplanted thornless blackberry was cut way back on transplant, and thus only has one flower on it. I'm looking forward to seeing how that one tastes! Finally, blueberries may form on the blueberry bush, but not too many, as the bush is still tiny.

The orchard is looking pretty good. The nectarine tree got scorched by the bonfire, but not badly enough do to permanent damage, just a little leaf wilting. It should be fine within a few days (especially with the rain we've gotten this week). The only tree without ample leaves at this point is the peach tree, but the tree is alive, and must be growing the roots out this year. We may see some foliage by fall, but my hopes of that aren't super high.

I've got an experiment growing in 3 glass cups in the kitchen. I bought the saddest, most wrinkly little organic sweet potato, and am trying to get a root ball growing out of 3 segments of it. I will then plant those segments in a cylinder like the red and yellow potatoes, and see if we can get a good crop this summer! Hopefully, if all these plants grow to fruition, we'll have too much food come July!

Beyond that, we did some major cleaning, inside and out, preparing for a Mother's Day lunch, which was a fun time! We're going to start focusing on the entryway and interior work again very soon! The next step is to tear out the 1/4" drywall that is currently up on the reframed opening in the entryway, and redo it with 1/2" sheets. Further, we'll tear out the bad drywall in the formal dining area, do any termite repairs that are necessary, and redrywall that area with 5/8" drywall.

I also need to spread more fire ant killer, and spray the house for bugs next weekend, so that hopefully we can keep any future insect damage to a minimum. Also, we've been getting some pretty big garden spiders (half dollar size and bigger) up near the house, so spraying for them is a high priority. Thankfully, the frequent mowing has seemed to cut down on the snake problems, so nothing further needs to be done at this point.

We also got a housewarming gift from one of the neighbors, a cover for the attic entry ladder! That looks like it will be a simple install, and hopefully it helps keep the house cooler through the summer here!

All the work last weekend made for some tired people and tired pets!

It was also quite hot! The shade was the only place to get cooled off!

It rained a ton last week! 3-4" worth of much needed rain!

The kitten, however, hasn't quite learned the lesson to look where you leap.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Crunch time! (Or the leaves are all gonna go crunchy in the heat)

I'm currently in week 2 of final exams to end my first year in law school, and things are starting to heat up in North Texas! It was well over 90 degrees yesterday, and 85 is about average this week.

After the late freeze in April, I gave the plants just under a month to recover and took stock of my losses. We lost everything out of the garden except for 1 strawberry plant, some corn, green beans, and peas. The potatoes were damaged, but appear to be making a comeback. The berry patch is fine, and all the trees but the peach are looking great! The peach appears to be alive (by the green bark test), but hasn't popped out any leaves. Until my green bark test fails, I'm going to treat the peach tree just like any of the trees with leaves, and just hope that it is spending its first year storing nutrients or something.

First strawberry of the year! (We've since gotten 4 smaller ones)

I ran out to the local home improvement store and picked up a bunch of starter plants to replace the ones lost in the freeze, and was able to find direct replacements for much of what I lost. We'll see how it turns out, but we're both excited at the prospect of good food in the next month or so! 

This, however, means that it is crunch time in the greatest sense. The drip irrigation system is still not finished, there is no sun shade ready, and the trellis is not built yet. These plants are weeks or even days away from vegetable armageddon if I don't properly prepare them for summer!
The ducklings in the pond at work getting ready for the summer

In other news, we've acquired another working cat for the yard! We've been getting a bunch of presents from the existing cats in the form of snakes and other creepy crawlies, and we decided that we need a fully clawed cat to patrol the area and help them keep our property clear of snakes, big spiders, and scorpions. She's not much to fear quite yet, but she's got a hunter's instinct, and the razor sharp claws to follow through! She already got me pretty good with a bite (she's still learning the difference between licking stuff off my finger and biting my finger).

Mrs. Claws, our new cat!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stuff that needs to be done with the garden

I've been taking a break from garden improvements, as I've hit a road block in more than one way.

School has left me quite busy, so I haven't had enough time to devote to getting the garden ready for summer.

There are a few things that need to be finished as of the end of May, or else the garden is going to cook, and I will have no way to prevent it.

1) I need to clear the brush in the backyard. This will involve getting the chainsaw out and processing a bunch of lumber left over from the winter ice and spring wind. Between Lauren and I being busy and traveling, I haven't gotten a solid block of 3 or 4 hours to finish this job. Hopefully I can get to it within a week or two, because the drip irrigation project is blocked until it is done (one of the sprinkler heads that I need to cap is under the brush pile).

2) I need to finish up the drip irrigation system before the summer heat sets in! In order to do that, project #1 needs to be completed, and I need to find some stakes to keep the irrigation tubing in the ground. This will be a quick project once all the required equipment is available and accessible.

3) I need to put up trellises for the vining vegetables to climb! Preferably this will happen by summer, as the plants will need the trellises pretty soon!

4) I need to put up sun shades for the vegetables. As part of the trellis project, I want to build the ability to put up sun shades. Then, hopefully, it will be a simple addition to put the shades up and give the vegetables a little break from the summer sun!

5) I need to get the raised beds set up with hoop houses. Something similar to this will be my plan.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter: Death and Resurrection

As we approach the eve of Jesus' death and resurrection, I am confronted with metaphorical and literal representations of death and resurrection from God through nature. I happen to be a master at sentencing poor plants to death, but somehow, they mostly end up resurrected and thriving just a few months later.

A sad, pathetic pile of leaves that used to be a sweet mint plant
With a light freeze that came through here a few days ago, many plants have taken a beating, or have died. However, somewhere in the roots, they still cling to life, and they will come back with a vengeance!

This sad thorny bush surely had kicked the bucket when I transplanted it, but here it is sprouting new leaves!
This strawberry plant came to me a brown ball of roots, no life to be seen!
This lemon tree lost all its leaves during an earlier frost!
These poor vegetables are going through shock after the late freeze this week
I've unintentionally killed this spearmint 3 or 4 times through 2 summers, yet somehow it's still hanging around!
This hard to see little twig was a $1 clearance bin find at the home improvement store (i think it's a bush)
The grass itself is awakening from its slumber as the temps come back up

It's an amazing testimony to the grace and power of God that these plants have survived the months and years of neglect and torture! However, it's just a glimpse of the grace and power that we are commemorating this weekend! Happy Easter everybody!