Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beautiful sunrise #7

December 21, 7:20 AM
-3°F, 29 mph wind

Coincidentally the day of the year with the least sunlight started without electricity at our house. We had 1/2" of freezing rain two days earlier so the trees and electric lines were coated in ice, and Saturday night the wind gusted up to 40 mph all night. We were in bed when we realized the power was out by 11:30 PM, but at that point we knew a good night's sleep was more important than trying to keep appliances running through the night. I called Corn Belt to make sure they knew we didn't have power, and went back to bed.

Laying in the quiet stillness, I tried not to think about the fact that the temperature was falling below zero, and the generator had not started the last three times I had tried it; all the while trying to ignore what sounded like boulders falling on our roof. I laid out my plan countless times as I tried to fall asleep: (1) wake at first light and start a fire in the basement wood burner, (2) tear apart the generator carburetor and clean up what was probably just a gummed up orifice, (3) restore power to the furnace and refrigerator from the generator, and (4) go to the neighbor's house to make sure their house isn't getting too cold (since they're in Florida now).

As the bedroom lightened in the morning, the air in the house was down to 50°F, so I rose at 6:30 to carry out my plan. Before I made it to the basement the electricity came back on. I thanked God for being merciful to us, and proceeded to make coffee before the power went back out again. Confident that the house didn't need my attention, I shoveled ice off the driveway (note: I said "shoveled", not "scraped" since the ice had fallen out of the trees like cubes from a refrigerator dispenser). When I came back inside before 8:00 the power was back out again, and as it didn't return for 15 minutes, I started into my original plan.

A fire was quickly started in the wood burner, and with Gretel holding a flashlight for me, we cleaned up the generator carburetor and started it for the first time in years. I fashioned some temporary wires for the furnace so I could plug it into an extension cord that I routed from the basement upstairs and through the garage. As I was carrying the generator out of the house the electricity came back on again. I thanked God again for being merciful to me.

Through the episode I found a few things to be thankful for:
  • I'm thankful that thousands of people over the last couple hundred years have taken dominion over electrons and made it possible for us to do all kinds of things with this mystery called electricity. Not the least of these things is keeping my family warm.
  • I'm thankful that there were probably dozens of linemen outside all night all over the Peoria area repairing lines and transformers so people like me could sleep in a warm bed and enjoy hot coffee in the morning. I don't envy them working in subzero temperatures with winds strong enough to knock over ladders and make boom trucks sway.
  • I'm thankful for building materials that keep our house warm such that the temperature in the house only dropped 15° in the seven hours the power was off.
  • I'm thankful for our little wood burner that takes the chill off the basement and allows our water pipes to stay above freezing.
  • Most importantly I'm thankful for God's providence and mercy in this experience. I realize he controls the supply and restriction of electricity on our grid and around the world. I realize he controls the wind and temperature, and decides in his sovereignty whether our yard will be covered in rain, snow, or ice. I realize he allows us to experience trials for the strengthening of our faith, and I'm grateful for his mercy when he ends the trial before I expect it to end.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Knights and Princesses

Every child likes to dress up. Sometimes simply dressing like your parents enables you to see yourself as a parent some day. Sometimes you dress more extragantly and are carried off in your mind to faraway places in another age. At our house, dressing for a different place and time are more normal than not. Hence, when Lily decided to make gifts for five special children, she picked gifts that would help them imagine themselves in a time and place when ladies dressed femininely and men were protectors.

This is the style of the gowns for the older girls.

Little Hannah received a gown too, but one suited more appropriately for her size.

The boys received these manly knightlike vests.

As evidenced in this photo, everyone was tickled with their present. The older girls loved the fluttery sleeves and couldn't resist waving them like wings. The boys were quick to add their vests to their collection of other knightly trappings. One notable conversation between Grace (7) and Elisabeth (5) went like this:
E: "I want to wear this dress when I get married."
G: "By the time you get married, you'll be too big for this dress."
E: "Well, I hope Lily makes us Christmas presents every year so I can wear that to my wedding."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Baked Oatmeal

Here's a breakfast food that is especially good on cold winter mornings, although that doesn't prevent us from enjoying it in the summer as well. We were first introduced to baked oatmeal at the Gomez home in Athens, Wisconsin in late November a few years back when the weather was snowy and cold. It was delightful straight from the oven then with plenty of warm milk to pour over the top. I still prefer it with warm milk, but Gretel likes her's without any embellishments. Try it yourself, and you tell us your favorite way to eat it!

3 cups quick oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (or oil)
2 eggs beaten
additional milk

Combine first eight ingredients. Spoon into greased 9" pan.

Bake at 350°F, 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm with milk.

(Courtesy of Cindy Gomez)

Finally, let me apologize for the very brown picture, my eye wasn't looking for that when I framed the photo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingerbread construction update

While I've been dinking around with a simple garage for months, the girls decided to show me how they can construct complete houses in a matter of days. Gingerbread seems to be their preferred building material, although I'm sure you'll recognize other goodies in the pictures below.

This is where the projects began: carefully measured, cut, and baked pieces of gingerbread.

Careful construction involved lots of frosting and strategically located sewing pins. This is Gretel's Carpenter Gothic House that had us all wondering if Gretel had done something foolish by choosing such a difficult design.

Here's Lily's Adirondack Cabin in the assembly phase using food cans as supports while the walls dried in place. No, there was no Crushed Pineapple involved in the construction, only the can.

A closeup view of a window in Lily's cabin. It's constructed of transparent butterscotch candy with colored frosting defining the window panes.

The finished product includes a porch, and a river rock chimney.

Here's a better shot of the roof shingles (which were a little bit frustrating in their own way).

A view of the rear of the building.

This is how the building would look if you were 3 inches tall.

Closeup of the chimney.

Gretel's Carpenter Gothic finished a day later and includes landscaping of sorts.

This is how one might view Gretel's house if one were 3 inches tall.

Getting all the roof pieces to come together was challenging, but the girls pulled it off without dad's help.

One view of the rear of the house.

Another view of the rear. Plenty of new materials were used in this year's construction; how many food items can you identify? Hint: Gretel's house used 5 different materials, while Lily's used 6.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Construction update #26

As the weather gets colder and the daylight gets shorter, it's nice to have projects to do inside a building instead of outside, even if the building does not yet have heat.

As you can see, the insulating and wiring have begun in earnest even though I can't seem to spend as much time as I'd like getting those jobs done.

The big news is having all the doors hung and operational. Working in the garage on cold, windy evenings is much more bearable with protection from most of the wind.

The garage looks a little colder with the snow around it this week. You can kinda tell from this angle that a new drift forms around the building on the north and west sides. It hasn't been a big issue yet, but that's something I'll want to deal with when the garage is transformed from a construction zone to a storage spot for vehicles and tools. I wonder if Menards sells snow fence?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sausage and Lentil Soup

Our family looks forward to cold weather in that it gives us the opportunity to savor and appreciate more soups than we eat in warm weather. One of our favorites that Karen prepared this week is described here in case you'd like to try it too. This soup would not be half as good without the spicy sausage, so if you don't include it because you don't like spicy food, it's not my fault if the soup is not a hit.

1 pound Hot Italian Sausage Links
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1-1/4 pound fennel bulb trimmed & cut into 1" pieces
4 large garlic cloves
1 pound lentils, rinsed
6 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
3/4 tsp salt

Prick sausages many times with fork and cook in 8 quart saucepot over medium heat 10-15 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally. Remove to plate.

To drippings in saucepot add carrots, onion, and fennel. Cook vegetables over medium-high heat about 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add lentils, water, chicken broth, tomatoes with their juice, thyme, salt, and pepper; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and cover; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut sausages into 1/2" thick slices, and stir into soup. Heat to boiling. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes longer or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Skim off fat and discard.

Serve soup hot to grateful family.

Construction update #25

The big news this week has been that the siding is complete and all the windows are in. Once the garage doors are on, we'll be buttoned up pretty tight. We still have trim to apply around the windows and doors, but that may wait until spring after we paint the siding.

The view from the southwest offers proof that all the walls are covered back there too.

The steps to the second floor are finished, although admittedly not child-friendly. Those with vertigo need not venture to the second floor. Boy there's a lot of steps to fall down....

One more shot of the weathervane to help us celebrate the fact that we can easily tell which way the wind is blowing again. No, this picture was not taken with a telephoto lens.

The shot from the roof of the house.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Come on in and set a spell...

We did something this year that we have never done on Thanksgiving day... upholstering furniture! After a large and delicious early afternoon meal with the Galat family, most of the family members wandered off to find suitable napping arrangements. Our family sequestered ourselves to the office where we proceeded to apply new covers to the seats of our dining room chairs. Karen and Lily had removed the old upholstery the day before and cut the new fabric to size along with more batting to increase the loft on some of the chairs. We took the fabric, batting, bare seats, and tools to Karen's brother's house so we could redeem the time.

Here are a few of the finished seats waiting to be reunited with their chair frames.

We actually recovered chairs from two different sets. The blue stripe that you see above is what we had used to cover these older chairs back in 1996. We still had some of the original fabric, so the three chairs that we have left from that set got a facelift.

We originally recovered these chairs in 2000 after purchasing the dining set at an estate sale. Eight years later the fabric didn't look too bad until it was removed and the faded portions could be easily compared with the unfaded. Ewww... they were definitely due for a fresh touch. Which makes me wonder, is eight years a long time to go between upholstering jobs, or a short time? We realize we are always hopelessly out of style, but how long has furniture fabric lasted for other people? Thanks in advance for your comments....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Did I mention our new lights?

Those that visited our house at night in October will be happy to see that we have lights at the "office" entrance once again. Since the previous light was mounted on the soffit, when the soffit came down, the light came with it. Unfortunately, it took a few weeks to devise a solution and carry it out.

Since the attic above the garage is pretty accessible, and the walls in the garage allow one access to the brick once the drywall is removed, we decided it was a simple enough project to mount some new lights on the wall of the house. Running the wires through the attic to the garage wall was pretty straightforward, and my handy 19.2V Craftsman hammer drill bored 1/2" holes through the brick mortar like it was drilling through pine. After a few wire nuts and screw anchors, we had light!

You may have noticed the soffit was not finished when this photo was taken on November 7th. Rest assured it is finished now, and if we know you're coming over we'll leave the lights on for you...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beautiful sunsets #7 & 8

November 21, 2008, 4:45 PM

November 23, 2008, 4:44PM

Construction update #24

Encouraging results this week include more windows installed on the second floor and good progress made on the stairs in the back. Note the unfinished treads at the top of the stairs -- intentionally left that way so robbers won't be able to get up to the door!

Here's a little wider and blurrier view of the west side of the building showing the siding almost finished and the soffit and fascia complete.

No barn (or gambrel roofed house for that matter) would be complete without a cupola, and no cupola is complete without a weathervane. We've enjoyed viewing the old weathervane that still sits on top of the old shed, but it's been difficult to see as of late with the new barn in the way. Hence the new weathervane doing superb duty high above the yard. Hmmm, looks like the wind is out of the south southeast.

Finally the view of the entire building. A few more pieces of siding will complete that part of the job and then the final window panes can be mounted without fear of breaking them with the sheets of siding. I showed considerable constraint in not picking up all the loose building materials laying around the yard, recognizing that the siding crew will soon be done and I can tidy up at that time (please pardon the mess).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beautiful sunset #6

November 17, 2008, 4:19 PM
(courtesy of Gretel)

Chicken Dance

Construction update #23

One measure of a man is his ability to know when to ask for help -- and actually ask. I tend to err on the side of knowing I should ask but being too cheap to pay someone that knows what they're doing. This stage of the project seemed like a good time to let someone else stand on a platform fifteen feet off the ground while straining to work over their head. So we've hired a carpenter friend and his crew to put the fibercement siding on the walls and install the soffit and fascia.

With the scaffold up at the level of the second floor it was convenient for Gene to install windows before the siding went on. Here's a view of the east side of the building already covered to the peak with the soffit falling into place in an orderly fashion.

I wanted to get a shot of the end of the overhang so we could appreciate the artful craftmanship involved in getting all the angles to come together in a tidy way (at least I think it will be tidy in the end). And no, I was not involved in this work, so I am not boasting.

Here's the view from the house roof so you can appreciate the height of the scaffold and the beauty of plain siding as opposed to having manufacturer's logos plastered high and low. It is nice to see measurable progress, but I know I'll be wishing I'd done it myself when I see the bill!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The porch post project concluded (almost)

Back in September I filled you in on the beginnings of the porch post project, and here lie the details of the rest of the project (to date) for those interested enough to bear with me. When I last addressed this project my buddy Ken had cut the boards to the right shape and we nailed three of them together. This is what came next:

This is Varathane tinted wood filler for filling nail holes and deep imperfections. It worked pretty good as you could either squeeze some on to the board or on your finger and work it in without a lot of mess. It sanded nicely and hid well under the stain and varnish.

Here's the main post pieces after the nails have been filled but not yet sanded.

The wood filler also worked nicely on the corners of the post where the gap was not perfect.

Varathane wood conditioner is really intended for soft woods that may not take stain uniformly, but I wanted to see if it would moderate the way the red oak would take stain. I was hoping the grain would not absorb as much stain as oak normally does since I prefer a more subtle grain under the finish. I don't think the wood conditioner did much in hiding the grain.
I don't have a picture of the stain I used, but it was also a Varathane brand gel stain I had used on the doors in what they call an "Ipswich Pine" color.

When it came to the finish coat, I knew I needed something good so the post wouldn't fall apart in the weather it's bound to see, so I called my buddy Evan. Evan has been working with wood for over 30 years and does lots of beautiful work for Roecker Cabinets for his day job. I felt a little queasy when Evan told me he doesn't think wood should ever be used for outdoor projects, although he has done a few for Roecker's. Not one to rub salt in the wounds of stupid people, Evan told me about the varnish they use when something has to be outside. The Sikkens varnish pictured above is intended for boats and has so much UV inhibitor in it that the liquid is opaque! Thank the Lord for the internet as all the boating stores in the world are as close as my computer, and less than a week later we were ready to make the post as watertight as a cabin cruiser.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of work to do outside as the old post need to be replaced with a smaller substitute situated where we want the new post to sit. Actually we didn't have much choice on where the new post would sit since the main beams for the roof kinda dictated where the support should be. A couple of 2x4's nailed together and cut a fraction of an inch longer than the old post were adequate to take the weight of the roof off the steel post enough to slide it out. In the picture above I'm pushing the temporary post in with a sledge hammer.

The old post slipped right out once the weight of the roof was removed...

... and it was unceremoniously retired.

The new post is big enough to overhang a portion of the inside of the stone planter, so I thought it wise to add a small piece of stone in the corner so critters would have to crawl around the stone to get to the post. Securing the stone in the planter was a little concern until I realized there are many incredible adhesives in the world today, and some designed specifically for stone!

A lot of adhesive and a little caulk later, I have a sealed corner under the location of the new post.

Here's the 4x4 that actually does the heavy lifting of the roof now before it's adorned with the oak cover.

As another sort of moisture/rot/critter barrier, I added a sheet of copper under the post cut slightly smaller than the oak post.

In order to fasten the oak to the 4x4 post, I needed to add these "shims." You can see they are more than 3 inches thick on two sides, so I used lag screws to pull them up tight to the 4x4.

Finally, here's the (almost) finished post doing its duty on the planter. You'll notice the soffit is finished around the post, and the only thing left is adding a bit of trim at the bottom and possibly at the top.

Everything always looks better from a distance, so here's a shot from the driveway. It feels good to have the project at this point, and Karen is glad to have the soffit finished, but until all the trim is done, it's just one more unfinished project... Lest that sound too defeatist, we are glad to have most of the outdoor work finished before winter.