Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Blessings from the Riggenbach family

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beautiful sunset #24

December 23, 2011, 4:41 PM

Coincidentally, December 23, 2010 provided one of the best sunrises I've ever recorded, which you can find here.  I think I'll keep my eyes open again next year on the 23rd.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Time for another bathroom update

Until we added the bathroom in the basement this summer, this bathroom near the bedrooms served as our primary bathing facility.  Sadly, it had not received a lot of attention when we remodeled several other rooms before moving in four years ago.

The sink and counter top are original, over 50 years old.  Cabinets: original.  Mirror: original.  Window: replacement, about 20(?) years ago.  Wall paint by previous owner about seven years ago.

The blue print around the window is wallpaper (original?) that was covered by trim boards (which I removed just before these pictures were taken).  A previous owner painted over the wallpaper and added the border near the ceiling.  The toilet is probably less than 10 years old, and I believe the floor tile was added less than 7 years ago.  The tile around the tub is one of the few changes we made four years ago.

Karen found the stained glass a number of years ago, and it finally found a place (of sorts) in this room.

Here's another look at the tub and tile.  When we bought the house, plastic shower walls and a sliding door surrounded the tub. We removed those and added the tile, curtain, and rod.  The tub is another original -- cast iron with a porcelain coating.  Unfortunately, the coating was getting very rough on the bottom of the tub; so rough that we had to address the issue.  After investigating a few options, it was apparent our most economical (and lowest risk) option was to simply replace the tub.

The door is original, although we painted it to match the white trim in the hallway.  We also added the robe hook on the door.

The view from the toilet.  The light in the soffit is original.  The wall decoration was our addition.

This is the "after" picture.  As I mentioned, the tub had to go.  The floor was installed improperly and was cracked in many places.  The "before" pictures are very flattering to the cabinets, which were pretty sad in person.  The plumbing had issues on both the supply and drain sides.  The window has been leaky since we moved in, and typically received an extra layer of plastic in the winter.  After removing the plaster from the outside wall, it was apparent that our insulating efforts four years ago were only partially successful.  In the end, it was easiest to simply remove almost everything in the room.

The hole in the floor in the corner was where the toilet used to sit.  The tub used to sit in the right foreground, with a wall in between.  Not much left at this point!

In this image you can see the wall between the tub and toilet has been rebuilt, some plumbing vent pipes have been installed, and styrofoam board insulation has been added to the outside wall.

More plumbing drain and vent pipes on this side, and additional outlet boxes.

In this view you can see the can lights in the ceiling where the soffit used to be.  The light fixture on the wall in this view was only temporarily mounted for construction lighting.  Construction has progressed since these photos were taken, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A small collection of beautiful fall sunsets

I've been waiting for the perfect sunset this fall, so I could photograph it and enjoy it indefinitely. Alas, you won't find that image in this post, as the sunsets that I would rate even more beautiful than these were enjoyed without my camera at my side. I'll keep my eyes open and camera handy for the rest of this fall and winter, but for now I hope these will suffice.

October 18

October 23

October 27

November 10

November 18, 4:51 PM

November 18, 4:56 PM

(aka beautiful sunsets #17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Construction update #38

It's hard to believe that Construction update #37 was over a year ago, but it is appropriate that this project follows that post from last year.  Just as I had sympathy for my guests last year, my sympathy stretches to another section of the yard this year.

Since the driveway in front of the house is not very big, our visitors occasionally have to park in the parking area to the south of the house.  I think that parking area is much improved over its state four years ago, but the trip to the house still required either a detour to the path by the barn, or a saunter over the lawn.  Most of our visitors chose the saunter.  Since we sometimes have damp ground when friends come to visit, I felt bad that their trip to the house was less than ideal.  So one Saturday in late October I decided to do something about it.

After a few hours of moving dirt and gravel, the trip to the house suddenly looks a bit more civilized.  Note the curve of the path, intended to provide our guests with an idyllic stroll to the front of the house.

Looking back at the house from the parking area, it's not hard to imagine why our guests were sometimes in a quandary about how to gracefully reach the front door.

Now the path to the front door should be obvious to even the most obtuse, and above all, I hope it says, "Welcome to our home!"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making the abstract concrete

In case you couldn't tell, I'm seldom impulsive.  I view pouring concrete as a fairly permanent action that one undertakes only after one is sure he won't want to reverse that action.  Since I've got several conduits under this section of sidewalk that was removed three years ago, I've been hesitant to bury them "permanently" until I was sure everything was installed in this area that we intend to install.  The inconvenience of not having this section of sidewalk finally outweighed my reluctance to commit to concrete.

There was some uncertainty in calculating the depth of the section, so I figured I might need slightly more than a half yard of cement.  I purchased thirty bags of mix and hoped I'd have a few left over.  Did I mention I've never done concrete finishing before?  I've seen others do it, but I definitely don't have "the touch" that would have made this job much less stressful.  However, none of those facts prevent an engineer like myself from believing he is capable of accomplishing just about anything.

Most of the internet advice I read recommended a motorized mixer for this much cement, but the hand mixing went a little faster than I anticipated, and wasn't as tiring as I feared.  As you can see in this image of the partially poured section, I was able to level and semi-finish the cement as I went along.  My goal was to match the exposed aggregate finish of the original concrete, so I wasn't too concerned about a perfectly smooth finish since it would be removed eventually to expose the gravel underneath.

Here's a shot after all the cement is poured and the finishing is almost complete.  The original concrete was treated with a retardant to make it easier to uniformly remove the top surface, so I did the same.  The retardant simply slows the curing of the concrete on the surface to which it's applied, and its depth of penetration is inversely proportional to the amount of time the concrete is allowed to set before the retardant is applied.  In my case, there was a significant time difference between when the concrete next to the building was poured compared to the last bit by the yard.  Since I'd been warned not to apply the retardant too early, I applied it in sections starting at the house so the section nearest the yard could set a bit before it was exposed to the retardant.  Even so, I think I should have waited longer.

Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the removal of the top layer.  After waiting a couple hours, I used a light spray of water and a plastic brush to gingerly remove the concrete while trying not to disturb the gravel underneath.  It didn't take long before I brushed too hard in one spot and removed more gravel than I desired.  Having learned that lesson, I tried to be more careful on the remaining areas and felt pretty good about the result.  Twenty four hours later, I used a light spray of water to rinse off the gravel that was no longer attached to the concrete and gradually increased the intensity of the spray to do a more vigorous cleaning.  Mistake.  The retardant was evidently still effective on some of the later concrete, so the water jet created a few more pock marks where the exposed aggregate had been curing nicely.  Even after reading several warnings not to be too aggressive in removing the concrete, I had to learn the hard way how aggressive was too aggressive.

A couple weeks later, the concrete was ready for cleaning and sealing.  Instead of muriatic acid, I used Krud Kutter Concrete Clean & Etch which is supposed to be a safer cleaning alternative.  I found the product cleaned the new concrete well after I learned to rinse the concrete quickly after cleaning.  The photo above shows the sealing process in progress using a lacquer-based semi-gloss sealant.

I don't know how critical it was to seal the concrete before winter, but the original concrete had been sealed soon after it was poured, so I tried to follow suit.  In the end, the finished product is not as perfect as I hoped, but it is functional, and looks pretty good from about 100 feet.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thai Butternut Squash Soup

Karen was intrigued by this soup when she saw it in Family Circle magazine, and we all gave it a thumbs up after our maiden voyage.  You can find more information at, and while they garnish their version of the soup beautifully for their studio photo, we present here the ungarnished, photographed-in-the-dining-room, made-in-Illinois version.  As always, we made some modifications to the recipe, which are noted at the end of this post.  We found this soup to be very tasty, and unmistakably Thai, with just enough spicy heat to make your nose run.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 piece fresh ginger (1 to 2 inches), peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp red curry paste
1 can (14.5 ounces) coconut milk
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lime, juiced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1/3 cup sliced scallions
3 whole wheat pitas or flatbreads, halved

Heat oil in a large, lidded pot over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute.  Stir in curry paste and cook another minute.

Pour in coconut milk and chicken broth; stir well to break up the curry paste.  Add squash, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  Cover partially and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Puree soup with an immersion blender until smooth.  Stir in lime juice and salt.  Serve with peanuts, scallions, and bread.

Riggenbach alterations to the recipe: (1) Karen sauteed the onions in a dry pan without the olive oil; (2) she also omitted the lime juice, and (3) used a regular blender instead of an immersion blender for the puree step. (4) The peanuts and scallions are simply a garnish, so we omitted those, and (5) we substituted bread we had in the house for the pitas they list at the bottom of the ingredient list.

Thanks LauraLee for the motivation to try new recipes!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reformation Day Faire 2011

Although I didn't capture every aspect of our church's Reformation Day Faire with a photo, here's a sampling of the activities.  As you can see, we all enjoyed the beautiful, sunny, 70 degree weather this year, especially since we had our share of clouds and rain last year.

Greg Boyd was back again this year adding atmosphere with numerous tunes played on his bagpipe.

Knight Mathias and I spent several minutes contemplating all the ways one might slay a dragon.

Elder Price was busy sketching portraits again this year, and he seemed to never lack a subject.

 At the Town Square, the coloring table was popular with the young artist crowd.

Candle making was also as popular as ever in spite of the fact that there were two tables set up for this activity.

I'm not sure what Sarah Auer was trying to communicate at the bag sewing table, but Gretel assures me that that is simply the way Sarah communicates.

The chess and checker boards were as busy as ever, even though the elder Degenhart didn't compete this year.

Gretel and Hannah strolling the grounds in an attempt to have a private conversation.

A new caber made its appearance this year, and I happened to get a shot of the same dad I photographed last year.  His form is not as impressive in this photo as it was last year, but his kilt and matching socks are much more striking than his costume from last year.

Finally, a shot of Lily, Karen, and Tara amusing themselves during the Highland Games.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Basement bathroom project, part 2

The basement bathroom project has progressed enough that we are now using the facilities, and getting rather used to the addition to our home.  Instead of immediately showing you what the room looks like today, we can appreciate the progress by observing the stages through which the room has passed.

At this point the drywall was hung and finished, and the girls had covered it with white primer.

This view from the tub back to the door illustrates one of the challenges of this project.  The cabinet in the corner was too tall to get into the room after the drywall had been attached to the ceiling, so we had to move the cabinet in before the drywall went on, and work around it at every step of the way after that.  If anyone ever tries to remove that thing, they'll have to do a little bit of head scratching before they get it out!

After agonizing over dozens of paint chips, we committed to two bluish-greenish glazes sponged over a lighter shade of bluish-greenishness.

The view back to the south helps me confirm that the wall color coordinates well with the cabinet color.

This is the way the bathroom looks today.  An observant eye will notice several phases of the project not yet complete including mounting the shower head, and shower curtain and rod.

We're still looking for the right mirror to mount to the wall, and are making due in the meantime with the simple mirror shown.  The baseboard and door trim are also still undone, but their absence hasn't much stifled our enjoyment of this new room.

Finally, the part of the room that I find most enjoyable: the glass block window.  I derive great pleasure from natural light, and I think this room benefits greatly from the light that streams through this window.  Sometimes I stick my head in the room just to enjoy the ambiance.

Friday, September 30, 2011

God told me to blog

I have a poor memory.  I don't think I'm alone in my deficiency, especially among my contemporaries.  In fact, I think people in general have had bad memories throughout most of history (with a possible exception during a short period in the Garden of Eden).  Marshall Foster said as much at the Providential History Festival a couple weeks ago when he talked about God's commandment to Joshua to set up twelve stones near the Jordan River. God had just cut off the waters of the Jordan River so the nation of Israel could pass through, and God commanded a memorial to be built at the spot before the river returned to its normal state.  Why did God give that edict?  Because people forget.

Joshua explained the purpose of the stones at Gilgal:

"When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.'  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."  -- Joshua 4:21-24

God knew that people forget.  God knew there would be some in Israel that would forget to tell their children about the Jordan River crossing, so he gave them a reminder.  I find that I remember a lot more when I have reminders.  Photos help me remember.  Taking notes helps me remember.  Writing blog posts helps me remember too.  In fact, this blog was started several years ago as a way to document some of my activities, but I think its value has grown beyond that.  Not that everything I need to remember is documented here, or that everything documented here is worth remembering, but God has helped me remember more through these posts than I would have remembered otherwise.  I'm grateful for that, because it's good to remember.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Basement Bathroom Project

We have a strange room in our basement.  It has two windows, one door, and is about 17 feet long and 5 and a half feet wide.  I'm not sure what it was intended for, but I think it's location and size are simply a function of the shape of the house, and the need to support floor joists with basement walls.  Although it has served as useful storage for the first few years we've lived here, it always impressed me as wasted space.  Until now.  Given our desire to add another full bathroom to the house, this awkward little room looked like the perfect location.

This is the way the room looked when we started tearing into it.  In this image the floor has been removed where the plumbing needs to be located, including a sewage ejector pit, and drain for a tub, toilet, and sink.  Note the conveniently placed drain pipe on the back wall that runs out into the septic tank in the front yard.  What better spot for a sewage ejector pit than right under the drain pipe?

Since we didn't really want the sewage ejector in the bathroom, we built a small room for that pump behind the bathroom, and added this doorway so the room could be accessed independent of the bathroom.

There was a good bit of rubble generated by the new door opening, and the floor removal.  Our neighbors blessed us by carrying this rubble out of the basement and using it as fill on their own property.

A couple weeks later we had walls framed, plumbing in place, and wires run.  The layout of the room is a little more apparent in this shot, as the tub will be placed across the room against the far wall, the toilet next to the tub, and the sink and vanity closest to the camera.  The long, thin shape of the room made this galley-type layout one of the few viable options.
This photo was taken from the tub end of the room looking back to the original door.  The room was just a little shy of the perfect width, in that the wall studs in the wall on the right were trimmed down a bit so the room width perfectly matched the length of the tub.  As you can see, we still had room for standard size electrical boxes, so the construction was not too "nonstandard."
The tub successfully fit where it was intended.

Meanwhile, behind the tub, the sewage ejector was partially plumbed to pump into the existing drain.  At this point, the project was starting to resemble a bathroom, and our hope of eventually enjoying its conveniences was growing stronger.  Next time we'll lay out more of the subsequent steps in this project -- you won't want to miss it!