Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finding Home

“I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birth place, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.”

from The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Banana Nut Stuffed French Toast

Quite a few years ago, my mom received a CD-rom with Williams-Sonoma recipes on it as a gift. As I remember it, it was pretty cool because you could search for recipes based on the ingredients (like if you had a bunch of apples to use). Of course, these days, the internet serves the same basic purpose on a much larger scale. The problem with the internet searches is that unless you know the source of the recipe, you have no idea if it's going to be any good or not. With this Williams-Somona database - odds were, it was going to be delicious. I don't know if they still do it (I no longer receive WS catalogs), but they used to picture gourmet food with recipes in their catalog. I guess the idea was that if you needed a big roasting pan, or a special griddle, or a dutch oven, in which to cook the item, you'd be more apt to buy it if you were tempted by gorgeous food! I used to cut out the occasional recipe and I've still got them tucked away in my personal recipe cookbook for future use. I also happened to print out about 15 - 20 recipes from my mom's CD more than 10 years ago and I've been carrying them around with me from house to house. Until recently, I'd never used a single one! It was just one of these such recipes that I pulled out a couple of weekends ago to try for breakfast. I had a few bananas that were past their prime (and for picky me, that means brown spots of any kind!!) just waiting for a good opportunity to use them.

It was easy to assemble, simple to cook, and absolutely delicious to eat! The only downfall was the fact that the most important ingredient is one that pretty much cannot be local to me. If you live in the tropics, grow your own bananas and then give this a try!

The whole recipe serves 4, but I did half a recipe for the two of us and it was plenty of food.

6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
4 very ripe small bananas
1/4 cup of coarsely chopped walnuts (I used pecans since that's what I had in the pantry)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
8 slices egg bread (I used whole wheat)
4 T unsalted butter (I used half this amount with good results)

Beat eggs until frothy and then stir in the milk. Pour into a shallow bowl or pan that is larger than the bread slices you are using.

Mash bananas into a small bowl. Mix in nuts and nutmeg. Spread it evenly over half the bread slices leaving a 1/4 inch border uncovered on all edges. Top with the remaining bread slices and press down gently to seal.

Place sandwiches in egg mixture and turn until evenly saturated on both sides.

In a pan or griddle big enough to hold all sandwiches, melt half the butter over medium heat. Add the sandwiches and fry until the underside is golden brown. Add the remaining butter (broken into pieces) to the pan and flip the sandwiches over onto the newly melted butter. Fry until golden brown.

Serve hot, dusted with confectioners sugar if you like. Excellent with warm maple syrup!

Unfortunately, I didn't think to take photos. I'm planning on making this one again in the near future. When I do, I'll take pictures!

Monday, January 26, 2009

More bread techniques for lazy people

Or maybe I should say more bread techniques for 'busy people', right? I'm certainly not lazy - I just don't have time for fancy artisan bread efforts. Until now.

I ordered this book from Amazon because I was intrigued by the title. I didn't even bother to search for reviews, or experiences or anything. I took a risk and it panned out - big time.

And of course, I was highly skeptical. I mean, everyone and their brother told me how easy it was to make yogurt and we all know how that turned out for me, right? I even managed to screw up the supposedly super easy NYTimes version of the 'no-knead bread'. So an entire book (and as it turns out, an entire internet worth of people) going on and on about how easy this bread making process was, just didn't sway me. I know that I'm fully capable of screwing it up, so I reserved judgement.

I also took another stupid risk. I attempted my first loaf when we had company coming for dinner. Our friends were bringing lasagna and salad, so I figured that the perfect accompaniment would be home baked crusty bread. Thank the maker that it worked or I was in for some major excuse making!

Basically, you mix flour, water, yeast and salt in a big storage container. You let it rise for 2 hours (I put it in the oven with only the light bulb on since my house is so cold). Then you put the container in the fridge. When it's time to make bread, you cut off a piece of dough, shape the loaf (which takes all of 30 seconds), let it sit for 40 minutes and then bake it. Voila! You think I'm kidding...but I'm not. My bread turned out looking exactly like the cover and it was yummy. Tender but crusty crust, fully cooked but not the least bit dry interior. And the best part is that I have enough dough in my fridge (well, in my case, in the garage as the fridge is too full of eggs right now!) for 3 more loaves!

We ate the loaf with dinner on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I grabbed another hunk of dough, shaped it, and baked it and it was even better the next day. Apparently, this bread gets better with age - more sourdough like. You can keep the dough in the fridge for up to 14 days, too. Amazing!

There are other recipes in the book that are a variation on this one including baguettes, seasoned loaves, sweet breads and cinnamon rolls. I can't wait to try my next batch!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Baking Bread - the lazy way!

About to begin - bread making ingredients prepped and ready to go!

This is how *I* make bread using my bread machine to assist me. There are about a billion other ways, but this is my simple way. It's easy, it requires little effort on my part (good when you've got a full time job!), and it produces a nice bread that allows us to stop buying bread at the store. It's also very cheap...particulary if you can buy the flour in bulk.

First I gather the ingredients. For this basic loaf, I need yeast (in the black container), bread flour, salt, oil, warm water and oats. I also need a bowl to hold everything will I pre-heat the container with hot water.

'Bowl' of the bread machine filled with hot tap water to pre-heat it.

Because our house is so cold (from a yeast's point of view), I have had to make a few modifications to get the bread to rise in a timely manner. I start with pre-heating the mixing bowl. This is the insert to my bread machine and I fill it with hot water and let it sit while I measure out all the ingredients.

Dough being kneaded by the bread machine.

Then I dump everything into the container. If I'm using a timer (which I don't do very often), then I'll make sure that the flour and oats keep the yeast away from the water. I don't use the timer right now because by the time the dough would start mixing, my container would have cooled off and so would both the water and our house. It just doesn't work well for me in the winter.

I use the oven on its lowest setting to do the second rise if our wood stove is not in use.

I don't like the shape of the loaf I get from using the breadmachine to bake, so I use the knead/rise setting on my machine. This way, it does all the work AND it keeps the dough reasonably warm for the first rise. Then I take the dough out, shape it as necessary, cover it with a clean towel and set it in the oven or next to the wood stove (if it's in use) for an hour or so for the bread to do the second rise.

I often use a honey wheat bread recipe to make dinner rolls this way. I let the bread machine do the kneading and first rist and then I just shape the dough into balls, place them on a baking sheet to rise, and then bake them (this is what is pictured above). Then I freeze the rolls and reheat them in the toaster right before dinner.

Oatmeal bread after the second rise awaiting baking.

After the dough has risen suffiicently, then the bread goes in the oven to bake.

Oatmeal bread after smells divine!

A fully baked loaf will sound hollow if you thump the bottom of it (out of the pan). If it's not done, it's fine to put it back into the pan and continue baking. I've done this many times as I am slowly learning to adapt my bread machine recipes to oven baking.

Oatmeal bread after slicing.

Then I slice it with a serated blade and stick it in a plastic bag. If I'm going to freeze it, it's much easier to pre-slice the whole loaf.

Baking your own bread is super simple, super cheap and super delicious (most of the time)! Lucky for us, flops don't go to waste. As I'm trying to learn what works best in my cold kitchen, I have screwed up a few loaves here and there. Failed bread luckily makes awesome goat treats! They just love it and since we have no more apples or things to give them as treats, home-made bread mistakes are just the ticket!

I recently acquired two awesome bread making books. One I've pretty much finished reading and I can't wait for some free time to try some of the recipes. All of the recipes are a more traditional method (hand kneading), but it's definitely something I hope to have more time for in the future. The second book just arrived last night, so I haven't had a chance to even open it yet. I've also tried the infamous 'no knead' bread from the NY times article. It turned out fairly well...but again, my cold house makes rising a bit of an issue. I'm going to give it another shot this spring. As I branch out in my bread making adventures, I'll be sure to keep my blog up to date. Maybe if I'm consistent enough, you'll be able to smell the bread baking across the internet! ;-)

Monday, January 19, 2009

The pruning begins...

Loganberries - as they looked last summer just prior to being fully ripe.

We have about 20 different fruit trees, two types of berries (both thornless!), and about 4 different varieties of grapes on our property. We are also going to be adding blueberries as well.

While we got more apples, pears, berries and grapes than we knew what to do with this past year, there were some things that could use massive improvement. First of all, many of the grapes didn't mature well and they were extremely difficult to pick. The same could be said of the blackberries and and our loganberries had a lousy harvest. The apples were plentiful, but many were smaller than they should have been. We saw a small plum harvest, but no cherries at all. To improve all of the above, we need to prune (and spray...but that's a different entry!).

Pruning is best done in the winter with the trees are basically dormant. This is true for the fruit trees, the berry brambles and the grape vines. The previous owners used to take really good care of their garden, but in the year before we bought the place, they had some illness in the family and ended up neglecting things in the yard. They also had the house on the market for over a year, so they were probably trying to keep things 'picture perfect' and pruning can be messy. All of this led to some very overgrown things and this winter, we are working to remedy that...

Anyway, this weekend I worked on the berry brambles while my H tackled the grape vines. For the grapes, he first cut a path behind the last trellis and in front of the buffalo fence. You can actually walk back there now (previously an impossibility). He had to cut massive amounts of wild blackberry canes coming over the buffalo fence. Then he had to tame the out of control grape vines working their way back over the fence from our yard. The two were so intertwined that it was hard to tell where one finished and the other began, particularly in the summer! Then he started on one of the trellises (we have three). He straightened it, added and removed wire, and secured it. Then he started pruning so that we can better train the grape vines. We figure that it'll take a few years before we get them in order, so we felt justified in really cutting back some of them. It's such a huge job that he was only able to finish one row (besides cutting the path). The other two rows will have to wait for the next rain-free weekend.

Berry brambles - "before". The left are predominantly blackberries and the right are the loganberries.

For the berry brambles, we have two rows spaced about 4 ft apart. They are oddly assorted in terms of variety. One row is half logan berries and half some other un-identified plant (we need to wait for it to bloom to figure it out). The second row is predominantly thornless blackberries with one logan berry plant on one end. The photo above is how it all looked when I started. There were at least three years worth of canes on the blackberries as it was not pruned last year at all. In the middle of the summer, my H dug into it and tried to cut out all the thorned blackberry canes he could (these are wild and grow everywhere around here). Wild blackberries are actually considered a nuisance weed here and we do our best to keep them under control. Anyway, thanks to his hard work last summer, I only had a few of the painful variety to dig out of the mess.

I basically started by cutting out all thorny branches and anything thornless that had given us fruit last year. All the branches that had leaves but no fruit yet are the branches that will give us fruit this coming year (they give fruit on their second year). I also had to cut away a lot of dead grass and a few other types of plants that had flourished under the protection of the blackberries. Then I set about restringing all the wire. I did three rows of wire between each t-post (and I had to reposition a few posts, too) and pulled them as tight as I could. Then I carefully worked each remaining cane into the trellis taking care not to break them. I tried to spread them out as best I could. This will allow the sun to better reach all the berries and make them all much easier to pick. I think this might also make them much more visible and accessable to the birds, so we do have bird netting set aside should that be needed next summer. All in all, it was a LOT of work, but I feel really good about having it done. All I have left to do is to spread some compost at the base and then mulch on top of it to keep the grass at bay.

Berry brambles - "after"... Hard to see in this photo since so many canes have no leaves, but they are woven around the wire trellis. I still need to add compost and mulch.

Next opportunity we have, we'll finish up the grapes and get the trees done (apples, pears, cherry & plum). The trees will be a team job. I should also mention that we took a few clippings from our neighbors who have this apple tree that produces absolutely delicious apples (for both eating and baking). We are going to graft those branches on to one of our red delicious trees (we have two). We figure we'll do it on those particular trees for a number of reasons. 1) we have way more red delicious apples than we'll ever need and they aren't good for anything but eating and drying 2) those trees did really well last year, so they are clearly nice strong healthy trees and 3) the red delicious apples are the most distinctive apple (throughout it's life cycle), so it'll be really easy to tell the new variety from the old red delicious apples. Neither of us have grafted fruit trees before, so wish us luck! I'll definitely report back on our progress...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Worms, worms, everywhere!

Row garden area (with the coop sitting on part of it). All sections of it are now covered with well-watered cardboard.

I never thought I'd be so excited about worms! To a small gardener, they are signs of good things happening.

First of all, as displayed (half completed) in the above photo, we have our row garden area covered with cardboard. Basically, most of our veggie garden this past year was done using the square foot gardening method. We will continue to use this method for some plants, but since we have a good sized, previously tilled area set aside by the previous owners for a row garden, we are going to use that this year as well. Last summer, we did a few rows of corn and one of potatoes, but that's about it. This year, our plans are much bigger. We won't be using traditional rows so much as 'patches' but we will be planting in rows within those patches. To prep the soil, we did two things. One the left, we covered the area tilled last year with black plastic. This was to kill all weed seeds with heat. We have left it there all winter primarily due to laziness, but partially to keep the weeds at bay. We have so much water, that pleny of moisture is still getting under the plastic, so we should be good to plant this spring. This area was not planted at all this past season.

The rest of the area has been picked clean and pooped on by the chickens, and then covered with either rotting leaves or used hay from the goat shed. On top of this, we then layed out cardboard and weighed it down. We chose cardboard for 2 reasons. 1. It will block the sun and not allow weeds to grow, but it will still allow water/moisture and air to get into the soil so that the 'mulch' layer will decompose. and 2. we had tons of it from the it was free. ;-) Last weekend, we were peaking under the sections that have been there for a month or more and not only is all the mulch nicely decomposing, but the area is crawling with worms and other creepy crawlies! Yay! Busy, inhabited soil is healthy soil. We can't wait to see what we can produce this year! The plan is to pull up the cardboard, let the best pieces dry for future use, and toss the rest into the compost pile. We don't want to leave it where it is when we plant, or it will disturb the nitrogen balance in the soil.

The second population of worms that I'm happy about are our own doing. About a month ago, my H ordered a small herd/flock/mass/pride/pack (what do you call a group of worms?!) of worms so that we could start our own vermicomposting. Basically, this is using worms to eat garbage and then using their castings (poo) as fertilizer. Worm castings looks like the richest, most beautiful soil you've ever it's not gross and yucky at all. Plus, a well-managed worm bin won't smell at all, so it's totally suitable to small spaces (even apartments!). When H first got the worms, he just put them in a bucket with some bedding (moistened shredded paper) and some food cast-offs. This past weekend, we decided to improve their home and when we dug under the cover paper - they were already going to work on what we had left for them!

Anyway, we started with two rubber/plastic bins. We put two plastic tubs in the bottom bin to keep the top bin from seating all the way down.
Then we drilled holes in the top bin. Drain holes in the bottom and air holes around the lower part of the sides as pictured here...

We then put down a layer of shredded paper (lightly moistened with water) on the bottom and them spread out the 'garbage' and worms from the previous bucket. You can see a couple of the worms surrounded by starter soil and castings in this photo:

Then we covered all the 'garbage' with more shredded paper, moistened it, and put the cover on the bin to keep out light. The whole contraption is sitting in my husband's office (the warmest room in the house at about 65 to 70 degrees).

This is the worm bedding in the bottom of the two bins. The photo of the completed worm bin turned out blurry - but it looks an awful lot like this one only a bit more 'full'. ;-)

So, all we have to do now is to keep feeding the worms our bio-waste and keep them moist and happy. We'll be able to 'harvest' the castings when we are ready to start our next round of seeds and all summer long to use in 'compost tea' or for supplementing the soil in the garden.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another busy weekend

Eggs - in all colors!

Once again, I'm posting only occasionally. I appologize to anyone who is truly reading here and I'll try to do better. I do have about 10 posts started or outlined that I just haven't had time to write, so one day, you'll probably be innundated!

Until then, let me post a quick run-down on the things we did this weekend.

First of all, we started Saturday with a trip to HD to pick up some supplies. We had four main things on our list for the weekend and three of them required some inputs. First of all, we wanted to get some seed started with grow lights in the basement. Secondly, we wanted to insulate the hot water pipes in the house. Thirdly, we wanted to take down and store away all our Christmas decorations (finally!) and lastly, we wanted to get a new rain shelter built for the goats.

The first item was pipe insulation. We purchased ~70 ft of foam insulation. One major advantage to a single-story older home with a basement is that everything is easy access. All of the electrical, heating and water pipes all run along the ceiling of our basement which is below the floorboards of our house. The hot water heater and the oil furnace are both also in the basement and easy (relatively) to access. So to insulate all the hot water pipes, all we had to do was run hot water in the various locations to determine which pipe held hot water (by touch) and the wrap them with this foam. We'd thought about using some more home-made type of insluation, but we don't know enough about that stuff to avoid setting fires or something. We figured we'd be better off using something designed specifically for that purpose. Now, when we shower, we aren't losing a bunch of the heat off the pipes in the basement and it's saving us energy! (I'll take photos tonight)

Secondly, we wanted to get some seed started. It's a bit too early to prep for outside planting, but now that we have a greenhouse to work with, we wanted to do some experimenting. My H did some online reading about setting up a grow light using the old flourescent lamps we had in our basement. He rewired one, hung it about 18 inches above the work bench, and plugged it into a timer that will be set to simulate a summer day's worth of light. We'd bought a seed starting kit last year when we were in the apartment, but never attended it very well and killed everything we tried to grow. So my H pulled that out and cleaned it up to try again this year. He planted leeks, onions, kale, celeriac and multiple types of peppers and tomatoes. Then he set the bin on top of a heating pad set on low to keep the soil warm. We were all excited about the progress until we noticed that the heating pad had shut off. Damn thing has an auto-shut-off! Great for fire prevention...not great for seed germination. Now we need to locate one that doesn't have this lovely safety feature. Anyone have an old heating pad they don't want? ;-)

Next, I took it upon myself to build some additional shelter for our goats. When it rains, they basically spend the entire day standing in their little goat shed. Buddy doesn't like to get wet and while Sass doesn't seem to mind it, she'd rather stay dry if she can. I saw an idea for this shelter online and decided that it would not only suit our rainy day needs, but it will help us with kidding this year. It's a Quonset hut made with cattle panels and a tarp. For less than $100, I built the shelter in the picture with materials that all will have multiple uses once we no longer need the shelter. This was a perfect solution for us because we needed something temporary. Our plans are to build a real stable/small barn next summer when there is less rain and when we have more cash. With kids on the way, we needed something for this spring because our current goat shed is too small. We will also need a way to keep the new kids separate from Sass at night, so this should work. The shelter stands in the southeast corner of our paddock and it faces west. (Winter rain comes from the south here, so souther facing shelters are not a good idea!) Our plan is to use additional cattle panels and t-posts to fence in the area surrounding the shelter as we head into March. Sasafras will then be contained in this area as she approaches her due date so that the kids are born into a fairly clean/mud-free environment. Then Sass and the kids will be kept in this pen for the first few days so that they can bond. Additionally, the kids will go into this area each night so that Sass will get a good night's sleep and (more importantly) so that we can milk her in the morning for our use. Then they will spend the day together. We will not bottle feed the kids as we don't feel that is 'natural'...and who has the time for that, anyway?! The hut turned out really well and outside from a sore back and triceps, I was no worse for the wear!

First: the t-posts get placed and sunk into the ground (note to self: do all fencing in the winter when the ground is MUCH softer than it is in the arid summer!)

Second: the first cattle panel gets put in place (these are 16' by 50")

Third: the second panel goes into place - this was not as easy as it looks!

Fourth: the panels get attached using zip ties.

Fifth: the tarp goes on and gets zip-tied to the panels

Lastly: the finished product!


Lastly, I packed up all the Christmas decorations we'd put up this year. Because I chose to donate or sell all the decorations we didn't use, packing everything up was pretty simple. Now it's all safely tucked away in the basement for next year. We also moved the chicken coop again, trimmed the goat's hooves, put up blinds in our bedroom and our bathroom finally (that's the advantage to country neigbors to look in our windows!) and I baked another loaf of bread and some rolls to throw in the freezer. We also did some re-arranging of our worm bin. I don't think that I've posted about it before, but my husband began our vermicomposting a few weeks ago in a big bucket. This past weekend, we changed our bin a little and I'll have a seperate post about stay tuned.
All in all, we had a nicely productive weekend!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weekend update

I can't believe that my first post of 2009 isn't until the 7th! Good thing I didn't have "blogging more" as one of my resolutions, huh?

So we had a busy holiday and a productive weekend. After all the snow and ice, we had some issues with local flooding...but our house (including the basement) stayed nice and dry. Our road? Not so much. Both the road we take into our small town center and the one we live on (about 2.5 miles from us) was completely under water for a few days and closed to all traffic. Luckily, we did discover at least one route from our house, over high ground and over the ridge around the flooded areas. I also assume that if we were to head straight over the 'mountain' that we'd avoid all flooding using that route as well. Not something we'll want to do on bikes anytime soon, but in a car, it's fine.

So this weekend, we accomplished a lot. First of all, we dried off Sass. Her milk production has been falling off lately. It's natural to only get about 10 months at most out of a good dairy goat, so when her production began to really fall, we stopped milking her. I actually had to buy my first gallon of cow's milk yesterday. Man - does that taste like water or what? Ew! We did freeze some of her milk in preparation for this time, but it didn't turn out so well. Apparently, freezing skim milk is a bad idea. After defrosting, it remains separated. Ick. The whole milk we've frozen seems ok, so we'll probably defrost that as necessary for baking, cheese making or for soap making. If we have enough whole milk stored, I might try skimming it to see how that works. We'll see.

Because of all the rain, a section of the goat paddock is really, really muddy. Unfortunately, the area is near the goat shed and the gate, so we have to trudge through it. The goats avoid it as much as possible, so that's good. Bad bacteria can live in that mud (especially with the warm temps we've had lately) and that can lead to hoof rot in goats. We have learned that a healthy goat who gets plenty of copper in their diet will be able to defend against these bacteria, so we are making sure that the goats have plenty of fresh mineral available to them. We were afraid that Buddy had some hoof rot going on because he started limping. When we looked closer, it was just that his hooves were in bad need of trimming. We were told that Sass only needed it once every three months or so, but it turns out that Buddy's hooves grow much faster than that. We trimmed them as best we could over the weekend and he's already doing better. We'll probably have to do another trim next weekend, but like on a dog, you can't cut off too much at once for fear of bleeding. Of course, I managed to shave two of my own knuckles off with the hoof plane. My blood spilled is no biggie though - I'm capable of keeping my wounds clean all by myself! ;-)

We also did some work with the chickens. I cleaned out their coop while they were free-ranging. After I'd scooped out all the bedding and chicken poop (into the compost pile), I removed the temporary floor. I used it as a template to cut another floor for future use, and I put the first one back in for another few weeks or so. Then I piled in new bedding and my H fixed the perch attached to the nesting boxes which was sagging. Lastly, he tightened it's attachment to the wall for stability. The chickens were just happy to have the opportunity to run around after being cooped up so much! I like that the coop now smells better when I go digging for eggs. Speaking of which, our influx of eggs has now exceeded the previous influx of milk! We are getting eggs in all three colors now that the 'easter egg' birds are finally laying. The white leghorns are still the most prolific - we get two white eggs every day and we only have two white birds. We are collecting a total of 4 to 7 eggs each day and it's still winter. What happens when they hit their peak laying season in the summer? We are going to be overrun! I think we'll put a sign out front and sell them (the eggs, not the chickens!). Otherwise, they are really going to go to waste. I am collecting good quiche recipes though...I figure I'll bake up a few and freeze them.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we'd purchased a greenhouse kit for our Christmas present to each other. Well, we were pleasantly surprised when it arrived a couple of days after Christmas! We spent part of this weekend cleaning out the garage and making space to assemble it. We were able to get the main frame partially assembled before we broke one of the main connectors. Oops. We have requested a replacement piece, so once that arrives we'll be able to continue with assembly. The plan is to put it out in the garden area where the sun hits the longest in the winter. We'll lay down the base, fill it with gravel on top of weed cloth, and then fit the frame on top of that. It's a polycarbonate window greenhouse with a small vent and a split door. The whole thing is only 6x8, but I think that'll be plenty big enough for us for now. I'm taking photos as we assemble this, so once it's done, I'll have a full pictorial to share!

The bathroom when we bought the house...'before'.

The bathroom as we were painting it. You can still see the pink counters that we hope to fix shortly...

Lastly, we made a few decisions about interior decorating. I'm actually quite excited. We finally picked out bedding for our bedroom and we came to the realization that we'll probably have to repaint. The blue we picked is nice and it looks really great with our furniture, but it's hard to match to bedding that we both agree on (the original bedding we chose sold out before I got a chance to order it!). We are also going to tile the counter tops in our bathroom. This is the bathroom that was pink that we repainted a pale sea green/blue. We originally picked the color with plans to buy solid-surface counter tops in a black/white/grey/blue speckled pattern, but they are just not in the budget right now. We have lots of experience laying tile over counters, so we are going to do black and white ceramic tile over the nasty pink counter tops. We'll also replace the ugly black sink at the same time. We can do all this for less than half of what new counters would cost us! All of this is temporary anyway. The eventual plan is to re do the entire bathroom. It's like a long hallway right now with doors at both ends and it's unnecessarily big. Our plan is to put a wall down in the middle of it and create a small half bath off the front hall and a private master bath that adjoins our bedroom. I'd also like to set up a graywater system for the toilets at the same time. That's quite a bit into the future though...we certainly don't have the cash for that right now, and we refuse to use credit.