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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What happens when a landscaper & a girl w/a family with in the construction business marries?

Erik is a landscaper and my mother's family has a retail home improvement store.   You would think we have the perfect backgrounds to make something beautiful, wouldn't you?  The problem is that both of us know how fleeting trends are, how the economy effects prices, and well, we both have our own ideas on how we want things and we don't always do such a good job of expressing ourselves.  And let's face it - I'm cheap.  I'm willing to wait for something to go on sale OR wait for a "knock-off" to be made so I can get it cheap.  

Case in point:  our home.  

We have been renovating this space since we bought it.  What started out as knocking down one measly wall turned into completely gutting our 140 year old farmhouse all the way down to the amazing balloon framing.  Erik confidently gave me the reigns as I selected materials, designed rooms, and scraped plaster off the four original brick fireplaces.  We chose what had to be done, got it done and left other things for later.  Things that were not required for the immediate comfort and occupancy of the house.  If you see something unfinished at my house, it doesn't really bother me because I know it will get done when I find exactly what I am looking for.  I waited three years until I found the perfect vintage inspired chandelier light fixture for my bathroom.  It was perfect and cheap.  

One of the things left on the to do list has been the landscaping.  You would think the first thing we would and could do was the landscaping.  But we both agreed that our decisions had to be the right ones and we wanted to live with the place, see how we would use, how the children would use it, before we made our decisions.  

It took us about three years to build a deck outside the dining room.  We had beautiful French doors and they led to no where!  
When we first bought our home, there was a pantry off the kitchen.  In this picture you see the original room.  Outside the frame, there was a large grape arbor with grape vines that produced grapes until about August, then they would start to shrivel up even though they did not reach ripeness.  The arbor was in our way, so Erik dozed it and we turned the flattened area into my "car port."  Except it is just a parking space.  I refuse to buy, build or create any type of car covering until I know it exactly what I want and whether I want it where I currently park my car.  Since leveling the area, I managed to transplant many orange day lilies and get them to grow on the steep bank that leads from the yard to my parking space.  If you should ever transport day lilies, a tip:  the first year that I did the lilies, they looked dreadful!  I thought they were dead and would never come back.  The following summer, they grew in greener and thicker and produced gorgeous orange lilies.  They are the perfect cover for that bank.
Back to the pantry:   It was rather large, but at the time we could not see a use for such a large pantry.  I do NOW, but at the time, it seemed more practical to convert the space to something useful.  So we did! We added an exterior door, moved the window to the right, moved the propane tanks and turned the pantry into a laundry/mud/bathroom.  It's really perfect because dirty farmers and farm children (and occasionally, the farmer's wife) can enter through this room, discard their filthy, dirty farm clothes, and take a shower their filthy, dirty bodies.  Then the clothes don't have to travel anywhere except from the dirty body to the washing machine.  It's PERFECT.  Except now it is too small.  That is a project I will address another day.

Fast forward about 5 years.  We added a nice big deck and steps down to the yard.  The only problem was that the yard was slanted and not an easy place to entertain or play.  Plus, we had built and landscaped an area on the other side of the house for the play ground.   So we haven't been using the back of the house too much.  Earlier this summer, we acquired a hot tub. Erik has been too busy to focus on any projects here, but now that things are slowing down a bit, he decided to start working on our back yard patio project.  We came up with a plan we could both agree on and Erik is in the execution phase.  Ideally, we want to do a stamped concrete surface for this patio, but since I cannot decide where I eventually want to put on the addition we are planning, we are not spending money on concrete that we may eventually dig up for a house addition.  Instead, we are going to use pea gravel.  It will not get as weedy as mulch, and we will have a semi-hard surface to put our outdoor furniture.  And no one will have to deal with wet, grass covered feet!

And the boys will enjoy having yet another place to play with their "heavy equipment."

Erik started digging last night.  These are the before pictures.

See how bad the weeds got!  He actually dug this area out earlier this summer on a day when we thought we were going to have time to get the hot tub installed in June.  Excellent topsoil and windy days make for BAD weeds!

We spent the day at the beach at Lake Moraine and this is what we came home to!  My honey got done with his real work early and got started on our patio area!

You can't tell so well here, but we're starting off with three tiers. The first tier is going to actually be a wooden deck that the hot tub will sit on.  The second tier will be for casual seating.  The bottom tier will have a fire ring in the left foreground surrounded by casual seating (I'm hoping to start scoping auctions and yard sales for vintage metal porch furniture) and the left background parallel with the deck will be our outdoor dining room, so you can walk down the deck steps, down the stone step to the outdoor dining room.  We need A LOT of space for outdoor dining when we have family and friends over.
Erik is so talented.  These stones came from the back of our property where it was piled up - discards from actual work projects and treasures found around the farm.  He hauled them to the house and laid them out and managed to get them into this nice little wall.  Once everything is graded and set, we will plant HUGE pom-pom hydrangea around the deck to hide the openings.  We cannot cover the openings because our dogs need that cool, damp, dark space to hide out in the summer.
I'm getting excited just imagining what the hydrangea will look like when it grows in!  
As you can see, in front of my lily bed, Erik has created another stone wall, and part of that stone wall will be a set of stone steps leading from the parking space to the patio.  We'll also put in a small stepping stone path to go from the back door to the steps.  This will come in handy because around the perimeter of the patio, we have to add some practicality by putting up my clothesline.  It will serve double duty because I can hang clothes and sheets during the day and at night, the clothesline will act as a lighting source with paper lanterns hung from the line.  So neat!
Here are two of the flat stones we found for the steps.  They aren't set yet - still waiting to be installed.  I love that the boys cannot resist big piles of dirt and have all of their excavation and digging equipment out working with their daddy!  
That far right corner of the dirt is where our fire ring is going to go.  
Erik's going to work on this project all weekend.  Hopefully we'll be hot-tubbin' by Labor Day!  Woo Hoo!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nothing good can happen . . .

Death by Chocolate Zucchini Cake Muffins 
Recipe can be found at 

Erik's grandfather, Ches Walker, has a saying, "Nothing good can happen if you're out after midnight!"

I'd like to revise that saying for the bakers out there and make this rule:  "Nothing good tasting can happen if you're baking after 10:00 p.m."

We finished off the last of the 3 dozen chocolate zucchini cake muffins I made last week.  This cake is so delicious.  I have only had the cake two times in my life and it may possibly be my new favorite cake.  The trouble is that it is very rich and my kids can't get enough of it (well, to be honest, neither can I). In fact, the last two muffins went missing courtesy of Willie James.  He saw them on the counter, moved the step stool over to them and devoured them right there in the kitchen.  I came out only to find a boy with a chocolatey grin and empty muffin wrappers. He grinned at me and said, "All don" - his version of "all gone." 
So, hankering some muffins at 10:30 tonight,  I ingeniously decided to make another batch.  I even had to send Erik out to the barn in search of two eggs.  (Eggs are a rarity on these parts right now.  The old chickens are molting and the new chickens haven't started laying yet and those chickens that are still laying are hiding them in feed troughs, hay bales and other non obvious places.)  I began whipping the muffins together and thought to myself:  "Self, why don't you add some whole wheat flour to this recipe to see if you can healthen it up a little bit?"  I realize "healthen" isn't really a word, but I was talking to myself, so what did it matter?

So, I zoomed through adding the ingredients and as I added the flour,  I had that "AHHH!" moment when I realized as I just finished dumping the last scoop in that I had added almost ALL whole wheat stone ground flour instead of 1/4 whole wheat stone ground flour and 3/4 regular all purpose flour.  

I had another strike against me anyway as instead of having a small box of chocolate pudding, I only had a large box of chocolate pudding.  I figured - well, maybe the extra pudding will help even it out.  It was not nearly as liquidy as the first batch I made, but I figure it would all work out.

I got the first batch out and I put the toothpick in, and it came out indicating it needed more time in the oven.  I put the tin back in and licked the toothpick (Don't judge me, you know you all do it!") and it did NOT taste good!  And by that I mean it did not taste chocolatey and gooey - it tasted like whole wheat stone ground flour.

So while those muffins finished cooking, I decided to doctor up the rest of the batch.  I added some more cocoa and sugar and some extra chocolate chips.  Then, I got the first batch of muffins out of the oven, re-lined and filled the muffin tin, and put the second batch in the oven.  I then dusted a first batch muffin with powdered sugar and tasted it.  And it was warm and chocolatey and gooey.  Not quite the same as the original recipe, but almost as good.  You know - the kind of good tasting when you know it is healthy but it also feels a little decadent.  

So, I just got the second batch out of the oven - the batch that I doctored up.  Hopefully I didn't ruin those ones! Ok, the suspense was killing me, so I went in and tried one from the second batch.  You will be happy to know they are very good also.  You can still detect the healthiness of the stone ground whole wheat flour, but the rich chocolate and moistness of the cake makes it feel very decadent.  

The moral of the story - don't bake after 10:00 p.m. because you are likely tired, confused, and not paying attention well enough to follow the directions you make up in your head.  You will make a mistake in your recipe and waste time and ingredients trying to doctor up your mistakes.  Then you will worry about your mistakes and wonder how you can justify throwing out perfectly good muffins just because they don't taste like the original recipe.  Then, you will taste the muffins and they will be fine and you will have wasted an hour of your time baking muffins, blogging about your mistakes and then realizing your mistakes weren't so bad after all and all of this was for nothing.  

Consider it a lesson learned!  I promise to never try to make something healthy again.

Wait . . .  that didn't come out right.

I guess I should also make a rule that nothing good can come from blogging after 10:00 p.m.!