Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Flunkie?

I've been looking over the qualifying rules for the new Cash for Clunkers program, but it looks like it won't make sense for us. We're not looking to take on any more debt, and though we might qualify for the highest redeemable value on my vehicle (since it meets the qualifications of 18 or fewer mpg), it appears it's just applicable for trade in on new cars...not newer used vehicles...despite the increased gas efficiency. To get a new car, despite the great trade-in value with the program, we'd be out a chunk of money, and that's not in the plan right now.

I'll have to doublecheck tthrough a dealer, just to make sure the program only allows all that towards new cars.

It's said when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. I'm not sure my Lemon till we find out differently, we're back to craigslist ads for a bit longer. I'm not sure how popular 8 cylinder engines are at this point, hmmm... :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This stint of lingering flu is driving me nuts! My garden is not sympathetic :) If you really MUST hear more whinging and whining about this subject, it's all I've got for today's post at Not Dabbling in Normal.

Not that I'm grouchy or anything...



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dog Dreams

Hurry up, fence. I need to adopt my rescue dog. (Yes, YOU, you beautiful little guy!)

Speaking of beautiful! We're still a ways from being set up properly, we still have no idea which dog or dogs will be available then. I hope all the ones that are adopted before then go to the best of homes! We're still hoping for ours sooner than later...(I've got an extensive list of names going already, yeah!)

That's the gaze, folks. (Yes, girl, if I can adopt you, I'll love you forever, too!)

We're choosing carefully. We want a dog from a rescue organization or shelter, and are choosing among mixes of particular breeds that'll be happiest and best suited with us, and us with him or her.

I'm happy going back and seeing where any of these beautiful faces have been removed due to being adopted. And I'll be happy when it's us!

At any rate, I'm amazed there are so many dogs waiting. So many potential family and life companions. SO beautiful...

This search has gotten me very interested in some of the activities beyond farm dog that might be in our future together...therapy dog? search and rescue? agility?

Well, Farm Dog is the best job to have, eh?...or Robbyn's Constant Mind-Reading and Cold Wet Nose Companion.


Update: Our schedules have to stabilize before we can push further with our projects. The backyard is like a weedy jungle as our hours are long and irregular, I've been sick with the flu and ear infections, and blah blah blah. We expect good things to break any minute, as change seems to be our constant. God is, as always, very good to us!

I hope your July is going well!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pulling In the Same Direction

...something I've given a lot of thought to lately as our endurance is tested. More thoughts on it at my post today over at NotDabblingInNormal...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playing with House Design

First, an apology! Our workdays are eating us alive right now, and I'm often brain-dead when I am able to be here at the computer. No complaints...we're living life and I do get a lot of that commuting time with Jack now that we're sharing one vehicle. But I wanted to apologize for my delay in answering comments...I do read them all, and appreciate them all!

One of the things I've enjoyed ever since my youth is sketching house plans...I'm not sure why, but I've always been able to picture in my mind's eye what the 3-D would look like as I'm drawing things out on graph paper less dimensionally. When I get an idea, or see something really neat as far as an architectural design in real life, I love being able to put it on paper, rearrange to my heart's content, and "solve" problems there though most of them have never seen the light of day in actual construction.

I had my daughter at a much younger age than many of my contemporaries who waited till their thirties to start their families, and I was a stay-at-home working mom (I kept other folks' kids for many of those years). Now and then as I imagined a more workable floor plan, or dreamed of having more children (I'm one of those people who'd love to have ten or more), I'd grab a notebook and sketch just for fun. I filled notebooks with floor plans for houses, and those went through phases as the years progressed. What used to be my ideal house on paper was much larger than what I ever ended up needing compared to today's doodles. It was also influenced by the older homes I'd see out in the countryside wherever I lived, so when I lived on the Kentucky border my house plans took on the roomy farmhouse sprawl I so love, with open porches, and so on.

I've been through floor plan love affairs, and crushes on certain styles. There are very few styles I'm not drawn to at least somewhat, and I've always been very happy where I've lived, and have adapted my preferences from past houses (I've moved a lot!) into my house doodles.

When I married a man who built houses "on the side," I was in raptures! And though he's no longer in business that way since the big economic crash, I've had a lot of fun running ideas past him...we're slowly piecing together a house plan of our own.

He has a wish list, and I have mine, and they look very different from the one I made as a new mother expecting a very large family. We have different goals, and I'm glad we've had to work together and compromise to come up with what we've finally hashed out as our rough working plan to build in the future.

Here are the things we've had to incorporate...because of parameters we've both negotiated as our "best" list:

Jack's list:

1. Building materials --For our climate, he wants building materials as indestructable as possible. Mold and insect-resistant. Strong enough for high winds. Easy to construct. Lasting, not subject to rot. Easy to adapt to different styles of architecture. This has meant.......concrete. Whether it's blocks or poured walls, it'll have to be concrete underneath (walls, everything). Stucco or similar finish to the exterior.

2. A 3-12 pitch roof. That's pretty flat, but still with a bit of a slope. I don't like those nearly as much as my preference for nice steep gables, but he convinced me when he said he'd be doing any roof maintenance himself and wanted to walk around on a lower pitch roof.

3. All appliances grouped as much as possible on outside walls. This has to do with ease of maintenance, construction, and any future repairs. It also has to do with positioning plumbing within easy access of the septic.

4. Proximity of kitchen to garage. He wants it as close as possible for ease of unloading things.

5. Separate closets in master bedroom.

6. Bathroom attached to MBR.

7. Tile or concrete/cement floors throughout house. As little wood used in construction as possible to mitigate insect potential.

8. No wall-to-wall carpet anywhere. Yes to throw rugs and area rugs that are manageable sizes for taking outside and "beating" to clean.

9. A woodstove that could be used for cooking if we go without electricity at any point.

10. Plenty of natural light in house, but no openings in roof to let light in. Playing with house design to incorporate transom windows or passive solar design for additional light.

11. A one story house, and other things designed to help us build this house as quickly and easily as possible when the time comes.

12. Jack's biggest preference: planning it all ahead of time for ease of construction and maintenance and flexibility to types of heating and cooling. We'll use the easiest design rather than things that would have to be engineered, which has eliminated a lot of types of roof design and wall span dimensions but will allow him to hire helpers who can do simply construction with a design that can be put together quickly. Therefore, it's pretty much a straight roofed house, no ells or roofline breaks. This will help immensely with construction and materials costs.

13. Design it for future expansion, possibly.

14. Jack is the efficiency and insulation freakazoid. Just another thing I love about the man!

15. Tankless water heater if we can do that.

Here's my list:

1. Kitchen not split, no main traffic area going through it to elsewhere. Also kitchen not shut off from main living areas...I prefer things very open but no traffic through kitchen. This has meant putting laundry and garage entry elsewhere.

2. Good traffic flow, not awkward, not interrupting other spaces. This is hard to describe, but have you ever lived in a house where the front door opens right onto everyone seated in the main living area...or where you have to go through one bedroom to get to another? I like to "live" in a place in my mind, imagining what it would be like going through the house doing daily things and solving some of the potential traffic problems with design. I like the main seating area to be grouped without the main flow of traffic cutting right through the middle.

3. Planned areas for de-cluttering. Jack leaves his keys, shoes, coat, etc near the exit, and that's just how he likes it. I don't want them cluttering the main areas, but do want to have them planned for because a house is to live in, and should be easy to live in. Cute little cubbies and such don't work for us, but having a back entrance that's the main point of entry from the garage and in proximity to a "mud" area would be ideal. A row of hooks, a couple of lockers for stashing the stuff that currently is the grab-and-go clutter, and we'd be in business.

4. Laundry area easy to access, easy to use, somewhat roomy. Close to back entry for ease of getting the dirty gardening and work clothes into the wash without tracking through the rest of the house to get there.

5. Lots of windows, the sort that open, and sited where they'll cool our home 1/2 of the year. Biggest wish in this category...MBR windows that are far enough off the ground that anyone outside cannot simply break them and step in...I want them elevated. Because I want to be able to sleep with the windows open and the fan on at night without anyone easily being able to enter from outside. This has been one of our biggest head-scratchers for over a year now, and the cause of our waffling back and forth between building a 2 story or 1 story house. We finally solved it by planning to elevate the entire house by building it up with a higher stemwall foundation than normal, which will also give us an advantage if there were ever any flooding.

5. No dark kitchen. It has to have a lot of light.

6. Not splitting the views from different areas. I like windows grouped for maximum visibility from inside instead of splitting it among a few that are spaced here and there but dont allow for a good look out. I want to see what's going on outside easily. These windows need to open to allow for a good breeze flow, too.

7. Keep it simple. We'll build the basics, and after once in the house, can customize the finishing of it. There is still something to living in a house to know it best, no matter how well planned it is.

8. Ease of preparing and storing food. Good sized pantry, good work areas in kitchen, no-fuss surfaces that can take some wear and tear and a lot of cleaning. Room for pots and bulky items. Use of vertical space.

9. Elegance with basic materials. We won't be able to afford luxury and custom things unless we later do-it-ourselves with a few projects. The basic design, materials, etc have to be durable, but I do want to personalize it with good This will be an ongoing thing, and Jack's aboard with that, too. We'll love going to salvage yards for much of this, and I hope to have some free reign artistically with creativity and color and many of the finish elements.

10. Thinking smaller in a big way. We want maximum usage with smaller spaces. What I once thought was necessary living space I now find is bigger than we need. This leads to my next wish...

11. Higher ceilings for smaller spaces, to cool hot areas, to keep from feeling claustrophobic. I want ceilings a minimum of 9 feet, optimally 10 feet high at least in living areas, with very simple ceiling fans.

12. Position doorways to maximize available wall space.

13. House built so that if electricity is not in use, house still functions very well.

14. Small wood stove in living area, big enough for two dutch ovens, etc, on top. We don't need a big one because staying cool is our biggest challenge, not heating. But I want the option to cook without electricity if needed, and to heat the house those two or three months with a very small wood heat source. Plus, I just love fireplaces and wood stoves, and we can't justify a fireplace at this point.

15. A large soaking tub. If it has jacuzzi jets, all the better. That's simply a luxury wish, but it's soooooo nice to soak achey bones after hard work :)

16. All entries, doorways, bathrooms, traffic areas designed for frail or wheelchair-bound people to easily access. When I hurt my knee and had to wheel myself to the bathroom two years ago, it changed my whole perspective on this. We have to design this for when we're elderly because we plan on being in this house for the rest of our lives. For that same reason, the MBR must be on first-floor level and have easy access to a walk-in (doorless) shower. We incorporated that into the plan. Same thing for outdoor access...if we have to step up to get into the house, somewhere there'll need to be an access ramp in case we can't do steps when we're very very old, or are injured.

17. Dining/eating area can be all one room as far as I'm concerned. But I want the space flexible enough that if I want to extend the table to fit a lot of people there's a way to do that.

18. Main entrance offset from living area. We achieved this somewhat by positioning it between living and eating area and also having a porch across that side's exterior to help there be a middleground before direct entry into the house.

10. Keep it simple.

11. I'd like to have a metal roof. That's just a wish. I didnt want a flat roof, though we did play with that in some designs, and it could be useful space. In the end, we went with a low pitch roof.

12. A guest room that doubles as small office. And speaking along those lines, we BOTH want to have an efficiency studio living space somewhere beyond the house (attached, over the garage, off to the side, somewhere) as a rental and for longer-stay guests. We live in Florida and would like to have a place for families to come rather than stay in a hotel. Not all our friends are into our sort of lifestyle, and having the flexibility of their being able to come and go in their own tiny cottage might be the best of both worlds. We do total rest on Saturdays (no cooking, shopping, work, etc), and that would also solve that for folks who want to do their own thing and come and go independently.

13. I'd love a porch. We were able to put one on this plan, yay!


both Jack and I want gardenias, jasmines, and other fragrant plants planted around the house, so when the windows are raised we can have those wonderful night scents coming in while the lazy ceiling fans draw in a breeze...ahhh :)

I can probably think of a lot more, but those are a lot of the main things.

The plan we FINALLY agreed on was drawn up and decided on about a month ago, after two years of experimenting and hitting stone walls between Jack's list and mine. Ease of construction and agreeing on design were our biggest obstacles. The result is not the house of the's simpler than we'd have wanted to try doing if we'd known each other and done this years ago. But it's great for us now, and I can see living there as a final house, not wishing for anything else. We were shooting to keep it under 1000 square feet, but had to build at least a 1000 to meet the requirements of the county for that property. I think it ended up being about 1500 square feet, and even with that, about half of it can be closed off and not need much A/C (laundry areas, etc). We went with the additional square footage in order to get some of the things under the same roof instead of plan them for later additions beyond the house, because it was simply easy with the very simple roofline Jack's wanting. In the end it was six and one half dozen of the other, and frankly easier to justify a few more square feet under that simplistic roof rather than do ground-up separate from the house structure.

If you could build the most workable and agreeable house for your needs, what would you include...and what would you never do again?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Herbed Potato Soup

We eat a lot of soup around here, and no complaints :)

I've found that especially after a long work week, though I love special dishes for certain dinners, there's nothing quite as satisfying...and soup and some great snuggling with my hubby. It's a great slow AND fast food, and can be tweaked to what's on hand in the kitchen fairly easily. Couch time on the fly equals a date, to us, so I made us some comfort food and we caught a bit of Good Neighbors and Foyle's War (thank you, inter-library DVD loans). Soup's one of our favorite easy eats...this one featured the potato, and was easy.

I don't have a regular blender or food processor, but do have an immersion blender (those stick blenders you can make smoothies with right in the container). If someone has none of those, a handheld potato masher would do the trick pretty well, too, but the potatoes would have to be peeled ones only or you'll have big pieces of skin in there.

This is just a basic potato soup, very unscientific as to proportions of this and that. I like the combination of flavors rich with basil. Ingredients can be adjusted to include ones that are on hand, and bits of this and that. Here's what went into mine this weekend...

Rich Basil Potato Soup (ha, it's just potato soup with basil and some spices)

Several white or yellow potatoes (6-10) depending on size and preference, scrubbed and cubed (mine are unpeeled)
Several carrots, chopped
Several celery ribs and tops, chopped
Onion, chopped
One red sweet pepper, chopped
Large can chicken stock

Dried or fresh basil, lots
Garlic powder
Pepper and Salt
Dash of oregano
Few dashes hot sauce

Add later:
Several dabs of real butter
Whole milk

Cook all ingredients together, covered, in heavy soup pot, except spices and milk and butter, till all veggies are tender. Add a little water if there's not enough liquid just to cover. Stir to make sure nothing sticks.

When all is cooked tender, put stick blender down in pot and blend ingredients till desired consistency...I like it almost, but not all liquified. Turn down heat to low setting, and stir in butter and enough milk to thin soup to consistency you desire (I'm generous with the milk).

Add spices, adjusting to your own taste. I prefer a lot of garlic and basil and enough cayenne to warm the tastebuds. Heat a while longer, stirring frequently, then serve. This does even better after cooled and refrigerated overnight to allow flavors to mingle.
I like to serve this in bowls very hot with some shredded cheese added to each bowl just when serving, or with hot cheese toast.

This is a keeper now...we liked this well enough to have it added to the Tried 'n True category, mmm :)

For further experimentation, I'm thinking of making this with the same ingredients next time, omitting the basil and oregano, and adding chopped spinach and parmesan.

Update: Did the spinach number with the next batch, and froze some...we'll see how well it stands up to freezing. It was good but not as good as plain potato-cheese soup or the basil version above.

Good ol' potatoes...the poor man's riches! :)

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Handful of Harvest

These Persian limes fruited even after our transplanting the trees in the most disadvantageous time of year. Their roots really needed to spread out, and we were afraid of losing them entirely if they had to endure the summer in pots. We lost our Meyer lemon trees from last year that way, and didn't want a repeat.

These beautiful little guys are about as big as a VERY small chicken egg.

So many of our harvests at this point are handfuls (or handsful, for the English teachers out here)...3 limes, 6 figs, a handful of raspberries. But we'll eat them! Here's a somewhat blurred closeup of the figs we enjoyed tasting out-of-hand last night...

The exceptions to the handful harvest so far this year have been the tropical pumpkins and the purple hull cowpeas, and now okra. Even though our patches of those are small, they yielded well, and I can see how some judicious planning as far as times of year and how many plants could bring us in a modest bounty with some left over to preserve.

We have all the makings for a forest garden but the forest, but do have enough tree starts to group together to realize some fruit before too many years. We are already harvesting moringa leaves as we're able from the saplings Jack grew from seed. They're fast growers, so there is enough to harvest to enable us to collect a small branch once or twice a week for use as tea or to add to foods. It's got an incredible nutritional value, and we're leaning towards trying to incorporate as many of the preventive medicinals and nutritives as possible straight from the garden, since we use no chemicals.

That's also the fun of the handfuls, too...whether a little or a lot, we're not worried about any ill effects. The limes are very small, and we'll only get a few, but I can utilize the whole fruit without any worries about sprays or poisons. That's what's stopped me from using the beautiful citrus we get in the stores here...I have no idea what pesticides are in those lovely skins and just don't want to make marmalade or use the zests or preserve them in any way if they've been sprayed.

Ah well, enough of that ramble for now. I worked last night but there's okra to pick...and no complaints here! :)

I hope you have a great weekend!

Shabbat shalom to you from us...Jack, me, the songbirds, fireants, squirrels, herons, egrets, buzzards, hawks, bobwhites, woodpeckers, blacksnakes, deer, possums, raccoons, bobcats, weasels, denizens of insects, tree frogs, lizards, and rampant Bermuda grass... to you and yours!