Office progress photos

There's been about a two week time-lapse since these were taken, but I figured I'd post them anyways.  This first one is a view into the master bedroom/office closet now that the paneling has been removed.  You can see the office in the background.
Next is the gaping hole where the non-original built-in bookshelf used to be.  You can see the knob and tube wiring that I'm guessing used to feed a closet light, but now leads to our bedroom light and fan.  The framing is between the soon-to-be office closet and the office.
And all the demo debris...  We ended up tossing a lot of it out the window (classy, huh?) to avoid tracking dirt all over the house.  The plaster bits we loaded into paper bags and carried out like normal human beings.
Currently, all of the patches are covered over and 3 of the walls and the ceiling are ready to be primed.  As of yesterday, the ceiling was textured to match the rest of the house.  We probably could have gone with smooth, since Tony did a great job on repairs, but we thought it would be odd to have 1 bedroom smooth and the rest of the house with a "crowsfoot" texture. 
We had some scheduling conflicts with the electrician, so the the knob-and-tube is still in service.  Once that is removed, Tony can repair the last little bit of the last wall, and we can frame in the new closet opening.  Right now the old wiring is in the way...
I was really hoping to be done by this coming weekend, but I don't think it's gonne happen.  We're still pretty close, though.  At least we're done with the really messy stuff.


Mulberry jam

A few years ago I noticed that there were several trees on our property that were dropping berries all over the place. After a little research, I found they were mulberry trees and that the berries are edible. I guess I kinda always knew they were edible, because I remember eating them as a kid. I just never knew what they were called. Last year I picked a bunch, but only ate a few. They're good to eat, but just can't compare to fresh raspberries or blackberries. Their flavor is more subtle. Plus, they're a royal pain to pick.

This year, I'd been noticing out the office window that the mulberries were getting ripe. One of the few benefits of not having curtains, I suppose. I didn't think much of it, though, until after the bad storms a few days ago. I went out into the yard to find that a TON of mulberries had fallen from the tree. Picking them up off the ground is much easier than picking them from the tree (or would have been if my big, pregnant belly wasn't in my way), and I picked up about 4 quarts in an hour.

I had been itching to make jam and had just recently read about a woman making mulberry jam. Using her recipe (4 cups of berry puree/juice, 5 cups of sugar, 1 box of pectin) but halving the sugar and using Ball no-sugar-needed pectin, I made two batches of mulberry jam.

This all started last night, and I was nervous about how it would turn out. Not only had I never made jam before, but I'd never done a thing with mulberries except eat a few off the tree. After I had run the berries through my food mill to remove the stems and seeds, I tasted the puree. It was less than appetizing. For some reason, the resulting puree tastes worse than the fruit it came from. This has held true for me for both the mulberries and strawberries. I don't know why. But I plowed ahead anyways and hoped for the best.

After simmering and adding pectin and sugar, I tasted the mixture again. MUCH better. In fact, it was awesome! It's amazing what cooking and a little sugar can do. After testing the mix on a chilled spoon to make sure it would gel, I poured it into jars and processed them in my canner. One jar was only half full, so I set that one aside to use immediately. My "midnight" snack last night was a peanut butter and mulberry jam toasted sandwich.

I'm not sure how to relate how good it feels to have taken something from my yard and made edible, good-tasting food from it. Since I haven't ever really gardened or anything, this was my first experience truly making food. I'm just amazed, not only that it turned out so well, but that it came from my yard! Gardening and preserving is just so fulfilling. I really don't know why more people don't do it...

Strawberry jam!

Today's advenure started at the farmer's market.  I bought a flat (8 quarts) of "second" strawberries for $12.  Once I got home, I ran them through the food mill to remove the stems, leaves, and the little stalk in the middle.  The food mille (mine's a Roma), has to be one of the coolest inventions ever.  It would have taken forever to remove all the stems and leaves manually.  Even though I ran the "waste" through about 5 or 6 times to make sure I extracted all the juice and pulp I could, it still only took about 30 minutes to process all the berries.  I ended up with about 3 cups of actual waste for 6.5 quarts of berries.  We saved the other quart and a half to eat.
I poured all the puree and juice into my big stock pot, then measured out what I needed for each batch of jam.  My recipe calls for 3.5 - 4 cups of "juice" per package of pectin.
I simmered the juice for 10 minutes, then added 1 package of Ball no-sugar-needed pectin mixed with 1/4 cup of sugar.  I brought it to a boil and added another 2.5 cups of sugar.  The volume of liquid pretty much doubled by this point, and I probably could have used a bigger pot...  After boiling hard for 1 minute, I removed it from heat and checked to make sure it would gel.  I had put a spoon in my ice container earlier, so I scooped up a half spoonful and let it cool.  It gelled!  So I poured it into my little half pint jars.  Each batch gave me 5.5 jars. 
Then I loaded my 11 jars into my big, huge water canning pot and processed them for 10 minutes.

I'll be canning again tonight, as I still have over half of my puree/juice left....  I always thought canning was difficult, since most people have stopped doing it.  I'm finding that it's really pretty enjoyable.  The actual cooking part took about a half hour per batch.  I'm going to try cooking a double batch next time, which will make it go a bit faster overall.  Still, I'll have about 3 - 3.5 hours invested in pureeing, cooking, and processing by the time I'm done.  I don't think that's bad for about 27 or 28 jars of jam.  Total cost will be around $20  ($1.50 per box of pectin x 5, $12 for strawberries, and $1.25 for an on-sale bag of sugar), making the jam cost around $0.72 per jar.  How's that for a bargain?  Plus, I know exactly what's in my jam and where it came from.

Hopefully within a year or two, I'll be making jam with my own home-grown strawberries...!


Why I love my living room

Without a doubt, this room has the best natural light out of any in the house.  My favorite time of day in here is late afternoon/early evening.  It's not bright anymore; there's just a soft, natural light that makes the room feel very cozy.  The gold we chose for the walls enhances the warmth of the room.  I'm so glad we didn't stick with the Roycroft copper red that we had...  With all the windows, it almost feels like you're sitting on the porch.  Now that the futon isn't blocking the windows, there's an even greater connection to the outside, and I can see the tops of the ferns in the bed in front of the porch.  Right now there's hardly any traffic, and I can hear tons of birds singing.   

Looks like the critters like it in here too...

Times like this make me wonder how I'll ever manage to leave this house behind...  When we moved in, this room was straight out of the 80s.  Now, it's like a little Craftsman oasis.  I'm so very happy with the way it turned out.  Just sitting in here, doing nothing, makes me feel so contented.  Everything in this room just screams "home" to me, from the glowing pine floors to the homemade pottery.  I can't wait til the rest of the house is done.  I hope it feels as good as this room does.

In which I finally say goodbye to the Redi-Shades

When we moved here almost 4 years ago, one of the first things we I did was to tear apart this living room.  This included the drapes.  For about a year, we lived without window coverings of any kind, but we finally decided we needed some privacy from the neighbors.  Enter the Redi-Shade.  It's a piece of "pleated" paper with double-sided tape at the top and little clothespins at the bottom.  You simply cut them to the width of your window and, voila!  Instant privacy.  They really don't look all that terrible either.  Definitely not the classiest, but nobody walked in the door and said, "Oh my God!  You have paper shades!  How tacky!"  And since nobody did this, I honestly wonder if anyone ever noticed...

But I noticed.  My friend Kendra has a little bungalow that came with these awesome blinds that you could open from the top or the bottom.  I always loved them, but couldn't find any in the stores that would fit our windows without custom ordering.  I was willing to pay for them eventually, but there always seemed to be other priorities.

But one day, while browsing JCPenny.com after looking at someone else's top-down/bottom-up shades that they had bought there, I finally found my shades.  I waited for them to go on sale, then got them for $17 each! 

They finally came in the mail yesterday, and I installed them this morning.  That part was a serious pain in the ass.  The screws that came with the mounting hardware were cheap as heck, and stripped even though I was just using a manual screwdriver.  I finally just used the short screws instead of the long ones, since I don't think anyone's going to be hanging from the shades.  At least I certainly hope not...  Other than that, they were sretty simple and straightforward to install.  One of the things I like is that the hardware is invisible once the shade is mounted.  They don't have that cheap-looking little plastic box on either side like most non-custom blinds.

Then I realized how God-awfully dirty the windows were.  So I washed the 4 living room windows, including the triple track storms.  Most times I hate our replacement windows, but being able to tilt them out for cleaning is a HUGE bonus in my book. 

Once the windows were nice and clean, I thought it was sad how much the futon blocked the view of the beautiful triple window at the front of the house.  So I rearranged the living room.  Thankfully the furniture is all on little felt pads, so I could just slide it around the floor.

Since I had to move the area rug, now I was really noticing how dull the floor looked near the dining room doorway.  So I touched up the area with a very light coat of shellac to make it shine again.  Can't do that with polyurethane!

Then I stopped to admire my work and saw that it was good.
Now if we could just get some pictures hung on the walls...


Hurry up and wait

Because he has a family and two "real" jobs, Tony the Drywall Guy hasn't been able to come over very often or for very long.  Next week, his family obligations are cleared up, and he said he'll stay until we kick him out!  I can't wait, since I'm a little tired of living and sleeping in a construction zone.  I'm hoping things go as planned and he can completely finish the job within 2 weeks.  I've got my fingers crossed...

While I'm waiting, I've been trying to organize all the hand-me-down baby items I've acquired.  My sister-in-law and cousins have been very generous, and a co-worker's wife has also offered all of her baby clothes, plus another friend is sending me some.  Yipes!  This kid isn't even born yet and already has more clothes than me!  I've got clothes from newborn all the way up to 3T.  Onesies, sleepers, blankets, socks, hats, coats, shoes, shirts...  I could probably open a store with all the baby clothes I have.  And I haven't even had my shower yet!  If anyone I know reads this, please don't get me any clothes!!

Our little garden is also slowly starting to grow.  We're going to have a ton of broccoli, and just the right amount of tomatoes and peppers to not be overwhelmed.  Now if the berries would just show up at the farmers market I could start making my jam...  We're also just about out of our freezer stash of veggies.  I think all I have left is some freezer-burnt broccoli (we still use it in stir-fry) and a few bags of corn.  I'm trying to be patient, but fresh fruit and veggies just sound SO good...


Office progress (Or: holy shit, what did we do?!)

Holy. Crap. I know we're on the way to making things better, but as of right now, they just seem so much worse!! Last night, Shayne and I partially gutted the former master bedroom closet. This is going to be put back the way it was originally and separated into 2 closets: one for the master bedroom, one for the office. So our prep work consisted of tearing down all the paneling the that PPOs installed over the plaster, removing a scabbed-on heat duct from the main duct, tearing out a non-original built-in bookshelf that faced out into the master bedroom, tearing down part of a wall for the new closet opening, and removing the sections of plaster and lath that were too far gone to save.

And I thought the upstairs was in chaos before... We now have a gaping hole in our bedroom wall, through which you can see all the way through the closet and out the office window. To say it looks like a crack house is an understatement. it was actually kind of scary sleeping up there last night. Even though it was dark, I could just feel that big opening that doesn't belong there. Yeek.

I took pictures, but since the computer and all associated cables are packed away at the moment... I'll try to dig out the camera cord this evening and at least load the pics from the laptop.

The good news is that we didn't find any surprises. At this point in the game, surprises are bad. We're still trying to handle the last surprise of knob and tube wiring.

More good news is that Tony is coming over this afternoon to help fix our chaos. I think he'll still be working on the office ceiling, but by Thursday he should be able to start on the closet. A few more weeks, and hopefully our rooms will be back the way they should be...