Making things!

I think I've become addicted to making things.  In the past few weeks, I've made several batches of soap.  I'm using hot process in my crockpot (instructions and photos to come), and I've made a darn good imitation of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap.  I toyed with a few other recipes and scents, too.  The lavender came out a bit iffy, but the lemongrass/clary sage oatmeal soap is nice, as is the oat and honey.  I haven't quite gotten the hang of adding enough essential oil to properly scent the soap, but it lathers really well in my hard water - which is far more important to me.  So many handmade soaps I've tried just don't have long-lasting bubbles, and I need to re-soap my pouf or washcloth halfway through my shower.  But my soap bubbles, so I'm ecstatic.  :)

Tonight, on a whim, I whipped up a mini-batch of chapstick.  I'm utterly addicted to Burt's Bees peppermint (hmmm, I'm noticing a minty trend here...), but I'm on my last tube.  I'm also not addicted to the $3.50 per tube price tag.  After a bit of Googling and a peek at the ingredients on the real thing, I got busy. Here's my recipe:

.2 oz beeswax
.3 oz coconut oil
.1 oz shea butter
.05 oz avocado oil
peppermint essential oil, "to taste"

I melted all the ingredients, except the peppermint EO, using a 2 oz mason jar in my cast iron skillet with some water (sort of a mini double boiler).  After the beeswax melted, I dipped a knife into the mixture, removed it, and allowed the chapstick to cool so I could check its texture.  It was perfect; not too oily and not too hard.  I removed the mason jar from the heat, added about .2 mL of peppermint EO, stirred, and poured the chapstick into 2 little tins I'd ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs ages ago.

Broke and Healthy, one of the sites I used while coming up with my recipe, breaks down the cost of making this chapstick from scratch.  By their calculations, each .15 oz tube of chapstick costs $.08 to make.  My recipe weighed about .6 oz, making each tin cost approximately $.16.  My tins cost about $.70.  Even including them, which is kind of silly since I'll use them over and over, the cost to make this at home was about 25% of retail.  And it took less than 10 minutes.  You can bet I'll be doing that again!

I love the feeling I get when I replicate something I usually buy.  Yes, I'm still a consumer, because I have to buy my oils, beeswax, and other ingredients.  But the "value added" part of the equation?  That's me!  I have total control over the ingredients; no petroleum products, preservatives, or artificial anythings.  And, I'm not giving any of my money to corporations with questionable ethics or business policies.  Good stuff!

EDIT - I sat down a few nights ago and figured out my actual costs, based on the real ingredients I had purchased, including tubes, which I didn't originally have.  As made, it cost me $.20 per tube (of that, the tube cost $.14, so my chapstick was only $.06 per tube!!).  If I were to make it using all organic ingredients, which I plan on doing when I sell these and/or run out of my current stock of oils, it would cost $.24 per tube.


The fall pantry

Last year at this time I posted about how important it is to prepare for winter, both literally (when there is little to no fresh, local food available), and figuratively (when a crisis, personal or environmental, may prevent you from buying or acquiring food).  This year, at almost the same time, I find myself thinking the same thoughts.  Deja vu?  Maybe a little.  We've been living without my paycheck for just about 4 months now.  We are solvent, but it's tight.  Really tight.  In spite of our simple lifestyle, it has still been an adjustment, and we have to watch every. single. penny that we spend.

In spite of our financial constraints (we spend less per week on groceries than a family of four could receive on food stamp benefits [$167, in case you're curious]), we've been able to really stock our pantry.  Please excuse the cruddy pic; our camera broke and I can only take pics with my phone now.

In contrast, here are the same shelves in January of 2011, when Shayne had just built them:

At first glance, the thing I notice most is that the shelves are much, MUCH more full in the first picture.  All canned/jarred goods are at least 5 jars deep (for quarts) or as many as 7 deep (for half pints).  That's really a lot of food we have stashed on those shelves.

The second thing I noticed is how much less processed food we now have.  Yes, there's storebought cereal - I'll get around to making my own granola one of these days - and crackers, noodles, and some soups.  But there are a lot more "staples" like dried beans, canned veggies and fruits, oats (in mylar bags in the kitty litter tub), wheat (in buckets, not shown), and flour (also not shown). 

I did a bit of an inventory the other day, and found that I have nearly 3 months of food stored up.  Here's what that looks like (items with an asterisk are things I preserved myself):
  • 50 lbs of wheat
  • 20 lbs various flours
  • 2 jars of yeast
  • 20 lbs oats
  • 4 lbs of mixed beans for soup
  • 3 lbs pinto beans
  • 3 lbs navy beans
  • 8 lbs kidney beans
  • 8 lbs lentils
  • 4 lbs split peas
  • 3 lbs black beans
  • 15 lbs brown and white rice
  • 2 lbs wild rice
  • 8 pints canned tomatoes*
  • 5 quarts tomato juice*
  • 12 quarts pasta sauce*
  • 20 lbs pasta
  • 8 pints applesauce*
  • 6 pints pear sauce*
  • 17 pints sliced pears*
  • 7 20 oz cans of pineapple
  • 10 pints peaches*
  • 4 pints pickles*
  • 9 pints corn*
  • 2 pints maple syrup*
  • 5 pints chicken*
  •  Plus various canned soups, cereals, spices, flavorings, and cooking essentials (baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, olive oil, etc).  And coffee, which is certainly an essential.
And then there's the freezer...
  • 25 lbs ground beef
  • 7 lbs roasts
  • 10 lb ham
  • 5 lbs salmon
  • 5 lbs green beans*
  • 7 lbs corn*
  • 5 lbs mixed veggies
  • 10 Freedom Ranger chickens*
  • strawberries*
  • blueberries*
  •  raspberries*
  • orange, yellow, and red peppers*
  • butter
And the "root cellar" in the garage...
  • 50 lbs potatoes
  • 50 lbs onions
 Hungry?  :)

So...  How did we amass all this food on such a limited budget?  The wheat, oats, potatoes, and onions were bought in bulk.  The wheat and oats came from Country Life Natural Foods, a co-op nearby with great prices.  A 50 lb bag of wheat was $25 (compare to King Arthur flour, which is $3.29/5 lb bag at Meijer - $.65/lb.  Which is actually still a great deal on premium flour, but wheat berries are cheaper and more versatile).  The potatoes and onions came from Shelton's Farm Market, which offers pretty amazing deals on in-season produce, especially when you buy in large quantities.

The frozen and canned produce were bought in-season from either the farmer's market or Shelton's.  Every time I've calculated the cost of my home preserved versus store bought, the home canned/frozen comes out cheaper.  It's obviously more work, but I love knowing where my food has come from and what is in it.  Plus, I enjoy it!  For me, it is worth my time.

The rest was bought through watching sales.  Meijer really has some good sales on staples, so when I see them, I stock up.  Recently all olive oil was 25% off, so I bought a gallon jug.  Their brand of pasta goes on sale for $.89 per 1 lb box.  And strawberries (though I much prefer local, we didn't freeze enough in June) can be gotten for $1/lb. 

Our fall preparations have also included storing more water and fuel.  Especially with little ones, if our power should go out for an extended period of time, I don't want to be too uncomfortable.  We still need some oil lamps and lamp oil, but I feel we could be reasonably comfortable in an emergency.  And considering that the average American doesn't have any sort of preparations or much of a pantry, I feel like we're a bit ahead of the game!


My week, in pictures

Picking apples

Pear sauce

The pantry is filling up!  Look at all my jars (the shelves are 5 jars deep)  :)

I promised myself a nice grain grinder if I started making my own bread...

Trains, trains, trains...


Under Construction

Please excuse the bare-bones layout.  I suddenly decided I hated the old one and wanted it gone.  Now.  :)


Oy.  Having a new baby during harvest season is a lot of work! I've managed to can 5 pints of chicken, 7 quarts of chicken broth, 2 quarts of beef broth, blanch and freeze about 2 pounds of green beans, and blanch 3 dozen ears of corn for freezing.  Tomorrow I need to cut the corn off the cob, vacuum seal it, and start thinking about tomatoes.  I love having my own sauce, but I'm seriously considering just skipping it this year.  We'll see.  If I know myself, I'll do it anyways, especially since the process isn't all that difficult.  Most of the time is spent just waiting for a giant vat of tomato puree to cook down.

We (I say "we" even though I had no part in the actual process, as I was on vacation at the time) had our Freedom Ranger chickens butchered last week.  I wasn't able to be all that involved in the process of raising them, since it was right at the end of my pregnancy and during Rowyn's newborn period.  All I really did was order the birds online, pick them up at the post office, and provide some consulting services.  But I now have 13 home-grown birdies in the freezer!  They averaged 4.5 lbs per bird, which is about $2.60/lb.  Definitely more expensive than store-bought chicken, but they were humanely raised, allowed room to roam, and are antibiotic-free.  I'm happy.

We're working out the kinks in our budgeting, and I'm making a lot more food from scratch.  I've almost gotten the perfect sandwich loaf down (will share the recipe when I do, though it isn't entirely whole wheat like I'd hoped), which will save us a ton of money from $4/loaf storebought bread. I'm also working on French bread.  Here's my first attempt, which was very pretty and tasted great:

I can't seem to get back into meal planning, though.  I know it would save us money and hassle, but for some reason the idea of deciding what to eat a week from now seems overwhelming.  I dunno.  I have a tentative plan for the next week, so I'll do my best to stick to it and see how it goes.


A Keeper

Today at the beach, Ethan wanted to climb on the big rocks in the water. I lifted him onto on, then held his hand to help him keep his balance. He grabbed me and held me around my leg and said, "I want to keep you. I'm going to keep you forever and ever."

I just didn't want to forget that moment.


Odds and ends

Whew!  What a busy few weeks it's been...  Wrangling a toddler, newborn, and recovering from a c-section is full-time work.  No joke.  Thankfully Shayne took a week off, then my mom came by on the days he was working to help me keep it together.  And then, about 3 weeks postpartum, I suddenly felt normal again.  It wasn't a gradual recovery; one day I was tired and sore, then the next morning I woke up and felt great.  I can still tell I've had a major surgery, but I don't feel crummy and exhausted like I did.  I feel like myself for the first time in over a year, and I'm loving it.

With my newfound energy, I'm starting to really clean and organize the house.  It was never dirty (I do have some standards!), but it has certainly gotten cluttered.  I'd also not been able to keep up with some of the things that get cleaned only occasionally, like the windows and baseboards.  But it's starting to come together.  Last week, I completely cleaned and reorganized the dining room.  The buffet and secretary are clean and organized, and all surfaces are clutter-free.  I also finally came up with a storage solution for our laptops (cloth-lined basket under the secretary), so it's a snap to clear the table for dinner or company.  I even had a friend unexpectedly stop by last week, and I didn't have to cringe over the condition of my house.  How's that for progress?

I still don't quite have it together enough to cook every night, so the meals I put in the freezer have been a lifesaver.  It's so nice to be able to just thaw something on the days I'm stressed or exhausted.  I definitely need to keep up on the freezer stash; it has almost entirely kept us from eating out, which has really helped us live within our new, tight budget.  We're still dipping into savings a bit here and there, but we've been on our "austerity measures" for less than a month, and we're still working out the kinks.

I still think daily about returning to work.  I'm so happy and busy here at home, but I want to move so badly.  It will be very, very hard to find the money to finish our renovations with any sort of speed unless I go back to work.  But going back to work means other expenses too, like childcare (for two!) and meals eaten out.  I'm not sure it makes complete sense once everything is factored in, but it's hard to shake the logic of two incomes meaning more money.  I still have 7 months to figure it out, so I'm trying very hard to just let it be.  It's not working, but I'm trying.  I'm hoping that once we get used to our new budget, we'll still find ways to save.  I'm also hoping that we'll find time to work on the house ourselves, saving the expense of hiring out work.

There will be bumps in the road, but for right now I'm very happy to be right where I'm at.  Everything else will fall into place.

She's here!!

Better late than never... 

On July 11, Rowyn Elizabeth was born!  She arrived via c-section, for many reasons, but she was/is perfectly healthy.


How to pasture poultry without a chicken tractor

When we first got chickens, we were surprised at how far from home they would wander.  They mostly stayed in our yard, but we found that they'd occasionally go over to the bar near our house, which is further than I expected them to go, and across a somewhat-busy street.  The current flock travels as well, but in a different direction.  I spoke with all the neighbors when we got chickens, but either I missed one, or they changed their mind.  Someone got upset about birds in their yard, and they called the humane society on us.  We weren't home when the officer came out, but we were given a warning about our birds "running at-large".  Oops.  I really wish the neighbor had just come to talk to us; I don't understand why they wouldn't want chickens in their yard eating their bugs, but I would have responded the same way I did to the humane society visit.  In other words, the chickens would have been kept in their run instead of ranging. 

Poor chickens.  In 3 weeks of confinement, their eggs went from having orange yolks to yellow yolks.  I don't think they were as pale as storebought eggs, but there was definitely a difference.  I'd let them out half an hour before sundown to range a bit, since they'd stay very close to their coop, but it just wasn't the same.  Shayne and I talked about fencing the yard; we talked about fencing an area around the coop.  But if we fenced the yard, it would ruin our views and access to the little woods behind the house.  Ethan plays back there, and the neighbors let us dump any yard waste that we don't burn.  And if we just fenced an area around the coop, we knew in short order it would be down to bare dirt.  They could exercise, but there wouldn't be any forage for the birds.  I didn't want to build a tractor, since we already had a nice coop and run.  Plus, most tractors small enough for me to move myself seem like they're too small to really let the birds exercise.  What to do?

After some serious googling, I came across Premier 1 Supplies and PountryNet.  It's portable netting made for pasturing poultry.  It's designed to be electrified, but we're just using it as a standard fence.  There are PVC posts every 10 feet with a U-shaped stake that you step on to push into the ground, and the fence itself is flexible, twisted wire 48" high.  The entire 100' roll weighs about 20 lbs, and it takes me about 10 minutes to set it up on the days I move it.  I'm sure it will be less once I'm not pregnant and can move a bit faster...  The birds get the benefit of fresh forage, my lawn gets fertilized, and the chickens don't stay in one place long enough to destroy the grass.  If there's a downside, I haven't yet found it.

We got the green netting, since we didn't want to draw attention to the fence.  I wasn't sure how it would look, and although we are in a somewhat rural area, we do try to keep things aesthetically pleasing.  I'm no Martha Stewart, but I didn't want our yard to look ghetto (for lack of a better term...).   I had to wait on the green fencing, as it was back-ordered, but I'm really pleased with it.  It's nearly invisible from the road, and it allows the birds enough area that I really only need to move it twice each week.

The chickens are happy, we should be back to getting healthy eggs, and hopefully we won't have any more problems with our neighbors.


Random thoughts

 It didn't start out that way, but today ended up being a busy day in the kitchen.  It was one of those days that reminded me how far I've come, which was really needed.  Since I'm not really having a garden this year, I feel like I'm taking steps backwards instead of forward.  But I am making progress, just in different directions.

Dinner was burgers on the grill (made with local, organic, grass-fed beef), with corn (home frozen), and coleslaw (I used Marzetti's dressing, but cut the cabbage and carrots myself).  Around cleaning up the kitchen afterwards, I took out the chicken broth I had made two nights ago, reheated, and canned it.  I also heated milk for yogurt, which is now cooling a bit before I can add the starter. 

My dishwasher is full of canning jars, there are 4 quarts of broth cooling on the counter, and more jars of milk and yogurt-to-be in the fridge.  I have a jar of homemade lotion on the window sill, and another jar of "Neosporin" ointment next to the stove.  My cupboards are full of them, containing everything from dry beans and pasta to peaches and applesauce.  If there is a single item that embodies homesteading, I'd have to say it's a Ball jar.  I need to get more.  I love them, and if it were up to me, my basement pantry would look like this:

Time to go check the yogurt and see if I can go to bed yet!


Thought for the day

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
~ William Morris

Things I love: antique kitchen "gadgets"

As we've started to make more and more food from scratch, we've found that our need for kitchen tools have changed as well.  Although I can and do make bread straight in the oven, I've found that the bread machine is great for set-it-and-forget-it days.  My food processor gets used all the time, for everything from making pie crusts to shredding blocks of cheese.  And my mini-chopper...  What would I do without you?  But for my truly back-to-basics food, I've fallen in love with hand-crank and antique "gadgets".

My first hand-crank appliance was my food mill.  It's not an antique (though the design is), but I love how simple it is.  I also love that there's hardly anything to break.  Most of the parts are cast aluminum or stainless steel, and it could function without any of the plastic bits if absolutely necessary, though it would be messy as heck! I think it says a lot that I love it as much now as I did when I got it 4 years ago.  Here's a picture of it in action, easily pureeing my applesauce:

My next gadget was an ice cream maker.  I had been thinking about getting an ice cream maker, but the one I really wanted (a White Mountain with a wooden bucket) was WAY out of my price range.  I could have gotten a Cuisinart or something for half the price, but they just seemed to lack personality.  But while browsing at the Shipshewana Flea Market that summer, I came across a vintage Alaska Freezer Co. ice cream maker.  It had a wooden bucket, hand crank, and the insides were wonderfully clean and functioned perfectly.  Price?  $25.  And the funny thing is, after doing a bit of research, I found that Alaska Freezer Co. bought out White Mountain back in 1963, but changed the name back to White Mountain in the '70s.  The design hasn't changed appreciably since the 1920s, so I basically got a $150 discount.  Isn't it so much more fun-looking than a white plastic appliance?

And then came the sausage stuffer...  I had been browsing on ebay, looking for a used one, when when I came across the Enterprise sausage stuffer and cider mill.  Cider?  And sausage?  From one appliance?  Both were things I'd been wanting to make, so I was sold!  A bit of research revealed that I'd again found an appliance that was still sold today, with an unchanged design.  So there went any hesitation I'd had that maybe the design wasn't very good.  It's not like you can find many reviews on antique appliances, you know?  So the search began.  I looked at rusty, crusty Enterprises, thinking that I could restore them.  I looked at fully-restored models, thinking that I didn't want the extra work.  And then, I found it.  It was clean and repainted on the outside, but the insides hadn't needed to be retinned.  The price was still a bit steep at just under $200 including shipping.  But it was gorgeous.  And so this beauty became part of my collection:

I haven't used it yet, but I will be making a batch of homemade brats soon to test it out.  And in the fall?  We're going to make cider!

My most recent addition was an Quaker City grain mill.  Again, it's a vintage grinder, but it's still in production (though now it's powdercoated). 

 This one, I don't plan on using regularly.  And it's not especially pretty.  But it's all metal and completely repairable by hand.  I wanted a grain mill to have for just-in-case, but all of the hand crank mills that were affordable were plastic and got terrible reviews.  This guy is bomb-proof.  The grind is somewhat coarse, and the wheat needs to be run through at least twice (unless you have arms of steel) to get flour.  But if the shit ever really does hit the fan?  I'll have bread.  This is one place where I was willing to build in a bit of redundancy.  The mill cost $75, and even if/when I get a good electric mill (like the Nutrimill), I'll still be out far less cash than if I'd shelled out for a Country Living grain mill, which is the gold standard in hand-crank mills. 

But I'm not done yet...  In the future, I'd like to add a hand-crank cherry pitter and an Arcade coffee grinder, which I think is probably the prettiest coffee grinder I've ever seen:

I guess, just like with houses, I like my appliances and gadgets to have some personality.  And while the frilly-ness of the Victorian era appeals to me not at all, there is something to be said for everyday items that were designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing.  I truly believe and try to live by the William Morris' adage that, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  I aim for my possessions to be both. 


The reality of homesteading, parenting, and working

At first I thought I could do it all.  Plenty of people work full-time and raise happy, well-adjusted kids, I told myself.  Hell, I was one of them!  My mom was a single parent, so she worked full-time out of necessity.  My grandmother helped with childcare when I was little, then I went to an after school care at our local Salvation Army after we moved to Indiana.  My mom still came home every night and made dinner, and we always spent time together in the mornings too.  I'm sure the arrangement was sometimes difficult for her, and I know now that she would have stayed at home with me (and any potential siblings) if my parents had remained married.  But I never felt like we didn't have enough time together or that I was in any way neglected, and we are still very close.

When I got pregnant with Ethan, I just sort of assumed I would send him to daycare and continue with my career.  I'd never really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and I felt like we'd be able to provide a better quality-of-life for ourselves and our family if we had two incomes.  We are fortunate enough to have family who watches Ethan when I am at work, and because Shayne works midnights, he can watch Ethan in the evenings.  The time the little guy has to be away from home is pretty minimal, so we were mostly satisfied.

But what became apparent in the two years we both worked full time was that our quality of life did suffer, just not in the ways we expected.  I still made time to garden, preserve food, and cook from scratch.  We even managed to refinish our floors and get some work done on the house.  But we suddenly became "time poor", and this is even more evident now that I'm pregnant and Ethan needs more supervision.  We don't spend much time together as a family.  Ethan is always with family, but not often with both mom and dad at the same time.  Housework has suffered.  It's a constant struggle just to keep up with putting away laundry and dishes, let alone keeping the house fairly clutter-free.  I refuse to not allow my kid to be a kid, so on many mornings, instead of doing housework or cooking, we are both outside playing in the dirt or exploring the bit of woods left behind the house.  This means that we eat out more often, but something has to give somewhere. It's not ideal, but I cook as much as possible on my days off, and when the leftovers run out we just make do. 

There are certainly days when I can't wait to go to work.  Toddlers can be frustrating, and Ethan is no exception.  But as I've analyzed the real reason for my frustration, it's less because of his behavior and more because I am trying to get something done that is necessary for us to get out of the house, and whatever he is doing is impeding my progress.  If I wasn't in a rush, if I could put off packing a lunch, if I wasn't trying to find diapers/wipes/extra clothes to put in a diaper bag, so many of our little conflicts could be avoided.  I can't and don't expect a toddler to understand time constraints, but unfortunately they are a very real thing in our life right now. 

Here's a sample day, assuming both Shayne and I are working:

6:30 - 7 am - Ethan  wakes up.  Sometimes he's already in bed with me, others he sleeps the whole night in his own.  If it's 7 or later, Shayne is home from work and gets Ethan breakfast.  I go back to sleep.

8:30 - I get up, shower, and try to keep a rambunctious toddler from drowning himself in the sink.  Shayne goes to sleep as soon as possible after I'm out of the tub.  I used to be able to shower without someone watching Ethan, but he discovered he could reach the handles on the new sink...

9 - 10:30 - Play time.  Sometimes I am able to use this time to clean up the kitchen a bit (Shayne rarely has time to do this on days that he's working, since he has to leave about 20 minutes after Ethan goes to sleep) or accomplish some other housework.  Ethan will help me vacuum or sweep the floor, and he also likes to empty the dryer.  If it's nice, I skip or shorten the housework and we go outside to play.  I usually spend the first 20 minutes just sitting on the porch, drinking my coffee.  Ethan plays with his trucks in the garden or scoots around on his tractor.

10:30 - 11:30 - I try to give myself at least an hour to get out the door.  If we were outside, Ethan needs his hands washed and often a change of clothes.  If I'm not dressed for work, this is when it happens.  Lunch gets packed (with Ethan standing on my feet and wanting to help or grab all the food off the counter), and I try to pack or grab something out of the freezer to take to work to eat.  Often, Ethan needs some time to decompress from our playtime, and we sit on the couch and snuggle while reading a book or three.  I usually have to make multiple trips upstairs because I've forgotten something, like my water bottle for work, or clean diapers, or maybe there wasn't a change of clothes in the diaper bag.  Ethan knows we are getting ready to go and will sometimes run out of the house on his own... 

11:30 - If everything has gone pretty smoothly, we're out the door and (hopefully) getting to Grandma and Papa's right about now.  Once there, we eat lunch together. 

12:15 - On my way to work.  If it was a not-so-smooth day, I stop on my way to grab some food, since I didn't pack myself anything.

12:30 - I get to work.

4:15-ish - Shayne gets up, showers, and goes to retrieve our offspring.

5 - Shayne and Ethan run any necessary errands (library, Meijer) and either pick up food or eat leftovers at home.  If there were no errands that day, they might mow the lawn or just hang out at home and play. 

7 - Bathtime. 

7:30 - Wind-down time.  Shayne and Ethan read books or other quiet play.

8 - This is official bedtime, but there are days it doesn't happen til 8:15 or later, depending on how crazy/busy the evening was.

8:45 - I get home.  If it was a good day, Ethan's already in bed and Shayne is getting ready for work.  If not, I take over kidlet care. 

9 - Shayne is out the door, and Ethan is sleeping.  There is a pile of dishes in the sink, a full (but clean) load in the dishwasher, and a mountain of laundry that needs to be put away.  I have a snack and chill out for a few minutes.

9:30 - I feed the various animals and usually accomplish a little bit of housework before going upstairs to get ready for bed.  In my current pregnant state, I'm pretty exhausted by now and don't really do a whole lot.

11 - Lights out for me (hopefully).

It doesn't look so awful when I write it all out, but both Shayne and I are tired all the time.  Because we get so little downtime (we're either at work or watching a kidlet), when we do have some time, we don't want to spend it cleaning.  We need to rest a bit.  Or, we don't rest and get something done, but at the expense of ourselves.  I know if you asked either one of us, on any given day, what we like least about our lives right now, we'd undoubtedly say something about how worn out we are.

It's much harder than I ever anticipated.  I still love my job, but my heart and soul are at home.  And I know that with two kids, the weariness we both feel will only increase.  I don't want to live like this indefinitely.  I want to see my husband and spend time together as a family.  I want to eat breakfast and dinner together at night.  I want to be able to spend time with my kids without a time limit.  I want to have time for the things that really matter, not have to squeeze them in when it's convenient.

And so we are slowly making changes.  Thankfully we bought a house we can afford on a single income, which I am convinced is the most intelligent decision we ever made.  Our bills are low, and we are working on lowering them further.  We're in the process of ditching our landline phone and using pre-paid cellular exclusively.  Strangely enough, by moving to Straight Talk from Verizon cell service and an AT&T home phone, we'll have unlimited phone time and still save $100 per month. We already have Netflix instead of cable, and we switched internet providers to save $20/month.  I'm looking into ways to decrease our trash bill, especially as we don't produce all that much unless we're remodeling something.

In spite of our time crunch, my cooking skills are slowly expanding.  I bought a grinder and can grind my own flour.  By buying wheat instead of flour, I save $10 for every 50 lbs used.  And baking our own bread, muffins, etc. saves even more.  We've also started buying other staples in bulk, like oatmeal, beans, and rice.  And preserving local, in-season produce helps too.  The homemade applesauce I canned a few weeks ago is half the cost of even the crummiest store brand.  And in addition to saving money, I find genuine joy and satisfaction through providing food to my family.

We buy secondhand clothes, appliances, bikes, toys, and many other things.  We don't have a car payment, and we are essentially a single-vehicle family.  Our Honda CR-V is 11 years old and pushing 200K miles.  Vacations are taken close to home and don't involve expensive resorts.  I'm learning to make many personal care products, like deodorant, lotion, and herbal ointments.  Exercise involves going outside, not driving to the gym.

And because of these lifestyle changes, none of which has made us feel deprived (though we certainly have moments where we'd love to go on a Caribbean cruise or desperately want a different car), we are going to have a trial-run living on a single income.  When the new baby arrives or I leave work due to the pregnancy, I will be taking a leave-of-absence from my job.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. While I've never felt more strongly that God was guiding me along a particular path, trusting that it will all work out is hard.  But I think that deserves its own post...


The Great Upstairs Scramble

In spite of not working much on the bathroom, we ARE working.  After moving Ethan into a "big" (twin-sized) bed, what little organization and order that was left upstairs completely fell apart.  Since we started seriously decluttering last year, I have a much lower tolerance for chaos.  I can deal with a few piles here and there, but the stuff-piled-everywhere-and-no-room-to-live types of clutter really get to me.  And my hormones are screaming that I need to get busy because I only have (at most) 13 weeks left before the new baby gets here.  So, I took a few days off of work, and we've been working to get the upstairs back in some kind of order.

 So far I've gone through everything in Ethan's soon-to-be room (formerly my office) and decluttered.  While we weren't able to move everything out due to space constraints, when we are done, only his bed, a dresser, a hope chest, and a bookcase will be in there.  I'll also probably move in a bin organizer and store a few toys and books in there.  I recently purged toys, so we don't have a lot, but I want some upstairs so I can put a gate over the stairwell and have him occupied in his room while I shower. 

 We've also painted.  His room is now light green, to coordinate with his Carter's Forest Friends/Tree Tops theme.  I bought the valances and flannel receiving blankets from the set, and my aunt turned them into an adorable quilt. 
New color!
I have 2 additional valances for the windows, and we'll get some kind of coordinating rug and maybe some decals for the wall.  I'm really excited with the way it's all coming together.

Ethan's current room will remain the nursery, no painting or modification necessary.  My aunt is making another quilt for Baby Girl, and we'll find coordinating curtains and a rug.  We'll just set the crib back up, and we'll be in business!

The best part is that once we're done with all this rearranging, painting, and organizing, the upstairs should be pretty much done!  If the weather is nice in the next few weeks, I'll supervise sealing, staining, and shellacking the woodwork, and maybe the hallway can get finished too  :)


I feel like, overall, we've settled into a pretty good rhythm with what we eat.  I still buy some things pre-made from the store, like crackers, cereal, some bread, and cheese.  But I've also learned to make many things myself, like pasta sauces, yogurt, many kinds of soup, pie crusts, and lots more.  I'm almost tempted to make a list of the things I make that "normal" people buy.  The past few times I've gone to the store, I hardly even ventured into the aisles, and I feel like people must look in my cart and wonder, "What do they EAT?" because there are rarely any ready-to-eat items there besides fruits and veggies. 

Because of our comfort with making rather than buying most foods, when I DO want something that's pre-made, I have an awful time selecting something.  Today I (or rather, Ethan) wanted to buy pickles.  I forgot them while I was at the market, and that turned out to be more problematic than I could have imagined.  I found myself in the condiment aisle at Meijer, staring at hundreds of jars of pickles that I just couldn't buy.  Every single jar had objectionable ingredients.  Vlasic, Mt. Olive, Claussen, and several "boutique" brands.  Dill pickles, Kosher spears, bread and butter, sweet gherkins.  Many varieties had corn syrup, and every last jar had artificial colors (yellow and blue) added.  I found a few lonely jars of organic pickles hidden in the middle, and finally selected Meijer Organics bread and butter chips.  I think there were all of three options for organic: relish, bread and butter chips, and dill spears. 

I know it's silly, because they're just pickles, but the whole experience depressed me.  Why should it be so hard to go into a store and find a product that you can be relatively certain is safe?  Why do pickles, a food that is already preserved by nature of being pickled/fermented, need preservatives?  Things like this are the very reason I started learning to make so many of my own foods, and overall I take great pride in making my own.  But there are days, like today, where it just makes me sad that I can't go into the store and find real food.

Although I'm still angry, I didn't come home and wallow.  I got busy and turned my $6 half-bushel of mixed seconds apples into 8.5 quarts of applesauce.  Then, for shits and giggles, I looked online at Walmart and found that a 48 oz jar of Great Value applesauce costs all of $1.97.  I haven't bought applesauce in so long, I didn't realize it was so cheap.  Of course, it also contains high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, cinnamon, and ascorbic acid (to protect color).  Approximate cost per ounce is $.04.  Santa Cruz organic applesauce, the only applesauce I could find that contained only apples, cost $.16/ounce.  Mine, while not organic, contained only apples and cinnamon and cost $.02/ounce + 2 hrs of my time (including processing).  The peace of mind from knowing where my food came from and exactly what's in it?  Priceless.

Pickles are definitely on my list of new things to learn to make this year...



Between one thing and another (was I this exhausted at 25 weeks when I was pregnant with Ethan?), it seems like I'm either too tired to do anything, or so busy I can't keep my head on straight.  Eesh.  Here's a quick little update on what we've been doing:
  • transitioning Ethan to a "big boy bed", AKA a twin mattress on the floor.  Overall it is going well, but he likes/wants/needs someone to lay with him for a few minutes to help him settle down.  We've been transitioning to shorter and shorter times, but putting him to bed is a bit more time-consuming.
  • Cooking!  In the past few weeks, I've tried a lot of new recipes, including fajitas, quesadillas, Mexican rice, refried beans, wheat bran muffins, and yogurt.  I think the yogurt deserves its own post, so more on that later.  But we've managed to only eat out twice in the past two weeks, which is a huge accomplishment.  It's been time-consuming to pack myself 2 small meals to eat at work, Ethan's lunch to eat at his "grandparents", plus remembering to make my mocha so I don't wind up at Starbucks.  No wonder I'm tired.
  • Organizing.  Well, trying.  *sigh*  I'm almost at the point where I want to donate the contents of my house to Goodwill and start over.  How is it that junk just seems to multiply exponentially?!
  • Cleaning.  All that cooking = more cleaning.  There was one day I ran the dishwasher 3 times, just to keep up with all the cooking and baking.  Crazy.  I'm not a huge gadget person, but I am so grateful to whoever invented the modern dishwasher!


Who owns YOUR favorite brand?

I'm a bit behind the times, but I finally watched Food, Inc.  Part of the film focuses on how some organic/natural food companies have sold out to bigger corporations.  Some of them did it for profit.  Others  so that they could market and distribute more effectively, thereby reaching a greater number of consumers and affecting a larger (beneficial) change to the current system of food production.  I was curious enough that I did a bit of my own research, as I do have my own list of favorite and semi-trusted brands.  Some of them I knew had been acquired by larger corporations.  Others were a surprise.  Here's what I found:

  • Back to Nature - Kraft
  • Bear Naked - Kelloggs
  • Ben and Jerrys - Unilever
  • Burt's Bees - Clorox
  • Cascadian Farm - General Mills
  • Earth's Best - Heinz
  • Kashi - Kelloggs (this one was a HUGE disappointment to me) 
  • Honest Tea - Coca-Cola
  • Horizon -Dean Foods 
  • Lightlife Foods (aka SmartDogs, etc) - ConAgra
  • Morningstar Farms - Kelloggs
  • Mother's - Quaker/Pepsi
  • Muir Glenn - General Mills
  • Naked (juice) - Pepsi
  • Odwalla Juice - Coca-Cola 
  • R.W. Knudsen - Smuckers
  • Santa Cruz Organic - Smuckers
  • Silk - Dean Foods
  • Stoneyfield Farms - Groupe Danone
  • Seeds of Change - M&M/Mars
  • Tom's of Maine - Colgate-Palmolive
I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this.  On one hand, I like a system that makes organic/natural foods affordable and accessible to more people.  But on the other hand, I hate knowing that when I buy, say, Burt's Bee's products, I'm supporting the chemical system behind Clorox.  Or that the dollars spent on my Kashi cereal go to finance the GMOs bought by Kelloggs.



Thought for the day

“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast.”
– Dr. Seuss



Today really brought home how much I love canning jars.  They're so convenient for so many things, that I can't figure out how some people live without them.  Just today I used them for:
  • "canning" maple syrup that I bought in bulk from the farmer's market.  I bought a half-gallon and repackaged it into pints so that it wouldn't crystallize before I could use it.
  • mixing up a bit of BBQ sauce in a half-pint jar to take out to the grill
  • packing up leftovers from dinner (pint)
  • repackaging honey from the store that was in a plastic jug.  I can't remember why I bought this instead of local honey, but it was starting to crystallize.  The narrow mouth of the plastic made it really hard to get to the honey, and I was hesitant to put the plastic in the microwave.
  • making sun tea (half gallon)
  • a makeshift coffee mug
 This is in addition to the jars in my fridge that hold my milk, the jars of food that I've canned, the jars of dry beans in the pantry, and the jars of soup and chili I froze in the freezer.  Seriously, I use them for everything.


This year's homesteading plans

Yes, yes, I'm well aware that the year started about 3 months ago...  But the gardening season is just starting here, so it seems an appropriate time to talk about my goals.

First of all, our garden will be considerably smaller than the past two years.  Really small.  Baby #2 is set to make an appearance in mid-July, and I just don't want to be inundated with tomatoes while trying to adjust to having two littles.  I am still planning on making my own sauce and juice and canning fresh tomatoes, but I'd like to do it on my schedule.  So I will buy my tomatoes at the market in order to have some leeway with timing.  I'd hate to let tomatoes rot because I'm exhausted from a colicky baby or something.  I think I'm just going to grow dry beans, squash, carrots, onions, potatoes, and watermelon this year.  Everything should store well, so even if I'm a little slow to harvest, there shouldn't be any issues. 

My hens are going absolutely crazy laying eggs.  I've read in numerous places that a hen needs many hours of daylight to continue to lay, but my girls laid all through winter.  Production did slow down, but I never got less than 3 eggs per day once everyone started laying.  Now with the slightly longer days and warmer temps, I'm getting 5-6 eggs per day.  I love being able to feed them our kitchen scraps and leftovers that are going bad (though we've been really good about having less of those!).  No changes are planned for the girls, barring any catastrophes.

But we are going to get more chickens.  I have a friend with a barn and fenced horse pasture (out of use) who has offered to raise chicks with me!  We're going to get Freedom Rangers, as I have some ethical objections to the cornish cross hybrid (namely, I believe it is cruel to breed a bird to grow and gain weight so quickly that its legs and heart cannot support it.  I realize that sometimes this can be mitigated by withholding feed for some of the day, but I just don't feel it is responsible to breed a bird that is predisposed to so many health issues).  Our 25 chicks will arrive in late May or early June, and we will plan on butchering at about 12 weeks.  I would like to do the butchering ourselves, and another friend may have a chicken plucker built by then that we could borrow to speed things along.

I'm slowly but surely adding to my cooking repertoire.  Recently, I've made homemade Lara bars from dried dates, dried cherries, and walnuts (recipe).  Mine turned out a bit less sticky than they needed to be, but I about blew the motor on my mini food chopper, so I just left it instead of adding more dates and cherries.  I've also made broccoli cheddar soup (yum!) from this recipe.  I halved it and used all cheddar instead of "processed cheese".  I also added onion when I was melting my butter.  I had to cook it WAY longer than 30 minutes to make the broccoli less crunchy, but it was very good.  And...  I got brave and made my own pie crust to use for my chicken pot pie after learning that Pillsbury refrigerated crusts have awful ingredients and artificial colors.  Yuck.  I've always been scared of pie crusts, but decided to give it a go.  I found a recipe using 5 ingredients: flour, butter, salt, sugar, and water.  The first one was a dud (though edible), but version 2.0 was quite good.  I only used 2 1/4 cups of flour, so it wasn't so dry.  I'm impressed with myself.  If you decide to try your hand at crusts, I strongly suggest rolling it out onto a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper.  It makes transferring the crust to the dish so much easier and allows you to use much less flour.  I'm planning on making up a couple and freezing them so that they're on-hand in a pinch.

Foods I want to learn to make are yogurt, a good wheat sandwich bread, more soups, and homemade pasta.

But really, things here will just be business as usual this year.  As always, we're taking baby-steps to increase our self-sufficiency, eat healthier, support our local economy, and live more mindfully.  Some days I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything, but every time I take my lunch to work in a mason jar, I'm reminded of how far I've come.


Bathroom remodel: The week in pictures

Grouted floor!  There are a few areas I'm not thrilled with, but considering how wavy our floor was, I understand that perfection just was not to be.

Kohler Memoirs 24" pedestal sink, Restoration Hardware medicine cabinet, and sconces from Home Depot

The throne (Kohler Memoirs with stately design)

Detail of cabinet and lights

Sink with American Standard Hampton faucet

My favorite detail: marble threshold!
T is coming back on Monday to finish mudding and sanding the drywall and to touch up the grout in the tub.  He also has to redo the caulk, as there was a lot of dust floating around the bathroom at the time, and it stuck to it and made it look permanently dirty.  I think his work will be wrapped up by Wednesday, and then Shayne will install the wainscot, baseboard, and window/door trim.  Almost there!!


Bathroom remodel, day ?? - We have a tub! And no toilet...

Yeesh, the days have just gotten away from me.  I've been going into work early so that I can get home at a decent time and try to get some sleep, but that has left very little time for updating here.  There also hasn't been a lot to photograph, as most of the work was taking place behind the scenes.  But here's a quick run-down of what happened this past week.
  1. tiled tub surround
  2. grouted tub surround
  3. completely removed and replaced part of the floor near the toilet
  4.  re-routed the drain and supply lines for the sink, moving it over about 3 feet to avoid a bottle-neck (we will put the sink across from the toilet instead of across from the tub)
  5. ran new 3/4" PEX lines from the basement up to the bathroom
  6. installed cementboard underlayment on the entire floor
  7. installed hex floor tiles!
It's really starting to look like a new bathroom in there!  Last week it was a cave of darkness, but by this morning (the first time we were able to walk on the new tile) it was looking lighter and brighter.  With white beadboard partway up the walls, it will be much more cheerful than it ever was before.  It also helps that so much more of the floor is visible.  Our layout makes it more open anyways, but there's also more visual space because of the cabinets being on legs and pedestal sink.

Before grout
After grout
Chaos, scary walls, and scary floor...
Laying the tile
Tiling near the toilet
Our new floor!  It looks rather blotchy right now because in some areas you can see
the mortar more than others.  Once the grout is in, it will look more uniform

Next week T will grout the floor, install the new drywall, install the sink and toilet, install the medicine cabinetand re-wire the chaotic electrical work.  We ended up tearing out all of the old drywall after finding it was crumbly and not properly installed, so I guess my idea to save as much original plaster as possible is actually going to happen.  It was all part of my evil plan...  Bwa-ha-ha!  :)


Thoughts on becoming a homesteader

I'm sure there are folks out there who are anxiously awaiting more bathroom pictures, but right now I'm taking a bit of a detour to talk about other areas of my life.  More pics and an update are coming, though!  I should have more to say about it by tonight.

I just had one of those moments when I looked at myself, as if from the outside, and wondered who I was and how I got to where I am.  I was in the kitchen, mixing up flour, yeast, water and salt for bread.  A big pot of vegetable beef soup was cooking on the stove.  The beef is from a cow named Dolly, I grew the onions myself, I grew and canned the tomatoes that went into the tomato juice, and most of the other ingredients are from local farmers.  My sink is full of canning jars from food we've eaten and ingredients we've used in the past 24 hours.  Next to the stove was a wooden crate of herbs and several little jars of homemade "Neosporin".  I could hear my rooster, Pretty Boy, crowing out in the backyard.  And I was thinking of the apples on the back porch that are starting to get wrinkled, wondering if I had time to make applesauce tonight.

It really struck me how far from "normal" I've strayed. 

Sometimes I look at the blogs I read and people on message boards and feel like they are "real" homesteaders and I'm just dabbling.  I don't grow even close to all of my produce, I still buy bread at the store more than I bake it, and I eat out WAY more than I should.  But taken as a whole, the way we choose to live is not even close to mainstream. 

How did I get here?  How did my rather normal and unremarkable childhood (no offense, Mom, I just mean that I wasn't brought up on a farm or by hippies!) turn into this not-at-all normal lifestyle?  I keep wondering if there was a turning point, I place where I suddenly realized that I had to have chickens in my backyard, or grow and can my own tomato sauce, or know the cow that turned into my hamburger.  But I can't find that place...  I don't know when my mentality shifted and I became aware of how unsustainable and unhealthy so many modern practices are; I don't know what made me decide to opt-out.

But here I am.  Here I am with chickens in my backyard, a cow named Dolly in my freezer, and bread rising on the counter.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.


Bathroom remodel, days 6 and 7 - the tub alcove takes shape

 Day 6 brought no spectacular visual changes.  T framed in the soffit, put up the sheetrock, and secured the cementboard in the tub surround.  He also cut and framed in the shampoo shelf within the surround.  It was good for me to see how the tub looked in its alcove, and I was happy to see that it didn't result in the bathroom feeling closed-in like it used to.  I had been just a little worried, but the room still feels very spacious and as bright as a room on the northeast of a home can in the winter.  It will be better yet with a white tile floor and white wainscot on the walls.  Here are a few shots of the day's progress:

This shot makes the ceiling seem awfully low, but we had the shower arm
raised to accommodate Shayne's height.  The alcove is 7 feet tall.

Shampoo alcove built into the surround
Day 7 was the start of tiling.  T was only able to put in a half day due to a prior engagement, but he got the tile up on the back wall of the alcove.  I only have in-progress shots at the moment, as I had to leave for work before he was finished, and I have yet to take more.  But here's what I have:

The first two courses...

Almost finished!
I'm so excited that this looks as good as I'd hoped!!


Bathroom remodel, day 5 - We have a tub!

This is going to be quick, as I'm exhausted and need to do a few things and get to bed.  But the big news of today is that the tub is in, has all of the plumbing installed to it, and the surround framed and walled with cement board.  I was worried that the bathroom would look closed-in, like it did before, but even with the new wall, everything seems spacious.  In fact, I'm amazed at how big the room looks in spite of a larger tub.  It seems like the PPOs did everything they could to make the room look teeny - and succeeded.

Here's a peek:

We did decide to install the tub flush with the north (left) wall.  Originally, the plan was to have some open shelving over there, but after consulting with T, it seemed that the space was too tight to be very functional.  We opted to scoot the tub over and instead open up the area where the toilet is.  Before it was very cramped and awkward-feeling, especially because there's a bump-out for the main drain in the corner.  We'll now be able to have our freestanding shelving on the wall behind the tub (where the cement board is leaning), which will free up the walkway to get to the toilet.  We also decided to place the sink directly across from the toilet in order to keep that walkway clear.  I think it will feel more spacious if there is a fairly large area of open space around the tub.  We'll do a mock-up of the layout before moving the plumbing, just to be sure, but I feel confident that it will work well as it was one of the layouts I had seriously considered before.  I had discarded the idea because we'd have to either rip out the floor or kitchen ceiling in order to move the plumbing.  But since the ceiling is already open...  It's not an issue anymore.

Anyhoo...  Tomorrow T will frame the soffit and possibly start on the tiling for the tub surround.  He may also start laying the cement board for the floor, but I'm a little fuzzy on the exact order of things now that we have a working shower again!


Bathroom remodel : Day 4 - The real work begins

I meant to post every day, but the little guy got sick, so I was spending most of my time trying to distract him from how miserable he was.  We were up every hour all night, in spite of him sleeping in bed with me.  That did help him not to cry when he woke up, but he was tossing and turning enough to keep waking me up.  In spite of that, we have made some progress.

On Saturday, Shayne ripped up the floor.  Miracle of miracles, there was no plywood, so we just had the hardboard to tear out.  That was easy, since it breaks off in chunks.  We found a little more water damage, but that wasn't a big surprise.  The boards were really creaky, though, so we put down plywood near the toilet to walk on.  I didn't want to end up falling into the kitchen.  And I put a nightlight in there for my midnight trips to the potty.  We keep a small light on in the kitchen overnight, and it was just too creepy to see the light shining up between the floorboards and into the pitch black bathroom.

Sunday I tackled the wallpaper.  And, like every other room in the house, the m$&*@r f@$%ing PPOs put up wallpaper, painted it, and then put up even more.  3 layers over the painted layer, which was of course put directly onto the unprimed drywall.  It's an absolute BEAST to get off, worse even than the living room.  Thankfully I only need to get 2 small walls done, but I was hoping to be done yesterday.  Yeah, that didn't happen.  I think that we probably will end up pulling down the bit of remaining drywall.  The bottom is really crumbly, and we're discussing with T (our contractor) whether or not it's worth the effort.  My idea of skimming the original plaster may yet happen...

Here are a few pics from the weekend:

Water damage around the toilet.  I love how you can see daylight through the floorboards.  Yeek!

Overall, the floor wasn't in bad shape.  The only damage was by the toilet.  I think there must have been a cabinet of some sort in the corner, as the floorboards are all wonky and there are paint shadows on the wall...

This morning, T showed up and ripped out the tub and surround.  I think the sound of that cheap, horrible tub being sawed into pieces was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.  T is my hero.  Underneath we found some lovely plastic tiles from a '50s remodel:

And once the tub was chopped up and removed, we got to see what was holding it up.  Sorry for the blurry pic, but all of the lumber was pressure-treated decking.  It wasn't even nailed or screwed together, just stacked up for the tub to rest on.  And it was just on the one side.  It's a miracle that tub stayed up and didn't fall off its little pillar.  No wonder it always felt flimsy and we couldn't get caulk to stay put!  But, there was no water damage anywhere.  Yay!

Here we are all cleaned up. T removed all of the loose flooring as well as the scary deck scraps.  He'll patch with plywood once the plumbing is squared away.  We're moving the tub over a few inches so that there's more room by the toilet.


Behind the cabinet next to the tub, we "found" the original attic access.  I knew it was there, but I thought it was in the ceiling.  I also thought it would be less... cute.  Okay, so maybe "cute" isn't the right word, but it definitely had more character than the hole in the ceiling I was expecting.  T was awesome and pulled the frame and door off completely intact.  I may reuse it in the kitchen for a spice cabinet.  If I can get all that glue off.  Thank you again, K, for all of your wonderful work on this house...  :(
I had to leave to go to work, but Shayne says that as of 4:30 the new tub is in the bathroom!  More to come...