Saturday, June 26, 2010

Charlie Kwon Do

In honor of the World Cup, my soccer-loving Byron bought the kids some patriotic digs. Charlie loves his red-white-and-blue getup and insists on wearing it for every US soccer match, regardless of their state of cleanliness and the fact that he looks like Rex Kwon Do from Napoleon Dynamite. Here they were quite grubby when we went fishing the other night at a farmer's pond near our house.

But I think the Rex Kwon Do clothes may have superpowers.

The last time we (um, Byron + kids...I hate fishing) attempted to fish at this pond, we spent to bulk of our time hiding out in our car from The Bull. You see, the pond is located on a cattle farm, and the farmer has a bull who has been known to chase down workers from the electrical company and block Byron from getting back to his car while the cows were busy licking the steering wheel. I'm sure he was just watching out for his ladies while he gave Byron a good stare-down accomapnied by an agressive snort or two. Anyway, this last time we went, Charlie was sporting the Rex Kwon Do shorts and I think they warded off The Bull. I even had to use my zoom lens to get a good shot of him as he took a swim with one of the ladies:

Oh, and Byron caught a Big Bass. Bow to your sensei!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Great "Before"

It's coming, I promise. An actual post on our VERY humble beginnings in sustainable living. But inquiring minds want to know all about the "before" of our farmhouse, and my inner architect can't resist, though she tried. She even wrote out a little testimony of sorts on how she went from caffeine junkie to rabbit food addict. And it will be published...but not this very second.

Following are some photos we took of the house before we bought it, as well as some post-demolition eye candy. Anyway, this will at least give you an idea of what the older portion of the home and the addition that was done in the 1980s look like.

Looking back at the front entrance: welcome home...

...and watch your step! The beam under the door needs to be replaced, and the contractor will be installing a new beam and footings under the stairs since the perpendicular beam to the left of the door is damaged, too. And yes, that's Byron metal detecting in the crawlspace after he removed the flooring. Just between you and me, I think it was his main motivation for the painstaking work! More on removing floorboards and crawlspace treasures later.

Dining room before...

...and after, for now. No structural damage here, but we're removing all the flooring so we can refinish the boards on the first floor. We will then remove the flooring in the barn loft (which is very similar), refinish those boards, and intersperse them together throughout the first floor of the house. It's going to look sweet!

Those exposed wires on the chandelier look a little suspect! I have a very healthy respect for electrical wiring and generally don't mess with it, so this chandelier is outta here.

Our pre-demolition parlor:

And since you always wanted to know what the insides of a house looked like, we thought we'd give you a peak. You know, just for fun, since we love tearing up flooring and drywall. The beam across the front of the room, the joists, and several studs (three that run up to the bedroom above literally crumble in your hands) will need to be replaced. The shoring system that the engineer designed is basically a temporary wall that will be built in the parlor, hall, and the bedroom and bathroom above, respectively. The studs (vertical members of the shoring wall) will rest on a plate in the crawl space to distribute the load. I know it sounds a little twisted, and I'd much rather spend the money on renovating a bathroom or two, but I'm kind of excited to see this in action.

Following is the bedroom directly above the parlor, where another shoring wall will be installed. This was the original master bedroom.

This is a close-up of the corner of the bedroom above. The corner stud, from the parlor below all the way up to the ceiling framing of the bedroom above, has been eaten by termites. The original studs are true 2x4s (newer 2x4s are really 1 1/2" x 3 1/2") and are "balloon studs," which run from the beam under the first floor to the ceiling of the second floor. Houses are not built like this anymore for a couple reasons, one being that the open channels in between the studs become miniature chimneys during a fire. Needless to say, we'll be installing fire blocking, which are horizontal pieces between the studs.

Generally, the damaged studs will remain in the wall, and here, a new stud or two will be installed on either side of this one to support the ceiling framing and corner. The new studs will either have to be rough-cut lumber or ripped 2x6s to achieve a true 4" thickness and an even surface on which to install new drywall.

The kitchen area:

another view:

We'll be ripping up the parquet laminate and installing hardwood throughout, reclaimed from the front of the home and the barn. I also already began painting the cabinets white to update and give them a more of a timeless look. After removing the doors, drawers, and cleaning them, I'm using 60 grit sandpaper to roughen the surface, then wiping everything down again with a dry cloth. The primer and semi-gloss paint are both outdoor paint, which is more durable than indoor paint. You can expect to apply 2-3 topcoats after priming if you ever undertake a project like this. Time consuming, but it will brighten the room considerably.

Part of the master bathroom, which is on my to-be-renovated-one-of-these-days list. And yes, that's a blue toilet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blackberry Syrup

Here's a recipe for the blackberry syrup we enjoyed this morning. It serves 4-6, depending on how much you like to slather onto your pancakes.

2 cups blackberries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp cornstarch

Bring blackberries and sweeteners to a boil, adding a little water if necessary. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add, then simmer until syrup thickens. Serve warm or cold.

Sanity in the Midst of Chaos

I admit it, I'm not a glass-is-half-full type of gal. I tend to dwell on the negative much of the time. My favorite band in high school and college was The Cure. And I still like to wear black sometimes.

So what is keeping me sane in the midst of the chaos we're experiencing at the farmhouse? As we uncover more of the hidden structure (or lack thereof) at the house, God has convicted me to list the little time bombs He's revealed just in time, as well as the blessings we've experienced and will experience by living there. Following are some that come to mind at the moment:

1. I recently found that a piece of baseboard was nailed into a drainpipe that runs from the upstairs bathroom (yup, that includes the toilet, folks). I'm thankful I found that before we used the bathroom again, and that there's a bathroom downstairs.
2. Since I've been away from the field for seven years, we hired the architect I used to work for a couple weeks ago to help troubleshoot the problems with the house. If he hadn't been there that day, I would not have been in the crawlspace in time to discover a leak in a water pipe.
3. The footings look good!
4. While I was ripping up drywall in the parlor (AKA motorcycle room), I thought, "Well, we wanted to paint this room anyway, right?"
5. We have two pear trees on the property that produce every other year, and this year, they're loaded with fruit.
6. The soil seems great for planting - not too sandy, and no huge chunks of clay.
7. Byron started pulling up the original hardwood floor. Except for the boards the termites ate, he hasn't splintered one yet. I'll be sure to post on the process.
8. We enjoyed blackberry syrup with pancakes this morning from the plethora of blackberry bushes around us. (Recipe to come!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcome to our parlor...

Before we begin living sustainably (more on that later), we have a few home improvement issues to deal with. Yeah, just a few. This is our parlor right now. It was home to five motorcycles before we bought the house, and one plunged through the 90-year-old heart pine floors. Though we knew there was termite damage to the home, we didn't realize the extent to which those naughty creatures had eaten away at those tasty old studs (vertical members in the walls), joists (horizontal pieces that hold up the floors), and beams (large old timbers which support the joists and walls). After pulling up the plywood that temporarily replaced the damaged floors, I went catatonic for about forty-five minutes, ate a handful of chocolate chips, and started sketching. Time to harness those latent architecture skills.

Before I go on, let me describe the house. The original home, which is where most of the structural damage is concentrated, has a simple layout: entrance hall in the middle with stairs going to the second floor, and a room on either side of the hall on both stories. The one-story 1980s addition is at the back of the house.

Anyway, after tearing down some drywall in the parlor and avoiding large spiders during my army-crawl through the 12" deep crawl space, I determined that we need to replace approximately 21' of a saggy, baggy structural beam across the front of the house, which incorporates the parlor and entrance hall. I was elated that the damage did not appear to extend to the dining room.

There are also studs and a corner support that aren't touching anything. Nada. Thankfully, they are not on a bearing wall, but they are structural and are only being laterally (horizontally) supported at the moment by some siding and the gimpy drywall.

So here's the plan: Byron and I will tear up more of the drywall to determine the extend of the damage to the studs, as well as the damaged flooring. We are actually planing on removing all of the heart pine floors to allow contractors better access to the structure in the crawl space. When we've fixed the structure, we'll then remove the loft of the barn, which is made of the same flooring, refinish it, and re-install the reclaimed floors throughout the first floor of the home. We've never done anything like that before, but are going to give it a shot with some intense research and probably a YouTube video or two. I'll keep you posted on how that goes. And look for a coming post on the source of this damage: moisture in and around the home that has provided a breeding ground for termites.

How did the acres get Green?

It's not because we're a couple of rich folks moving from the city to the country. We're a teacher dad, homeschooling mom, and two young kids who had the opportunity to buy back part of a farm that used to be in the family. The original farmhouse was built in the 1920s by Charles and Blanche Green, pictured to the left, who are Byron's (that teacher dad guy) great-grandparents. The place was renovated in the 1980s and sits on 5.5 acres of the original farm. We'd been dreaming of owning land for about a year, so when we had the chance to buy a place that means so much to our family, we knew Green Acres was the place to be.