Our Maryland Farmhouse

real food recipes, heirloom gardening and farmhouse adventures


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Windows, plaster and cloth wires… oh my

Well, we are covered in snow, much like the rest of the country and trying to keep the house reasonably warm. 60 degrees is _pretty_ reasonable when you have shoddy attic insulation, broken and drafty windows, and a combination of electric baseboard heat, portable electric heaters and an older wood stove. And at some point before we owned this house, possibly while it was vacant, it was not properly winterized, causing the majority of the radiator heaters to become cracked, rendering them useless piles of metal.

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With all of that said, if you follow our Facebook page, you will know we have been dissecting what we’ll call Bedroom #1. Bedroom #1 is one of the two front bedrooms in the “newer” section of the house.  The plaster was not in good shape. Let’s take a wild guess that it *could be* the original plaster. If it is, we’re talking about 100 years. Over time, it had cracked, been repaired, and cracked again. This is kind of plaster’s “thing.” In our original plans, we had not intended to rip all of the old plaster off the walls and ceilings and replace it with drywall, but we were concerned about insulation, drafts and mouse-chewed wires in the walls.

Cloth covered ceiling fixture. Controlled by a pull chain, NOT a switch.

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We would also have to sand the wonderful paint splatter “design” off of the walls as well as wonder how much plaster would crumble and break off if we took the well painted window trim and baseboards off the walls.

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The answer: A LOT.

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Off with the plaster, then.

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Little by little.

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Pretty wallpaper was hiding underneath a piece of trim…

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And then the lathe had to come off.

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Sweet vintage bottle hiding in between plaster/lathe and the attic floor.

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Nails. So many nails to remove.

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Getting the plaster off the chimney was the absolute worst. Why did I leave it for last?  

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The other thing we had not intended on doing in our original plan was replacing the windows. After removing one of the old windows, cleaning the glazing off and purchasing new glass for the broken panes, Mike watched me use a non-toxic citrus stripper to try and get the paint off. It was going to take SEVERAL coats of this stuff and after every coat, I had to scrape the paint.  We hadn’t even gotten to the point of repairing the first window,  reglazing or painting, before we had to have a serious heart to heart about what the smart vs the stoopid decision was regarding the window situation.

Is it worth ALL of the work these windows require, when in the end, you still have old, wood windows with single panes? Would they still be drafty when you are trying to sleep, the wind’s howling and the temperature is somewhere in the single digits? Sure, the old windows maintain a certain “look” and truthfully, we prefer the look of wood over vinyl, but how important was that look?

Did I also mention the separate storm windows need work, too, if we keep the old wooden windows in place?

Something about the more you dig into a project, the more you end up finding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re finding everything now, before our little bean arrives. We’ll definitely know what to expect when we get to Bedroom #2, but we weren’t _quite_ budgeting to replace the plaster and the windows.

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A rental house, a mooncup and a Christmas surprise

What happens when you buy an old farmhouse, finally sell your current house, find an amazing 1950s wool, plaid skirt from one of your favorite vintage shops in a perfect 24″ waist, and finally invest in a mooncup?

You miss your period.

True story.

And a month after you pee on a stick and you’re just plain exhausted, you and your husband have to kick your unpaying tenants out of your rental house an hour away and spend two months repairing damages, painting and cleaning the rental house instead of getting settled in the farmhouse and beginning to work on your own, personal projects.

This is where we’ve been, folks. And it hasn’t been a lot of fun. Stressful. Unmotivated. But that’s not why we’re here.

Did I mention we were blessed with a darling little plus sign at the end of September?!?

So I, like any natural-minded person, dove into my Pinterest boards and research-land to make sure I was getting all of my important nutrients through food. I immediately ordered Beautiful Babies  from Food Renegade’s Kristen Michaelis and printed out the Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers from the Weston A. Price website. I also found a birth center with five amazing midwives a little over an hour away, who did not schedule to see me until around 9 weeks.

Y’all, we kept this a secret for almost three MONTHS. Mike’s parents live in upstate NY, mine in SC. Guess what they got for Christmas??? Something I think they were all hoping for. It was an incredibly special Christmas, even if we did drive 1700 miles to see everyone.

The rental house is almost clean. Mike’s been working on one of the outbuildings here at the farmhouse, and we’re covered in another few inches of cold snow. AND… we’re expecting a little one in early June.

Can I just mention how excited I am to be able to finally start some of our projects around here? SO EXCITED.

~Katie


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Snow, Part 2!

Around 5:30AM the farmhouse vibrated slightly as a dumptruck, shod with a plow, rumbled past.  I peeked out the window…

A couple of minutes ago, as Katie took the dog out for her morning business, she snapped some pictures:

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5 inches already (as measured on the walk, which I’d cleared of snow after the first 8 inches fell on Sunday), and the Winter Storm Warning doesn’t expire for a few more hours.  Big fluffy flakes are still falling at a prodigious rate.  At least the snow figures I built yesterday seem happy.

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Frozen, Falling, Fluffy Flakes

At some point going down the temperature continuum between 33 and 31 degrees, the water molecule does an amazing thing.  It transforms from a thirst-quenching, plant-growing, wonder liquid into a road-slickening, tree-branch bending, school-closing solid.  Without getting too deep into the chemistry of it all, this is what happened here at our farmhouse Sunday.  Water crystalized, fell from the sky, and landed on us.

It landed on Plymouths:

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It landed on Fords:

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It landed on pickup trucks…

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Volvos…

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…and a Nash!

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The snow began falling at 9:30 Sunday morning.  Wife and I were heading out the door to a baby shower an hour west- right in the direction the storm was coming from.  A few lonely flakes fluttered innocently from the gray sky.  The weatherman had proclaimed “one to two inches” were to be expected.  When we returned from the pre-baby party around 3 that afternoon, our faithful four-wheel-drive was crunching through better than 7 inches of it.  

And then, as if a 300% under-forecast of snow weren’t enough, the temperature waaaaay up in the stratosphere (or wherever it is that snow gets formed) rose above that magical water/ice point, but the temperature down here in farmhouse land stayed below freezing.  For those of you with at least a rudimentary understanding of meteorology, this means we got ice pellets, on top of the snow.

Sadie sure didn’t seem to mind, though.

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The snowy, icy mess persisted into Monday morning.  Fortunately, everything I had to do for work I was able to accomplish from the leather chair downstairs from where I woke up this morning.  I don’t mind driving in snow…but ice?  

The temperature here finally crawled up into the mid 30’s this afternoon, so after finishing work I went out and constructed scale models of our little family in the available frozen medium:

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The weatherman opened up his mis-predicting yap again tonight and predicted “up to five inches” of more snow tomorrow.  Will we actually get 15 inches?  Will fire rain down from above?  Locusts?  Frogs?  

As long as we don’t get any more freaking ice.


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Pretzel Burgers!

We’ve had a lot of projects in the works here at our old Maryland farmhouse; unfortunately none of them are finished yet, so we haven’t deemed anything blog-worthy in a few weeks.  I suppose we might just as well write about works-in-process- the threat of embarrassment on the Internets is a powerful impetus to completion, so I hear.  

But for tonight…well, it’s Saturday night, we’ve had a looooooong week, and we just wanted something tasty for dinner.  So, while I was out working on the car, Katie experimented with a recipe for pretzelled bread.  The results were very edible.  Apparently the trick to pretzelling lies in the boiling of the dough in water and baking soda, and some brown sugar in the dough.  

Whatever magic had to happen for the pretzelled bread to come into existence, it was worth it.  Two of the buns disappeared before dinner officially happened (spicy mustard was on-hand in the fridge, which accented the buns nicely) and a few others became homes for some grass-fed beef burgers, topped with Katie’s famous zucchini pickles, some BBQ sauce, raw milk cheddar, and avocado.  I fried up some salty sweet potato coins in olive oil, which came out pretty satisfying, too.  

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Happy Saturday night!


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Gutter Compost

According to what some of our neighbors have told us, they’ve seen the Wife and I outside working on the house more in the 2-1/2 months since we moved in than they saw the previous two owners in total.  And while we have plans to upgrade and improve the property, a lot of what we’ve been up to so far is simply correcting years worth of deferred maintenance.

After the major rainstorm a few weeks back (which kindly deposited over a half-foot of di-hydrogen oxide onto our land) we noticed some undesired water flow around the house.  Water had ponded in the driveway, dumped over the sides of gutters, and found ways into the basement.  I had to bring in a second dehumidifier to the cellar for backup.  I didn’t even need to climb up onto the roof to see what some of the problems were.

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Gutters typically have an opening, you see, and this opening needs to be pointed in the opposite direction as the water coming off of the roof is going.  But in this case, the gutter opening is facing at a 90 degree angle.  Not so useful.

Once on the ladder, I noted another problem:

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Rather than being used for carrying watershed from the roof safely away from the house and foundation, the gutters were instead being utilized for some sort of composting experiment.  While this experiment appeared to be surprisingly successful, it was doing no favors for the water control.

Gutter cleaning is a fairly straightforward affair.  You get out the biggest ladder you own, don a set of rubber gloves, ascend the ladder, and sludge out the gunk using your gloved mitts.  After approximately 15 seconds, the rubber gloves will catch on a gutter nail, or a pine cone, or a piece of old gutter screen, tear and be worthless.  At this point, you can either don a new pair of gloves (which, if you continue on this way, will blow through a 100 box of gloves in about 30 minutes) or suck it up and continue to dredge out the gutters.

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A word on gutter screen.  This word is: useless.  All gutter screen does is allow twigs, leaves, dead chipmunks, bird poop, and other fun things to lay on top of your gutters until they biodegrade to the point that their particles are smaller than the screen openings, at which point they sluice through the gutter screen and compost in the gutter.  And then you can’t clean the gutter without removing them.  Our farmhouse had gutter screens installed by some surely well-intentioned previous owner.  I removed them.

After cleaning all the gutters, and re-fixing various dropping and dislodged portions to the roof with new gutter clips, I rinsed them out with a good blast from the garden house.  This does two things- it cleans out all the little crap you couldn’t get with your torn-rubber-gloved hands, and it tests the water flow and let’s you make sure the gutters are in fact doing what they should be.  It also lets you spot leaks and cracks, which can be sealed with Gutter Caulk.

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I like my gutters clean and well hung.

Finally, while you’re up on your roof and ladder, be sure to take a second and take in the view and remember why you’re spending your Sunday afternoon elbow-deep in rotting biomass, instead of watching spandex-clad grown men fight for a funny-looking leather bladder full of air.

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