Third Anniversary at Seven Oaks

This last week marked our third anniversary of our ownership of Seven Oaks. We closed on the property September 21st 2010, which meant we signed paperwork that day but did not take possession until 8am the following morning. I was so eager to get the keys to the property that I drove over to Kathy Bussmann’s house (our wonderful, patient, friend and real estate agent) bright and early that morning. I met with various parties at the house that day to begin work right away and received several curious friends, who were interested in our latest project!

First, we had a dumpster delivered in back along with our POD from the old house.IMG_0623

We tried to access both of the double garage doors and neither one was operable. After a quick call to get those fixed – new springs and new openers – we were on our way forward. This was only the first hint of our ‘over-sized’ ownership discoveries since we knew we were up against layers of homeowner issues here.

We photographed nearly every day of our progress since that day so I will try to share some of those initial  pics here to remember the progress as it developed.

We got the wall paper strippers to start removing the paper which was on nearly every wall and ceiling in the house. Stripping the wallpaper revealed all sorts of leaks from the roof as well as black mold from floor to ceiling in some rooms!!! IMG_0620

Then we removed all of the old carpeting which covered many of the rooms.IMG_0649

Rooms that didn’t have carpeting had either a 1″ x 6″ oak, herringbone, parquet flooring or a VCT (vinyl composite tile) covering as shown in my office below. IMG_0647

The sad part about the wood parquet was that it was “pickled” or “bleached” to look white, and was severely damaged in many areas from the former owners’ pets. We did not think it could be saved but my great wood floor man, Jerry, was able to restore all of the hardwood to a gleaming finish with restorative results and we then found more of this same raw flooring material in Canada and was able to match it perfectly to continue the pattern in much of the rest of the house as the restoration progressed. Here is Jerry beginning the big job of sanding. IMG_0625

Of course the kitchen was Big Bird Yellow and quite lovely! IMG_0643

All of the landscaping was overgrown, over mulched and over watered and had to be quickly dealt with to keep the house from further deterioration. Crab Apple trees in front were quickly disposed of. IMG_0628

The roof had holes that were larger than basketball hoops and were immediately addressed by a crew of roofers we hired. IMG_0786

This was only the work that was attempted during the first week of ownership! There has been three more years of nearly constant and earnest work that has gone into the changes necessary to make Seven Oaks a comfortable place to live while providing us with a pantry and freezer full of our ‘field to table’ produce to eat and share with family and friends. We hope to report more news on the fall/cool season crops that are coming up now. The 2013 harvest totals as of last week are just short of 1450lbs! I continue to process the fruits of this labor by canning and freezing as much as I am able.

In other news, our little Farley (King of Seven Oaks!), all 12.75lbs of him, is suffering from the back ailment that he had in the spring of 2010. The technical diagnosis is Intervertebral Disc Disease which is common in the long backed Dachshund breed of dogs. As his discs age and deteriorate, the nerves that follow his spinal cord are subject to injury and are inflamed by being pinched.  His back legs/extremities suffer the results and he is immobilized (can’t control his rear end). As you can imagine, nothing good comes of this! IMG_4544

We successfully treated him last time (spring of 2010) without the extreme measure that would indicate surgery. Having faced this previously, we avoided the painful (and costly) trip to the amazing Mizzou Veterinary campus in Columbia that we endured last time around.  We have been treating him at home under the helpful guidance of our vet.  This involves immobilizing him (i.e. crating or tons of lap time), medicating him (all sorts) and treating the side effects much like we did today when we realized he had not urinated for more than 20 hours nor had been able to drink any water.

This resulted in our second, early morning trip to the vet for another blood test; they gave him a subcutaneous water infusion to help re-hydrate him. This was not fun for him and he looked like a balloon for a while, but the affects were positive since he was able to pass water and later in the day, drank some too. I hope this is not TMI but he is a beloved family member and we are caring for him dearly and hope we can report better health news on his behalf soon.

The concrete continues and has moved to the front of the property. IMG_4551

As the crew continues to form and pour the new sections in the front, the rear sections were starting to be acid washed and then sealed.  IMG_4559

I would like to acknowledge that my friend, Brenda Zanola, correctly pointed out that the hummingbird moth that I had cited in my earlier post, was indeed, the Sphinx Moth aka, a ‘hummingbird’ moth due to its proclivities in the nectar gathering world, but is solidly in the moth category rather than the aviary group. I happened to find one on the sidewalk the other day to photograph…sadly, it may have been due to his imminent demiseIMG_4510?

Update on Farley’s health: I wrote most of this post much earlier in the week. Things got worse before they got better for Mr. Farley. While Dave was out of town for his Aunt’s funeral service, I had some dicey moments with Farley who was so agitated by my absence at work on Friday morning that he clawed his way out of his crate.

I ended up missing out on the Light the Night walk for Leukemia that I was hoping to do for Kathy Bussmann. Image

I think she understood since she is a dog lover too. Here is a photo of the team that walked in the We Are Family! group that night. The best news is that Kathy’s health is on a positive trend and she enjoyed the company of friends and family at the LLA walk. I wish I had been able to join the group!

Signifigance of Rainbows and Mole Hunting?

So much has happened since the last time I posted that I don’t know where to start! As I found out today, if you blinked, you missed it! Although I missed a bunch of the progress today, due to various appointments which took me away from the action here, I happened to have been around for some of the key moments. My best example of this was the incredible rainbow that came along with a late afternoon thundershower just as the driveway/concrete guys were finishing up their day. Dave alerted me to the phenomenon and I whipped out my camera to take this pic. IMG_4477

Upon scanning the rest of the vista, I saw that I had the entire arc in my vision. Can you see it??? I’ve never seen a ‘complete’ rainbow before! It reminds me of childish drawings and unicorns. Not sure why since rainbows do exist but you can’t exactly touch them and yet unicorns….well, who knows! Here is my panorama of the complete arc. IMG_4478

The driveway crew told me that the rainbow was right over the newly poured concrete! I guess if myths have any basis, that means a pot of gold in our future? Or perhaps it is closer to say that it symbolizes that we just spent a pot of gold! Hmmm! The crew finished the back turn around area (which we now call the helipad) at the days end. IMG_4483

If the rain doesn’t add too much to the complexity of the underlayment, they will be moving forward with the front sections next. IMG_4486

The masons returned to work this morning despite receiving .40 inches of overnight rain. They were able to finish their part of the outdoor kitchen and the steps off of the terrace. They were rather proud of themselves with the outcome and will return after several days to acid wash the stone to get the masonry joints cleaned up. It will look much better after they do that, but here are some pics. The countertop will come next. IMG_4474 IMG_4488 IMG_4487

In other news, Dave had an accidental mole kill yesterday but we think the coincidences involved were worth reporting here. How does one achieve an accidental mole kill? He was weeding and using the very guillotine – style edger that we purchased from Garden Savvy, aka Mary Ellen Hetenyi. As an aside, this tool was sharpened by Mary Ellen’s husband, Imre, who is rather Ninja like in his stealth but, particularly in the sharpening area. (I look forward to getting some lessons in this area from him!) So, after noticing that a mole was working in the tomato patch, Dave was working on the weeding and edging and found that he had the accidental fortune of having ‘collided’ with a working mole. I hope it doesn’t upset anyone to show the outcome here…this fella is definitely a bit worse for wear?!?! IMG_4463

The coincidental part of this was that this was the 17th mole kill on our property and occurred on Sept. 17th which was my birthday. The last mole killed here was by me, on Dave’s birthday, June 11th. Whoa! Go figure!

The top news for the farm would be the rain we had over night and again this afternoon. Boy, do we need it. There is more expected and it will be welcome as long as it is not torrential. The fall plantings are all rooted by now so they should not be washed out and will be happy. Our last Farm Report is just shy of 1,400 pounds of harvested produce. The summer crops are slowing down but the fall crops will kick in soon. An example of this is the pie pumpkins we are starting to harvest. Aren’t they lovely? IMG_4439

I plan to cook them for pumpkin puree that I will freeze and use this winter in various ways. Pumpkin pie and breads will be the point of use for many of them. If you have not made a pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin, you should! Please let me know if you are interested getting one of these and using it for this purpose!IMG_4440

Also interesting is the presence of a new type of humming bird that has appeared to flit about our pots recently. We were used to a more typical hummingbird that had been attracted to our flowers this summer but I recently spotted a newer image of something that I first thought looked more like our killer cicada wasps. After getting a closer look at this hummingbird, I think I have identified it as a Clearwing Moth Hummingbird. Here are some images. The first from the internet, the second from my camera. hummingbird_clearwing_new_yorkIMG_4453

We have sad news to report on two fronts. My Aunt Marie (one of my dad’s dear sisters) died earlier in this month and Dave’s Auntie Jo (his mom’s sister) died peacefully today. Both were surrounded by family in their final days. We cherish these dear ones and keep their memories fresh and foremost in our thoughts as we go about our days.

Masons, Concrete and Roasted Veggies with Pesto!

The construction at Seven Oaks has progressed nicely this week. The last two days were a bit crowded here since we had the masons, (who are working on the finish work of the terrace steps, outdoor kitchen and sidewalks), the concrete guys (who are tearing out the old driveway and some of the old fencing, putting in the new underlayment and pouring the driveway cement), the fence/gate guys (who are placing their posts for future gate at the driveway and other fencing), the electricians (who had to place sleeves under the hardscape of the future sidewalk and into the raw foundation for the outdoor kitchen, the gate openers and the landscape lighting), and the plumber, Mule, (who is running the gas line from the house to the built-in grill). Oh, and of course there are a myriad of trucks of other shapes and sizes  dumping loads of rock, picking up loads of debris along with the concrete trucks which are delivering the goodies. At one point I counted 16 trucks or vehicles parked in the driveway.

It is a dance, to be sure, and I was running my day jobs last week plus trying to keep this all under control. Today it seemed as if there were just too many trades here demanding my attention, so I postponed my work meetings and worked from my home office so that I could be around to give direction when needed. One of the best things that happened this week was that the fence on the driveway turnaround was removed. It was an OMG moment for me since it means that when driving into the back of the property, the view is wide open and unobstructed! IMG_4375

The concrete guys and masons had a major push this week. The masons started off the week working on the steps and got as far as they could. We decided to add two more steps in order to make the elevation a bit more gentle. Those will be in addition to the ones you see here. IMG_4437

They then moved to the out door cooking area. They formed the walls with cinder block and used all of my instruction for the built in grills to make openings to fit their dimensions and needs.IMG_4367

Then they started cladding the block with the stone veneer that I had left over from the front portico. IMG_4373

They got as far as they could go before needing the floor to be poured on the interior area so they moved on to the sidewalk.IMG_4435

For the step treads and sidewalk, I am repurposing stone from another job site that I’ve had in my stone pile for more than a year. It feels good to get this put to good use and it worked well with the house. IMG_4436

Yesterday we had a break in the weather and today was lovely. For once, I was thinking, “it is okay if it doesn’t rain today” since I wanted to get all this work done! This break in weather was ideal for pouring exposed aggregate concrete which is quite a process.

First, you chose the color of stone that you wish have exposed on the surface of the finished material. We chose a stone combination called ‘Illinois Glacial’ which consists of a blue/grey/green stone mix of smooth pebbles. The stones look like this.IMG_4421

This mixture of stones is poured into the forms that the concrete crew have meticulously laid out. The truck comes to dump its load and it is all hands on deck. IMG_4395

The guys immediately go into action to spread and smooth the surface. IMG_4398

After it is all smooth,IMG_4419 they spray on a retardant to keep the very top from hardening.

Yes, it is pink!IMG_4420

After letting this sit up over their lunch hour, they came back and powerwashed the surface while broom-ing it off to expose the aggregate. This is why it is called exposed aggregate! IMG_4426

The crew will return tomorrow to pour the next segment of cement. After they expose each section, they will let it sit for about three days to let the lye in the concrete rise to the surface. They will then acid wash this lye away and then ultimately seal the whole. Dave and I watched with great interest as they toiled away today. The good weather made for wonderful working conditions.

The good weather has also benefited the fall planting that Dave continues to foster. The summer veggies are slowing down somewhat but he continues to harvest daily. The Farm Report from yesterday shows a tally of 1,327 pounds of produce! We are about at the end of the melon harvest but the tomatoes continue to give us fruits which is great since I am still eager to make lots of pasta sauce for the winter.

Last night I decided to use up some of the basil that I have in pots outside of the kitchen door. My plan was to roast some veggies and cook up some pasta to have a pesto/roasted veggie pasta dish. After getting my veggies (diced eggplant, pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes) into the oven to roast, I started on the pesto.

I used my brother’s pesto recipe since it is reliably tasty and the ingredients are always at hand. I used garlic, basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, oil and water as the main ingredients. IMG_4384

Pop those into the Cuisinart in the right sequence and, viola, pesto! IMG_4385

Even tho we use very little of this recipe for our dinner for two, we love to have this mixture left over in the refrigerator for snacking. We spread it on sandwiches and we eat it with crackers.

I will reprise parts of last night’s dinner tonight as I am pulling eggplant patties from the freezer to add to the leftover roasted veggies for our simple dinner which I will serve after a tour of the job site. We are so pleased with the progress but chilled enough to need a sweater this evening!

 

Long Weekend……

We awoke this morning and were greeted by darkened skies and a threat of rain that eventually became a reality! In other words, we had rain this morning! Several friends texted me to share that they were excited for us since rain would be our salve! I tried to sound very enthusiastic in my replies, but basically, it would take a week of rain make up for what we missed out on in the last 8 weeks! Although the rain has currently let up enough for the Cardinals to play baseball and the Rams fans to do some tailgating, there is some prediction for more rain later tonight, so we have our fingers crossed.

One of the best parts of getting some rain this morning meant that Farmer Dave had a day off from the constant watering. Not knowing that the rain would amount to much, we still ran our sprinkler system in the front landscape beds since the oak trees out front sap everything they can from the other trees, so there is no amount of over watering out there that could happen at this point.

I was very glad that Dave had some time to read the latest Organic Gardening magazine in our quiet time this morning. I had managed to read it while waiting at a doctor’s office last week and we are both huge fans of this publication – so much so that we even read the ads with interest! You know you are too busy when you have too little time to read! Arg! We are resolving to fix this in the future!

Dave then worked indoors on his record keeping after weighing yesterday’s harvest and proudly presented me with the Farm Report with totals to date as of yesterday. Our cumulative harvest is 1,275.953 lbs!  Cantaloupe alone accounts for 235 lbs of this, but cukes are still in the lead with 314 lbs. Tomatoes follow at 216 lbs., strawberries 159, eggplants at 105 and potatoes at 83 lbs. Of course these are just the leading crops…he has details on everything else. The future contenders in the weight category will most likely be the pumpkins which are looking pretty sweet right now. They are pie pumpkins so they won’t be enormous, but we will be looking to make some pumpkin puree for pies and even some pumpkin butter, which my grandmother used to make and sounds intriguing. IMG_5259

I, on the other hand, had to jump right into kitchen chores which is something I love to do but sometimes gets kind of hectic. Whenever I walk past the prep kitchen refrigerators, I’m constantly reminded of the produce waiting to be addressed – whether preserved or cooked in one way or another. Today, I was facing massive amounts of red hot peppers, countless melons, and a sizable number of tomatoes which were hiding out in the laundry room. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted to have these quantities to have to deal with today!

I started out by cutting up the tomatoes to get them on the stove and had just enough to make some meat-less pasta sauce using 30 lbs of tomatoes, our green peppers, and some other ingredients such as garlic and mushrooms from the store. While these were cooking, I prepped the red pepper for some additional Sriracha Sauce, this time, wisely using rubber gloves which were not fun to work with but hopefully protected my hands!IMG_5269

I had enough peppers to make a triple batch and so decided this would be a time saver in the end. Whoa, a triple batch calls not only for 3lbs of peppers but for 4 cups of peeled, blanched, sliced, garlic! That is a lot of garlic! IMG_5263

It also consumed 6.75 cups of rice wine vinegar, something we have not been able to find in the economy size, even tho we checked at Sam’s Club this weekend!IMG_5262

Oh, what delicious smells have been wafting from the kitchen all day long!

While the masses of batches of chopped and prepped items cooked away, I found time to cut up 10 of the cantaloupe and will take some to my mother as well as a family dinner tonight. Bummer that I will have to stop my processing to attend said dinner, since I still have sauces on the stove cooking away and will have to divert my attention to see a visiting nephew, Henry, who is in town briefly, on his way driving from Boston to LA. Of course, I’m happy to get a chance to visit with him! Here is some of the Sriracha in progress. IMG_5271 IMG_5272

My sister, Lisa, served some of our farm produce at dinner which was great. She served our cantaloupe slices as part of the hors oeuvres, then roasted our potatoes and made a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes. Here she is about to put the potatoes into the oven.IMG_5273

I had to run back home to finish up the Sriracha and pasta sauce processing before she served dessert…which was a wonderful blueberry pie! I hope everyone understood this need for an early departure from Lisa’s lovely dinner. After 12 hours or more in the kitchen with processing, I am still waiting to pull jars out of the pressure cooker! Burned fingers along the way due to my negligence. Here are the 12 jars of Sriracha plus the lovely 8 pints of pasta sauce! IMG_5275

Such a great weekend!

XOXO

You Gotta Break Some Eggs….

Although Dave made headway planting the fall crops, (cool weather plants such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale, radishes, carrots, lettuces, bok choi, kohlrabi, etc.) this week, it seemed, in general, as if the farm was much more like another job site. Sadly, I missed much of what was going on early in the week since my other job sites required the majority of my attention. In my absence, Dave took delivery of the new outdoor grill (270lbs) which arrived via freight. IMG_5230

He was also here for several deliveries of sand and mortar that the masons had ordered in. IMG_5226

Eventually some other equipment arrived.IMG_5229

An then their tool trailer which they parked in as much of a concealed area as possible. IMG_5236

No, I’m not doing any free advertising for this company, but I often describe them in this way: If you wanted to build a cathedral these are the guys for the job. Again, a crew of father, Bob, and son, Adam, and Sayad along with the laborer, Pete. Here they are last year (along with Mule, some of the carpenters on the kitchen job as well as Dave and Farley) laying the corner stone for Seven Oaks.IMG_1635

Adam had the honors of laying the stone, one of which was placed in front as well in back.IMG_1648

The Masons arrived to begin the terrace steps on Friday. Steps are really tricky, so after some calculations, they were able to figure out how to proceed and got a good start.IMG_5238

When I had snippets of time last week I met with my electrician friend, Rich Wood, (who also delivered the sleeves for future electric under all the new concrete) the outdoor lighting expert, Mark Sullivan, and of course the mason coordinator, Jim Theusch. Our friend Mule dropped by and put on his plumber hat since he will be working on the gas lines for the outdoor grill. I plied both Rich and Mule with additional goodies such as melons and jarred items from the pantry since they really appreciate that kind of thing.

Today the driveway crew arrived to get some work done moving pallets around and exploring what was underneath all of the pea rock on our driveway. A very large dump truck pulled in and we ended up needing to cut back some tree branches to allow them better access to the rear area. We pulled Dave’s pick up into place and he climbed into the back and used his new giant pruner to do the job. IMG_5239

This truck dropped a ton or so of rock for just a start on the future base.IMG_5255

He then was prepared to receive and haul away whatever was pulled up from the current driveway. IMG_5243

They worked a long time today but were finally stopped after discovering their machine, a Case skid steer loader, had a flat tire. IMG_5257

We felt they got a good start and were not terribly disappointed that the dust and noise was over for the day. IMG_5248 IMG_5251

The farm is suffering from the continued area drought. We have had no discernible rain for more than 7-8 weeks. Dave is watering constantly but managed to plant the fall season of crops and reports that many of the rows of plantings are already sprouting. Our harvest totals for the year as of Friday, September, 6th was 1,249lbs. The big winners listed in order of weight totals so far are: cukes, followed by cantaloupe, tomatoes, strawberries eggplants and potatoes.

I gave away many, many melons this week and had wonderful messages back from folks who realized how very tasty they were. My sister, Lisa, served many farm items at a Rosh Hashanah dinner this past week and picked up another batch of items for a family dinner she is hosting tomorrow.

We continue to enjoy eating and preserving the fruits of our labor but sharing with friends and family is also a great reward.

In addition to all of the joy of progress at the farm this week, the very best part of my week was when a dear friend, Janet Lange, dropped off a beautifully wrapped present for me, in recognition of some assistance I contributed to her recent home project. No need – wish I had helped more – but what a wonderful surprise! IMG_5221

With a full schedule, I had to leave it – full of mystery – on the table all afternoon until I got back from a long day of work. OMG! You would not believe my excitement after carefully opening the package. It was a John Gould bird print, of the Parus Major, which remind me greatly of one of the birds that I have seen around here, the American Goldfinch. IMG_5223

Thank you, thank you, Janet! This was very special indeed since Janet was with me when I bought my very first pair of Gould prints, many years ago! Some people are just great gift givers since they remember details like that! I am so excited to add this print to my small but growing collection of ornithological and botanical prints!

Melon-choly? (Kate’s fun pun for the day’s harvest!)

OMG! Here is what our melon harvest looked like this afternoon after a quick picking in the melon patch this morning.IMG_5202
Can you say Cantaloupe? Or as Kate quipped today, “Can’t Elope”? (Yes, with wedding planning underway, there is no chance of elopement..!)

We picked 111 pounds of cantaloupes today, in addition to 6 pounds of water melons with more out in the field yet to bring in! This follows 40 pounds of melons we harvested yesterday! IMG_5210

Needless to say, despite their incredible flavor, we are giving them away as fast as we can since they do not preserve well and they are ripe, ripe, ripe!

I plan to deliver some to my friend, Mule, tomorrow when I see him on a job site. I hope to find good homes for some with others soon as well since they just don’t last very long.

We had a wonderful weekend with Kate and Jason in town for a wedding extravaganza. Here they are on their way to the rehearsal dinner. IMG_0676

We managed to see them as often as they were available but they were out at wedding party activities most of the weekend. That was okay since we had plenty of farm activities to address.  One of those was getting our stone yard items put on pallets for the guys to move around this coming week. This was heavy work and required a bit of a two person coordination. It reminded me of working on the stone wall I built at the old house. It is back breaking work that leads one to not casually say ‘a ton’. When you have lifted enough stone to equal a ton, you and your back knows it and respects that measurement! IMG_5199 IMG_5197

We took a much needed mid morning break when I stepped inside to make Dave a fruit smoothy. I used our strawberries and melons along with some other key ingredients to make a delightful, cool drink to sip. We enjoyed this concoction while sitting together on the front, portico bench, admiring our work while realizing the scope of future work to come. IMG_5200

Despite not getting any of the promised rain last night, we did benefit from a slight cool down in temps so working on weeding and the like was much better today. I spent some time in the blueberry and strawberry patches this morning with Farley, who always finds a way to relax in and amongst the activity. IMG_5201

We managed to make a very nice send off dinner for Kate and Jason. Dave grilled some steaks while I concentrated on an Eggplant Parm dish as well as a Green Bean stir fry. IMG_5213YUM!