Entries in As safe as houses (6)


Home Again

Well, the blog has been neglected of late. That's because we have moved--from my beloved Hudson Highlands to the land of my childhood--California. My husband, Patrick, has taken a job at Warner Brothers, and he loves it so far. (What's not to love, right?)

We just bought the lovely house pictured above, and we'll move in soon--just as soon as we get a little work done on it. We've traded maples for palms, the Atlantic for the Pacific, bagels for tortillas, the Right Coast for the Left. It's sure to be an adventure!


Better Than Money in the Bank

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

--J.R.R. Tolkien

My illustrious blogpal Deb recently quoted an excellent article by Heather Havrilevsky on salon.com:

Lately I've been buying beans. Not canned beans, mind you: Dry beans. Bags of dry beans that only cost 65 cents, beans that have to be soaked overnight, beans that you have to sort very carefully to make sure there aren't any chunks of gravel in there.

This is my response to an impending recession, my move to scale back and batten down the hatches for the coming economic storm.

Heather, I'm totally with you, babe. In fact, I may have a bit of an edge in the dried bean department. Let me 'splain.

For decades, leaders of my Church have been asking members to set aside food, water, and money to be used in times of emergency. When we lived in a 900-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, we stored what little we could, but when we moved to a house with a basement, we knew it was time to start following the counsel we'd been hearing for years. We took the 'building up' phase slowly, but now we're in the happy situation of being able to rotate and maintain a year's supply of food for our family. (Have I mentioned recently that there will soon be eight of us? Yeah. That's a lot of food.)

It's quite a comfort knowing that we could feed our family if disaster struck. It wouldn't have to be an earthquake; I've known families who ate well using their food storage for months on end when jobs were lost or providers were disabled. I know other families who 'practice' living on their food storage alone for a few weeks at a time, just to make sure they can do so comfortably. (This is a good way to find 'holes' in your storage that can be filled later.) They then bank the cash they would have used for groceries during that time, which adds to their emergency savings.

I've heard of some bunker-mentality folks who buy guns so that they can "protect what's [theirs]." This attitude is anathema to me. Theodore M. Burton said,

Some members of the Church have said to me, “Why should we keep a store of food on hand? If a real emergency came in this lawless world, a neighbor would simply come with his gun and take it from us. What would you do if a person came and demanded your food?” I replied that I would share whatever I had with him, and he wouldn’t have to use a gun to obtain that assistance either.

My dear friend C had quite a bit of fun poked at her by movers when she and her family relocated to Puerto Rico and took their massively bulky food storage with them. But when a hurricane laid waste to their side of the island months later, they fed their entire neighborhood for the two weeks it took for power and transportation to be restored.

If something similarly devastating happened here, I'd immediately let our neighbors know they were welcome at our table. (Just another reason for you to buy the house that's for sale next door, people.)

My food storage isn't perfect; we need more honey, for example. But here's what we've got.


Yep, we actually eat it. I have a wheat grinder and a bread machine, both of which get regular use. I also have an awesome Wheat Berry Salad recipe that I make a lot in the summer. We've also had sweetened cooked wheat berries for breakfast in times past. It's rib-stickin.'

Other Bulk Items: Above are buckets with sealed mylar bags inside for super long storage: oats, other grains, beans, etc. That stack is three buckets deep.

Here are the 'open' buckets, with these awesome 'Gamma Seal' lids on them.

I have a few freeze-dried things in #10 cans, but not a ton, because we don't really like the stuff. Tip: don't store what you won't eat.

Deep Freezer:

We generally buy our grass-fed meat and pastured poultry in bulk: a few chickens, a side of beef, a whole hog or lamb, etc., at a time. We need to find a new supplier this year. In years past, I have also blanched and frozen excess garden or CSA greens and squash for winter use. This year, I hope to expand to putting up frozen fruit.

Garden: I've got a post in the works about this year's garden; but for now, here are our seedlings. I started the tomatoes and herbs a few weeks ago. The cucurbits, planted last week, are just starting to sprout. I'm trying to rig up my light above them, because it's supposed to be cloudy all week.

In addition to the electric wheat grinder, I have a food dehydrator, a hand grain grinder, a sprouting kit, and a large thermos (passive heat for grain cooking and yogurt making). I didn't photograph them, but we also have two 55-gallon drums filled with water and a siphon to go with them. I also love that we have a creek running behind the house; I have a lot of water purification tablets, if need be.

Books: Could I write a post like this without mentioning the books I own on the subject? Doubtful. All these are incredibly useful; they are, clockwise from upper left: Keeping Food Fresh, Eating Off the Grid, Nourishing Traditions, Cooking with the Sun, The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (buy it used; it's the best whole grain bread book ever, but it's now out of print), and (the book with the best title of all time) Apocalypse Chow. If we lost power for days or simply couldn't pay the propane and electric bill, I'd still have a plethora of options for food preparation.

While we're on the topic of books about food, let me put in a plug for Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. It will certainly make my Top Ten Books Read list this year. It is a clear-eyed look at modern America's unhealthy relationship with "edible food-like substances," and proposes simple solutions not only to what Pollan terms "orthorexia" (an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating), but also to our rapidly expanding waistlines, our continent-wide health crisis, and global environmental issues. LDS readers: this book dovetails beautifully with a certain Section 89 (except for a couple of paragraphs on red wine).

We have ample food here at the Perkins Homestead, and plenty of cheer and song to go with it. Stop by any time!


We Put the 'ew' in 'Sewage'

It all started Saturday night, a time when no self-respecting plumber in the Americas will answer his 'emergency' phone. I went down to the basement to put in a load of laundry and noticed that the concrete floor under the washer was wet. We sometimes get a little water in that corner of the basement when it rains (and it had been), but something told me to open the door to the little bathroom that sits right next to our laundry area.

Tess was showering at the time; the waste pipe that runs from our washer to the main line was spurting some water out from under the cap. There's drainage in that area, so it wasn't too much of a mess yet, but I knew we had a problem.

"Houston," I said to Patrick when he walked through the door from some errands about a half hour later, "Come check this out." I turned on the tap to the slop sink so that he could see the mini-geyser-like action. He crouched down, hemmed and hawed, and talked man-talk to the pipe for a few minutes. I informed him that I'd already left a message for our regular plumber; we had some time to kill until we had to leave for dinner with our highly entertaining friends J&J, so we spent it leaving messages with other plumbers in the area. You know, just in case.

We kept hygiene activities to the barest minimum the next morning ("Take the shortest shower of your life," I admonished Christian as I shook him awake), and I knew that, between church and a luncheon at a friends' house, we'd be gone most of Sunday. I hoped that would mean we wouldn't have too much back-up to deal with, knowing that we wouldn't see a plumber until at least this morning.

We got home a little before Super Bowl kick-off time last night; our regular plumber had left a message (the only one who ever did), so I called him back on his cell phone right away. "Jack," I said, "I know you're just sitting down to watch the game, but please send somebody over first thing in the morning. You know we have five kids; you know how much flushing that entails." Maybe he sensed my panic, or maybe he was just eager to listen to Jordin Sparks sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Either way, he hurriedly agreed; I rang off and got our game snacks ready using mostly disposable dishes.

I awoke at 5:30 this morning to a hideous burping sound. "It's the basement toilet," Patrick muttered into the dark. Christian, in his sleep-deprived haze (we had let the boys stay up for the whole exciting game), had forgotten our need to conserve and was taking a regular-length shower.


When Jack's son John arrived this morning at about 9:00, I led him to the little basement bathroom. I won't describe for you what met me when I opened the door, but remember my pregnancy-induced super-mega-bionic sense of smell and my overactive gag reflex. Breathing through my mouth, I walked back out and asked John to give me a minute. He, in turn, took one look at the room and said, "You'll need to call our 'rooter' subcontractor, Al. I don't have the equipment for this." He gave me the number and left quickly.

I called Al and got his angel wife on the phone. At first, she said Al's day was very full, but when I uttered the magic words "five kids" (and perhaps when she heard the desperation in my voice), she had a change of heart and was able to schedule us for an appointment at noon.

In the meantime, I put my normal routine on hold. No dishes (still left from Saturday); no laundry; no exercise, since I couldn't shower. No flushing (Daniel, a.k.a. "Mr. Fastidious," really didn't like that). I got caught up on some other tasks and waited.

Al was great. He arrived on time, brought in his fancy drain snake with attached camera (again: yerrrrch), and had the line cleared in about a half hour. I happily wrote him a large check, took his card (which I plan to laminate and put in a very safe place), and sent him on his way--after hearing what the clogging culprit was.

Baby wipes.

("They don't break down," Al said, waxing philosophical. "I've seen it time and time again. Once you flush one, it's the beginning of the end.")

Who flushed the wipes, and when? It is a puzzlement. Daniel has been potty-trained for a couple of months; I can't remember the last time we had the wipes box out. And I've always known that regular wipes aren't flushable; every box you buy says so in prominent typeface on the back.

And yet, and yet. The evidence was incontrovertible. (Though I should say that I take Al's testimony at face value; I didn't confirm his diagnosis with my own eyes.)

The crisis is over; all that remains is catching up on the laundry and kitchen maintenance. That, and somehow steeling myself--or providing enough incentive to someone else in the house--to take a bucket of water and some bleach down to the little bathroom to clean up the remaining detritus. Jove's nightgown: I can barely stand the thought.


That's the kind of house we live in, and I hope we never leave it.*

La Fabulous Carmen asked me weeks and weeks ago to take photos of the results of last year's house renovation. I've been putting this off, since little things still aren't done, like finishing painting the backsplash. But since she's in the process of saving my knitting bacon with an express package from London and an emergency trip to Paris's La Droguerie, and since right now my house is as clean as it ever gets, I figured today was the day.

Taking these photos reminds me of that scene in Blade Runner in which Harrison Ford's character is using his computer to mine clues from a snapshot. But I'll try to get over it, since we aren't harboring any replicants at the moment.

Grrrr--Blogger is not letting me space the photos and captions the way I'd like to. So in case it's not clear, each caption goes with the photo directly above it.

Looking west from the threshold between the den and the living/dining room (between what used to be the living room and the dining room/kitchen)

Looking northeast from the corner shown in the first picture

The new cooking area is where the old kitchen table used to be.

The island with cookbook bookshelf

I spend quite a bit of time in this corner.The new fireplace--this is in what used to be the dining room. The hallway to our bedroom is on the right. We store wood in those little boxes under the seats.

I'm leaning against the new corner sink to take this photo. We still have the Frank Lloyd Wright windows; now they flank two groups of plain windows instead of being all in a row.

Here are the pocket doors between the living room and the den.

Here's the new den/old living room. I guess we should take out the newspapers.
This is taken from the left corner of the photo just before.

And from the right corner

The window seat and door to Christian's new room/old den-guest room are on the left.

The window seat hasn't changed, but since it's one of my favorite spots in the house, I had to include it.

The outside; please remember that the garden is still in the 'Before' stage of Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition.

The new deck is made out of ipe wood.

I feel very, very lucky to live in the house of my dreams (not the childhood dream where I fantasized about living in a Fotomat booth; the dream I had after I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement). It is modest-sized by today's McMansion standards, about 2,000 square feet. But it's the perfect size for us and suits our needs exactly.

Anyone contemplating building a new house or renovating an old one should read Sarah Susanka's The Not-So-Big House; it influenced our design tremendously. Patrick gets all the credit for figuring out the new 'flow' of the downstairs. He also gets all the credit for financing the project; thanks, honey!

*I'm not quite sure what Ted Geisel was up to when he wrote There's a Wocket in my Pocket! It's my least favorite of all the Dr. Seuss books--nowhere near the caliber of The Sneetches or The Sleep Book, for example. But I do like the last line.


Make a [back]splash

When we designed our kitchen renovation, I knew I wanted something unique for the backsplashes, filling that crucial space between the soapstone counters and the cherry Mission-style cabinets. We researched a lot of different options, but nothing seemed quite right. Then Patrick had the brilliant idea of asking our friend Seth Fairweather to design something for us.

Seth is a glass blower, but we knew he had recently been dabbling with casting glass as well. I asked him to make some sketches for some glass panels with our tastes in mind. Seth knows how much I love the Arts & Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelites; he said the the verticality of our kitchen chairs (our seats are not upholstered) and cabinets reminded him of barrel vaults in a cathedral.

I was thrilled with Seth's sketches; they featured little medieval workers building a cathedral, with each panel broken up by pillars of the vaulting. We asked him to cast the panels, and he got right to work. Once our cabinets and countertops were installed, Seth came down from school to install the panels. The glass was devitrified, and when the little glass bullets melted in the molds, they retained a bit of their own shape, so the surface of the glass looks like a stone mosaic.

Seth and I had discussed whether or not to paint the glass; I finally decided that I would, so that the relief of the characters and architectural details would be more apparent. Above are before and after photos of the first panel. This panel is above the counter where I do my baking, and has the most elaborate details. I especially love the rose window. The rustic style evokes woodcuts and illuminations of the Middle Ages for me; I think it's a great contrast against the clean lines of the cabinets and woodwork.

One panel down; three more to go. The other panels will be less work, since I'll just use the cream wash on most of them to highlight the figures. I'll post again when they are done.