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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Housing Rush Week

Maybe I will change my mind in the weeks to come, but I think this week is officially rush week. I have been doing lots of calling and paperwork in order to try to get everything in line so we can submit our building plans to the lender. Almost all of the final decisions have been made, and almost all of the bids are in. We are getting close!

There are a couple of things that we are still waiting on though. One of the things is the bid from the lumber yard for the building materials that we will need to do the finish work - drywall, studs, insulation, etc. They have had our information for quite awhile now. Last I talked to them, it was supposed to be done Monday or Tuesday. If it doesn't come through (I realize our project isn't a huge one, but it would still be business for them), my dad volunteered to help us piece the info together.

The second thing we are waiting on is the bid for the septic system. In order to even get the bid, however, we need to get our perk test completed. If you remember from a previous post, we had the holes dug for this test a week and a half ago. It is supposed to be a two day test. Needless to say, with the continuous rain we have gotten this month, this isn't going so well. Since we finally had a couple days in a row without rain, the engineer was able to check on the holes today. The perk test didn't look too perky though as the holes were still filled with water. He ended up digging some new holes, and we will try those. We are hoping that they will drain well. If they don't, the septic system will cost an additional $3000 to put a sand filter in.

The last part of this rush week is something that I haven't mentioned yet, but it is just as pressing. The house that we are living in now is owned by our church. Since my husband is the youth pastor, part of his salary includes housing - living in this house. This spring the church voted that they would sell our building if we wanted to buy a place of our own, which of course we are doing. So this week we are also trying to finish up the work needed to get our house listed on the market. It is important to get it listed soon since now is the good season for selling a house, and also because Ethan's housing allowance ($ for our loan payments) won't start until this house sells. Since I have been doing so much with the building project lately, the house has kind of taken a hit in appearance. This week I am trying to pull it back together and shine it up too, just in case there is someone right away that would like to see it.

So that is some of what is going on in my Housing Rush Week. It is nice to be close to the end of this whole planning process, it will be great when the loan closes, and it will be a blessing when this property sells!

(A sweet potato update will be coming soon. We just have one camera, and Ethan has been putting it to good use.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Site Update

All of this land and building stuff is making my mind close to exploding! Hopefully within the next week or two we will have everything submitted for the construction loan. Then I hand off the baton to Ethan. The big planning phase will be done and the muscle/labor phase will begin!

So even though I should really have been doing paper work and making phone calls for the last 30 minutes, I decided to do something totally mindless. I went through my posts and put labels on them. Now you can go to the right side of the page and see a blog archive by topic. It probably needs a bit of tweaking, but I just convinced myself that I should pull out my stack of file folders and do something productive again.

I hope you enjoy browsing!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 7

This week, on the warm days, I started putting my sweet potatoes outside on the porch in indirect sunlight. (Although I scooted them into the sun for the picture.)

The days I did this have been warmer outside than in the house so I decided that it is a good time to start to harden off the plants that I started inside. The exposure to the sun's rays and the gentle breeze will help make them stronger for when the go out into the exposed garden.

They come back inside in the evening since it still gets cool at night, but the time spent outside really seems to be good for them. As you can see, the leaves on my sweet potatoes have really broadened out and greened up.

I'm pretty sure next week I will start rooting the vine sprouts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Planning Day on the Farm

On Saturday Ethan, myself, and the kids headed out to the farm to meet up with an engineer who was going to do our perk test for our septic system. When he got out there, we discussed our plans for the property and helped pick out where we wanted to put the septic system. (He showed us the best direction for it, and we fine tuned the placement.)

Because it can't be driven on, shouldn't be grazed, and shouldn't have trees planted around it, we picked a spot by the fence line that would be a bit out of the way. We are going to look at planting native prairie grasses and wildflowers over that area to keep it low maintenance and have it be another thing to set off our farm . Ethan came up with that idea, and I think it is a great one!

The engineer worked about an hour and a half, so we also used that time to do some work. We had brought out a bunch of metal fence posts that we used to stake out the position of our house. Caleb was a great helper and felt quite involved when we let him deliver the posts to where we needed them. Hannah was quite content to walk around with her hands in her pockets, step in puddles, and look at the ants franticly try to rebuild their foot high ant hills that got mowed down. (They won't have the years needed it took to get them to that point though!)

This picture shows the area we staked out. You can click on it to enlarge it. In the background you can see the tip of a house. This is one of the two houses visible from our property. We will be planting a windbreak on that side though, so that house will eventually be out of view.Here is a picture of the second house visible from our property. This would be seen by looking toward the entrance of the lane to our house. Ethan wants to put up the hay shed along the fence line by that entrance, so this house would also be out of view from our house. They do have a really neat barn on the left though, so maybe we could place the shed just right to block the house but see the barn!Although it wasn't raining out, it was quite cool and very sloshy. Even so, the kids had a fun time and we got a lot done.

Things are starting to come together on the construction front now. We have our builder picked out, various bids coming in, and materials lists forming. Hopefully within the next week or week and a half we can have everything signed and submitted to the lender to get our construction loan rolling.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cake Baking Tip

When I was in high school I had the privilege of learning a few neat cake baking tips from a cake maker. Since I was making a cake for our son's 4th birthday this week, I thought I would share one of them with you.

This tip was originally shared so cakes would end up nice and level for making layer cakes or for when you want to turn a cake over on a board (making the bottom the top), and you don't want your cake to be wobbly. I also use it when I want to keep my cake in the pan, unless I want it to be somewhat mounded. It just makes for a nice level cake.

What you will need are some strips of cotton. The thicker the better. I just used an old white undershirt that I cut into strips and folded to get more thickness. Someday I hope to make time to buy a bit of cotton fabric, fold it nice and thick, and sew it so it won't unfold . . . but for now strip of shirt will work.

You will want to get these strips nice and wet. Then you just wrap them around the outside of your pan, nice and tight, and safety pin them in place. (I like to place my cake pan on a cookie sheet while baking to keep the strips from sliding off - which is very frustrating if they do this when you are trying to put the cake in the oven.)

The science behind this tip is that the wet strips will keep the outside of the pan cool so that the edge of the cake doesn't bake faster than the middle - this is what causes the mounding of cakes when they are baked. (I bet this trick would work too if you like your brownies to be gooey and don't like the chewier edge pieces.)

Here is a picture of my cake after it came out of the oven. I will admit, mine isn't perfectly flat, but I blame that on inadequate strips of fabric. If I took the time to sew some that were nice and thick with the same thickness all around, I'm sure it would make even more of a difference. Even so, what I have works wonders.

Here is a picture of the cake all decorated. It is nice to not have to turn a cake upside down to get a flat surface to decorate!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 6

Not much new to report with the sweet potatoes, other than they continue to grow. Hopefully some of the sprouts will be ready to snap off and root in the next week or two.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Here We Go!

Today was the day! At 11:00 we signed all of the papers, handed over the check, and the land is now ours!

It is nice to have this step over with, however, now the real work begins. We think we have picked out our builder, someone local that we just found out about. Word of mouth is a great thing! We are hoping that he will be able to help us (with a small fee probably) put together a materials list since he has done quite of few of these pole buildings as houses.

Back to the closing though, everything went smoothly, on our part at least. The Des Moines Register wants to do a story on us, and their photographer ran into some problems at the title office. He arrived before us, went in, and got sent back out. I think they were afraid that he was there to get information and pictures concerning the land deal gone bad that I mentioned in my previous post. He waited until we arrived and followed us back in. Everyone in there either disappeared into their offices or acted quite cautious. The lady who was in the room with us signing papers informed him that she was not to be in any pictures. He was able to get a few photos of us signing the beginning of the pile of papers and then took off so the employee at the title office was able to relax a bit.

After the signing was done, we met up with the reporter at a local restaurant. He took quite a few pages of notes over the meal. We are curious to see what he finds interesting. We had a nice visit, and we were impressed that he seemed to be fairly food conscious. He mentioned that he had just read the book The Omnivore's Dilemma.

After all of the business was taken care of, we went out to our farm. We spent a bit of time playing T-ball with the kids, and then came home for some naps.

(Just in case you were looking for the base ball tee in the picture, it is from a previous trip when we played football.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Slight Delay

For those of you keeping track, we were supposed to close on the land tomorrow. I just talked to the lender today. Although the appraisal has been approved, they aren't going to get the paperwork through on time. Hopefully we can close on Monday.

There are two possibilities for the delay.

The first is that they had trouble finding land to compare ours to for the appraisal. They normally go back 12 months to find similar sales, but the closest they could find was a year past. They had to go back 2 years to find enough properties for the appraisal. The lender wanted something more recent after the appraisal was originally completed, so the appraiser ended up pulling up two more properties that are listed now.

My other theory is that the company that did the appraisal is connected with a realtor in our town that is in a bit of a legal predicament right now, and they might just be buried deep with trying to dig their way out of a hole. If you haven't heard this story, you can read it here or here. Basically, a property was sold south of town that was zoned as residential. A family bought the 70+ acres for over a 1/4 of a million to build their dream home only to find out that they had just boughten our town's city landfill that was shut down in the 60's. The realtor knew that it was a landfill, but didn't disclose that information.

Whatever the case, we are hoping to close soon. We are also happy to know that we payed less per acre for our land than what the landfill sold for!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Do You Read Your Detergent Bottles?

I have always tried to be careful with my money, but the last few years I have done so even more. One of the things that I started doing was paying careful attention to how fast I go through consumable things. Laundry detergent was one of these things.

When I first read the label on the detergent bottle, I was surprised at how little detergent I actually needed to use compared to the cup provided. I'm sure that is their plan though - to have you feel like you need to use more than is needed.

I took a picture of two measuring cups for laundry detergent. The clear cup on the right is the one I have been using the last few years. I have marked in red three different levels. The bottom level, level 1, is where you are to fill for medium-normal loads of laundry. It isn't even half way up. Level 2 is for large loads, and level 3 is for heavily soiled loads. There isn't even a level marked for small loads. I started using level 1 with this measuring cup, but noticed that when I started my next load, there were suds that appeared before I even added the soap. So I ended up filling the detergent under the first red mark, and my clothes always came out clean and smelling fresh - even with large loads and cloth diapers.

Last month I went to the store to buy detergent since I was out, and I found out that the size of bottle that I normally buy was no longer to be found. It was replaced by a smaller bottle that cost the same. I was a little upset at first at the inflation on laundry detergent, but I found out after reading the bottle that it was concentrated even more. The green cap is from this new bottle. I marked in black the new level 1, which is again not even half way up. I also marked on the old clear cup (in black) where this level comes to. As you can see, it is quite a bit less - which is to be expected since it is concentrated. But unless I was aware of the change, I would be filling that green cup way too high if I had in mind I needed to use the same amount of detergent as before.

So next time you go to do laundry, take a peek at how much detergent is recommended. (Dishwasher detergent does the same thing.) You may find it helpful to just draw a line on your measuring cup so you can easily see when you have enough. I know without my line, I mindlessly fill my cup too high!

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Tools of My Trade 

This soap was recommended in the comments of this post.  For those who are interested in a more natural laundry detergent but aren't completely sold on making their own, this soap looks like an economical product with great reviews.  I think I just might have to give it a try myself!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 5

Here's my picture from Week 5 of my sweet potatoes. The one potato continues to keep going strong, with sprouts extending on all sides of the sweet potato. The others are finally getting little sprouts bursting out.

This week I only got around to changing the water once. I also have them set up near a grow light that is over my tomatoes. I haven't seen it make that much of difference in how the sprouts are growing though.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Change in our Plans

Ethan and I recently had a somewhat big change in our plans for the farm. We are still planning on getting the land (closing is on Friday!), and we are still planning on building the pole building. But we just changed our minds about where we are going to put it.

Since we saw the land, we had picked out a building spot near the bottom of the hill near the woods. We knew of two other spots we thought would work to build, but neither of them appealed to us right away. We had set our minds on that first spot by the woods from the start.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago when we were measuring for the land release, however, that we started thinking about changing building locations. Where we had first picked out seemed nice to put a pole building on, and we even had a place for a stick house to eventually build, but we were having trouble seeing where we could put any additional buildings - storage sheds, a garage, etc.

Ethan put up a post on his blog asking for opinions and showing another option we started thinking about. You can click here to see the post and the overhead view of the two sites. Saturday, we drove out to the property again and decided that the second location was our new building site.

Some of the reasons we didn't consider the second site at first are:
- It is on the top of the hill so it would get a lot of the cold winds in the winter.
- There are no trees anywhere close by.
- It is great ground for pasture.

Here are some of the reasons we decided to go with this spot:
- Being on the top of the hill will bring nice breezes in the summer. We won't have central air, so this will be much appreciated. In the winter, we can just throw in some extra logs into the wood burning stove.
- Being on the top of the hill will give us a great view of the whole farm compared to at the bottom. Although there are no trees on the top, they can be planted.
- The ground is nice and flat. It will save us money in that it won't need to be graded much at all, compared to the bottom of the land which is a bit more sloped.
- The flat area is nice and large so there are lots of building options for down the road.

And this last reason is more of a perk for me:
- Being at the top of the hill will give us a GREAT view of the night sky, storms clouds marching in, sunrises, and sunsets - all of which I love to watch.

I didn't get a picture of the view from our pole barn/house. It won't have quite the view of the trees, but hopefully that will come. Here is a view taken from where we hope to build the stick house down the road. It looks down the biggest valley on the property (where we might eventually put a pond at the bottom) and into the woods.

We also spent some time on Saturday walking around the land with the kids. I really like this picture that was taken in the woods.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sweet Potatoes :: Week 4

Hmmm . . . I'm starting to wonder about my sweet potatoes this year. I have one that has an alright start, but the others have nothing but roots! I don't remember this happening last year.

I'll go ahead and show you the one that is earning its keep. The shoots are slowly continuing to grow, and more shoots are popping out each day.

This gives me hope for the potatoes that are pokey though. I'm hoping that any day now there will be some shoots that emerge.

I'm curious to know what yours are doing. I think that next year though, I'll try to save back a couple of my own to start my plants with instead of using store bought. Or maybe I'll just start a house plant (I hear they make great ones!) from a clipping after it gets established outside and next spring clip off some of the house plant to root and put outside. Any thoughts?
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