Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas Holiday from our family to yours. The year ahead looks exciting and bright--with big plans for our (new) roost to begin construction in January!!!

Christmas Blessings,

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas Traditions I Hope to Share with my Children

I love taking part in Holiday traditions and now that I have children, I'm excited to create new Christmas traditions and memories. So far we have kept the Holidays as simple as possible for the girls but now that they are three and will start to remember things more I'm looking forward to celebrating Christmas through traditions that we can share every year.

Below are some of my favorites:

1. Advent Calendar or Advent Wreath

2. Christmas Caroling

3. Hot Chocolate on a Snowy Day with by the Fire

4. Reading the Story of Jesus' Birth

5. Packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child or buying gifts for needy families

6. Decorating the house with fresh evergreen

7. Driving as a family to see Christmas Lights

8. Making paper snowflake garlands (even when there is no snow!)

9. Going to see The Nutcracker

10. Keeping the Holidays simple and "homespun"

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hurricane Matthew and Historic Properties

Sometimes during a natural disaster we don't think much about our historic buildings. It's important to know in the aftermath how to treat historic properties that have sustained damage.

Hurricane Matthew has had a devastating effect here in North Carolina with the flooding of so many communities and homes in addition to the loss of life. Once the waters have receded, we must think long and hard about how to rebuild appropriately in order to save the parts of our built environment that are so important to our local and state history. Documentation of the damage is critically important!

Most large-scale historic sites should have a plan for natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding.  But many smaller historic sites as well as commercial historic downtowns and historic districts that never expected flooding do not have a plan. Below are some links to valuable resources providing information from the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office on what to do should a natural disaster strike in order to protect and repair historic properties.

Click HERE for a great article from the NC HPO's website on the importance of planning for natural disasters near historic properties.

Click HERE for information on Hurricane Preparedness and please check out all the other links (located HERE) to very informative articles on other disaster preparedness topics such as "Tips for Drying Out a Water Damaged Building," "Reporting Damage to Your Historic Property," and many more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sharing my Birth Story (Finally)

After almost 3 years since the girls were born I thought it was about time that I shared with you my birth story. I never intended to share it so publically but I hope I can connect to and perhaps help other women who have experienced similar things in childbirth.

I am one of those who describe my birth experience as "traumatic." We had a lot of things happen that were unexpected and scary and as a result I don't remember a lot of the details and the rocky recovery made caring for newborn twins especially difficult.

The week before I delivered my girls

The morning I was induced I had an appointment with my OBGYN, which at that time the appointments and ultrasounds were frequent due to the fact that I was already dilated and the MFM doctors needed to do weekly ultrasound tests for the babies to make sure they were doing okay. My blood pressure had been slowly creeping up over the previous couple of months and on this day it was high (around 150/100). My normal non-pregnant blood pressure is usually in the low 100s over 70 or so, sometimes lower. They checked my urine there in the office and sent me to the hospital for a 24 hour urine count and monitoring. If my blood pressure did not come down they would go ahead and deliver the babies. I was just 36 weeks at the time but I was so miserable and beyond ready to have my babies.

On our way to the hospital I requested one last stop at Merritt's (they are famous for their BLT's) for lunch in Chapel Hill, haha! We got to the hospital and before much time had passed they had run some blood work and the doctor said my liver function was abnormally high, indicating a type of preeclampsia more along the lines of HELLP syndrome. I was totally freaked out and so terrified to hear this--it was definitely a nightmare. I didn't really have any of the classic symptoms of preeclampsia except for the high blood pressure. The one thing I did have that was unexplained was a constant almost unquenchable thirst. I was drinking SO much liquid. I also had gestational diabetes but it was all very well controlled with diet and I rarely ever had a reading where it was above the normal range.

Shortly after learning this they started my induction. Of course, I had hoped not to be induced and on top of that disappointment I was not allowed to get up out of the hospital bed to move around AT ALL. This was because I was put on magnesium the whole time during my labor for the preeclampsia. I remember asking to get up multiple times and being told it was too risky. The night they induced me I don't remember much--I think I slept the whole night until waking up to my first pains in the morning. My husband was helping to massage my back with essential oils to ease the labor pain. We dimmed the lights and he brought soothing candles as well--such a sweetie! Sometime that morning my pain was getting pretty bad and because I couldn't perform any of the comfort measures to help ease the contractions (because I couldn't get out of bed), I asked for an epidural.

After the epidural my pain subsided (it was mostly really low pain, like a super painful bowel movement). However, after a while the pains came back and I kept having to get some sort of adjustment to my epidural. This would usually help for a little while but then the pain would come back. So, in the end my epidural really wasn't very effective. At one point I talked with the senior MFM doctor and he said if I wasn't completely dilated in a certain amount of time we would need to start to consider a C-section. I guess that was enough motivation for me because by the next time he checked me my dilation was complete! Time to push!! I did a few practice pushes and they said I was ready and transferred me to the OR. I am so thankful they let me labor rather than rushing to do a C-section. Even though I was very high risk, the doctor said it was still the safest way to deliver.

In the OR my labor pain was almost unbearable and my epidural wasn't working. I must have been in transition now that I look back. I remember saying something like "somebody is going to have to knock me out" because I didn't think I could stand the pain much longer. They must have given me something to help me focus and clam me down because I was able to push --I think it took around 45 minutes or so--and Baby A was born--a girl!! My poor husband was helping to hold one of my legs. After June was born I requested a break and some ice chips--I was so tired. But my contractions were still coming so eventually I had to push again. June was zipped up in BJ's scrubs doing skin to skin as I began to push out Baby B. This time it was SO much easier to push Baby B out as June had paved the way--another girl was born!! I remember being SO shocked that we had two girls. I was not expecting girls AT ALL. After the delivery the doctor was delivering the placenta and I started to hemorrhage--all of a sudden it became very scary but thankfully she was able to get the bleeding stopped. I still lost a lot of blood and they recommended I get a blood transfusion. I did not know I had hemorrhaged at all (I was talking through it all) until a couple of days later. My husband said it looked like a murder scene there was so much blood and that the expression on the doctor's face changed quickly from happy joy to serious concern until she was able to get it under control. Baby B (Georgia) was not breathing at first after being born but after massaging her she started breathing on her own and was fine. They were born at 7:18 and 7:45 PM. I felt so happy and proud that I had both my girls vaginally--the nurses told me that it was pretty rare.

June and Georgia a few hours or so after delivery (the night the girls were born)

After delivery I was wheeled back into my room and it was a whirlwind and confusing. I had not been able to hold my babies yet and then there were all these people in my room--family, nurses, etc. and they were all going crazy over the babies while I was starting to feel really faint and lightheaded. I found out they had given me a blood pressure medication because my blood pressure had shot up right after the birth and it made it come down too low to where I almost passed out. From then on in the hospital I was really out of it, scared, and a bit traumatized. Honestly the first time I remember getting to hold the babies wasn't until the next day when the lactation specialist came in and had me do skin to skin before I started nursing. It makes me really sad to think about how I missed out on that precious early bonding time. But we had so much family willing to hold the girls and most of the time I didn't feel up to it. The next couple of days were a blur--I was still in pain from a 2nd degree tear and also really tired and aloof. The babies had a touch of jaundice so they were taken to the nursery a few times for treatment. Other than that they were perfectly healthy at 4 lbs 11 oz (June) and 4 lbs 12 oz (Georgia)--for which we were so thankful!! My milk had not come in yet and for the next few days I "nursed" using donor milk and nipple shields. It look about a week or so for my milk to fully come in so that I could really get the hang of nursing. It was SO hard with two babies though, and there were many times I wanted to call it quits. We supplemented breastfeeding with formula so that the girls were nursed first and then given a bottle. The combination of both worked out really well for us and the girls did great--I was thrilled to have been able to nurse them for 8 months.

Sleeping together in the hospital--my beautiful tiny babies

My last "day" in the hospital I received a blood transfusion due to having lost quite a bit of blood after delivery. It was not necessary for me to have one but the doctors recommended it saying I would feel very weak for at least 6 weeks until my blood supply built back up. Since I would be caring for two babies and trying to breastfeed, I opted to get the blood. Before the transfusion my nurse should have changed my IV and she didn't (something the previous nurse had warned me needed to be done), so of course it failed and they had to stop the process, redo the IV, and precious blood was wasted. I was so mad!! You really have to keep on top of negligent nurses sometimes. Then we had another frustration--I was hoping to be able to stay another night because the girls were being kept one more night but the hospital (of course due to insurance) couldn't justify keeping me one more night (even though I had JUST had a blood transfusion!) So we were put in a "boarder" room with our babies which was super uncomfortable with no real bed for me to sleep in. Nevertheless, I was able to shower and dress and we went home the next day with our precious girls, June and Georgia.

Georgia doing skin-to-skin...I think this was very healing for me and definitely helped with bonding

The following day I went back to the doctor's office because I had a fever and despite numerous checks and tests the source was unknown.  Even after taking one dose of antibiotics, my fever continued to rise--all the way to between 103 and 104! It was really scary and we went straight back to the hospital. My anxiety level was through the roof. With everything I had already been through now I was having to deal with some sort of infection. I received good care and a very thorough check up but still they could not determine where the infection was coming from. My fever had broken by the time we made the decision to head back home instead of stay in the hospital. I'm so glad we did--my fever eventually came down and I was put on another different course of antibiotics at a later follow up appointment to make sure it was taken care of. My blood pressure had been slowly coming down since giving birth and my blood work levels continued to stabilize. It was a long rough road to recovery--mentally and physically--but after several weeks I finally got to where I was truly able to stop worrying and enjoy my babies. My husband and my mom were the most amazing help to me in those early weeks--and many other family members and friends were so supportive.

Holding June at home
We are so incredibly blessed with June and Georgia and I love being a mommy to them. Yes, the birth was very difficult and traumatic but it was so worth it :)  However, my experience definitely makes me think long and hard about wanting to have another or not. I'm sure a lot of my complications were due to the fact that I had twins, but even still the fear of having to go through all of it again can be very daunting. I know there are many of us out there that feel like this after having a child and it's good to think that I'm not alone.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Black Garlic

What is black garlic?  It's delicious and potentially a new "superfood."  We decided to try our hand at this delicacy since we had grown so much garlic this year and had plenty to work with.

Black garlic is made by heating garlic very slowly for about 30-40 days at a temperature of around 140 degrees. It slowly caramelizes the garlic and turns a deep brown to black color. We converted a food dehydrator to make ours.

The garlic has to be wrapped in cheese cloth and then sealed in jars (or you can use a ceramic container) in order for enough moisture to be retained. What occurs to the garlic during the process is referred to as a Malliard reaction. The photo below shows finished product with the black garlic cloves inside of the skins. Black garlic has a lot of potential as a niche market product--often selling for around $1 per clove!

Once your black garlic is done, keep it in airtight jars or containers. Enjoy it plain, use it as a spread with butter, or use it chopped or sliced up in any dish you would normally use a lot of garlic in. I think it would particularly pair well with a creamy pasta dish with some parmesan and mushrooms.

So, how many of you out there have heard of black garlic?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Porch Plans for the New House

I recently teamed up with Arhaus to collaborate and brainstorm with them on the subject of turning an outdoor space into an additional living space with the comfort and warmth of the indoors. This trend is growing everywhere as we seek to make porches, patios, and garden areas into secondary living rooms set right into nature.

If you know anything about houses in North Carolina you will know that living out the country almost always necessitates having a screened-in porch!! We already use our screened-porch as an additional room for entertaining, dining, storage, and a whole host of other things. 

We are planning to have a screened-porch at our new house that we are building (getting closer to starting--yay!) and it will be significantly larger. Actually, it will be pretty huge.  I'm so excited about the possibilities of turning this room into another space for dining, entertaining, lounging around, and as a place for growing some plants and a little bit of extra storage. We tend to host a good number of get-togethers with a lot of family and friends and we always need more seating for dinners. The porch will be our perfect party spot.

Below is a look at our porch from our 3D model of the new house. You will notice we did not include any screening or a porch door on this model so you just have to use your imagination.

Rear elevation of 3D modeling of house, the porch is located at the center and right (imagine screening between those posts). There will also be a screened porch door and steps, as well as two windows on either side of the French doors that are missing from this rendering.

Side elevation of 3D modeling of the house, the screened porch is to the far left.

I've also drawn up a little sketch of my plans for our new porch using the current porch furniture we have as well as a few new things I hope to have (aka, getting my hubby to build me a super long farm table!).

We have already picked out a few of the details like fans and French doors but there is still much to be decided. Making a porch feel more like another living space requires that you fill and decorate the space with things you wouldn't expect necessarily in an outdoor space. Things like:

-Furniture (check out the sofas and sectionals from Arhaus located here and here)

-Pillows and throws

-Storage pieces (the one on our current porch is made from free wood pallets!)


-light fixtures

-outdoor fireplace (not sure if this will ever happen, but hey, one can dream!)

I put together an inspiration board (see below) for my porch on Olioboard, to better see what everything will look like put together. I love rustic wood elements, a few of industrial accents, and styles that remind me I do indeed live on a farm and the screened porch will indeed get dirty :)

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Selecting Fruit Trees for the Homestead

One of the most exciting things about homesteading for me is planning our orchard and reaping the sweetness of fresh home grown fruit!

Fruit tree selection and placement definitely requires some forethought as some fruit trees are very high maintenance. You don't want to go to the expense of planting a lot of fruit trees only to have them fail to bear fruit or succumb to disease.  Well-drained soil is very important as is exposure to full sun and proper pruning.

 I've made a list of the fruit and nut trees we would like to plant for our homestead (see the plan above for where the orchard will go) that would work for our area in North Carolina:

1. Apple

Can't have a farm without apple trees, right?!?  I'd love to have several varieties of apple trees, some of them heirloom perhaps.

2. Pear

3. Peach

Peaches are the most high-maintenance of the bunch that we are looking at. I'm planning to plant only the white-flesh variety, as they have a higher antioxidant level (and I like the taste better too!).

4. Nectarine

5. Plum

6. Fig

We cannot wait until fresh figs!!!!  In North Carolina a really common type of fig is the Brown Turkey fig and that is probably the one we plan to go with.

7. Cherry

 We will probably only plant one or two of these because I'm not sure how well cherry trees actually do in our area.

Nut Trees:

1. Pecan

2. American Hazelnut

3. Walnut

Are there any that I'm missing? What kinds of fruit trees are your favorite to grow?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Cutting Costs in a Custom Build

This is the current state of our dining room table. Oh, the fun of building a house!

Our cost-to-build estimate for our new house went over budget of what the new house appraised for--by quite a bit. So, we are finding ourselves having to cut or change things in order to find more cost savings.

We knew with our budget we certainly wouldn't be building our "dream home" but we are still hoping to include a lot of nice custom features. As we analyze the cost-to-build numbers with our builder, we are making changes and cuts to save some cash so that we can invest in the few things that we absolutely don't want to compromise on  (which is mostly me putting up a big fight on things like windows, ceiling height, and the fireplace). Building a house can cause a lot of arguments with your spouse, so choose your battles wisely!

Below is a list of some of the things we are doing to save on costs:

1. Lower grade flooring in some rooms. Carpet for all bedrooms and upstairs loft, linoleum in the laundry room. Save nicer hardwoods for great room, dining room, kitchen and entry hall.

2. DIY open shelving instead of upper cabinets in the kitchen.

3. Stock/inexpensive bath vanities in the children's and guest baths

4. Inexpensive tile in bathrooms (and for Kitchen backsplash)

5. Minimizing the complexity of the roofline

6. Minimizing corners of the exterior of the house

7. Simple interior moldings and woodwork, no crown molding

8. Composite interior doors instead of solid wood. Save solid wood for front door and French doors.

9. Wood decking floor for the screened-in porch instead of tongue-and-grove flooring

10. No cabinets in laundry room (we will build our own in later)

11. DIY shelves in pantry

12. Reuse of our current refrigerator, washer and dryer

13. Doing all of the landscaping work ourselves

14. Painting all the interior walls one color to start, no complicated paint designs

15. Finding light fixtures that are on clearance or repurposed from Craigslist or Ebay

16. Finding cheap salvaged brick to use for foundation, fireplace and chimney

For those of you with experience in house-building, can you add anything else to this list? 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Impressive Garlic Harvest

HOLY GARLIC BULBS! This was one awesome harvest of some HUGE heads of garlic (at least for us).

In addition to planting our usual little plot of garlic in one of our raised beds, we also planted a sizable patch out at our new property (beside our new neighbor's garden). All of the seed we got from our local feed store which sells garden supplies as well. We were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up some enormous heads of soft neck garlic with a smaller amount of the hard neck variety.

hard neck garlic
I've been using it as "green garlic" ever since we harvested but currently we are letting it cure until it is thoroughly dried out and will not mold or rot. To cure, we let the garlic sit on tarps for a while until we had the time to hang it up on our screened in porch to dry for at least a few weeks.

garlic curing

We plan to make garlic braids to give away and to sell and I hope to preserve a good amount of this delicious stuff by pickling and making a garlic powder and spice mix. In the past we have supplied our garlic needs for almost a full year by using what we have grown in our garden.

Nothing like having homegrown garlic hanging on your screened porch!

Additionally, we are going to try our hand at making "black garlic"--so stay tuned for an upcoming post on this antioxidant-rich gourmet delicacy.

The size of the cloves in the large bulbs are nice and big!

We will definitely be planning more garlic in the fall--it might just be our best bet for an easy cash crop :)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Small Batch Pickled Beets

This is the first year we have ever been able to grow beets that actually developed a root!

I had to thin them out quite a bit along the way, so although I didn't end up with a ton, I still had enough to make one jar of pickled beets and have two or three batches left for regular cooking.

I just love pickled beets. It's one of my favorite types of pickled vegetables for sure and beets are so healthy for you I like to enjoy them any way possible.

I used a recipe from the TV show A Chef's Life, found on their website here. It was featured on the "beet" episode but instead of processing my beet jars I just stuck them inside the refrigerator instead since it was such a small batch and I knew I would eat them soon anyway.

One of the interesting things I remember them talking about was how important it was for flavor purposes to leave the beet greens on the roots when cooking them before canning the beets.

Beets cooking in the water with greens still on

Here is what you will need, taken directly from the website:

3 pounds beets
3 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 cloves
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes
3 star anise

Place washed, skin-on beets in the bottom of 6 quart or larger pot. Cover the beets with water by 2 inches, and bring them up to a boil. Boil, covered for 20 minutes. Check to see if they are done by sliding a knife into the center. The beet should give just a little resistance. If the they are not done, continue cooking just until they are. Drain off the water and set the beets aside to cool.Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and slice the beets into 1/2 inch rounds. Position the rounds in wide-mouth canning jars. If you have rounds that are too wide to fit, cut them into half-moons, or quarters, or whatever you have to do to get them in there.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a non-reactive, 3 quart saucepan and bring it up to a boil. Carefully pour the brine over the beets, making sure the beets are completely submerged in the liquid. At this point you could refrigerate the beets for up to 3 months without processing in a hot water bath. If you’d like to store them at room temperature and keep them longer, follow the directions on (pg. 00) and process the jars for 5 minutes. 

the brine for the beets

What is your favorite way to cook and eat beets? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

VAF Conference

This year's Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) conference was held in Durham, NC a few weeks ago!  That means I got to go for the first time :)  It was a wonderful conference and so cool to have so many folks from all over the country (and Puerto Rico!) right here in the Triangle!

second floor bedroom at Horton Cottage, late 18th or early 18th century, Durham County

The conference began with a great opening plenary session with keynote addresses by Catherine W. Bishir and Jim Goodmon. Then, on to the all-day bus tours on Thursday and Friday.

West Grove Meeting House, ca. 1915, Alamance County

The tour that I chose and assisted with was the "Piedmont Patchwork" tour which consisted of historic sites with Quaker, German, Scotch-Irish and African American heritage as well as multiple textile mill industries in the mostly rural areas of Alamance and Guilford Counties.

Spring Friends Meeting House, 1907, Alamance County

Our tour began with traveling from Durham to Snow Camp in southern Alamance County, where we visited two Quaker churches, the West Grove Friends Meeting House (1915) and the Spring Friends Meeting House (1907).

Rear and side elevations of Old Brick German Reformed Church

Then we visited the Old Brick German Reformed Church (1813, 1840 and 1946). We enjoyed lunch at Historic Jamestown, a Quaker settlement in southern Guilford County, where we toured the Jamestown Meeting House (1819), the Mendenhall Plantation (1811), Barn (early 1800s-1900) and Store (1824) and the Madison Lindsay House (early and mid-1800s). At this point (I had forgotten to bring my good camera with me on the bus) my cell phone ran out of storage space and I couldn't take any more pictures. Nooooo!!!

Next we traveled to the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum and Palmer Memorial Institute (1902-1971), an African American college prep and elite finishing school. To learn more about this historic site, please visit here.

We drove through the historic textile Mill Villages of Alamance (est. 1837) and Bellemont (est. 1879) on our way to the striking brick antebellum Hawfields Presbyterian Church (1852-1855) which also included a Session House and a large cemetery.

Finally, we ended our tour at the Saxapahaw Mill Village (mid 1800s-mid 1900s) where we were able to tour the rehabilitated mill complex and enjoy a fabulous local barbecue dinner at the Haw River Ballroom.

Former spinnng mill at Saxapahaw on the Haw River, Alamance County

Friday's tour focused on Durham County with the second half featuring some of the City of Durham's historic buildings. Our day started at Horton Grove and Stagville Plantation in northern Durham, an important early state historic site formerly belonging to the Cameron family with an impressive number of former slave dwellings that survive and allow for the interpretation of African American history in Durham during the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. To learn more or plan a visit to Historic Stagville, click here.

Horton Grove former slave dwellings and tenant houses (ca. 1859-1960), Durham County

Large timber frame antebellum barn at Horton Grove, ca. 1859-1860. , Durham County

 Stagville Plantation House, ca. 1790 and 1799 addition, Durham County

Interior of main house at Stagville Plantation, Durham County

Then we toured the Umstead Farm and Store, a late 19th century restored frame "I-House" with outbuildings, one of which used to serve as a post office and rural store.

Umstead Farm former post office and store and farm buildings, Durham County

Umstead Farm main farmhouse, Durham County

Next we visited Russell School (1926-1927), perhaps the most well-preserved and intact Rosenwald School in Durham and Wake County area, and enjoyed a fantastic lunch provided for us by the ladies of Cain's Chapel Baptist Church.

The Russell School (1926-1927), a former Rosenwald School, Durham County

Interior of the Russell School with former alumnae of the school standing at left, Durham County

Interior of the Russell School, Durham County

In the afternoon we toured the Golden Belt textile factory and mill village (1900-1930s) in downtown Durham, much of which has been rehabilitated into other uses and preserved with the help of historic tax credits.

exterior of rehabilitated Golden Belt textile factory, Durham County

We saw more former tobacco warehouses that have been rehabbed at the former Liggett and Myers Tobacco Factory complex (1880s-1940s).

The Cotton Room, rehabilitated former Golden Belt Textile Factory, Durham County

One of the highlights of the afternoon was our visit to St. Joseph's AME Church (est. 1891) in the Hayti community, a thriving African American community in downtown Durham during the early 20th century.

St. Joseph AME Church in Hayti Community, Durham County

Friday's tour ended at Duke University where VAFers were given a chance to see the impressive newly restored Gothic Revival Duke Chapel (1930-1932). Exhausted from the busy all-day tours but energized about the wonderful vernacular forms of architecture right here in the piedmont and the Triangle, I left feeling incredibly grateful to be able to attend the conference and learn from so many professionals. I hope there will be more VAF conferences in my future :)

Interior of main house at Stagville Plantation, Durham County