Just a Simple Workbench: a Lesson in Home Renovation

What I originally thought would be a 30 minute project actually transformed into a 2 week long venture in the basement.  Thus illustrating the point: when you start a home project, be prepared to get more than you bargained for.

I received a vise to use for woodworking projects and set about to attach it to the countertop of the already existing workbench in the basement.  I quickly realized the countertop was actually a thin piece of particle board attached to a solid frame and would not stand up to the stress of long term use.

The before view of our shop.

The answer seemed simple enough.  Go down to the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and purchase an appropriately sized board that would be far more durable.  I found an old slab of butcher block that was a bit larger than needed, but I thought I could simply cut it down to size.  When I came home, I began to remove the old wood surface but then realized I would need to also remove the back pegboard to get to the last nails holding the surface down.  So, I was prying the pegboard back when mouse droppings began to roll out from behind it.  I opened it up to reveal this:


It seemed the little fella passed away some time ago, so I wasn’t worried about an ongoing problem, but I still had to clean it all out.  Buried under the rubbish was also an x-rated 8mm film reel and a flyer for it, a relic from the early 70s it seemed.  It too was discarded among all the other mouse droppings and nest scraps.  But not before Amanda ran upstairs to get us these “sanitation masks.”

Dad supervised.

Once I had swept up the area, it was clear that some deeper sanitation was required.  I cut and threw away sections of the old wood frame and applied vinegar and KilZ to areas that were obviously nasty.

At this point, it was clear to me that the frame would have to be rebuilt as well.  After a long dismantling period, I salvaged the bulk of the wood and nails from the existing bench.  At this point, I decided to rebuild the frame larger to accomodate the larger sized butcher block surface. But not before accidentally breaking a light bulb, adding broken glass to the list of clean up duties.

Exactly like the old frame only slightly bigger

The completed bench minus the vise

So, all of this over two weeks was for this:

And that’s why when you start a simple thirty minute project, don’t be shocked when two weeks of your life fly by before it’s finished.

Post by Lanny


Scenes from the living room

A bit more progress on the living room.  It’s really starting to feel more like our house!

From Landscape to Belly

So remember that beautiful chard we have decorating our front entrance?  Here’s a refresher if you missed it.  Tonight I made some for dinner, and it was lovely.  A friend recently asked me to start posting recipes of the food I’m always apparently taunting him with in my photos on here and Facebook, so this one’s for you, JM!

Oh also, a word to the wise: I’m one of those chefs (can I call myself that?) who rarely uses recipes, so it’s usually sort of difficult for me to share my food adventures with people who cook by the book.  But lucky for the lot of us, preparing dark leafy greens is wonderfully simple (& equally delicious!), so here’s hoping that this is recipe enough for everyone.

Garlicky Chard Saute

  • Rinse a bunch of fresh chard (or kale, collard greens, mustard greens, etc.) under cool water and shake off excess water.

So lovely, no?

  • Remove stems by making a v-shaped cut into the leaf.  Reserve the stems for later (there’s lots of great uses for those suckers!).
  • Stack a few leaves into a neat pile and roll up tightly (either lengthwise or widthwise-whatever you prefer), like so:
  • Holding the roll tightly against your cutting surface, run you knife through the roll at about 1/2 inch increments to make beautiful ribbons of chard.

  • Coarsely chop a couple of cloves of garlic (or 6 or so if you’re crazy like this family!)

  • Heat a large skillet with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to medium.  Add the garlic once the oil is heated.  Stir lightly for about a minute. Enjoy one of the world’s greatest smells.
  • Add your chard.
  • Toss gently with tongs as the chard cooks.  It doesn’t take long (depends on how much you’re cooking, but generally around 5 minutes or so).  The leaves will get even darker and brighter and somehow more tempting, and the volume will reduce significantly.
  • About half way through, add the zest of 1/2 to 1 full lemon.

  • Add salt & freshly ground pepper to taste, and you’re ready to go!


Dark leafy greens are endlessly captivating, and they are among the absolute healthiest of veggies.  Packed with folic acid and oodles of vitamins, the more dark leafy greens you can cram into your diet, the better.  My usual treatment of greens (especially when it’s kale for some reason) is a version of the above, with ginger added to the skillet with the garlic, sesame seeds instead of salt & pepper, and soy sauce instead of lemon zest.  It’s hard to go wrong with those flavors.  There’s something special about this clean zesty garlic version on a hot summer day, though.

Tonight we paired the chard with vegan italian sausages and a nice rustic sourdough.  Way less than a half hour from start to finish.  Cheap.  Healthy.  Marvelous.  Everyone can do this, truly.

Post by Amanda

Gardening on the Urban Frontier

As previously mentioned, a major item on the must-have list was a large enough yard that received adequate sunlight and could handle a significant amount of vegetables.  I passed on many a fine house because the yard was either too small or too shaded.

Our cluster of potted herbs

Due to the timeframe, we weren’t able to get earlier growing veggies into the ground in time, so we kept the selection small, or so we intended, i.e. the Tomatoes and more Tomatoes post.  We ended up planting Tomatoes, Peppers, Kale, Swiss Chard, Cilantro, Onions, Chives, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Spearmint, Lettuce, Spinach, Arugula, and Raspberry Bushes.

Newly planted Raspberry bushes

While this did exceed our “keeping it small our first year” gardening strategy, nature had its own way of regulating my potential harvest.  Six weeks of no rain and frequently hitting near and over 100 degree temperatures took care of the spinach, onions, and all but one chive plant, as well as severely thinning out the lettuce, sections of newly planted grass, and many flowers.

Amanda watering some thirsty Tomato plants

Doing our best to not be distressed by the actions of Mother Nature, we’ve been selectively watering our plants to carry them through the dry spell.  Most of them are hanging on remarkably well considering the harsh conditions, but I just keeping thinking about how if we didn’t live in the 21st century in the U.S. with access to water and respite from this heat, we’d all be dead along with the plants.

Post by Lanny

Unfinished Projects

Basements seem to be the universal place for bizarre doings.  Some of our homeowner friends discovered odd things in their basements (my favorite is the fold-out-of-the-wall toy train track), and we found all sorts of odd things in most of the basements during our house hunting.  Here is the first interesting relic we found in our basement (another post to come on more basement “treasures”).

We’re not quite sure what it is, but my best guess is that it was intended to be a fireplace facade.  However, it seems that after the base was laid, the project was abandoned.  And what was under that big brown lid?  A giant pile of rubbish which the sellers were kind enough to leave for us. It was mostly mortar and bricks, but I also found a toy car, marbles, cigarette butts, and broken bits of plastic.

After several bags of garbage swept out from the inside…

I was left with an empty, awkward brick box in the middle of the basement floor.

 Now we have to figure out what to do with it.  I’m considering just taking a sledge hammer to it, but I’m willing to take suggestions on repurposing ideas.  Leave your vote in the comments!

Posted by Lanny 

Birthday, Family, Food, Friends & Dirt

Our little Lanny turned the big 3-0 last Tuesday.

Blueberry pie!

His parents came from Nebraska for a lovely visit.  They were oh-so-very helpful with home progress (especially with outside things) (more on that later), but we also took time to enjoy the weather and our time together.  They brought Lanny’s beloved croquet set to us now that we finally have a yard to play it in!

Willa begging for popcorn (who could blame her?).

After their departure, brother Aaron & Hannah came for the weekend to celebrate with more fun & food.  Like these delicious cheesecake bites that Hannah & I concocted (shortbread, honey chevre, & homemade garden rhubarb-strawberry sauce)!

And spring rolls, of course.

We threw our first party and could finally comfortably fit a big group of friends in our house (I was having so much fun, I only took a couple of pictures!).  It feels amazing to actually have the space to do this kind of thing.

And my big gift to Lanny to commemorate this landmark birthday?  His very first tumbling composter!  I mean really, how cool is my partner?  No fancy watches or e-readers for this guy!  Just a big bin to transform decomposing kitchen scraps and garden waste into magical nutrient-rich dirt!

We have been wanting to compost for years, and just haven’t done it yet.  Especially since the bulk of our diet comes from fresh produce, we always feel awful sending away all those great scraps to the landfill when it could be breaking down and feeding our plants instead.  There really is no excuse to not compost.  It’s something that can be done on a tiny scale or a huge scale, and there are so many methods and options that really– we all ought to be doing this.  Even if you’re not a gardener, just reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill is reason enough.  And pretty much everyone knows someone who is a gardener or who has indoor plants or who uses chemical fertilizer.  Compost can be used in place of icky chemical fertilizers and is so so good for both indoor and outdoor plants.

ANYWAY.  Once we really get cranking with composting, we’ll post our findings and progress.  For now, here are some fun pictures of our first experience with the tumbler.

Step one: open lid.

Step two: add scraps.

Step three: make sure to add brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials in roughly equal parts. Hannah helped us find dead leaves around the premises to add to our kitchen scraps to ensure we had both types of materials.

Since we don’t have much on the brown list (dry leaves, twigs, hay, etc.), we shredded some paper bags to even out all of the kitchen scraps and flowers.

Step four: shut the lid.

Step five: give it a tumble!

I hope the next 30 years are even better for my dear, and that he makes the most delicious dirt our plants have ever known!

Post by Amanda