Sunday, November 19, 2017

Basement Shenanigans

Today I took the first major step in a plan I’ve been ruminating on for the past year or so.  Scott, one of my school district instructional coaching partners, came over with his beer making equipment. We went into the basement.

First we started 3 gallons of water to heat on the stove.
When the temp reached 172.5F we poured the water over 11.5 lbs. of varied malted grains that we had worked out in a recipe last week. Those grains were in a container with a spigot at the bottom. The malt had to steep at a temperature of 156F. If the temperature gets too hot the starches won’t convert to the correct sugars needed later when the yeast is added.

The malt needed to steep for about an hour, we added more hot water occasionally. Eventually we started draining the mix to reheat it on the stove and pour back over the top in order to release all the sugars from the grains.
Finally we had the liquid (roughly 5 gallons now since we’d been adding more) drained into the big pot and we turned up the heat to get it to boil. All that was left in the strainer was the wet malt.
Once the pot started to boil we added 4 ounces of hops. I picked these from my backyard in September. I planted these hops from shoots I’d gotten from a farm that goes back 6 generations in our family. They were likely brought by an ancestor who was a saloon keeper in Luxembourg. After half an hour we added more hops, and more again after 45 minutes, and finally again when the mix had boiled an hour. At this point we took our wort off the stove.
Now we need to lower the temperature of the liquid to 99F so that we can add yeast. Rather than wait for hours for this to happen we placed a pipe coil inside the pot and hooked it to the sink. We ran a slow stream of cold water through the pipes to lower the temperature.
When it reached 99F we spooned enough out to fill a graduated cylander later, when the mix reached room temperature we would be able to float a hygrometer to tell the density or specific gravity of the liquid. If we know the starting gravity we will be able to later measure and determine the alcohol content.  
Then we needed to pour the beer from the kettle into the fermenting bucket. We added the yeast mix to the bottom of the bucket before we started pouring. Since we had used my hops we needed to get them out of the mix as we poured. We used our old applesauce sieve to strain out the hops
Then we fastened down the top and put a vapor lock on it. That will allow the CO2 gas to escape as the yeast digests the sugar and turns it into alcohol.
I put the bucket in our back room upstairs since the basement is a little too cold for good fermentation. Next Sunday we will check it and probably move it to a 5 gallon carboy for further fermentation.
I checked the specific gravity later and the reading is 1.54 which is pretty darned close (1.58) where we need it in order to have a final alcohol content of 6%.
So I never mentioned why I’m doing all this now. My goal is to have a beer to celebrate the end of my career in public office. My term as City Councilor ends 12/31/2017 at midnight. Out of Office Ale will be ready on 1/1/2018

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Kitchen Update #2

I was able to install more trim over the weekend. First I had put to put 1 x 4 around the back door. Somehow I managed to lose the piece that went on the left hand side of the door and was cut out for the door lock catch, but waiting 10 years after removing it, that will happen... I did find the piece that went over the door, but that was no good to me, since originally the right hand side of the door was a perpendicular wall. With that wall removed I needed to cut a right hand side panel and then have the top go over it, so the original was too short. I picked up trim at the Salvage Barn. It was three pieces painted all over 84 inches long. Since it was painted it was half off, so I paid $8.00 total.

I stripped the paint off the boards, sanded and then cut them to fit. I then primed, painted and installed over a two day period. I think the part around the lock turned out OK.

My picture is bad but here it is now:

 Compared to how it looked in 1928:

In my defense, because we took out the closet to the right of the door we had to make both sides match, and be part of a single plane which they weren't originally, so we had to install a shim under the trim, which recesses the lock catch a bit.

Up next: Getting back band cut and fit around the back door so I can then complete baseboards, and the upper trim.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kitchen Update #1

Here is a first kitchen update after announcing that we were actually doing something.

Last week I finished painting the wall and some trim. Here is a shot of the sink and the edge of the cupboards:

Since I've taken this picture I have:
  • returned the brass switch and outlet plates
  • put up the trim at the top of the cupboards
  • added the trim that runs around the kitchen between the window and cupboard
  • added quarter-round to the baseboard
  • added base shoe to the cupboard toe kick area
Here is a picture of the nook:

I just se the table in place, I haven't attached it yet. You can see the trim above the nook, that will run all the way around the kitchen.

What I'm working on now:

  • trimming out the back door
  •  baseboard for the exterior wall on both sides of the door
  • upper trim on both sides of the door
Hopefully I'll have some more pictures to share in a couple of day...

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I know it's been quite a while since anything was published, but I want to say that the LAST MAJOR INTERIOR PROJECT at Foxcroft is well underway: THE KITCHEN.

Every time Lisa has asked when we would do the kitchen, I have answered "Last." This is because nearly every other project required us to track materials in through the back (kitchen) door.

Over spring break we had plasterers come to fix the corner where we had removed the bump out that was Bess' closet from her bedroom. We had removed the closet a mere 10 years ago in June of 2005.

While I will flesh this out and give details about what we've done in the near future, here is a photo montage of the kitchen from when the house was built (1928) through today, in progress:

Here is the kitchen layout from the blueprints. The back door opens between the half wall of the nook, and a bump out bedroom closet. This would have been extremely narrow. The small area marked "Brooms" was another closet, that opened in the kitchen. The fact that Bess was getting an ELECTRIC REFRIGERATOR rather than an icebox was a big deal, and noted in the plans:

One of the most charming parts of the kitchen plans was the breakfast nook. Bess had found separate images of how she wanted the table and the benches to look, and given them to her designer:

1928 Photos: 
For ALL PHOTOS below click on the image to see a larger version:

This photo was some time after 1928 and before 1948:

In 1948 the half wall and bench of the nook were removed.
These photos are probably shortly after that:

The next three images show what the kitchen looked like the first time we were in the house on Dec 19, 2003:

The next four photos show removing the broom closet, and the bump out bedroom closet
on June 9, 2005. Read about that here:

We had to put a header over the back door to carry the load of the gable we added upstairs. the first photo below shows that. The second photo shows the  light switches shown on the bump out above that had to be relocated, this would be about a week after the pictures above.

So here is the kitchen after the plasterers came, and I just finished varnishing the floor. There will be more updates to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'm STILL painting the house.

Even though it has been nearly two years since the last post, I thought I'd let the three or four readers who might still be out there know that I am still painting the house.

Last weekend was a beautiful near record couple of days which allowed me to finish painting the interior of the front porch. I had been working on that since mid July when I finished the last of the north side.Here is a picture from some time in early July when I was finishing on the side:
 Once I was finished the north side, I started on the porch. I knew I could not possibly remove all the paint from the beadboard ceiling, so I ended up using a random orbital sander and 60 grit paper, followed by 80 grit. This took off the loose stuff and gave me a good smooth surface where there was tight paint remaining. The porch is 8 feet deep and 34 feet long. I worked in thirds, hung drapes to contain the paint dust and wore my usual HEPA filter mask and goggles.Here is that part of the porch now. I managed to finish the first third barely before Labor Day weekend. Most of this project has been worked around home Iowa football games.

Since there were three consecutive weeks of home games I didn't get to start on the middle third of the porch until late September. This was the portion around the front door. I managed to get this completed right before Homecoming.
Lisa had gotten very nice house numbers, but they were a dark patina brass. I took out my 150 grit sandpaper and managed to shine up the numbers enough so that they can be seen from the street. I found a hammered copper doorbell to match the house numbers.

Here is the last portion that I just finished. I put up the new screens and hung the porch swing back up. Of course there is a home game on Saturday. Unfortunately the temperature Saturday morning is predicted to be 24 degrees, We probably won't sit out there long...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Favorite Bookshelves

This post is written in response to librarian extraordinaire Maeve Clark's Facebook page My Favorite Bookshelf. That got me thinking... I have a LOT of favorite bookshelves. Here is a bit about the biggest one.

The first of many jaw dropping aspects of Foxcroft when we came to look at it was the library. I've written about it and the wall of bookshelves before. Here is the first mention, from June 29, 2005. A Little Bit of Completion.

Here is how the Foxcroft library looks today:
Bess built the library to fit her bookshelves. There is a seven inch gap between the far left hand side of the shelves and the wall. That was deliberate as Bess wrote to the builders "I want a space to store my card tables there." I have found Weis Bookshelf Company catalogs from 1916. That seems to be when she purchased them. That predates the building of Foxcroft by 12 years. I've also found a letter where Bess asked her moving man if they could transport the bookshelves with the books in them. Thankfully he replied "No."

Buying Foxcroft did not include the contents of the house, but we happily purchased these from Helen's cousin. She also told us to keep whatever papers or books we wanted, especially anything related to the house. That is how we were able to merge our collection of books with those already here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in the 'Teens

I went through more old photos today. The scrapbook I've never looked at too much is the one that covers the era before our house was built. Helen, who we knew for nearly a year prior to her passing away, was born in March 1911. Every Christmas after that her mother, Bess,  took her picture in front of the tree. Since Helen's father was a doctor they were relatively well off. For the first 7 years the pictures presumably are from their home in Waucoma, Iowa. In 1918 they were in El Paso, Texas, at Bess' sister's home. At that time Bess' husband, Walter was a captain in the U.S. Army stationed at Ft. Hood, Tx, prior to going overseas.  So here  is Helen from her first Christmas to her 8th:

 1911, 9 months
1912, almost 2
 1913 almost 3
 1914 almost 4
 1915 almost 5
 1916 almost 6
 1917 almost 7

1918 almost 8, taken in El Paso Texas, with a cousin?

A couple notes:
  • The morris chair to the left in the 1912 picture is currently in our library. 
  • The wicker rocker (1912, 1913) never seems to have been moved to Foxcroft, nor was the "death's head" tabouret table in the 1911 picture. 
  • "Bill" was the dog's name.
  • I think the number and type of presents indicates the relative wealth of the family. 
Looking at the pictures in full scan is wonderful for details, the wallpaper (1911-13) is phenomenal. I don't know if they moved the tree location or painted?

Also the rug in the 1917 picture is the same from the 1930 Christmas picture, the first one I can find  at Foxcroft, even though they moved in fall of 1928:

I wrote more about this picture here:

Christmas Then and Now December 13, 2005