The day we arrived at The Brambles, fourteen months ago, I pronounced that our kitchen had been designed and assembled by drunken monkeys.


It was illuminated by two single-bulb light fixtures set with woefully underpowered fluorescent bulbs (Sparks fixed that almost first thing–he can’t stand a dim kitchen). The laminate floors buckle and warp if a single drop of water falls on them. The cabinets have been re-configured so the sink faces a wall instead of the window, where it used to be … you can tell by the scars on the ceiling. There are gaps between the new cabinets. Their hinges constantly fail, sending doors hanging at wonky angles. The ancient dishwasher wasn’t mounted–and opens flush with the island–and is right beneath the big dish cabinet, so you can’t reach the cabinet to put things away while it’s open. There was a hood over the stove, but it had no filter in it and didn’t vent to the outside, so it was literally useless. It was not combined with a microwave, so the microwave had to sit on the counter, taking up a ton of precious space. The island doesn’t go all the way to the wall, and WHY NOT I’d like to know because nobody ever walks around it in that direction.


And the countertop. Granite tile. I can just hear the previous owner telling his wife: “You want granite counters? I GOT YOUR GRANITE COUNTERS RIGHT HERE!”

I know. I’m snotty and ungrateful. It’s a perfectly okay kitchen, in the grand scheme of things … but remember that our kitchen at Low House was designed by us, exactly the way we wanted it. The whiplash was hard to take.

Sparks’ father installed a new dishwasher–it’s in the same place, but at least this one is quiet and at least the dishes come out cleaner than they went in–and a micro-hood, complete with vent to the outside, so maybe the greasy-dust issues will be ameliorated in future.


The ceilings will probably always be 7.5′ tall, though, and this is the only dining area in the house. No formal dining room (which is fine; I don’t care for them). The yellow paint isn’t my choice, but after repainting literally every other room in the house last summer, I just couldn’t. Not with all those cabinets to work around. So yellow it is, for now … until some day in the future when we rip this monstrosity of a kitchen out and turn it into something sensible. Until then, I guess it looks nice with the winter squash.


And my kitchen towel drawer is a thing of joy and beauty for ever. Amen.


Stoking the home fires

Another of Sparks’ parents’ fortnight-long visits. When they visit they work, hard. This time they got our barn halfway painted, nearly finished the guest quarters’ bedroom, and installed two new appliances in the kitchen. At the end, they requested a cookout, and I thought I’d better oblige. Hot dogs and s’mores all around.






Soup beans

You’ll have to forgive the photographs with this post, because beans do not make for pretty food photography. They’re an autumn staple in our house, though, so I’m going to tell you about them anyway.

Beans. Cooked from dry. Seasoned. In a lot of broth. Tasty, cheap, good for you, and versatile. We usually eat them with cornbread, or with Tex Mex-type stuff, on the first night. After that I eat them for breakfast with mashed squash, a fried egg, and lots of hot sauce, while Sparks adds scoops to his morning ramen soup.

I always use either black beans or pinto beans, though I’m sure navy beans, cranberry beans, etc. would be great, too. I do a pound at a time, and put them to soak in a big bowl of cold water while I’m cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.

The next morning, mid-morning-ish, I drain them.


There they are, soaked and ready to cook.


I throw them in my crock pot with one large diced onion, five or six strips of bacon snipped into bits, a tablespoon of cumin, a tablespoon of ancho chili powder, and a tablespoon of garlic powder. No salt yet: there are old wives’ tales about salt preventing beans from cooking, and I think several modern TV chefs have disproved it, but I stick by it anyway.


Add water to cover–six cups is usually plenty–and turn the crock pot on high.

Late-afternoonish, or dinner-timish if I’m busy, I stir in a heaping tablespoon of Knorr’s chicken powder (which is powdered chicken bouillon), taste, and salt to preference. That’s it. Beans are ready.


As I said, first night is usually with cornbread, or with rice and toppings.


The next morning, though … yeah. Uh huh. Soup beans. Roasted squash mashed with plenty of butter and salt (which is another autumn staple here). An egg flash-fried in plenty of oil, so its edges are crispy but its yolk is still runny. And hot sauce. This is Sriracha, but I usually use Cholula. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mm. Good stuff.

Guest quarters

I can’t remember if I was blogging here in April, when my in-laws spent two weeks rebuilding the back wall of our workshop. Anyway: the back of Sparks’ workshop is large and is being converted into guest quarters, and my in-laws are in town again. This trip’s goal is to seal and paint the bedroom, so it will be ready for occupation the next time they visit. We won’t have water in the building until next summer at the earliest, but they seem determined to stay out there, and who am I to argue?

Main entrance

Future kitchen

Future bathroom

Future living area, with chimney for future woodstove

Future bedroom


Little things

Ever since I discovered Jas. A Townsend & Son, I’ve wanted to have a shopping spree. Sparks bought me a brick of tea one Christmas, but other than that, I have held back. I don’t do reenactment, so what was the point?

Well, I finished a historical novel, and I found a lot of little things that tie into the book, so I went ahead and bought myself some stocking stuffers. They were unpacked, admired, photographed, and put away for Christmas, I pinky-promise. But oh, they’re a lot of fun.








The library

The library is the first room you see at The Brambles, after you enter the hall. It’s just to the side. It’s big: 14′ x 21′. I think it was the original garage; nobody agrees with me. Everyone else thinks it was a rec room or unfinished storage.

Anyway, by the time we arrived it had laminate flooring, paneled walls, and a drop ceiling. I painted the paneling pale green and filled one wall with bookshelves. I reclaimed my Turkish rugs. I bought some new seating. All that together with my books, my blue-and-white china, and some artwork equalled the room I always wanted: a nice comfy library/sitting room. Perfect.










One thing we do not have here in the Pacific Northwest, and which I will always miss, is a brilliant blaze of fall color. There are no oranges here, and no hot pinks. Barely any red. Not many deciduous trees at all, and the ones we do have–mostly largeleaf maple and aspen–turn mottled yellow-brown. Oh, well.

What we do have here is a true autumn. In the Midwest the colors turn all in a week, while the weather is still dog-panting hot, then overnight there is a four-inch rainfall that turns to ice, pulls the leaves down, and when you wake up in the morning it’s winter. Game over.

Here, autumn is long and glorious. In September the temperatures become comfortably cool and it begins to rain again, maybe once a week. This holds steady until sometime in early November, when the fog and frost begins. So we have two months of what fall color there is–two months of falling leaves–of rosehips and snowberries, ripe apples and pumpkins and mellow yellow sunshine, which we know we’d better soak up before it goes away.

It’ll do.