Sixteen tons what do you get?

When the guy delivered the sand on Thursday, he also took a look at the driveway and made some recommendations about what we needed to get it back in shape.  Right now we were down to the base, which he said was solid, but is not good to be driving on!  James went ahead and made the right decision to have the guy come out as soon as he could.

Below are some of the “before” pictures of the driveway!

So what does 8 tons of gravel look like?

Wow! This is what 8 TONS of gravel looks like!

But… looks can be pretty deceiving!  What we really saw when the guy dumped the first eight tons and then the next 8 tons was this…

Doesn’t look like much does it? 🙂

Wind and the sand

Thursday we started out pretty happy that the guy was coming to deliver the sand for the west side of the pool. This area was set up like a beach with sand, decorative grasses, and even a pier! Yet, the sand had started to thin out and our beach area was looking pretty rough!  We tried buying some bags of play sand from Rural King a couple of weeks ago, but that didn’t even make a dent in the problem. Thus we figured we better go to the professionals and get a full load of sand dumped on the area.

Everything was great except… the WIND!  The wind was terrible Thursday, with steady winds around 30 mph and gusts past 50 mph!!

As shown above, a good amount of sand got blown all over the yard.  Yet the sand wasn’t the only issue effected by the wind!  Cornhusks and other debris from the surrounding cornfields kept blowing into the pool so bad, James took the old chicken wire that had been surrounding the garden and put it along the south side of the pool just to catch some of it!  The wind also knocked the hammock over and one of my big planters!

Geothermal

Bring and early Thursday morning, the Dan Crowe with The Hole Deal came out to inspect the property.  They are the company that is going to be drilling the wells for the Geothermal system we’re going to have installed.

He put flags into the ground, 10 feet apart.  That was a nice surprise, as the guy from Design-Air had said they would be 8 feet apart and I questioned whether or not that would be far enough apart based on some 1997 standards that I found that recommended a much greater distance between bore holes for commercial geothermal systems in order to not have any long term affect on the temperature of the surrounding ground.  On the other hand, their website says that they drill 4.5″ to 5″ holes and the Design-Air guy had said 8″ holes.  I guess we’ll find out once they get it dug.

Anyway, they dig the holes, run a loop of pipe down it and then fill it back in with grout.  They say the grout acts as a heatsink and it also helps eliminate any air pockets that would form if it was filled back in with dirt.  They leave the dirt there on top of the hole, although their website says that they leave nothing above ground.  Again, contradictions.  Maybe if we contracted with them rather than through Design-Air, but Design-Air doesn’t want to pay the extra to have the dirt removed?

There will be two separate days they come out.  The first will be to dig the holes and then they’ll come back a couple of days later to do the trenching to the house.  The only thing to watch out for is the irrigation system.  That won’t affect the drilling, but the trenchers will need to be careful.  Dan was worried about the bridge being able to support them, but it did support everything they brought in to build the house, including the guy who dug the well.  They are going to use our water to dig it rather than bringing water in, that will save some weight.

Dan had mentioned that they had a couple of wells to dig in Wapella and then they might be down on Monday afternoon to leave the stuff and then start on Tuesday.  I’m writing this blog a little later, but we just found out Wednesday night (May 5) that they would be coming first thing Thursday morning, so one week after they came out and marked the ground we should have the wells in.  We’re hoping to have the entire thing done before we go on vacation.

The Verizon guy came out and marked the spot where they were going to dig as being void of any Verizon wires.  The Ameren-IP person did the same thing, so we’re all good to go.

Closing on the Mayfern House

It’s a done deal! The Mayfern house is officially sold.  All of the paperwork (which was significantly less than buying the Emery house) has been signed and the check deposited in the bank!  In fact, when we went to deposit the check, the teller said she had to call and verify the funds first, which was fine with us!

The day started with James rushing around trying to make sure he had everything together for the closing.  He had already collected the keys and garage remote, but he wanted to put together a list for the new owner that detailed when the main structure and appliances had been updated and who had done the work or where things were bought.  He then picked me up from work around 10AM so we could do one last walk through the Mayfern house to take some pictures and to double check where the different cables/wires went throughout the house (also for the new owner).

After that we headed to Brown, Hawkins, and Basola (the same lawyers we used when we bought the Emery house) where we met up with Taylor Corrie (our realtor), the new owner of the Mayfern house, and his realtor.

Strangely enough, the new owner is a bachelor and a first time homeowner, the same as James was thirteen years ago when he bought the Mayfern house! I only hope he enjoys the house as much as James has and that it brings him the same luck (i.e., long time bachelor who finds the woman of his dreams 😉 ).  The signing finished without a hitch and we even got a wickless candle from Remax for selling our home through them!

Afterwards we headed to AirDesign to turn in the paperwork to get the geothermal system installed for the house, then to Steak-n-Shake for some much needed lunch, and last to the bank to deposit the check!!!

James holding up the check before we deposited it!

Dark Chocolate Cake Balls

I read about cake balls on the Bakerella.com web site a while ago (like December) and thought they looked pretty cool to make, but never got around to trying them.  I saw them mentioned again on allreceipes.com this last week and thought with my friend Kris’ benefit coming up, I’d give making them a try and then donate them for the cake sale.

So Friday I stopped by the store to pick up the ingredients (dark chocolate cake mix, can of chocolate cream cheese frosting, chocolate candy coating, and miscellaneous toppings) and then headed home to get started.  The first step was to make the cake as directed, let it cool, then crumble it up and mix it together with the entire can of frosting.  Once the cake and frosting were completely mixed together, the mixture had to be refrigerated for three hours (or in my case, overnight).  Saturday morning the mixture had chilled enough so I could roll it into 1 inch balls.  From the single cake mix, I was able to get almost 80 cake balls!  The cake balls then needed to set in the freezer for an hour (or longer), before they were ready to get coated in chocolate!

I used basic chocolate candy coating for the overall dunking and then used coconut, diced walnuts, shaved Ghirardelli chocolate, melted white chocolate, and melted peanut butter as toppings.  At first it was a little hard to get the process exactly right.  The candy coating hardens VERY quickly, so it was important to get the balls dunked and then out on the parchment paper as quickly as possible so I could get the toppings on.  Luckily the ones I wasn’t quite quick enough on ended up getting the melted white chocolate or peanut butter added later.  After the first 15 balls, I started to get the hang of it and really had quite the system of dropping the ball in the melted chocolate, spooning chocolate over it, picking it up with a plastic fork (with the middle two tines broken off), gently tapping the excess chocolate off, then using a knife to push the ball from the fork to the parchment paper.

I ended up making two boxes of “assorted” dark chocolate cake balls for the benefit, with 20 balls in each box.  Then, while I was hurrying up to get ready for said benefit, James was wonderful enough to make a tag for them and take some pictures of the finished product!

Oh and you’re probably wondering what they taste like??  As good as they look!!!  Even James who does NOT like cake (he wouldn’t even try a bite of our wedding cake) tried one and deemed it pretty good.  Then he went back for seconds… and thirds…  He told me later that night that they reminded him of Ding Dongs (which he likes), so I “guess” I should take that as a compliment!  I’m not sure if they necessarily remind me of anything other than rich yummy goodness!!  Definitely a keeper recipe!

Planting the Garden and Kona’s First Swim

Thursday night I got home late after a long day at work and was ready to just eat dinner and relax. Yet, James had been busy working at home all day and was ready for me to plant all my berry bushes.  I’d had the bushes for over a week and it was going to rain for the next 3-4 days, so I figured he was right (as normal) and I should just suck it up and get it done!

James had put posts in the ground to string wire across to give the berries something to wrap around as they get bigger, and the distance between the posts was just right for three bushes.  I got the raspberries and blackberries planted first and then when I went to plant the grapes, blueberries, and strawberries, James decided to go ahead and put in the rest of the posts (he only had about half of them in).  Once I finished planting, I helped smooth out the dirt and then helped James finish up with the posts.  The last thing we did was put up the chicken wire around everything to keep the bunnies out!

Then, after quite a bit of prodding, James convinced me to get in the pool for a swim.  By this point it was after 8pm, it had chilled down outside, and I was even more tired than before, but James had the pool heated up to 78 degrees and once I got in and swam around, it did feel pretty good. In fact, it made me excited for this summer when I’ll be able to come home and do some laps to cool off and relax after work!

5 Days until Closing

Ahh, the sweet smell of spring and the even sweeter smell of us finally selling the house in Forsyth.

The neighbor to the north runs a lawn care service and so we hired him to mow the yard for us so that the new owner doesn’t get 5″ tall grass.  Everything is out of the house that we want except for the push mower.  Kona would like to take some lilac, blackberry, and grapes from the old house to move out here. I’m not so keen on the idea since they didn’t grow that well at the other place.  She was more keen once she found out that the blackberry’s and grapes came from my parent’s house in Decatur.  I’m more the “you bought berries and grapes and I don’t want to mix varieties” kind of person.  She couldn’t believe there weren’t any lilacs on this place after walking around last weekend. so I might concede that one, but she’s running out of time.

April 27th at 11:00 am is the closing.  Unless something happens between now and then, that is.

We’ve got some of the money spent already.  I bought some pool supplies and a earth auger and rotor tiller in anticipation of the sale.  I dug three holes, 9′ apart on the east end of the garden and put 4×4″ posts there.  That will make a trellis for her berries and then I tilled up the ground so she can plant them before it rains tonight.

I also had a piece of dirt, about 3.5’x50′ in the front yard that I had dug up a couple of weeks ago to try and level out some of the weeds and holes the previous owner had left.  I tilled it today and planted grass seed, so hopefully that will start growing and will look nice in a week or two.

Spring Walk Around the Yard

This is our first spring at the new house and it is amazing to see the transformation from fall (when we bought the house) and winter!  Sunday James was busy working on the computer and it was absolutely beautiful out, so I thought I’d take a walk around our yard to check everything out!

As shown below, I walked pretty much the entire perimeter of our 11.5 acres!  The red trail is the start of my walk, then yellow, and finally blue was the round-about way home! (Click on the picture to enlarge it)

The different parts of my walk!

For the first part of my walk, I headed out the front door and down to the fire pit before meandering around the west part of the yard.

As soon as I walked out the door a rabbit hopped right past me like I wasn’t even there.  This kind of surprised me because even though we have a TON of rabbits around our property, I’d never seen one have so little care about coming near a human. Yet, once I got down to the fire pit, it happened again.  I was standing near the creek just looking around and another rabbit hopped right past me!  For whatever reason, it was pretty cool to see the wild rabbits that close and it made for some good pictures.  The rest of my time was spent wandering along the creek and then through the trees.  We’ve got three rows of trees with very fragrant and beautiful blossoms.  I have no clue what they are, but wow are they pretty this time of year!

Towards the end of the loop, when I was almost to the pool, I stopped to check out the future site of my garden!! James cleared it out for me earlier this week, but I haven’t had a chance to plant anything yet.  When I do, I’m going to start with berry bushes, including raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry!!

After stopping by the house to check on James, switch the laundry, and get a drink, I headed back out towards the east side of our property.  This included both the north and south sides of the creek!

I didn’t take as many pictures on this walk because the undergrowth was already quite high and I needed both hands to get through a lot of it.  Yet, I did get closer to the creek and was able to see a number of animal tracks.  They looked like deer, birds, and possibly a raccoon. I also saw a duck paddling around the creek, but wasn’t quick enough to get his picture!

Overall, the entire walk was quite enjoyable and really highlighted just how much “nature” we really have out here!  Can’t wait for summer to see how everything looks!!

Planting and opening the pool

Saturday it was beautiful outside, so we spent most of the day working on getting the pool open, planting various flowers and herbs, and doing some outside cleanup in the yard.

Since this is the first house I’ve ever owned, I went a *little* crazy in buying all sorts of herbs, flowers, berry bushes, and other plants for around the yard.  Thus Saturday, I spent a lot of time getting the yard and flower beds cleaned up so I could finally get some of my plants in the ground!  On the south-east side of the house there’s a perfect spot for an herb garden.  The previous owner didn’t really do much with it other than put some wood chips around a couple of plants, so I thought with that much space and the location, it would be perfect for my herbs.  With as much as we’re already doing around the yard, I figured I wouldn’t really be able to do much with it until next year, but I thought for this year I could at least get a start on it with some lavender, rosemary, and lemon balm.  Amazingly enough, as I started to clean up the area, I realized there was already a huge clump of lemon balm, a little thyme, and even a pretty good sized cluster of chives!  What a way to start an herb garden!!

I also cleaned out the big planters around the pool and revived them with some petunias and decorative grasses, before moving on to plant some ivy in a couple of spaces I wanted to fill out during the summer.

After all that, James got me started on cleaning out the pool while he worked on some other poor related things.

As you can see from the pictures below, the pool was pretty grimy and took a lot of effort to clean. The guy who owned the house before us hadn’t even opened the pool last year, so unfortunately it looks like a lot of the liner is stained. We’ll make do for this year, but we knew we would need a new liner anyway, so I imagine that will be in the works for next year.

Chicago

Kona and her co-worker Liz were presenting at the 115th Annual Higher Learning Commission Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, IL, on April 11, 2010.  I tagged along for the weekend.

We left home about 8:20 on Saturday and drove to the Amtrak station in Bloomington-Normal.  The train was on-time and we had about 20 minutes before it arrived.  About six minutes before the train was set to arrive, they announced it so that people would be outside waiting for it.  Fifteen minutes after it was supposed to have arrived, it was still not there.  Finally it showed up and we got on.

They are checking tickets before you get on the train, rather than after, so it was 31 minutes late leaving Bloomington. There were a few other delays on the way to Chicago, but we arrived at Union Station about 12:49 pm, 29 minutes later than the scheduled time.  The three of us had no real plans for the afternoon, so the late arrival didn’t cause any problems.  Kona and Liz didn’t have to present until 1:15 pm the next day.

From Union Station, we walked about 3.5 blocks to the Quincy station and got on the orange line.  I had walked to the Clinton station on the blue line many times before when I had visited Chicago and would go to O’hare International Airport, but this is the first time I had ever been on the Orange line.

It is elevated, as opposed to a subway, and so we had to go up some narrow stairs carrying the luggage.  We went to the opposite end of The Loop and then walked about four blocks to the hotel.

After checking into the rooms and taking a brief respite, we decided to head out.  I had thought about taking an architectural tour on the Chicago River, but the 174 openings that were there on Friday night were gone by 2:30 pm on Saturday.  Instead, we went to Navy Pier.  We walked along the far east end of the Chicago River Walk where they were filming something on the lowest level of Wacker Dr and then crossed over the Chicago River on Lake Shore Drive.  There needs to be a separate bike path because those bike riders were maniacs and about took out pedestrians.

When we got to Navy Pier, we were going to eat at Bubba Gump, but there was a 45 minute wait and Liz and Kona were both getting really hungry.  Instead, we went a bit further and ate at America’s Dog. I tried some southwestern chicken, without the mayo.  Unfortunately, it came with lettuce, special sauce, and tomato.  I pulled everything off except for the cheese and bacon and ate it.  Kona’s wrap had too much lettuce on it as well.  Then we went to Ben & Jerry’s and I bought everyone ice cream.

We walked down to the east end of the pier and rested some more and took some pictures of each other, the boats, the birds, the pump houses, and the scenery.  Then we started our way back and saw some planes flying out of O’Hare that were turning north and flying behind the skyscrapers.

On the way back, I took some pictures of the Trump Tower, which is across the river and a block from our hotel.

Trump Tower

Trump Tower

We crashed for a while after getting back and then decided to go eat supper.  We were going to go to Giordano’s and get some Chicago-style pizza.  Earlier in the day, the map had shown that the nearest one was about 7 blocks away on Rush Street.  I decided to double check before taking off and found that there was one just two blocks to the south of the hotel in Prudential Plaza, so we walked there and saved the money for a taxi.  Giordano’s was at the base of Two Prudential Plaza, the sixth tallest skyscraper in Chicago. The whole thing is just a block from Millennium Park.

The meal was good, but the girls don’t know how to eat pizza.  Kona doesn’t like sausage, Liz doesn’t care for the pepperoni, and then when it came, Kona picked her pepperoni off, too.

Once we got back to the room, we crashed for the night.  Then we got up in the morning and Kona and I went to the Corner Bakery for breakfast.  Then we came back to the room and fell asleep again.

We checked out and Kona and Liz got to their presentation room a little after 12 pm on Sunday.  They went in and set up the computer and made sure everything was working.  There were a couple of people in there, one who realized about 12:30 that he was still on Eastern time and so the workshop wasn’t going to start for another 45 minutes.  There were just a few people in the room and so we thought there would be maybe 30 people total.

Boy were we wrong on that count.  The room had about 230 seats in it and we estimated that about 80% of them were filled.  There were people standing in the back and some of the hotel staff came in during the presentation and added another row of chairs for those in the back.

Kona and Liz did a great job presenting.  They switched off and they had a rapt audience.  At the end, they asked for questions and there were several.  Other people commented that it was one of the best presentations they’ve heard in a long time and many people came up afterwards and asked additional questions and said they would be emailing for more information.  I have to admit, it was one of the better workshops I’ve been to and I wasn’t even in my area of interest.