Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Delays and Delays and Delays and Delays...

Ok, so here's the home building update... and mind you, this is coming from a point of frustration.

We still have not closed on our construction loan. The appraisal was due June 2nd. Then, the appraisal was delayed because there was a death in the appraiser's family. Then it was due June 14th. Then, it was delayed for another unknown reason. It is now June 28th. We are still waiting. We initially applied for the construction loan over two months ago. We are waiting to give them our money. I'm not paying extra interest right now, so I'm glad, but still... this is the worst.

We met with our excavator three weeks ago to go over the plans for clearing the land. We were not expecting him to be able to start until July or August. We were extremely surprised and excited when he told us that he would start clearing the land the next week, on June 12th or so. We were not ready for that. To prepare the land, the boundaries, and the clearing limits, we spent that whole Saturday at the property. We had a metal detector for the iron rods at the property corners, we had stakes and green tape for the clearing boundaries, and we had to buy a machete to get through the thick bushes. How weird was it that Graham went to Home Depot at 9 PM on a Friday night to buy a machete? He had to ask for help to find it, and the employee kind of gave him a weird look. Graham's response was, "My kids won't go to sleep." I told Graham that that employee was probably looking for his picture in the news the next day because that was a super creepy thing to say.

Looking out to the street from where the driveway *may* be (see below).

Side yard view.

So after all this fuss and work, we showed up to the property all excited to see the land transform from a garden of Eden to a big mound of dirt.. and soon, our hopes were dashed. Our boundary tape was still up, and not a darn thing was done. A few days (and drives to the property) go by, and still nothing was done. We finally put in a phone call to our guy, and his excavator broke.. So again, he told us maybe the next week... Repeat the following unfulfilling visits and broken dreams.. And then we got a call on Saturday the 24th that our guy was clearing the land and he wanted us to check in with him. Surprise! Best day ever. We were finally able to see what it'll look like not covered in trees.

The side yard view.. Do you see that upward slope? Also, we requested the cedar in the foreground to stay, but I'm pretty sure we're going to have to get rid of it.  :(

The remains of the trees. This is the back/side yard of our property.

So then, our excavator said Lexar should come and stake out the foundation so he can figure out where to trench for power, water, etc. So we planned to meet with Lexar on Tuesday June 27th. Then, I got the news back from our county that the dimensions were wrong on the site plan from our engineering company. The county also wouldn't approve our building plans because the playroom had a closet, and they took it to mean it would be used as a bedroom.. and since it doesn't have a window, it had no point of egress. We decided to move the door to the closet to the utility room to fix that problem. So just a couple of things to fix.. no biggie, right?

Next, we met with Lexar on Tuesday on my day off. Unfortunately, Graham couldn't take off work, so it was me and the kids. It sucked because Lexar had to go off the site plan from our engineers, which had the wrong dimensions. It wasn't my fault, but I was super embarrassed and annoyed that something simple could make things go so wrong. We were able to muddle through the site plans and get the correct dimensions from the construction plans, and mark out where the foundation would go from there. We noticed something bad, though..

Big problem. HUGE. The foundation area was on a super sloped area, meaning that:
1) The foundation would have to be ginormous (and go through special engineering) because it'd have to match the 10 foot difference in slope from side-to-side, or
2) You'd have to dig out and severely level out the foundation and lot, with retaining walls near the side and the back due to the slopes.

So, we are back in this spot where we don't know what we're going to do. One big issue is that there is an easement (utilities and road) on our lot for 30 feet in.. and the setbacks are bigger for easements (25 feet) compared to side yards (10 feet). So, there is a very limited area where we can actually put the house--despite the lot being over 3/4 of an acre!! Turns out we would've been better off with a 2-story house, but we were really trying to build our forever home....

Yeah, this sucks. We are currently in talks with our builder, excavator, and engineering company to get a better plan out there. We will see what happens.

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cooks Illustrated Skillet Turkey Tetrazzini (One Pan)

I do post recipes from time to time.. and this one is totally worth putting out into the world. I blogged about Cook's Country Flavored Popcorn years ago, and it remains one of my most popular blog posts. If you haven't tried it yet--it truly is amazing popcorn and super easy! Anyways, I know you're probably thinking one of two things about this upcoming recipe:

1) Turkey Tetrazzini is old school.

2) Thanksgiving was like 7 months ago.

And yes, you'd be right on both items. It truly is an old school recipe, but it doesn't mean it's not worth making. No canned items to be found. Also, Graham's dad gave us some leftover smoked turkey (not from Thanksgiving), and so I found this obscure recipe and made it.. twice. You know it's good if I make the same recipe more than once over a six-month period.. I have problems with making the same dinner as I did like three months ago. And once again.. it's easy and it only requires one dish to make. That's a big deal when the sink in your rental townhome is full after one sippy cup is thrown into the sink. Oh, and did I mention that it's also a 30-minute recipe? One dish and under 30 minutes with no canned foods? That's right.. So, for all of your enjoyment.. here comes the recipe..

Notes: Serves 4 large portions. Pre-heat your oven prior to assembling your ingredients to ensure completion of meal under 30 minutes. You need a 12-inch ovensafe skillet, but does not have to be non-stick.

2 TB unsalted butter
10 oz sliced white mushrooms (we made the recipe without any)
1 onion, minced
Table salt
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken (or turkey) broth
1 cup heavy cream (you could probably use half-and-half, but it'd be less rich)
8 ounces (3 cups) egg noodles
1 cup frozen peas
14 oz (3 cups) shredded/chopped turkey
1 TB dry sherry
2 TB fresh minced parsley
20 Ritz crackers, crushed to coarse crumbs (1 cup)

Cooking Instructions:
1) Heat oven to 475 degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position.
2) Melt butter in 12 inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until mushrooms are lightly browned, 5-7 minutes.
3) Stir in broth, cream, and noodles. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring often, until noodles are tender and sauce has thickened, ~8 minutes.
4) Stir in peas, turkey, dry sherry, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cracker crumbs on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until lightly browned, ~8 minutes. Serve.

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated "The Best 30-Minute Recipe".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Construction Site Plans

NEWSFLASH: We break ground next week! Our excavator is clearing the land starting next Wednesday!

All right, this will probably go into a lot more detail than necessary, but I'm just trying to document this process of building our home as detailed as I can..

Our next move for the home building process was getting the site plan. For all of you following along, I'm just going to assume you know as much about construction as I do.. which is not much. Like I said before, I've never felt so clueless in my life muddling through terms like septic tanks, temporary power, concrete plans, impervious surfaces, etc.. So, a site plan contains the following: location of house, roads, easements, driveway, roof overhang, and two other big ticket items: septic tank and drain fields as well as storm water control.

If you grew up in an area like me in California (see below).. you lived in a planned neighborhood with city water and sewer.

However, if you live in a rural area like we do now in Washington (see below).. You can't plan on either of those things, and you need a plan to get water and dispose of waste properly. Many people don't have access to a regular water supply, but have to rely on a personal well that's drilled in a backyard somewhere. FYI, we don't have a well on our property--which is why we bought the property. Wells can be $$$$$$.

Before I moved here, I only knew about septic tanks vaguely. For a high school summer job, I once stayed in a house near Jackson, CA that had a septic tank. All I knew is that you shouldn't flush feminine products in a septic tank. Anyways, I've since learned about them a little bit as our last house had one (it was downhill and a simple gravity system).. but I still don't know much.

As for the storm water control, this is something that most people take for granted. I mean DUH, nearly everywhere back home had sidewalks, gutters, drains, and a city sewer system. But, many neighborhoods here do not. So, where does that water go when you don't have a sewer system? For many planned neighborhoods, they have a retention pond and storm water systems. For us non-neighborhood folks out in the sticks, we must utilize other methods to properly disperse water. For many of us, we have to utilize trenches fitted with perforated pipes such as an infiltration or dispersion trench (see below).  We had an engineer design this for us, taking into account the floor plan of the house, lot's topography and soil type. The other parts of the site plan include the septic tank, the driveway, and potential need for retention walls.

Image result for infiltration trench dispersion

We decided to work with an engineering firm that would do everything for us: the site plan, septic design, landslide risk assessment, etc. This way, there would be no confusion between the placement of other systems. A lot of potential home builders may choose to get bids from various septic designers, engineers, surveyors, etc, and then have to get the pieces of the puzzles put together. We chose to simplify the process and have one firm do the whole project, even if it did cost a couple hundred of dollars extra.

So, we gave our floor plans to the engineering firm and they got started fairly quickly after our deposit of over $5K (when you're dealing with home building, everything is in the range of thousands of dollars). We initially had the idea of having the home face the southeast corner of the lot, which would be facing the rounded corner of the street and the water. There's a teensy bit of a water view of the Puget Sound in the winter.. But, the engineer told us that because of the upward slope towards the back of the lot, we'd need 2-3 retaining walls around 2 sides of the house. Hmm, a couple more thousand of dollars to face a peekaboo view of the water? No thanks..

So, we told the engineer that we wanted the house to face the east for the paved road access, and for the cheapest placement possible (aka no retaining walls). So, she fixed the location of the house and made the storm water plans. We were then told everything was all set and that the design would be submitted to the county.

3-4 weeks go by.. and nothing was submitted to the county. We figure that things just got delayed in the process. So, we put a call into the engineering firm, and we found out that the engineer working on our project quit and didn't finalize the plans. It was still labeled as "awaiting customer approval", and nobody checked back in on us. So, we had to wait another week or so until the new engineer approved the project and sent it in.

So, finally.. 6 weeks after giving the engineering firm our deposit, our plans were accepted and processed.. and as of May 30th, our site plans were approved and we were free to "start moving dirt". We met with our excavator on June 7th, and he plans to get started right away with clearing the land. We are beyond excited to get moving with this process.

Next home building blog: site/lot preparation.

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account.

House Update #1,000,000

Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit with the title.. but that's how it feels. And, my the title for my last update was a little mi...