Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.

Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.

This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.

It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I've been busy doing prep work for the new tile floor in the pottery studio, and painting the stucco on the back of the house, but like everyone, much of what I do revolves around the basic maintenance of life—for my dog and five rescued cats, and me.  That of course includes feeding everybody.  The dog eats dog food, and the cats eat, well, cat food—not too appetizing from my perspective.  Luckily, there's also pizza!

Home made, of course, and here's how:

The dough is pretty much the same as your basic yeast bread.  For one 12" pizza, these are the ingredients.
  - Flour.  230 grams, about 55-60 grams of which is whole wheat and the rest is white bread flour.  Bread flour is made from "hard" wheat (high protein, high gluten—to make it stretchy).  Soft wheat flour is used for cakes; "all purpose" flour is a mix of hard and soft.
  - Sugar.  ½ tablespoon.
  - Salt.  1 teaspoon.
  - Yeast.  Active dry.  About ½ teaspoon.
  - Optionally, I add a few shakes of oregano.
  - Olive oil.  About 1 tablespoon (I don't measure)
  - Water.  4 ounces.

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the oil and water, then mix and knead.  I use my 37-year-old stand mixer for this, and use the regular beater bar (because the amount of dough is too small for the dough hook—if you're making dough for two or more pizzas, then you can use the dough hook).  Machine knead for five minutes, or hand knead for 10 minutes.

Take the dough out and compress and round it to make a uniform and smooth ball (actually this is important, so it will stretch out properly).  Put the ball of dough in a container and cover, then put in the refrigerator for 24 - 36 hours.  In other words, make it a day before you need it.

It slowly rises and comes out the next day looking like this:

Your oven and pizza stone should be preheating.  Ovens are different, so you'll need to experiment, so the pizza top cooks at the same speed as the bottom of the crust.  The last oven I had was really hot on top, so I had to put the pizza in at the bottom of the oven, with the temperature set around 480˚.  My current Bosch oven has lots of modes and different heat, so some experimentation was needed.  I now put the pizza in at the hotter top of the oven, and at 450˚.  I use a pizza stone, so the pizza goes in the oven naked on the stone, put in and taken out using an aluminum "peel."  You can get by using a pan, and skip the peel and stone, but your results may vary :-)

Once you stretch out the dough, you don't want it to sit for a long time, or it will tend to stick to whatever it's on.  So prepare everything ahead of time, and don't dawdle.  I make my own sauce.  I start with a can of crushed Italian (plum) tomatoes (with basil).  I add some olive oil, plus a little sugar, salt, and oregano, then blend in a food processor.  I use part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated myself, of course.  If you buy cheese already grated, it has cellulose added to keep it from sticking (cellulose=sawdust).

Stretching out the dough takes a little practice, and your dough has to be correct (strong and elastic, but not too—that is, not like a rubber band).  It can't stick to your working surface, so you must use flour or corn meal to keep it sliding.  Some people use regular flour, some people use corn meal.  I use a half and half mixture of whole wheat flour and semolina flour, the latter being Bob's Red Mill, made with No. 1 Durum Wheat, and ground to a sandy texture (Semolina flour may be hard to find; I get mine from amazon.  Semolina flour is used to make pasta.)  The whole wheat/semolina mixture works great to prevent sticking and it also tastes good.

So spread your counter with the stuff and plop your ball of dough into the middle. You can't have too much; what doesn't stick to the dough will be there for the next pizza (if you're doing more than one).  After awhile, you'll figure out how much you need.

This is the final result.  My pizza takes about five minutes total in the oven.  As always, your results may vary.  For further (professional) advice, the worldpizzachampions series on youtube is recommended.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pottery Studio — Part 5

When last we left, the new windows were installed in the front of the pottery studio, the interior finished, and two layers of roofing felt applied to the exterior wall in preparation for stucco.  The next step was to attach a metal weep channel at the bottom of the wall; this allows for any water that manages to get behind the stucco to run down the roofing felt and exit at the bottom of the wall.  The channel also provides a neat ledge for the stucco to sit on at the bottom of the wall. 

Next the wire mesh goes on, fastened with special furring nails that have spacers to keep the wire about a quarter-inch off the wall.  I also use galvanized 1/4" crown staples in between the nails to provide further support.  Then the corners are reinforced with heavy wire corner bead.

Here's a closeup:

Here's a photo of the first (scratch) coat starting to go on.  It's called the scratch coat because before it has hardened, a special tool is used to scratch horizontal grooves into the soft stucco.  The grooves give the second coat something to adhere to. 

With the scratch coat on, the second coat is applied (it's called the "brown" coat, which must have some historical significance . . .).  I'm still developing my technique, so I'm calling the resulting texture "rustic."  After each batch of stucco goes on, it's a good idea to mist it with a fine spray of water every couple of hours so that it doesn't dry too quickly and crack. 

Here both coats of stucco are on, and the plastic sheet removed from the windows.  Tomorrow I'll apply a very thin coat of finish stucco to even out the texture a little.  After that, it all cures for a month before I can apply two coats of elastomeric stucco paint.  Like the name implies, it's a flexible coating that keeps out moisture and bridges any small cracks that may develop.  It also makes all the walls the same color :-)

While I'm waiting, I'm going to put down the new floor tile in the pottery studio, scrape and stain the fascia and eves on the front of the house (will match the front door frame), and continue to apply stucco paint to the back of the house.  And work on the new water supply system . . .  Here's the old tile in the pottery studio getting blasted off the floor.