Friday, February 10, 2017


We got the most beautiful snow the other day. Heavy and wet so it stuck to everything. It was gorgeous.
Even the chicken fence looks pretty
Cooper was exuberant as usual. And I got to use the "run" feature on the camera. Stop-motion photography!

Look at those ears!

A wonderful walk in the woods that day. And we were fortunate enough to not lose power. The utility company came through just a few days before to do tree cutting maintenance and they did a great job.  Actually, they really did. I know a lot of folks have horror stories about them decimating the tree line or leaving a big mess, but these guys cut respectfully, cleaned up appropriately, and set aside the stuff big enough to turn into firewood. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More bling for the tractor - forks!

Our primary heat source is our wood stove. And we love it. What we don't love quite as much is handling the firewood. Our business process improvement background tells us to streamline the process. In this case, that means minimizing touches. How many times do you touch (move) the wood? How can you reduce those touches?

You touch it when you cut it down, when you buck it up, when you split it, when you stack it, and when you move it from storage to use areas. And there is inevitably a pile step or two in there also.

Last year's overflow wood
That's a lot of touches
We decided a good way to reduce touches would be to change how we stack and store the wood. And to do that, we needed to make a small capital investment in tractor bling. We bought forks for the bucket. 
Getting in position to put on the forks
We have lots of wooden pallets - you can get them for free if you're willing to scrounge around a bit - and we used some to form an open-front wood bin.

Cooper helped
Ta da! A wood bin, or pod as we're calling them
 Then we moved it next to the wood pile.

Carefully positioning the forks 
Carefully placing it by the pile
We filled it up and then moved it to the front porch (our "use" area).

Wood on parade!
Attractive? No. Easy to reach from the front door? Yes.
We typically kept two 10-foot long wood racks on the front porch for easy loading to the wood stove just inside the door. It would take 5 bucket loads to fill each rack with Chris getting the wood from the storage area, bringing it around to the porch, dumping it on the ground, and leaving to get another load while I filled the rack. It'd take nearly two hours to fill both racks and it always seemed to be miserable out when the racks needed to be filled. Now? Yes, it took a bit of time to fill the pod, but it was easy to pick up and drive it around, easy to set on the porch, and no unloading was necessary. 

We'll continue this method for this year - load the pod from the storage area, move it, use it, repeat. But! Here is the awesome part. Next year when we gather firewood from the forest, we can bring the pod with us and load it in place. Then we can simply put it in the storage area and grab it when we need it. Yes, we'll need lots of pods, but as mentioned, pallets are easy to come by. 

We're finding that a full pod is a bit heavy for the tractor bucket (it's way out there remember, so the leverage ratio is a bit off). We'll likely have to only fill the pods 2/3 full to make that easy to move. But I think it's going to be so much easier in the long run. Many, many, fewer touches. Woot!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Kitchen - the drawers near the stove

The drawer stack next to the stove is intended to hold cooking related items: knives, hot pads, pans & lids, you know, the usual. When I had the small tool chest there I found that the shallow drawers worked great for holding an amazing amount of stuff without it jumbling together. So that's how I designed the wood drawers too; a stack of five drawers with the top two being 3", the next two 6", and the final drawer 8" (or thereabouts, there are some decimal places in there to make everything fit properly). I used my super scientific method to come up with the heights - I measured my pans and left a margin for growth. 

After drawer design the next big question is what will you do for pulls, right? I was leaning toward using rocks like I did on the mudroom cupboards. Rocks are easy. We have them all over the property and the streams kick up some really cool ones that are smooth enough to actually glue to. I'd been testing a couple in the kitchen for months to make sure they'd stand up to normal wear & tear. They did and I liked the look. Then I realized that I liked the look against painted drawers, not against natural wood. Against the cherry they just sort of disappeared. So, out with the rocks. 

My next thought was to use antique silverware. It's readily available and relatively cheap (especially when compared to designer drawer pulls - holy crap! those things are pricy). There are tons of examples on Pinterest but most of them seemed to have you drive a screw through the utensil to attach them to the drawer. I didn't care for the look of the screw head so I decided to see if I could make it work with flat head bolts and super glue. 

I collected a bunch of old spoons, forks, knives, etc. I decided which ones I wanted on this stack, figured out where the bolts needed to be for the test pull, glued it on and tried it for a couple weeks.
Checking position 
Performing a trial
I'm pleased to say that I not only liked the look, it worked. So we moved on to the other drawers.

Good thing we hadn't put on cupboard doors yet
Here's the finished stack (note that poly has not yet been applied to the drawer fronts, that's why they're not as dark as the carcass). I used a variety of soup and sugar spoons here. I've got a great selection for the other stacks too - antique grapefruit spoons anyone? Butter knives. Table knives (the rounded kind, not the pointy ones). Ice tea spoons for the long drawers. It's been fun finding them at antique and junk stores, and I even got some from my Mom. 

I'm inordinately pleased by this
Positioning was a bit tricky. You can't just drill holes at a set interval and attach the pulls. Some spoons are longer or thinner than others and you have to choose where the bolts go. So if we end up hating this, it's gonna be ugly to go back to standard pulls. For that reason we've decided to stop building drawers and move on to another project for a few months. I want to really test these and make sure they won't pop off during normal use before I put them everywhere in the kitchen. 

Some close-ups of the drawers and pulls. I love all the old spoons I found. They've got so much character.
The 3" drawers - knives, hot pads, other utensils
The 6" drawers - shallow pans & their lids
Bottom drawer, 8", deep pans & their lids
And here it is from a distance. I sure hope this works because I really like how they look.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Making a heating pad for Mom

On my last visit to Mom's she mentioned that her heating pad was getting worn. It's one of those belt-style pads that's full of rice and you heat it in the microwave. 

We popped down to the basement to sort through her fabric stash (she has an amazing collection of fabrics and clothes ready for repurposing). We found a super soft shirt with a tight weave (so the rice grains won't escape) and some decorator fabric. I took measurements and the fabric and headed home to see what I could put together.

I doubled up the shirt fabric just to be sure it wouldn't wear too quickly. And to make sure the rice wouldn't poke through the weave. This is the side that sits against your back so we wanted it really soft.
The inside
The side that's visible when you're wearing it is made from the home-dec fabric. A bit stiff and more intensely colored, it's very pretty. The stiffness helps as it shouldn't flop about as much as her current model does.
The outside
I also made a small drawstring storage bag so she could hang it from a hook when not in use. This way it can be stored near the microwave yet still be out of the way. Since I'd never made a bag before I turned to Pinterest for inspiration and a tutorial. Ended up using this one. Good clear instructions and it went together very quickly.
Handy carrying bag
Sewing it up was fun and I enjoyed figuring out how to get it all together. I'm starting to get the hang of this whole sewing thing, I think...

Snow, solar, agility - basically a mishmash today

We're getting a more normal snow load this year than last. Chris has had to use the tractor to clear the driveway three times. That's always a production simply because it's so darn cold on that thing. We really need to look at getting a cab for it. 

My experiment in overwintering my rosemary seems to be going well. The plant I brought into the house didn't make it two months (my worst record ever) but the outside plant seems to still be good. I cut the bottom out of the bucket, put it over the plant, and packed it with dead leaves. The hope being that the heavy mulch would actually stay in place and let the plant sit in stasis until spring. Fingers crossed.
Rosemary still alive?
We installed solar PV in October and November was pretty good despite lots of rain but December stank because of the snow cover. We're grid-tied so we put the panels on the roof - great for getting them out of the way, not practical to clear the snow. If we were actually off-grid we'd have put them on poles that allowed the panels to tilt but we were looking to offset our electrical not get off the system completely. One thing that amazed me is how much the costs have dropped in just four years. When we built the house we had to pay a small fortune to get power all the way back here (we're nearly 2000 feet from the main road). We looked at going off-grid at that point but the cost was twice what commercial power cost. Now it's almost at parity. Would have made a different decision, I can tell you that.
Cooper tracks
Cooper enjoys the snow but we've got to keep on eye on her pads. January has brought heavy ice and the crust is hard on her feet. We're rubbing them with ointment to keep them flexible and help with cracking and so far it's helped her be more comfortable. We've also just decided to stay inside some mornings; no need to walk when it's below zero outside.

What do you mean it's cold?
Unfortunately she's a high-energy dog so no walk means, stir-crazy animal. We've taken to setting up a small agility course in the house and doing training. Frankly I think it's good for all of us. She gets both mental and physical exercise and we have the fun of working with her. We use a broom as a jump, pull out the dining chairs as obstacles (over, through, and even under), and work around the table. Minimal mess with maximum results. Pretty good.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another kitchen update

"Another post soon" - famous last words for a blogger. When last we left the kitchen cabinetry we'd finished the South wall and were getting ready to turn the corner toward the stove. And then Thanksgiving and Christmas happened and it took a while to get back to it.

The corner has not only been turned, it's reached the stove. Hooray!

Chris chose to build the corner cabinet in place rather than do it out in the shop. It's big for one thing and the thought of carrying it into the house was daunting. Also, it's been freezing cold outside and it didn't make a lot of sense to heat the shop. 
Building a massive corner cabinet
I've got three shelves in the cupboard. The bottom shelf is (obviously) full depth and will hold lots of heavy, bulky items like crockpots, canning equipment, fryers, and other small appliances.
That's how big that cabinet is! Fantastic storage.

The second shelf is a bit over half as deep (15 inches) and is 11 inches off the bottom shelf. Why 11? Because that's how tall my tallest pot & lid combo is. And the 15 inch depth? We got there by having me lean into the cupboard to put away the crockpot in the very back corner. Chris then measured from the wall to see where my head was; so I can easily reach into the corner without whacking my noggin. Very practical, these measurements.
Test fitting a few items
And the top shelf is 9 inches higher than the second (yup, that's the height of my tallest stock pot/strainer combo) and is 8 inches deep. I designed the top shelf to fit my frying pans. The handles extend into space and are easy to grab. I don't keep my cast iron on that shelf simply because it's too heavy to grab out one-handed, but all the other flat pans go there. The very corner of the top shelf is not 90 degrees. Instead it bridges the sides so that I can put something a bit deeper there (like my grill pan).

The shelfs are made of cabinet grade hardwood plywood and Chris faced them with cherry. They looks so nice that I'm rethinking my plan to put cabinet doors here. I may leave it open instead (for anyone wondering why there is light peeking through from the top, the counter wasn't complete when I took the picture).
Starting to put stuff away
Connecting the two counters was tricky. We decided on a stepped pattern rather than a mitered corner. We like the visual texture better but that darn ash is really moving around on us. We're going to leave it, gaps and all, for a year to see what the summer weather does to it. If it stabilizes we'll fill the gap with copper, much like we did on the stair landing. 

We were worried (okay, not worried really, but mildly concerned) that the new section of counter wouldn't stain the same as the sink section. Remember we're using homemade natural stain. It varies. A lot. Well, we needn't have worried. Came out great.
Hard to tell we stained them weeks apart and with different batches.
We decided to put a double edge on the back of the counter. Design-wise it sort of matches the floor trim, the shaved raw wood edge at the top, the same curve to the bottom. So I like how it ties everything together. Functionally, it solves the problem of shrinking boards. See, it's actually mounted to the wall, not the countertop. The bottom trim edge is wide enough to hide the gap when the boards shrink. I confess we felt pretty darn clever when we thought of that.
So now Chris is working on drawers. I specified depth and he mocked one up. Drawer depths were again determined by the stuff that will reside inside. The top two drawers are 3.5 inches deep for utensils, pot holders, and knives (I like enough room to actually lay stuff out flat; I hate jumbled tools. I'll have to do a post on what's inside the drawers when we're all finished). The next two drawers are 5.5 inches deep and will hold smaller pots and their lids as well as my braising pan. The bottom drawer is 7.5 inches deep and fits my 3 and 4 quart saucepans with lids. The drawer fronts are cherry and will darken to match the vertical cupboard edges. I really think the whole thing is going to look wonderful - and be incredibly functional.
Testing the drawer design
I've been playing around with ideas for the drawer and cabinet pulls. Not sure what I'm going to land on yet but so far stones or old silverware are the front runners.


Friday, January 6, 2017

The Kitchen Sink

Way back when I started dreaming about our new house I had very specific requirements for my kitchen sink. My Grandma L had this wonderful porcelain cast iron sink - two deep sink bowls and a drainage area on the side. I wanted one just like hers. More or less. Well, really less. Because while I did want a porcelain-enameled cast iron sink, I hate deep sink bowls, and double bowls, and the one bowl I did want had to fit my Grandma OB's baking sheet, and I wanted two drainage areas not one. So pretty much, exactly like hers but totally not. Right.

Armed with Grandma OB's baking sheet I went to antique festivals, flea markets, and restoration shops. Either the sinks were in horrible shape, the bowl was too small for the pan, or they were WAY too expensive; I couldn't find the one I wanted. And then, magically, Chris was on Craig's List one day and there it was. A woman was redoing her kitchen and was getting rid of the original cast iron sink. A single bowl, double drain, white porcelain sink that had been in active use in a normal household kitchen, not a barn, not sitting out in a field. For $125. We threw Grandma's pan in the truck and went to see if this was the one.

It was. 

Ta da!
It was also heavier than a dead minister. (Why are ministers considered heavy when dead? Were they not heavy alive? Is my family the one who says this? Gotta look that up sometime). We really had to work to get that puppy into the truck. And then it came home with us and sat in the garage of the old house for two years. Yes, we broke a cardinal rule and bought something before we actually needed it. Given that it took about two years to find it though, I think it was the right decision. Finally we built BeechHouse and it sat in the carport for 4 more years while we worked on the house interior (has it really been four years???). 

And now, it's finally installed and I love it.

Ta da again!
If you've never installed a sink like this, it's designed to sit on a base like the one in the first picture. Or it can be hung from the wall. Or placed on legs. Lots of options which makes the underside of the sink really weird to work with as there are slots and wings and supports sticking out all over the place. Chris had to get in underneath it and cut holes in the counter in order to have it lay flush. Nothing like cutting into your brand new counter, eh? 

It's also not quite as deep front-to-back as the standard depth counter. Since I didn't want it recessed it had to sit proud of the wall. So Chris built a back section with a cherry shelf. Now my dish soap has a place to live and isn't in the way. The faucet? Another item that I bought well in advance just because I saw it at HD one day. Not in the expensive sink & faucet section but in the basic plumbing area. $10 and it's actually brass with chrome cladding. Heavy, excellent action, great flow. And no longer available. 

So we broke our own rule, twice, and got lucky, twice. I'm not going to mention the errors in judgment that caused the rule to be put in place though. Just know we won't be breaking it again anytime soon despite this resounding success.