Friday, March 3, 2017

What Chris did while I was gone...

In between building kitchen cabinetry and shoveling chicken poo, Chris decided to take a break and do something fun (and really, who can blame him?). Obviously this wall was just crying out for a special touch.

So he carefully removed the art work and attached a highly effective catchment system for drywall dust.
Don't want dust everywhere
Then he cut a hole in the wall, lined it with wood, added trim the same color and design as on our interior window trim...
Hmmm, what on earth?
 Added a gorgeous cherry shelf, and tossed up a few kitty treats.
The new cat feature
 T'BD quickly discovered the new spot. Especially since Chris put her catnip toy out there.
"Don't look at me."
But where is the rest of her?
She can choose to go all the way out onto the shelf or hang out on the stair and just use it as a nifty window. Cooper can barely fit her head into the hole so no worries there. But if we ever get a bigger cat we'll be in real trouble.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Back from India

Just returned from a 2-week trip to India. It was amazing! Although I have to admit I was a bit peeved that I left a snow-covered freezing February in NY for sunny India and it turned out we had a heat wave at home. On the plus side, Chris cleaned out the chicken coop for me. So really, a win.

The India trip was a bit whirlwind as we covered several cities and saw a whole lot of history. Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, and back to Delhi. Given that most of these cities are 5 or so hours apart, we spent a lot of time looking at countryside on the way to amazing monuments and historic sites. 

Delhi is quite commercial and modern. Although I did find it odd to see monkeys living in the trees and medians. Not a typical sight in the US. We were warned quite seriously not to feed them. In fact, not to even walk with food in our hand as they'd come and steal it. Quite aggressive, these monkeys. In addition to monkeys and shops, there are temples everywhere. And they are beautiful. One had a massive kitchen where two meals per day are prepared and shared with pilgrims, the poor, or people just wanting to get a meal. Run by the temple and staffed with volunteers, it was amazing to see.
Pots in the "soup kitchen"
In Agra we got to visit one of the three Red Forts. Constructed of red sandstone it is beautifully carved and preserved.
Exterior wall of Red Fort
We also saw the Taj Mahal and its accompanying buildings.
The mosque at the Taj - they still have services on Fridays
The Taj - crazy beautiful
Ranthambore has a huge tiger preserve where we were lucky enough to actually see a tigress. Given that a single tiger has an average range of 9 square kilometers and that no territories overlap, it was amazing that we were actually that lucky.

In Jaipur we got to experience an elephant ride that took us up the hill to the top of another fort and palace combo.
Looking down on a garden
And Jaipur is also home to the Palace of Winds - a facade constructed so that the queens could observe daily life and parades without themselves being seen.

You may have heard of India's holy cows. I can tell you that cattle wander freely through city streets and traffic simply accommodates them.
Surprisingly common traffic scene
And camels are still used as working animals! Not that common, but we caught a picture or two of them in harness.
One of the few photos we managed to take of a camel
In all, a great trip. My biggest impression? Sadly, it is to say that it's incredibly dirty there. A substantial amount of air pollution and soil erosion. Litter in the streets. Noise pollution from honking horns. Fortunately, they are working to correct these issues. For example, they've switched to woven bags instead of plastic when you make a purchase and are making strides toward green energy sources. Good to hear about some positive strides. 

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.