Friday, December 30, 2016

A New Mattress

Mattresses are funny things. They are critical to a good nights rest yet we choose them based on 5 minutes of weirdness laying atop them in a store. Or we order them online and hope for the best. At least the online versions now come with 100-night guarantees, right? Although the materials are typically non-sustainable, chemical-laden, and smelly. And the cost? Ouch. But what are you gonna do? You can't just accept back pain and poor sleep, right? You gotta get a new mattress when it's time.

When our mattress gave out we figured we'd do some research before spending a small fortune on a new one. Looked at both commercial mattresses and DIY mattresses (straw anyone?). And eventually found someone who sells - wait for it - buckwheat hull mattresses! And we decided, despite the cost (less than a commercial mattress but not cheap) and the risk (no return policy), to take the chance. Yes - that's right, we're officially hippies. We now have an organic mattress that we constructed ourselves. 

This is what it looked like when it arrived:

Our new bed
5 boxes, 37 pounds each, of washed organic buckwheat hulls. And one box of woven cotton sleeves for forming the pods. The UPS man thought it was hilarious.
Buckwheat hulls
 You fill the sleeve with 5 pounds of hulls and then tie it into a pod.

The first pod
Then you pile them up next to each other in a staggered pattern to form the mattress. We put them on the guest bed so we'd have a staging area. Chris couldn't resist giving them a try.

Testing it out
Doesn't look comfy, does it? We were having serious doubts at this point. But we persevered and filled at the pods. We then moved them into the permanent bed frame, covered them with a quilt for padding, and went to bed.
In their permanent configuration 
And here's the thing - they're not comfortable in the traditional mattress sense. You don't lie down and go "ahhhh". But you do a wiggle and a scrunch and your whole body is cradled perfectly and before you know it it's morning and you've slept better than you have in years. No waking up with a sore back. Or a sore knee. Or a sore anything.

We've had it for two months now and we love it. If the pods get a bit squished, you just poof them up when you make the bed in the morning. If sometime in the far future they fail to poof up, you order some more hulls at a very reasonable price and replace those pods, not the entire mattress. And when you're eventually ready for a whole new bed you take them out to your garden and compost them. No landfill waste.

We will wear the hippie label with pride showing in our well-rested eyes.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Merry Christmas to All

I confess I wasn't feeling very Christmassy this year.  In fact, this is the sum total of holiday decorating that I did:

No tree. No ceramic statues. No stockings. We bought a new bed in November and decided that would be our only gift this year, so no presents wrapped and waiting to be opened.

But despite having none of the trapping of the season, we still celebrated. We read Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" aloud over several weeks (if you haven't ever done this, I strongly recommend it. It's quite funny and you get more out of it hearing it out loud).  We spent time making gifts for family and friends. And Christmas morning we got up at 5:30AM, had waffles for breakfast, and went for a long walk in our woods. 

Woodpecker nest 
Armed and dangerous 
He missed
Hunting mice
Looking way up
However you may have celebrated the holiday, I hope it was as full of joy, wonder, and beauty; and here are best wishes for a happy 2017.

Preparing for Christmas

I spent most of December prepping Christmas gifts. I love this time of year - making stuff I think the family will use, having fun with new skills, experimenting on those I love.

In addition to the edible stuff I give I made veggie hods to serve as gift baskets. The whole family gardens to some extent or another so I figured it'd be functional as well as pretty. I've already been informed by some recipients that they're way too nice to put dirty potatoes in though so they'll be using them in the house for yarns, plant holders, etc. Mine? Out to the garden!

I love my project room
Veggie hod under construction
For my Grand-neice I got to practice my sewing skills. She needed clothes for her doll. She's too young to easy tie things yet so everything had to slide on or have snaps. I confess I learned a lot (which means I made mistakes, obviously) but I have high hopes for improvements in time for her birthday in March.

Lettuce-edge refashioned onesie
The outfits
I need to work on my tailoring...
 I also took some Pinterest inspiration and made button ornaments.

And for this year's special ornament I blew out the first chicken egg laid on the property and added some jewelry ornamentation. I thought about painting it or something but decided it was pretty just as it was - so I just labeled and dated it.
"The First Egg"
Now it's time to clean up the project room and start doing some of those items from the winter project list. Like making more doll stuff!

My first quilt project

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kitchen cabinetry

We have officially started on the kitchen cabinetry. This is a huge deal for us - we've been in the house 3 years and I've been using the time to figure out exactly what I want for kitchen layout, cabinetry, and maximum functionality. We've obviously been working on lots of other projects during this time and the kitchen finally worked its way to the top of the list.

The wood that we cut into boards is now dry and ready to be worked. Chris opted to send it to a local mill rather than planing it himself. Well worth it! Cost only $100 to get a truck load of wood planed smooth. And given that about half of it was ash (a super hard wood), we probably saved nearly that much in blades. Okay, not that bad, but it was still worth it.

Next we finalized the design of the sink cabinet and Chris got to work building.

Cherry facia on a plywood carcass 
We once again used the carport for assembling the cabinet carcass. It's been great having that available for extra work space.
Good weather for building
I kept busy nearby so that I'd be on hand if he needed, well, a hand. I'm spray-painting a set of old sewing table legs. They were heavily rusted so I had to do a bit of scrubbing with the wire brush and steel wool first, but they cleaned up great. Not positive how I'm going to use them yet, but they look cool in the meantime.
For a future project - kitchen shelves maybe?
I wanted a wood plank countertop and we spent some effort figuring to how to stain it. Ended up using vinegar and steel wool to create a stain then using mineral oil to finish it. We created the stain (1 steel wool pad left in 4 cups of white vinegar) and then used it on a story board to see how many days we wanted to let it cure before using it.
This is an ash board (same wood as I'm going to use for the countertops). Far right is just oil, no stain. Then, moving left, 3-day aged stain with 1 coat then 2; 5-day aged stain, 1 coat then 2; and 7-day aged stain. The stain got more red the longer it sat in solution. I really liked the more black stain so a 3-day solution it would be.
Testing stain
Once the carcass was built and the countertop was ready, Chris disconnected the sink that I'd been using for 3 years and moved it out to the garage where it belongs. Of course this meant I'd be doing dishes in the garage until we could get the new sink moved and connected.
Out with the old...
Moving the new cabinet into place was no big deal. Love the French front doors! That wide opening makes it really easy to move things in and out.
New cabinet
 Then we moved in the new countertop.
Unfinished ash counter
That was heavy. Chris built it in two pieces so he could more easily adjust for the new sink. He'd be able to custom cut the basin hole and the support holes if everything was in place.
Before joining
Aged stain - 10 days on left, 3 days on right
He built a caliper out of scrap lumber to make sure he had the sink basin dimensions correct and then got to work cutting into the newly created countertop.
Not nervous at all
We had two guys help us move the extremely heavy antique porcelain cast-iron sink into the kitchen and we put it up on blocks so it hovered over the counter. Then Chris wedged himself into the cabinet to cut out the holes for the extra sink supports. Not sure if you've ever looked underneath an antique sink like this, but there are knobs and fins and protrusions that allow many different mounting options. Made it tricky to put on a flat counter.
Cooper helpful as always
 Since the sink was still hovering, it was easy to stain the countertop in place.
There is an initial coat of stain on this. Honest.
When you put the vinegar/steel wool stain on initially, it looks like nothing. Just kind of wet. But 15 minutes later, it's darkened to this.
Getting darker 
And the second coat
Here's the thing with natural, non-commercial stain. You're never sure just what it's going to do.
Remember how I liked the black stain best? And how we therefore very carefully timed the solution to match? Yeah. This isn't black.
Apparently this particular batch of boards has more tannin in it than the story board did. A few areas are blackish, but mostly it's red. Which raises the question what's going to happen to the rest of the counters as we build them? And before you say we should have done them all at one so that we had a consistent batch of stain, know that it wasn't the stain - we did yet another test board before doing the countertop and it came out black too. So we merrily went on to stain the counter and BOOM! Red. 
Applying oil to seal
It actually looks a bit like walnut once it's oiled, so not really a bad thing. Just surprising given all the testing we did.

Am I worried? No. There are black areas and we've decided to let the next batch of stain age 5 days to purposely get a more red result just to try for some level of consistency. But really, it's hard to argue with what the wood wants to do. We'll just accept that nature sometimes throws you a curveball and move along.

I'll have another post soon on the finished sink area and plans for turning the corner to the stove.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Random chicken pictures

I've been seeing lots of pictures of chicken jungle gyms on Pinterest lately. I love this idea, especially for winter. Give them something to do and hopefully they'll peck each other less. 

And do I think they'll actually use them?

Stair climb
Climbing Wall
Balance Beam
Yes, yes I do.
And do you notice that there is inevitably one chicken giving me the stink eye? Don't believe me? Check out that first photo again; it's the one in the bottom left corner.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Organizing the garage workshop

Chris is getting ready to start my kitchen cabinets and figured it'd be a good idea to organize the garage woodworking shop before starting.

So everything got pulled off the metal shelves and mounded into the middle (and out in the driveway and in the carport). It made a heck of a mess.

Gotta get worse before it gets better
Then he mounted the wood storage racks on the south wall, rearranged the drill press and tool boxes, and installed the dust collection system.
This is actually quite neat
Finally he moved the metal storage racks into the middle of the garage between the small and large bays. This effectively split the garage into a wood shop (large bay) and car shop (small bay).

There is a truck hidden over there
Once the house is done he'll start working on the hobby truck again. In the meantime, the shop is organized and it's much easier to work on large projects. Like the kitchen.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bacon Cheddar Onion Scones

Felt like having a substantial breakfast this morning so started looking for savory scone recipes. Ended up getting inspiration from two on-line recipes combined with the sweet scone recipe I typically make. Here's what I came up with:

Savory, salty, cheesy goodness
Bacon Cheddar Onion Scones
(you'll need a scale for this):
8 1/2 ounces flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbl baking powder
2 1/4 ounces frozen butter, grated
3/4 ounce shortening
3 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 ounce finely diced red onion
5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in large bowl. Add grated butter and shortening, cut into dry ingredients, leaving pea size pieces. Toss in cheese, onion, and bacon.
In small bowl, combine eggs and milk. Add to dry ingredients - use a rubber spatula to gently work mixture until mostly combined (there will be some dry flour left in the bowl).
Turn out onto lightly floured surface and gently bring together into roughly a 3 x 10 inch rectangle. Cut into 4 squares then into triangles for a total of 8 scones.
Place on parchment lined half sheet pan, leaving at least an inch between each.
Bake for 25 minutes and remove to rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Some notes:
You want 3 ounces total of cold fat - I like the combination of butter and shortening as I think it makes a tender scone.
Don't overwork the dough at any stage else it'll get tough.

These really came out great. The cheese melted at the edges to form a salty crust and the onion was just a hint of flavor, not overpowering at all.

Light interior texture with crispy cheese outside

Friday, November 4, 2016

October duties: planting green manure and carving pumpkins

All summer we've been slowly working on the old camp area. When we bought the property there was a deep hollow in amongst some trees. The hollow was the caved-in foundation of a burned-out camp. Well, actually a wee house as it was lived in full time. As this was the sunniest spot on the property we decided to make it the future garden area. 

Over time we've harvested the trees (one of which is destined to be my dining table), leveled much of the land, and created garden space. The coop is up there, we'll be adding fruit trees to the North end, and we recently found a great section of basement foundation that we want to turn into a pit greenhouse. Much to do and it's all very raw at the moment.

In an effort to actually start to develop good soil we bought some winter seed to amend the soil. Green manure is typically a mix of winter rye, field peas, crimson clover, and similar plants that you plant in late summer/early fall. Then, once it comes in, you either let it die off for erosion control or till it into the soil while still young to help fix nitrogen and provide nutrients for next spring's crop.

We missed the planting deadline for the full mix so just purchased winter rye. We also bought some hay as crop cover. Normally you don't want hay since it still has seed heads which can weed up your soil, but since we're tilling this in anyway it shouldn't do us too much harm. 

Moving hay around
You can see how dry and barren the soil is. It needs help.
Spreading seed
Now, while the seed quietly does it's thing, we decided to enjoy some of the gorgeous fall weather and carve a pumpkin. Cooper and the chickens helped.
Materials inspection
Testing water temperature
The creative process
"Here?" "Yeah, cut there"
Enjoying pumpkin goop
Checking out the end result
Camouflage chicken