Monday, January 28, 2019


We had a small squash that didn't survive storage so we put it out in front of the game camera. Then it snowed and got covered up by around 8 inches of snow. Eventually it got found.

A common gray squirrel and an Adirondack red squirrel dug it up and the battle commenced. 

If you look very closely you'll see that the little red squirrel actually managed to get a bite of squash. Hooray for the little guy!

Friday, January 25, 2019

The French Cleat System updated

Remember way back when - you know, long, long ago - when we put up the French Cleat System in the kitchen?  Well, we finally (finally!) made the little shelves that actually go on the darn thing. Took a while to decide what I wanted, to fit something non-essential into the project list, and to just get it done.

And I'm so happy with how it turned out.
Functional and decorative - woot!
There are shelves for supplies, recipe boxes, and a basket for printed recipes that I'm about to try. The little metal recipe box is from my Grandma and has lots of family recipe cards in it. The larger green metal box is more current and is full of 4x6 cards that I've filled with recipes I truly use. Nothing in these boxes that isn't actually made on a regular basis.
Easily reached recipes
I also wanted a box for organizing my cookbook recipes. I hate not being able to find a recipe I know I own...somewhere, in some book, maybe. So Chris built me a box that I'm using as a card catalog. Just the recipe name, cookbook title, page number, and any notes I think relevant. This way I don't have to write down the full recipe - cause why do that if I own the cookbook?  
Cherry custom box
I've also got some decorative items up there. Butter paddles that my Mom gave me before she died and a pretty blue enamelware ladle from her too. The carved wooden butcher we picked up when we lived in Poland back in 1996/97. Chris added a cleat to his back and now he has a special spot off the counter.
The cleat (and cleaver)
I asked for a cookbook rest so I could showcase what book I'm using that month. I culled quite a few of my cookbooks back in the "recipe a week" resolution period but I probably definitely need to get rid of more. So I'm looking to cook from a book a month to see if there are enough recipes to keep it or just get it from the library from now on.  
This one is a keeper
And this is the book rest. I didn't want it to function as a holder-opener (what else would you call that kind of thing?) since I don't use this counter for cooking that often. I just wanted something to show the front and this works great.
Maple with walnut accent
This is the cleat for the book rest. They look a bit clunky from the side, but on the wall, that all disappears and they do a great job of showcasing the items on them.
The cleat
I've still got room on the wall if I want to add more stuff, but for now I'm happy with the spacing and function. Everything I use regularly is in easy reach and stuff that used to take up cabinet or drawer space (I'm looking at you antique meat grinders) are now out and visible.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The big snow

Back in November we had some big snows, 6 or 8 inches at a time. That was unusual for so early in the year and we figured we were in for some serious accumulation this winter.

Pasture fence frosted
The bee hive
Since we usually just guess how much snow came down we decided to make a snow stick so we could measure it. We'd tried this last year but the stick we made was too thin and wimpy to actually see from more than a few feet away. Not this one!
The 4' mark was supposed to be a joke
We didn't have much snow on the ground when we planted it.
Visible from front door
And then we got no snow for months. Or just small amounts that actually melted off. So it sat there and looking out of place in the front yard.

Until this past weekend when we got SNOW!
9am Sunday
By the time the snowfall ended Sunday afternoon we had 22 inches. So cool (I can say that as I'm not the one who had to clear the driveway - thanks honey!).
Checking out the squirrel tunnel
Up and over!
Must. Get. Squirrels.
Wishing for snowshoes when going to get the snowshoes
Staying on top of the track
The last two days have been at or below 0F so we haven't had too much settling. But we're forecasted to be up near 30 degrees today and 39 tomorrow so we'll lose some of the fluffiness and height. I'll just be happy to not need the snowshoes to gather eggs anymore.

2018 Christmas ornament and our alternative to a tree

Boy, am I behind in posts. Oops.

Anyway, we do a special ornament for the Christmas tree every year. We try to tie it to something that's happened during the year (a trip, a new hobby, an adventure, etc) and then we write up a "year-in-review" summary and keep it in the box. Every year we pull out the ornaments, decorate the tree, and pick random summaries to read out loud.

This year, we opted not to do a tree. I do this every few years or so - just take a break from all the decorating and do a minimalist version of Christmas. Amazing how much it recharges my enthusiasm.

This year I made a book wreath. Before anyone freaks out over destroying a book - this one was already toast. I have a favorite author and book series that I read over and over. So much in fact that I end up wearing them out and purchase multiple copies anytime I see them. Fortunately he's recently released some of them as e-books so I don't have to worry about it anymore. One of the hardcover books was completely falling apart and I decided it would be a fitting tribute to recycle it. It was printed on great paper and even had deckle edges (I worked in the paper industry for ages; I know good paper!).

A bit of internet research and I had a game plan. A few evenings folding pages, and couple days stapling, gluing, and assembling, and eventually, I had this:
Took nearly 250 pages
And now that Christmas is over, I've removed the bow and put it up in my stairwell as a bookworm type decoration. Not bad.

And this year's ornament? It seemed fitting to celebrate the shoes I've made. So I shrank the pattern and made this cutie:
It's about 4 inches long
I have way too much fun doing these things.

You can just see the shoe if you zoom...

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Moving rooms around

I love my Project Room. We spent a fair amount of time designing the layout and finding or building furniture and it worked amazingly well for such a small space. It was definitely over-full and could be cramped when I had household overflow in there, but it was a nice work space.
Used for all kind of projects
In what appears to be a non-sequitur, we also love doing pottery. So much so that we purchased a pottery wheel and planned to install it in the house...somewhere. And there we hit a snag. At first we were going to just keep it on the front porch, but that would mean not using it during the winter. And winter is prime throwing time since so many outdoor chores are curtailed. That meant the Nest and the bridge were out too. No heat in those either.

The decision was to put it in the studio on the second floor. That's where Chris's music and art supplies already were so it made a certain amount of sense. Chris somehow got that heavy kick wheel up onto the bridge (he wisely did this on a day when I was off property) and then we got stuck again. Because the studio had hardwood floors. Beautiful, easily damaged by water, hardwood floors. And pottery wheels kick off water like nobody's business. At least, pottery wheels manned by newbies such as ourselves.

So the wheel just sat there for about a year, unused. Which was a bummer. Then one day, completely out of the blue, I had a thought. Why not switch my project room and the music/art room? (see, told you the topics were related.) After all, the project room has a concrete floor. A virtually indestructible concrete floor that is easy to mop. It seems so obvious now, but it's really easy to get stuck in the rut of "but this is how we designed it" or even worse "but we did all that work already". 

We left the loft bed and one file cabinet since that would give Chris plenty of space to store band-related equipment when it wasn't being used. The pottery wheel fit neatly between the wall and the bed end. 
You can even see out the windows
Chris had scavenged some marble tops and a granite countertop. He banged together temporary supports for them so we could get a feel for how the room performs. I'm sure there will, us usual, be some tweaking.
Marble tops for wedging and working (and Chris's in-process DIY drum machine)
The granite counter was put on the opposite wall on top of temporary legs and the cookbook bookcase. I can easily reach the cookbooks but they're of the way (yeah, I hate how this looks, will definitely be changing this).
Obviously not a "staged" photo
Chris is using the room and I'm sure lots of improvements will be forthcoming. For one thing it looks like a prison cell. Cold floor, bare windows, and hard surfaces. The bed is the only soft space in there both functionally and visually. Horrible.

Fortunately the new Project Room is much more cozy. Here are some quite messy shots that showcase all the storage areas and some work-in-progress for Christmas gifts.
Work bench is now an island
Antique cabinet provides lots of drawer storage
Painting area with great light
We still have a bed for napping, reading, needlework, etc while someone works at the bench. And this bed was a trundle so there is a lot of room underneath to store boxes of supplies and fabric (the trundle portion is now our porch-bed). The long window bench is the top of the optometrists cabinets that we used in the kitchen. It's on temporary legs (and in need of drawer repair) until we figure out what configuration we want for the storage area underneath. That will likely be a project for this summer though so I have lots of time to figure out how it should look/function.

I've already used this room a lot and I have to admit I like it even better than the previous space. For one thing, it's slightly bigger so it doesn't feel as cramped. Plus the light is great coming in all those windows. The only downside is that since it was originally a bedroom, the ceiling light is designed for ambiance, not working. So I need to add task lighting; I'll shop the house and see what lamps I can find.

It's been wonderful having Chris downstairs. Now he can work on songs while I'm making dinner and we can still hear each other. It doesn't feel nearly so isolated for either of us.

All-in-all, a wicked good decision and much more functional/enjoyable spaces.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Comparing Chickens

I've had my current flock for nearly 9 months now and I've noticed some significant differences between them and my last flock. Some are obviously environmental since I'm not free-ranging this flock as I did the first. But others appear to be breed specific, at least I'm assuming so.

Here's what I've noticed:

First Flock - six New Hampshire Reds bred locally and obtained at 8 weeks of age in early July 2016. They like to free-range and loved being near us while we were outside, often just hanging out with me. The first bird started laying right around 20 weeks of age and the others quickly followed with only one holdout to January of 2017. Most importantly, they laid eggs all winter. I typically got four eggs a day and frequently got six. They did very well with the cold, minimal frosting on the combs and totally willing to explore the pasture despite it being covered in snow. They were also very sweet natured and, unless they'd just laid an egg, quiet. Cooing was typical (especially if they were cuddled up around us) but the "I just laid an egg" announcements were loud and proud. In fact, you could hear them at my Dad's.
The first flock enjoying free-ranging
"You coming out to play?"
To sum up my experience with Flock #1, 6 birds from July to April, fox, 2 birds left to November. 803 eggs, $56 in purchased feed, 2 full compost bins of bedding/manure. If I'd managed to keep all six birds through that second summer I'd have had more eggs than I'd know what to do with. So I figured it a success (except for the whole fox thing) and definitely wanted to do it again.
Calm, interested, not aggressive
Hence, getting the Second Flock - this time I went to Tractor Supply and bought three Buff Orpingtons and three Black Sex-Linked. Given the fox situation, I've confined these birds to the coop, run, and fenced pasture. Now, this pasture is huge and has grass, fruit trees, and a compost bin for kitchen waste in it (the coop manure/bedding waste is in exterior bins so I don't risk the birds getting sick from eating their own poo) so there is lots to eat, scratch, and explore. That has not stopped them from making daring escape attempts. I ended up having to put up over 9 feet of fencing height to keep them from flying over and out. Pretty impressive. These birds are also more aggressive and very noisy. Now, I don't mean, attack-you-aggressive. But especially the Black Sex-Linked are right at your feet, pecking at your boots, and getting into whatever you're doing. Maybe they are bored but they're also very noisy and complain loudly all the time even when out keeping me company and helping in the garden (they're not locked up all the time - if I'm out actively doing something in the garden I have them hang out with me). This noise worries me as it's a huge lure to predators.

Checking out the dog
As for egg production, two birds started laying at week 20 and, again, all but one followed. The last bird to lay waited until December this time. They started off well with four or five eggs per day but as winter progressed they dropped off dramatically. Some days I only get one egg though three seems to be the average. I've never gotten six. The Blacks laid the most consistently when we had more daylight hours; the Buffs seem to have more skipped days. The worst layer is the bottom hen, also a Buff. As for the whole "dual-purpose" bird label, the Buffs have a decent size to them and should work but the Blacks definitely won't be worth the effort.
Gotta be in the middle of things
For cold hardiness, they hate the snow. As in, will not walk on it, hate it. Which means on nicer days when I could take them into the pines to scratch in the cleared areas, they won't come unless we shovel a path. Want to know how many times we've done that? Once. So now they hang out in the run and yell at the snow-covered pasture. Lots of yelling. They do seem to be doing okay with the cold temperatures though. No comb damage and their feet are doing well (probably because they refuse to walk on the snow).

I've added a branch to the run so they can play around and I give them stuff to peck (whole veggies, fruit) and scratch to find in the very deep hay I've put in there, so they aren't getting bored enough to peck at each other. And I'll add another bale of hay soon and let them spread it out as they will. The hay helps with insulation as well as giving them something to do.

I've pretty much decided that Flock #3 will be the New Hampshire Reds again and I'll get them from my local feed store as I did the first time.  The breed laid well, was fairly quiet, and had enough weight to serve as a dual-purpose bird.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Killing weeds on the patio

The stone patio on the east end of the house is awesome but for one small issue. We left bare soil between the rocks so that I could plant some ground cover and create islands of rock in a sea of green - poetic eh? Unfortunately, that sea of green turned into a knee-high mess of weeds. The ground cover that choked out grass in the lawn? Well, it failed to thrive in the sandy soil around the stones and the weeds quickly took over. Despite the fact that the ground cover I was using was, in fact, a weed. And here I thought I was being clever. *sigh*

So Chris and I spent a lot of time this summer filling 5-gallon bucket after bucket with weeds and taking them up to the chicken's compost area. I'm happy to report the chickens loved them and the patio is now weed free. But how to keep it that way? I've completely given up on the idea of the green sea and am perfectly willing to accept stones surrounded by dirt.

A google search for natural weed killers (the animals are out there all the time and I didn't want poison on the plants or soil) turned up a pretty common formula: 1 gallon vinegar, 1 cup salt, 1 Tbl dish soap. The vinegar is for defoliation, the dish soap helps it cling, and the salt is well, an old fashioned military solution to preventing your enemies from growing anything there ever again. Salt the soil, prevent growth - simple. So we bought a pump sprayer, filled it with the concoction, and I've been using it once a week for the latter part of the summer. And it works.

It's quick to do, easy, and the gallon lasted me most of July and August. I figure I'll use it more heavily in the spring and be able to do basic maintenance all summer. I plan to try just salt  water once I get to the maintenance phase since I hope not to have anything to defoliate.

Not sure if I'll actually leave the dirt or start to fill in with small stones. If I can keep the weeds from growing at all, I think the small rocks would look cool - sort of like a stream bed around the bigger stones. Can't seem to let go of that "island" dream...