Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 27, 2017

There is always something to do at a farm/homestead.  We made Christmas presents and had a great celebration with our families.

We used the skills that we have learned here to make a custom slipcover for a sofa for my daughter and her husband, build a glider for my son, sew presents to warm up his girlfriend and make a leaning ladder bathroom shelving unit (an Ana White design) for my oldest daughter.  The part that I enjoyed most about the gifts was spending enough time with them to figure out what they really wanted/needed.  I think, too often, we forget that part.

A gift to ourselves was our "solar clothes dryer."  We wanted to make it so that it is convenient to use, so we put up the kind with pulleys and ran it from our back deck to our barn.  We also made a clothespin holder out of an empty apple cider vinegar bottle.

It was also time to plant our pollinator flower seeds.  As we are planning to change our front pasture into a rotational pasture where everything is rotated (including the animals and the garden), we decided to plant the seeds up front.  The seeds were a gracious gift from RAFI, Rural Advancement Foundation International for their pollinator project.  They can be found HERE   Thanks Kelli!  We first tilled a row all across the front of our farm, scattered the seeds by hand from buckets, then drew a log across the row to press them into the ground.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December 19, 2018

We have been spending much of our time making Christmas presents, and since Christmas is not the "ghost of Christmas past" yet, I can't show what we have been working on.  However, I can show you what looks like a character from that movie.  My husband read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" for his school's Band concert (the band(s) are excellent - we so enjoyed the show.  Go ERHS Band and Ms. Perez!)  I made his costume to look like the character I remembered from the book.  He did an excellent job with the reading as well.  I am so proud!  We also used this picture for our Christmas card which includes our own Twas the Night Before Christmas poem. 

Another adventure I have had is something I have been wanting to do for a while now, and that is making soap.  So many times you read about how to do something, and it just seems to bring fear about trying it.  I am here to say, "Fear Not!  I bring you good tidings of great joy!"  It is not as hard as some people make out, and maybe not as precise as some make you believe.  I mean just think about the pioneers and what lack of equipment they had.  What I didn't have, though, that the pioneers probably had is someone to show me how from another generation.  So for the first time, it is good to follow the directions and be safe.  I got the scale and the stick blender, and we already had safety glasses and gloves.  Little did I know that after four twenty second intervals of use, the stick blender would die (the instructions that we went back and read said not to run it for a full minute.  Even though I let it rest between the 20 second intervals, it apparently needed more rest.)  We made the soap mold out of scrap lumber.

The soap did not come off perfectly per the instructions and the stick blender dying did not help.  Even after much hand stirring, it didn't seem to "trace".  However, I poured it into the mold anyway, and it seems to have done just fine.  I decided to use my food dehydrator to cure it on, since it is already equipped with the ventilated shelves and I am not using it at the moment.  I found out from a youtube video that lard soaps seem to require more stirring before they trace, so that may be why.

One Christmas present I can show you is the angel my youngest daughter crocheted for me to put in the package for my four year old Angel Tree recipient.  I just traced and and stuffed an angel to sew it to.  I am so glad God stocks families with persons that have different strengths!

Home Theater

I realized as I was going to show yet another person our home theater system that we put in this summer that I did not include it in the blog.  It solved so many problems for us.  We got rid of those ugly cables, we added a sound system and imbedded the speakers into the wall (which also brought back the ability to listen to music), and we focused the screen area in a place that can be seen by anyone in the kitchen, dining room or living area.  While we don't watch TV much and don't subscribe to cable, we like to watch occasional movies and youtube videos and love being able to put it on a big screen.  While we were putting in the floors and had places to run the cables readily available, we went ahead and added the home theater.  Because the hole in the wall need to be off center (and I need a symmetrical layout for peace), we had to problem solve for that and came up with painting a triptych and putting one of the paintings on drawer sliders to cover the hole.

The other side of the wall is our pantry, and since we still had temporary shelving in there, we decided to go ahead and build our pantry shelves to coincide and accommodate the stereo equipment.  You will see a painted screen made from scrap lumber and a roll of screen we already had is covering the equipment to allow it to breathe, but not be seen.  I mean, the whole point was to get rid of the wires, right? 

The other thing my husband did that we love, is when he was putting in the electrical for the surround sound, he put in a switch to turn all the equipment off at once, including the sound piece (subwoofer?) on the other side of the room.  Since we are trying to go off grid, we want to make sure there is no wasted electricity.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 30, 2017 Part Two

Too many things going on to put it all in one blog post.  One of the things I LOVE about DIY is having leftover materials to do another project.  For example, when I decided that I figured out why Christmas decorations have been annoying me all these years is that not only do you drag out extra clutter, but because it is not in the same color scheme as your decorating, the visual chaos is upsetting.  This year I decided to do something about this and change all of my Christmas decorations to match my accent colors of purple and green.  The great thing about this is since I have been decorating with purple and green, I had lots of materials to choose from.  I had enough material leftover from upholstering my barstools and covering the chair cushions on the porch to make a tree skirt. 

When I looked at my stairs with all the burgundy and gold stockings, I knew something had to be done.  So with additional leftover material from the barstools, as well as leftover material from making my bedroom curtains, I decided to make new stockings.  I just created a pattern from one of the old ones, cut them out, and sewed them together.  The feeling of peace I get from them being in harmony with the room is amazing.  Why did it take me so long to realize this about Christmas decorations?

Next, I wanted to put together a new decoration for my front door, so I came up with some wood trees, made with the leftover strips of plywood we had from replacing the subfloor of our main floor this winter to put down wood floors  (talk about scrap wood).  I was amazed that they came out looking just like the ones that were in my head and I created them to fit in the planters we already had by the front door so I didn't have to find another place for them.  For the bottoms, I made some heavy cross pieces to keep them upright.  My husband helped me to toenail them onto the cross pieces.  Bless that man for helping me with all of my crazy ideas and all his handy skills!  I did spend $2 on this project ($1 per tree) to buy some glittery snowflake stickers from the dollar tree.  The green paint was left over from painting our front door (what do you know, it matches perfectly!) and I just used some purple acrylic paint I had, along with some white acrylic paint to add splashes of white paint (snow) to the tree to tie it in with the snowman wreath I made last year.  If you look carefully into the background, you can also see the cushion covers on the chairs that are made from the same fabric as the tree skirt and stockings.  Then add a little greenery provided free by nature and voilá!

November 30, 2017

Heating seems to be the order of the day around here.  The nights have been around 30, and the days in the 50's and 60's.  So far this winter, we have had the heater on for 2 days.  That was before we got the wood stove thoroughly installed.  Now that we have the wood stove, we haven't turned it back on.  Our house is really efficient, we designed it as a passive solar with most of the glass on the south, and have flash and batt insulation.  The addition of a wood stove and a lean-to greenhouse on the southern side has made it about perfect.  So far, we are usually only putting a fire in the wood stove in the mornings, and opening our bedroom windows about 10 am to let the sun heat the house for the rest of the day and store heat for overnight.  This minimizes wood collection.  Since we installed the wood stove late, we bought one load of wood for $40 (very good deal), and have gone to collect some already felled wood that we split ourselves for the price of two cartons of eggs from a neighbor.   My husband and I made a good team, with him doing the splitting and me loading the truck.  I did give the splitting a try, and found that I am more successful with the wedge and sledge hammer than the splitting maul my husband likes to use for speed.  He does tell me that the red oak we were splitting is very hard wood, though, so maybe I can try a different wood in the future.  We love having a fire in the morning while we are enjoying our coffee.  I told my husband I feel like I am at a Swiss Chalet, it seems so luxurious watching the flames.

Having a wood stove brings with it a number of issues to solve.  We are well on our way to finding permanent solutions for most of them.  The first one we solved was where we were going to store the wood, and how to get it close to retrieving without having to re-stack it.  Research brought me to a wood caddy on wheels, so I set about constructing one. It works great but still needs some tweaking.  I am not happy with the wobble in the top and plan to add some stability in that area when it is not stacked so full.  Additionally, I designed it so we could use the top of it as a work surface when we were grilling out or doing our canning on the propane fish fryer.  However, I still have not decided what kind of countertop I want to put on it that will be waterproof (keeping the wood dry), that I will be able to slant (since the wood sits under the eave of the house and I want the water to roll off), and that will last.  Currently we are keeping a tarp on the top until we come up with a good solution and make time for that.

Then there is the problem of how to haul enough wood in the house so we don't have to keep opening the door (counter productive), as well as not having to re-stack it once we get it in, and solving the problem of how to store it inside.  I had thought of a metal wagon, but we did not have one and I was surprised at how much they cost.  Then someone from Off Grid and Homesteading Ladies suggested a hand truck.  We happened to have one just sitting around, so once we gave it a trial run and decided we loved the look of it inside in it's laying down position, I painted it to match our wood stove and it solved that problem.  I love that the profile is so nice and low that it works well in front of the window.

Then there is the problem of cleaning out the ashes.  When I was trying to figure out what to do with this, I read several accounts of issues I wanted to solve from reading people's complaints.  One was I wanted it to have a lid so it wouldn't blow around the ashes  and it would keep the ashes dry, and the second was I wanted it to have feet so if there were hot coals in it, it wouldn't burn the floor.  I was thinking of a bucket with lid on a low plant stand when I ran across this old coal hod that I found on Ebay.  It was not in very good shape when I bought it, so the first thing I did was sand it down and repaint it with high heat barbecue grill paint.  As the hand truck full of wood already took up a lot of space, we decided to keep it just outside the door, since we don't have to clean out the ash all that often yet.  The bucket that hold the ash is a great design that tips easily into the wood stove door so we can just scrape the ash and coal into the bucket.  I had read that some people keep it inside in a room that is distant from the fire for an additional heat source with the hot coals inside.

We still have to find the right tools for the wood stove, especially an ash shovel.  As our fire box is small, it is difficult to find one that has a short enough handle.  In the meantime, we are making do with what we have.  A spatula (that is being missed in the kitchen) and a set of barbecue tongs. . .

On other matters, we processed another steer, this one being larger than the last at 1320 pounds, with the carcass weight being 833.  Our freezer overfloweth.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 7, 2017

Finally, our wood stove is installed.  You ever do something that really doesn't take long, but it is so challenging it seemed like it took forever?  I would land our wood stove in that category.  The main thing that made it so challenging was my husband insisted on doing it himself (with me as the general helper and gopher), and it was done on our 12/12 pitch roof which is very steep.  Since it was on the side of the house with the walk out basement, it was also two stories up.  He also did it with rudimentary equipment, using a 75 foot rope tied to the beam of our front porch and thrown over the roof to tie around himself so he could work on the incline and use two hands.  We were both quite stressed out when he was up there.  Of course being the gopher sending things up in a bucket or climbing up on the ladder with items falling in your direction was a little scary as well.  Honestly the short days this time of year did not help.  Imagine not only the challenges I mentioned before, but doing it with a headlight on your head when you are still working after dark at the end of a work day.  Once we got the right adapter, that part went in well.  I think the harder part was putting in the extension bracket to hold up our tall chimney since it had to extend two feet above anything within a ten foot diameter.  Another challenge was finding the roof rafters to nail in the pieces to that attach to the extension bracket for a solid hold.  Then everything had to be caulked in anticipation of the rain that is supposed to be coming all this week.  Anyway, we are looking forward to being able to watch the fire in the wood stove on a cool evening and enjoying relatively free heat.  Thanks so much to our friend Don who let us borrow the roof scaffolding, as it made a great place to set tools, provided something to stand on, and provided an extra stop should my husband happen to fall.  We also borrowed the ladder stabilizer from Don.  What a great friend and neighbor!

I finished one more thing on our to do list that has been waiting for a few years to get finished.  That was the last part of the rails for the stairs from our back deck.  Yay!!  Off the list.  I didn't realize that lifting the drill and impact over my head all afternoon would effect my shoulder so badly (Thanks so much honey for all you do for us!).  To add insult to injury (literally), when I was putting in the last screw, a yellow jacket came and stung me on the same shoulder.  I am still glad I accomplished it.  Pushing myself to new challenges makes me feel really good about myself.

Part of my weekly routine is getting together stuff for my husband's lunches and to go breakfasts.  Every week, I make bread for sandwiches, a dessert, and usually some kind of muffins that I keep in the refrigerator ready for each day of the week.  It is so nice to have this in routine fashion so I don't have to make a decision every day.  Often, I lay out all his usual lunch dishes, then proceed with filling each one, which makes it pretty easy to put it together in the mornings even before your coffee has activated.  I made a cloth lunch bag just the right size to fit all of his lunch containers and have long enough handles so it could be hands free when draped over the arm.  The upholstery fabric and french seams made it very durable, so it has lasted about 8 years so far.  If you think about it and you take it to work every day from age 20 to 65 instead of going to Starbucks for coffee ($2.61 or more vs. $.20), McDonalds for breakfast ($6.39 vs. $.12), and out to lunch with co-workers ($10 vs. $1.00), you will save an average of  $17.68 per day, $388.96 per month, $4,667.52 per year, and $210,038.40 over your lifetime of working, enough to pay cash for a fairly nice house.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 31, 2017

Always stuff to do.  We have been working on installing the wood stove, had finished the interior work and were planning to do the exterior work.  After cutting the hole in the roof, we found we did not have the right adapter for a 12/12 pitch roof and no amount of finagling could alter the one we had without us worrying about leakage, so we had to stop and order the right piece, and will have to put it off for another week.  A construction garbage bag served as a temporary method of stopping leaks from happening.

I tried my hand at freezing eggs.  Thanks to the ladies at Off Grid and Homesteading Ladies Facebook page, I learned that I needed to scramble the yolks.  I froze them in muffin tins so I would be able to get out 1 egg at a time once I switched them to a freezer bag.  The picture shows them just before I took a fork and scrambled the yolks.  Often during the winter when there is less light and the chickens are molting, our egg production slows down or stops.

I designed and painted a barn quilt for our barn.  None of the traditional ones seem to fit us, so I made our heart and grape design in a geometric pattern.  Here's an in-progress look at it.  I still need to frame it and put it up on the barn.  It's 3 feet by 3 feet.

We are finished with painting the body of the barn and priming the trim.  I was able to do most of it, but when I got to the very high parts, my courageous husband took over on the extension ladder to help finish it.  Now I have got to finish the trim in a semi gloss, but I'm taking a break due to the fact that going up and down the ladders seems to have made my knees really sore.

We got together with our Dinner for Eight friends and had a great time at the Dunbars where their home really is their castle.  Here is a picture of their dungeon.  Since the dinner was Halloween themed, I volunteered to bring ice cream Sundaes with chocolate mice on top (made from long stemmed maraschino cherries dipped in chocolate, Hershey kisses, sliced almond ears, and frosting eyes.)

We took our Black Angus steer to the processor in our horse trailer.  He was not happy to be in there and busted out both of our windows (or perhaps it would have been smarter of us to open them first.)  Thankfully they were plastic so they didn't hurt him.  We were concerned at one point that he would push the window trim right off and the whole thing would land on someone behind us.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  The trailer was a mess when we brought it home and had to be cleaned.  The pressure washer makes quick work of that.  If you have any billiard skills, that would also come in handy, because if you can calculate where the water is going to land when you spray it and it ricochets off the sides, you might end up with a lot less muck on you.  I never was very good at that.

Being the fall, it is a great time to plant trees.  We have planted eight of them this past weekend:  magnolia (part of our winter windbreak plan), a hybrid chestnut, a Blackyork Cherry, a Blackgold Cherry, an Oracle Almond, a Hardy Giant Pecan, and two Surecrop Pecans.  The Magnolia we got from my mom and the hybrid chestnut we bought on clearance when it was dead looking for a few dollars and brought them home to put in the shade under our deck where we had easy access to water and my husband watered them during their first summer.  The rest we got at a local Southern States that had some very large trees.  We have found that the more mature they are, the less likely they will die and we will have to replant them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19, 2017

Not having enough rain necessitated running the cattle around the yard.  At first we just made a path from the front pasture to the back so they could get to the growing area.  It still delayed rain except for a few sprinkles here and there, and the cattle had soon eaten up the forage in that area.  Then we extended the electric fence into the backyard and other garden (aka, the chicken garden used for growing chicken food) so they could find more to eat.  I learned that cattle like to eat mums.  Who knew?  While they were out of the front pasture, I finished painting the logo on the horse trailer and sanded and painted the rust spots out so it will last for us for a while.  Now it is all ready to train our steer to eat in the back of it, getting ready for his appointment at the processor.  Additionally, I finally got around to painting the plywood on the back of the chicken tractor to make it last longer.

When the cattle finished eating what there was to eat and it was time to move them back to the front pasture, I was very proud of myself for getting them all to the front pasture together.  They do have a mind of their own and they do not always hang out together, so I had to gather them from two different places and hop electric wires to avoid getting jostled.

After getting them back into the front pasture, I removed the temporary electric fence that my husband had put up and fixed it for storage.  He told me that the wires get tangled when I just loop them, so he asked me to please wind them around something when I picked them up.  I looked around and found a small piece of wire shelving that was not in use and looked like the perfect instrument to wind up three different wires.  It was wide enough to allow me to wind two wires separately while I was headed down the fence line, and the last wire in the middle, so it was perfect.

Another project I had been wanting to do was to use some partial deck rails to finish up the deck by the barn loft.  I had already taken them apart.  When they were laying in a pile, they were just junk, but when put to use in a good way they are now useful.  My husband has been such a good teacher when it comes to building projects that while I am used to doing them with him and him usually taking the lead, when I was doing this by myself, his voice was with me every step of the way reminding me how to do it.

Last but not least, we have been making progress on installing our wood stove and can't wait until we get to see the fire burning in it.  So far we have installed the box in the ceiling and leveled the stove pipe.  We had to move it over about 3 inches in order to line up with the opening left by the placement of the ceiling joists and keep the stove pipe level, but it wasn't bad.  I will have to live with it not being in the exact center. . .

Monday, October 9, 2017

October 9, 2017

Moving on in my chores, but still painting.  Since finishing the plumbing shed, I have moved on to the barn and have finished getting the paint on the lower half of the barn and priming the trim.  I need to figure out how to paint the top of the barn.  We are looking at some scaffolding, but I wish we could figure it out without having to spend money. . .As you can see, while I am working on covering the trim, I am also working on making all the buildings up around the house to match the house and each other.

While my husband and I are trying to figure out how to paint the top of the barn, I am spending my time working on the rusty spots on the horse trailer as well as trying to get our logo on it.  It is a work in progress.

Another work in progress is the install of the wood stove to try to get it ready for this winter.  Here is my husband working on it, after cutting the hole in the ceiling to run the stove pipe out of the roof.  We discovered while working on it that we are missing some parts, so had to take time out to order them.  Hopefully, they will be in by next weekend and we can make more progress.

After transferring the cattle to the back pasture, we discovered that they were really enjoying our sweet potatoes.  At first, we thought them eating the plant was going to be a huge advantage since we normally have to cut the vine before we harvest.  Then we discovered that they were kicking up the sweet potatoes and eating them, so we had to take some time out to harvest them.  Many of them were damaged, so we are trying an experiment by cutting off the damaged part, laying them spaced apart so they won't touch each other to dry the cut portion, and crossing our fingers that they won't rot. Wish us luck!  Some of the sweet potatoes were so large that I took a sweet potato casserole to a neighborhood potluck and the whole thing was made with one potato.

We also harvested 5 gallons and one quart of peppers, some basil and some cayenne peppers that are drying in the greenhouse with the sweet potatoes.

Oh, and I want to give a shout out to our new friends at Providence Farm.  They are getting into providing educational programs at their farm, and we got to enjoy a conference on rotational grazing called "Growing and Grazing" from speaker Steven Moize.  It was excellent!  If you get a chance to join the Cobbs on one of their events, you will enjoy it!