Monday, April 7, 2014

Quilts, and chicks, and mushrooms - oh my!

I was doing so well there in February, and then off the bandwagon I fell!

The first part of March I was spending all my spare time working on this:

It's a baby quilt for a friend. The pattern is a version of Disappearing 9-Patch and the quilting stitch pattern is called Sticky Buns. I had a friend quilt it for me - goodness I love having my quilts done on machine now!

C. loved the quilt, so that was a success!

About a week after that, we got new chicks!

The last batch is now about two and a half years old. Jeremy thought it was time to replace them. I don't think they're slowing down laying all that much, though maybe a little, but we are still working on the elusive flock that will be the perfect balance of meat and egg birds and winter hardy. Especially after this winter we had. Yikes!  So this new batch includes Americauna, Dominique, Light Brahma, and Delaware. We're trying out roosters again so we'll see what happens this time. 

In the video and picture they're a day old or so. Now they're just under two weeks old and they're so much bigger!  They've got wing and shoulder feathers and some of them have tail feathers coming in. We've already had to double their brooder size.
Some day soon we'll have to take care of the adult hens.  They'll be going in the freezer to make room for the new batch coming in. The five that were hatched last year and year before will be getting a new home with my sister-in-law.  Those chickens still have some good laying time left!

Ah, and here are the big girls last Friday, very unimpressed with our big snow day.

Now, the other thing I spent a lot of time working on in March was helping Jeremy get ready for his Kickstarter campaign.  This was a good time to do it so crammed to do a lot of planning and organizing and prepping.  The campaign went live on April 1st. Jeremy had a little launch party for it and I made some Reishi mushroom chocolate brownies for the affair.

That's a piece of dried reishi in front. Jeremy borrowed a food mill from a neighbor to grind the reishi up into powder and I mixed it into the brownie batter.  They were pretty good - though I didn't think they tasted any different from the regular kind. =)

So the Kickstarter campaign is what I'll be spending the rest of my month on.  Jeremy is trying to raise money to build a hoop house for fruiting mushrooms. This will help him expand his farm and grow way more mushrooms than he has been able to.

I'm trying to pace myself on posting about it. I don't want to get too obnoxious. But I think I might start a crazy blitz of posting soon. Pledges aren't coming in as much as I had thought (and I think far less than Jeremy had thought). We still have three weeks left, but my optimism is starting to waver a bit.

In any case, I haven't posted as much about Jeremy's mushroom farm recently because he has his own website and blog (and Facebook page!). But that all continues on and often feels like a big focus of what's going on.  You can check out his Kickstarter page to see video of him and the farm, learn about the project, and all sorts of stuff, here: Please consider chipping in and/or telling everyone you know about this!

In other news, we still have the dog. Jeremy likes her a lot; I can't wait for someone to adopt her.  I suppose partly it's because she's a puppy and this is the way they are, but she just has WAY too much energy for me.
And last, but not least, our bees made it through the winter! Yay!  Hopefully I'll get some pictures or video sometime soon to prove it.  I'm so impressed with them.  I mean, this winter was ridiculously cold. I can't believe they survived.  I guess we did things right, and they were just hardy.  I'm looking forward to maybe getting some honey this year!

Sunday, February 9, 2014


As I briefly mentioned in my last post, we've decided to try fostering a dog. Jeremy has been wanting to get one for awhile, to have on car trips to the farm, at the farm, at home with him during the day, etc. Basically, we're buying him a friend. 

But hold on! You can't just get any old dog! You can't take it back to the store after 3 days if it doesn't work out for you - this is a lifetime commitment! (Well, I know some people get rid of animals like that. Grr.)

One way to get around that is to foster. It's a much shorter time commitment and it gives you a chance to save a dog's life and figure out if having this creature is such a good idea. We discovered Safe Hands Rescue, which is based right in our neighborhood. And last night we picked up our foster, Noel.  That's how they spelled it, though perhaps it should have been spelled Noelle, or however you spell the girl version.  Anyway, it's hard to get a good picture of her because she's a bit full of energy! (Actually, right now she's conked out on the bed behind me, holding as still as ever.) 

Here she is, Miss Wiggleworm:

Kind of holding still.

You really get a better idea with a video:

Here's her walk this morning.  She LOVES diving into snow. She's also quite adept at walking and jumping a bit on her hind legs. She's like a meerkat. =) 

Nap time!

We're not quite sure what kind of dog she is - a mutt of some sort. She's about 1 year old and 29 pounds. She's a bit underweight so we're going to feed her up.  She is quite a clown when she plays with her toy. She loves to be with her people and snuggle. She doesn't seem to be trained to sit or lie down or things like that. But she's been pretty good about letting us know when she needs to go out (uh, though we're still learning how to identify that!).  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Today's project: demolition

As some of you know, getting rid of the chicken coop annex has been on the to-do list since last fall. The chickens haven't been using it and it turned out to be a bit of pain for us to use too.  We like it better having one coop for all the chickens.
It was interesting to see how the chicken society developed with two coops. Who ended up in which coop? Was there a "cool" group in one or the "outcasts" in one?  And then when it got cold more chickens moving to the coop with the heat lamp versus the sweater heater. Interesting.

Anyway, here's the annex, in all its glory. We always meant to paint it and put on an actual roof, which of course we never did get around to. Today, being an absolutely balmy 15 degrees (warm enough to snow!) we decided to tackle the demolition.

Here's a view from inside the run. Jeremy is shoveling the snow off the roof before we get started. There used to be roofing paper on the roof parts, but time, weather, and various birds pretty much destroyed it.

Starting to see the original brooder now. This whole annex was built from our brooder, which we built for our first batch of chicks in 2009. Jeremy built the walls up, added some shims, put in some rigid insulation, sheathing on the outside, voila! Chicken coop! Here though, all the exterior sheathing and insulation has been removed.

Here's the outside now. Next to go is the roof...

Timmmmbeeerrrrrr! =)

After the roof was off it was a simple matter of 1...


3... done!

I cleaned up the scraps while Jeremy moved that brooder box back into the house, and it was as if there had never been an annex out there! Well... I guess you might wonder why there is a door sticking off the side of the coop.

Obviously we need to do something about that gaping hole before we can let the chickens out. Luckily (??) we're supposed to be down to -20 the next couple days so we won't be letting the chickens out anyway.  Hopefully that's enough time to paint some wood to make the new fence we've been planning. Jeremy's plan is to move that gate over to the far right and then make a small covered area where the door is now.  That will help keep some area of the run right outside their door dry and snow free. Pics when we get to that...eventually.

Now we're just thawing out inside and biding our time.  We've decided to foster a dog - see if having a dog works for us - and our foster dog will be ready for pick-up tonight at 9:30.  Yikes!  Hopefully this won't become a dog blog. =)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ticker tape owl

I have a sewing blog for this type of thing now, but I'm lazy, so I'm posting here instead.

An online sewing friend recently said something about making a "ticker tape quilt." I had no idea what she was talking about.  There was a picture and a link so I followed and went down that rabbit hole. Wow!  There are some really cool ticker tape quilts out there! And what a great way to use up the loads of scraps I have. I wrote down some instructions and stashed them away, another item on my long "things I want to do someday" list.

And then a couple days later I had some free time and didn't feel like spending it cleaning/organizing the basement or the garage, so I clipped out some scraps and made this:

It's not sewed down yet, so hopefully it will look as good when done.  It seems the common way to do ticker tape is to use a straight stitch and sew in 1/4 inch from the edge on each scrap. Then as the quilt is used and washed the fabric edges fray a bit making the quilt sort of soft and comfy. So they say. I'm not really into that frayed edge look. Another way is to zigzag stitch around each scrap. That's what I'm planning to do. Luckily this is about 24 inches square.  All the same, now that I've got the layout done, I'm going to find something else to do and avoid this for awhile! =)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wham Bam Walk-in Cooler!

Oh how I wish I had some better "before" pictures of this project!  The best I can offer is the second picture from this post. That would be the garage in all its disastrous glory. Stuff piled everywhere! It only got worse when Jeremy brought in the huge stack of walls and things for the walk-in cooler - and then we brought in all the foam insulation from the basement.

We made some plans because all that stuff in the back corner had to go somewhere: the giant tub of hay for the chickens, the aforementioned claw foot tub, a bathroom sink, our chest freezer, loads of storm windows, piles of wood, shelves, hoses, etc, etc.  Some things moved down to the basement, some things went up in the rafters, some things were piled up for a run to the dump, and by last Wednesday, the corner was amazingly cleared out. A little sweeping and it was as clean as the day we bought the house.

The cleanest this corner of the basement has been in years!

From that back corner, surveying the rest of the garage, you can see piles of wood and some windows on the far right, then the tub of hay (hiding the tub and two sinks behind it), then the stack that will be the walk in cooler, covered by some of the foam insulation.

On Friday Jeremy got to work. I don't know if I can describe how this thing goes together. He had to attach 2x2 strips to the floor and then the walls fit onto those strips, and slotted into each other. He started in the back and worked his way around...

Wham bam! Instant walk in cooler!  Okay, it wasn't really instant, but the first picture was taken at 3:20 and the last one at 4:30! I don't think the ceiling is on in the last picture and that took a little bit more time.  Sunday Jeremy finished the electrical so there is an outlet inside the cooler and a light. The next step is to build in a floor, just like the one in the basement set-up. A bunch of insulation laid down on the floor with some wood over the top. And then we'll move up a couple of shelves from the basement and it will be ready to receive mushroom spawn and later, mushrooms!

Oh, I should say there is nothing to cool it at the moment (except Minnesota's crazy cold winter), but later Jeremy will add a modified air conditioner to keep it chilly inside.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Basement: organized. (sort of)

The basement has come along nicely since I last talked about it ..... uhh... a week ago. =)  We got all the insulation out and everything cleaned up. In the process of taking things apart we decided not to take the walls out completely. We left about three or four studs out on each end and took out the corner part (which I know doesn't make a lot of sense for you visual folks).  We left a bit of wall on the north side.  We decided to build a much smaller root cellar with that as one of the walls. I'm not sure when we'll get to that project, so the insulation will live there in the corner in the meantime, as well as a few 2x4s ready for making new walls.  Hopefully we'll get this set-up in the fall in time for storing onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, etc.

Over on the right you can see the bit of wall we left from the original, large root cellar / walk-in cooler. Someday that will be the right wall of a more closet-sized root cellar. And beyond is a lovely set of shelves Jeremy whipped together. 

Jeremy constructing another set of shelves. I'm back in the corner of the basement, inside the former root cellar. 

And here is the first set of shelves, all full of stuff!

Another set of shelves, on the other side of that partial wall we left, also filling up with stuff... 

And the last set of shelves.  Goodness it is glorious down in the basement now - so many wonderful shelves! 

I debated whether or not to post all these photos of our junk in the basement. But I have to say this blog is just as much for us as for all of you. I rather enjoy looking back through the years to see what we've been up to, and the various changes we've made to the house. So of course I had to post these pics.

Also, these pics were taken a week ago, and already it's gotten a bit messy.  Much of this stuff came from the front of the basement. Moving it back here allowed us to move loads of stuff in from the garage.  More about the garage project soon...

And now I'm going to make some excuses for why we have SO many boxes in the basement.  Really, I'm a bit embarrassed about it. What IS all that JUNK!?  When I was single in Seattle I had maybe 5 or 6 boxes of "stuff" stored away in the back of a closet. A few stuffed animals and toys from childhood I can't bear to get rid of, journals, papers from school (all ages) - that sort of thing that many of us have, can't bear to throw away, and also don't really want to display in our adult homes. Jeremy has stuff like that too, though I think he has literally every homework assignment he ever completed in every grade, including college and grad school. Then there are probably 15-20 boxes of kitchen stuff that just doesn't fit in our kitchen. Seriously - we need a remodel that makes our ENTIRE house a kitchen, with a tiny little bathroom and bedroom and sewing room tucked away somewhere. We spend all our time in the kitchen anyway. And then there are loads of random tools and construction things, boxes with fixtures, plug-in things, electrical wire, etc.  And then, the kicker, there are dozens and dozens of empty boxes for mushrooms. Yep. Piles of empty boxes.

Okay, now I feel a little bit better about myself, and our packed out basement!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What the Heck Has Been Going On, part 3

This time of year I find myself insanely optimistic and excited about the yard. Insane because it's January, well below freezing, and the yard is of course well below a lot of snow. And I know, deep down, that it's possible snow won't be melting and ground won't be thawing for as much as three or four more months. Oh the agony!  All I can do is make plans. I like making plans well enough, but I like doing a lot more. All this planning, planning, planning is agonizing without any doing, doing, doing!

One thing to be excited about is that my sister sent me a gift of daffodils and tulips last fall. There were several bags which I think added up to dozens and dozens of bulbs. I planted the front yard full and found a place for a bunch in the back yard, on top of the terrace, as well. I can't wait for them to come up! They're all different colors and styles so that will be excellent – compared to the old yellow standbys I've had for years. I've also got a little patch of crocus that didn't do so well last year, but hopefully will do better this year. And I tried an experiment of planting the garlic in with the strawberries. I only had one garlic plant come up last year – a total fail – so I hope they do better this year.

I tried an experiment of “insulating” our rosemary plant with lots of hay to see if it might survive the winter and come back. I'm a little dubious now that our winter has been so thoroughly cold, but maybe something will have made it? Only time will tell.  Maybe this will be the year I finally finish the terrace as well. There is still a pile of “urbanite” (broken up bits of sidewalk) that has been laying around for years. I'd really like to get it done.  And then there is the last bit of retaining wall in the front yard to finish.

Here's the terrace in mid-November. You can't really see the rosemary, it's behind the tree trunk, absolutely buried in hay. Fingers crossed!

Something else I've been thinking about for awhile is a water feature. I used to love going to gardening centers and nurseries with my mom and I would spend as much time as possible ogling the fountains and ponds. Every now and then I see a set-up in an old bathtub and I want it so bad!  I saw one in a book the other day and got to thinking and talking about it again.  I'm always wondering where we could put something like this and the one place I'd thought of is the top of the terrace. It would mean digging out a ton of dirt to sink a tub...but it would be pretty cool. Of course I just planted a ton of daffodils and tulips of there, and there is a ton of thyme, and some asparagus.  Maybe not a good spot. So now we're thinking about sinking it in the raingarden. There's not too much going on in there at the moment, mostly just irises and turtlehead – and a few other random tidbits, maybe a hollyhock. It would be pretty easy to move things around and plop a tub in. And then what? Is it for grey water? Do we have water plants and fish? How do we keep it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground? There is still a lot of research to do. The problem is, a lot of books or articles or websites seem intent on a particular kind of water feature in a particular kind of yard. A very pretty yard that doesn't look overgrown and unkempt – like our yard. =) I don't want a pretty water feature with a fountain and pumps running, complete with miniature benches and doilies and ridiculous stuff like that. I want it to look natural and be functional. More research is needed - plus I'll have to find a small tub to use in the first place. =)

And I think it's time to bring out a master plant person who can help me identify some of the last plants I don't know about and then help me make some plans about what else I can grow in certain areas. There are big swathes of yard that don't have much going on, maybe because they're just too shady. I want to get some plants going there. And I want more bird/butterfly/bee attracting plants. We're doing pretty well on that now I think, but... more! More! More!  I'm planning to add lavender to the yard this year. I need all the hardy bee-attracting perennials I can get.

Also, we've got a whole grove of Quaking Aspens coming up in the side yard now. We had the three junky elm trees cut down last April, and then a crazy windstorm last June took out one of our Aspens and put a permanent bend in another.

We had to top one of the Aspens when we first moved in, so that leaves just one that hasn't been maimed in some way. There was a young one growing up between the three elms, but I'm not sure it's going to make it. I think the Aspens, who are all linked together by roots running just at or below the surface, saw what was going on and set to work making babies. The side yard was so full of young trees it was ridiculous.  I cut back all but the biggest ones in the fall and hope  that the 6-8 I left will spring up healthy and get tall fast.

There, I've gone and got crazy about garden planning – and that's not even talking about what annual vegetables to plant! Come on spring! Don't let Old Man Winter keep you down for too much longer!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bonus pictures. Hmm, the word "bonus" has a positive connotation and there's nothing positive about these pictures.  I realized I never posted pics about the big wind we had on June 21st.  Not really a big wind storm, just one big 60 or 70 mile an hour gust of wind. It took down thousands of trees across the Twin Cities. My neighborhood was in the worst hit area. I don't think there was a single block that didn't lose a tree. Many cars were wrecked and several houses were damaged, some perhaps beyond repair. 
It was an incredible event. Right after it hit, and the day after, everyone in the neighborhood was out inspecting the damage and offering help to neighbors. Woe to the folks who had electric chainsaws - some areas were out of power for days! Xcel had crews coming in from a dozen different states to help with the cleanup, which I have to say is still in process. The light pole across the street from us is still a shattered stump.  
In any case, the damage and loss of trees was stunning, almost beyond comprehension. Some thought the whole area had been wrecked and would never be the same. There are certainly some empty spots in the sky line...but I guess they'll fill in over time. 

Tree across the street - almost every street for blocks and blocks was blocked by a tree like this.

Here's the other side of same tree...

For the trees that tipped over, they pulled up the sidewalks, so there were a lot of sidewalks that had to be replaced.

Same tree across the street. It fell on the light pole and the pole stripped the bark right off.

Another tree in our neighbors yard; they had to take this one down sadly - too much damage.

This car was under that tree...neighbors cut the branches away and the owner drove it away without a scratch on it!

A beautiful Kitalpa around the corner from us.

It was a big beautiful tree.

And it totaled this car!

Branches (as big as trees themselves!) in the parking lot near our house.

These same images were to be found as far as you could walk throughout the neighborhood. Luckily, no one was hurt! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

What the Heck Has Been Going On, part 2

Jeremy's big news is that he had to move the farm in December. Ugh.  He had been making plans in September about how to expand his business and had asked permission of the land-owners to expand into some other areas. They weren't really keen on it and asked him to wait till next May, to see what happens. What's that supposed to mean!?  If Jeremy was going to expand, September to November was the time to get things set-up.  He suspected something was up with the land (since it has been for sale for years and years). He immediately started looking for a new place to move – meeting farmers, taking tours, etc. Nothing was set yet, but he was narrowing it down and hoped to know by February or so and then make the move.  But the day after Thanksgiving he got a call that the land had been sold and he had until the end of December to get out.  The weather hadn't been too bad till that point, but three days  after the call the temperature dropped like a stone and we got our first big snow of the year. Just great. Jeremy talked to some different farms and found a place that was willing to let him move everything. Poor Jeremy spent a good two weeks hauling logs (around 2500), posts, shade fabric, tents, the trailer, etc, etc. It was exhausting and he certainly couldn't have done it without all the volunteer help he got. So now he's in the midst of firming up plans with this new farm. Does he stay there, or move somewhere else? If he stays, what does the new set-up look like and when should he start building it? At the same time, he's trying to track down loggers to get the logs he needs for the year and planning for the types of mushrooms he'll do. I think he's cutting down on Oyster mushrooms. It's too bad because they are so beautiful and very tasty. But people just don't seem to buy them as much as Shiitake. I think people aren't familiar with maybe they're a bit scary. Who knows.

Something else that came up in the fall was the discovery of mold in the walk-in cooler in the basement. Bummer!  The whole walk-in cooler experiment was... very interesting but it was definitely time to move on. We had a modified air conditioner keeping it cold in there, but it just wasn't doing the job properly anymore. Jeremy purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist and did a conversion to make it more of a fridge.  He got another one to use as a freezer. All the mushrooms went to love in the chest fridge and freezer in the garage. We still had a lot of bags of chicken feed in the walk-in, which we kept there to keep away from the mice. But then we discovered the mice had chewed their way in – underground I think, through the basement floor, up through several layers of insulation and plywood till they found a way in. So we got another chest freezer, one that didn't work, so it was free, and we piled all the chicken feed in there. Airtight and mouse proof! Of course – we now have four chest freezers in the garage! Sigh.

Oh. And then Jeremy bought a professional walk-in cooler off Craigslist. It's pretty much a bunch of walls and a ceiling that have to be put together. Of course there is no room in the garage for it at the moment because of how much is in there. We need to do a good cleaning of the garage – get rid of some junk, try to sell that lovely claw-foot bathtub we bought years ago (and now know we will not be using), move things around, organize, etc. A lot of that will be dependent on being able to move some things into the basement. Which is totally packed and unorganized too! So... first things first – we dismantled and removed the root cellar/walk-in cooler.  We're leaving some of the stud walls to create shelving along the back wall. Then we'll be able to organize a lot more stuff into the basement. And we'll be able to clear out the bit of shelving at the front of the basement, which we plan to convert into a chick brooder because we're planning to kill the rest of our chickens this spring and start a new batch of chicks!  It seems all so normal and not a big deal until I say it (or type it out) and then I think – we are crazy!!

These were the canning shelves, devoid of canned goods and coming down. This shelving was attached to the outside of the root cellar / walk-in, so it all had to go!

Here's the outside of the root cellar, one last time!

canning shelves coming down nicely...

Taking off the sheathing, revealing the insulation we'll have to deal with...

Jeremy took out every piece of sheathing and insulation one by one, then I took it through the basement, up the stairs, out the door, to the garage. Boy did my legs hurt after all the stair climbing! And now our garage is packed full of this stuff!

Jeremy surveying the next steps.

Ah, here's where the mice were getting through!  When all the insulation was cleared away we discovered a LOT of holes in the foundation wall, right in the edge between floor and wall. We're going to have to fill those with concrete soon.

We used a blower for much of the process, pointed right out the window, because of the mold. Better safe than sorry!

Getting ready for taking off the interior sheathing...

We used blown in insulation (which had originally come from our top floor when we remodeled up there!) When you take off the sheathing it pours down into the room. What a mess!  We bagged it up and will use it in some other wall-building project in the future I'm sure. 

Oh. And then there's my plan to re-do the bathroom as well. (See what I mean about crazy?) I've been scheming and thinking about if for months, but biding my time till January because I just couldn't think about it till now. And now Jeremy and I have had a chat about it, and there is a plan.  But it's dependent on finding a new bathtub first. A good long one, like six feet I think, and extra wide. We don't want a whirlpool/spa tub, though at that size maybe you can't get a “normal” tub. And the drain needs to be on the right or in the center. And we can't really afford the $1000 or so pricetag I've been seeing for that big of a tub. I'm thinking more like... $200. Any takers? =)  So that requisition might slow things down a lot. But once we secure that, I'm super excited about the changes to the bathroom. I'll have to blog more about that in the future because we have some sinks to decide between and a really beautiful cabinet we got from some friends that just has to be in the bathroom. So stay tuned for that (but you know, not too eagerly...)

Bonus! The tea shelf I bought at Savers in 2008 had become woefully too small for our tea collection. I designed a new version. My sneaky plan was to tell Jeremy the size of the boards I needed so he could cut them out. Then I will put it all together. Well, Jeremy saw my picture so he went ahead and put it all together for me. Yay!  I feel like we could already use a slightly bigger one...or maybe we should cut down on the tea? Anyway, it's very simple and beautiful and I love my new tea shelf!