Sunday, December 27, 2015

Moms, Maybe Skip this Post

So you know how I was complaining a few posts back that things weren't getting done? I take it all back.

Because today I came home and found this:


Me: WHAT the HELL is that?
Brett: It's a platform! It's the only way I can work on the stair wall.
Me: *blink blink*
Brett: It's a trick I learned doing construction. It's perfectly safe!
Me: *blink*
Brett: Totally safe. Come upstairs, I'll show you.
Me: No.

My mama always told me to be careful what you wish for.

And now I urgently need some wine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I'm Molting, I'm Molting! What a world...

The chickens are molting. Apparently, this is a perfectly natural and healthy process in which suddenly all my hens look like they've contracted an exotic form of mange while simultaneously being mauled by angry mink.

They also quit laying eggs, as all their energy is going towards shedding the old feathers and growing new ones.

This is not my chicken or my sign. I just wish it were. Whoever did this is a genius.

In addition to providing me with a surprisingly large body of chicken-related humor, the Internet tells me that it's important not to stress out the birds while they're molting. So hey, God, if you could quit it with the torrential downpours for a couple weeks, that would be great.

Molting is associated with shorter days, so I've read that adding a light to the coop can prevent or stop it. And the official sources say that this doesn't harm the chickens at all (though the folk wisdom doesn't necessarily agree.) We decided to give it a try by adding a string of solar-powered lights. Except those don't work for the same reason the chickens don't lay - there's no darn sun!

So for this winter, we're resigned to let the chickens stomp around  like tiny, egg-less dinosaurs who lost a fight with a pillow factory. As nature intended.

Our own patchy little freeloading slacker.

And a pic of Henry, just because. He's still doing his job.  Hi, handsome!

 Anyone want to bring me some eggs?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Madness

The end of the year is always a busy time, but this year seems busier than most. We're both trying to wrap things up at work before the holidays. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas all came straight in a row.

We want to really take the time to appreciate our friends and family, and not commit to so much that we're too tired to enjoy it. So while we're working hard, celebrating with friends, baking cookies, singing, and spoiling our pup, we're not getting a whole lot done on the house.

I have to admit that I alternate between being glad we're prioritizing life experiences over getting things done, and having a panic attack because we're not getting things done. Often several times a second.

Since I doubt we can afford the obvious amount of therapy I need to deal with this, I self-medicate with puppy kisses. Luckily, my lost mind is your gain, because I shall now regale you with adorable Hermione media.

Hermie playing with her buddy Tito

And sassing the dog walker

And giving me the side-eye
My new favorite photo, in which Hermie pretends to be good so I'll give her carrots
No, see, I really am good. Watch how good I am. Can I have your bowl now?

MommmmMMMM! Make him share!
Seems like it's a pretty great holiday after all. As long as I have my little family with me.

This relaxed and tranquil picture brought to you by 7,864 takes in which one of them wasn't looking at the camera.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Off the Wall

We're building walls!

Now that the old drywall and subfloor has been removed, we're finally framing the walls for the new master bathroom.

These will let us close off the space, and are also part of how we're going to run plumbing and wiring. So they need to happen before anything else can go forward.

Let's just say I know how to nail a stud.

And of course everything in our house is angled or slanted, because apparently I was bad in a past life.

We also have the breakers to upstairs turned off, so we've had to get a little creative about lighting while we work.

Hermione goes bananas every time Brett puts on the headlamp, because she thinks it's time to go outside.
Also, yes, that is Brett. He's in there somewhere.

Wall #1!

Now let's see what's behind Wall #2...

All together now...

Is it a bathroom yet?
Whew! Time for a nap, and then the hardest wall with the door.

We'll get right back at it... after these messages.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Never Buy Dishwasher Detergent Again!

I try to make my own cleaning products when I can. I like knowing exactly what substances I'm exposing my home and family to; plus, it's cheaper, and I can customize things just the way I like them.

One of my favorites is homemade dishwasher powder. It's so easy to make, and it smells amazing!


1c borax
2c washing soda
1c baking soda
6 Tbsp citric acid (you can find it in the canning aisle at most grocery stores)
15-20 drops essential oil

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Then add the essential oil, a drop at a time, until the scent is the strength you want. I usually like to combine a citrus and an herb, like grapefruit and rosemary. You could also use something like tea tree oil, which has some mild antiseptic properties.

Then I leave the finished mixture out on the counter for a couple days. I found that if I put it in a jar right away, it would continue to absorb moisture from the air and would turn into a solid cake I couldn't get out again. By letting it acclimate in a bowl, I can easily break up any clumps before storing.

Put it in a pretty jar and you're done! Use as you would any powdered dishwasher detergent, and never buy the premade stuff again.

Leaving you more time to stay home with adorable puppies!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fall Fun!

I love fall. It's my absolute favorite time of year to be outside - hiking, picking apples, finding the perfect pumpkin, watching Hermione prance around in the fallen leaves. And there are so many decorating and cooking opportunities to bring the season inside.

(Brett will insist that decorating for fall is completely unnecessary, because I deck the entire house out in orange, red, and yellow all year long. He may have a point. But I try not to let little things like logic get in my way.)

First up: fun with pumpkins!

Next: Decorating!

An autumn welcome, put together from garage sale and drug store finds.

Ghooooooostly lights through the trees. We still only got 1 trick-or-treater.

The whole effect, complete with puppy photobomb.
I tried to decorate the table for fall, but Hermione decided to rearrange things. I came home to find decorative corncob silks ripped up all over the floor, and a mini-pumpkin full of chew marks.

I'm helping! It looks better this way.

I've decided that her costume this Halloween will be Well-Behaved Dog. In our house, that's as much of a mythical creature as a unicorn.

Just kidding (sort of.) She's a bat!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Goodbye Stanley

It's been a quiet few weeks in term of house projects. Brett lovingly shared his bad cold with me. So work stalled us out for a couple weeks while we slept and drank tea and moaned.

Our very active evenings.

Then last weekend we were out of town for one of my lifelong best friend's wedding. Yay! But again, no house updates.

So the biggest change has been to our little chicken flock.

As I've shared before, two of our girls turned out to be boys. While I don't mind having one rooster, two is not a good situation. So we had to re-home Stanley, our Ameraucana roo. He's a great guy, beautiful and docile, so we hoped we could find a wonderful new home for him. And we did!

I'm happy to say that Stanley is now the sole rooster in a free-range flock with a dozen hens at a nearby educational farm. Instead of being sadly second-place in our pecking order, he appears to be strutting around like a king.

Stanley and his harem

Of course I already miss him and our coop feels a little empty, so I can't wait to get more chicks next season!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Miss Chicken in the Coop with the Egg

Okay, now that we've gotten through the incoherent excitement about our first eggs, we can start thinking about the details.

We have several different breeds of hen, and each should lay slightly different-looking eggs. So far, we're getting 3 eggs pretty much every day - and they look like they might be from the same three hens. We get a light brown, a medium brown, and a pink egg. This leads me to believe that only 3 of the 5 hens have started laying, and the others will join in soon.

So this brings us to the question: whodunnit?  Time to play Clue.

Here are the clues:

We know the general egg color each hen should lay.

Ameraucana (Dorothy and Rose): green, blue, or pink
Buff Orpington (Queenie):  brown
Dominique (Attila the Hen): brown
Rhode Island Red (Henrietta): brown

Well, that's not very helpful. The only guess I can make here is that only one of the Ameraucanas is laying, since it's less likely that they're both laying pink eggs.

We've also been making some observations.

I've seen Attila hanging out in a nesting box, and then later found an egg in that box. So I'm pretty sure she's laying.

When I was watching her, I also noticed Rose and Henrietta acting suspiciously. They kept coming up to the nesting boxes, peeking in, noticing Attila, and then turning around and walking back out. Perhaps they were waiting their turn?

So currently, I suspect Rose, Attila, and Henrietta in the nesting boxes with the eggs.

Further updates on the case will be shared as the detectives make breakthroughs.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Eggs eggs eggs, we have eggs!

That is all.

Small but perfect!

Gorgeous orange-yellow yolks!

Our very first home-grown egg dish - a cheese omelet.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chicken Curtains

I made curtains for the chickens. Yes, really. Stop laughing, Mom.

This isn't just some odd I-am-too-attached-to-the-chickens quirk (although, y'know, I'm not saying that's not also true.) Putting curtains over the hens' nesting boxes actually has significant benefits.

First, chickens like to lay their eggs in a dark and protected spot. Curtains make the nesting boxes a more appealing place to lay, reducing the chances that the ladies will decide to deposit their eggs somewhere I can't find them and/or will step on them. It will also supposedly deter them from sleeping in the nesting boxes, but thankfully we haven't had that problem.

Secondly, the curtains will help prevent a couple unwanted habits: namely, vent pecking and egg eating. Yes, in the right (wrong?) circumstances, chickens will eat eggs. Curtains keep the eggs a little bit hidden, and you know the old saying - out of sight, out of mouth. Vent pecking is when chickens notice the red, inflamed vent of a hen in the process of laying her egg, and decide to attack it like the evil little feathered dinosaurs they are. Again, if they can't see this happening, they don't think about it.

As seen at the county fair. Those 4-H kids know what they're talking about.

I made six little individual panels, and we stapled them up in the three nesting boxes.

The white spheres you're seeing in the boxes aren't eggs - they're golf balls. Chickens like to lay their eggs where others already have, so some sources say that putting in a decoy will encourage the hens to lay in the boxes. Also, now I have three fewer of Brett's golf balls cluttering up the house.

Brett even added handles to the box under the roost. It's getting fancy in here!
I'm thinking about adding some little tiebacks for the curtains, but that would be because I am slightly too obsessive about the chickens.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Demolition Derby!

We're celebrating state/county fair season at the Barbakoffs! Some people go to watch trucks or tractors get smashed. We stay home and smash up the walls.

This is the first big step in our huge upstairs remodel. I'm so excited to see this blank slate turn into a gorgeous master suite!

Brett about to make the first incision. Nurse ... scalpel!

Not gonna lie, this was a pretty nerve-wracking moment.

But I got over it.

(And anyone who criticizes my sledging technique is asking for a hammer to the kneecap. You've been warned.)

We found some weird 70s insulation product behind the drywall. Brett actually brought it on the bus for all his architecture buddies to look at and puzzle over. They assure me that it is not asbestos and has only a small chance of making me turn green and grow a second head. I'm glad we wore dust masks!

This must be how Joshua felt at Jericho.
Especially because, as with all my favorite projects, we made a giant mess!

And this is the clean corner.
Obviously Hermione was not allowed upstairs during this process, so there are no puppy pictures. To entertain you (and her, while she was left cruelly alone downstairs), we give you Puppy Contemplating the Meaning of Life and a Stick.

If a stick falls on the carpet, and no one is there to chew it, is it still delicious?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In a Fig Jam

It's fig season!

Our neighbors have a fig tree that seems to yield nearly endless quantities of figs for a couple weeks each summer. We shared a few of our peaches with them, and they sent over a huge pan full of fresh figs. Yummy!

We couldn't eat them fast enough, so we decided to make a small batch of jam. I make some jams with added pectin and some without; since this was a small quantity and would be delicious with a soft set, I made it without.

I used this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
  • 2 quarts chopped fresh figs (about 5 pounds)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
I cut it down to accommodate our smaller quantity of figs. But other than that, I don't screw around with jam recipes (including doubling them - larger quantities don't always work.) I usually consider recipes more general guidelines than hard and fast instructions, but anything preserved is a little different.  I preserve my jams in a boiling water bath, and that's only safe for foods high enough in sugar or acid. Messing around with those ratios can result in bacteria growth. For preserved foods, always use recipes from reputable sources.

That said - don't be intimidated by homemade jams and jellies! They're actually very easy to make. The flavors and textures are miles ahead of store-bought jam, which honestly usually tastes like purple sugar glop. Homemade jam is bursting with the flavors and textures of fresh fruit. And it keeps, so just a few batches will let you enjoy straight-off-the-tree flavors all year. 

First, sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water.

Maybe I'll just eat it all right now.

Chop the figs, and toss them in a large pot with the sugar and water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let it boil until it starts to thicken, then add the lemon juice. Boil for another minute or two.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

To tell when jam without pectin is done, I use the sheeting test. Basically, I dip a metal spoon into the jam and then watch it drip off the spoon. When it comes off in sheets instead of individual drops, it's ready. (Learn more about ways to tell when your jam is done - including a picture of sheeting - here.)

Pour the jam into the hot, sterilized jars. Leave a little bit of room (called head space) in each jar. Put on the tops and rings, then pop them back into the boiling water. Processing times vary according to your altitude. I'm more or less at sea level, and I boil most jams for about 10 minutes. This recipe only called for 5.

Take the jars out of the boiling water and set them somewhere to cool. Now no touching for 24 hours! They will seal as they cool. If the seal fails on a jar or two, that's ok - just keep them in the fridge and eat them right away.

I might as well not have sealed our jars at all, because I don't think they're going to last very long!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Counter Culture

One more room off the checklist! We installed the counter top over the washer and dryer, completing the mudroom.

We used a reclaimed piece of marble that we found at Ballard Reuse for an incredible price. Because it's thinner than a normal slab and has initials scratched into it, we think its first life was as the wall of a shower.

Marble is already fragile, and the thinness of this piece made it more so. And we own exactly zero tools appropriate for working large pieces of stone. Some random guy also perusing the stone slabs gave us the rather terrifying advice that we should just toss it on our table saw and hold the garden hose over it. Despite (because of?) that brilliant idea, we decided to go with a pro on this one.

Not a professional.
So after hefting a giant stone slab around in the back of our Jeep, then letting it sit in the carport while we tried to find someone willing to do the work at a reasonable price, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and well it all came together once we got going. (By the way, if you're local and need some stone counters, Allen at Unique Tops does great work.)

Here's how it looked before:

And now ... drumroll please ...

Reincarnation is sweet.
I'm actually enjoying folding laundry now, which I guess officially makes me a boring old woman. BUT, I'm a boring old woman with an awesome laundry room. So there's that.