Saturday, October 20, 2012

Oddity of the Week: Soap Box

Maybe it was on purpose that the former residents left a box full of old soaps in the basement. There's plenty of water down there! Rinse up! Or maybe it was supposed to mask the musky mold scent wafting around. Either way, soap has never looked like so much fun! And it smells factory-fresh! And it's just 10 cents per bar! (Can you even buy single bars today? Do you think soap ever goes bad?)

Irish Spring was manly deodorant soap back then -- the tagline a predecessor of Old Spice's "I'm On a Horse" campaign today? Now it just wants everyone to "feel fresh and clean." So modern and boring.

Look at that! The party is literally flying off the shelf! Too bad the pretty packaging couldn't make it past 1985. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Oddity of the Week: 34-year-old Macaroni

Of the trash and treasures we're exposing in our house next door, this is one of my all-time favorites. It boggles my mind. It's a box of mac and cheese. Great, you say, what's so special about that? Then you notice that the photo and font look a bit dated. And what IS that lump of supposed meat on the plate?! Yuck. Moreover, it looks like someone pulled out a magic marker and sold this box at a garage sale for 13 cents. Now, Kraft's boxes can get down to 99 cents on sale, but 13 cents is a record low, even for second hand...

Then there's the masking tape holding the box together so no pasta would fall out...

So, if the original contents are still in there, exactly how old are they?

As old as I am.
Anyone want to come over for lunch?!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Waiter, There's Too Much Pepper...

I can't stand to pay $1 or more per pepper at the grocery store, especially when they're one of the easiest crops to grow. So I planted about 50 this spring then mostly ignored them all summer. My excuse is that I got busy. Too many other things need more TLC. Now, though, at the end of the season, they have demanded that I pay attention. I madly harvested this weekend before a freeze took them all out.  

Just look at my baskets, buckets and boxes full of them!  

I think I've purchased Serrano peppers exactly once from the store, so I'm not sure why I planted seven plants. Next year, it'll be three, tops. Fortunately, my neighbor likes these, so he'll be getting a nice load tomorrow.

Jalapenos are a different story. Much more common in my kind of cooking. Some will freeze, some will be turned into hot pepper jelly. But, again, we've been working on one single jar this entire year so I'll scale back next year.

Marconis. I don't know what the heck to do with these! Anyone? So much for experimenting this season...

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many peppers did Peter Piper pick? Depends on the variety, but roughly 50-70 sweet peppers or 250 japs.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Oddity of the Week: Wall Mushrooms

As we continue to filter and sort through all the former homeowners' belongings left behind, we have begun some demo in the bathroom. And this lovely find camouflaged itself among the water stains and peeling paint for who knows how long. I'm plenty happy to have morels under our elms but not at all pleased to see mushrooms growing in our walls. 

While all the water-damaged materials are on their way out, the lathe on the opposite wall looks lovely and new. We'll save what we can and reuse it for other projects, like a partition wall veneer. Meanwhile, the studs are coming out and the bathroom will be taking over closets on both sides. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

While You Were Sleeping

Sophia took a monster three-hour nap flanked by a half-hour of quiet time on Sunday, leaving Michael and I a solid block of time to tackle projects around here. When she arose, she was in a fabulous mood and entertained herself in the backyard for another two hours! Anyone who has kids knows this is a rare and amazing opportunity to relax or work! Obviously, with our 534-point to-do list, we got ourselves busy!

For the last five years, we've been living with a battered, rusted, numberless mailbox with a missing front and the name of the family who lived here a decade ago still on it, even as a relatively newer version sat in our garage for the last four years. So, for some reason, today was the day to refurbish and replace. I printed out a stencil in Word and magnified it to 300 percent then cut around the numbers, traced with a pen and filled in with the Gem Turquoise custom color we created to paint our new Dutch door. We're also renovating our windows and will paint the outside frames this same color for a real 'pop'! The flag, which is orange rather than the typical red, complements our blue color choice and is leftover paint we used as an accent wall color in our hall.

And while I was outside with an open can of paint, I added a spot of happiness to this hive body. This is the second hive we have, and the colony suffered the elusive CCD a couple years ago. Moths then moved in and proliferated in the warmish garage. I cleaned up what I could, and the bees will take over next spring. We'll place it next to our up and humming hive in the orchard and see if some of them will swarm to start a new colony.

I asked for and received window boxes for my birthday last month and finally potted them with pansies. More than shoes or manicures or other typical presents, I enjoy the gift of having my honey-do list checked off! It's a present for us both!Unlike the light-up frisbee he bought me one time...

I've also been collecting pots for years but have never actually planted them with anything. Not only do the containers and flowers bring some color to the large expanse of wood decking, they protect the posts from cats scratching. (See the slender curvature on the closest post?!) Brilliant! Question is: why didn't we do this sooner?! 

cluck, cluck

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Treasure Hunting

As two people who have been trying for nearly a decade to get rid of everything unnecessary in our lives, it boggles our minds to think about all the new really old stuff that we just acquired in the house and outbuildings next door. My best guesstimate is that 75 percent of the contents is one of three things: scrap metal, glass jars and cardboard boxes. You can't really blame the Depression-era former homeowners for hanging onto valuable materials in case the bottom dropped out again, so we're hoping to find gold buried inside the walls. But we won't tell you if we ever find that. 

Most of the contents have made their way to the recycling bin, but the rest we can't quite get ourselves to let go of, just like our predecessors! Some of the better finds we'll keep, some will be sold at an estate sale this fall. It's like our own little time-capsule museum ...more finds will surely follow.

super weighty vacuum and collection of clock radios

1 of 1543 boxes of glass jars

metal inboxes?

wash tub and seeder

awesome old grill, maybe turned into a side table?

rotary dial phone, which I can't figure out how to unplug from the wall. Sophia may otherwise never know what one of these things is!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Round Two

"Buy land, they're not making it anymore." Wise words from Mark Twain.

So, when the property next door to ours went up for sale, we pounced. Well, that's not exactly right. We pined for it for six years and made it known to the daughters of the elderly homeowners that we would be interested in it someday. Then, when they offered it for sale, we tried to get a loan, which turned out to have a terrible 6-percent-rate-with-a-five-year-balloon term, so we backed out. After waiting another year until they had to finally put it on the market, we were fortunate enough to get the first right of refusal. The week it was listed, we went on vacation while they got five offers by the time we returned. Knowing this was our last opportunity, THEN we pounced. If we didn't, there would be a giant HVAC warehouse built right outside our windows.

Back in the day, like before the 1920s, our two properties were one. Consider them reunited. Moreover, the two houses are twins, with almost the exact same floor plan, so we get a second chance to improve upon our previous remodeling experience with our own home, which for better or worse is still undergoing its own renovation projects.

So, why do we need a second home? And why, if we are fortunate enough to own a second home, would it be directly to the north of us instead of in some sunny or mountainous locale? Well, we realized early on that it could be the key to a new lifestyle. With our changing attitudes about life and food and family, we desired a new path for our skills as a writer and an architect. The property next door can be an extension of what we've started here, a way to take our little homesteading project and make it financially sustainable. We're not just growing vegetables anymore, we're growing a dream.

At the heart of the dream is the quaint little vacation rental. Of course, it's only quaint in our minds. Everyone else might use the word 'condemned.' It needs a lot of work, but we're experienced, remember, and we like the labor -- have you never felt the catharsis of demolition? -- and the creative process that ensues from a (semi) blank slate.

We have been gathering ideas, piecing together a look, mulling what we have, repurposing, reusing, rethinking. To read my mind, check out some of my inspirational pins. Mike's are here. Take a look at the ol' place below as it was when we bought it then keep following us on this journey.

west bedroom

east bedroom

kitchen to dining room

"dining" room used as a sewing room

living room

summer porch

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Dirt on Our Soil

I'm famous for gardening over my head. So why not quadruple the size of my veggie patch then go back to work full time? See our tiny (really, it's the exact size of our house: 1,200 sq. ft.!) original plot in the center of the photo below? We all thought that was big. But I have big dreams, and I'm not letting one little maternity leave get in my way. I can swing 10 weeks doing both, can't I?!

different textures and hues from an established spring garden
look out over the newcomers sprouting up in the back

The reason I needed four times the growing space I had was because after planting my spring garden, I didn't have any room left for the 60 tomato and 75 pepper transplants I grew from seed indoors this winter. That didn't even include the okra, corn, beans, melons and squash I wanted to seed outside. 

An expansion was in the master plan, and it got first priority. But whereas we hand-dug (no kidding!) our existing beds, we hired this job out to an old fella with a tractor and plow. He moved at his own pace -- three weeks between plowing and tilling -- but he was interesting enough to make it OK. And can you blame someone who's 80 for forgetting about your gig? 

He churned our earth into foot-deep waves that looked like the ocean then tilled them into soft, plantable soil. We swiped a portion of the tall grass prairie for production, cutting into it diagonally as a symbol of where the future pond overflow system will be. The result is a trapezoid, which will look awesome with the bluestem grasses and wildflowers dramatically rising behind a metal water channel. Where on the timeline that fits into the master plan, however, is TBD.

adding production space to the south

a burned field and plowed field will take different paths

One of the most important jobs for this upheaved ground -- as we've learned the last two years, one with me too ill with "morning sickness" to get outside, and the other once the baby was here and had plans for me that didn't include setting her down for even five minutes -- is keeping the weeds out. We don't use chemicals, just hoes. Mulches are a big help but because we're looking for ways to close the cycle on our property, we are testing grass clippings in the paths and mulched leaves on the beds. 

To get the clippings, we use the bagger on our PUSH MOWER. Oy. You can imagine the inconvenience of stopping the mower and frequently unloading, but in the weeks since we've tried it out on the original garden, it's made a huge difference, and that's sayin' something since we have two years' worth of weed seeds hiding out in there. As for the leaves, our entire lot of trees gave up only enough matter to cover the new north field's beds. I'm hoping the south field's vining squashes and melons will keep enough ground under cover that it won't be a nightmare. 

It's not quite lasagna gardening, but we might be headed that direction soon. Our goal is not only to reduce weeds now but to improve our soil in the long term. This fall we'll experiment with manure and cover crops to continue increasing tilth. 

to the north: peppers, tomatoes, herbs, onions

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prairie Fire

Mike lit the torch, disappeared into the grass that was as tall as he, and manifested one of humankind's greatest frenemies: fire. For 10 minutes, we could hardly breathe. Not just because of the thick smoke choking on some green brush nor the ash whipped into the air by small tornadoes made by the fire's heat meeting with cooler air, but because the experience was so intense. 

It's a can't-turn-back-now moment when you must accept that you've set in motion something that can't be undone. We had two hundred-foot hoses at the ready, though that still wasn't long enough to meet the edge of the firebreak. Our dampers in hand, loaned to us from the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department, we were as ready as we could be to burn the field. (Some of you might remember last time we attempted a burn, during which we set our neighbor's field ablaze. Although we've never been more drained by an experience, the grass was quite rejuvenated the following season and popped back stronger than ever. Thus, we play with matches every year.)  

Bronte didn't seem to mind the commotion and followed us around the perimeter.
Aided by a 10 mph wind from the south, we started backburning in the northernmost corner, watching the flames flare up with two years' worth of dead stalks as tinder. The fire pushed directly toward our neighbor's house. That caused the heart-pumping, sickening rush I remembered. It would have felt better to have burnt down our own house rather than someone else's. But the fire hit the break and fizzled out at the edges just like it was supposed to.

After the fire moved safely past our neighbor's house, we relaxed. Our personal universes intact, we calmly watched the fire go, appreciating its usefulness in this instance.

Smoke filling the air past a charred landscape.
New growth won't burn. This path marks our previous mowed trails.

"If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the mirror, because I bet that's what really throws you into a panic."
--Jack Handy

Friday, April 13, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

We have a sad-but-kinda-true nickname for this place: rape farm. For the second time since keeping chickens, three of our so-called pullets turned out to be roosters. Each of them wanted to be top cock and wouldn't let another mate with a hen without mating with that hen himself. The result was weary hens with nearly featherless backs. They only left their indoor roosts for food and water for fear of getting gang-banged.

You only need one rooster per 12 hens, and we had three roosters per 13 hens. Two of them had to go. We kept the handsomest guy. Is that how evolution works? Survival of the prettiest?

Having severed heads only twice before, Michael read up and practiced his skill on Sophia's stuffed animal before heading out to the coop. We waited until dark so they'd be their calmest.

The photo above shows the closest thing to a smile Michael had for the next five hours. First, taking a life is difficult enough emotionally. Second, without the right tools or sharp knives, there's lots of cussing, exasperated sighing and pacing that goes on. 

After the actual deed and subsequent scalding, feather-picking, chopping and gut removing, we had some rather tiny birds. That's because their breed is meant for egg laying rather than broilers meant for the pot. And our guys stayed especially lean for all the impromptu cock fights that popped up all over the farm. If only we had placed some bets...

So we put the kibosh on that. Creepily, the tendons in the claws still worked, so you could make the fingers move. It's the next new thing in back-scratchers!

Sans feet and feathers, the hunks of meat on our kitchen counter looked much more familiar. Knowing they'd be a little tough -- these dudes were as old as our toddler -- we slated them to become Coq au Vin and invited my parents over for dinner. 

Stewed with pearl onions, bacon, mushrooms and wine, the meat softened up deliciously. Plated with mashed potatoes and salad, the meal was what Alton Brown might define as "good eats."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grow Light System Success!

After six weeks, we have had a great turnout on our seedlings. Every couple weeks, I raise a chain link to give the plants more space. You can see the different levels that accommodate the varying heights. The only thing I don't like is that I can't water without moving all the trays out from under the lights. And I'm seriously running out of room. Fifty tomato and pepper plants take up a lot of space, and most of them are still in their cell packs!

I potted up the tomatoes last week using 4-inch nursery pots I just knew I would have a need for someday. They've been cluttering our shed for half a decade, but I didn't want to trash them and I had too few and from too many places to begin to know where to return them. I am redeemed! I am not a hoarder!

I'm considering taking a risk with this summer-like weather we've been having and putting some in the ground.  The 10-day forecast looks good!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Getting Going

Most experts will tell you that you can start seeds indoors near a sunny window. Well, I've been doing that for three seasons now and all I get are leggy plants that are practically jumping out of their flats to reach light. Intervention was necessary this year. So, I had my dear hubby upgrade my potting table. We poured a thick layer of resin -- something that was overdue on our to-do list for years -- over the counter. We call it the "poor man's butcher block," which is strips of plywood turned on their ends and glued together, but it's not only cheap, it is a great way to reuse waste.

high-gloss surface wipes clean easily

Grow lights are expensive, so instead, we're trying regular ol' fluorescent shop lights. I alternated cool lamps with daylight lamps in each of four 4-foot shop lights. We hung them from the ceiling on chains that come halfway down to meet the dinky chains that come in the box. This allows me to adjust the height at my level without standing on a chair.

easy-to-use and -remove hanging system

In the beginning, the lamps need to be about two inches from the plants.


Already, we can see that the lamps have given the seedlings a better chance to grow strong and tall without being leggy! 
 microgreens can be grown year-round indoors