Category Archives: DIY

Instructions, tips, ideas for doing things yourself

Helping hands

When we first started this journey of building our house (actually started construction), our girls were 11 and 4 years old. We wanted them to be involved as much as they could be in the actual building process.

Princess Girl (being older) quickly showed that she could be a good helper with many of the tasks that abound while building. She was an extra set of hands for many projects. And now that she has 2 years of experience under her belt, she can do most of the jobs her daddy and I can.

Princess Girl using the chop saw to cut metal.

But not only that, she often gets the homemaking jobs of cleaning the trailer, washing dishes, and doing laundry that keep our family running while Mom (ie me) is busy schooling Flower Girl (who is now in Kindergarten), and building our house. She truly is a huge help and a blessing.

But what do you do with a 4 or 5 or 6, or even a 7 or 8 year old?

Well, first of all, have them around. Don’t ship them off to the babysitters. Let them play nearby. Let them see you working and let them be familiar with the goings-on at a construction site – providing they can do so in a safe manner, of course.

Many an hour spent playing in piles of dirt while we worked nearby

One of her favorite things is to climb around inside the walls.

Most owner-builders work at a slower pace with fewer people than a professional construction crew, making it safer for kiddos to be around. Even then though, safety rules need to be in place and strictly enforced. Even the smallest infraction must be caught and dealt with. And of course, there are times when it is just best if the kids are not around. But we have found those instances to be few and far between.

Playing with “blocks”

Watching us finish the stairs

But how do you get them actually involved with the family project of building your own home?

The answer in a word: patience

It takes a lot of patience.

Little people are slower. They make lots of mistakes. They don’t understand. But it is so worth it to see the joy on their faces when they “helped”.

It mainly means slowing down enough to find jobs that they can do.

Flower Girl – barely 5 years old

Age 4

And it means taking the time to help them along the way.

Recently, Flower Girl and I took on the task of building a wall in the house.

Just her and I.

But what was a six year old really capable of?

Well, she moved the lumber around.

She measured and marked the studs.

She swept up the sawdust after I did the cutting (and if we’d had the chop saw set up, she would have helped with the cutting, too.)

She clamped things together when needed (and sometimes when not needed 🙄)

She put screws in and backed them out as needed.

And she helped tell me when boards were level/plumb.

Overall, how did it go?

Did she slow me down?

Of course she did.

Was it harder building that wall with her “help”?

You betcha.

Was it worth taking the time to do it with her?

ABSOLUTELY!

OUR wall

We believe that by involving our children in all aspects of our lives on the homestead, and especially the building of our house, we are giving them something important. They are learning many important skills that they just wouldn’t anywhere else. And it’s important to us that when they look back on this time of their lives that they can say “we built a house”, not “my parents built a house”.

It takes a lot of patience and effort to get the little ones involvef. But it is so worth it!

We are building this house!

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Bluebirds of Happiness

We have bluebirds!

About a year ago, the girls and I built bluebird houses following plans found online. (This is a really good website all about bluebirds and how to make houses for them with lots of different types of plans for houses.)

We modified the plans a bit to use materials we had on hand (mainly just swapping out black ABS pipe for the thinner PVC pipe called for on the plans), but basically we used the plans for the Gilbertson PVC house.

But we made them too late in the season and nothing ever nested in them. But this year they are fighting over them!

Yep, we have at least two “couples” who are arguing over who gets to build their nest in one of the houses. The cool thing is that one of the couples are Western Bluebirds and the other couple are Mountain Bluebirds.

Blue arrows are the Western and white arrows are the Mountain

Looks like the Westerns are winning as they are the ones I see perched on the roof all the time.

The bad thing is that this little coop that it is attached to is actually occupied this year with chicks. That means we go out there several times a day to check on and interact with the chicks. I hope it’s not too much human activity for the bluebirds.

Luckily, the door to access the chicks in on the opposite side from the bluebird house.

Here’s some pictures of us building the boxes last year.

Marked the inside rim of the pipe onto the board to make the bottom plug

Fits great

Nearly perfect. Notice the hole in the middle, along with not fitting 100% perfectly around the edges will allow for drainage if water somehow gets inside.

Drilling a hole to be able to screw in the bottom plug without cracking the plastic pipe.

Scraping the rough edges

Also cut holes near the top as vent holes.

Smoothing out the edges even more.

Checking for proper depth and hole size.

More smoothing

Placing the hanging block.

Attaching everything together. It is all upside down at the moment.

Painting it so it’s not so dark, thus not so hot in the sun.

Taa daa! Installed on our little brooder coop.

And the other one hung on the outhouse. Not sure if anyone is scoping that one out or not.

It was a fun little project, and we are excited that a bluebird family is moving in this year. We plan to have lots more birdhouses around the property as homes for our feathery friends!

Mistakes are gonna happen

Last week we finally got around to finishing one of the fixes to one of the mistakes we’ve made on the house.

You see, when we started figuring out exactly where the doors go, and how much space they take up, we realized that my calculations for where the anchor bolts should be were incorrect in several instances.

That meant cutting off the bolt that was in the wrong position and drilling a hole in the concrete for a new anchor in the correct position.

We also built one wall completely wrong.

Yeah, that one right there with the enormous header. Yeah, that one. The header is supposed to sit on top of the wall, not be built into the wall. So, that meant tearing apart the work we had done, fixing it, and rebuilding it.

Our friend putting in the final nails on the re-built wall.

Other times we used screws where we should have used nails and had to replace them all. Some studs got notched too aggressively and had to be replaced or braced. One wall is a full 2 inches too short. No idea how that happened! Luckily the only thing that will affect is sheetrock. So we will add in another 2×4 in order for the sheetrock to have something to attach to at the top and once it’s covered up, you’ll never know.

We’ve done a lot of things better than average with this house, but we’ve also made a lot of mistakes along the way.

And we’re ok with that. Because here’s the thing, when you’re learning something new, there are bound to be mistakes. Mistakes are normal. And nothing to be feared. Yes, it’s annoying to have to re-do work. But that’s all it means. So far, we have not run across anything that cannot be fixed. I actually cannot think of one single thing we could do to this house that we couldn’t fix if we learned we had done it wrong. Fixing mistakes takes time and usually money, but there is always a way to fix it.

And that is a very freeing concept.

When I was cutting a 12 inch hole in our roof for the stove pipe, I told myself that if I totally messed up, the roof panel could always be replaced. No big deal. Now, in no way did I want to replace that panel, but it gave me the courage to make that first slice.

And right now (well, after I recover more from my fall – yeah, that was a HUGE mistake!), we are working on subfloor on the second story. I’m nervous because not only is the plywood nailed down, it’s also glued down. Which means if we’ve made a mistake, it’s gonna be a whole lot harder to fix. But, in some way or another, it would be fixable. So, I research and learn as much as I can, and then I go for it, knowing I’m working to the best of my abilities.

We can’t let the fear of making mistakes stop us.

Whether it’s building a house, planting a garden, sewing an outfit, starting a business, whatever: mistakes are gonna happen. It’s how we deal with them, learn from them, what our attitude is, that really matters.

So, the next time the fear of failure (ie, making mistakes) has you stalled, just remember that the only real failure is the failure to pick yourself back up, learn from your mistakes, and try again.

Our mistakes are learning opportunities. You are gonna make them. Just remember, they are there to teach us, not to stop us. Don’t let the fear of making them keep you from moving forward.

-Maridy

Homemade Canned Mushroom Soup

I shared about my accident in my last post. I am feeling a bit of improvement, but still in quite a bit of pain.

Tonight I was home alone for the first time since hurting myself and had to get my own dinner. As much as I love the idea of fresh homemade foods, the convenience of canned goods just can’t be beat. Besides, it’s the middle of winter, and if it’s a veggie and it ain’t canned, it’s a lot harder (and more expensive) to get.

So tonight, I popped open a can of organic vegetable soup, heated it on the stove, and had myself some dinner.

As I was eating, I was thinking about how in the future I want to always make sure to have pre-made homemade canned soup available, not just the ingredients for soup.

And that got me thinking about the time when we lived in Oregon when I made canned mushroom soup. I was looking for a healthier version of canned condensed cream of mushroom soup. What I learned is that you can’t really make it “cream of” anything in a home kitchen since dairy cannot be safely canned. But you can can a broth soup and add cream to it when you use it. So I set out to make a mushroom soup that I could turn into cream of mushroom when the need arose.

Note: this is not a good substitute for traditional condensed cream of mushroom soup. The flavor is not quite the same, and it takes quite a bit of work to get it to thicken up if you’re looking for the consistency of the creamy stuff straight out of the can. But I will say that the flavor of this chunky mushroom soup far surpasses any of that condensed stuff. And is a wonderful soup to just heat and eat on it’s own. Once I have a full size kitchen with more time on my hands for food preservation (you know, when we’re not building a house), I plan to make more of this and do more experiments to work on thickening it for those times I do want the creamy stuff.

Note # 2: this is a canning recipe, but it’s not a canning tutorial. Pressure canning is pretty easy to learn (I learned just by reading the instruction manual when we bought our canner), so if you don’t know how, do a bit of research so you understand your canner before attempting to can anything in it.

Homemade Canned Mushroom Soup

Makes: 12ish pints

Ingredients:

  • 3lbs mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 large onion – diced
  • 3Tbl minced garlic
  • 2tsp thyme
  • 16+ cups chicken* stock/bone broth (bonus points if you make your own!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*I suppose you could use whatever type of broth you want, actually, if you have a preference. 😁

Combine mushrooms, onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and 1 cup of the chicken stock in a pot. Bring to a boil and cook till mushrooms and onions are cooked well. Heat remaining chicken stock in a separate pot.

Spoon ½ cup mushroom mixture into hot, sterilized jars. Fill remaining space in each jar with hot chicken broth, leaving 1 inch headspace. Put on lids and process in a pressure canner for 45 minutes at 10lbs pressure (adjusting for altitude).

To make into cream of mushroom, open a jar of processed mushroom soup and pour ½ cup into a pot, add 2Tbl your favorite thickening flour and stir till the flour is fully incorporated. Place on heat and cook till thickened, stirring often (this is called a roux I believe). Add about ½ cup of cream to the roux and stir constantly as it heats up and thickens. Once the roux/cream mixture thickens, add the remainder of the soup to the pot and heat through. If you want it thicker, cook it longer.

Ok, now I really want to make some more of this to have on the shelf. Hmmmm…maybe once I hit that point in my recovery where I can do light activity but can’t get back to construction yet I’ll take a day and make some of this, full-size kitchen or not! Yummmm.

What recipes are your go-to for stocking the pantry with healthier alternatives to store bought essentials?

-Maridy

Easy 2-ingredient CHOCOLATE sauce (that’s healthier for you!

I’ve been craving mochas a LOT lately.

But the ingredients in the chocolate sauce used by the coffee shops leaves a lot to be desired.

Not to mention that my cravings clash spectacularly with my wallet (nearly $5 a pop!).

So, I decided to work some more on my homemade mocha recipe. While I’m am not completely satisfied yet with the overall product, I’m digging how easy it is to make this chocolate sauce that has only two ingredients.

Easy 2-Ingredient Chocolate Sauce:

  • 3/4cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 3Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder

I like to make this in an 8oz canning jars since it’s so easy. Simply put both ingredients into the jar, put a lid on it, and shake vigorously until combined. No heating required. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to break up a couple chunks and stir them in. Bonus for making it in the jar is that you already have it in a container to store it and only a measuring cup and spoon to wash. Alternately, you can mix this up in a regular bowl and whisk to combine, but the cocoa powder takes some convincing to mix with the maple syrup. It will happen eventually, just keep stiring. If you’ve combined it in a bowl, transfer to an appropriate size container and put a lid on it.

Use as you would any chocolate sauce. Mochas. Ice cream sundaes. Chocolate milk. Mmmmm….

I do not know if this needs to be refrigerated or not. I mean, we don’t refrigerate our maple syrup or cocoa powder. But just to be safe, I keep mine in the fridge just as I used to when we bought chocolate sauce from the store. That way if I forget about it, which sometimes happen as I tend to go through phases, I know it will last in there for a very long time.

So there you have it. Chocolate sauce that is easy to make, and way better for you than the stuff you get in the store (or coffee shops 😄).

Healthier Hot Chocolate (Only 3 ingredients!)

There’s nothing like playing hard in the snow, then coming inside to a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

It snowed again last night, the most snow we’ve had all winter.

The girls and I took the opportunity to get in some good old fashioned snow play.

When we came in for some hot chocolate, I realized we were dangerously low on our home made hot chocolate mix. But it was no big deal, because with only three ingredients, this hot chocolate mix goes together in a jiffy.

You read that right: three ingredients. This version is so much healthier than any store-bought hot chocolate I’ve found. And depending on what sweetener you use, you can make it even healthier. I’ve seen many other hot chocolate recipes what use more ingredients, and you certainly can add in flavorings of your choice, but we prefer to keep it simple. You can also omit the dried milk and add the cocoa and sweetener to whatever milk you normally drink. I like to have the milk in the mix, however, mainly because we don’t have a microwave, so heating milk on the stove means dirtying a dish. And we avoid that at all costs. Especially in the winter when our water system in the trailer is a bit more labor intensive. But also, I like to make up a big batch of this and have it on hand to drink, no matter how much milk is in the fridge.

Ok, I’ve talked long enough. Here’s the recipe.

Homemade Healthier Hot Chocolate

One serving:

  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar/sweetener
  • of your choice
  • 1/4 cup (heaping) dry milk

Put all ingredients in a mug and mix them together, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till all ingredients are dissolved.

One quart of MIX:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar/sweetener of your choice
  • 2½ cups dry milk

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Then pour into a quart size container, label and place in the pantry/cupboard ,etc for later use. To use, place 3-4 large spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till dissolved.

Notes:

  • Add more or less mix and/or water to achieve desired taste.
  • Mixing all the ingredients together before adding the hot water helps the cocoa not form so many clumps.
  • Feel free to use whatever sweetener you prefer. You may need to play with the ratios a bit, though. We typically use raw cane sugar, but we’ve also used coconut sugar and pure maple syrup. If you prefer to use a liquid sweetener, you’ll need to put that in at the same time as the hot water.

Garden beds

In February, we had a run of really nice weather and it got us itching for spring. Pajii in particular is really missing being able to garden. His garden up in Oregon, though small, was prolific and beautiful.

Pajii’s garden in Oregon – 2014

So, since we couldn’t work on the house (still waiting on our contractor to finish the walls and roof), and we had such nice weather, I decided to knock together some raised garden beds for Pajii to work in come spring.

I decided to use our wood left overs from the concrete forms for the house foundation.

This is only some of the wood we reclaimed from our forms for the foundation.

I measured and cut and organized and got all the pieces sized and ready to assemble.

A lot of the 3/4″ scrap plywood was 8 or 16 inches wide. This made it easy to figure out how tall I wanted the beds to be.

I started by attaching my side panels to the corner 2×4 posts which I cut to be twice the height of the panel. Since I wanted to use as much of the smaller wood scraps as possible and leave larger pieces for future projects, I had to make a couple 16″ panels out of two 8″ panels as you can see in the following pictures.

Attaching a panel to the corner post

I used 1⅝” deck screws to attach the 3/4” plywood to the 2×4 posts.

Joining two 8″ panels together to make a 16″ panel.

One side ready for assembly

Once I had all four sides ready for assembly, I started screwing them together.

Clamps are your friend when working solo.

One box almost finished.

This box is almost finished. Just needs some strengthening 2×4’s around the top edge.

One of the boxes we made a trapezoid (an isosceles trapezoid to be precise 😉) to work in with the shape of the garden a bit better. You can see in the pic below where Princess Girl is helping me put on the strengthening rim boards around the top of the box. I used 3″ deck screws too attach these boards to the corner posts.

Finally got some human help. 😁

We also attached the plywood to the rim boards with 1⅝” deck screws.

Princess Girl gets some more screw gun practice.

Pajii and the Princess with a finished box.

Time to move.

Once we got the boxes put into place, Flower Girl’s chicken, Leilani, had to come check them out.

All 4 boxes in position.

We made 4 boxes total. Three of them are 3ft by 6ft and the fourth one is a trapezoid that is 5ft x 3ft x 2ft, if that makes sense. All of the boxes are 16 inches tall with 32 inch corner posts. The corner posts are taller in order to easily attach clear plastic to make a cold frame in early spring, or more likely, netting to keep the squirrels and other pests out.

I really like how these boxes turned out. I love that everything used to make them, including the screws, is reclaimed materials that were used to make the foundation of our house.

We have not filled them with soil yet since winter returned just a couple of days after we finished them. Soon, though, we’ll go get some soil and not too long after that, Pajii will be able to keep busy growing us some fresh veggies. I can’t wait!