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!

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House Update: Upper floor framing

Quite a bit of progress lately – finally!

I am pretty much completely healed from the broken rib and we are finding our groove once more.

While I was still injured, we had several friends come by on several different days to help us move along. With the help of these guys, we were able to complete the floor joists and get all the flooring on.

We can’t thank these gentlemen enough. They are amazing!

Hubby, of course, was there when his work schedule permitted.

One weekend while Hubs was out of town, one of the guys came over and we were able to finish the subfloor and even raised the first of the upstairs walls.

Subfloor done! Time to focus on the wall.

Once that wall was raised and securely fastened, we realized before we could go any farther, we needed to attach the “hat channel” on the ceiling.

The hat channel, also called resilient channel, is basically a metal stud that is lightweight but strong and can span long distances. It attaches to the ceiling perlins every 16 inches and then the sheetrock is attached to those.

We’ve been working on the hat channel for a couple days now and have figured out a good system. It feels great to be working as a team again, and even just working again in general.

And it feels great to be getting somewhere once more!

It is also cool to finally see where the actual ceiling is going to be and how much space we will ultimately have.

Pajii is 6′ tall for reference. It will be short at the sides, but still useable space there.

It’s pretty amazing to be down on the first floor and see all the hat channel on the ceiling. We got just about all of it done on the south half of the house.

We will build the other end wall, then the short side walls next. After that, we tackle the difficult section by putting the hat channel on the north half of the house using the scaffold.

After that, we work on the tall walls and the railing wall upstairs. Oh, and the stairs themselves!

Exciting times!

I just thank God that I have healed enough to be able to work!

PS, Oh, and you know how awesome it is to be able to continue working inside our nice secure house with the warm fire going when it looks like this outside?

Yeah, so nice!

How we do this Off-Grid thing

So you all know we live “off-grid” on our homestead in our trailers and are building our house to be off-grid as well.

But what does that mean?

It does not mean that we are completely independent from modern conveniences. I mean, I do drive a vehicle (more than I want to, I admit). We heat our trailers with propane. And there are times our little temporary solar system just does not cut it and we need to run the generator to charge the batteries. Like when the sun hasn’t come out for days.

Or, like today, when we did have some sun, but I didn’t get laundry out on the line in time for it to dry and needed to use the generator to run the clothes dryer.

It’s times like this that I’m very glad for modern conveniences like generators and the gasoline needed to run them.

Big generator pulled up to the well shed to run the dryer

Our washer can run on our small solar system, but the dryer requires more power.

BTW this is how we vent the dryer. We don’t want to put a hole in the shed wall since this is temporary until we can move the washer and dryer into the house. We also route the washer drain out this window.

So, yeah, for us, living off-grid does not mean that we do not rely on the grid. We are not one of those families who live in the wilderness, eating only what we can hunt or gather or grow, heating our house only with wood we can gather, etc. Not by a long shot!

But it does mean that we produce about 90% of our daily (not construction) power needs through our solar system. (And once we are living in the house it will be even more since our solar system will be larger.) And we stock up on propane and gasoline when the storms are threatening. It means that in an emergency situation, we could live quite comfortably for quite a while. And in a long term situation, we could get by without the backup generators if we ran out of gas. Yeah, it might mean not watching TV, and having to do essential bits of laundry by hand and hanging it to dry in front of the fire in the house, but we’d get by till the sun came back out. Way better than most people who rely completely on the grid. For us, it’s about being as self sufficient as is feasible in our current lifestyle. I also like the idea that by using mostly solar power, we are reducing our carbon footprint.

Now, to just get this house built so that we can focus on producing our own food again and be even more sustainable. 😁

A little bit of winter fun

Every winter, we look forward to the right conditions to use our old fashioned runner sled.

Check out our YouTube channel to see a short video of Flower Girl and I going for a ride.

While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our channel. We don’t post videos very often, so you don’t want to miss a single one. 😄

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

House update: we have a second floor!

Yesterday, Hubs asked where something was and I responded that it was upstairs.

Upstairs!!!

We actually have an “upstairs” in the house!

Now, it doesn’t look like a traditional second floor yet, just some plywood on some floor joists, which we access by a ladder.

But it’s a second floor nonetheless.

Here’s a picture of almost how far we’ve gotten so far.

Floor joists about 1/3 of the way across the loft with plywood staged to attach to the joists.

But now we go back to the beginning of the second floor framing…

Floor i-joists in the staging area (ie our dining room and kitchen areas)

Some of the joists placed on the walls in preparation for attaching

A friend helping us get the framing finished in preparation for the joists.

Princess Girl helped space the joists out on our 16inch-on-center layout

Once the joists were in place, we needed to add some additional blocking where an upper wall will be attached.

Then it was time for plywood!

We glued then nailed the subfloor to the joists.

Once we got a few sheets of subfloor down, we needed to put more joists on. Here, Princess Girl and I are starting the measuring process for the next section of joists.

And that’s about as far as we got, and not likely to get much more done in the next week or or so because I was stupid and got injured.

We got the next joists cut and ready to go, and while we were putting them up on the second level, I forgot to watch where I was walking, and walked off the edge of the plywood! Blessedly, I didn’t fall the 9 feet down to the concrete floor, but that does mean I fell onto the joists. I added an arrow to the previous picture to show where I went through.

I landed on the joists sideways with all my weight hitting on my rib cage. Can I just say that this is one of the few times in my life I’ve been glad for the “extra padding” I have? Between that and the fact I was once again wearing a sweatshirt and puffy vest, I escaped more serious injury. I shudder to think how bad the contusion would have been had I been wearing just a t-shirt as in the picture above.

As it is, I am very bruised and sore. I did not go to the ER since they could not do anything for me anyway other than confirm that my ribs are, or are not, cracked, and send me home with a prescription for pain meds. I do not have any symptoms of internal injuries, but I am continuing to keep an eye on how my body is doing.

The treatment plan, even if my ribs are actually cracked – which I don’t think they are – is just rest (and ice and painkillers, etc). So, it looks like I have an unexpected “vacation” on my hands. Time to catch up on some reading and crocheting I’ve been wanting to do. I’ll update on my condition in a few days.

-Maridy