Tag Archives: DIY

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!

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: miscellaneous jobs

You know when you have that big project on the horizon that you need/want to start working on, but for whatever reason you can’t yet but there’s a long list of projects to do so you gotta get them taken care of and when you finally do them you realize it actually feels good to be able to cross something off the list and you wonder why you procrastinated so long because, I mean, you’re not working on the “big project” right now anyway?

*Takes a deep breath after that extremely long run-on sentence.* 😉

Yeah, we’ve crossed quite a few need-to-do little projects off the list in the last couple of months since getting the septic finished. Some of them so small, I didn’t even bother to take pictures. But some of them were significant enough that they have made our life so much easier.

Like our garden hose hydrant. We dug a trench (more trenching!) from where our water line crosses the driveway over to where we wanted the hose faucet next to the landscaping rocks.

The trench.

Tee into the water main

Princess Girl got in on the action

The gravel in the bottom of the pit is to aid in drainage since this is a frost-free hydrant. That means that every time the water is shut off, the water that is in the top of the pipe drains out of a small hole at the bottom of the trench so there is no water up in the pipe or faucet to freeze in the winter. We did put in a shut-off valve just in case we ever need to shut the water off to the faucet for any reason, but theoretically, we shouldn’t ever have to use it.

We have water!

And it works like a charm! And made our water situation around here so much easier! Watering the gardens were a breeze with 1700 gallons on tap. Yep, that’s how big our cistern is. We fill it up from the well as needed (every couple of weeks at the end of summer) and it supplies all our outdoor and animal watering needs. Right now it is mid-November and we haven’t gotten any moisture all season long. Great for working outside, not so great for our fruit trees and perennial plants. So we’re still having to water the trees and gardens every once in a while. This hydrant also makes it super easy to re-fill our rain barrels (because, you know, no rain). We use the water in the rain barrels for the animals. Before having the hydrant, we would have to turn on the big generator and well in order to fill barrels, etc. Now, with 1700 gallons of water at our disposal, we only need to fire up the genny and well pump every…actually, we don’t know how long it will take us to go through that much water this time of year. Suffice to say, it will take a while. And since it’s all under ground, it won’t freeze during the winter. Yay!

Another project we were able to check off the list was to move the electrical conduit for the garage. We hired out having the garage built, and we ended up needed to scoot the whole building back a few feet, which means the place where we originally had the conduit coming up was no longer in the correct spot.

New perimeter lines drawn

You can see in the pic above that the conduit was now several feet away from the wall of the garage. So, once the construction crew dug the footers, we came in and extended the conduit so it comes up inside the garage near the wall where our solar power system will be installed.

Electrical conduit extended

Again, not a huge job, but it HAD to get done.

Another small job that made our life so much easier was installing shop lights in the house.

Let there be light!

Now that the days are shorter, we needed light in the house so we can keep on working after the sun goes down.

And speaking of the days being shorter, and therefore colder, we finally got our laundry room door ordered and then installed.

A real door!

We could have had this door in place since January since it’s frame is part of the steel building, not the interior wood frame like all the other doors will be. But last winter and spring we were on hold with the house and the house only had this one wall anyway. And over the summer it wasn’t needed because of the weather. It was only when it got cold enough that we needed to stop the breeze from blowing through the house that we got our butts in gear and got it done.

And yet another small job we got done recently was replacing the rain gutter on our mud room. We had scabbed together something when we first built it, but after two winters it needed to be replaced. So we got a real gutter system. And now we’re set for this winter. And hopefully we’ll get a lot of rain and snow this year. We need it!

Princess Girl is learning all sorts of skills living here on the homestead.

So much nicer than the old system.

And that’s about it for now. As I said, there were plenty of other odd jobs done that I just didn’t document. And in the middle of all that, there was one major project that we worked on over the course of a couple weeks…

The floors!

But that’s a post all on its own. For now I am going to sign off.

I gots things to do!

House update: Septic Phase 2

Finally, I feel like we’re making progress! In fact, I have so much to share, I’m putting it in several blog posts to keep it all straight. 😁

So, last I left off, we we’re just starting on our leach field. I naively stated that “by the end of the week” we hoped to have a completed system.

Ha!

It wasn’t that was hit any unexpected problems. It was more that the problems we did face we’re harder to overcome than we expected. Namely, we had no dirt with which to backfill the leach lines. It was mostly just rocks. So, we had to purchase and haul in dirt. Again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First thing we had to do was dig the trench for the sewer pipe from the already buried septic tank, down the hill to where the leach lines were going to go.

Blessedly, Pops was on hand to dig once more.

My mom came to help, too!

We only ran into one huge Boulder which we just couldn’t budge with the small excavator we rented. But, a friend had a jackhammer that worked to get the boulder out of the way.

Our excavation crew. We are blessed with great friends who come to help us out.

Completed pipe from the septic tank down to the distribution box.

While we were working on the pipe, Pops was digging the trenches for the leach chambers. So once we got the pipe laid, it was time to bring down the chambers and start laying those.

We chose this system because the trenches only need to be 3 feet deep and no gravel is needed. And it’s very easy to put together. And handle. And transport. Etc, etc, etc.

Pajii finds a bit of shade inside a septic chamber 🤣

Leveling the ground in preparation for another chamber.

Making sure the previous chamber is level.

Prepping the ground for yet another chamber.

Once the chamber is in place, dirt is shoveled in on the sides to hold it in place. That’s where we ran into issues. We had trouble finding enough rock-free dirt to cover the chambers.

Digging the third and final trench.

Sometimes, the big tools had to come out to make the chambers level.

Pajii once again inside one of the septic chambers. 🤣

Each leach line was 80 feet long.

We got all three lines laid and partially buried, then had our inspection. Which we passed, no problem!

Here you see the leach field in relation to the house. What you can’t tell is just how steep that hill is.

Now it was time to backfill.

But again, how to get the backfill material from the trailer to the pipe when you’re dealing with steep, rocky terrain?

Buckets. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of buckets full of sand.

If I never have to move sand by bucket again, I’ll be happy. 😉

Once we had a good layer of sand on top of the chamber, we could then push the native dirt (full of rocks) back over the top.

Goofball!

The hubby and I got real good at handling the mini-ex.

Aaaaand we’re done!

And that’s it. A completed septic system. It felt so good to know that we have another huge portion of our build completely done.

So now we have a fully functional septic system. But of course, nothing is hooked up to it. We have dumped the trailer sewer tanks in there a couple times since it’s been done, and that’s been great. Not having to go into town to empty those is a blessing indeed.

But let me tell you, that first toilet flush in our new house is going to be magical.

Once we finished the septic system, we turned our focus to the inside of the house. Primarily, the floors. But that is another post. I want to get this one sent off into cyber space and get back to working on the house rather than writing about it.

House update: septic system, phase 1

We are STILL waiting on the contractor to come and finish siding and roofing the house. So in the meantime, we’ve been working on the septic system. I posted last time about how I was trying to find the strength and willpower to get started on that project. Well, I am happy to report that phase 1 is just about finished!

Phase 1 = hooking up the sewer system from the house to the septic tank.

Phase 2 = the sewer system from the septic tank to the leach field. We haven’t even started this phase yet. It requires renting an excavator, etc.

But we are feeling accomplished at the progress we have made. Especially since we’ve been doing all the backfill, etc by hand. No machines. It takes a while, but it doesn’t cost money.

Ok, well, technically we’ve had to buy DG (decomposed granite, which is a type of sand) to surround the septic tank, but other than that, it’s been free. In fact, we got some other fill dirt for just the price of gas to go get it.

We did get some help on the septic trench. My nephew and his wife came to town and we put them to work!

Actually, they wanted to help. And now whenever we get to use our toilet, we’ll be able to thank them for helping. 😁

We have a sand pit on the property that we were initially mining sand from to bed the septic pipe in.

And it was working just fine, but it was a very slow process as we could only get small amounts of sand at a time. But it allowed us to start the process. And as we all know, starting is half the battle.

My helper

Test fitting

Raising strong a woman

.

More sand, and another strong woman in the making

Not too long after the above pictures were taken, we decided we needed to move along a bit (or a lot) faster, so we decided to purchase sand to bed the pipe and surround the tank in.

Love, love, love Pajii’s dump trailer!

Gluing the pipe! It’s always an exciting time when you get to play- uh, I mean work, with glue!

I’d never worked with this particular type of sewer pipe before. It has a rubber gasket instead of using glue. It makes getting the pipes together a bit tricky. But ingenuity wins every time.

Once we got the pipe laid and inspected, and just before we started covering it, we took some measurements. This is very important if we ever have to dig that thing back up for any reason.

We passed the inspection with flying colors, and it was time for backfill!

But first…we had to clean out all the rocks and debris that had fallen in the pit over the winter. Oh, actually, we did that before the inspection. Forgot. Anyway, here we are cleaning up the pit.

Including this big rock. Waaay too big to get it out by hand.

Again, ingenuity to the rescue. We were able to use this system to get enough sand under it that we could roll it away from the tank and bury it.

Then it was sand, sand, sand.

And finally regular dirt on top.

And yes, that’s Princess Girl on crutches. She sprained her ankle. 😞

Filled in trench, which will eventually get another 1-2 feet of fill when we bring in dirt to raise the ground level up to slab level.

And an almost covered septic tank. We actually did even more after this picture was taken. It is now almost even with the top all the way around.

Right now as I write this post, I am down in town waiting for the trailer to be loaded with free fill dirt. I met a guy through Craiglist. He had good quality fill dirt he needed hauled away, and we have need of dirt we don’t have to pay for. Win-win.

We decided that we wanted to pay for only what we have to (because despite the saying, dirt ain’t cheap!), so we devised a system where we put the purchased DG sand in the first foot or so up against the tank, then outside of that, we put either our native soil, or this other fill dirt that is not as high a quality.

I’d say by the end of the week, the septic tank will be completely covered. Yay! That means we can finally bring in the needed dirt to raise the ground level all around the house up to what it’s supposed to be.

And that is just one step closer to done.

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 😄).