Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Dad's Tree Fort

When I was a kid, my dad build us the cutest little play house known to man which provided us with endless fun times and memories.  Now he's at it again only with a tree house for the grand kids.  My dad is a busy man - when he's not making his community a better place, working as an El Paso County Commissioner he's got plenty of other things to take his time.  Like working on his house, a super cute ranch home in Fountain, Colorado that he's basically redone all of, or working on his yard.  He hunts, takes the grand-kids camping and just recently hiked Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, for his 60th birthday.  He fields all my calls for advice and manages to come visit the many of us Hiseys who reside in Oregon - me included.  But apparently, he couldn't help himself a couple summers ago and decided to throw together this awesome little fort for the grand-kids.

He build this using mostly (if not all) used materials he already had on hand.  My step mom even found the paint on the half off rack.

  • The large posts are 4x8 beams that he had replaced from the front porch of their house.  
  • You will notice the platform is framed using some 4x4s and while overkill does run in the family that was just a matter of what he had on hand.  He used a chalk like to mark a 4x8 down the center and then used a chainsaw, yes, a chainsaw, to cut those babies in half.  You'll notice the 4x4s allowed him to carve away parts of the platform framing to make way for the tree and still have a solid piece of wood. 
  • The plywood is 1/2" which was sufficient especially with the solid framing. 
  • The stairs were made by carving notches in 2x6s with 2x2s for the rungs.
  • He poured his own cement blocks to go under the 4x8 beams by simply building a frame for the mold and mixing his own concrete. 
  • All the grand-kids are old enough that he didn't worry about putting the side rails close enough together to keep them from getting through; he actually put them far enough apart that no one would get stuck in between.  I'm sure a kid or two has jumped off that platform on purpose. 
  • In the second to last picture, you can see a pulley which allows the kids to pull a bucket up and lower it down.  I can't even tell you the hours of entertainment that has provided.   
Enjoy the pictures!  

Monday, January 28, 2013

How to shorten a non-adjustable metal IKEA loft bed.

In a perfect world I would buy a high quality wooden, fully adjustable or customized loft bed from a local store.  I would also have tall ceilings in my house.  But I live in the real world where like millions of other parents when considering how to fit a desk into my seven year old daughter's filled to capacity bedroom I look to IKEA knowing this bed will be temporary and that I will not have to take out a loan to afford it.

I recently bought IKEA's $119 metal loft bed frame and it solved every space problem I had and for a whole week I convinced myself that the bed was not indeed too tall and that it would work.
The next week I tried to convince my husband to let me try to sell the twin mattress we had just bought six months ago and buy a cheap super skinny mattress from IKEA to try and add a few inches between the mattress and the ceiling.  That was the week my daughter started sleeping on the floor.

The next week I decided to cut the legs down, a move of sheer brilliance that I fully recommend for all the rest of you cheap asses who have turned to IKEA's metal loft bed.

It is easier than you think.  All you need is a hack saw.  You don't have to take the bed apart, buy an expensive metal blade for a hand saw or any other expensive tools.  A good hack saw will cost you less than $20 and you should have one on hand anyway so consider it an investment.  I had to go buy one after I tried a few other methods that were not so successful.  It is my husband and then dad who recommended the hack saw which cut the metal brilliantly!
Measure and mark the length you want to take off.  I took off six inches.  Eight would have worked too.
I measured a paper, taped it on and marked the leg with a permanent marker.
I propped the bed up with a long 2X4 which was probably not necessary but made me feel safer while sawing away.  A second person to help spot the bed would have worked but I wanted to do this NOW and my husband was not home NOW.
Start sawing away!  Your arm might burn if you are not used to working a manual saw (mine burned) but I couldn't believe how easy it cut into the metal.  It took me five minutes with several breaks to cut one leg!

Once the leg is cut pop out the plastic foot piece and put it on new shorter leg.  Prop the leg up with some 2X4's while you work on the other legs.

I cut the leg that had the ladder rope last and inserted the rope in the base just like it was before.  After checking to see how much I thought I should cut off the ladder I decided to go with six inches just like the legs of the bed and that worked out.  Just prop the ladder up starting the base where the rope ends and measure how much excess you have up above.

It's that easy.  My buyer's remorse is GONE.  I'm really happy with the shorter loft bed.  Phew!
  I'm six months pregnant.  Can you see me laying on top of that bed to tuck my daughter in?  No way. 
I can fit up top easily.  The bed is much easier to change the sheets on and looks fantastic at this height. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Pictures are Gone - Technical Difficulties

I had one of those epic horrible wrong move moments last night when in an effort to free up some memory on my phone I deleted a couple albums, important albums, master photo albums of pictures stored in Picasa which feed this blog.  I'm honestly not sure how those albums were on my phone in the first place or how I could delete an entire blogs worth of pictures with one click.  Obviously somehow my blogger photos synced with my phone and obviously I'm not the most tech savvy woman on the block.  I'm working to get the pictures back but will likely have to upload each one from my computer individually.  Sorry for the inconvenience if you are actually trying to get some information here.  I'll do my best to restore at least the popular posts.

Yours Truly, 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Twelve Tips for Canning

It’s been a while since I have posted but have no doubts, the workshop lives on; I’ve just been preoccupied with getting pregnant as a surrogate!  I haven’t been tinkering with the house too much but my family’s need to eat food and my desire to stock up on nutritious vegies and fruits now, while the pickings are ripe has not diminished in the slightest.  With summer two thirds over, canning season is in full swing. 

Here are some general, random tips and ideas that I have found make it easier for me to process summer’s bounty.  Canning and preserving can seem daunting but the more you do it and the more tricks and methods you tap into, the easier it will become, I promise.

A few things I have learned –

Start simple.  Pressure canning is not that hard but water bath canning is EASY and you can do it with a big pot you already have or a not too expensive water bath canner.  You can use the water bath with anything acidic enough or that you can make acidic enough with a little lemon, citric acid or vinegar.  Think pickles, tomatoes, jellies and fruit, dilly beans and pickled vegetables.   Once you are comfortable with handling the jars, your timing and routine, venture to the pressure cooker which is good for anything with meat in it including broths, and things like green beans, peas, peppers, potatoes, squash and corn.  Also, start with simple recipes that you can easily obtain the ingredients for.

I love when I look at a recipe and already have most of the ingredients.  You will always find stocked in my house, tons of fresh garlic heads, dried red peppers, vinegar, alum and many spices.   My grandma says you don’t have to use pickling salt so you don’t.  I just use my sea salt in most recipes.

Keep your canning supplies close by.  If you are like me, you don’t need anything to detour you.  Having to fish for supplies from the attic is a big project stopper for me.  Try to keep your supplies all in one place and easy to get to. 

Using fresh ingredients and recipes you like is crucial.  If it doesn’t taste good before canning, it won’t taste good after.   If your tomatoes are bland ahead of time, cooking them isn’t going to give you good flavored tomato sauce.  If your green beans are stringy and your cucumbers are soft, they will be stringy and soft after canning.  If you purchase your veggies and fruits by the case at a store, farm or market, don’t be afraid to open the box and dig thorough it.  If things are overly wilted, moldy or not looking good don’t waste your time.

Can enough to make it worth your while.  If you are going to go to the trouble to get everything out, do more than 4 jars worth.  For water bath canning I like to do at least two or three batches, each batch containing seven jars.  For Pressure canning one or two batches (7 or 14 jars) is plenty since it takes longer.

Don’t can too much at a time.  One time I went to buy two boxes of green beans and they threw in two more for free.  My first clue should have been that they were trying to get rid of the beans.  They were too large and had been off the plant for too long.  Add to that that it took me two days to snap them and by the time they were processed, the quality wasn’t that terrific.  If canning takes over my life, like I have to stop everything for one or two solid days, it becomes unsustainable and I won’t can again for a long time.  I’d rather do smaller batches and fit it in as I go about my day than have to set aside whole days.  While canning does take time, I still have to get all the other stuff around the house and with the kids done so it can’t become too all consuming.

Have the kids help.  I don’t like kids in the kitchen so much when I’m pounding stuff out and it can be dangerous once you’re really going but there is no reason kids can’t snap beans and pull strawberry tops off and it will save you ton of time to have extra help with those tasks. 

Take more than just one day for tomato sauce and paste.  This is a real time consuming task and watched tomato sauce does not reduce.  Put your pot on medium low and go about your business.  Can the sauce or paste the next day.  I’ve even kept it on low over night to reduce.

Figure out your goal and work accordingly.  If you want fancy chutney to divvy out for Christmas then search for a perfect recipe and go for it!  Get cute jars and when it’s finished cover the lid with a piece of cloth and a bow made of twine.

If you want to save money, preserve your garden's bounty or afford to eat a better product, focus on what you use in the kitchen.  You can only eat so much jelly in a year.  There are so many fun recipes that I would love to try but by the time I finish canning the stuff I need to fill my pantry with for everyday use I don’t usually have time for cranberry mustard or zinfandel jelly.  That said, there is usually something I have canned each year that is worthy of giving to teachers and friends and family for gifts like blueberry conserve and peach salsa.  I get a lot out of supplying the family with food I believe in first and foremost.  One day I will make the time for more fun stuff like the sliced jalapeƱos mixed with pineapple chunks my friend gave me that was to die for!

Don’t compromise on your standards, if you are not comfortable with twelve cups of sugar in a recipe than figure out how to do it without the sugar or find a different recipe.

If you are sharing your goods, don’t be shy to ask for your jars back.  You could just say something like, “If you don’t have a use for the jar when you’re done, I’ll take it back so I can reuse it.”  I don't do this with teachers but friends and family are fair game.  Also don’t give your food to people who won’t eat it or appreciate it for what it is.  You know who I’m talking about.

Be on the lookout for inexpensive canning supplies.  This is a given but it’s worth saying.  There are sales on jars and lids and equipment all the time.  You might also have luck buying used equipment.  Thrift stores are descent places to pick up jars, just check to make sure they are not chipped.

At the end of every summer I buy these beautiful colorful cut Dahlias that come in a quart jar from a cute stand on the side of the road for $3 and justify it because I am not only getting beautiful flowers but I’m adding to my jar collection!  The honey I buy also comes in reusable jars - bonus!

Canning, drinking and loud music go great together.  Grab a glass of wine.  If you are a person who drinks, a long night of canning is the perfect time to crank the music and sip on a beverage in between steps.  

If you have young children, go easy on yourself.  I mean, we should all go easy on ourselves and canning should be fun.  But if you have a baby at home consider lowering your standards for how much you want to can.  You can only strap a baby to your back for so much of the canning process.  If you are pressure canning consider doing it after baby is in bed for the night (ya, like that's a guaranteed break, right?) and be prepared to be tired the next day or pressure can while someone else is watching him.  Trust me, it will get easier as the kids get older.  I think when we have young children is often when we start to want to be more self reliant and more conscientious of our food but unless you will starve if you don't can in the summer, relax and just get done what you are able. 

Happy canning!  I hope to get with it and post a few of the simple recipes I use.  There is nothing special about any of them but if I can inspire or give confidence to anyone or share ideas, than I am pleased.  It is such a remarkable feeling to be able to preserve you own food and can what is local and fresh from farmers you trust.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Grandpa told me bantams like to hide their eggs...

This is Luna our Bantam Barred Plymouth Rock.
Every day we let the chickens out of their coop/run into a fenced part of the yard.  Usually we free them in the afternoon after they have laid their eggs.  The chickens are pretty satisfied in their fenced yard so they don't normally escape unless dusk is approaching or they have to lay an egg.

It had been a while since we have seen Luna's eggs.  I figured she was laying under the deck, the only place I could imagine she could squeeze that I couldn't' access.   Then Luna went missing.  If you have chicken you know, they always come home to roost!  So I was worried when Luna was a no show two nights in a row.

On the third day when I was letting the other chicken out (we are down to only two chickens since my kids can't eat eggs anymore, I gave the other four hens to a friend) Luna came out from the neighbor's yard with ruffled feathers - the kind of ruffled feathers hens have when they have been nesting and come off the eggs to get water or food!  After securing Luna in the coop my daughter and I went exploring and what did we find?  Luna's beautiful nest full of eggs!
Our Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam has been sneaking out to lay her eggs in the neighbor's yard (the neighbors rarely occupy their yard), and she finally had enough of a clutch of eggs she decided to try and hatch those babies. Unfortunately we don't have a rooster so they will never hatch.  I tried to explain it to her and I told her that I was going to have to leave her in the coop/run until she could show me that she will lay her eggs in the nesting box.  I feel real bad interfering with her instincts to hatch those eggs and to hide them in such fun locations but I'm the grown up and we have boundaries for her own good. I can't have her sneaking out plus I do want to be able to find and keep her eggs - selfish truly.

It sure was fun to find her cozy nest!  While Flufatrox, our Ameraucana faithfully lays in the nesting box, our bantam really likes to hide her eggs just like my grandpa said of bantams.  Before this find I have previously found Luna's eggs behind the lavender bush, under a tomato plant, and in a grassy patch.  It's like Easter in August. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How to build your own sturdy tomato cage using lumber -

 I have had enough with the cheap wire tomato cages that fall over, bend and break every year.  Last year I went to buy some more sturdy ones, ones I've seen in people's yards.  Unfortunately they cost around $20 or more per cage and I couldn't justify it.  This year I have 15 tomato plants and I cannot imagine spending $300 on cages.  For that cost I can just buy organic tomatoes from the store and forget about growing my own.

Last year as an alternative I grew my tomatoes up by pinching off the suckers using not quite sturdy enough cedar poles.  If I did it again I would use metal stakes but I don't want to go buy a bunch of those either.  My grandpa gave me a couple cages, the ones he had been using for years that he constructed out of scraps.  He never throws away lumber.

This year I decided to copy his work.  I think the wood cages look really nice in the garden. They are cost effective at less than $5 for the materials per cage.

The tomato cage I have constructed is 44 inches high and 15 inches wide with 13 inches between supports.  I am very happy with the dimensions.  I made a couple cages at 42 inches high and only 12 inches between the bottom two supports for my smaller variety tomatoes but they are not my favorite cages.  You could make your cages any size you please.   Instructions here are for the 44 inch high cage.

Materials You Will Need

3 - 1x2x8
2 - 2x2x8
84 (yes, 84) - galvanized 2 inch 6d nails
Drill bit (3/32)
Measuring tape
L Square

Step 1 - Cut Your Lumber

For the three 1x2's - rungs and supports -

Line the three 1x2's up together so you can mark them all at the same time.  Using a L-Square measure and mark the following across for each board:

15" 15" 16.5" 16.5" 4" 4" 4" 4" 4" 4" 4" 4" (that's eight - 4 " - you will know you are done when you reach the end of the board.)
I mass produced and just measured as many as I could at a time. 
Use a hand saw or whatever saw you have to cut the 15 and 16.5 inch rungs and 4 inch supports.

For the two 2x2's - sidepieces -
Measure, mark and cut the two 2x2's into four 44 inch sidepieces.

You should have:
6 - 15 inch 1x2 rungs
6 - 16.5 inch 1x2 rungs
24 - 4 inch 1x2 supports
4 - 44 inch 2x2 sidepieces

Step 2 - Mark your four - 44 inch 2x2's

Line up your four 44 inch 2x2 sidepieces.

Using your L-Square measure and mark 13 inches from the bottom on all four boards.

Measure and mark 1.5 inches up from the 13 inch mark (Your first 15 inch 1x2 rung will go between those two lines).

Measure and mark 13 inches up from the last line (this will be where the next 15 inch 1x2 rung goes).
Step 3 - Assemble the first side of the tomato cage which will look like a ladder

Starting at the top of the sidepieces, nail a 15 inch 1x2 rung flush with the 44 inch sidepieces.  To make the second rung, attach another 15 inch rung just above the first line from the top of your board (15 inches down from the top).  Attach a third 15 inch rung between the bottom two lines, 13 inches up from the bottom of the sidepieces.  Repeat this with the other 44 inch sidepieces and remaining 15 inch rungs so you have two "ladders."
Make sure the "ladder" is level by placing it upright on a flat surface and then carefully keep it in place and add a 4 inch 1x2 support under each side of each rung nailing the 4 inch supports to the sidepieces.  The supports will keep the rungs from shifting.

TIP - To avoid splitting pre-drill each 1x2 every place you will use a nail.

Step 4 - Connect the two ladders
Bring the ladders together by nailing three 16.5 1x2 rungs to overlap the edge of the 15 inch rungs.  Do the same on the other side to make a square.

Make sure the cage is level and add a 4 inch support under each side of each 16.5 inch rung slightly overlapping the supports from the 15 inch rung support.

TIP - Start attaching the 16.5 inch rungs, as with the 15 inch ones, beginning at the top of the tomato cage.  It will be easier to manipulate or ignore a discrepancy at the bottom of the cage if the boards are warped or the wrong size a little.

Finish the project by pre-drilling and then sinking a nail into each 16.5 inch rung where it overlaps a 15 inch piece.
You will absolutely love your sturdy, good looking tomato cages and your tomato plants will thank you by flourishing!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chicken Coop Fort, Step 3 - Burying the Posts

Chicken Coop Fort
Step 1 - Planning
Step 2 - Framing
Step 3 - Burying the Posts

This is the part of the coop/fort that I put off the longest.  In most projects there is, to some degree, a step that I just put off – sometimes for a week, sometimes for a year.  Once I start doing it, all is well, but usually I just don't know how to go about starting the task or am somehow intimidated by the step or the level of commitment it will demand.  In my defense, this project was interrupted by legitimate life stuff getting in the way but even when I had the time and frame of mind to work on it, for whatever reason, actually digging the holes to bury the 16' 4x4s for the fort/coop was daunting.  Part of the problem was trying to figure out how to get the sixteen foot 4x4s home when our best hauling vehicle is a minivan.  This is where my friend Joyce enters the picture.  She had already built her boys a fort which is high up in the air supported by huge 6x6s.  Joyce told me about Parr Lumber who for orders of $100 or more will deliver at no extra charge!  

I ordered my posts along with some other lumber to get my order up to the minimum required for delivery and in anticipation of a new fence one day.  Not only did they deliver but the gentleman pushed the lumber right into our garage, which is atop a steep driveway.  The lumber guy had some mad forklift skills.
My husband dug the first post hole and really got the project moving again.  I marked where we would dig by placing the base of the coop on the ground and marking where each 4x4 would run up the sides.  We used a post-hole shovel and dug down 4’2” which is about as far as I can imagine digging with a post-hole shovel.  I knew from a previous call to the city that I would not run into any underground pipes, mains or lines.  Since the spot we were putting the coop/fort wasn't perfectly level I did end up digging the back holes a little deeper so all the posts would be about the same level up top – all four posts were not perfectly level with each other in the end and that was fine. 

Four feet down is a deep hole and I have been accused of overkill but knowing that would be the foundation for everything else I didn’t see how it could be too deep.  TIP: I have been told that for a post which will carry a lot of weight it is best to go deeper rather than wider.  Each hole was about 8” across.  TIP: At the bottom of the hole I used about 2” of crushed rock to set a firm base, for a little drainage and to serve as a barrier between the dirt and post.
TIP: To set the post in the holes I followed my friend Joyce’s advice and to keep the post from tearing up the side of the hole thereby adding dirt to the bottom I placed a board on the side as it was lowered.  I was able to drop the posts in the hole on my own using a hill to balance the post on.  Had it been flat ground with nothing to use for leverage, dropping the posts in would have been a two man job.

Mixing the cement was not nearly as difficult or messy as I thought it would be.  Jason helped me with this.  We dumped a bag of dry cement in a wheelbarrow and added water one bucket at a time.  I simply hosed off the wheelbarrow when we were finished.   
Mixing Brands was no problem at all. 
Nothing is hotter than my man helping in the workshop. :)
Yes, by bucket I did mean a kid's sand castle bucket.
TIP: I used a post level to make sure the posts were strait.  The level was pretty cheap and well worth it.
TIP: Joyce cautioned me not to move the post very much once the cement was poured.  She lost a few inches of depth by accidentally moving her post up a little as she was shifting it.  

To make sure my posts were square with each other I ran some twine between the posts and before using cement I made sure a board could lay flush between the 4x4s and I even placed the coop base in between them to be sure.  It was a hassle to be so cautious but absolutely worth it.

I used braces at first but realized it wasn't' necessary with thick enough cement. 

I had to expand my last post hole by a couple of inches because it was not in line with the others and the post would have been in direct contact with the dirt. TIP: It’s important to have the posts surrounded by cement and not touching the dirt so it will not rot.  It is well worth the trouble of checking, double checking and even redoing so that your posts are lined up with each other perfectly and centered in the cement.

 To finish the cement job, I mounded the cement up around the post and smoothed it with a shovel to allow for water to drain off of it.  Since I live in Oregon and it can rain at any time I stapled some bags to the post covering the cement to allow it to dry.  It did sprinkle during all this post burring business but with a little protection from direct rain the cement dried just fine. 

Once the posts were cemented in the hard part, which really wasn't that hard, was over.  The project flew after this with of course the exception of the finishing touches which always take forever.  I really enjoyed the rest of the project and though it took me some time to get the posts in the ground it came together really well.  It was so much fun to figure out how to go about each new step as the project evolved.

Chicken Coop Fort
Step 1 - Planning
Step 2 - Framing
Step 3 - Burying the Posts