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Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: The Family That Crafts Together Laughs Together

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAIf you’re anything like me, this time of the year has crept up on you like frost in a field: slow and inevitable yet somehow invisible and surprising.

On my homestead, I’ve spent days making pounds of chili and pasta and packing soups and sweets for my hunter to take along with him to his camp. I’m hoping this pays dividends, and he brings home plenty for the freezer. I’ve been planning the garden again and hauling and chopping firewood. I had the chickens processed before winter and put them up in the freezer, ready to provide a warm meal after a cold day. Despite this being a season for family, I wasn’t feeling like I was getting a lot of time with the ones closest to me: my kids!

ribbon

Weekdays are so robotic lately, reviewing stacks of homework and trying to make sense of fourth grade math. By the time we’ve sifted through the sea of confusion and then dinner, it’s bedtime. So I was determined to hold on to this past weekend with a death grip. We were going to make stuff, listen to Burl Ives sing “Silver and Gold,” and RELAX—and we were going to do it together!

Because this has been a year of tumult and change for us, I wanted to put together two holiday crafts I’m calling Grateful Globes and Pride Journals. For the first, I lugged out the acrylic paints, Mod Podge (plain, silver, and gold), brushes, and clear glass Christmas balls that I got at a craft store. I laid down some newspaper and gave my kids intentionally loose instructions: Make a globe that represents you and your year. Include what you’re grateful for now or what you’d like to remember in the future.

grateful-globes2For the next couple of hours, the kids diligently discussed, clipped, and glued their way towards truly personalized Christmas ornaments. They spent time pouring over an old dictionary to talk about words that encompassed these past months, what they hope to accomplish in the next year, and what they hold close. I wanted these decorations to be something they could reminisce over years from now, when they’re hanging their own trees with their own children. They succeeded beautifully! We now have a few more heirloom ornaments hanging on our tree, and we’ll repeat this activity again in the coming years.

The best part was listening to the discussion their efforts prompted. My daughter spoke dreamily of our travels as she made a ball celebrating our life on the road; my son selected random hilarious highlights to focus on; and our guest made a wonderful piece commemorating her grades and her dreams for the coming year. It allowed me to peek inside their heads, which can be cluttered and closed off to Mom and Dad. (One tip: Don’t use a pen! The ink bleeds wildly when mixed with Mod Podge. If you want to incorporate text, you might print your grateful list on the computer and use that.)

grateful-globes1

My next project is more of a commitment. I firmly believe that every child seeks a parent’s stamp of approval, no matter how old she or he is. (I’m talking to you, 16-year-old!) I also think that, in this day and age, it’s increasingly difficult for our children to hear us, REALLY hear us, when we say we’re proud of them. Frankly, sometimes we stink at saying it. To bridge that gap, I want to make sure I outline something my kids do every week that I’m proud of and that I think makes them better people.

I’ll sit down weekly to write out this one thing. It won’t always be warm and fuzzy. It might be overcoming something that was difficult for them in their everyday lives. Here’s an example: Recently, my son and I were watching a kid’s network that shall remain nameless and that was hosting an awards show, supposedly to honor kids for helping other kids. In the midst of this program aimed at kids, a musical guest sang about a girl having a “booty like an hourglass,” among other comments my boy had no business thinking were acceptable things to say about women.

grateful-globes3

This led to a discussion that could have been incredibly awkward but ended up being very open and educational for both of us. It was certainly a moment in which he could’ve blushed and buried his head. I mean, his mom said “booty,” for goodness sake! Instead, we had a talk I was proud of. Into the Pride Journal it goes, along with some dialogue and a mother’s thought on why the moment was important.

My father is one of the rare and lucky few who has a treasure-trove of journals, letters, notes, and recordings left behind by his mother. No matter how many of these tangible memories he has, I’m certain he would always wish for more. Even now, I see him page through the books and glance over her handwriting or quote something she wrote. Her presence is palpable. Thanks to her example, I want to plan ahead and make sure my kids never forget how very proud I am of them and their accomplishments, big and small. At the end of the year, the journals will get packed away with the monthly photo books I’ve started to publish online, waiting for the kids to revisit them many years down the road—or maybe whenever they need to.

grateful-globes

This is an excellent time of year to plan ahead, not just for the new year but for a lifetime. How can you impact others and how can you make sure they know what impact they have on you? Within your family and well beyond it, you hold the capacity to spread far-reaching beauty. How can you start today?

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead where she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens. 

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE

HOMEGROWN Life: Building a Cheap Greenhouse

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI can’t believe I haven’t written about our greenhouse. We’ve been using it for at least a year and a half now, and I’ve been oddly silent about it. I guess it’s probably because it’s not 100 percent complete. We have one small area that still needs a permanent covering, the windows need new glazing, and it is in desperate need of new paint. But it’s still functional and gets a lot of use. And it only cost us about $300.

greenhouse1

That might sound like a lot of money until you consider that this greenhouse is 8 by 12 feet and uses glass glazing. Buying a glass greenhouse that size will generally run you around $5,000.

Why a glass greenhouse? Why not just make a hoop house to save money? Hoop houses are great, don’t get me wrong, but they just don’t stand the test of time. While they are cheaper to make upfront, there are some concerns you have to take into consideration. The material usually used for hoop houses is plastic sheeting, which doesn’t last more than a few years, even if it is UV-resistant greenhouse plastic film. I’d prefer not to have to add more plastic to the landfill or spend the money replacing it. Also, you have to give special consideration to the hoop structure. PVC pipe will degrade the plastic through chemical reaction faster than it normally would degrade (and most isn’t UV resistant), so you either have to wrap the pipe or use another material, like galvanized pipe, which increases the cost. Plus, we have a very windy site for most of the year, and plastic sheeting just wouldn’t hold up.

Polycarbonate greenhouses also degrade from UV but last substantially longer than poly film. Polycarbonate is a plastic, and even though it may hold up for 10 to 20 years when properly treated with UV stabilizers, it will discolor and become more opaque after time. It also becomes brittle. Double-walled polycarbonate adds the benefit of being more insulating than both glass and film. It can be quite pricey, though. Not as expensive as buying glass specifically for a greenhouse, but if you can do glass, which is superior to both film and polycarbonate, for less than either, why wouldn’t you?

windows

It’s all about the windows. It is amazing how many people are trying to offload free windows. Craigslist is where we scored the majority of ours. We also scored a free door, which was half-window, from my best friend, who had just bought a house and wanted to replace her front door. We stockpiled old windows until we had what we felt was enough to begin building. Before starting, we laid out the panes on the ground so we could get the right configuration to fit the walls of the greenhouse. Do this carefully. We had a few casualties but fortunately had enough windows to make up the difference. We also made sure that we had some windows with frames so we could open them as needed when it got hot in the summer.

leveling

Next, we had to figure out where to site the greenhouse. We had a space on the north edge of our property that wasn’t shaded, and it wouldn’t shade out anything. We made the long 12-foot wall south facing to maximize sun exposure. We also decided that, since the north wall is facing a fence, we could just use plywood for it. We framed up the structure with new lumber, which is where a good portion of the money we spent went. The most costly part of this job, however, was the roofing material. We used some of the extra pavers we had on hand to level the structure, since our ground slopes. It was also imperative that we add extra bracing, as the weight of the windows can be quite substantial.

windows going in

The biggest score from our window search were these two 6-foot-long windows that someone had purchased and never bothered using. They easily spanned the whole lower half of our south-facing wall. It was a tight fit, but we got them in. From our next-door neighbor, we also got narrower windows that flank the door (seen in the first photo).

Greenhouse

Once we got most of the windows in on the south-facing wall, we started framing the door and getting the roof joists up. Sexy, ain’t it? We decided to do a simple sloped roof rather than a gable so that the south side would get even more sun exposure, especially in the winter, when the sun angle is lower and when we need the greenhouse the most. One note: A door that comes with a jamb will make framing much easier.

greenhouse2

Once the door was in, we were able to finish up adding windows and roofing. For that, we used clear corrugated plastic sheeting. It’s not a particularly pretty greenhouse and it does need a coat of paint, but it’s definitely functional.

greenhouse

Of course, you also have to think about the interior. Where are you going to put plants? And what about the floor? We scored some pea gravel off of Freecycle, enough to put down a nice 3-inch layer. We put down weed cloth first, though, so we won’t be fighting the never-ending onslaught of bindweed and Bermuda grass inside. Tom build a fantastic 8-foot-long potting bench out of scrap wood, and we bought some heavy duty utility baker’s racks for the plants. We’ll probably switch the locations of these, putting the potting bench on the east-facing wall and the racks on the south-facing wall, so we can add another rack. We’re also using an old compost bin (our chickens do all of our composting now) as soil storage.

Have you built your own cheap greenhouse out of scavenged materials? Do you have photos or tips to share? Post them below!

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

ALL PHOTOS: RACHEL

It’s Here! The 2013 HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

 

Is it just us, or did the holidays come out of nowhere this year? No worries. We’ve got you covered with the HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide, featuring a bushel of ideas that don’t require rush shipping or deep pockets. In true HOMEGROWN fashion, you can find what you need to make most of the presents below at your local winter farmers market—or maybe even in your own pantry or closet—because the most meaningful gifts come from our hearts and our hands. We’re also including a few stocking stuffers under $20, because even the most industrious elves need a break sometimes. Details below the photos!

 

HOMEGROWN-BLOG-HOLIDAY-GIFT-GUIDE

• • • • • • • MAKE IT • • • • • • •

 

1. Got a t-shirt? A needle and thread? You’ve got what you need to craft Cynthia’s head-turning tote bag. It’s perfect for hauling kale—or whatever 2014’s veggie of the year turns out to be.

2. One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Give Grandma a gift that she couldn’t love more: notecards personalized using homemade potato stamps. (Bonus: Once you’re done crafting, your tools can go in the compost pile.)

3. Remember those friends who couldn’t stop raving about your backyard honey last summer? Chances are they’ll go gaga for Charlyn’s homemade beeswax candles. Learn how to make your own votives and light up a loved one’s winter nights.

4. Decking the halls with boughs of holly smells awfully good, but Maryanne’s coffee filter wreath has a longer lifespan and a smaller price tag than store-bought greenery. Plus, it’s equally appropriate for indoor winter wonderlands and springtime bridal showers.

5. Can’t you just picture a few of these babies wrapped up and tied with a bow? Nope, they’re not candy. They’re seedballs, one way to show those neglected patches of ground some love, and they’re as much fun to make and give as they are to toss.

• • • • • • • COOK IT • • • • • • •

 

6. So simple, it’s genius: homemade crackers, the perfect complement to all those jams and jellies and spreads in your giftee’s pantry. Get tips in Kari’s 101.

7. In the Southwest, this time of year means delicious tamales. Learn how to make your own to give away—or, better yet, round up a few friends for a tamalada and let everyone take home his or her handiwork.

8. We’re past the window of opportunity for steeping a batch of homemade Kahlúa before Christmas (where did the year go?), but you’ve still got time to make mead using Penny’s Finnish recipe.

9. Have a family member who can’t make it home for Christmas? Nothing says love like a big plate of noodles. Make your own pasta following’s Jannine’s instructions then mail the results to anyone in need of a care package.

10. Calling all candymakers: Looking for a tidbit beyond the usual peppermint bark/orange peel/peanut brittle triad? Give Jackie’s apple cider caramels a spin of the whisk.

• • • • • • • STUFF IT • • • • • • •

 

11. Paine’s miniature log cabins are crafted in Maine and burn incense made from balsam fir harvested by local woodsmen. Plus, they smell like winter itself for only $10.

12. You know what’s none of your giftee’s beeswax? Disposable plastic wrap. Ugh. Delight the thrifty and the eco-friendly alike with Beeswrap ($15–$19), a greener alternative.

13. If springtime feels too far away, give your favorite sweet tooth something to look forward to: her very own maple spile ($3.25) and a plan to go tree tapping.

14. Or maybe your sweetheart would rather fast forward to summer? Feed his garden daydreams with a 100-count bag of tomato trellis clips ($9.15) for the tamest plants ever.

15. Got another gardener in the family? Help her prepare her soil with a stash of biochar ($12) made from oak and tomato stakes on Pennsylvania’s Happy Cat Farm.

Want more ideas? You can find additional gift how-tos in Weeknight Wonders, updated weekdays through Christmas Eve. And just a note to you, our HOMEGROWN family: May your giving be heartfelt and your holidays be bright, and may your season be filled with delight!

 

PHOTOS: (SEEDBALLS) SARADENT.CA, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (CABIN) WICKERFURNITURE, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (BEESWRAP) MARISA/FOOD IN JARS, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (SPILE) CHIOT’S RUN, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR; (TOMATO CLIPS) COURTESY OF JOHNNY’S SELECTED SEEDS; (BIOCHAR) COURTESY OF HAPPY CAT FARM; ALL OTHER PHOTOS AS CREDITED WITHIN LINKS