Your Three Favorite Things

The fact this blog gets about 5,000 unique hits a month is mind boggling to me. I know that it’s peons compared to the other kabillion that exist, but I still like to analyze the data and the most recent social media/blog data suggests you guys have three clear preferences, in no particular order.

1.) Donuts. Whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, you guys seem to like donuts as much as I do. If there’s a donut around there’s a 99% chance I’m going to eat it. This has nothing to do with self control, otherwise I’d eat three. I just really enjoy donuts from the local bakeries. Guilty pleasure confirmed.

Donuts 2.) You guys are my kind of weirdo. Your appreciation for donuts is only matched by your appreciation for running. I carry the same sentiment. Donuts are awesome, but running during sunset on a trail is down right magnificent.

Run3.) You are dog people, whether you own one or not. Particularly, you really seem to like the Two Goons who fit the perfect “Sneaky Lab” stereotype. Posts with the dogs in them, whether social media or blog, seem to be liked by more people than average. I’m pretty sure the goofy nature of a Labrador Retriever is the reason behind this one, but I’ll pretend it’s specific to my two hounds.

dogsWhat other things do you guys like reading about? What other blogs do you love? Maybe I should start a Tumblr just about donuts, running and dogs. What would it be called? The Sneaky Donut Thief? I don’t know.

xo,

Heather

P.S.) By the way, I like that this blog is small, it feels like we’re just hanging out together.

DIY Firewood Tote

As a blogger there are certain times I feel up to writing technical posts, and other times I don’t. Today, a day where I lose my wallet in the morning only to find it after work, and only to get home and find that I forgot my cellphone back at the office, feels like a day I’m up to writing a technical post. This should get interesting. 

What was also pretty interesting was the state of our wood tote as of a few weeks back.

DSC_8305When you heat your house primarily with wood it means firewood totes take a beating, and this one which we’ve had for many many years was no different.

DSC_8307I knew it was time to get a new tote, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy one. First, I can sew well enough that I figured I could make one. Second, a lot of the totes I saw seemed like they were constructed for the casual user which is great, but wouldn’t work for us. Third, after researching the ones that would hold up for us I realized the design was the same as our current one and it was a design we just didn’t love. I’ll get into that more in a minute.

So that left me with one option which I happily delved into—making my own firewood tote. Sometimes it’s nice to see the finished product before reading a “how to”, and sometimes it’s also nice to know the difficulty and item list, so here you go.FirewoodTote

DIY Firewood Tote:
Difficulty – easy leaning to moderate

  • 1/2 yard artists canvas
  • one yard (maybe a little more just to be sure) heavy duty nylon strap (also known as nylon webbing)
  • All-purpose of heavy duty thread
  • Sewing machine, unless you’re a glutton for punishment then by all means sew this by hand
  • Two pieces of wood, about a foot or 14 inches long each. I think my piece was about a 1/2 inch by 2 inches.
  • Way to cut the wood into the correct dimensions/trim if needed (I used our compound sliding mitre saw, aka chop saw, but a hand saw would work fine)

The Process:

The first part was researching to figure out what most totes were made from that could hold up to our near daily use for months on end. Cotton duck seemed like an option but then I found artists canvas. It’s the same canvas you see in art stores, just sold in fabric stores on huge bolts. I remembered reading online that someone had used this, and since I couldn’t find any cotton duck and the price was right I went for it. I ended up finding mine at the Marden’s in Lewiston for $3.99 a yard. It’s so wide on the bolt that I only needed 1/2 a yard for this project. I bought a lot more than I needed knowing I could make more of them for other people, and just to have around. The saying goes “You should have bought it when you saw it at Mardens”, so I did because Mainer’s understand it may not be there the next time you go.

FirewoodTote2014 (3)The second step was deciding what to do for strapping. Last summer some of the siding material Andy bought was from Coastal Forest Products. The product came wrapped in this cool nylon strapping with their name on it. I came outside, saw the strapping and immediately snagged it. I specifically remember thinking it could make for a really good firewood tote strap. Any heavy duty nylon strapping (webbing) will do though. I’ve seen it on amazon in 10 yard increments for pretty cheap, but I’m guessing places like Home Depot or Lowes would have some. Heck, if you wanted a wider strap you could even buy a nylon tow rope if you have the machine to sew through it.

FirewoodTote2014 (17) Finally it was time to solidify my design. So many firewood totes have flared out edges to help to keep it from slipping out the sides. Taking the time to make sure it’s carefully stuffed in the edges is just not something I’m willing to do for as often as we use it. I remember one time I did, just to see what it was all about and I never did it again. A basic rectangle was all we needed.

With artists canvas, strapping and design solidified it was time to start sewing. So here’s my method step-by-step (day by day – Patrick Duffy, you slay me).

  1. Lay out your canvas. Cut it at about 1/2 a yard (or a little wider than your typical size log). The width of artist canvas makes it hard to keep everything square, so I’d recommend using a rotary cutter, ruler and self healing mat if you can.FirewoodTote2014 (5)
  2. Once you’ve made the cut, take the two long sides and fold them over about 1/2 an inch or so. The good thing about artists canvas is it’s easy to press down. I wouldn’t recommend putting a hot iron to it though. You’re welcome to try, but I wouldn’t trust ruining my iron to test my theory that it would melt. This fold is going to make for your first seam. I found it easiest to make this seam by placing my ruler on the inside of the canvas and folding over the edge of it.FirewoodTote2014 (6)FirewoodTote2014 (7)
  3. Sew the seam down. Make sure to lock the seam down (going forwards and backwards) a couple times at each end. Keep in mind that this can be a bit slippery. My stitches weren’t perfectly straight, but they got better the more I got used to sewing on the canvas.FirewoodTote2014 (8)
  4. To really add some strength to the seams I did a double fold and then sewed down again. Once the long sides were done I repeated step 2 to 4 on the short ends.FirewoodTote2014 (9)
  5. With the edges all sewn down I added some extra structure to the ends at the (awesome) suggestion of my brother in law. He made the good point that adding the wood would help keep the edges from falling over when you’re hauling, and I’ve found it has made the entire thing easier to pick up. To judge where to make my pocket for the wood I laid the canvas out, laid down the wood, and simply folded it over, giving myself enough room to make a snug but not super tight pocket. I ended up cutting my wood pieces a little shorter so I would have enough room to sew the final end shut once the wood was inserted.
    FirewoodTote2014 (11) FirewoodTote2014 (12) FirewoodTote2014 (13)
  6. Next up came attaching the straps. Attaching the straps is a little more on the moderate side of easy, but it definitely isn’t difficult. Start by turning your freshly creased canvas over so the folded seams are facing down.FirewoodTote2014 (14)
  7. When you place your straps, you’ll want to remember that you will not be sewing above the crease. Remember that you’re folding that over to sew down to put the wood in. You can’t sew the wood pocket before you put the straps on, because they you would sew the pocket shut that you need to put the wood in. You can’t sew the straps on after you put the wood in, because you can’t sew through wood. So you’ll want to start your handle height from the crease. For instance, in the phone below I wouldn’t sew the strap on above the “e” in “Forest”.FirewoodTote2014 (15)
  8. The next step of sewing on the strap is two fold. First, it’s important the strap is one long giant circle before you sew it on—think hoola hoop. I did this by sewing my nylon strapping together. Keep in mind (as you’ll see in the next step) this nylon strapping is going to be hauling a lot of weight. You don’t want this to snap or you’re going to end up with a lot of heavy wood slamming down your legs. This would be less than pleasurable. I sewed mine together in about a million different ways to ensure there was plenty of stitching holding them together.FirewoodTote2014 (16) FirewoodTote2014 (17)
  9. Second, I’d recommend starting to sew the strap at the center of the canvas. This ensures you end up with an equal handle on either side.  To find the center, fold down the two top sections like you would if the wood was inserted, and then fold the rectangle in half again, like you see below. Also I recommend laying everything out before sewing, and pinning if you need to (second photo below). FirewoodTote2014 (18) FirewoodTote2014 (19)
  10. Finally, start sewing! Here are some photos of my stitches so you can see my technique. To start I did a single stitch just to get everything tacked down. Then in the center and on the ends I did super extra stitching in a box and X shape. I then did two more long stitches overall to give extra strength and to help keep the strapping from folding up on the edges or catching on anything. FirewoodTote2014 (20) FirewoodTote2014 (21)
  11. Finally it came the time to sew down the shorter edges so the wood could be slipped in. I stitched it down, and then sewed up one side which left a pocket for me to slip the wood into. FirewoodTote2014 (23) FirewoodTote2014 (24)FirewoodTote2014 (26)
  12. The final step was making sure the wood was far enough back in the pocket and then stitching the open side shut, sealing the wood inside. FirewoodTote2014 (25)FirewoodTote2014 (27)

That’s it! This entire project cost me $2.00. If I had to buy the webbing it would have come out to a few bucks more (though I’d have lots of strapping left over, but that’s no problem around here as it would be used). The other option for straps if you don’t want to buy nylon strapping would be to make some canvas straps. It wouldn’t be horribly difficult to cut some wide straps, sew them all together, and give each strap a good solid hem on either side (same method as hemming the actual tote). It would be a heck of a lot stiffer and maybe harder to sew overall but it would definitely be doable. I’m debating on trying this method in the future just to see how it works. If I do, I’ll be sure to update you.

xo

Heather

P.S.  I waited to write this to ensure it held up and I can now say after at least a few weeks of daily use it’s held up great. Removing the weird side pockets was a great decision, as was adding in the wood for stability. Overall I’m really happy with how this turned out.

Snowplow, Meet Mailbox

Sometimes when you live in Maine, things happen to your mailbox. Snow happens to your mailbox. Rust happens to your mailbox. A snowplow happens to your mailbox. When your mailbox was already mediocre to start with, after 6 winters it can end up looking rough, as an understatement. A few of the storms this year added a little blush to the prom queen we had hanging up, by way of a snowplow. She’s a beauty (*dripping with sarcasm*).

DSC_8253-01Anyone who lives in a cold snowy climate on a normal road knows it’s inevitable a plow is at some point during the season going to either plow snow all up against your mailbox and/or smash into it. This is why our mailbox hangs off a post versus is stationary on the top of one. From the get go our mailbox wasn’t the bell of the ball, and time didn’t do any favors. Last fall Andy and I decided we needed to replace it. We had debated on doing a completely different post system until the front quite literally was ripped off, leaving frequent damp or wet mail behind.

DSC_8256-01Aside from needing a box that was functional, we really wanted a much bigger one. We get packages a lot and this tiny thing just wasn’t holding up.

DSC_8268-01One snowy day recently we finally got around to replacing this decrepit piece of work. Here’s Andy demonstrating how flimsy the metal had become.

DSC_8269-01 DSC_8271-01 DSC_8272-01 Given the snowy conditions and frozen ground we knew we had to stick with our current post. Our new post design we originally planned on was going to include a similar hanging system, so switching the mailbox over in the future (if we decide to not refinish our current post) won’t be a big deal if we ever do go that route. For this route though we decided to stick with what worked before and utilize the old chain. (It might seem like a system that didn’t work, but it actually is the best system for our situation.)

First, we went to our used bolt/fastner collection in the garage and picked out two pieces along with a nuts for the top and locking nuts for the inside which fit the bill. Once we figured out where we wanted the two pieces of hardware and marked them off with a sharpie, Andy drilled holes. The hardware we chose each had two insertion points, so we put one piece of hardware evenly on the top front and top back.

DSC_8271A quick test fit and we were good to go.

DSC_8265 (2)-01We knew drilling the holes and putting everything together would still mean water could leak down, so the next part was putting a clear epoxy on, putting in the hardware, and making sure the epoxy was around it solidly. I should note the mistake below: I put the back hardware on and got it almost all the way screwed down before I realized I hadn’t slipped the chain onto the hardware. Thankfully the epoxy has a set time so I was able to unscrew everything and then slip the chain back on.

DSC_8268 (2)-01After that, it was just a matter of tightening everything down.

DSC_8279 DSC_8278 DSC_8282We let everything set up for just a few minutes, and then took it back outside to install.

DSC_8283Once outside we decided to shorten the chain a little bit before putting it back on. We secured the chain on the same way it had been before: with zip ties. They work, we had them, decision made.

DSC_8288 DSC_8289Voila! The new mailbox pre-numbers.

DSC_8294Zip ties or not. Old post or not. I’d consider this a needed and good update.

DSC_8253-01Yikes.

xo,

Heather

My Method For Freezing Chicken Stock

Whenever I roast a chicken, about once every couple months, I like to toss the carcass into a pot with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaves and thyme. In other words, homemade chicken stock is my jam. It’s my comfort food, and frankly if I’m going to eat an animal I feel like I should at least use every part of it that I have if possible.

My recipe is always changing, but if you want a solid go to I’d guess this one from Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) is pretty awesome. She has some killer recipes and I have yet to make a bad one. My only tip is that I always use roasted chicken bones. I roast the chicken, let it cool and pick it, and then put the bones into the stock instead of the whole chicken. I have tried both ways and I not only prefer the flavor of the roasted bones, but I do not like boiling a chicken. Roasted chicken is just too delicious. That’s just my preference though, do what you love most.

In order to freeze the stock in larger quantities, here’s my go to method:

  1. Let your stock cool to room temp and then put it in the fridge for a few hours. This coagulates the fat on the top.
  2. Once the fat coagulates, skim it off the top.
  3. Now that you have cooled stock fill your zip-lock bags (I use the ones that are thicker and a bit bigger than the sandwich bags) about 3/4 full. This is really important as liquids expand when they freeze. Once you have them each filled 3/4 full triple check that the bags are 100% sealed (no leaks wanted)! Next, lay them flat in the freezer and shut the door.

That’s it. If you’re really concerned about the stock potentially leaking, place the bags in a large deep cake pan before you put them in the freezer. If a bag is overfilled and bursts, or the bag wasn’t sealed properly to begin with, it will at least leak into the pan. In this case you can simply thaw the pan out and re-liquify the chicken stock and use it up. I don’t recommend thawing and re-freezing chicken stock (or meat in general).

Here is a photo of the stock as it first went into the freezer:

DSC_8296And here is a photo of the stock after it was frozen:

DSC_8301You can see the expansion pretty significantly in the top bag.

All in all I really like this method of freezing stock, and once it’s frozen you can stand it up to save room, etc. It’s so easy to grab one of these out, throw it in a pan in the fridge to thaw for use at night, or just to take it out of the back totally frozen and simply throw it in a pot with about a cup or two of water to melt. I tend to make my chicken stock a bit concentrated so I often thin it with water regardless. 

So there you have it, a simple way to store larger quantities of chicken stock. 

Enjoy!

xo,
Heather

Winter Plantings

Today has been a day indeed for starting the 2014 growing season, in so many ways.

First, I found out on Monday I’ve been accepted into graduate school. So if I’m not already sporadic enough on this little shindig this new adventure will do one of two things – make blog posts more frequent due to time management needs, or make it less frequent due to time management needs. It’s a crap shoot at this point. I won’t be starting class until May though so we have a few month more of shenanigans.

Second, I started our vegetable growing season Monday evening. A few weeks ago Andy and I were given a large bag of pearl onions. While cooking dinner Monday, I found a few sprouted onions in the bag. I took a look to my right and noticed my 60lb bag of seed starting soil from Johnny Seeds which came in a few days ago. I then remembered a planter I had in the house.

DSC_8387-01I had read about replanting sprouted onions and I came up with three answers:

  1. They’re junk. Throw them away.
  2. They won’t grow other onions, they’ll only grow stalks which are edible and then turn to seed. 
  3. They’ll grow another onion.

So in other words, I had no answer. What does no clear answer mean? It means a hypothesis and an experiment! I love plant experiments. Especially ones that aren’t really all that scientific when it comes to my garden.

First, one of the two onions was rotting on the outer layers. I’d seen this before so I knew I could peel it off. As I peeled away and away and away I decided to get down right to the shoots. I was careful to keep the root intact as I peeled. As I got down I realized the one onion had two shoots and if I was really careful I could separate them. For the second onion I decided to leave the bulb intact, and see if it changed anything.

DSC_8378-02After separating the onions I found my planter and knew the holes in the bottom were way too large and would cause too much soil loss. To counter this, but allow water to drain easily, I cut and placed a single layer of cheesecloth on the bottom.

DSC_8370-02Then I filled up the planter with potting mix, and watered it down until it was just damp and could hold together but didn’t release water when I squeezed it gently. No soupy soil. The picture below is hard to see the clumps because I sort of broke them back up, but they are there.

DSC_8387-01Finally, I simply dug a little hole for each onion and put it in, making sure there was enough aeration around the roots, and that the soil came up to the green part.

DSC_8391-01Now it’s time to see how they grow. I’m not sure if I’m going to try and let the double shoot that I split turn into onions, or if I’ll just use them as green onions which totally invalidates my own experiment of seeing if they’ll turn into onions or flower only. Then again, green onions are so darn tasty it would probably be worth it.

xo,
Heather