Monthly Archives: April 2013

Basement Renovation Progress

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Love my plaid craigslist sofa. We just love spending time down in our new family room now!

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I’m going for a “ski lodge” look downstairs. I have snowshoes, a child’s vintage skis, a flexible flyer sled and some ice skates incorporated into the decor. I thought it would be fun to hang faux windows with ski motif posters behind them on the walls for a “view” in keeping with the winter sports theme!

Spring has finally sprung – and I’ve been loving every warm minute of it!  I’ve spent hours out in the garden mulching with compost, sprinkling kelp on my beds, planting carrots and lettuce and peas and spring onions.  The kids and I have dug errant strawberry plants and stray weeds out of the paths and laid wood chips thickly in the paths.  I love having a huge pile of wood chips left over from all the trees we cut down last year to enlarge our arena.  When my pile is gone I do believe I’ll buy a small, used chipper so I can always have a supply on hand!

But all this glorious spring garden work comes only after a long – almost interminable – winter.  Our attention was occupied for the bulk of it with a renovation project I mentioned right before Christmas.  Our basement used to look like this:

Note the Hawaii mural on the far wall.  Heh heh.

Note the Hawaii mural on the far wall. Heh heh.

And this:

My kids used to be this little!

My kids used to be this little!

But through careful planning, lots of research, and much patience, we have divided it up into three smaller rooms.  The front is a finished family room.  We have spent a lot of time down here in front of the stone fireplace, but I will admit that it has heretofore been a pretty dismal place to spend time.  The owners who built the house in 2000 “semi-finished” the basement by installing ceiling tiles, wood posts around the poles that jack up the foundation, some really ugly carpet, and they finished it off by painting the walls a purple-gray and hanging a huge mural-poster of Hawaii on one wall.  The mural was okay.  But the carpet and the walls combined to really dampen the colors in the stone fireplace, and dampen our spirits as well.

Nevertheless, this was where we watched our Netflix.  (No cable or satellite TV here, folks.  I don’t really need an excuse to waste any more time than I already do! <grin>).  I really wanted someplace to keep all of our craft/hobby/gift-wrap/extra-office stuff – like the printer and a table for collating and mailing things for work.  I also really wanted a big, clear area dedicated to our various athletic pursuits:  Weight machine, treadmill, Jesse’s CycleOps which hooks his road bike up so he can practice indoors in bad weather – and a clear space for us girls to do our yoga and kick-boxing.  I hate having all that stuff just shoved into one great big room.  It feels, well, like a basement that way.

So all down the middle we added a wall:

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And we separated off the end portion of the front half with another wall so we would have a small work/craft/hobby room.  And when it was all finished, the front half, which is the new family room, looks like this:

Looking toward the Office Work Room.

Looking toward the Office Work Room.

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Looking away from the Office and Work Room, toward the stairwell. The new pine paneling makes the stone fireplace look so much nicer!
The sad fact of the matter is that the TV you see here we stole from the workout room. I dropped the receiver to our ceiling mounted projector and busted it. There’s actually a pull-down movie screen in the little alcove above the fireplace here – but until we replace the receiver, we’re using the workout room TV to watch our movies. Bad Erin! Bad Erin! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

And at the far end of the Family Room, I got a super bargain on some used cabinets I found on craigslist (one of my favorite places to shop!) which we installed to hold all of our art, sewing, craft, and gift wrapping stuff, as well as all of our printer supplies.  It’s not quite done.  Some stained and protected pine boards are waiting in the workshop part of the basement to be installed as countertop over the lower cabinets still.

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We managed to jerry-rig the cabinets to fit our new space, and I bought baskets to serve as drawers.  We’ll leave a little slot in the back of the countertop to store all that gift wrap close at hand.

And finally, in the back, which I had previously abandoned as a place of despair, with years worth of school records, gardening info, art supplies, toys, and all sorts of miscellany I just didn’t want to think about, I am just about done sorting and stowing the goods so we have full use of our new workout space:

I conveniently took a photo from an angle that hides the stacks of stuff I'm still sorting!  Doesn't it look pretty!  LOL!

I conveniently took a photo from an angle that hides the stacks of stuff I’m still sorting! Doesn’t it look pretty! LOL!

Note that I completely eradicated the purple-gray that once brought despair to the eyes of the beholders with cheerful, energetic yellow for pumping us with energy when it’s time to work out.  And in the other two rooms I chose relaxing, peaceful colors that promote rest and comfort rather than a “Help! Get me out of here!” kind of feeling.

So, with no farm projects over the winter, we took to improving our living quarters.  I hope for many happy times and good memories made in these rooms in the time to come!

What did you do over the winter?

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Duathlon

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I’ve started training for my first ever duathlon. It will be a 2/7/2 – run/bike/run.  I’ve been saying for two years now that I want to step up my racing and do a duathlon or a 10k.  But I’ve been fighting a hip that won’t cooperate with me when I run.  Then I injured myself pretty badly last spring when I fell off my horse.  I only ran one 5k last year and I spent months working with two different chiropractors trying to get my supplements straight and get my hip issues worked out.  I think we’re just about there!  I’ve been able to run for about a month without any prohibiting issues.  So when Jesse coerced asked me if I wanted to join him and the kids for the big race weekend out at Maumee Bay State Park in northwest Ohio, I hemmed and hawed, but finally said yes.  With reservations.  “As long as you’re not upset that we’ve paid the entry fee if my hip gives out so I can’t race…”  He was good-natured about it, so I agreed.

For those of you who are bored to tears by “sports” talk or think you’re totally unathletic, never fear.  I was in your camp for the better part of my 39-ish years.  (I’m holding out yet … my birthday’s not ’til the end of May.  I’m still a thirty-something!  LOL!)  I played a few sports in Junior High and attempted to join the cross-country team in high school, but I pulled a tendon right off the bat and ended my not-yet-existent career.  Dang.  If only those coaches knew what I know now!  Almost anyone can work up to running at least a 5k with little discomfort.  Or race-walking if you have bad knees, are really overweight, or whatever.  Please don’t write me and tell my why *you* can’t do it.  Maybe you can’t.  But I would have said over and over and over that I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t run without it being painful.  Okay, it’s still painful.  But in a good way.  A good, challenging way.  Not just the painful, “oh-please-make-it-stop” kind of way like it used to be in the not-too-distant past.

A few years ago, one of my friends, Jen, started a little group of gals getting together 3x a week to do “Turbo Jam” at one of the local churches.  I only went the first time to humor my friend Wendy – and because I knew virtually everyone who was in the class.  It was actually pretty fun – we gabbed while we worked out, I kept going, and pretty soon we were doing 30-50 minutes of kickboxing/aerobic stuff (a la Turbo Jam) three times a week.

Jen mentioned that her husband, who was a gym teacher for a nearby school, was having his entire gym class run a 5k.  “WHAT!”  I exploded.  I couldn’t believe it.  I remember gym class.  I remember how many of us were totally unathletic and I couldn’t believe there was any way he could get anyone but the kids who were already playing sports to participate.  She told me that he was using a run/walk program to condition the kids into being able to do a 5k race at the end of the term.  I googled it and it actually looked easy.  I mean – I could totally walk for five minutes then run for one minute.  No sweat.  Really.  But each time you ran/walked it was just a little more running and a little less walking and you went a little further.  By the end of the eight week program, you had worked your way up to actually being able to run a whole 5k.  I could do that!  In fact, I was looking for a Phys Ed program for the semester for my homeschooled kids and that sounded really inspiring!

So we did it.  At the end of the eight weeks, the four kids and I all ran a 5k together.  Our first ever.  The feeling of accomplishment was great!  I mean I did it!  Me.  Unathletic Erin.  I ran a whole 5k!  Since then, we’ve each continued to race – some of us more than others.  JJ actually got into doing triathlons and half-marathons with his Dad, while the rest of us are doing 5k’s and/or kids’ races (Danny and Betsy).  I liked it well enough that I began lifting weights at the gym and running intervals to increase my strength, speed, and endurance.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m pretty strong, but don’t have fantastic endurance – and as for speed – Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Oh, boy.  That’s a good one.  I have a 26-inch inseam.  “Petite” pants come in 27 or 28″.  Such short little legs may move as fast as they like and they still don’t amount to much in terms of speed.

Now the other three kids have signed up for the triathlon and I for the duathlon.  I’m not much of a swimmer unless it’s over 90-degrees and sweltering.  But I can run and I can bike.  As long as the bike seat isn’t hard like a 2×4 nailed on the seat post.  Which some of them are.  I have a nice cushy one.  Cushy on my tushy.  Okay, sorry about that.  I’ve been known to be uncouth from time to time.  Okay, somewhat regularly.

I really wasn’t actually looking forward to this duathlon, though.  I have so much on my plate right now.  I’ve cut back on my podcasting, but I’m working more hours editing than ever.  Of course, I love editing, but still …  I homeschool, I have a garden, farm animals, violin lessons, and there’s this basement renovation project we’ve been working on all winter.  I’ll update you on that soon.  I took some pictures of the almost-finished product.  It looks great!  We’ve been working on getting things squared away for JJ to graduate from high school and go on to college – with all the attendant graduation parties (one up here and one down in Ohio), college visits, choosing a major, sending transcripts, and all that jazz.  Plus some other big life decisions and big trips to plan for.  The usual in most people’s busy, busy lives.  More than you wanted to know I’m sure.  All that was to say I really didn’t want to have to train for this duathlon.  This is going to take a lot of time.  A 5k is all about running four times a week for 20-35 minutes, depending on whether I’m doing intervals or not and how far I’m going.  This duathlon is more like an hour to an hour-and-a-half.

I started my official training schedule this week, and moaned and groaned through my first several workouts.  But today I did my first “official” brick workout with Betsy – a moderate 3.5 mile bike and 1 mile run. It felt good! I think I can do this!  I could have kept going.  In fact, I was kind of sorry to have to stop running and go inside to eat dinner.  Good things are on the horizon!  And so far my hip is holding out….

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Make Your Own Homemade Soil Blocker

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If you want to start your own seedlings, and like the idea of using a soil blocker, such as the ones they sell at Johnny’s Seeds or GrowOrganic.com, you can always make your own very simply.  There are disadvantages to making your own… it won’t be as sturdy, and I haven’t seen any plans for making a blocker that will make more than one block at a time the way the heavy duty commercial ones will.  But I didn’t care to pay $30 plus shipping just to try it out and maybe find out I didn’t like it very well – so I use a homemade one – and I’m quite content with it – no plans to purchase a metal one any time soon.  This year I’m running (another) experiment and comparing growth of seeds started in the blocks vs. seeds started in traditional flats.  Have you noticed I tend to experiment a lot on my farm?  It’s fun for me to try new things or compare production methods.  Easily amused, I guess!

The commercial blocker above makes mini blocks for seed starting.  If you listened to episode 48 of Small Home Farm Radio, you may remember that I mentioned that the idea of starting seeds in a small soil block (or seedling tray with small holes if you’re doing it that way) is to save space.  There’s nothing magical about transplanting – if you have the space, go ahead and start them in the size pot or soil block they’ll end up in.  That way you’ll avoid stunting their growth as they wait for you to transplant them.  Notice that the soil blocker I use here is quite large – about a quart.

Find whatever size container you’d like to use – I used a large Marshmallow Fluff container.  Yes, I admit to eating marshmallow fluff.  It’s great swirled in brownies.  Or mixed with cream cheese as a fruit dip.  Heh heh.  Now cut off the bottom of the container so the top and bottom are both open.  You’ll want a piece of dowel that you can cut into a handle, and any sort of sturdy lid or a rounded disc of wood that will fit just inside the top lip of your upside-down container.  Screw the cut piece of dowel onto your lid.  If you’re starting your seedlings in smaller blocks and transplanting them into larger blocks, cut a length of wood the size of your starter blocks and screw it to the underside of the lide.  Mine has a 4″ piece of 2×2 cut and screwed onto the bottom of the lid for transplanting smaller seedlings from 2×2 blocks into the quart containers.  Now you have a lid with a handle you can use to press your seed starting mix into your mold.

Your soil blocker can be made from a sturdy lid or a disc of wood with a dowel screwed into the middle for  handle.

Your soil blocker can be made from a sturdy lid or a disc of wood with a dowel screwed into the middle for handle.

Use some sort of scoop or cup to get plenty of good quality seed starting mix – if you can get it, I highly recommend Dairy Doo 101, which is absolutely fabulous.  I learned the hard way that cheap potting soil does not pay.  You’ll cheat yourself out of good growth and good production all season long if you skimp on your seed starting mix.

My Dairy Doo 101 seed starting mix - I'll never use a lesser quality again!

My Dairy Doo 101 seed starting mix – I’ll never use a lesser quality again!

Fill your container as full as you want it with the mix, and pour water into the mold.  You’ll have to experiment at first to figure out how much water is enough to hold your soil together.  If it’s too dry, it will crumble.  And after a few crumble, you may start to cry or say ugly things.  So get it a bit wet.  Make a few practice blocks, and when you’re sure it’s good, go ahead and transfer your soil block to your watering tray.  Since my blocker has a 2×2 punch-out for transplanting, I fill the 2×2 hole with more soil while it’s still in the mold, wet that, and pack it down if I am starting my seedlings in the larger soil block.  If I’m transplanting, I leave the 2×2 hole to receive my starter block.

Fill with seed starting mix, add water, tamp down, add more mix and more water as needed.

Fill with seed starting mix, add water, tamp down, add more mix and more water as needed.

Next, use your lid with its dowel handle and push your mix in the mold tightly enough to hold it all together, then move the mold with soil in it into your watering tray, and keeping the lid in the mold, gently push down on the seed starting mix and pull up on your mold to remove the mold from around your new soil block.

Carefully hold seed mix in place with your lid/tamper and remove your mold.

Carefully hold seed mix in place with your lid/tamper and remove your mold.

I am using a watering mat underneath my soil blocks to keep them evenly moist without sitting in 1/2 an inch of water, and I’ve covered the mat with a paper towel to try to prolong its life and get another year of use out of it.  My regular seedling trays I put directly into the watering tray without worrying about the soil at the bottom washing out.  You may not need a watering mat, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

Use a dowel, a pencil, or if you’re careful, your finger, and make a dimple in your soil block to plant your seed(s).  I usually put three seeds in to ensure I get something that germinates, then cut off the weaker seedlings with a scissors, selecting the largest, fastest growing and healthiest looking.  Go ahead and plant your seeds, then sprinkle a little more seed starting mix on top of the seed(s).

Move your tray to its permanent location and add water to the tray.  Keep your soil blocks moist at all times and you’re on your way to starting some great seedlings!

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