Category Archives: projects

Everything is funny in threes. Almost.

I learned three things today.

First, I learned to never put dog food in a compost pile two weeks ago, because if you do then today it will smell like four kinds of dead animal stuffed in a fifth dead animal’s ass. It’s the Turducken of nauseous olfactory overload. Oh, and maggots. There’s also maggots.

In retrospect, it’s an obvious thing to not do.  As it would happen though, two weeks ago my obvious was out on loan to the Casey Anthony jury.  Fat lot of good THAT did.  How many times have I been told to never put meat or oils in a compost pile? None, actually, but I’ve read it plenty of times. In the end, what is dog food but fats and protein and filler? (The filler is also made from fats and protein, and the fats and protein are made from roadkill, and the roadkill is made from animals that got too close to my compost pile.)

Soooo…. I won’t be doing that again.

Second, I learned to wear a pair of goddamned goggles when using my goddamned circular saw. Simply put: My eye! My glasses do NOTHING! Ten minutes in the shower eventually rinsed the splinter out of my eye, but left me looking like Matthew Broderick in Election. Don’t worry. It was temporary. I’m still sexy. And even sexier now I’m wearing giant, incessantly fogged up safety goggles.  This is just a reminder: my tools want to kill me.

And third, from cleaning the garage I learned that I have a crapload of 1/4 inch chipboard. Chipboard: the red-headed stepchild of construction sheathing. It is to laminated plywood what Velveeta is to cheese, or what a desk job is to work. I can’t use it for any outdoor applications, since the stuff swells up in the rain like a disposable diaper. I can use it in place of sheetrock to board up Sara’s side of the garage, though. And so I did. Two thirds of it, anyway. Tomorrow, I do the final third, and maybe remember to share some pics.

Then, bury the compost in a dumptruck’s worth of lime.


Fruition. My plans will soon come to it.

Coming at you like a 5 year old with a Christmas wish list and absolutely no concept of the value of a dollar (and that doesn’t even take into account the falling value of the dollar)…. It’s my projects list for 2011!!* Do the Kermit flail. Do it.

  • Finish the deck – The deck needs decking. Are you dismantling an old deck this year? Know someone who is? Then you also know someone who’s willing to do the disassembly for free if he can keep the wood.
  • Put a cupola on the sugar shack – My shack needs it’s crowning glory (well, and red paint, but we’ll get to that).
  • Build a back porch – enclosed, a place to put boots and coats a stuff.
  • Build 2 chicken tractors – movable chicken homes and enclosed runs all in one. We’re gonna employ the ladies help with getting the lawn in order this year.
  • Build a solar cooker/dehydrator – the plans are in my head. The materials are… obtainable.
  • New gutters – everywhere. House, garage, shack….
  • Rain barrel upgrade – The existing model needs to be higher, plumbed into a gutter, and have a larger output.
  • Terraced planters – I don’t know what else to call these. Essentially long planting troughs mounted on an A-frame. It should allow us to grow lots of leafy green in very little space.
  • Wind generator – I have some neighbors to annoy and some property values that need depressing.
  • Bedroom window trim – you know, from last years list.
  • Brew lots of mead
  • Brew lots of beer
  • Brew lots of cider
  • Solar shower – I just want an excuse to be naked outdoors.
  • The fire bush – remove it. With great vengence and furious anger. And a chainsaw.
  • The birch tree – the fire bush was just the warm up.
  • The big dying maple – pay someone to take it down. It scares the fuck out of me when the wind kicks up.
  • The garage – clean out and rearrange. Sara gets one side, I get the other.
  • Greenhouse – a winter home for the chickens and for early garden prep.
  • Plant at least two more fruit trees – one apple, perhaps a cherry.
  • The Super Secret Gift – you hope it’s for you, don’t you?
  • Establish a local food network/cooperative/thingy – much more on this later.
  • All other manner of other things
This is only what I’ve managed to dump out of my head in the last 72 hours. There will be more. Oh yes, there always is.

*Now 15% more unrealistic.

Work happens.

They say that life is what happens while you’re making plans. What they fail to mention is that when you don’t make plans, horribly disorganized life happens. When you make plans in the form of lists, everything that’s not on your list happens. But at least you can pretend it’s organized.

Here’s where I am on the Almighty List for 2010. How about we start with the things that happened while I was making lists? In no particular order….

  • Chicken Yard Upgrade. Back in May we moved the ladies out of their winter residence and into their new summer digs. First, we got ourselves a new summer coop from some Freecyclers up the road (who turned out to be the neighbors of the woman who helped out at the daycare service we used last year). Then I staked out an area for their new run and strung it up with deer fencing. I mean, if it will keep out deer it should keep in chickens, right? Chicken wire is metal, and expensive. Deer fencing is plastic, and cheap. Any questions? I ended up adding even more fence weeks later when we discovered that yes, a chicken can indeed fly over a 4 and a half foot fence. Also, they can fly over a 6 foot fence. Also, clipping their wings was much easier than I thought it would be. I also built a new nesting box from an old storage bin. It was only going to be temporary, until I woke up one morning and it was not.

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  • Chicken Gate. Did not involve anyone breaking in and stealing eggs. After a month of accessing the chicken yard by rolling a mess of chicken wire away from a poorly secured section of open fence, I built something more permanent. Just a couple posts with a hinged gate between them. Nothing fancy. But it does lock, and I am likely going to regret not using pressure treated lumber for the posts.

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  • Put the gate back on my truck. I discovered why there’s a rubber mat in the bed of my truck. It hides the cancerous rust problem. This Spring, enough of the back of the bed rusted away that the gate fell out. While I was driving. Bungee cords held it in cosmetically for a few weeks, and then I just removed it. And then I absolutely needed it. Eventaully I bought some fasteners and built something that would hold the back of the bed together for at least a few more years.

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  • Upgrade the summer coop. Sadly, back in June we lost all of our hens in a single night, we believe, to a fox. We got lazy and weren’t locking them up at night. Lesson learned. Then we came into 19 new Leghorn chicks, and in just 3 weeks we were separating the boys from the girls and moving the boys into the Ladies’ old coop. But first, to further deter predators and provide shade and a protected water/food area, we put the coop on stilts. I was able to do it all with materials we already had. I also took the opportunity to bolster the front door, which was falling apart, and make the screen bottom solid.

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  • Took down a maple tree. I helped my dad and brother take down a maple tree in dad’s back yard. I did the goundwork, which meant cutting up limbs, not getting hit by falling branches, and avoiding the use of the chainsaw until absolutely necessary. The brush all went to the town compost. The wood came back home!

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  • Fixed a grill. This is why we can have nice things. Because some people who have nice things decide to throw them out because, oh, a hinge is broken. We picked this up one Saturday afternoon recently, put an hour into fixing the wobbly lid and cleaning it, and then cooked dinner on it. Then I dismantled the old grill and the older table it sat on. That table was older than mine and Sara’s marriage. For real. It will get a proper ceremonial burning.

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  • Installed a whole-house exhaust fan. I picked this fan up months ago through Freecycle. As it turns out, it can move enough air to strip the stink off a skunk. This past weekend I mounted it in a panel that fits in the ceiling access to our attic, and we plugged it into a switched outlet in the living room. It pulls air out of the house so fast that air feels like it’s being blown in through the open windows. It runs at night, filling the house and attic with cool air. It takes noticeably longer for the house to heat up during the day, now.


  • Planted apple trees. Sara and the girls bought me two Macs for Father’s Day. Turns out, you need two different kinds of apple trees for them to cross pollinate and make fruit. So, I picked up a Cortland. After much discussion about where to plant them (they’re gonna be there for a LONG time, ya know) I took an afternoon to do so. In the process I picked a fight with a very large boulder. After 6 rounds, I conceded and dug the hole another foot to the left. But I’m still very macho. Virile. All that.

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I did find some time to work on the things I set out to do as well….

  • Build a new clothesline. Done. One hundred ninety two linear feet of solar clothes drying POWA. It can hold 4 full loads of laundry. Around here, that ain’t so rare. I like to say that the money we save by line drying in the summer lets us use the electric dryer in the winter. And yes, I like to say that because it makes me feel superior to those who can, and don’t.

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  • Finish cleaning up from Maple Season 2010. The pan still needs a scrubbing, and the storage tank still needs a final rinse. I continue to kid myself about when I’ll get to this.

  • Make Violet Jelly. Never got to it this year. No regrets. There’s always next year.

  • Dig the new garden. Done. Like, forever ago. All the sod I scraped off got used somewhere else in the yard, too.

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  • Build a hoop house. Even though we already bought the materials for it, this won’t go up until Fall at the earliest. The plan is to put it up before the first snows to give the chickens a protected space to roam in the winter months.
  • Build raised bed planters. Done. I found a use for all that extra geo-decking! (You may remember I used it last to make the floors and roof for the chicken coop. You don’t? Well… I did.) I managed to squeeze 20 boxes out of the rest of it. The end pieces had to be untreated lumber (didn’t want pressure treated in the garden) so it’s gonna rot eventually, but we’ll get some good years out of them first.

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  • Build a drip irrigation system. Built, but not installed. We went instead with an early morning/ late evening watering regimen instead.
  • Build a gutter/ install a rain barrel. No gutter yet, but I did get a barrel set up with a spigot installed on the bottom. It’s brewing llama poo tea for the time being. Hey. We should start using that.
  • Start planting seeds. Done. And how did this get so far down the list? We’ve been pulling food from the garden for months.
  • New window sills and frames in the bedroom. Please don’t remind my wife about this.
  • Build a deck. Got the permit! Got the wood! Got the… desire to… start… digging holes. Ehhhhhh……
  • Install the dishwasher. Nope. It is firmly installed behind a pile of crap in the garage, though.
  • Sugar Shack Upgrades: It would seem that work on the shack occurs in the Fall, cuz I have yet to do much of anything on it so far.
    • Put siding on the Shack
    • Paint the new siding
    • Build a new arch – I’m now tossed up between building one, and having one built for me. Gonna compare the costs.
    • Build a steam hood pre-heater
    • Install new (permanent) stack for the new arch.
    • Add a cupola
    • Landscape the creek – Somewhere, somehow, I actually started this. Working on terracing down from the culvert pipe.
  • Build root cellar storage in the basement. I was looking at all the old shelving at the store a week ago and had a brainstorm. I was sure I could make a pantry that could be completely disassembled if need be (meaning I could set it up in the basement without it being permanent.) So I made it. It is awesome. Still needs final touches.

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  • Replace the fuse box. Nothing.
  • Replace the house gutters. Can’t even find time to clean out the ones I have.
  • Install a vent fan over the range. Pffffft.
  • Make beer. I’ll have to start it by this weekend to have it ready for the Peel & Squeal.
  • Make mead. Haven’t started a new batch in many years. But with the basement pantry almost finished, I want to make more just so I can store it there.
  • Build a rotating composter. Done. It needs some tweaks, as it retains way too much moisture, but it’s in service.

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  • Build a back porch. I’m drawing up plans this week to close in the back stoop and basement bulkhead and make a place where we can put boots and coats in the winter, and have a trap door to have pseudo-indoor access to the basement.

That’s all you get. I’ve got things to do.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…..

Two weeks gone. I am striving, yes striving, to do something on this list every day. If my wife can crochet a blanket big enough to choke a sperm whale with the “one stitch at a time” mentality then so can I. Get things done one little piece at a time that is…. I have no particular animosity towards sperm whales. We’d all be slaves to the Kingdom of the Squid if it weren’t for them.

I had this other little idea where I wouldn’t add new projects to this list until I’d completed any two. ‘Cept, all that’ll achieve is my forgetting all my manner of great new ideas. So screw that. Crazy new ideas are in green. Finished stuff is now red.

  • Build a new clothesline. Two holes dug. Mutant race of post-hole digging gophers created in the process. Prepped the salvaged poles from the old clothesline, drilled the 10′ pressure treated posts, and installed and plumbed one.
  • Finish cleaning up from Maple Season 2010. Buckets and lines are cleaned and stored. Syrup is bottled. The pan still needs a scrubbing, and the storage tank needs a final rinse. Almost done with this one.
  • Mow the lawn. Done. Done in the sense that I never got to do it before the violets came up. So, eh.
  • Make Violet Jelly. Violets are up! The girls have already picked a bowlful.  Lots left, though. We want to get all the petals in the freezer for use later.
  • Dig the new garden. I started the digging. Still have about 75 square feet to go.
  • Build a hoop house. There may be a flaw in my design for this project. I may  have to back-burner it. We’ll see.
  • Build raised bed planters.
  • Build a drip irrigation system.
  • Build a gutter/ install a rain barrel.
  • Start planting seeds.
  • Clean the yard. Done. All last season’s leaves are being chomposted. That’s chicken-composted.
  • New window sills and frames in the bedroom.
  • Build a deck.
  • Install the dishwasher.
  • Sugar Shack Upgrades:
    • Put siding on the Shack
    • Paint the new siding
    • Build a new arch – I’m now tossed up between building one, and having one built for me. Gonna compare the costs.
    • Build a steam hood pre-heater
    • Install new (permanent) stack for the new arch.
    • Add a cupola
    • Landscape the creek – Somewhere, somehow, I actually started this. Working on terracing down from the culvert pipe.
  • Build root cellar storage in the basement.
  • Replace the fuse box.
  • Replace the house gutters.
  • Install a vent fan over the range.
  • Make beer.
  • Make mead.
  • Build a rotating barrel composter I saw a finished project for one of these on Instructables and realized I had all the parts to build one. So now I must.
  • Build a back porchMy brother just finished closing in his back porch. To his advantage, he already had a porch to begin with. Then he tore it down and build it back again, and didn’t add railings. I’d just really like to have a place to put all the boots and whatnot during the winter.
  • Twenty One Projects. Riiiiight.

    Cower, mortals, before my traffic light themed color coded list!!!! Good luck reading the yellow ones.

    1. Finish the hard cider
    2. I already touched on this one, but the hard cider was done before it began. It had an unusually slippery quality to it (like , as well as a faint hint of mold from, well, the mold that grew on top of it. Sara refused to go near it. I tossed it all into the compost instead of bottling it, since I know I was gonna get the hairy eyeball from her every time I drank one if I did.

    3. Build a clothesline
    4. This isn’t off the table yet, but it’s on hold whilst I decide where I want to erect it. Heh heh heh. Erect. Plan A had been along the back side of the garage, after I’d cut down the fire bush. Now I think I want to transplant all of our black raspberries there. There may be room enough for the two to coexist, but right now it’s a moot point, since I don’t even have all the materials to build it.

    5. Cut down the fire bush
    6. The fire bush is done, man. It’s not gone, but it’s been trimmed to within an inch of it’s life, and more importantly to within 2 feet of the garage. It looks more like an umbrella now. The yard already looks bigger for being able to see through what used to be an impenetrable mass of monster flora. And the chickens are gonna need some shade.

    7. Move the woodpile
    8. Done. To be honest, I stacked the deck. This was already done when I made the original list. In my defense, though, it was a lot of work.

    9. Plant a garden
    10. Done, even though Sara wants to add beans or peas or something. I’m done cutting and moving sod for at least the rest of the summer. We do have 11 flourishing tomato plants, 12 banana pepper plants and 2 some kind of squash plants that are LOVING their diet of llama droppings.

    11. Move the leaf mulch
    12. Done. Moved from an open pile on one end of the yard to a bin on the other side of the yard. Why did I even do this? I have no idea.

    13. Build at least one solar air heater
    14. In progress. And my plans have upgraded from a small window mounted model to a mega free standing unit. I’ll only be making on of those. I have enough clean and empty soda cans to make this work (thanks, mom and dad!), as well as some nice free 2×6’s for the box frame (thanks, Kev!) and a freecycled stationary sliding glass door panel with double glazed LoE coated glass for the cover (thanks, guy in Ware!). I also discovered half a can of Thompson’s Water Seal in the garage that I can use to weather-proof it all (before the can rusts completely and the contents waterproof the floor of the garage).

    15. Build a chicken coop
    16. Almost done! And may I say that I have no idea who that guy was who though this would only take a couple of weekends.

    17. Put siding on the sugar shack
    18. Yeaahhhhh. I’ve got a giant pile of used pressure treated decking to use as siding, but I haven’t made any move yet to start this. I think subliminally I’m putting it off for cooler Fall temperatures.

    19. Build a deck
    20. I know where I want the deck. I know how big I want the deck. I have wood for the frame of the deck. I have cement mix for the posts of the deck. I need a permit for the deck. I haven’t been to the Town Hall yet to get the permit.

    21. Wrap up the 2009 Sugaring season
    22. I still have sap lines in piles and in buckets by the shack. It’s embarrassing is what it is.

    23. Make at least one batch of mead
    24. This weekend! I swear!!!

    25. Clean/organize the garage.
    26. A constant work in progress. This weekend I made the carport side navigable again and cleaned out a mess of stuff: useless lumber, 2 televisions, a bike, some junky furniture. It’s all gone, now. Almost anything left out there by the road has 24 hours before it’s gone. I also cleaned up a ridiculous amount of wood and composite decking shavings that the table saw has spit out in service of chicken coop construction. these past weeks. If I had to walk around in the garage in the dark now, there’s a better than average chance that I’d come away with all my limbs, the ability to walk under my own power, and probably not needing a tetanus shot.

    27. Construct a parking area for the sugar shack
    28. Nope. Nothing. I remember seeing an add on Craigslist for free stone gravel ONE WEEK before we bought the truck, and hence the ability to pick up and transport said gravel. I still weep at the missed opportunity.

    29. Make a sign for Occasional Creek Maple
    30. I haven’t even settled on a design yet.

    31. Build cold frames
    32. I have the windows, but I haven’t started putting anything together yet. Again, I think this will be another Fall project.

    33. Landscape the new creek
    34. Ehhhhhh. I’ve kinda started. I dug a hasty trench to keep water from the road from just spilling over the new retaining wall the town built. It works great, but it’s ugly, and there’s nothing growing over there, so we’ve got a bad case of the erosions. Here’s the cascading solution: I’m going to cut circles around most of the trees in the yard and use the sod to cover the bare spots. Then I’m going to use the mondo pile of wood chip mulch I made disposing of the fire bush to fill in around those trees. Landscaping trifecta!

    35. Build stairs for the sugar shack
    36. Nada. I’m pretty sure I have the materials, though.

    37. Install the dishwasher
    38. HA! Nope. I did unearth it when I cleaned the garage, though.

    39. Install the “new” oven
    40. Sara would LOVE this to even get started, but it’s gonna require a professional to disconnect the cast iron heater and cap the pipes before we can do anything, and that costs monies.

    41. Insulate and put new drywall in the house
    42. I have 10-12 bags of clean, used insulation in the garage that I got from a fellow Freecycler. I got a full sheet of 1/2″ drywall from another. What I don’t have is the balls to start tearing my walls open. Yet.

    Poultry-housing construction project update

    I did the last of the gluing on the roof assembly for the coop this evening. Tomorrow I should be able to at least cut all the roofing pieces.


    I’m trying this new approach to getting things done where I do just a little bit everyday… it doesn’t have to be much but it has to be something. It’s frustrating as all hell. I crave finished projects. I need to see the fruits of my labor, not wait patiently while those fruits slowly ripen. As much as I hate it though, this thing is coming together. Just, you know, slowly.

    My Brilliant Idea

    In case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m building a chicken coop.  Also, just in case I’ve failed to mention, it is awesome. We are currently at, oh, 95% completion of the frame, including the roof. This thing might have been done by now if I wasn’t building it four times bigger than what we currently need, and with a longer life expectancy than any appliance we own. 

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    I’m gluing every joint on this thing. Have you ever tried gluing your projects together? It’s god-awful messy. Your hands will end up looking  like you’ve spent an entire day molding fresh asphalt. Or maybe you know what you’re doing, or, I don’t know, wear gloves. Either way, I don’t care what you’re building, that glue is gonna make it rigid. I used to think I had to put everything together with screws! All that drilling and countersinking and screwing! So much SCREWING! And when I was done I’d still be left standing there wondering, why the fuck is it wobbling?!?! It’s the glue, son. It’s the glue.

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    I should be done with the gluing tomorrow, and then it’s on to sheathing the roof, and that’s where I go genius-mode. About a month ago I hauled away (okay, my Dad hauled it away, but I loaded it!) a mess of recently removed composite decking, Geodeck, from a job my brother was doing.  At the time the plan was to use it on, well, a deck. Instead, I’m going to be using it for the roof, walls and floor of the coop. I cut some samples to show how the roof will go together.

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    Just a few dado cuts on the ends and I’ve made interlocking roofing tiles. I’m just sayin’… it’s pretty damned cool. No need to do the plywood and shingle thing (two items I happen to be in short supply on), I can have a leak-tight roof all in one step. Because it’s composite it’ll last virtually forever; far longer than we’ll ever need it to, anyway. 

    Wait a sec… should I be patenting this?