Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nothing but a hound dog

We have two spoiled-rotten, dang-near worthless dogs living at our house. Rowdy and Lexus. Justin had them both before I came along, but they've adopted me as their mama. And, of course, I help with spoiling them.

They like to help when I'm in the kitchen, which means I spend a lot of time yelling at them to get out of there. So they sit in the living room and pout.

Yesterday I made Justin some of his favorite cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip), and when I was done I looked up a recipe for dog biscuits.

We had to go to the store for a few ingredients (plus some other things we didn't need -- which is a recurring theme here) before we could get started. The total baking time for the biscuits is four hours, but we stay up late anyhow. We dove right in after dinner.

And this time, Rowdy and Lexus were welcome in the kitchen.

We had already mixed up the dough and Justin was rolling and cutting it before I remembered to grab the camera.

Rowdy is all, "Yum, these are mine."

And Lexus wishes Rowdy would get out of the way.

I brushed the biscuits with egg and Worcestershire sauce.

And then there was nothing to do but wait.

The biscuits bake for two hours at 300 degrees. Then we turned the oven off and kept the treats inside for two more hours. Rowdy and Lexus were more patient than we were. The treats were finally done around 1:30 this morning. When we were sure the treats were cool enough, we gave one to each dog. They immediately made a run for the living room, where they crawled under the coffee table to eat their snacks.

I woke up this morning to a text message from my friend and former roommate Ashley. She was bringing her dog, Lillian, to the Bark Park not far from our house. So I bagged up about half a dozen of our homemade biscuits and went to meet them. Lillian also gave our cookies rave reviews.

And Rowdy and Lexus? They can never get enough of anything.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Squeaky clean

A couple of weeks ago my friend Stephanie and I put in an order for some soap-makin' supplies. Justin and I were on furlough from work today, so we went to pick up our share of the lye.

We were going to make soap at some point in the future. But if you know my husband, you know the suspense is always killing him. He likes to do stuff NOW, and I like that about him. He's not afraid to try anything at all and he usually lets me help.

So after we procured a few things we'd need (and a few we didn't -- I'm looking at you, Justin, and your Snickers bars!), we were ready to make soap.

Disclaimer: This is not a soap recipe, although we did follow a tried-and-true method while observing all the safety precautions. To make your own lye soap, please familiarize yourself with the correct ways to handle lye.

My friend Eleanor says all the best Southern recipes begin with the phrase, "First, you get some lard." If it's good enough for cornbread, it's good enough for soap.

In a 13-quart stock pot, Justin combined lard, coconut oil and olive oil.

Then in a separate container, he measured distilled water, to which he added the lye. Working with lye is incredibly dangerous. Its fumes alone can just about knock you out. So we moved outside for that part of the operation.

Safety first!

Here he is adding the lye and water to the fats. After this, we were ready to move inside and start blending!

When the mixture reached its trace stage -- resembling a thickening pudding -- I threw in a handful of rosemary and about 40 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Then it was time to pour our soap into the molds (for now, inexpensive plastic drawer organizers).

Then we covered them in plastic wrap, cleaned up the kitchen and had tacos for dinner. We are some crazy mo-fos over here. Within 24 hours or so, the soap will be firm enough to cut. Then we will let it cure for several weeks.

It already smells wonderful, although Justin says it smells like a hippie. Regardless, we'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Happy accidents

Although I've been absent from the blog lately, I have been busy making stuff. Last night I whipped up a brown wool hat and now I'm working on a pair of wool maryjane slippers for my friend Megan. Last weekend we did a little bit of traveling and I was able to take a pair of pink cotton maryjane slippers to Justin's sister. I don't have pictures, but I think I've mastered the slippers. They work up in less than two hours and they are so freakin' cute. I'll take pictures of Megan's pair and post them.

A few weeks ago, though, in an effort to fend off idle hands, I found a ball of yarn and thought, "Hmm. This would make a nice lightweight hat."

Actually, I had put my hands on some of Justin's beloved alpaca yarn (which don't come cheap) and I lost interest in the project before it became a hat. I had seen tons of felted bowls on Etsy, and the not-a-hat was holding a nice little bowlish shape.

I soaked it in hot water and then, at Justin's suggestion, took our Shark steamer to it. Then I tossed it in the dryer with a load of towels.

Rowdy doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

Since that first bowl, I've made a few more out of less expensive wool. I even took one to work to keep bobby pins and whatnot in. And to think I figured it out by accident!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Some time ago I promised a post about a homemade composter, and here it is. We will start with what I had been using as a composter.

I had bought this at Tractor Supply years ago. It is a trash can with holes punched in it.

It doesn't rotate or mix, just basically a passive way to compost. Once I filled this up, I would haul it to a little corner of the yard and dump it in another passive pile.

This pile more or less was the catch-all for yard waste, limbs and table scraps. Limbs don't really compost unless they get shredded so I got a chipper to take care of those now. Anyway that is how everything was going down. With Meghan cooking and eating more vegetables than I did as a bachelor, I needed something faster so we could process more in a shorter period of time. So in comes the big blue barrel. Just like the barrel I used for the rain barrel (which is continually full because I think Seattle moved to Arkansas), 55-gallon with a removable top. I started with some simple math to make a stand (must not have been too simple because I made it a little too short). I screwed together some treated 2x4s at about a 45 degree angle. Then I used a piece to screw them together at the bottom. Grabbed a one and a half inch dowel that was in the garage (although I would recommend getting a piece of metal such as a round fence post or something) and cut a hole in the center of the barrel. You want to make sure that both holes are as close to center as possible so it will be easier to turn.

Then I spent a good half hour randomly drilling holes in the barrel to allow for easy airflow. I put holes in the lid, but not in the bottom so I could better control the moisture. If I don't want anymore water, I can turn it upside down and it will not collect as much rain. This also lets any extra moisture drain out. This brings me back to the "I didn't build it tall enough." Allow extra space underneath so that you can put a pan or something to catch the draining water because this is the ever popular compost tea that is great for plants inside or out. Here is the finished barrel. I put it in the front of my house to the side because it will eventually drive my neighbors crazy.

I filled this up with mainly grass clippings a month or so ago and here is a photo of what it looks like now. For a while, I turned it a few times when I left for work and a few times when I got home. This is the biggest advantage to this type of composter, you just grab it and spin it a time or two to add in the air it needs to stay active.

As you can see it has composted down to less than half (that is the support pole through the middle) of what it started. As always if you have any questions, comments or the like let us know and we will try our best to help.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Building the Rain Barrel

So yesterday I said I would share a little about the construction of the rain barrel. I only built one, and it cost me about $15 and maybe thirty minutes of my time. Of course that isn't counting the time it took me to find tools in my disorganized garage turned shop.
Anyway, that is a savings of $25 compared to the barrel I found for $40, and most cost around $100 or more. Here is a photo of the barrel attached to my downspout.

You can see it is a basic 55-gallon drum from a food manufacturer. I asked what it was used for and they had received diced tomatoes in it, so no nasty chemicals or anything. I started by rinsing it out. I then used a 1/4 wood bit to drill a hole in the bottom to attach a garden hose. I purchased a 1/2 inch boiler drain from the hardware store and with the 3/4 bit, it made a hole slightly smaller than the threads, so all I did was screwed the valve in the hole and let the threads sort of self tap their way in. I wasn't sure if it would seal, but it did. If it ever breaks the seal, I'll probably just unscrew the valve (after draining the barrel) and apply some Teflon tape to the threads or use some caulk or something to give it a good seal. Here is a bad photo of the valve and bit.

Once it was hooked up to the downspout, it filled up and was overflowing with a 1/2 inch of rain, so I followed the same steps to install an overflow valve at the top. I am not too worried about the seal on it and have a hose running to a nearby tree/bush.

So, why use a rain barrel in Arkansas, where our rainfall is evenly spread out? Well, my thinking is that by using only natural water on the vegetable garden that plants may grow a little better. The water from the local water authority is fine, but it does contain some chemicals (chlorine, flouride, etc.) and it is pretty cold out of the tap. Also, we get charged for the water and sewer even though our outside water is headed straight for the good old water cycle. And on the "green" side of things, every little bit of water that we don't pull from the public water supply will decrease demand and make life easier during the rare drought conditions.

If you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. We are supposed to have a little more cold weather here in Northwest Arkansas, but once that is finished, I'll try to show you how to make one of these big ole barrels into a composter. It is all ready done, but trapped in my garage.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Preparing for Summer

So the last few days have been very busy with guests and extra work to be done around the house. During the middle of everything I decided to take on a couple of extra tasks.
First on the list was to make some rain barrels. I had been trying to find some 55-gallon plastic barrels to use on the garden and everywhere that normally had them was out of stock whenever I called. I picked up a pre-made rain barrel, complete with hydrant at a local farm store for about $40. That was the cheapest I had found them, but I kept hunting for more. I finally lucked out and found two 55-gallon plastic barrels at a local food manufacturer and the lids were just right that I decided to create a composter out of one of them. Each barrel cost $8.
Once I found the barrels, I went to the local family owned hardware store and bought a couple of hydrants to hook up to a water hose. They installed pretty easy and only cost $3 each.
I also installed 20-feet of guttering on the back of my house so I could collect more rainwater in the barrels and rushed around to get that done on Sunday before a storm rolled in. The storm held off until Tuesday morning and I was very happy to see when I woke up that the barrel was allready full with only a half-inch of rain.
For those that are interested, I'll post more on the construction part later.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Looking for motivation

I spent my first week of unemployment diligently searching for work, cleaning the house, tending to the laundry, preparing meals and attempting to edge out the crazy that wanted to take over my head any time I let my guard down.

Every day was a new set of challenges. And I didn't get too much of anything done. No finished crochet projects or anything.

Wait, that's not entirely true.

Faced with financial uncertainty, Justin suggested we make our own laundry detergent. Thanks to a nationally know local family, we knew right where to turn for a recipe. We found all the ingredients at a nearby grocery store and we picked up a five-gallon bucket at Lowe's. The total investment was $13. With that $13, we got the bar of soap, the washing soda, the Borax and the bucket. The bucket, by the way, was the most expensive part. A five-gallon batch actually makes 10 gallons of detergent. Ten gallons gives us enough detergent to wash 640 loads of laundry (we have a front-loading washer). We do an average of five loads a week. One batch of detergent -- ONE BATCH -- will give us enough for approximately 128 weeks of laundry. Because of the small amounts of washing soda and Borax used in the recipe, when we run out of detergent in 2.5 years, the only thing we will need for a new batch is a bar of soap, which costs about $1.50.

I've washed a couple of loads with the new detergent (we still have some store-bought stuff to finish) and our clothes came out clean and soft without being over-fragranced.

And that was our craft for the week.

On Friday, I was offered a job at the paper where Justin works. I accepted. He will be in a different office and we will have different hours, so hopefully being married co-workers will not make us crazy. In hindsight, I wish I had enjoyed my time off a little more. But I was afraid to. Things worked out pretty well, though. I told Justin that I was buying a spinning wheel with my severance, but he said it was best to put that money into my savings account. As usual, he is right.