Monday, March 12, 2018

Straight up pioneer life

We've got livestock on the farm, so I feel like my urban hippie credibility is strong. What I need to work on is my old-timey survival credibility. I know a few things about wild edibles (lobed berries are always safe!), so I could survive in a temperate forest for a few days in the early summer. But what about longer-term wilderness life? Eventually I'd want something more delicious than fiddlehead ferns and the 3 mushrooms I can reliable identify.

You know what's delicious and also available in the woods? Maple syrup! You know what is a ridiculous process? Also maple syrup!

Step one: Drill a hole in your giant, 60+ year old tree. Hope that you're not accidentally killing it in the process!

 Step two: Gently hammer in the taps. We got plastic taps with flexible tubes so that the sap would run down to ground level, where we've got our containers. I got to do the hammering; it's not likely that I could hit these hard enough to break them.
 Action shot! This tree is massive, so it can handle a few taps
 Step 4: Wait. Check repeatedly, Wait some more. Get all excited when you see some liquid!
Here's the first gallon of sap! That's going to eventually be boiled down to 3 whole ounces of syrup.... That's the ridiculous part of the process. It takes 40 parts of sap to make 1 part syrup, which is why we've got 10 taps going. So far, we've been getting 1-2 gallons a day; we could get more as the weather gets a little bit warmer.
We have a basement fridge; it's getting full. I've been collecting gallon milk jugs from all the neighbors so that I don't miss out on any sap; it adds up. Slowly.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Back to the first house

This house.  The first step towards creating a Northside empire. I bought it 3 years ago, with people already living in it, which made me feel like a feudal lord, buying a property and acquiring a family. It also made me feel like a slumlord, because the previous owner hadn't been doing any work on it, and it had been sliding/crashing into disrepair. I suspect the previous owner hadn't always done a great job keeping an eye on the prior tenants; the current occupants told me that they found no fewer than 3 digital scales in the kitchen when they moved in. I have been keeping a much closer eye on the place; I live literally next door. My kitchen window looks in on their kitchen (and vice versa, of course: I got curtains right away).

But now, they are moving out, and we are finally doing some much-needed work. We're starting on the second floor and working our way down; literally every surface needs attention

This wall is look really special.....

These poor floors

Every bedroom was a different color; this one makes me think of Easter grass.


Duct tape holding the window sash together

It's almost like modern art

Those floors, though

Starting to cover the filth and neglect with paint
It's going to be a process, but it's already feeling better inside! I get so much satisfaction from taking a sad, underappreciated house and giving it the love and attention it needs to look good again. And then someone will move in and feel comfortable and cozy living in their well-cared-for house.

Friday, July 7, 2017

New member of the flock!

So, we've been having a good summer with the chickens; they're such friendly, sweet little birds.
 And then we learned their true colors when we introduced a new member to the flock. Penelope (also known as Ducktor Who) is a rescue duck. Our neighbor found her wandering around the parkway in January, in rough shape with her feet all frostbitten. Penelope is not a fan of being manhandled, so Trina had to run around in the snow for a good 10 minutes to catch her, but she eventually got her home and nursed her back to health in her basement.

But ducks are not meant to be basement dwellers, so she asked us if we'd add her to the backyard farm. It seemed like a good idea; the chickens could use some new friends.
 But I forgot to ask the chickens how they feel about new friends. Turns out, our sweet, friendly ladies are actually just mean girls. Like, the meanest, most exclusive clique of 8th grade girls you can imagine.
 They will not let you sit at their lunch table, even if there's an open seat.
 And heaven forbid you make a move for one of their snacks.
They've settled into an uneasy truce; Penelope hangs out by herself, swimming in her little pool or waddling around the yard. The girls just ignore her, which is better than chasing her around I guess. But my illusions about friendly chickens have been shattered.

Friday, April 28, 2017

So fresh and so clean!

Hey, I forgot to post the after shot from my horrible bathroom!

Remember this super scary bathroom? Yeah, neither do I. That's why I took a picture of it, so I'd remember how terrible it was.

But here's what it looks like now!
You could actually get cleaner than you used to be in this room! Amazing what a couple hours and a couple hundred dollars will do for a space. No picture of the shower, because it looks like it used to look....but I covered it up with a new shower curtain, so that helps. 

Moral of the story: paint all the things! Second moral: don't be afraid of ugly! It can be fixed. Usually.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


First of all, everyone is fine.

Second, this was not a mess I pictured having to clean up when I started being a landlady.

"What the heck?", you say. "A drunken night of carousing by your young, hip, tattooed tenants?"

Nope. A minivan. With kids in the back seat. That tried to pass a bus and didn't see the oncoming traffic, so it swerved up into our yards (plural) to avoid a head-on collision.

We recently added two charming craftsman bungalows to our empire; they happen to be on a busy corner. Usually busy means that you hear sirens on their way to deal with someone else's disaster, not that you have a minivan in your yard. Here you can see the path of the van, with the trail of van debris. You can also see both of our houses; aren't they adorable? A little paint, a little landscaping, and they'll be the cutest houses on the block!

We're lucky, though. No one was hurt; none of the dogs were in the front yards; the houses also escaped. Going to need some new railings, though. That pole you see under the back of the van used to be a metal railing.
 And those steps didn't used to look like that.

Moral of the story: don't drive like you're in Fast and the Furious, Northside Edition. Other moral of the story: don't put in fancy, expensive railings if you live on a busy corner. And maybe skip the expensive retaining wall too...

Monday, February 13, 2017

Next bathroom project!

We have a couple projects going on at once right now. Like, unpacking our own house and getting settled in. And also getting our new project house ready to rent. Before we close on the next project house at the end of February. It's slightly insane, but this is how we roll, Northside style! I read somewhere that the average American spends 5 hours a day watching TV. Since I don't have a TV (or internet at home), I figure that frees up about 35 hours a week for me to get stuff done. Minus about 10 hours a week for napping, of course, so I guess I only have about 25 hours left for projects.

Anyway, here's one of the projects of the moment! We bought a charming bungalow that has been well-loved for years, but hasn't had much put in to it for a few decades. The house was owned from the 1940s until the 1990s by the Thompsons, and Mrs. Thompson had a lot done to the house, which is why it sometimes feels like a 1940s/50s time capsule. In some ways, that's delightful. In others, the time capsule is a little worse for the wear. Like this basement bathroom. It is technically a 2-bathroom house, but I don't know how clean you could feel after showering here....
And that's some pretty dingy wallboard. And those floors! Filthy, stained concrete.

And I forgot to take a picture while the tiny vanity was there, but here's where that went. You can fill in the details with your imagination; it wasn't great. What's that odd plumbing going on, you ask?

 That's some MacGyver level improvising! There are no shut-off valves down there, but I needed to take out the vanity to paint and replace the flooring. So, naturally we just re-installed the faucet so we could turn the water back on in the house. You could also buy caps to put on the pipes coming out of the wall, but that would be too easy. And would also require you to buy the right size. Or realize that you bought the wrong size before the store closed. Yep, that's why we are getting so good at making do!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Coop moving, part deux!

After our big moving party for part one of chicken coop moving, we decided to not exhaust our social capital entirely on part two, and moved the other half of the chickens' home using the power of physics! It helped that the run is on the ground, so we didn't need massive amounts of manpower (or ladypower) to lift it.

My dad gave me a pair of giant pry bars when I bought this house. So far, I've mostly only used them to smash the ice dams that built up the winter I didn't roof rake. Definitely not the recommended practice: ladders plus ice plus crow bars. It was lovely to use them for their intended purpose this time.

The theory: use the pry bars to lift up the corners of the coop. Place 2X4 rails under the coop, going the direction we want to move it. Lift it up a little bit more and put 2 inch PVC pipe rollers in place. Push.

 And it worked!!! It's always a bit surprising when something I learn fromYoutube actually works. We were able to push the run up into a low trailer and got to drive through the hood like the Clampetts again, still my favorite part.
 And with a little help from a random neighbor kid who happened to be walking through the alley, we got it unloaded and used some more physics to move it in to place.
Step three might be a while; it involves lifting the coop and walking it across the yard to set it in place on the run. But for now we have our lovely ladies living in their coop on the ground, and they get to run around the back yard. They're super confused about this new setup, and also not terribly interested in leaving since the temperature has yet to rise above 0. But we're all glad (the chickens and the humans) to be living at the same house!