Saturday, February 10, 2018

Creating Treasures with Round Loom Knitting - Hats

I have just discovered a new passion and an easy way to create family heirlooms and treasures. Okay, that's a little overly dramatic. But I am really excited about my new hobby. I have just discovered that I can knit using round looms. It is an easy and fun way to be creative. I have been able to knit hats and am passing along the information about the inexpensive little gadget that allows me to knit.


Round Looms


Round looms are small rings of durable plastic with pegs. Using yarn wrapped around the pegs and pulling one loop of yarn over the other with a small hook results in a knitted item.


Anchor yarn. Wrap around loom twice. Use hook to pull one loop over another.

I can crochet (easy - medium patterns) and have crocheted for years. But I have never been able to master the art of knitting. Holding a knitting needle in each hand and convincing my hands to cooperate and work together is beyond my ability.

With a loom, a hook, yarn, and a wonderful video tutorial by Denise at Loomahat, I made a hat for my grandson in a matter of an afternoon. I will add Denise's wonderful tutorial below.


Complete hat for my grandson

My next attempt will be a hat for my granddaughter with a crochet flower applique. And at some point, I hope to knit some thick, comfy socks for myself.  If you have always wanted to knit, but couldn't quite figure out how, this might be your answer. I know it is the solution for me.

Related Links:

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

That wonderful round loom tutorial by Denise at Loomahat:




Sunday, January 21, 2018

How I Make Junk Mail Fire Log Starters

Free fire starter logs
Making my own fire starter logs has been a very easy project that has many benefits. It seems almost too easy and silly to even spend time talking about. But then again, if I hadn't learned about how others are recycling their junk mail into fire logs, I would not have tried it. Perhaps my way of making free fire starters, while protecting my identity, will be helpful to others.

Living in a metro area is sometimes eye-opening. Identity theft and fraud are on the rise in general. Seeing people rooting through apartment complex dumpsters for mail is a regular occurrence. Yes, mail. Not cans, scrap metals, or things they can upcycle. Some of them are looking for your discarded mail with personal information they can use. 

Years ago, I asked Santa for a shredder and was thrilled when I received one as a gift.


Paper shredders - for identity protection 

Cold weather camping in an off-grid cabin on my land, with only a wood stove for heat, has been an adventure. There is an art to getting a fire started and keeping it going for periods of time. I am improving at both of those things.

Making my own fire-starter logs from my junk mail and newspapers has been a great help in both protecting my identity and starting fires quickly. My personal-sized shredder has since worn out but I continue to make my own fire logs.

  • discard any plastics - plastic envelope windows, "credit cards", and any other plastic inserts (remember to shred those "credit card" offers!!) 
  • shred (or tear into strips) your mail and newspapers
  • place shredded paper into a container and cover with water
  • press the excess water out - similar to molding the paper into the container - and set aside to dry
  • after fully dry, remove from the "mold" and store in a dry place 

In the apartment, space is an issue for me. So rather than use a 5 gallon bucket (as some people do) to mix my paper shreds and water, I use two small (and very inexpensive) plastic ice containers.  


The way the ice container is designed, I did not have to drill any holes.  I fill one container with water and shreds, use the other container to press down firmly and tilt the containers over the sink to drain excess water (similar to draining spaghetti using the lid of the pot).

I no longer feel the need to keep the paper mush weighted down during the drying process. It seems to draw up and form together during the drying process.

The paper log pops out when it is fully dry. Then I store the log with my other kindling at The Shack.

I originally chose this shape and size of container because my wood stove is long and narrow. But even if my wood stove were much larger, I think I'd still like this shape of starter log. It is very similar in size to the fire starter logs that can be purchased in the grocery and big box stores.

The paper shreds catch fire easily and the log burns for much longer than I ever expected. Making fire starter logs from my junk mail and newspapers has been an excellent choice for me.


*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Frigid Weather and Camping at The Shack

winter sunrise at the ridge
I loaded up the dogs and headed to The Shack this past weekend. It had been too long between visits and I missed the place. Despite predicted cold temperatures, we headed up. I was eager to check on the bluebirds, look at what the game cams have captured, and just hang out on my little piece of almost heaven.

Game Cams:

I couldn't wait to see what I had captured on the game cams this time. More bear maybe? Unfortunately, I had aimed both cameras toward the sun (one somewhat toward sunrise and one directly at sunset). So most of my photos turned out to be abstract sun glares. 



There are a few photos of the constant parade of does and young deer parading through my yard. I am starting to call my yard "the nursery".  I still don't have any photos of the big buck that scrapes up my trees. And sadly, my Japanese maple will likely die as the bark is completely scraped away.




Birds:

It was so cold and windy that all the birds had made themselves scarce. I walked to the bottom of my land (a steep hill in the woods) and found bluebirds there. But none up near the nesting box.  Despite the lack of birds, I made a rope and bowl bird feeder, filled and hung my glass bird feeder, and hung a suet feeder for the woodpeckers. 

The rope and bowl feeder was made with things I had laying around up there. And I filled it with meal worms specifically for the bluebirds. Eventually I'll buy a "real" bluebird feeder.




I don't know what time of year is best to clean out the nest box. I didn't even try during this trip because everything else was so frozen shut.

As I was packing up to leave, I noticed an entire flock of Eastern Pheobes landing to peck around in the grass in my yard. I thought of my daughter-in-law. I believe she said that Eastern Pheobes are her favorite birds (is that sarcasm?). 

Good Eats:

One of the best things about cold weather camping - keeping warm with the wood stove and cooking at the same time. I made a wonderful roast beef and potatoes barbacoa meal.


YUM!  Barbacoa beef and potatoes on the woodstove


Staying Warm:

I'm getting good at getting that wood stove going in a way that lets me sleep for hours at a time. Instead of waking up freezing every two hours. That sleeping bag is also the best for my needs. It turned out to be one of the best purchases for The Shack I've made. It is roomy enough for me and both dogs at my feet.

The cold side of The Shack was 20 F degrees most of the time. I didn't move the thermometer to the warm side, but it was almost - not quite - t-shirt and jeans warm. During the day. During the night it was "see your breath" cold if you were outside of the sleeping bag.

Frigid Weather Lessons Learned:

I take care to not leave liquids there to freeze and bust the container, then leak as they thaw. But I didn't realize that everything else freezes.  

My game cams weren't wet...but they were frozen shut. The locks that secure them, frozen shut. The fireplace lighters I use, frozen. They only provided a very sluggish flame after I warmed them under my clothes. I almost didn't have a way to light the wood stove. And, don't think that in the heat of the summer you will wait until the cold to wash the windows. If it's too cold, the vinegar water just freezes to the glass!

I had so smartly stacked much of the wood on the deck, just outside of the sliding balcony door. Not thinking that the door would also freeze shut. Good thing I had that pile of wood inside. The rest I just carried around to the other door.

Does it sound like a miserable time to go camping?  Really, it's not. The dogs have their jackets. I wear my layers. The sleeping bag I chose was perfect for us. The night sky is clear and the stars are close and bright. There are no bugs. I can walk in the woods with no fear of snakes. And there are no spider webs to walk into.  I didn't bring home any poison ivy itchies. 

I'm glad to be back to the apartment, only for the hot running water. I look forward to the day I have a real bed and hot running water up on my ridge. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bluebirds and Bluebird Houses

The empty bluebird house 
I have always enjoyed watching birds.  Even though I don't consider myself a "bird watcher" really (because I can't accurately name many different bird species). Recently, I am very excited about birds I am watching. Bluebirds! A pair has moved into my bluebird box up at The Shack and I'm thrilled.

I don't recall ever having seen a bluebird in the wild as a child - strange since I can clearly recall Cedar Waxwings during a camping trip. So I was somewhat a bird watcher at an early age but I don't believe I had ever seen a bluebird. Even so, I knew that I liked them. I referred to them as the "bluebird of happiness".  I even made a bluebird ceramic refrigerator magnet. 

But that was the extent of my experience with bluebirds.

Then a handful of years ago, I was visiting some friends. The husband was complaining of the very little, but very loud, bird that was constantly perching on their flagpole and covering the flagpole in droppings. That was my first bluebird sighting. 

I secretly admired their wooden nest box and bought my own as soon as I bought my land.
My bluebird house close-up

In April 2016, I attached a bluebird nest box to a tree at The Shack. I was completely clueless. And only by accident did I place it East-facing. Then I watched. And waited.

And waited some more.

I waited until November 2017. I had all but given up hope that bluebirds would move in to my nest box. Then in November, in the cold, I noticed a pair moving in and out of the box. I spied on them with binoculars and was so happy. I was also very confused. What in the heck were bluebirds doing on a cold West Virginia ridge, in November?  Didn't they migrate?

No. They don't. Not in that area. They are year 'round residents. Woohoo!

Since then, I have been reading about bluebirds. And I'll share some of that information later. But for now I'll focus on the nest boxes.

I have since decided that I'm going to buy another nest box or two. I like my wooden nest box. It is the correct size and it has the predator guard around the opening. It also is meant to have a hinged side, so that I can open it and clean it out. However, the one time I attempted to open it and check it, the wood had expanded and I could not open it. It also does not have ventilation holes.

Good bluebird nest boxes consist of:

  • 4" to 6" square bottoms
  • 1.4" to 1.75" diameter openings
  • predator guards at the opening
  • ventilation holes
  • raised wire mesh floor
  • access - to clean old nests out

I have since discovered Duncraft and their bird feeders and supplies - including bluebird nest boxes. And have a few of their boxes on my wishlist.  


Duncraft Eco-Friendly Bluebird House

Perhaps you'd rather shop Amazon. There is a huge selection of bluebird nest boxes on Amazon to choose from. And some of the choices are less expensive. Just remember the dimensions listed above as you shop.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Treasure: Sunny Exercise Bike

Sunny exercise bike
The Sunny exercise bike comes in several different sizes and either belt or chain driven. I have been shopping for exercise equipment for my apartment for well over a year. I finally purchased this Sunny bike and I immediately am very impressed. I wanted to share my find with you.

Sunny Belt Drive Indoor Exercise Bike (SF-B1002)


Of the various Sunny bike models, I chose the SF-B1002. It seems the 3 differences with my model are: the 49lb flywheel, it is a belt drive, and holds a rider up to 275 lbs.  

Some of the Sunny bikes have a lower rider weight maximum. And a lower weight flywheel. I was looking for sturdy. And sturdy is what I found!

I was looking for quiet, in order to try to be kind to my neighbors in the adjoining apartments. While the chain drive models are reported to have a more "realistic" bicycle feel, I chose the belt drive model because it is reported to have be more quiet and produce less vibration.

Some Assembly Required


Yes. I assembled my bike. The tools were provided and the directions/diagrams were very clear. There was absolutely no guessing. It took me just an hour to assemble this bike.

I'm not sure how the delivery folks got the heavy box up 3 flights of stairs, but they did. The box was very large and difficult for me to move. But even the box was labeled in order to ease the unboxing and assembly process. 


Oh wow. They weren't kidding. And it was very helpful to unbox the bike in this manner. I struggled a little bit with the box.  But it was doable. Then with the clearly labeled tools, parts, and the instructions... I had the bike together in no time.


By the way, I apologize for not taking better (and more) photos. I was excited about the bike and didn't think about taking photos for a review. 

I have to pause and admit something. My bike was marked as "made in China". That almost caused me to not make the purchase. I don't expect mechanical items and metal items to be made well in China. I also did not expect the assembly directions to be helpful. But I was wrong on ALL counts. The bike is solid. I'm not a welder, but the welds appear to be done well. There were extra metal pieces that were bolted in the legs of the bike to prevent bending during shipping. The directions were clearly written by a writer who is fluent in English and can produce very clear diagrams.

I love everything about this bike so far EXCEPT... the seat. The seat is small and uncomfortable. It made the bony parts of my bum sore. Fortunately, I recalled that I had a old gel, spring suspension bicycle seat on my bicycle. And was very happy to find that I could replace the Sunny seat. Perhaps my overweight hiney is more tender than most folks' hineys, but I couldn't tolerate the seat.

Miscellaneous Information


Thank you. First of all, thank you to my son and his wife for the Amazon gift card that helped purchase this bike. I've been looking at a variety of exercise bikes and ellipticals for a long time - unable to make a decision. Your gift card helped me feel like I could make the purchase.

Online reviews. If you decide to consider a Sunny exercise bike, there are a variety of youtube reviews of many different Sunny models. After awhile, I became a little confused about the different models, but I did feel the reviews were helpful with my decision about belt drive vs. chain drive and etc.

Online spin classes. If you purchase an exercise/spin bike, there are MANY different video spin classes to help you out. Some are paid subscription and some are free. So far, I have found several spin instructors that are to my liking and my very beginner status.

Finally, yes I have a history of turning exercise equipment into coat racks. And the same may happen with this bike. BUT so far, I'm riding it every day and am already building up my stamina. So far, I am enjoying everything about having this bike in my apartment (now that I have the cushioned seat on it!).

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs Breakfast

Lazy Days Biscuit Eggs
There is a cold snap outside and I woke feeling lazy and hungry. I craved a hot breakfast but what I really wanted was to just stay under the blanket - with the dogs warming my feet. But my stomach was growling. In my extreme laziness, I stirred together some biscuit mix, cracked a couple of eggs on top, and slid it into the oven. Voila, I came up with a filling, easy, hot breakfast.


Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs


I grabbed the Bisquick mix and made about 1/2 of the recipe for the biscuit/dumplings as listed on the box.  I say about 1/2 because I no longer follow the measuring instructions on the box because I use the stuff regularly enough that I just eyeball it.

I put the single large "biscuit" in my copper pan (oven preheated to the 450 listed on the box - pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil).  I spread the dough out forming a well, similar to a thick crust pizza shape, thin layer of dough in the middle and thick ridge around the sides.

I cracked two eggs into the center and placed it into the oven for approximately 10 minutes. If you jiggle the pan and the entire egg jiggles, you know that it needs to bake a bit longer.

Out pops this Bisquick egg biscuit. A bit of salt, pepper, and a dollop of Kerrygold Irish butter on top. Next time, if I'm not feeling too lazy, I'll brown some sausage or bacon to sprinkle on top.

Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs - in the skillet and on the plate
I sure wish I was a better food photographer 


*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you


Miscellaneous Bits


Haven't heard of Kerrygold pure Irish butter? I hadn't until recently. A friend recently brought it along on a camping trip and I was sold! I used it in my hobo packs in the woodstove and used it on my smoked meats in my new Char-Griller smoker. This butter has a great flavor!

Kerrygold

My Copper Chef skillet comes from the As Seen On TV sales. Technically, I bought mine at Bed Bath & Beyond, but I had initially seen it on an infomercial. On Amazon it has mixed reviews. But I really love my copper pan - almost as much as I love my cast iron skillet. Most of the negative reviews are related to food sticking. I've never had anything stick. However, I seasoned it and continue to use small bit of cooking spray during each use. It is a great option, for me, when I don't feel like using my heavy, over-sized cast iron skillet. The copper pan is nonstick, light, cooks evenly, and is very easy to wash. Perfect for lazy days cooking. 

Copper Chef skillet

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Making My Own Granola

This may be old news to you, but it is wonderful, breaking news to me. I can make my own granola at home! For far less than I can buy it at the grocery. Not only is it inexpensive and easy to make, I can adjust it to my own taste. If you like granola, and don't make it at home, you may want to give it a whirl yourself.


Homemade Granola


I cannot take credit for figuring this out by myself. In fact, I had no idea that making granola was this easy until I saw Patara making granola in one of her Appalachia's Homestead with Patara videos. 

The thought of homemade granola had me so excited and looked so delicious that I went to my cupboard and made my first granola with what I had on hand. It was that easy.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c oats  
  • 1 c sunflower seeds (I use unsalted)
  • 1 c shredded coconut
  • 2+ Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • a pinch of salt

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet. Stir to coat. Bake on a cookie sheet, turning the granola several times during, at 250 degrees at about 45 - 60 minutes. 

In my second batch of granola, I used more honey than Patara adds, and I added some caramel chips! Not many. Just a few. I've also purchased a bag of sliced almonds for future batches. I also baked my granola a bit longer. 

Previously, I had not normally had shredded coconut or caramel chips on hand. Fortunately, I had purchased both for cookie recipes that I never ended up making. Into the granola they went! Everything else are things that I always have in my kitchen.  

My bedtime snack is yogurt with my homemade granola sprinkled on top.  Someday... I'll be making my own yogurt.


*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Related Links:




Appalachia Homestead with Patara video: