Wednesday 29 February 2012

Tom and Ike

When we bought our house, Kira insisted that we get some kitties.
I am a cat person and less of a dog person so I had no problem with that.
Kira picked up two orphans and we took my sister's cat in because she was moving around a lot.
That makes three cats that we started with.
We did get a dog too.  The Dog.  Lilypad.
The cats were Tinkerbell, a female, and her brother Crazy Ike,
and Stretch, who was much older.

The following year we adopted Ursa, the tortoise shell.  Ursa is a story all on her own.
Then we picked up another kitten who was wild and living in Kira's parents storage shed.
That made five cats.
I love cats.  Five cats is lots though.
Everything was going alright until the next one came along.

I can't prove my story, but here is how I think it happened.
We don't live in a place where there are stray cats.
Stray cats get eaten, and so there aren't any.  (Eaten by wildlife I should add.)
One year, there were a bunch of them.  Three, at least.
My belief is that the neighbor, in an attempt to cut down on the rodent population, trapped stray cats in the nearby village and then released them here.
I suspect that the three were siblings.
I saw one briefly one day and then never again.
Our neighbor Sally ended up with one.
We got the other.
We had no choice.

Kira fell in love with him right away.  He was friendly for a stray.
He wanted to live here, that much was clear.
It happened that he wanted to live here whether we wanted him to or not.
The only thing that kept him from coming right into the house was the five current cat occupants feverishly guarding the cat door.
There was an almost constant struggle to keep him at bay.
We felt bad because it was during a cold winter.
We let him sleep in the porch when the weather turned bitter cold.
The big problem was that he was not neutered and was peeing strong urine everywhere.
Not to mention that we already had five cats.

In the end we relented.
There was no way to end the constant combat at the kitty door and in the yard.
We took him in and then promptly took him to the vet to have his masculinity removed.
Once at home with us, there was still high tension in the house between him and the others.
I remember telling Kira not to worry.
"In a few months, they'll be cuddling together on the bed.", I said.
We named him Uncle Tom.

That was over five years ago.

It never happened.
The cuddling, I mean.
Even with the loss of two of our females, the dynamics never changed.
Stretch had to go live with my dad because he was being beaten up regularly.
Now we have three cats.
Ursa the tortoise shell, Crazy Ike, and Tom.

They fight every day.  All of them.
I've never seen such stubborn cats.
I mean, it's been years and they still carry on as if they just met.

During the Winter, it's especially grim.
They stay inside and pester each other.
Tom will sneak attack Ike while Ike is sleeping.
Ike bullies Tom during mealtime.
It is a territory battle stalemate.
Tom really should give up but he won't....not ever it seems.
They each have matching cut ears from the other.
They yowl and stalk one another.
Mostly it's a lot of posturing.
Sometimes it's a full on fur-is-flying kind of fight.
Tom normally gets the better of those ones.  He's smaller but really strong and tough.
We had a bell on Tom so that everyone knew he was coming; an early warning system.
It worked for a while, but then the sound of the bell made everyone nervous.
Tom could just walk into the room and inspire fear with nothing more than a little jingle.
(Sounds like the marketing companies.)
He never did try to lose the bell.  I think it gave him more confidence.

The worst is that both males are peeing in the house.
We don't have a litter box, but they have full access to the outdoors.
I even let them go in the woodshed during the Winter.  It's something I abhor but it's better than in the house.
But now, we have to watch them all the time.
We can't leave anything on the floor or else it will be peed in or on.
I know what you non-cat-lovers are saying right now and don't think that it hasn't crossed my mind on a daily basis.
We originally got cats because they're cute and cuddly.
We know now that if we didn't have cats, then we'd have mice.....lots of them.
All three cats are killers.  I know that Tom and Ursa take squirrels out when they try to live in the house.
Cats are rodent control.  We will never be cat free here.  Unless maybe I lose my temper one of these days.

I am still holding out for friendlier times.
Maybe if Tom gets a bad enough scare then he'll give up on his quest to rule.
I've tried to scare him myself, but obviously not enough.
If they keep up with it, then they will be given different living arrangements.
I'll give them access to only a small portion of the house.
Their demeanor with us is typical. They are both really nice and friendly, and cute and cuddly.
Tom especially loves Kira.  Maybe he thinks that she is the only thing standing between him and a premature death.
 He may be right about that.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Simple Shelves

Laundry baskets full of our clothes is a great incentive to keep going on a project.
I could handle digging through clothing when I was living on my own for the first years.
Now, I really like to be able to grab what I need without any fuss.
Removing the dressers really trashed the bedroom.
I was determined to build the shelf in one day.

This isn't a beginner's project but it is easier than it looks.
The same principles apply to whatever wood you may have.

Here is a great tip:
If you must buy wood for a project, try to buy construction grade lumber.
Construction lumber is the cheapest wood per board/foot.
The wood is usually spruce, fir, or red pine.
I love the look of S-P-F lumber.  It has twice the character of white pine and is stronger.
Hand pick your pieces.  Look for features that you like.
Many of my projects are built with stud grade 2x4s.  
With the right tools, you just turn the boards into whatever size and shape you need.

I have a pile of flooring so that is what I am using for my projects right now.
I am picking through my pile so that I still have good wood to use for flooring when that comes up.

Always start with a detailed plan.
Actually, sometimes you have to make it up as you go.  Though a little sketch can keep your bearings straight.
If your project demands straight wood, don't depend on the jointer to fix really warped wood.
The jointer removes wood to do it's job.  You may end up with nothing but sawdust if you are trying to straighten badly bent boards.

This project needed grooves cut into the face of the boards.
I used my radial-arm saw.
You can use the table-saw for this.
If you are getting serious about woodworking, and you're considering a router, then here is where it comes into play.  
I am not very good with the router so I avoid it when I can.  I think that a proper router table would make it easier to work with, rather than using it by hand with homemade jigs to keep straight.

As I gain experience, I have been trying to cut down on the number of fasteners that I need to use.
Someday, I'll get more into joinery where there are no metal fasteners at all.
Using the grooves helped eliminate a lot of fasteners in this project.

Basically, I just made three shelf brackets instead of buying them.
Taking the time with simple applications will provide valuable experience for more complex tasks.
Being precise with measurements is important for this sort of job.
Mind the pencil lines and keep your square handy.

There are five screws in this piece.  One for each contact point.
The table saw makes a handy bench.  It is about as flat as it gets.
You may notice that I kept the time down by only making three types of parts.
Getting too complicated or varied adds time when you re-tool the gear.  

Where the fasteners are, you must pre-drill the holes.
A wood screw can find it's way into wood without a hole to follow but you risk cracking or splitting a piece that you spent a lot of time on.  Trust me on this one.  I still take the lazy route sometimes and I am usually punished for it.
Countersinking the holes to accommodate the screw heads makes for good fit and finish.
I used a standard drill bit but there are proper tools for this job.
Notice the smaller holes.  One is to allow the screw complete clearance through the top piece.  Then, the smaller hole gives an interference fit to allow the screw to enter the wood without causing damage, yet allows the threads to bite the wood.

Good luck tracking down your wall studs. 
(Drywall anchors are for picture frames only.)
Today, I missed one altogether, and another was way out of place.
I had to compromise on the symmetry of the shelving.

I didn't even use any fasteners to hold the boards to the brackets.  The weight of the wood and the fit will keep the boards in place.
This is where I stopped for the day.
I won't finish the wood.  It looks great the way it is.
The next step is to hang something below it to hold the clothing that is kept on coat hangers.
I've got a couple of ideas, but I think I'll sleep on it before I decide.

If you like this design and you want to build it, then go ahead.
If you have any questions or need any help, just ask me.
If you want to use any of my pictures, well you can do that too.
They are just captured moments in time; I don't own them.  
How could I?

Monday 27 February 2012

A Change of Plans

Our home is a two bedroom house.
There are five of us now.
Auren and Fern share a bedroom, and Kira and I have our own room.
Meer sleeps with us for now.  She has been spending most of the night in her own bed next to ours.

This time last year, we were planning a new bedroom in the basement for me and Kira.
Nothing fancy.  Nothing big.  But something to call our own for the long term.
That would also free up another room to spread the kids around a bit.
That was last year.
The plans have changed.
Deciding to take a long leave from the workforce has changed our options for improving the house.
Regardless of how simple it may be, a  "from scratch" renovation is costly.

While planning our new bedroom, we allowed our current sleeping quarters to accumulate items and furniture that had no other place to go.
It became cluttered and dirty because we thought we would be renovating it for the kids soon.

It is now clear that we'll be staying put for a while longer.
That means that we had better fix it up a bit.
Meer can stay with us for a long time yet so there is no hard deadline to expand the sleeping arrangements.

Sprucing a room up a bit usually means a trip to the store for something or other.
We are going to do a little renovation with what we have on hand instead.
Here is how we are going to do it.

First of all, the room is small.  There is barely enough room to do anything more than sleep.
The obvious solution is to get rid of some furniture.  So we have.
No more bedroom set.

Floor space is at a premium.  There is, however, lots of space above the floor.
Our clothes will be going on shelves instead of into dresser drawers.
This adds space to the room as well as making the clothing visually accessible.
That means looking for something to wear instead of rummaging for it.
It will also add up to more room than the bedroom set could offer.
The shelves?  Maple flooring of course.
I'll post that project tomorrow if all goes well.  I shouldn't need to buy anything.  I'll just make up some basic shelving to hold and organize our clothing.

Secondly, there is painting.
From the store?  Nothing.  We have enough leftover paint from earlier projects to freshen up the walls and ceiling.  I just hope that it doesn't end up battleship grey.  It will likely be all white.  Nothing fancy, but fresh with a roomier feel.
To be honest, we did need a paint roller.  That was provided by my Dad next door.  Thanks Dad!

The third big change will be a re-tooling of the closet.
The new shelving should eliminate the need for clothes in the closet, so it can be used for other items that normally clutter the room.  It is the only closet in the house so it is vulnerable to "stuffing".  It could use some relief.

Even modest renovations can really mess the rest of the house up.  Everything must shift accordingly.
Items must either find a new spot in the house or leave it altogether.
We have become proficient at purging the house on a regular basis.  If we didn't, we would be buried.

The other trick to renovating is keeping the kids occupied.
Today we brought out the big guns;  Movies!
It was enough for us to tag team the work on the bedroom.

Once upon a time, we were quite good at improving the house without spending much money.
As our income grew, so did our desires for quality home improvements.
Now that we have acquired more skills, more experience, and more perspective, I hope to be able to improve our home with quality renovations without spending very much, if any, more money.

Sunday 26 February 2012


Living in a sparsely populated area means that we must make a concerted effort to keep the kids socialized.
It isn't just a matter of meeting the neighbors kids.
We actively search out opportunities and venues where kids can play together.
Unfortunately, the driving distance can discourage us from certain activities.
Once they're in school it should be easier.

It's important that they get out for a change of scenery and some friends to play with.
Kids should never get bored at home, but they do.
Not for a lack of activities or toys, but for a lack of change and human interaction.
It is easy to see when we do get out.
They behave well and stay focused easily.

We ensure that our children get out and get socialized.
But, we don't always make sure that we get out too.
Often it is in conjunction with the kids' visits.
Rarely is it otherwise.

Winter makes the issue all that much more pressing.
Shut indoors much of the time.
Distances seem greater whether the roads are poor or not.
It's easy to feel trapped.
At home, we have each other to keep us company.
But, like the kids, we need a change of scenery and some friends to talk with.

I'm glad that we get the opportunity.
It should be more frequent, though a busy family life makes Time difficult to manage.
Parents need to socialize as much as the kids do.

We need to just put everything down for a moment.
Let the kids play.
Leave the dishes.
And reclaim our individuality,
 ........if only for a little while.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Thanks Carolyn!

We get a lot of help from family.
We don't have a big family.
But we have a close family.

My cousin Carolyn came for a visit today.
She is the closest in age to me in our family.
She is more of a sister than a cousin.

She brought new snowshoes for Auren and Fern.
She brought fruit and vegetables.
She brought love and support.

The Kids were very thankful for the new snowshoes.
It makes me happy to see them truly appreciate the generosity of others.
I am proud of them.

Today was Fern's first time on snowshoes.
She toughed it out most of the way.
Auren did equally well.

Kira couldn't come along.
She tried, but Meer didn't want to go.
The house is too cozy to leave.

Carolyn helped me take Auren and Fern for the hike.
She hasn't been on snowshoes since she was a kid.
She is great.

Thanks Carolyn!

Friday 24 February 2012


Winter can be hard on the soul in this part of the world. 

It's not just the dark.
For the snow illuminates day and night.

It's not just the cold.
For a knit sweater or a wood fire are the greatest warmth.

It's not just being trapped inside.
For Winter offers so much outdoors.

It's not just the perpetual grey.......'s supposed to be sunnier that it has been.

Maybe it is the grey.
Maybe it's the salt and dirt.
Maybe it's the damp.

Maybe it's the economy.

This year I feel as though everyone is a little worse off than usual.
I mean emotionally, spiritually.
Just like it's been a particularly severe Winter.
But it's been exceptionally short and mild.

I think that is the problem.

We don't hibernate.
But we acclimatize.

That's why we wear sweaters at Thanksgiving and T-shirts at Easter.

It takes some time, but we become accustomed to Winter and accept our environment as if it were year round.

Everyone has been talking about Spring like it is just around the corner.
The weather makes it feel that way.
Even the plants and animals and insects are showing signs of Spring.

But it is still February.
The last frost is in May.

I hear that further south crops are being damaged for the lack of snow as well as for false starts.
Even the seeming omniscience of plants has been thwarted by an unseasonal season.
Perennials have been trying to reach through the earth, only to find lies and deceit.

Our Brave Birds

The same has happened to us.

Spring speaks to us and then recedes.
Winter hardens us to it's hand,
only to falter before it is done.

The kids are just now getting interested in playing in the snow.
But, Auren has still been asking about the grass and when it will return.

Our memories are still fresh with the Fall.
Winter hasn't been strong enough to blind us from the cold.

Now we suffer for Spring.
Just around the corner.....
Teased and bullied by Winter.

Stand your ground,
 for Spring is a ways off yet.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Working Together

I have known a lot of couples over the years that get along really well when they get have some space in between them.  These are the kind of couples that wonder aloud if they'll be able to live together when they retire.
That's certainly not the case with me and Kira.
This is my third time taking parental leave and staying at home with the family.
I dread the thought of having to go back to a job that takes me away from them.
So I hope we can make things work here.

We make a great team.
We complement each other's weaknesses.
Not like, she's great in the house and I'm great outside.
It's more like, she has a great eye for art and design, and I can make it happen.
Here's a good example.

Kira needs slippers.  
She has needed slippers for years.
It's not like she hasn't had any.
Just not any she has been comfortable in.
Recently, Kira has been learning Crochet.
What a perfect opportunity to make some slippers.
So she did!

It was a slow start.
So slow that I thought she would be all year at one slipper.
Then one evening, she flashed a smile and a slipper.  "One done!", she said.
I examined her work and easily decided that Crochet would be her specialty and not mine.

I certainly didn't help with the stitching, but Kira needed buttons to finish the slippers.
She found something she liked on the internet.
I don't like to copy, but I'm willing to allow someone else's idea to inspire me.
Then it changes depending on tools and materials.

These are great looking buttons and can be easily made with basic woodworking tools.

Do you see my Wedding ring in the picture?
A few pictures later it was missing.  The photos helped me deduce where the ring slipped off.

This is a scrap piece from working on the kitchen trim.  It's red maple and just about perfect for the job.

Below is how I shaped the square button.  
The button that inspired us was a leaf shape.  There wasn't time for that today so I went with a simple square to practice with.
This is the bench grinder.  Cheap and versatile.  Don't hesitate to put one in your shop.
I suppose a proper belt sander would be better, but use what you have.

The bench grinder burns the end grain.
Really simple.
Then drill the holes.  I don't think size matters.

I used mineral oil to finish the button.

This is a simple soldering iron.
If you are going to be doing serious soldering then this is too light.
If you are going to be doing serious woodburning then this is not the right tool.
If you have one of these, then you can do some soldering and some woodburning.

Like I said.
We make a great team.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Homesteading Follows Me

I believe in a lot of things.
Coincidence is not one of them.

We don't get out much these days.
We go to town when we need to and there are no unnecessary trips.
Today I was out and about.
It was to pick up a snowmobile for a friend.
He bought a machine for parts and needed someone with a truck to bring it home for him.
Definitely mundane.

The snowmobile was at a farm.
The young man selling the machine is still in high school so we met him at the family farm in the afternoon.
We were a bit early so we talked to his dad for a bit.

The farm is simple and well kept.
I spotted sheep right away but there are other animals there too.
Auren went with me today and so we watched the sheep and looked around while we waited to load the sled.
The father, the owner of the farm, was keen to talk about farming.
That's what I like to hear.

After the machine was strapped into the truck, the farmer asked me if Auren would like to bottle feed a lamb.
Who wouldn't?
So we got to go into the barn to check out what was going on inside.
There were a lot of sheep.  I don't know what breed, but they were warm, dry, and bright eyed.

Now, Kira likes to go out and about with me,
but she doesn't like it when I get talking when we're on a tight schedule.
If you get the right conversation going, I have a hard time not seeing it through.
Today was no exception.
The farmer was eager to talk about farming issues and I was all ears.
Issues such as animal husbandry skills being drained from rural Canada.
Issues such as percentage of household income spent on food.
Issues such as economic hardships for smallholders.
He told me that in order for him to be able to profit from sheep he would need over four-hundred animals.
The market is such that volume prevails.
The greatest loss, in his opinion, is the loss of farms and farm families across the country.
The children are moving to the cities to find steady jobs.  The ones who stay behind face poverty in an agriculture ruled by the corporate world.

We talked a bit about rekindling older organic farming practices, and the niche markets available.
He told me about a friend of his who has an organic farm near Coe Hill, Henry Ellenberger.
He bought an unusual steer hybrid from Henry, a red pole/Canadienne, if I understood correctly.
Now, if you have come here through Feather + Anchor, then you may know that Henry is Erin's father.

I don't think so.
I am constantly in awe at the intelligent web of experience that surrounds me.

I told the farmer that I had met Henry for the first time this past Summer, but we had yet to talk at length.

There wasn't enough time for much conversation this afternoon, but I was pleased all the same.
In fact, I have found that most times that I go out, I can find some soul who is interested in talking about farming, or sustainability, or self-sufficiency or any of the other issues that are meaningful and timely.
Some days we wonder if the number of people genuinely interested in change are too few to ever fix the wrongs that are pervasive in this culture.

I believe in a lot of things.
Seeing the passion in others helps me keep my faith.