...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Shots of Early Spring

Wanted to show you what's coming up in our spring garden.  Didn't get any seeds in the ground yet, but V and I dug sunchokes yesterday.

Broadleaf Sorrel
Overwintered Parsnips and Salsify to dig up
Raspberries and Strawberries
Red Currants
Cherry Tree
Espalier style apple trees
Digging for Sunchokes and Worms
8 1/2 lbs. without even trying hard
Working hard or hardly working? (Note: the tarp on the
grass is killing it for resurfacing.)
The kitchen is workable by now.  We're just hanging a few more accessories, completing the pantry/desk set-up, and waiting for the pendant over the sink to be installed.  Ben stole my thunder and cooked the first couple of things on the new stove: popcorn at the end of a long night of unpacking kitchen boxes and eggs for breakfast the following morning.  I finally made dinner on the new range on Monday--Pumpkin and Kale Quesadillas.  Felt so good to take my time, find my way around, and make a home-cooked meal.

She's a beauty!
New Pot Rack
Amazing how much a few cookbooks can make it feel like home
Window ledge/plant rack and pillowcase cafe curtain
My baking files won't fit into this custom drawer in the new pantry.  What to do!
P.S.  This setup is the epitome of geekiness!


Finishing Projects

Alley score BEFORE
It's felt like this remodel's put me at a standstill with any homesteading projects, but I realized I've managed to put the finishing touches on a few items on my list lately.  Vera received a play kitchen--complete with accessories--for her birthday.  As we were setting it up I remembered that I'd been squirreling away a few bits and pieces in her closet--empty spice shakers, some random pieces of play food, miniature cooking tools I'd pulled off of a cooking themed Christmas tree my mom gave us.  Then at her party, she received more cool play food.  All of this resulted in an explosion of plastic, wood, and felt from this otherwise compact play set.  (For a minute it looked like our fridge's current state of disarray.  I promise I'll really clean it once this central project is done!)  So this vintage style bookshelf, which I scored for free from our alley last summer finally found a purpose.  At first glance, I plucked it from the back slab of a neighbor's garage (which is garbage territory on our block) knowing it could easily be repaired (it had a small spot that needed to be glued) and repainted.  Thought I might use it for books because it has these wonderful tilting shelves and space at the bottom for larger volumes.  It sat in our basement for months, still covered in the original dust and cobwebs from its former home, until a light went on that I should rehab it for storage in Vera's room--more specifically to accent her new kitchen.  I cleaned, glued, clamped, and painted it and now it's serving a few very important purposes--giving her space on the counter and floor around her kitchen to encourage her to play (I think the mess of aforementioned accessories was overwhelming and discouraging her from playing with it for the first week); providing a space to sort kitchen items--hard (wooden) foods, soft (felt) foods, tools/equipment; giving her a place to put things in order as she gets better at cleaning up; and helping mom and dad stay sane by having a place to organize the mess.  Plus I think the robin's egg blue color goes well with the bright kitschy green on the stovetop.  At a later time this could still be repurposed for books, but for now she's feeling like she has a new little corner in which she can make-believe.

One little piece to glue and clamp together.  Not a problem!
Alley score AFTER!
I love it!
One kitchen is complete...now to finish the other one.
I also started creating a "reading nook" for Vera thanks to an idea from a friend.  The space was originally a linen closet with louvered doors, but when we moved in, we removed the doors and I crafted a roller shade that could hide my "stuff " on the top two shelves, while displaying (or hiding as needed) my "desk" area.  It was a bar height desk housing my laptop, some in/out piles, pencils and other necessities.  The space served me well for a few years, but now Ben and I will have slightly more space at a double "desk" area in the back of our new kitchen.  I had planned to turn my former desk into a space for Vera's new kitchen (and use the upper shelves for our family games/puzzles), but that walkway quickly transformed into the only hallway in our house and if she was to have enough space to make a [temporary] mess, I didn't want anyone to be tripping over all these bits and pieces.  Enter reading nook idea.  I decided to stick with my original idea to house the games/puzzles above, but I lowered one of the shelves to bench level, placed a "cubby" underneath, and found some baskets to fit.  I also found a book holder for the bench, dressed a pillow with a vintage case, hung a secondhand reading light (luckily we'd previously installed an outlet in the closet for my desk), and threw a few more pillows in for comfort.  She seems to love it.  I hope to find some kind of artwork to hang on the back wall to make it more cozy.  Maybe V could create a picture to frame and hang.  Using every inch of this house is our goal and this was a perfect idea.  (Thanks K.R.!)

Reading reading reading in the new nook
Book nook and resident bookworm
We had an opportunity to get away to a waterpark just an hour north of Milwaukee over the weekend.  We were on the beach in Sheboygan at dusk on St. Patrick's Day.  That's unheard of!

Beach on St. Patty's Day.  What!
And I attended a Maple Sugaring class at the Urban Ecology Center when we returned on Sunday.  Normally they might just be tapping the sugar maples this time of year, but instead they've already collected and boiled the sap to make maple syrup for the year.  I'm hoping to identify the maple trees that line our parkway and possibly tap them in the next year.  I wanted to take a class to learn more.

Leader David shows us the kettle where they boil the
maple sap into syrup
Tapped trees on our hike through Riverside Park
Tapped trees
Drilling a demo tap on a downed maple tree
Letting the kiddos practice
My goal for the week is to get a few seeds in the ground.  Although there is lots of clean up to do before that...and compost to lay...and yard waste to haul away...I'm feeling confident that I can at least get a row or two of spinach, lettuce, or radishes planted by Sunday.  So far I've taken a seed inventory.  Next I will sketch my garden plan, then hit the backyard.  I'm hoping the weather will allow for a load of laundry to be hung outside this week too.

The kitchen should be finished by week's end, if not tomorrow.  The range is being delivered and the work crew is well into dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's.  If completed by Sat. it will be just a month, which apparently is unheard of for a project like this.  Okay, I'll stop now before I seriously jinx something.  Just take a gander at the updates below:

Butcher block countertops
Fine craftsmanship
Faux cabinet--on rollers so it can be moved to meet
code.  This houses the recycling bins.
Faux cabinet top
Appliance garage
Our only hallway.  Looking forward to "decorating" it.
Under cabinet lighting, backsplash, sink and dishwasher
Track lighting in the "desk" area
I'm loving the warm glow
In the Night Kitchen


Distraction from the Mess

Happy 3rd Birthday V!
Over the weekend we celebrated Vera's 3rd birthday and since we couldn't host at the homestead because of the remodeling mess, we chose my second home, the Urban Ecology Center.  (I've realized that if I were to get in my car, completely space out and start driving somewhere, I would undoubtedly end up at the UEC.)  A few months ago I came up with a "Garden Party" theme for her party--the years of me choosing her b-day party theme are surely numbered--and I couldn't think of a better place to hold the special event.  Not only was it kid-friendly, but since I know my way around so well--especially in the kitchen--with the help of their gracious staff, I was able to quickly round up any additional supplies we needed for the party.  They have a "no disposables" policy for all events held there (personally, I think everyone should have a no disposables policy everywhere, everyday...) so we used their real plates, flatware, and serving bowls.  I kept the setup fairly simple (in my opinion) and incorporated some of the good old party games I remember from our own childhood homemade birthday celebrations.  Without a functioning kitchen, the food prep. was a bit challenging, but we managed.  A gracious friend let us hang out at her place a couple days before the party to bake gluten-free cupcakes in her oven and my incredibly willing mother helped me put together the rest of the appetizers out of our makeshift kitchen.  It was an easy-going party and I think the kiddos really had a good time.
The UEC's Camouflage Room.  Perfect for our venue!
Colorful tablecloths (yards of fabric), a homemade flag banner across
the ceiling, craft activities awaiting the kids' arrival
Personalized "Green House" placemats and Activity #1: Terra cotta pots for the
kiddos to decorate then Grammy filled them with prizes to take home:
bubbles, sidewalk chalk, packets of vegetable seeds, ladybug rings, mini
marigold pots, UEC's homemade seeded bookmarks, etc.
Activity #2: Plant your first initial (or whatever design you want) with
catgrass seeds.
Reusing mushroom trays
Something to do when the kiddos arrived and
before everyone got settled

Ladybug rocks: V and I painted some beach stones red then the kids had
Activity #3: a chance to detail them into ladybugs upon arrival and
settling in at the party.

Ladybug rings--upcycled pull tabs from OJ.  Colored
with permanent marker.  They were fun, but the marker wasn't so permanent.  :(

Kid- and Adult-friendly spread
Gluten-Free Chocolate "Garden Row" Cupcakes.  This was the first time (and
perhaps last time) that Oreos will enter my house...oh and gummy worms and

Cupcake Rows of "beans" and "corn."
Beanbag toss into a pail (made the beanbags with
scrap T-shirt fabric and real beans)
Preparing for "Pin the Ladybug on the Flower"
Put contact paper over a homemade construction paper flower and used
sticky-back ladybugs from the craft store for the "tail"
Spinning and Pinning
The kiddos running around outside and checkin' out the solar panels on
the UEC's roof
Couldn't resist gifting two of my favorite kids' "food"
books: Blueberries for Sal and To Market, To Market.
Our Waldorf Birthday Ring all ready for the birthday girl
Make a Wish my love!
Much has happened since the last time I posted kitchen remodel photos.  The transformation seems very real now.  We are still a little over a week out from being finished, but I have at least scheduled my range delivery for next week.  Our contractor and his team have worked hard and continue to exceed our expectations of progress each day.  It was great to see the guts of our house during that phase, but what's more cool now is seeing the design that I had in my head for so long + the ideas our contractor had to flesh it out = a real, efficient kitchen.
Let there be light.  Just two of the four can lights are
already providing better lighting than we had before
Drywall is up, mudding in process
Arched doorway
Adding some color.  Tomatillo is the hue, but this appears darker
than it actually is
Doorway arched a la 1920s
Cabinet installation in progress.  Finally looks real now!
New "old style" trim going up around windows and doors

More cabinets
New "old style" pantry awaiting hardware and finishing
Super size bulletin board I scored for $1 at the thrift store
hanging over our double desk area

Pantry/Desk area--maximizing every bit of space.