Thursday, September 6, 2007


It turns out that keeping up with this blogging thing is more work than I expected. In addition, we've added ourselves to the HouseBlog network, which has forced me to evaluate everything I plan to write. Is it housebloggy enough? Or will I just annoy everyone forced to see our page for the few seconds it appears on the network's main site? There's been a lot to talk about, but I guess it wasn't home-centric enough. So in summary:

The garden. This year we weren't supposed to have a garden. Our house is lovely, yes, but is in disrepair. It's been ignored in small ways for years, and has deep problems around plumbing, electrical and HVAC. Because of this, our emphasis this year was going to be on the house itself. Fat chance. We planted a garden with what you would expect in the Midwest: tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, corn, beans, hot peppers, habenero, beets... the list goes on. We used a permaculture technique - sheet mulching - and modified it for our abbreviated schedule. It was a great way to get rid of many of our moving boxes, most of which had been bent, soaked and crushed beyond repair. So this summer they became an excellent weed barrier, killing the lawn underneath while preserving moisture.

The tree, our beautiful tree. A tall, magnificent elm that had seen better days was cut down several weeks ago. It was in a state of decay, much like our house, but probably would have lasted a decade or two before succumbing to the elements. It was clear that it had suffered some irreparable harm some time ago, but what ended up defeating it wasn't the weather, but the city. Minneapolis has had a high number of Dutch Elm victims this year, and our tree was one of them.

The day the tree was felled it shook the ground like an earthquake. 80 years old (from our unscientific ring counting later) and over 3 feet in diameter, it must have weighed many tons.

Since the loss of the tree, we've noticed that on very hot days the air conditioning runs for several hours longer.

Chickens. I ended my last post on a down note, but the chickens are doing very well. The handsome lad you see on the right is Stripes. Stripes is the surviving rooster from the many, many roosters we managed to hatch this summer. In fact, of the four eggs that we hatched, four were roosters. Somewhat worse than the 50/50 odds we were expecting. Of the additional five chicks we were given a few weeks later, only three were hens. So, we ended up with five roosters and three hens. Not an ideal situation - you only want one rooster in a flock as small as ours. We came up with an ingenious method for determining which roosters would go: if they crowed, they left. Pearl, the massive white something-or-other (we're not really sure on breeds) was the first and loudest, followed by two anonymous black roosters and Spongebob. Spongebob was unanimously the worst rooster we had ever seen, constantly fighting with the hens, stealing food, and crowing at inopportune times. And so it came to pass that Stripes, probably the least effective rooster of the crew, stayed with us.

The coop. I spent two weekends working on this thing, probably about 40 hours in all. It's made mostly from cheap pine 2x4s, reclaimed cedar from our basement tear-out, and a salvaged window from the ReUse store. The roof is a water membrane donated by my father-in-law with cedar shingles.

The design I stole from a picture I saw online, and made some assumptions and modifications for how I thought things should be. So far it's done very well, holding up better than our house did in several extreme thunderstorms this summer.

The only thing left is to create a nest box, as the hens should start laying in a week or two. Otherwise we'll have to hunt for them in the yard.

That's all for now. Some actual home improvement projects are coming up, so I guess I'll have something housebloggy to write about after all. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wilbur's End

Thought it was worth mentioning that Wilbur met his maker last night. We had tried a few attempts to bring him around - namely homeopathy and then trying to physically brace his jaw so his beak would line up - but it really wasn't happening. He was severely malnourished, dehydrated and generally miserable, and his condition wasn't going to be fixed with our feeble attempts. Short of surgery I don't see how he could have survived.

We tried to make things okay for him before he moved on, feeding him by hand and using a dropper to give him water. There was little question that he would have to die that evening, but it seemed callous to end what was a short and unfair existence without a degree of dignity. At the very least he didn't die thirsty and hungry and alone, three conditions that plagued his brief life.

So, that's our first brush with death and raising animals. As a person who's never dealt with animals as creatures of utility - rather more as companions and friends - this has been extremely distressing, far more than I would have thought. City folk tend to anthropomorphize animals and even inanimate devices, ascribing attributes to them that simply do not exist outside of our heads. I doubt Wilbur was having an existential crisis in his final days, lamenting his place in an uncaring universe. He just was, going about his business as best as he could, probably utterly oblivious to the fact that he was fatally disfigured. I know all of this, but there's still a small but vocal part of my brain that tells me I betrayed a life that depended on me for protection. I suspect that this will fade with time, and that my pragmatic side will win over the long run, but right now it just sucks.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Homeopathy and Chickens

We have a desperate situation with our chick, Wilbur. He's had a tough life even before he hatched. He spent 24 hours trying to get out of his egg to no avail. Paul finally opened the shell for the little guy who was stuck and extremely tired. He's been the runt of the group every since. Over the past few weeks he's been developing a structural problem called a twisted beak. Basically the upper and lower parts of his beak don't match up making it almost impossible for him to eat, drink or peck anything. Our chicken farmer, Brian, said that he may survive, but his condition has been getting worse.

At this point, I've decided to take matters into my own hands. Without some help, he will certainly die. He's emaciated and extremely under developed. I gave him one dose of Natrum muriaticum, 30c in liquid. I am also giving him water via dropper and am going to try an oat and raw milk mixture for nourishment. I think I'll give him 24 hours to respond to the remedy. If that doesn't act, I'm going to try Calcarea carbonica.

I'll post his progress!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Garbage and Gas

Gas. I've heard that it is supposed to get up to $4.07 per gallon this summer. Frankly, and don't balk at me here, I'm excited. I think that expensive gas is a small step toward a national realization that we're destroying the planet and, guess what - our endless supply of fossil fuels will soon be no more. So while I don't want to pay $60 or $70 to fill up this summer, I think that I just found some new motivation to get some new bikes shoes and perhaps a tune up. The girls and I will be putting in some mileage this summer.
I realize that my current luxuries are not available to everyone. We've now got a playground two blocks away, a grocery store 10 blocks away, two great pizza places within walking distance, a coffee shop, a number of rec centers, a library, a beach and a post office - just to name a few. We're set, really. The only thing that gets me into the car these days is our weekly trip to Whole Foods in St Paul and church. (This doesn't include weekends which are another story entirely.)
The goal that I've set for myself now is to fill up once every two weeks. I came close this week but don't think I'll make it all the way. If I can reach two weeks, my next goal is three.
So those are my gas goals.

As for garbage. I've noticed that we have a LOT of garbage here! It seems like our kitchen can is full twice a week. We recycle, which isn't included, but man, what's with that? First of all, what gets me are those plastic bags. You know the ones? You buy a couple of apples and in order to get it through the check out they have to be in a plastic bag. Well, I've cut down on that a bit with my BYO bags, which are great but they don't deal with my bulk purchases of rice, oatmeal, etc. So we have a load of those little bags. I think I'm going to start bringing them back and reusing them each week. I'll let you know how it goes. As for the rest of the garbage, it may come down to making a list of everything that goes in and then evaluating from there!

Be the change you wish to see in the world. - Gandhi

Monday, May 7, 2007

Official Chick Names

Last night, during some burst of creativity, Amelie decided to finally name all of the chicks. We have, in no particular order; Sponge Bob (yellow one), Stripes (all black), Pearl (all white), Wilbur (all gray and the runt). There you have it! Now we're just waiting to see who gets to stay (hens) and who has to go (roosters).

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Officially Moved In

Well, our moving trailer, where all of our belongings have resided for the past 10 months is now empty. What is not empty, however, is our garage which is now quite full. With the help of our good friends John and Kala, my parents and our neighbor, Bill, we were able to get the entire semi trailer emptied in just a few hours (and before the rain). We moved very little into the house but it was enough to make us feel overwhelmed. It turns out we have A LOT of stuff. Most of which we will be selling in our garage sale.

Thankfully everything survived the trip and the months in storage fairly well. Everything except our Maytag Neptune - only washer to get the cat/dog hair out - washer suffered some frozen parts and now needs to get fixed. We're just hoping it doesn't cost us an arm and a leg.

Nonetheless, we're moved in. More updates on the big sale to come....

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Heat, Update 1

I tend to write in fits, so you can expect times of plenty and times of drought when it comes to my blogging. Right now things are evolving on the heating front so I figure it's worth a quick update.

The ceilings are out and I'm ready to pull the trigger on buying the heating package (I'm currently leaning towards the ingeniously named Radiant Floor Company), which has brought on a near-panic attack. The notion of actually going through with this stupid idea and spending thousands of dollars has apparently knocked some sense into me. Not too much sense, mind you, but just enough to get me to evaluate my longterm plan.

At this point I'm going to leave the existing system in place, which means the old boiler, death trap that it is, has another year of life in it. The radiators will stay, of course, and the new system will have to be installed around it. The benefit of doing this is too much to ignore, as this allows me to focus on installing the new system (not figuring out how to remove the old) and it means we can face next winter with no fear. I'm convinced that a radiant package will work just fine, I'm just not convinced I'm going to get it exactly right the first time. There may be opportunities for refinement over the next year, and I don't want to be 'refining' with mittens on in my own house.

Gotta go, Des is distracting me with her chip eating technique: grab fistful of corn chips, dump into mouth, chew as loudly as possible while leering at my discomfort. Oh, where did the romance go? Maybe out with the ceilings.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Living Green Expo

This weekend is the Living Green Expo at the State Fair. We are completely excited. All of our favorite green companies will be there including Natural Built Home Store, Peapods, Borden Window and Peace Coffee, just to name a few. Paul will be working at the Permaculture Collaborative booth for a bit so stop by and say hello. The Expo was great fun and lots of learning last year for us as I'm sure it will be again this year. They have lots of things for kids including a petting zoo area and some art projects. I hope the weather holds out!

Living Green Expo


The babies have hatched! We currently have four baby chicks nestling in a box in our office. We've got a yellow one, two gray ones and a black one. The first one hatched last Thursday night. Sunday night Paul had to help the last little gray one (Wilbur) out of his shell. He ended up getting stuck in there. After 24 hours of pecking, we decided it was time to give him a break. Now we're rapidly looking into and planning our chicken coop. Those little guys are growing so fast! They're all losing their down and getting their feathers. So cute!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Our Heating Situation

For some strange reason that we'll never figure out, our house has only two radiators on the entire first floor. One of them is at the base of the stairs. The other is really short radiator underneath a window. Along with that issue, there is the boiler. Lucky for us our boiler is vintage 1935 and converted from coal some time in the 70's. For so many reasons, that thing has to go.

Paul, being the insatiably curious person that he is, did hours of research to discover that we don't actually have to just replace the boiler. In order to solve the uneven heat sources as well as the horrible inefficiency, we could put in radiant floor heat!

The only big issue - that entails removing the ceilings in the basement and the coved ceilings on the first floor. After many hours of deliberation, even up to the very morning of, we decided to proceed with the demolition, as you can see.

The Eggs (Soon to Be Chickens)

I think that it's because we want to get another dog but really can't find an excuse to go through all of the training, money, etc right now. That's why we've decided to raise chickens instead. Actually, there are a number of benefits of chickens that I'm looking forward to. First, there are those tasty eggs. Secondly, they are great at eating all of those tasty bugs out of my garden while depositing some lovely fertilizer. Third, they are pretty cute.

Nonetheless, almost 21 days ago our friend, a chicken farmer, dropped off one dozen eggs, an incubator and a brooder light. Right now, as I am typing this I can hear a little "peep peep" coming from our first pipping chick. No, we don't have a chicken coop - yet. We need to keep the little guys in the house for the first 60 days. That gives us two months to build a chicken coop (and get permission from our neighbors for the permit - yikes!).

Our Commitment

We are definitely not new to homeownership. Paul and I each owned our own homes before we met and married. There is something different about this house though, or should I say, about us. We've now got two kids, one income and a new commitment to the environment and the health of the world around us. While we know that we can't make a difference on a global scale, we've decided to work with what we've got.

That's where our Tudor comes in. We chose this house because it feels right and because we're in a great neighborhood with lots of kids. There's a park nearby, the library and the lake. Our priorities were neighborhood, yard and then house which is exactly what we got. The yard is not gigantic but it's not too small either. Paul, being the Permaculture design specialist, is totally excited about the prospects for our back yard so I'm sure you'll see more from him on that.

On to our quest. As I mentioned, we're lovers of the environment, the earth, the birds, the trees, etc. A few years ago we decided to start living our values so we'd made small changes. We started buying organic food, trying to buy local when we could, etc. We're still doing those things. We buy mostly organic food, belong to a CSA in the summer, buy raw milk, eggs, cheese and chicken from local farmers, use recycled products whenever necessary, recycle ourselves, compost, use natural cleaners, hang the clothes outside to dry when we can, etc., etc.. Along with all of these day to day things, we want to make our house reflect these values. Needless to say, we have a long list of projects with a short supply of money. These projects include: an entire permaculture design and install in our back yard, a green roof, in floor radiant heat which will be powered by solar panels on the roof, composting toilets, an edible garden, replacing our grass in the front yard with clover, building a greenhouse, a rainwater catchment system, just to name a few.

Along with our commitment to the earth, Paul and I have always had a respect and love of old homes. We love the idea of restoring something to its original beauty. Under this category, we also have a laundry list of ideas and projects. These include: replacing all the lighting with period appropriate fixtures, redesigning the kitchen to create more usable space and accommodate our in house chef as best we can, replace or resurface our tub, do something with the hideous lighting/medicine cabinet in the bathroom, repair the Romeo and Juliet balcony so no one falls through the rotting boards when they're sneaking out at night, install a new doorbell that doesn't sound (and look) like you've stepped back into the eighties, tear off the maroon vinyl shudders on all four windows in the front and finish the small but usable room we have in the basement.

While this house was right for us because we didn't "have" to do anything with it, we should have known that we just wouldn't be happy with it the way that it is. Luckily it's got a great structure and character. Plus we can live here through most of our projects.