December 23, 2014

Gingerbread Houses

We don't necessarily do gingerbread every year, but this year we did the full exercise and it was a good experience.

December 16, 2014

Maid Marian Dress

Violet said she wanted to be Maid Marian for halloween. I said Yes, let's Make it!

December 11, 2014

Attempts at a 50 year fence

Last year when we did our backyard renovation, I put a lot of energy (and cost) into the back fence. We are planning to espalier apple trees against the fence, and the 10-20 year life expectancy of even a pressure treated fence post did not seem compatible with this idea. Replacing an in ground 2.4m post with apples grown all onto the fence sounds difficult and probably damaging to the trees. Dwarf apple trees might last 50 years, so I began thinking about how to build a fence that would have a comparable life span, or at least make replacement of fence elements less disruptive.

December 5, 2014

Vampire cloak and waistcoat in cashmere and silk

Millie is really into vampires these days. She draws pictures of the whole family of her friends, but as vampires. If she draws a person in a picture, they will often have fangs. So for halloween, she drew a picture of the vampire outfit she wanted to wear.

November 24, 2014

25 Needle Felted Fairies and 2 Fabergé egg piñatas

The girls and Becky started thinking about the combined birthday party in August. The girls wanted to do a fairy theme.

November 18, 2014

Corona 5TE Typewriter

Becky and I were thinking about how to get the kids learning how to type. Of course we have our main computer, but it is often in use by adults. One of the main thing the kids have enjoyed doing on it so far has been to write text and print it out. The process of typing to printed output on the computer is not terribly direct, and there is the overhead of dealing with windows and desktop, etc. The idea of a typewriter came up: they can easily operate it themselves and they can have unfettered access. I was also moved by the idea of getting another functional antique machine into the house.

November 5, 2014

Cider 10: Ten years of Pedaling Malus into Cheer

We spent the weekend in Maine making cider for the tenth year running, with Ben Polito, his family, and the many other characters who have joined in the fun. Ben's blog post on this year is here.

November 4, 2014

At long last, a pair of high-waisted woolen trousers

I'm closing in on the last quarter of year 3 in the No Buying Clothes challenge, and my set of wearable clothing continues to diminish. I have been in dire need of trousers for almost two years, but recently my last two sets of frankenpants (made from sewn together pieces of about 5 pairs) have started to disintegrate beyond even my ability to wear them. They have numerous big rips and are about as thick as tissue paper in most places. I have to be very careful not to make sudden motions when I wear them. Luckily I have lost a little weight recently, which opened up some additional shirts from my old clothing archive, but did nothing to help with pants.

I have in fact been working on a pair of wool trousers for about two years now, and almost had them done last spring, just in time for the onset of hot weather. I couldn't imagine wearing spiffy wool pants around with my usual old t shirts, so I concluded I had to sew up a white dress shirt and suspenders to go with the pants. This of course delayed the project further, but now it is finally done. I just need to make about 5 more sets and my wardrobe will be in much better shape...

October 7, 2014

Building a CNC router with kids

Last summer, we prototyped a picket fence design, using traditional power and hand tools. Over the past year, we have done some renovation in the back yard, including having the landscapers take out the old fence and put in new fence posts. We left the fence itself as a family project to do over the course of another year or two.

The prospect of shaping the folded circular design from the prototype on the top of about 500 cedar fence pickets was enough to convince me we needed some automation to help. I must admit it didn't take a lot to convince me that what we really ought to do was build a CNC router. Of course the kids are not driving this project, but I have tried to involve them at every stage. I hope that it continues to provide them with an engaging way to explore software and machines.

September 24, 2014

Apple Saucing 2014

This year we made 30L of applesauce from 36kg of Macs over about 7 hours, using our own vintage Squeezo.

September 19, 2014

Two custom cedar storm doors

I needed two storm/screen doors for exterior entry doors at my house. Previously I had bought a custom spanish cedar door with matching storm unit from Vintage Doors, which was very nice but quite expensive. I got a quote from them for these two new storm doors for about $1600, which I felt was going to be painful to shell out. Pricing out two doors worth of 25mm spanish cedar at Anderson McQuaid indicated I would need maybe $300 worth of wood to do the project myself, and there are only a few joints to worry about, so I decided to just build them.

September 1, 2014

Glories of the Past: Vegetable theme dresses

Becky and I got fired up about learning how to quilt. Becky in fact finished a small baby quilt with the fabric she ordered, while I only succeeded in putting together a couple test blocks (so far!). My aim was to make some lovely hexagon quilts, and I ordered some vegetable themed quilting fabric from FatQuarterShop. This came with a panel of fabric with multiple prints on it, as if it were already a quilt. Cutting it up and sewing it back together again to make a quilt seemed silly, so in the spring of 2010 I decided to make it into some little dresses for Violet and Millie.

A Contoured Hand Rail

One of the last things I needed to do to close out a building permit I opened 6 years ago was to make a handrail for the back stairway from the kitchen down to the back door. There was only rail for a little bit of the stairs when we moved in, but the building inspector said I should have a rail. Of course I had to make this simple sounding project into a complex journey.

July 21, 2014

The Virtues of Wooden Shoes

The virtues of wood shoes are manifold
  • 100% renewable, biodegradable materials
  • Durable, long lasting, and can be renovated
  • Impact, pierce, and crush resistant
  • Heat, cold, and chemical resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Luxurious comfort, at least for standing on hard surfaces and light walking
  • Meet CE standards for safety shoes
  • Fashionable, even dare I say cute?

July 10, 2014

Spanish Cedar doll beds, to furnish tiny apartments

The kids made some row houses with Becky from cardboard boxes for their little animal figurines. They pasted on some pattern paper for wall paper, and cut out some pictures from magazines for decorations.

Drum Building with Deerhide

This spring, Becky ran a once a week native american club at the Somerville Growing Center for the kids and some other local homeschoolers. They did a number of neat things, one of which was making some hand drums from deerhide.

June 10, 2014

Urban Micro Orchard: Planning and Planting

As part of the grand backyard landscape plan, we reserved the southwest facing back fence for a line of espaliered apple trees. The idea is to train the trees in a two dimensional plane, parallel to that of the fence, thus taking up little space, enabling considerable fruit production, and hopefully looking great.

I've been an admirer of espalier since I read about it years ago, and have wanted to incorporate the principles into some plants of my own. The espalier propaganda says fruit production is high per square meter of ground space because all parts of the tree and growing fruit are exposed to sun. And disease pressure may be lower because of uniform circulation of fresh air. Most of all, I think espaliered trees are a beautiful and inspiring example of Nature shaped by the hand of Man.

June 5, 2014

Violet Sews a Library Bag

The other week Violet asked me to help her make a bag for transporting her books to and from the library.

May 29, 2014

Converting to Natural Leavening for Bread

I've been baking bread for a few years, and always been a little interested in sourdough. But I generally don't favor the very sour versions you typically find labeled as sourdough, and the process seemed like a lot of extra work. However, I recently read Cooked by Michael Pollan, which has a section on bread that made me excited to try 100% natural leavening.

April 23, 2014

Homemade cat shaped grease bar: A viable lotion replacement

Making lotion is not too hard, and quite interesting from a chemistry point of view. But it does take a little time and it is unfortunate that emulsifiers and preservatives are required. I read about anhydrous moisturizing products at the excellent Point of Interest! blog, and have wanted to try making such a product.

April 10, 2014

Worsted wool skirt, with silk braces

I was up late last Sunday and Monday nights making up this skirt for Violet to wear to her singing group recital on Tuesday. It turned out nicely and didn't take all that much time, as measured on the scale of how long it usually takes me to do a sewing project.

March 10, 2014

Making mortise lock door hardware

The antique exterior doors in my house have big brass and steel mortise locks in them. I like these units, and the doorknobs and plates that go along with them.

I've been working on two exterior doors these past couple years. The original doors and hardware were just too far gone to save, and I wanted to let more light in through a larger area of glass panes. We had new frames and doors put in (doors from Simpson, frame and assembly at J.C. Adams), with new brass hinges from Rejuvenation. But I had the door place not do anything for lock hardware. When the doors first were installed, I put in a modern deadbolt, both for security and to hold the doors closed while I figured out the lock situation.

On another replacement exterior door I had bought a lovely eastlake style antique entry mortise lock with matching strike and plates. This time I didn't see anything like that on ebay, so I just bought two locks figuring I could buy the plates and strike separately. I'm sure no one will be surprised to find that the knob to lock cylinder distance was not standard and I couldn't find any suitable plates. Bah! I even took the locks to Olde Bostonian and rummaged through their bins without success.

What to do?

They are not fancy, but I just machined some out of brass stock one Friday night at work. Stock was purchased from Onlinemetals. Locks were mortised into the doors with my trusty 'Maul' Tool co. antique mortiser.

February 7, 2014

Urban Edible Paradise: Backyard Renovation

With the planning mostly done, and a contract signed with a landscaping company, we were ready to renovate the back yard.

January 29, 2014

Homemade Fermented Pickles

I have always disliked pickles, though the last decade or so I could stand to nibble on the little plates of assorted kimchee pickles you get at the korean restaurant as part of a meal. Never really felt like I was missing out on much, until I read "Cooked" by Michael Pollan. This was a highly enjoyable read, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in food.

January 22, 2014

When pants turn to cannibalism

I am now entering year 3 of the No Buying Clothes Adventure. I started this endeavor two plus years ago with 5 pairs of pants in various states of wear. By this summer, they were pretty much all unwearable despite numerous repairs. It had gotten to the point that the fabric around a rip was not in sound enough condition to anchor thread for a fix; it would quickly tear loose and take more fabric with it. I had to hope that the holes in the bum of the pants wouldn't line up with the holes in the bum of my underwear.

January 13, 2014

Urban Edible Paradise: Planning

We have lived at our current house for about 12 years, and have always had a dream that we could eventually make both the inside and the outside of the property beautiful, elegant, and in the image of our own desires. The reality of life being what it is, this is more of an ideal to work towards rather than an expectation of future results. The inside of the house is pretty much done now (only took 12 years, ha ha). Though certainly things may be changed around again someday, and all things degrade over time and need fixing.

This typical Somerville two family house was never built to be fancy, and it never will be. But we are very happy with what we have done inside, and are incredibly fortunate to have such a lovely, spacious place to live on a relatively big lot in a great urban(ish) location. We are also lucky that we have had the time, resources, and skills to renovate the interior. Now we can begin to turn our attention and efforts toward the exterior and the landscaping.

January 9, 2014

Brewing Kombucha

I suppose it was really just a matter of time.

Our ex-housemates Alexi and LeeAnn used to drink Kombucha and I was always very skeptical. Last winter I was sick and eventually took some antibiotics, which had the unfortunate side effect of totally wrecking my stomach. I've never experienced anything like that with antibiotics before, and it was awful, even after I was done with the drugs. Becky got me a bunch of Kombucha and Kefir to consume when I couldn't eat any actual food. Luckily over a month or so my stomach recovered, but I had come to rather like the Kombucha by then.

So we have been wreaking havoc on the grocery budget by buying plenty of G.T.'s Kombucha from Whole Foods, or the odd jug of it from the Kombucha guy at the Somerville farmers' markets. It seemed like the sort of thing we should by rights make ourselves if we were drinking it regularly, and it is quite cheap if you make it at home.