Category Archives: building

when lazy is awesome

So, I told the Boy I wanted to make the kids a permanent fort… enough of this dragging chairs and bed linens and pillows from near and far every. single. day. only to be abandoned 15 minutes later. NO MORE, I say. Mamma is tired.

I told him I wanted 4 poles and a canvas drop cloth. I told him I would attach the canvas with fabric ties. I told him it could be done for less than $100 and I told him not to get all CURTIS JAMES COMPLICATED on me.

I’d say we did fairly well.

Ladies and (a few) Gentlemen, I present to you the Great TeePee Project of Christmas 2012.  Or, in our house, the PEE-TEE.  Ry has a tendency to reverse syllables. It’s endearing.

teepee collage



7 poles – these were 10-foot curtain rods (1.5″ diameter) from Lowe’s cut down to 8.5-feet $8 each

9×12′ canvas drop cloth – also from Lowe’s at $20

safety pins – $3.20

about 18 inches of rope

drill with a 1/4″ or 3/8″ drill bit


This is really simple, Folks.

Drill a hole through each of your poles 24-inches down. Lay your poles flat and thread the small length of ropes through the holes.  Connect Pole 1 and Pole 7 (or whatever your first and last poles are) to make a complete circle.  This doesn’t need to be wicked tight… a little give in the ropes will allow you to even out the structure easier.

The trickiest part is setting up the structure. Man-handling 8.5′ poles is easiest with 2 people.  Just stand them up and scissor them… 4 to the left and 3 to the right… so you nearly have a large X. Now fan each pole out, in order, around the circle until you have you have the spacing even and you’re happy with the placement.

Now, throw your canvas around the teepee frame just under the rope.  We have ours secured with safety pins for now, and it’s lovely, but you could certainly use heavy-duty velcro or fabric ties.  We do not have the tarp secured at the bottom of the poles. We found it’s really not necessary. I’ve not trimmed the tarp or made it completely circular. For now, the rustic-simple-no fuss method is working for us.  There ARE holes at the bottom of the poles.  These are for connecting the poles at the base and making it so they don’t shift when little feet kick at them or slide down them or rearrange them.  A rope or wire through the bottom poles will make it a more rigid structure.  BUT, we’ve not done that either… the 7 poles are super sturdy and, so far, Gideon-Proof (which is saying something).


  • of course, he bought twice as many poles… which isn’t necessary but is definitely awesome
  • he sanded the poles a bit because it looks nice… AND, he knew it was a safe bet Gus Man would attempt to slide down the poles like a fireman.
  • he cut the tops of the poles of at an angle… because it looks cool
  • he made 2 sets of holes at the top of each pole… one at 12″ and another at 24″.  This allows us to make the teepee bigger if we move it outside where ceilings are not an issue. In the spring, I’ll fit the canvas tarp a bit more and remove the safety pins. Maybe we’ll paint on it, maybe we won’t.
  • there is also one hole at the bottom of each pole 12″ from the floor.  This is for either connecting the poles together (as mentioned up above) or securing the tarp to the poles at the floor
  • As it stands now, with the rope attached at 24″ from the top of the poles, you have a 6-foot diameter footprint that is 5.5′ tall INSIDE at center and 7.5′ tall from base to tip on the OUTSIDE.  We can fit our entire family inside… and have, multiple times… with pillows and blankets for movie night.

The kids love it. It is used for naps and playtime and forts and houses and movies and hide-n-seek and everything else. I fell asleep in it Christmas morn… so cozy 🙂

It’s a hit.  A $75 hit.

And it may be the biggest present they ever receive. Literally.

What was your biggest present as a kid?


hook me up

Baby Report: Mulder Three has passed his or her final appointment and is ready for delivery.  Next Thursday, Curt and I will check-in to St. Mary’s at 6:59am.  Sometime around 9am, Mulder Three should enter the world a-hollerin’ and hopefully by that point we will have a name. We’ll give the blog and facebook a yell sometime and keep you posted 🙂  Thanks for riding this wave with us!  I am So. Stinkin’. Ready. to meet this kid.  Be sure to stop by the Baby Pool and leave us your guess along with a name.  We need all the help we can get.

Just a quickie for you today: more home improvement that happened on the blog walk-about.

When Curt and I first married, we found these heavy wrought-iron hooks in a local shoppe somewhere on the Georgia border.  Heavy, as in could double as a weapon heavy.  We bought 5 and they have hung faithfully by the front door ever since.

As the family grew and our inventory of puffy coats increased, Curt commissioned a friend to hammer out more of them.  They are a perfect match to the originals and now we have about 4,000.  Or slightly less… but let me tell you: since the day Rylie was born I have been desperate for more hooks.  Do kids just GROW things on the ground?  It’s like it appears spontaneously and without manners.

AND: who thought of the world’s dumbest invention, the bathroom towel bar that only holds one towel maybe two if they are perfectly folded which they never are gimme a break virginia?  Hooks.  Give me hooks.  Everywhere.

Curty spent a weekend drilling and I spent a weekend following behind him with a wrench turning every odd space in our Shoebox into a functional space with our beautiful hooks.

  • 7 (SEVEN!) 8 (eight!) hooks behind the front door at Rascal Level for children to hang… everything.  Gideon has not caught himself on these hooks yet, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.
  • 6 hooks behind Rylie’s bedroom door.  You wanna hang your undies there, Child?  Fine.  Go for it.
  • Curt got 4 hooks by the closet to avoid piling clothes on the chair.
  • I got 4 hooks in the kitchen for bibs and aprons.
  • And, my favorite, 5 hooks in the bathroom where the ridiculous towel bar used to live.

Now when we have guests (which we do… quite frequently… despite the work and trauma we put them through) they have a place to hang their towel instead of the awkward, “Hey.  I took a shower.  The green towel draped over the toilet seat lid is mine, ok?”

We love you so much more than that 🙂 Come on over.  Your towel is safe now.

strawberry hill

Last night, yours truly used a mitre saw, a shovel, a hammer, a bobcat, a riding lawn mower, and a metal rake.  Giddy up.  The garden composted, tilled, and ready for planting this weekend!  I’m sure that’s crazy to those of you who are already harvesting goodness, but Michigan is Zone 5 and few people chance planting before May 15. I’m really a terrible gardener, so I don’t even start seedlings.  I buy started plants from our local nursery so I have some small amount of success.  Small. I need all the help I can get.

This year, I really want to grow things we eat.  Sounds simple, I know.  But it can be so easy to go gangbusters at the seed store and come home with all kinds of things… and then you’ve got a wild garden with 40 sub-species growing and all you’re actually eating are the cherry tomatoes.  This year, I am open to new crops but I want them to be big-time crops for us. 

Main attractions this year: corn, tomatoes (lots and lots… last year was dismal for tomatoes and I wasn’t able to can ANY), squash, zucchini, green beans (a bean tunnel maybe!), cucumbers, carrots, onions, and potatoes. My broccoli and peppers are always awful… so I’m happily leaning on our farmer’s market across the road for those.

Now: root veggies.  We eat lots and lots of these.  I’ve NEVER grown them before, so I welcome any advice and instruction.  Please be as elementary as possible.  Potatoes, carrots, and onions.  How to plant?  How to tell when they’re ready?  How to store for winter usage?  Bring it.

Also new this year: raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes, AND strawberries!  Freezer jam is an absolute necessity in this house and I generally spend $28 on fruit each year to make it.  Strawberries are perennials that can survive winter.  Why am I not growing my own?  Sometimes, I’m a little slow to punch in, Folks.  I give you: strawberry hill.

The frame is made from leftover roof trusses Curt scored from a builder.  We’ve used them in every project we’ve ever made out here.  They are the literally the fabric of our farm. The bottom square (cut by me) is 5 feet x 5 feet.  The middle layer (cut by… me) is 3 feet square.  The top layer (cut by… mmmmhmmmm… me) is 1 foot square.  It holds 25 strawberry plants.  I’ve NO IDEA if it will yield enough for us, but it sure looks awesome. [edited for my notes: the 2 varieties planted here are Earliglow and Sparkle.  Both are Junebearing, but very hearty.]

Ry and I got the idea from my favorite catalog, which had the measurements and quantities already laid out for me.  Brilliant.  Saved: $149 + shipping.  The plants cost me $24 and will be covered with netting to avoid becoming dessert for the chickens and bunnies.  I love this compact, raised-bed system for berries.  It will be easier to weed and cover for winter. 

Please notice Ry’s tools.  I’m not sure how the silverware plays into this whole scheme, but they were important.  Went everywhere with us.

And here’s my little Gus Man.  Dirtiest kid alive, my hand to heaven, and absolutely no help in the garden.  But oh so squishable.

So, that’s the beginning of the garden and berry patch.  The raspberries and blueberries will take a couple years to yield anything measurable, but it has always been a dream of mine to have a berry patch that you can mosey by and grab a snack.  I’m excited.  I’m excited, I tell you, and I got nothin’ but time.

Y’all have a great weekend!  Are you planting anything this year?

Blessings to you from TexasNorth.

We sure do like you.

new digs

Curt returned from a business trip to Birmingham last night… we are fortunate to know some really incredible people down South, and we are so blessed to say they are all unharmed.  Everyone has such remarkable stories.  No one in the area has gone untouched- either physically or emotionally- from the fury that tore through last week.  If you have the means, may I recommend donating to the American Red Cross?  Growing up in a military family, the ARC was our emergency connection to home, and it will always stand for help and rescue in my book.

• • • • • • •

the mini-coop

I’d like to show you the new digs for our little peeps… finished and relocated on Sunday.  The mini-coop was designed and built entirely by Curt.  I believe I asked for “a box that opens.” I love my husband.

On Friday (before the coop was finished because that is how we so often roll) we managed to bring home 15 buff orpingtons that were ‘on sale’ at the local feed store.  One dollar each.  These ladies were a bit older than the other chicks, and I think the store was hoping to reduce their stock a bit.  Sure. Why not?

Chickens live to be about 7 years old.  Not that I’d personally know that.  We’ve had so many, erm, non-Disney-esque incidents that I no longer blink when a few ladies don’t punch their time cards in the morning.  Fencing and shelter are simply no match for our regular relentless visitors of raccoon, opossum, fox, hawk, and neighbor dog.  Also, sometimes I forget to close their door at night.  Because I am a terrible person and my children have caused me to lose. my. brain.  In my defense, it was never my life dream to be a Chicken Lady.  We got our first batch of chickens by accident and it just kind of went from there. 

Initially, I has grand visions of my children sitting on the porch, hugging their favorite fluffy bird and reading it bedtime stories. Big heart laugh, glowing smile, sunshine all the time.  Our reality at TexasNorth is a bit more practical. No names, no leashes, no serious long-term attachment.  Easy come, easy go.

Despite what our history implies, we do very much love our birds.  They’re super fun to watch.  Their compost supplements our garden and they eat oodles of bugs.  Not to mention, their eggs are fantastic.

This will house chicks, present and future, until they get their license to be with the big girls.  The mini-coop addition measures 4 feet by 6 feet and has 3 roof sections that open.  There’s also a side door (not quite finished yet) that will eventually give them access to the great outdoors and allow me to clean ‘er out.  The wood is left over from the basement project, and the roofing is left over from the big coop. Mini will get some blue paint and stars soon to dress her up, but for now we’re just concentrating on survivial.   These ladies are about a month old.  They’ll start laying eggs around 6 months of age and will continue for about 2 years.

Lord willing.

Obviously, they could use your prayers.

We should have bought more birds.


building coop #1  •  building coop #2  •  our first chicks


One thing I’ve noticed about living out-of-town is the measures folks will go to in order to make it work.  If last Thursday’s post didn’t convince you, let me try again.

Back in the day, you lived with your family until you got married.  You moved into a modest home, often only one or two rooms, and started your own family.  As your spacial needs grew and the snow thawed, rooms were added to homes and chicken coops and barns to accommodate new members and machines that needed cover.  You didn’t move.  Families stayed on the same property for generations, for better or for worse.

It’s rare these days to see expansion.  We see upgrading– moving into a bigger home, buying a bigger shed, tearing down and starting over.  But, we rarely see additions anymore. They make us think of poverty, Grapes of Wrath, Materials and personal lack-of-know-how have rendered the addition impractical.  It’s simply cheaper to move. 

We’re not moving.

But, we will need more space.  Eventually, a living addition with a bedroom and garage will be added to The Shoebox.  We finished half the basement just before SuperKid arrived, giving Rylie a bedroom of her own and a living room with carpet GodblessAmerica.  The bigger addition will not be needed for a while, but we’re going to start practicing.

We’ll be adding on to the chicken coop to make room for little peeps this summer.  Baby chicks need their own space until they are bigger enough to run with the big girls.  The big girls, well… they’re a bit like high school girls, if you catch my drift.  A little clique-ish, a little mean to newcomers. They need their space.

The mini-coop will be small enough that it will be impossible for me to become entrapped within.  Phew!  It will be large enough to hold chicks for a couple of months, and it will connect to the enclosed chicken yard to allow for exercise when they’re up for it. Ry has requested a little peep-hole to check on the birdies without taking the roof off, and that is brilliant.  We’re going to keep that kid.

I am simply the visionary around here.  The Boy does the heavy lifting.  But, we make a good team. 

And, a good home.

What would you change about your house, if you could?  Push out the kitchen?  Add another bathroom?  Create a mudroom?


We got up before God was awake this morning to have breakfast with Kevin and Sarah, who are in town from Sacramento. It was lovely… except for my husband who was running around the house this morning saying, “Goooooooood morrrrrrning, Kate! Isn’t this FUN? It’s like we’re married! Isn’t fun to get up together? GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MOR. NING. Good morning. Hey, Kate? Good morning.” I shot him and now he is dead. After breakfast, Ry and I hit the grocery store. It’s like 6 o’clock now, right? When can I go to bed?

Today, class, I would like to share with you the anatomy of a Chicken Coop. Fantastic, some of you are saying. But, look. This here is the start of a farm slash ranch and therefore you must deal with the farm-ness of it all. On the other hand, I know some of you actually really dig all the farm talk. It’s different from ‘normal life’ these days. This is for you.

Ok. The chickens have been living here. (to your left) This is the coop Curt and I (sike… jus’ the Boy) built in an afternoon, ‘member? It has worked perfectly for the past 2 years. Now that we have 25 chickens we plan to protect from fox and hawk, we figured it was time to make a little more permanent structure.

Being in construction, The Boy comes across a lot of lumber, barns, trusses, etc. that are on their way to the burn pile. This entire coop, save the foundation, is all reclaimed and recycled… from the floor to the studs to the roof. I love that boy. The siding is from an old oak barn and in covered in 100% lead paint, I am sure. It’s been scraped and there’s no paint on the inside, so we’re ok.

There’s an old kitchen window here, complete with screen, that will face South. This will let in lots of light in the winter and help keep the birdies laying those yummy brown eggs. That little rectangle there is just a little peeping window for me… maybe a little window box will live there one day. And, a butterfly bush.

I can stand up in this coop! Just inside the door will be a little storage area for food, potting materials, AND… 2 doors for grabbing eggs. Then, another door for entering Chicken-ville. It’s hard to tell here, but those two larger rectangles will be the back of 6 nests where the hens will lay. I’ll be able get the eggs from the storage side without gettin’ in their business. Very cool. And, see… there’s the little peeping window behind it? The inside dividing walls are not finished yet… just studs for now.

There will be two covered “yards”… plenty of room for chicks to play outside and scratch and drive the kittens nuts. There will be a roof to keep Mister Hawk away. Curt has made 2 doors that attach to pulleys in the storage area. so I can open a chicken yard without having to actually walk inside their area. Brilliant, that man. Seriously. This thing could pass a permit inspection.

There’s also a larger hole on the North side that will allow me to sweep out the coop. The shavings and hay and feathers and bird poo will go right out that hole and into a pile next to the garden. Genius. So, you’re looking at the North side of the coop here (to your left)… there’s a people door, then my sweeping-out-the-poo door, and then a chicken yard door around the corner. Yes? The roof is tin and makes a wonderful sound in a thunderstorm… like we’re having right now. It will match our porch roof coming later this summer.

And that’s really all it takes, folks. I never really planned on having chickensthe first batch was an accident, you know. But they are so easy and so funny. They keep visitors’ children busy for hours! And those eggs… oh, man. Even store-bought-organic-free-range-massaged-daily chicken eggs can’t touch the taste from ones outta yer backyard. They’re fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that I’ve decided when Curt takes over the world, I’m going to buy you all one of these: click here. How awesome are those???

So, there you go. A chicken coop. Come on over… they’ll put on a show for you.
Happy weekend, folks. Y’all come back now, ya here?

And, no, Curt’s not dead. I love him so much.
After 9am.