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Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How to Get the Stink Out of a Cabin

After an eleven-day sabbatical from blogging when I was in a self-induced contemplative coma, you might expect me to return to Preppy Mountain Farmhouse with a profound, philosophical post.  I thought about that, but I decided instead to share the miracle solution to a very earthly problem we've been tackling around here: getting rid of the stench in our cabin.

If any of you have a cabin in the woods, an old house in the country, or some other structure that doesn't get used much, you're probably familiar with that closed-up, musty smell that you get a whiff of when you first walk in the door.  We were certainly acquainted with this when we first started cleaning out our newly-purchased cabin two years ago.  It had been an unused hunting cabin for decades, and it was full of clutter, layers of carpet that had gotten wet from broken water pipes, and some mummified mice caught in traps.  After filling a dumpster with all the stuff we didn't want or need, hiring Molly Maids to do a thorough cleaning, and ripping up some of the damaged carpet, I made my own carpet freshener that I sprinkled generously throughout the rooms and let sit for a few days before I vacuumed it all up.

That simple recipe can be found in my first month of blogging here.

And that did help somewhat...but not enough.

So my mother-in-law brought me some Resolve Fabric Refresher spray, which I have used on the carpets, furniture, curtains, and bedspreads.  She also bought me a bottle of wonderful smelling lavender linen spray for my birthday, which immediately got toted up to the cabin and gets used every time I go up there.  Both of these products mask the musky smell for a day or so.  However, they also make the inhabitants smell rather perfumey.  If I go up there and stay for a few hours, I come back to the house, and everyone says I smell like the cabin: a unique blend of mustiness and lavender and perfume.  It's really not the fragrance I'm going for.

Little did I know two years ago that the musty smell would later be considered a mild odor---almost pleasant even---in comparison to the horrible stench we smelled last spring when a groundhog dug a tunnel under the center of our cabin...and then died under there.  I thought it was coming from the chimney because the stench seemed strongest in the one bedroom where the flue connects to the furnace.  We searched everywhere and couldn't find a dead animal anywhere, so I eventually called a chimney sweep to investigate.  By the way, this all occurred right before my parents were to come for a visit, and they would be sleeping at the cabin, of course.

The chimney sweep came and took things apart and checked out every possible nook and cranny, but he found no dead animal.  He did discover, however, that our chimney needed repairs and a cap on the top of it so nothing could possibly fall down there in the future.  That wasn't the bad news though.  The bad news was that something had crawled under the cabin and died, and there was nothing to do but wait out the next four weeks or so until it had decomposed.  Thankfully, this was early May in the Alleghenies, and it would be another month until we experienced any summer heat, so the odor wasn't as bad as it could have been had the animal died in August.  Fortunately we had a month until any other visitors were expected, and my parents had to sleep on sofas in our farmhouse with the trough full of three-week old chicks, who really didn't smell too great themselves.

Since there wasn't really anything I could do to speed along the biological process of decomposition, I did the next best thing and buy some strong scented candles and went up there periodically and lit them.  The pine fragrance was my favorite.

As we began this year I was feeling much better about the smell of the cabin.  Between the bowl of cinnamon scented pinecones, the candles, and the linen spray, the place wasn't smelling too bad.  My coat and hair didn't reek of the cabin smell too much when I returned from an excursion up there.  After two years of being cabin owners, I felt rather proud that we had actually overcome the odor problem.

That is, until we had out-of-town guests coming to visit a couple of weekends ago.  A day before their arrival (which coincided with the two feet of snow Stella had just dumped on us), I trudged through the snow to do my ritual spraying of the fabrics, take up clean towels and stock the fridge with breakfast items, and clean up the sinks and shower.  I even brought a book because I thought I would finish my tasks and have about two hours of leisure to read and reflect.  But as soon as I opened the cabin door, a fresh wave of dead animal stench hit me, and I was then on a two-hour mission to find the offender and try to rid the place of yet another horrible smell.  

This was a mystery because I had just been up there finally taking down the Christmas decorations just a week earlier, and all was well.  The cabin had been closed up and locked up, and the chimney was supposed to be capped in a way that absolutely nothing could fall down inside of it.  I did see that a window was cracked slightly, and I vaguely recalled my husband going up there early one morning looking for a wrench.  Did something sneak in while he was rummaging around in the dark?  As I walked toward the back of the cabin, the smell got stronger.  Then I found a pile of feathers.  Why were there just feathers and no bird?  I used my nose to search everywhere, but I couldn't find a carcass---just those feathers.  I vacuumed them up, practically emptied the bottles of linen spray, lit the candle, but I could still smell it.  It was strongest back by the chimney again.  I located a flashlight and started shining it everywhere.  Still nothing.  It wasn't until I sat on the floor by the bedrooms in the back of the cabin that it occurred to me that the stench was strongest near the air hockey table.  So I managed to pull that away from the wall, move all the storage bins we had stashed under there, and then I saw the culprit: a dead sparrow.

I'm still not positive how it came in.  It was lying at the foot of the chimney where there was an opening cut out of the wall that I never noticed before because it had been hidden under the hockey table.  From the looks of every windowsill in the cabin, it had been flying around looking for a way out, and leaving bird droppings everywhere.  So I went on a cleaning spree scrubbing everything and using whatever disinfectant that was on hand to clean woodwork, fabric, windows, carpet, EVERYTHING.  I disposed of the bird and vacuumed up the feathers with an ancient vacuum cleaner that came free with the cabin.  But then I noticed that the entire place smelled like burnt roadkill.  Because the relic of a vacuum wasn't used to handling this much carpet cleaning, and the motor on it decided right then to burn up and die.  So I removed the full vacuum bag (which aren't even made anymore, by the way) and took all the trash outside and hoped that the cabin would air out in a day or two.

No such luck.  And it didn't smell any better a week after that.  So I took matters into my own hands again, and I finally found the miracle cures for this ongoing problem: Kids'n'Pets Stain & Odor Remover for cleaning that spot on the carpet where the bird actually died, and Airwick Scented Oil Warmer Plugins.

This odor-removing spray is simply sprayed, or dumped, directly onto the smelly area and left.  That is my kind of cleaning, and it worked great!

But these AirWick scented oil diffusers that you plug in are the miracle cure I've been searching for.  I bought four of them and plugged them in all over the cabin.  Within a couple of days the cabin smelled better than it ever has, and a week and a half later, they're still going strong with plenty of oil left in them, and I don't even need to light any candles or spray any more fabric freshener.

They come with quite a variety of different essential oils and fragrances, which are usually sold separately.  I got a deal and bought the combo packs with the diffuser and two bottles of oil in each.  I think I went with the above "fresh waters" scent because I just didn't think "cinnamon apple" or "sugar cookie" would mix well with "scorched dead bird."

I am so incredibly relieved to finally have this cabin odor dilemma resolved.  If I had only tried these AirWicks two years ago when we first got the cabin, I could have saved myself so much time and money on other methods.

And that, my friends, is what I want to share with you today.  After an eleven-day break from Blog Land when I was wrapped up in a contemplative cocoon, I come back to shout out the odor breakthrough I've recently had.  I'll keep my profound, soul-searching discoveries to myself for now.

Have a great week full of sweet spring scents!

P.S.  This post does contain affiliate links to Amazon.  If you click on one, it will take you directly to that product on  Any purchases you make (whether they're the products pictured here or just about anything else) within a day or so of clicking through, provides me with a small commission at no extra cost to you.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let Us Not Forget Thanksgiving

On the day after Halloween, the children and I perused the aisles of Michael's and Home Goods looking for Thanksgiving decor that might be on sale.  First we had to get through the shelves and shelves of Christmas plates, wreaths, pillows, and decorations.  We searched around the numerous bins of ornaments, artificial poinsettias and holly greens, and Christmas lights.  Finally, at the far end of the store, we spotted the tiny section of fall merchandise as "Jingle Bells" played over the intercom.  Although there wasn't much left, it was 80% off.  I felt like I hit the jackpot.

I was able to purchase all of the above items at Michael's for only $11, and that was with no coupons.  The resin "Give Thanks" decoration, white ceramic embossed tray, and the rattan cornucopia were only $3 each.  The harvest charger was $1.  For some reason, my ten year-old kept asking me for a horn of plenty this year, so we lucked out there.  He's been stuffing it with gourds, corn, pumpkin, apples, and whatever else he finds.  Fun, fun.

The sales weren't quite as awesome at Home Goods, and they did have a bit more fall items still in stock, but first you had to get past all the Christmas merchandise.  This canvas turkey wall hanging and the brass leaf dish totaled only $9.  I can't wait to use all these plates for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I will admit that it was very tempting to give in and buy some new Christmas stuff, but I resisted.  I mean, it was the day after Thanksgiving, for crying out loud.  I have such good memories of the Thanksgiving holiday: watching The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving back when you could only see it on TV once a year; dressing up as pilgrims and Indians at school; looking forward to a week off from homework; and anticipating eating as much turkey and pumpkin pie as my belly could hold.  I don't want to skip over this special day when we remember our history and count our blessings.

So instead of filling my shopping cart with things red and green and playing Christmas carols while decking the halls of our farmhouse, I purchased and displayed the above items and did some more Pinterest-inspired chalkboard art for Thanksgiving, and I'm hunting for some new recipes to try this year as well.  And I'm going to do my best for the next 18 days to recognize and acknowledge all the blessings in my life and to be truly thankful.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bread Making 101

Today I finally made homemade bread again after a three-year hiatus.  And it felt good.  And it smelled great.  And it tasted delicious.  Here is the step-by-step process that used to come second nature to me as I did this several days every week for two straight years.  It takes some time, but nothing in the stores or even farmers' markets can compare to the bread you mix, knead, and bake yourself in your kitchen.

White Bread

Stir one package (1 Tablespoon) of dry yeast into 1/2 cup warm water and add 1/2 teaspoon of honey.  Let sit and get foamy.  Make sure the water is not too hot and not cold.

In a large bowl, add 4 cups hot water, 3 Tablespoons of shortening/lard/butter (you decide), 1 Tablespoon salt, and 3 Tablespoons honey.  Stir until honey is dissolved and your fat source has melted.  

Add 5 cups of unbleached flour and stir with large wooden spoon.  Once the mixture cools to a lukewarm temperature, add the yeast mixture.  Beat well.  Add 5 more cups of flour, one at a time and mixing well after each.

Once the dough is no longer sticky, flour your counter well, and turn out the dough onto the floured counter.  Also, flour your hands so the dough doesn't stick to you.

Begin kneading the dough.

Add more flour to the counter as needed.  I used some buckwheat flour because I ran out of the white.

And keep on kneading until the dough feels elastic and springy.

Keep kneading for about 10 minutes.  A willing helper is a definite asset.

Wash your mixing bowl and then generously grease the inside with oil or butter.

Plop your dough ball in the bowl and roll it around so it's coated with the oil.

Then cover it with a warm, damp cloth, dish towel, or a child's apron like I used here.  Place it in a warm, sunny area to let the dough rise.

It takes several hours for the dough to rise.  You get to leave the kitchen for awhile and do something else!

Once the dough has risen to about twice or thrice its original size and has air bubbles in it, you get to take out all of your frustrations in life on that bread dough.

Punch, punch, punch until all those air bubbles are gone.

I usually have several little people volunteering to participate in this part of the process.

Now you need to grease your bread pans, separate the dough into two or three balls, and put them in the pans.  Mine look a little lumpy because I didn't take the time to shape nice smooth loaves, but you might want to do that.  This recipe makes enough dough for 2 long loaf pans or 3 normal sized ones.

Cover them with that warm, damp cloth again and let them rise some more for another hour or so. 

Then bake them in a 400 degree oven.  The smaller loaves bake for about 30 minutes until they're slightly golden brown, and you tap on the tops, and they sound hollow.  I like to spread a little butter across the tops.

The large loaves bake a little longer.  35-40 minutes should suffice.  Let them cool for a few minutes before you turn them out on a cutting board.  Let them cool a little bit more before cutting, and if you turn them on their sides, they get less mangled when slicing. 

Ten minutes after pulling them out of the oven, one of the smaller loaves was devoured by my crew.  Mouths literally water around here when homemade bread is baking.  Give it a try this weekend.  Your family won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Make Your Own Yogurt

I warned you I'd be writing lots of posts on what to do with goats' milk.  Last weekend I made homemade yogurt for the first time in a couple of years.  If you don't have a yogurt maker, this does take a little time and attention.  I've found that if I'm short on either, the yogurt still turns out OK, and if the consistency isn't quite what I'd like, I stick it in the freezer and make frozen yogurt.  Here's the recipe I follow to some extent.  Much of my yogurt making experience has been trial and error though.


First, you need to scald 4 cups of milk.  I've only ever used our fresh goats' milk, so I'm not sure how pasteurized, homogenized milk from the supermarket works.  Watch and stir this often so it doesn't burn and stick to the bottom of the pan.  Once scalded, cool it to a temperature of 95-115 degrees.  I use a dairy thermometer to keep track of the temperature.  You'll be using this all day if you don't have a yogurt maker.

Once the milk is the desired temperature, pour into a Pyrex dish, and add 1 cup dry milk powder, 4 Tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures (I use Stoneyfield plain organic yogurt,) and 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin that has been softened in 1/4 cup cold water.  Mix well.  The gelatin is optional.  I use it to make the yogurt more firm.  Place the lid on the dish and put in a warm oven with the oven light kept on.  I usually warm the oven to 170 degrees, and then turn it off.

Every couple of hours, you'll need to take the lid off and make sure the temperature of the yogurt remains between 95-115 degrees.  If it's getting low, turn the oven back on to a low setting for a few minutes, and then turn off again.  I have also tried placing dishtowels around the Pyrex plate to maintain warmth.  That's also why you keep the oven light on.  Incubate for 3-9 hours.  There's just no way of knowing when you start, how long it will take until your yogurt is the consistency you desire.  Mine usually takes most of the day.

Once it is finished incubating, I add ingredients for flavor: fresh fruit or vanilla and honey.  This time I added raspberry syrup.

If you like, you can place the entire container in your freezer for frozen yogurt.  Mine was still a little too watery for my family's taste, so I froze it.  Even with over 1/3 of a bottle of syrup, most of my children didn't think it tasted sweet enough---which goes to show how much sugar is put in the commercial brands that my kids love.  My children did like this frozen though---after I let them add some sprinkles or chocolate syrup.  I really prefer using fresh fruit and vanilla, with just a little bit of honey.   

Natural yogurt with live, active cultures is one of the best foods you can give your digestive system.  Give it a try this weekend

Monday, June 20, 2016

Super Easy Butter-Making Without a Butter Churn

If your images of making butter are like mine, they involve someone sitting with a large butter churn in front of them and spending hours there, just churning and churning.  I'm remembering an episode of The Waltons where Mary Ellen churns with book in one hand and complaining about her life to her mama and grandma.  One of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, Farmer Boy, also stands out in my mind because Almonzo Wilder's mother was always making butter to sell.  But today's post will show you that making your own butter can be simple, easy, and requires no equipment other than a jar with a lid, and a marble.  Even the marble is optional.  Here's what you do...

Simply skim the cream off the top of any refrigerated milk you've collected over the past few days (non-homogenized, of course.)  If you left the milk uncovered in your refrigerator, the cream is even easier to skim off.  Just make sure you don't shake the milk up first or the cream will mix in with the rest of the milk.  We typically have over a quart of milk each day, and 3 days worth of cream is typically enough to make butter.  Put the cream in a small Mason jar or jelly jar or even a cup with a tight-fitting lid.  Add some salt if you like salted butter.  You can also add some herbs like dill or chives for added flavor.  Then I place a marble in the jar because it helps me know I'm shaking vigorously enough, and it lets me know when the butter is getting thick.  Put the lid on the jar and start shaking.  This is when a number of children in the house come in handy.  We take turns shaking while we read a book or watch a movie.  After about 30-45 minutes of vigorous shaking, the cream has turned into whipped butter.  Then refrigerate.  We make ours with raw milk, so it needs to get used up in about 4 days.  It's so good that using it quickly is never a problem. 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Multi-Purpose Room (aka. the Dining Room of a Large Family)

OK.  So today I'm going to be honest and real with you dear readers about my endless quest to create just one grownup room in this old farmhouse.  If you're looking for cool decorating tips, this probably isn't for you.  If you like DIY projects, I am including one super simple project that I sat on the floor and did yesterday in about half an hour while watching old episodes of Once Upon a Time with my kids as the snow fell outside (in April!).  If you want to hear the ramblings and frustrations of a mom of eight concerning her tremendous desire to have a house that looks like it was featured in Country Living, but can't seem to succeed without evicting all other family members, this post IS for you!  Be prepared to see some clutter, plenty of childrens' belongings, along with dust and dead ladybugs on the floor.  You've been warned.

Three years ago, I decided we would convert the dining room from a playroom back into a real dining room.  I was done having babies, all animals were moved outside, our youngest was turning four, and I was going through a mid-life mommy crisis.  I thought if I didn't have one room that looked like adults actually resided here, I would go crazy.  I told my husband I would get rid of all the kid clutter, help him paint, and take care of all the decorating.  All he had to do was show up for the painting and move the piano for me.  He said he could have the room painted in a weekend.  I made big plans to entertain by the end of that April.

As with most of our projects around here, the painting took a little longer than anticipated.  Like 4-6 weeks longer.  In all fairness to my husband, this is in large part because it took not one, not two, not three, but four coats of paint to cover up the huge loopy "artwork" that our youngest created on one of the walls when she was a toddler.  Magic Eraser does not erase black permanent markers, by the way.  And if you look closely, you can still see that masterpiece under the four coats of paint.  This new sofa helps hide some of it.

I hesitate to admit that I did very little of the actual painting.  Instead, I filled garbage bags with stuff to take to Goodwill, and I had to sneak a few things out while the kids were asleep to avoid a total meltdown.  Then I bought insulated curtains from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, along with chair cushions and new pillows for the futon that we had at the time.  I got the bright idea to bring our old dining room table and chairs in from the loft above the outdoor shed.  At first I thought I could refinish them myself, but I need some serious instruction before I tackle that project, so I bought a new tablecloth to throw over it instead.  My mom surprised me with curtain tiebacks that she made herself.  After purchasing a new futon mattress and cover since the old one had been peed on numerous times by either the beagle as a puppy or a toddler or two, I felt like we had a brand new room.  I went shopping in our attic for some wall hangings not currently being used, and we finally had a grownup room.

Fast forward three years, and here we are with an invasion of kids' stuff again.  When the 20 year old futon finally bit the dust for good, we had to go out and shop for a new sofa last week.  Funny how a new piece of furniture makes you see a room in a whole new light.  What happened to my neat, uncluttered, adult room?  I realized that I still don't have a dining room.  No one actually sits in there and dines; but all kinds of other activity occurs in there.  The teenagers sprawl on the couch and browse Pinterest or Instagram on their phones or sneak in some "game time" when they think no one is looking.

The bookshelves have become filled once again with children's games, artwork, and our six year old's attempts to decorate for every holiday and season.  (You have to admire her zeal for decorating though.)

Other shelves hold children's books, craft supplies, and my cookbooks.  Stashed beside and around the bookcase are musical instruments: a mandolin, trumpet, clarinet, and violin.

Another shelf still holds all kinds of homeschooling stuff because we still have one homeschooler in this house.  Did I ever mention this old farmhouse has only two closets?  That's right.  One linen closet that's in the bathroom, and one closet that's in the boys' bedroom.  That's it.  What was I thinking ten years ago when I fell in love with this house at first sight to purchase a house with only one main bathroom and two closets?  The private location, the mountain view, the wide open space, and the colonial decor of this farmhouse reeled me in.  But I clearly wasn't thinking about where we would put all of our stuff!

The boys practice playing their instruments in the "dining room."  Um, in case you're wondering what's on our youngest son's head, that's a paper brain with all parts labeled that he made in science class.  And yes, he has actually been known to wear that out in public.

Our youngest daughter practices her violin in this room too.  

And at some point every day, someone decides to play the piano.  Sometimes two or three children try to play simultaneously, which never ends well.  Does anyone else have a house full of people who play different instruments...all at the same time...and all playing a different song?  

This room is also housing a number of house plants, and it's been known to hold trays of seedlings owned by my husband who is itching to start planting in the garden but has to wait until the threat of frost is over.

Speaking of my husband, even though there is this great designated office space at the top of the stairs where there is a desk, printer, file cabinet, and a terrific view from the window above, he still insists on having his morning coffee and browsing the Internet in my "dining room."

Finally, for whatever reason, this is the favorite room of our behemoth black cat, Star.  Yes, this is the one who threw out my back during Winter Storm Jonas when I tried to grab him before he went to the bathroom on a stack of backpacks.  If you haven't read about that, it's in my blog archives under the month of January.  And no, he really isn't supposed to be in here.  I am a glutton for punishment.

As my frustration mounted this week at the state of this room that really isn't a dining room, and never really was, I finally made my peace with it.  I don't know how other big families manage to have kid-free zones.  Maybe they don't.  I just know that in our house while there are still more children than adults living here, their things, their interests, their personalities can be found in every room, including this one.  I stopped fighting it, and decided to just accept that this is the multi-purpose room.  And then I decided to create something to make myself feel better.  So I went to Michael's and picked up plain wood boards glued together with twine attached at the top.  And my little girl helped me decide which alphabet letters would look and fit best on the wood since there are a gazillion different sizes, colors, and styles of letters to choose from right now.  And then I pulled out my hot glue gun and went to work.

Then I hung my finished project on the same wall that held the "artwork" that we painted over three years ago.  Above the new couch.  And above the portraits of our 8 blessings taken when they were all toddlers.  And I reminded myself that some day when this house is empty and quiet, and I'm sitting in the actual dining room having a grownup meal with my husband, we'll probably be reminiscing teary-eyed about the days when this room was filled with four musical instruments being played at once while teenagers texted on the couch, the black cat was sleeping on the chair, and my husband and I were popping Tylenol for our migraine headaches in the adjoining kitchen.  Or maybe we'll just sit there and eat in silence and relish the quiet in the room that is no longer used for multiple purposes but is actually used for dining.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.