Refinishing a Woodstove for Decorative Purposes

I had planned to write today’s post about animal husbandry, or – more accurately – my plan for hatching chicks this spring, which may be a bit unconventional; however, after a long weekend of wedding crafting, I’m too eager to share my latest project, a refinished wood stove.

Since I try to keep Monday’s posts more related to gardening, chickens and general homesteading, this post might feel like a bit of an anomaly; however, all of the steps I followed here could be used in fixing a regular wood stove, with the addition of stove cement, which I elected not to apply, given the age and wear on our parlor stove — making it look safer than it is might, someday, cause someone to try to start a fire in it, when at this point in its life (and given how many scary cracks and ill fitting old parts it has) it is likely better suited as a planter, anyway.

One thing that convinced me that we needed to rescue this lady from the shed (which is now our chicken coop) was all of her wonderful lines and delicate details.

The materials for this project were relatively simple:
*Old Wood Stove in Need of Love
*Wire Welding Brush
*Williams’ Stove Polish
*Metallic Paint
*Stove Cement & Sand Paper (if Refinishing a Functional Stove)

And the steps… were, delightfully, even easier

  1. I started by equipping myself for this project.  Given that I was working in our basement and welding brushes carry a warning on them (I assume for lead content), I wore heavy work gloves with leather guards, safety glasses and a dust mask.  For the purpose of full disclosure, I also wore a wool cap, as the basement was a balmy 38 degrees.
  2. Jason & a friend had brought the stove down into our basement about two weeks ago, and it looked rough enough that I deemed early on that I was restoring it for sentimental and ornamental value, not to be used.  I did this for two reasons: the bottom was nearly rusted out and the sides were perilously thin, even in places that had previously been patched.

    Parlor stove prior to restoration & Abby the helping dog. She headed upstairs before the dust got flying.

  3. First, I disassembled the stove, removing parts of the lid and door that were not rusted in place.  During this phase of the restoration was when I also evaluated the stove’s structural integrity, which I found a bit lacking (perhaps from a few too many very hot fires!

    The parlor stove, completely disassembled. Note the wear on the bottom!

  4. Next, I used a welded wire brush to buff out all of the rust spots.  This smoothed the surface of the stove, allowing for easier polishing later on.
  5. It is at this point in the restoration that you would want to patch any holes and reinforce the stove’s seams with stove cement, if you intend to use the stove for fires.  Stove cement, once applied and dried can be smoothed with sandpaper before the next step.
  6. With a soft cloth, apply the stove polish, working it deep into the cast iron.  Once it has dried, polish off any residue with a clean rag.

    This image provides a great before (right) and after (left) of just what the stove polish does!

  7. Finally, touch up any paint that has aged poorly over time.

    I can't wait to get this upstairs, so I can provide you all a better "after" image, but the affect of three hours of work was pretty stunning!

This project took about three hours, and as soon as the boys carry it back upstairs, I’ll have a lovely addition to my kitchen and a fantastic planter to place at the end of my driveway, full of flowers & yesterday’s signs, on my wedding day!


DIY Stenciled Wedding Signs

This weekend, Jason had to go help a friend move, so I was left to my own devices and decided that it was time to get some of these DIY wedding projects on the road.  I have a pretty specific image of what my wedding is going to look like (imagine: wide expanses of open fields, country antiques and bouquets of wildflowers).  I’m even toying with the idea of inviting all of my friends with little girls to dress them in white so they can tumble down the isle as impromptu flower girls (if they are so inclined) ~ nothing expensive or crazy or planned, just a small gaggle of girls (ages 2 – 7) making it down the isle to sit on a blanket and color while the festivities are taking place.

That said, I wanted to start with something easy.  I’ve had an image in my mind for a while.  Since we live in the country, I intend to have our guests park along our dirt road (there’s a half mile of it, uninhabited up past the house and a quarter before you get to the house), so when they approach the house, the driveway is open but for a refinished parlor stove (see Wednesday’s post!), blooming with Million Bells, and a tall sign post directing them to the ceremony, reception, etc…

I looked everywhere at signs (you can evidence of this over on Pinterest), but I finally settled on simple black and white (nature will be providing most of the color).  On Thursday morning, I went to Lowe’s and stocked up on 3/4” x 2”x24” pine craft boards (for under $2 each).  Now, this is a place where you could exercise thrift; however, I really wanted to start these this weekend and I didn’t want to spend hours cleaning up old barn wood.  And while some people make beautiful, rustic barn wood signs for their weddings; I wasn’t really looking for “rustic” in this part of my decor.

If you want to make your own, they are super easy!

Large Sheets of Paper for Planning
Ruler (I used a quilting ruler from my rotary cutting board)
Wood (cut to desired lengths) – For these signs, I used five pieces of 3/4”x2”x24” Pine
White, Satin Paint (I used a water-based paint)
Regular, Flat Paintbrush
Letter Stencils
Black Acrylic Paint (For Letters)
Stenciling Brushes (I ended up using the smallest in my package)
Masking Tape

Planning Steps:

  1. Using your paper, letter stencils, ruler and pencil, block out the size of your signs.  Then make templates for the words you would like to use (I used these for orientation on the boards, NOT the actual stenciling).  While, initially, I thought this step was just for practice and something I’d only do for the first word or two – it allowed me to center the words on larger signs and recognize places where I had to be careful with spacing, lest I run out of room on the boards!
  2. Sand off the edges of your boards, rounding them.  For me, this was just a personal preference.  The boards, themselves, looked so sharply square that they lacked a handmade look.  I first used rough sandpaper, then a smoother sandpaper, for a soft, stain-y finish.  Later on, I found Jason’s Dremel tool with sandpaper attachment and sped up the process a bit (honestly, I think this tool might be my best friend during my DIY projects over the next few months!
  3. Next, I painted the boards with a satin white, water-based paint.  I chose to go with satin because I wanted a bit of gloss but not so much to cause glare in the sun.
  4. It took three coats to properly cover the boards, but  I found that the paint dried so quickly that by the time I got to my last piece, I could start on the first piece again (this step took about an hour).

Stenciling the Signs:

  1. In order to get the signs just-so, I drew a thin line with a pencil and my quilting ruler 1/4” up from the bottom of the board, then traced each letter on with pencil.  This gave me an opportunity to see where everything was before I began to work with the paint.  Before I painted, I removed the line underneath the letters with an eraser.
  2. When I finished this step on all five signs, I covered my coffee table in newspaper and laid out each sign.
  3. Since my stencils were of individual letters, and not complete words, I applied the stencils to the signs letter-by-letter, using masking tape to hold them in place and giving each letter  space to dry to ensure that nothing bled over (Imagine the word: LOVE ~ I would place the L & V first, stencil them, let them dry, then place the O & E).  As such, working on five signs at once gave each letter time to dry, since they required at least two coats of paint, applied with proper stenciling technique.  The hearts required four coats of paint and touch-up with a detailing brush because of their size).
  4. Proper stenciling technique requires you to dip your stenciling brush (with its flat, round brush) in the paint, then to scrub most of the paint off onto a  piece of paper or paper towel before applying the almost-dry brush to your stenciling surface, which allows a more uniform coat of paint without the risk of “bleeding” onto your other surface color.  Using an acrylic top color helps because acrylics dry quickly.
  5. Once the signs were dry, I touched up any mis-steps with the white paint.

Voila!  My first five signs!

After finishing these, I decided to add eight more signs (at only the cost of the wood, since I already had the paint.  My total cost per sign came out to about $3, and I’m super excited to someday be able to hang the Jason & Jessica sign above one of our wedding portraits.

Planning a DIY Wedding

In July, Jason & I will be celebrating our marriage.  We’ve been engaged for just over a year, and one of the things that I value most about our extended period of engagement has been the opportunity its afforded us to really plan a wedding that incorporates things we value as individuals and a couple (without breaking the bank!). We’re both committed to keeping the wedding budget reasonable (at or under $5,000), and through thrift shopping and creative-thinking, we’re going to get both the wedding we want and, more importantly, that we can afford.

Over the summer, I purchased my dress, and selected bridesmaids dresses with my best friend, Allie, and in the past few months things have been coming together.  We plan to get married at our home ~ with a large ceremony in the field behind our house and the reception in a pair of tents, catered by a local university catering company (again, to help keep the costs more reasonable). Our officiant is a dear friend, and our location will allow for both privacy and attention to detail.

1930's Westinghouse Cooler Before Restoration Efforts

But what I’ve really loved about planning our wedding is incorporating “found objects” and antiques,  most of which we’ve discovered on our own property, including an awesome 1930s Westinghouse Coca-Cola cooler that we, literally, dug out of the back field one afternoon on a walk (I spotted the top corner sticking up out of the ground and thought the italicized “Coca” worth investigating) and refinished. We plan to use it to store cold beverages at the reception.

This is the cooler after Jason & I refinished it. His father was nice enough to build us a hardwood lid (which is still in process in this photo).

This weekend, I’m planning a variety of wedding projects, as its the first weekend that I don’t have any grading obligations (besides a bit of lesson planning).  I’m looking forward to sharing some wedding sign making and the refurbishment of an old parlor stove that we found in the shed that is now our chicken coop.

So stop back in this weekend for some DIY wedding fun! And if you planned your own DIY, project-filled wedding – what was your favorite project?

2012 Chicken Coop Plans

We’re planning for chickens.  I vaguely remember being at this place last year, when woken from sleep in the early hours of the morning, I’d fret over heat lamps and brooders and chick feed… oh, my.  But now, after successfully raising our first batch of Murray McMurray Buff Orpington chicks, we’ve decided to hatch our own this spring, and while last year, when we built our hoop house, I promised Jason that we would be all set for chicken housing for the foreseeable future… well, we’re going to have to build just one more coop.

A-Frame Coop

Why?  Well, here’s what we currently have at our disposal.  In 2010, we built our A-Frame Coop from a design that I hacked together after several hours on the internet.  We had 4 Rhode Island Reds arriving on Monday and it was Friday evening.  Well, we managed to build the coop in under 48 hours, and other than owning the world’s grumpiest chickens, it worked out just fine.  However, since this was only a summer coop, they went up the road to live with a local farmer who could house them for the winter (this is not a euphemism!), and when spring came around, we decided to just leave them there and start over with a friendlier breed of bird.

In 2011, we started our chicken coop building by refurbishing half of an old shed/tractor garage and turning it into a chicken coop with an attached work stall, where I could store feed, hay, and other necessities.  We’d always intended this to be the winter coop, but when the chicks arrived, we started them out in there and used the hoop house as only a daytime grazing tractor, simply because I wasn’t (and am still not) sure it would survive a predator’s interest.

The hoop house that we also built in 2011 is a large, rectangular structure, with a cattle panel forming an inverted U-shaped roof.  It is covered in hexagonal chicken wire, and then half is also protected by a tarp to protect the chickens from the elements during the day.  Although we’d hoped we’d be able to move this by hand, its weight necessitates that we use the pick-up or tractor (which, honestly, isn’t all that much of a burden since it is usually moved without the chickens present).  However, while it’s a great daytime coop; it’s just not rugged enough to be a permanent shelter.Hoop House, 2011

So, as I’m writing this, we currently have the A-Frame coop with a capacity of 4 – 6 mature birds (depending on temperament and coop movement strategies); the daytime hoop house that can easily handle 18 – 22 mature birds for the day as long as it is moved every 12 hours to allow for fresh, clean pasture; and our wintering coop which comfortably houses 10 – 12 mature birds all winter long, but could easily handle more if it were only a nighttime coop in the summer.

The flock free-ranging after the garden was retired for the season.

My plan for 2012 is to regularly (morning and night) transition our laying flock & its two roosters from the winter coop (safe at night) to the hoop house (fresh grass & bugs all day!).  Abby proved more than capable of helping with the chicken herding last year, and now that the laying flock is so comfortable with her, I’m hoping this will be an easy morning and evening routine.

We’re hoping to hatch out between 20 – 24 chicks, who will start off in a section of the winter coop and then move (hopefully with a mama hen or two) to live in the mini A-Frame when they are around two weeks of age.   Once they are more mature, we’ll move the mamas back to the regular laying flock and transition the little ones into this year’s building extravaganza, Harvey Ussery’s Mobile A-Frame Shelter (covered in detail in his incredible book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock).  This chickens will be used primarily for broilers with a few, select birds joining the laying flock as they mature.

The Buff Orpington roosters have been both remarkably docile toward humans and capable of protecting their girls from predators.

Now, I’ve been looking at chicken coop designs for weeks (you can look at some of my ideas over on Pinterest; however, Ussery’s pattern mixes two things that are crucial for me when it comes to raising broilers: safety & mobility and combines them with a coop that is sleek and will fit into our landscape and add to it rather than detracting from it.  We will likely modify his design in order to add a drip-fed, chicken-nipple waterer and – perhaps – a drawbridge door that would allow the chickens to be secured in the top section at night.   In addition to this, we will likely replace one of the roof panels with hardware cloth to allow more sun, but modify that with a cover-tarp for days when it’s raining hard or particularly hot and sunny.

Our goal is to have between 22 – 24 chickens to send to freezer camp next fall and 2 girls to add to the laying flock.  Here’s hoping that this is the last coop we build for a few years!  Between a new coop and the wedding, I think we’ll have our hands full!

Italian Wedding Soup

Welcome, from the frigid north, where overnight lows stretched down to just about -20 F, locally.  Luckily, last night I made what might be one of the easiest and most delicious soups I’ve ever encountered and one of my favorites, though I’d never made it myself before.

Years ago, when I first moved to Northern Maine, Tim Horton’s carried its own version of Italian Wedding Soup, and I would drop in regularly, hoping that I might land there on a day when they were serving it.  Given that I now do a lot more of my own cooking and Tim Horton’s is no longer a regular dinner haunt, I’m happy to say that I can now have this favorite, whenever I want it.

Ingredients. Note: I ended up omitting the onion, which I had planned to add to the meatballs.

The ingredients are simple and straight-forward, as is the assembly of the soup.  I used dry beans that I prepared earlier in the day, but you could easily substitute canned beans (use a whole can, rinsed) to speed up the process.  Another reason to love this recipe is its use of chicken stock, which I always have kicking around in the freezer since we regularly eat roast chicken on Sundays and later produce about 3 quarts of chicken stock.

Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine and Red Deer Foodie
Yields About 6 Servings

Soup Ingredients:
2 quarts chicken stock
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small cubes
1 celery rib, chopped into cubes
1/3 c. orzo
1/3 c. small white beans (this is a dry measure, before re-hydrating)
6 oz. spinach, shredded
1 Bay Leaf (optional)

Meatball Ingredients:
1 lb. mixture of lean pork, veal and beef (you could easily use any one of these)
1/3 c. Italian-style breadcrumbs
1 t Italian seasoning mix
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese

I started my soup by melting my frozen chicken stock in a large soup pot over medium high heat until it came to a boil. Given that I don’t season my stock when I make it (beyond adding some veggies for flavor), I salted and peppered the stock before adding my carrots and celery. I also added my beans at this point because I had only quick-hydrated them and they were still a little crunchy. Once this boiled for about 10 minutes, I added the orzo and let it go another 8 minutes. I noticed, at this point, that the broth wasn’t quite flavorful enough, so I added a bay leaf (which I removed before adding the meatballs).

While the vegetables, beans and orzo were working, I combined the meat, Parmesan, breadcrumbs and seasoning  in a large bowl and liberally seasoned the mixture with sea salt and ground pepper. I then combined the ingredients and rolled them into 3/4” meatballs, though, next time I think I might even go for a 1/2” meatball (even at 3/4” they were still a bit too big to take in one bite).

Meatballs prior to boiling.

As soon as I was done shaping the meatballs, I added them to the boiling soup and cooked everything together for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly. Then I added my shredded spinach and cooked for another five minutes, before lowering the heat to a simmer (I was waiting for my bread to come out of the oven).

A perfect bowl of soup for a cold night!

This soup was delightful with extra Parmesan, a chunk of fresh, homemade bread and glass of Pinot Noir.  But the best part about this soup was how easy it was to reheat today! I just added a bit of water and had another delicious bowl for lunch.


Edited February 25: I made this soup just this past week for a group of friends with smaller, 1/3” meatballs and it was  perfection!

I’m also linking up to Easy Natural Food’s Sunday Soup Night.

Saturday Meal Planning

Happy Saturday!  I say that, after getting rattled from sleep at 4:30 by an overzealous cat

Oscar... sleeping all day, so he can be up, knocking things over at all hours of the night.

and hungry Australian Shepherd (the cat knocked over my bedside lamp, while the dog whined at the back door as though our chicken coop were under attack, then proceeded to herd me to her food dish).  Ugh.  Since then, I discovered that our main light in the chicken coop blew out last night (though, I find it hard to believe that the dog wanted anymore than her cup of kibble at 4:30 since we didn’t make it to the coop until almost 7 a.m., and she was content to return immediately to bed after eating).  That replaced, I did manage to get into town for groceries after a very early bout of meal planning.

In our quest to try to eat more locally, I’ve focused most of this week’s meals around our own, home-grown chicken and vegetables.  Though, I was totally entranced by Food & Wine’s Italian Wedding Soup, which I’ll be trying later today and posting about tomorrow.  I was introduced to it over at Red Deer Foodie, and I imagine my version will end up being a mixture of the two.  I’ve talked a bit about meal planning here lately, so I thought I’d give you this week’s rundown, marking our own, homegrown ingredients with a *

Saturday                          Sunday                        Monday                        Tuesday 

Italian Wedding Soup     Roast Chicken*              Saturday’s Soup             Picnic Chicken*
Homemade Bread           Roasted Potatoes*         Homemade Bread          Green Beans*
Braised Carrots                                                                                                     Mashed Potatoes*
Homemade Bread

Wednesday                              Thursday                                      Friday
Homemade Chicken Stew*         Dinner w/ friends                        Roasted Vegetable Pizza
with extra veggies*                       but still making a                           with Feta Cheese
Homemade Dumplings               Mexican Chocolate Torte             &  Tomato Sauce*
&  Strawberry Preserves*

Today, I’m also making another batch of homemade granola and some kind of cookie to snack on since it’s still super chilly outside and one or two warm cookies will taste great after some snowshoeing!

SOPA/PIPA Blackout

I had planned to post my recipe planning for the next week today, but – instead – I think it’s more important to link you here:

And if you want a super-simplified version of why it’s so important that Congress strike down these bills, go over to The Oatmeal, who always manages to so succinctly explain complicated issues in equally complicated (and often delightful) ways.

Garden Planning – Plotting Things Out

Our seeds arrived on Wednesday, and after eagerly tearing open the package and gazing at the gold, vacuum-sealed packets, I decided – when I finally had a few moments to myself – that it was time to plan the garden out, foot by foot.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I drew up a tentative garden plan in October, right before we placed our garlic in the ground.  I started in my garden notebook with just a simple sketch:

Original Garden Plan for 2012

My initial thought was to just plan out the 2012 garden, as I did the 2011 garden, using the notebook that I’ve used for the past two years to carefully track when we plant things and

Last year's garden plan.

how they grow (though, last year things fell a bit by the wayside come July, when I was finishing up a second Master’s certification).  That said, one of the great weaknesses of the notebook method, was the lack of proper graph paper, and my own inability to go back in and change things without making a real mess.  I liked the ability to see how my changes tracked, but after realizing that I could save successive drafts of a garden plan on my laptop, I decided that the best way to move forward was to look at garden-layout software.

I am nothing if not frugal, and I made the choice early-on that the garden should be a place where money is saved, rather than spent excessively, so I decided to see what I could do on my computer, without purchasing specific software (I have a MacBook).  I discovered that Microsoft Excel has graph paper available as one of its projects, and by unprotecting the document, I was able to map out, square-foot by square-foot, the exact dimensions of our two gardens (though the second garden might be a bit short, as I couldn’t remember its exact length (now, under several inches of snow) and preferred to under-estimate, rather than over-estimate.  After consulting the crop rotation charts  in Carleen Madigan’s wonderful Backyard Homestead, I was able to plot out our 2012 plan.

Garden Plan 2012 - 1 square = 1 square foot

This plan took me about 30 minutes to make and will save plenty of time when we head out to turn the soil, build our tomato trellises and form raised hills in mid-May.  Now, I’m just waiting in eager anticipation for the day when we can plug in our growing lamps and start sprouting the 2012 seedlings.  And given that I have absolutely no willpower at all, here are some images to tide us all over until planting can really start…

Seedlings - April 17 (1 Week After Planting)

Seedlings - April 27

Seedlings, May 18

Then, finally, the arrival of the chickens on May 23 meant that everything would move outside for hardening off in the winter coop until complete transplantation took place just after Memorial Day (that, folks, is how far north we really are).

2011 Chicks - 45 Minutes After Arrival

Homemade Granola

Along with my quest (now complete!) for the perfect wedding dress, I’ve also been much more conscious of what and how I eat.  About a year ago, we started a conscious movement away from processed foods, and after several months, one of the lingering processed foods that remained in my diet was breakfast cereal.  After some experimenting with my mother’s recipe, I finally settled on a homemade granola recipe that I can eat every morning (and alter when I get tired of it and need a change).

Fortunately, almost nine months of the year, I can get local, organic Greek Yogurt from our farmer’s market, and I always have homemade preserves kicking around in the basement.  And given that I eat breakfast at 5 a.m., and it has to last until lunch at 12:30, it’s important that what I choose is both satisfying and healthy.

So what am I doing these days?  1/2 c. Greek Yogurt, 1/2 c. Homemade Granola, 1 T Homemade Strawberry Preserves.

Strawberry Preserves

The recipe is simple and keeps for about two weeks in a sealed container.  It is a calorie-dense food, so I try to limit my intake to under 3/4 c. a day, though once you taste it, you’ll understand my struggle.

Homemade Granola

1 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
4 c. old fashioned oats
1 – 2 c. nuts (I usually mix almonds and walnuts, but pecans are delicious, too)
1/2. c. ground flax seed
1/2 c. wheat bran (optional)
1 t. salt

1/4 c. oil (I typically use extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil)
2/3 c. maple syrup
1 T vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

    Combine ingredients.

  3. Combine wet ingredients in a 2 c. liquid measuring cup.  If using coconut oil, melt the ingredients together in a saucepan.
  4. Mix liquid and dry ingredients until fully combined.
  5. Spread on 2 cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes and rotating the cookie sheets between oven racks.
  7. After one hour, increase the oven temperature to 325 and bake until golden (checking every 5 minutes).  Note: this will happen very quickly!  Be cautious not to burn your granola.
  8. Cool completely and place in an airtight container.

    Completed Granola! Enjoy!

    The best part about this granola is how versatile the recipe is.  Feel free to omit or add anything you like!

Back-to-Work Time Crunch

On Monday, I went back to work after a really pleasant few weeks of winter break.  And while I’m always a little sad to give up my long days of chicken-tending, quilting and relaxation, I really do love being in the classroom, and this week has been particularly good, as a colleague and I are teaching a two week intensive focused around food and its role in our culture; however, I’ve been coming home exhausted and feel a bit badly about my lack of blogging.

Given that I’ve just returned to work and it’s a topic I’ve though a lot about, I thought I might share some of the ways that I keep caught up with my homesteading and housekeeping while school is in session.

The real key to my sanity is meal planning.  I usually grocery shop on a weeknight, and the evening before, I carefully prepare a list (organized by my path through the grocery) of the meals I plan to make and the ingredients I need.  When making this list, I carefully cross-reference what we have available in our freezer, root cellar, and cupboards with what my recipes call for, being particularly careful to use up the ingredients that I have that are close to their expiration dates. I’m also careful to ensure that we keep staples (flours, sugars, yeast, spices, and baking notions) well stocked, as one of my favorite things to do after a long day of work is bake.  Keeping these things in stock prevents expensive, last minute trips to the grocery store on my way home when I am usually hungry, tired and (admittedly) weak-willed when it comes to readily available chocolate.

I’ve also developed a strict schedule in regard to my time in the morning and evening.  Part of my success in health this year has been a regular hour of aerobics (at 4:45 a.m.), which ensures that not only do I have time to get out the door on time, but that I do so after cleaning the chicken coop, packing our lunches and eating a healthy breakfast.  In the evening, I follow a similar schedule, visiting the chickens immediately after work before starting dinner and doing household chores while things are cooking.  In the spring, when school is still in session, Jason and I often tend to the garden after dinner, as a way of visiting with each other and devoting our time to something that we both enjoy.

What do you do to ensure that everything gets done on busy nights?