Tag Archive | cabin

French Friday #36: My next home

We’ve been in the cabin for five months now. We had Christmas here; we survived an ice storm that knocked power out for five days; we watch the river rise with each rain storm and go down a couple days later. We’ve caught seventeen mice and have evicted a bat and a flying squirrel. We’ve relaxed our standards of housekeeping because a layer of dirt, ash, and pine needles is just a fact of life here. We’ve roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace; there is no oven here which makes cooking interesting. There are ups and downs to living here; overall it has been a good season of our life. That doesn’t stop a girl from daydreaming, though. I’d live in any of these places (all photos are mine).

Hôtel Sully in Paris (hôtel means mansion).

Luxembourg Palace in Paris.

Fontainebleau Palace


I’m not picky.

Expanding my German vocabulary

Before moving to France, my German vocabulary consisted of about three phrases: “schnell,” “Guten Tag,” and “Heil, Hitler.” Apparently I learned it from World War II movies. Oh wait, there was also “Danke Schoen.” I guess I can thank Wayne Newton for that one. Once we were in France, we had to make a couple of trips to Germany, so I was compelled to learn a few more phrases. Helpful things like, “Ich spreche keine deutsch.” (I don’t speak German). German has never been high up on my language-learning totem pole. But I recently learned a new phrase that is kind of fun: holz hausen. “Holtz how-zen.” My understanding is that it means “wood house.” Like, a house for wood.

A few weeks ago we got slammed with an ice storm that took down trees and limbs like crazy. (German for tree: baum. Thank you, Christmas songs).

Frosty lives to see another day

This monster fell across our driveway, all the way across our neighbor’s yard into their driveway, where it smashed the back of their car. The neighbor took his chainsaw to it a few days later, which resulted in this:

Heap o' wood

We didn’t want to store it up on the porch, because that’s where we keep our seasoned firewood and obviously this stuff is very, very green. I don’t even know how I came across it, but I found an article on a unique way to stack firewood that apparently originated in the mountains of Germany and Switzerland. (German for mountain: berg That one I must have learned through osmosis). Enter, the holz hausen. I showed Mr. Gren the article and he liked it, so we decided to construct one. Right after Mr. Gren split all that wood.


First, we made a 7′ diameter ring with scrap lumber and lined the inside with bark to keep the wood up off the ground.

Ring around the... pole.

Then we started stacking the split logs around the ring, one layer at a time. More or less.

Das ist gut.

Once it was about three feet high, we dropped in several more splits to fill up the middle, then laid two poles across for stability while building the next story. But Mr. Gren needed to split more wood and wasn’t up to doing any more that day. A couple of days later, he was feeling especially industrious and split the remaining wood and finished up the rest of the holz hausen all by himself.

Little hut

Complete with bark shingled roof to help keep out the rain

Isn’t it cute? It ended up being a little over 6′ tall. The wood won’t be ready to burn for several months, but in the meanwhile, this is a nifty way to store it. And we all learned some German to boot. Tschüss!

Cold and dark

Last Wednesday evening, Mr. Gren and I were watching a movie when the lights started flickering. We gave each other a knowing look and made sure we had a flashlight nearby and candles within easy reach. When the lights go out in the country, it’s a complete blackness. We barely finished the movie when the power finally did go out. Time to go to bed! It came back on a couple of times through the night and Thursday morning we woke up to the heaters running. Mr. Gren started a fire and shortly afterwards, the power went out again. This time for good. The sun wasn’t quite up yet, but even with the sun, it stays pretty dark in the cabin with just four windows. We have a box full of votive candles that we bought at Ikea that turned out not to fit in any of our votive holders. But a quick raid of the recycling bin provided enough tin cans (tin cans again!) to hold candles, which we distributed in key places in the house. Knowing it was going to get cold soon without the heaters running, we put a gate on the stairs and kept the kids upstairs in the loft all day. By the end of the day, all of us except Granota were wearing three layers of clothing and a hat to keep warm. I have no explanation for her; she’s nuts.

It all started out so beautifully

Outside, things were even more exciting. We had had several inches of snow early in the week, but then Wednesday night the freezing rain started. All the majestic fir trees shrouded in their coats of snow were even further burdened by the layer of ice the rain had created. When we woke up Thursday morning, I commented to Mr. Gren that I had heard rifle shots in the woods. He listened again and said, “No, those are trees breaking.” Treetops, branches, and limbs cracked and broke in a rushing, rattling cascade of needles, ice and snow. It was actually fairly dangerous to be outside, although Mr. Gren and I did have to venture out a few times. The cabin is on well water, so when the power goes, so does the pump. I ran outside several times to fill pots with snow to later melt and use for washing-up water. Meanwhile, Mr. Gren had to make a few trips down to the river with a bucket to fill so that we could flush the toilets. All the while we could hear trees breaking near and far and when the first chunks of snow began to fall, we would hightail it to a clearing as fast as we could. Harder than it sounds when we’re surrounded by trees! It was an eery and disturbing sound. I stood out in a safe spot once and counted seconds between the cracking — trees broke every 5-30 seconds.

And then it got crazy out there

As you can imagine, all that damage worsened the power situation. Power lines were being pulled down all over the place, tree limbs were  in the roads and then… the rain came. Friday, it rained enough to melt the hold the ice had on the trees. Good for the trees, not good for anyone unfortunate enough to be under them. This time, there were no warning cracks before softball-sized chunks of ice cascaded down, pummeling anything below. Those suckers hurt. One got me on the shoulder as I struggled to tromp through half-frozen snow. All day in the cabin, the roof would rattle and shake; the children would stop playing and run to the window to see and marvel. It felt like we were under siege.

It missed our neighbors' house by about two feet.

Day number three without power, the wind came. The wind was both helpful and further damaging. Many of the branches that had broken two days earlier had gotten caught high up in the trees, on wires, or on our roof. The wind helped blow many of them down. But with it came more trouble for the work crews who were out night and day trying to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t envy them their jobs (but maybe their overtime paychecks).

This one eventually ended up on the power line in front of the cabin

On the fourth day without power, we had some friends who invited us to stay with them until power was restored to the cabin. Really, we had been doing alright up in the loft, dimly lit with candles and an oil lamp. But it was such a relief to be someplace warm, to be able to see, to be able to flush the toilets, and to eat at the table without huddling in coats and stocking hats. Monday morning, Mr. Gren took Rana to school (which had regained power two days prior) and went on to check things at the cabin and was thrilled to find it toasty warm when he opened the door. The heaters had come on! The rest of us returned later that day. It took us some time to resume life as normal. I think we’re finally feeling like we’re back in the regular routine, though. All week I’ve felt like I’ve been playing catch up. So now you know where I’ve been! Next week I’m really going to try to get back on my regular schedule with some actual crafting!

What I’m working on

A lot of times I feel like something is not worth writing about until it’s finished. But, let’s face it: I can’t conceivably churn out several projects a week. I’m always working on something (usually several things concurrently); some projects just take a little longer. So today, I am giving myself permission to show you an unfinished project.

For those who have not been following along, my family and I moved to a log cabin at the end of October. A lot of people nod like they understand what we mean when we say, “log cabin,” and then proceed to ask us questions like, “Is it insulated?” Well… it’s a log cabin, so… it depends on how you classify 12″ diameter timbers. I guess you could say it’s naturally insulated. The floor is made of 4″ thick bridge decking planks. It’s very rustic and also very rough.

This is the good part of the floor.

Our friends already had several area rugs scattered throughout the cabin, but there are still a few areas that could stand to be covered. Not only for the splinter potential, but also because of the cold air that rushes up between those planks.

Before we moved, I was going through my sewing room and collected a huge gift sack full of fabric scraps that I was going to put up on craigslist for some quilter bored of her own scraps. I never got around to it, so the bag o’ scraps moved with us. I’m too cheap to throw stuff like that away. It could be good for something! Well, looky looky, it now has a purpose.

Have you made the connection yet? Alex, I’d like to take Rag Rugs for 200. I’ve never made one before, but I rarely let that small detail stop me. Looking at the braided rugs already in the cabin, I thought I had a fair idea of what to do and a quick search online gave me enough pointers to forge ahead.

Scraps to strips

I made zigzag cuts to get as much out of the fabric as possible. My strips average about 1.5″ in width, but I wasn’t too concerned about uniformity. After all, it’s a rag rug. Cutting the strips was made much less tedious by having a river to watch while I did it.

The next step was the most fun.

I use only the best equipment.

I safety-pinned three strips of fabric to my ironing board cover and started braiding. Whenever I got near the end of a strip, I’d knot a new one on. There was no real rhyme or reason to the color order. I’m not trying to make art here. Besides, there’s something to be said for creations that aren’t too created, you know?

The prettiest rope I've ever seen

I ended up with several yards of braided rope before I ran out of fabric strips. I could probably make a generous placemat with it right now; I’ll need several more yards to make a respectable rug. No worries, though — I have plenty more scraps to cut up!




Complete the ensemble

Are you sick of the coats yet? Try not to be! We visited a holiday bazaar this weekend and people kept stopping us to comment on the kids’ coats. Ok, ok, Mr. Gren: You were right! People love the coats. Now we’ll have to see if anyone will buy them.

So, the last time I posted about the coats, I mentioned making fancy hats for the girls. Those whipped up pretty quickly and they turned out just so cute! Like, can’t-stand-it cute. The hats are fleece, as well as the small flowers. The hats are three pieces: the top, the crown, and the band. Easy! The flowers were fun to do. Take a narrow strip of fabric; put in a gathering stitch along one side; pull up the gathers and then roll and hand-tack into a rosebud shape.

As an added photgraphic bonus, Rana is wearing the ABC jumper I made her for school and Granota is wearing my Hanna Andersson knock-off dress. I didn’t get very good pictures of those back when I first made them.

This was the last of our good weather here (late October-November has been gorgeous!), so we took the kids down to play at the river for a little while. The girls tried their hands at fishing.

Now, there were a few people who were concerned that the girls get all the love and Konik is left freezing to death. Not to worry, though! I made him a coat last year which was big then and is still a little oversized this year. We might even be able to use it again next year, who knows!

A few tips for sewing with plaid:

  • Identify the dominant stripe in the pattern. You’re going to base the arrangement of your pattern pieces around it. You want the dominant stripe to highlight the main lines of the garment — center front and center back.
  • Also be aware of the horizontal stripes when you cut the fabric. You want them to line up all the way around the garment. You can see how the horizontal stripes meet across the two front pieces of the coat; the same is true of the side seams where they meet the back piece. And, if there is also a dominant horizontal stripe in your plaid, you want that to hit appropriate parts of the body as well.
  • This might mean that you don’t exactly follow the pattern piece layout given in the sewing pattern instructions, but that’s ok. Some of the pieces that you would normally cut out two at a time (the front pieces and the sleeves, for example) are better done one at a time when dealing with plaid. It’s the only way you can really ensure that the plaid will match up like it should.

Notice how the dominant stripe runs right down the center of his back, including the collar. This is the kind of thing that most people don’t think about when they see a plaid garment done right. But, boy, do you ever notice if that plaid is the slightest bit off. It’s worth it to take some extra time and make sure it’s right!

Another new coat

Poor Granota always seems to get the short end of the stick; Rana always seems to get the new things first. I finally finished her coat this afternoon after it has been laying around in various stages of completion for the past week or so. The buttonholes gave me trouble. The buttonhole foot on my machine was giving me fits, so I ended up having to do them with just the zigzag stitch and pins to measure. Not the end of the world, but a little bit of a hassle.

Of course, she looks adorable in it.

And of course, we had to get some good twirling action with a coat this full.

This coat has flared front, side front, back, and side back pieces, which would already give it some incredible fullness. But it also has four godets (triangle-shaped pieces), making it a complete circle around the bottom.

As with Rana’s coat, it’s a double layer of fleece all around. I also added pockets and a loop on the inside for easy hanging. Rana has already received several compliments on her coat from teachers and office ladies at school, as well as strangers in the grocery store. Mr. Gren has been telling me for years that I ought to make and sell these kind of coats and I’ve been waving him off. But I think he may be on to something. I’ve got lots of fleece and I’m kind of on a roll, so I think I’ll be putting a few coats in my etsy store. (And lest anyone else is worried about copyright infringement, I will make my own pattern). I’m kind of excited about it.

I am also going to make the girls “fancy” winter hats. And to be fair, this time I’ve started with Granota’s.

Enough rope to…

We’ve been in our friends’ cabin now for two weeks and finally have phone and internet. Hurray! That means I’ll be posting back on my regular schedule and can reopen my etsy store (need to do a little bit of tweaking there, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see anything just yet).

We knew when we moved in here that safety was going to be an issue with the open staircase and long, open loft. We needed to be able to block it off enough that the kids would actually have to work at falling off. My idea was to weave a sort of rope net. In my mind, I thought something like this would be nothing short of awesome:

Yes, that’s macrame.

Without the plant. Probably. Can you see that on a large scale? Sort of an ironic cool.

Well, it didn’t happen. That would have taken a lot of rope and I’m cheap. But, 250 feet of sisal rope later, we did have safety nets and my hands felt like they were covered in a hundred tiny paper cuts. I really should have worn work gloves. How come they don’t make those in tiny?

No Boy Scouts were consulted in the tying of these knots.

This was actually attempt number two. My first go at it consisted of winding one continuous length of rope between the two posts and then coming back with another continuous length woven vertically. In the beginning, it looked more or less the same as this, until the kids started messing with it. I should have known better than to think they would leave it alone. Pretty soon the rope had all migrated upwards, exposing the drop-off and rendering the whole thing useless. For take two, I cut it apart and tied separate lengths between the posts and then put in the separate vertical lengths. So far, so good. It’s been this way for a week and the kids haven’t mangled it yet. Also, you’ll notice our ingenious system of protecting them should they slip between steps, also known as: cram as much stuff  as possible under the stairs for storage.

Next was the loft area. We had managed to block off about half of the exposed side by lining it with bookcases. They’re tall enough and deep enough that the kids can’t lean over and land headfirst on the stone hearth. We didn’t immediately deal with the rest, though because we naively thought that our kids would respect the imaginary boundary line that we drew  because we ran out of rope. Re-supplied with rope and wiser now after doing the stairs, I set to work knotting and weaving and ended up with this:

Ahoy, mateys.

As soon as the girls saw it, they were enthralled. “It’s like we’re on a boat!” “We can be pirates!” And like tiny pirates to rum, they are drawn to it, this very area that we want them to avoid. I’m not worried so much about them plummeting to their deaths now as much as I am about their piratical tendencies towards my chapstick and sock drawer. We’re going to have to work some more on that idea of boundary lines.

Below deck

First project in the cabin

Ever since Rana was 1 year old, I have made coats for my kids. I meant to make new coats for the girls last year. Bought the fabric, even cut out the pieces for Granota’s coat and then… I don’t know what happened, but the coats never got made. And now the cut pieces are for a size smaller than Granota currently wears, so I couldn’t even use those. Rana and I bought new fleece right before our big move and I packed it into a bin to work on once we got things set up at the cabin. When Rana started at her new school, it dawned on me that the coat she has been wearing was the one I made her when she was 3. She’s 6 now. A new coat was definitely a necessity. In two days, I got it done and she was thrilled to death.

I used Simplicity 2745. I make the coats with two layers of fleece (so basically, I make two coats and sew them together) for extra warmth.

Super cute!

A look at my sewing area while I sew on buttons

I'm waiting to see a deer walk by one of these days

Hurray for being warm!

Nice and full makes it good for twirling


Little Cabin in the Woods

Hello all my friends in Blogland! Wow, it feels like it has been forever since I’ve been here. My family and I moved to a small cabin on 22 October and we’ve been without internet, phone, cell reception, TV and newspaper ever since! I ventured out to Starbucks today after dropping off Rana at her new school just to catch up on things back out here in civilization. The move went well and I’ve already completed a couple of projects that I’ll post more about later. For now, a little of our adventures out in the woods.

Granota was freaked out the first few nights in the cabin. Her bed is under the eave and she kept crying that she heard “fluttering” in the ceiling above her. We kept trying to pass it off as no big deal, showed her a tree branch that scrapes the roof at about that spot, even though we never heard this fluttering. Then one night she woke up and told me that there was scratching. I went in there and actually heard it this time. I knocked on the ceiling, figuring it was mice and that would be enough to scare them. It worked for that night.

The river running past our yard

The next night, we were all sound asleep and I heard scratching around 3:30. I sat up in bed and saw some small creature climbing up the support pole at the end of our room in the loft. It looked like a bat. I woke up Mr. Gren and told him we had a bat in the room and we sat there in the dark for a few minutes trying to decide on a course of action and quoting lines from “Christmas Vacation” (“I’ll catch it in the coat… and hit it with a hammer!”). I draped a sweatshirt over my head and crept by it to get downstairs to find a bucket, gloves, and a flashlight. But when I got right next to the little animal, I saw that it had a long fluffy tail. I had Mr. Gren turn on the lamp by our bed and got a better look at it. It was a small squirrel, but not like I’d ever seen before. It had brownish-black fur with tan patches on his sides between his legs; he looked really soft, like a chinchilla. He also looked very nervous.

A cousin of our little visitor

I went downstairs to get our equipment. When I got back up and we tried to knock him into the bucket, he jumped, ran across the floor of the loft, and then skittered down the log walls and sat on top of the front door. We tried to bump him off outside, but he was having none of that and we saw then what the tan patches on his fur were for. He leaped off the top of the door and went sailing several feet to my sewing table, scrambled across it, behind the fireplace, into the living room.

Now that's a fireplace

We chased that silly thing off the top of our armchairs to the refrigerator back on the other side of the room, to the tops of curtain rods, on the walls, of course, and finally, back out to the front door. By this time, I had added a broom to our arsenal and was using it to try and steer him in the direction we wanted him to go. And this time, finally, he went out! Hurray! The poor little thing was terrified, so I threw a few peanuts out on the porch as a peace offering. haha It took us about a half an hour to get him out of the house, and amazingly, none of the kids woke up through all of that! We haven’t had any more wildlife in the house since then, but who knows what’s going to happen when the weather gets colder…

Yarn therapy

Fall is my favorite season. The air is not as “crispy” up here in the Pacific Northwest as is usually associated with the season, but still, I like it. And with the change in season, comes a change in my creative mood. Invariably, I turn to yarn when the weather gets cooler. It must be instinctive. There’s still plenty of cold weather sewing I could be — and need to be — doing, but there’s just something comforting about sitting on the couch with a skein of soft yarn and a hook.

Soft yarn, pretty yarn, little ball of fur

A couple of years ago, I went yarn shopping without my brain and bought several skeins of Lion Brand Homespun yarn in Tudor with the intention of crocheting a sweater. My first problem was succumbing to the temptation of Homespun. Any crocheter who has used this stuff will nod along with me when I say: It’s a pain in the butt to work with. I think it was intended for knitters. The second problem was failure to check the dye lot, so I ended up with a bunch of mismatched yarn. Blah.

Yarn on pegs

In my quest to diminish my yarn stash (so I can buy more!), I decided it was time to get rid of this stuff. It’s pretty and soft, just no fun to crochet. Enter: the knitting board! This was my birthday present last year. It’s super cool! For some reason, I have no inclination to learn how to knit with needles, but this board is really fun to use. Not quite as soft and comfy as just curling up on the couch with nothing but yarn and hook, but it does satisfy my need for yarn crafting.

Still requires a hook

I used a rib stitch on this scarf which I’m going to give to a friend. I still have lots more of the yarn left, so I’m going to make a matching scarf in stockinette stitch for her daughter. And if I still have some left, they’ll get hats, too.

Finished scarf with subtle color changes and lots o' fringe.

And in non-crafty news, the time has come for my family to move. We’ll be heading to a little cabin in the woods this Saturday. In other words, it’s going to be a hectic week and I won’t be back until next Monday. In preparation for our move, I checked out “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder to read to the girls, hoping it will ease some of the anxiety Granota is feeling. Rana already wants to smoke meat in a hollow log. We’ll see about that. But who knows, I’m feeling inspired by the knowledge base that people had to have just to get through a day. That can be a post for another day. But before that, maybe a few “home decor” ventures as we set up in the new place. Until then… have a good week!