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This school year, I've decided to try to have a “Project Day” (really, a smallish part of an afternoon) every week for Liam. It's working out fairly well – not flawlessly, but fairly well :) Liam received a couple of books for Christmas that were particularly suited to some projects that are both fun and educational. One in particular, the Rubber Band Engineer, is one of the best books for mid-sized (and up) boys I've seen. It has directions for several varieties of catapults, rubber band guns, and even simple hydraulic tools using syringes and tubing. Liam has so far – by himself - made several pyramid catapults out of pencils or dowels, a ruler, and a rubber band (and plenty of duck tape!).

He also enlisted Caleb's help for an afternoon (and part of another) to make a tabletop-sized da Vinci catapult, and then – when that one turned out to be less than impressive, largely due to the I-just-looked-at-the-pictures-why-doesn't-it-work?! fatherly guidance – they made a yard-sized one, about 3' by 3'. Liam would have been happy to keep making catapults (and a potato gun!), but fortunately I'm the teacher, not him, so we moved on. One week we finished making a felted sheep's-wool bag he'd started at a friend's house - we gave it a braided leather shoulder strap and a leather button closure. He has taken it out on walks, it nicely fits a book and a snack :)

This past week, Caleb chose a spur-of-the-moment project designed to make a little-brother-who-has-to-be-like-his-big-brother happy. Malachi was doing his letters workbook at the desk, when Ewan had a full-out (adorable) little fit - foot-stomping and everything - because he couldn't get his little chair under the desk at the same time. Another great book Liam has is the Duct Tape Engineer, (same author, Lance Akiyama, check him out if you've got boys that like building things – he even has directions for a duct tape kayak!!) and there are directions for making a desk out of cardboard boxes and duct tape. So, in less than an hour, Liam and Dad had made a Ewan-sized desk, just for him, so he can be like the big boys. So of course, it's main use is for Liam to squeeze under and read at, so that Malachi has an aneurysm yelling at him that it's Ewan's desk, and Liam can't use it :) Ah, brothers....

Maybe a month ago, Caleb completed a bigger project that I'd been pushing for a while - a large bookshelf in the boys' room.  It is beautiful, sturdy solid oak, and holds at least 3 times the books as the old pair of small shelves.  And then I was able to move the small shelves elsewhere and fill them up too, so we are close to having no boxes of books in the attic and basement for the first time in our marriage :)  Not actually to that point, of course, but much closer.  We'll need more house to actually achieve that goal...




Another project that Caleb completed for me recently was a much-needed one, and in a (sadly) unusual development, it proceeded more quickly and easily than I had even hoped! My original drum carder, for carding wool, was very worn out. After something like 4 years of use, (including my learning curve), it was almost non-functional. It is basically a small barrel covered in a sheet of slightly bent metal teeth (“carder cloth”) that, when cranked, brushes the wool fibers against a smaller drum, also covered in carder cloth. The large drum teeth were shot – there were multiple places where the teeth were pushed through the cloth backing, and so they didn't stick up far enough. Instead of being a smooth curve around the drum, the surface was faceted with abrupt jagged angles, and it left holes in my carded batts.

It was still okay for prepping wool for felting soap, but it was simply not good enough to prep wool for spinning. Last fall, I took the lazy way out and simply bought another carder. I'd found that you can just buy a new drum, or even buy the carder cloth and re-cover it yourself, but Caleb found a great price on an almost identical carder on Ebay that wasn't that much more than just a new drum, and having two was (no surprise) actually kind of nice. As I continued to use the beaten-up one, though, I revisited the idea of just re-covering the damaged drum. It was (theoretically) cheap and simple. You just take off the old carder cloth, tack down the new one, and ta-da! A good-as-new carder! I just knew, though, that these things never go as smoothly as they are supposed to, and that's why we just bought the second one. At that point, though, I had the leeway to mess up the old one, and take weeks to get it straightened out, without losing my ability to card. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about! I ordered carder cloth online, and lucked out – I found one of just a few companies selling it, and it was something like $98 for the 2' necessary, plus $10 shipping. On a whim, I decided to check Etsy, and found the same company selling carding cloth – but on Etsy, they had a listing for a piece of cloth that was pre-cut to “only” 22.5”. I measured the carder drum, and it really looked like that was exactly right. On their website they sell by the foot, but all the measurements I found for the carder were 22”, so 22.5 seemed like it would work – and it was $10 less than ordering 2 feet! So, long story short, I ordered it, I was right, and we didn't have to trim it at all – it was exactly the right length, the old carder cloth came off easily, we used the same staples and tacked the new cloth down, and had a practically new carder in less than an hour – for a fraction of the cost! A new drum would have cost $190, and a new carder is around $350 and up, so it was really rewarding that this job was as quick and simple as it was made out to be!


My next project for Caleb is to make me an Andean plying tool. It is a simple spade-shaped piece of wood that I wind a spun strand of wool around, and then double it up and ply one single strand into a two-ply yarn. It's really useful for a frequently occurring situation – I spin 2 bobbins full of single strands, and then ply them into a 2-ply yarn. At the end, one bobbin still has some fiber on it since there's no way to get them exactly the same (one time ever, I came out 12" different!, but often it's dozens of yards or more). So far, I use the Andean plying technique to wind the extra yarn off onto my hand, and then pull the end out, join to to the end that ran out, and finish plying with both ends of the extra yarn. The problem is that I'm literally tied to the spinning wheel until I finish everything - winding onto my hand and then spinning it all up. I can't change a diaper, use the bathroom, stomp into the boys' room and yell “what is going on in here?!?” - nothing. Also, if it's a lot of single, it really builds up on my hand, and can end up putting my fingers to sleep if it gets too tight. This tool solves all those issues, and is literally just a piece of wood to wind onto instead of my hand. So, I'm hoping to have one in another week or two!

My next project for Liam is making homemade candles. I somehow recently ended up reading about making tallow candles online, and thought it would be fun to do for ourselves. Of course, beeswax candles are the best, but I use all our beeswax (and that of all our neighbors and friends) for making balms and salves, so I was interested in an alternative. I like the idea of tallow candles, but I actually am short on tallow as well, as I also use it in my salve recipe, and am about to run out of that and am now getting it from fellow farmers as well! So, I read some about making lard candles – I really do have access to all of that I could want – but it sounds like a pure lard candle is not a great option. So, our first try will be part deer tallow, part lard, and part old-candles-we've-burned-down-too-far that we melt down, to subsititute for beeswax. The boys really like having the occasional candle-light dinner, and I think it'll be even more fun if they actually made the candle!

I'll keep y'all posted on results...


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