Easy Firestarters for the Woodstove

We’ve tried lots of different ways to start fires, from soaking dried pine cones in hot wax to using a blow torch…but the best way we found to get our wood stove fire going is to make simple fire starters out of old candles and paper towels.  We burn a lot of candles, especially during the holidays, and we always save the left-over wax.  Come winter time, we melt the wax in a pot on our stove, using a low setting for the burner.  When all the wax is melted, we use single sheets of paper towels, which we twist to form sort of a rope, and quickly dip these into the melted wax.  We then lay them out to dry on freezer paper (or aluminum foil).  Once they are dried, we store them in a bucket or bag until we need them.  We still use a blow torch to get a fire going, but the wax soaked paper keeps the flames going for a long time, enough to get the kindling pieces burning.
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More Uses for Grapevines

This afternoon, Jeff and Samantha figured out how to make a basket from grapevine trimmings.  After searching for grapevine basket images on google and closely examining willow baskets from Tina’s collection, they just made one:

After dinner Jeff decided to keep working on another basket, on the back porch this time – apparently basket weaving had created quite a mess in the kitchen earlier.  It was a relatively warm evening, and they already had a lot of cut vines.  What can I say – one can never have enough baskets….

Here are some other things we had made from grapevines previously: decorations around a rustic birdhouse (Jeff made this from old weathered barn boards), and a grapevine Christmas tree (really a re-purposed tomato cage, wrapped closely in grapevines and embellished with a string of brown wired fairy lights)


Grapevine Wreaths

A little side benefit from growing grapes is an abundance of grapevines that need to be trimmed off every year.  We’ve been getting better at making wreaths – one at a time…

The largest wreath we made so far was measured around the outside of our round patio table.  We used an old woven wire fence panel to support the wreath.  When we had wrapped sufficient vines to make the wreath the size we liked, we fastened the wreath to the fence panel with wire.  We then cut around the outside and inside of the panel with wire cutters, basically making a wire form on the back of the wreath to keep it stable.  We then fastened several strings of brown wired fairy lights to the wreath.  Duff and Caleb helped to get the wreath positioned at the peak of the barn – climbing to the vent from the inside of the barn, they lowered a rope, which we used to pull up the wreath.  Inside the barn a very long extension cord with a timer connects the light strings of the wreath to an outlet.

We also made some smaller wreaths and Lars is getting rather good at it:

We use the wreaths for decorating outside and inside:
Wreath underneath bell
Wreath wrapped with bells




When the boys returned from their hunting trip to Bedford yesterday, they not only brought a Christmas tree for the house, but also two scraggly white pine trees to use for decorations.  Well – there are a lot of branches on two trees, and it started to rain before I could use all of the greenery.  I did get the garland for the back porch done, by just using green wire to string branches together, and then wrapping a string of clear lights around the garland before hanging it.

Also made a small garland with all the left over short branches and used it for the archway into the back garden.  The arch itself has white wired clear lights on it, so it will look nice in the dark as well.

Other branches that were too short or too scraggly I just stuffed into tin buckets or into other containers which I then placed into outdoor flower pots.  (I do water these branches so they last longer – even outside)

Now that it is really raining, we are concentrating on the indoor decorations. This year, we used one of our “fabric” garlands around the mantel by the woodstove.  (fabric garlands are made by cutting homespun fabric into narrow strips, and then cutting each strip into 4 – 6 inch pieces.  These then get tied onto a string of Christmas lights) I used our cast-iron stocking holders to hold the garland in place.

Posted in DIY

Improvised Kitchen Island

With another lucky auction find from earlier this month, I was able to create a very low cost, usable kitchen island.  I bought 6 folding tables at a local school auction and they must have been cafeteria tables, with perfect laminated tops, just like kitchen counters!  I bpurchased 3 six foot tables and 3 eight foot tables (for less than $40) and they are the sturdiest folding tables I ever encountered.  I tried both sizes in my kitchen, but the six foot table definitely looked better.  I scrubbed it completely and then bought a set of “bed-risers”.  By putting 4″ bed-risers under table legs, the table becomes standard kitchen-counter height – a tick I learned  when I volunteered at the PA farm show food court.  To make the table look pretty – and hide all the food grade buckets with my flours and sugar storage –  I sewed 4 simple curtain panels.  Using 10 yards of 36″ wide muslin, I was able to take the fabric lenght-wise, so there are no seams in the long panels.  The 36″ width was just enough to make a 2 inch seam on the top, to thread a curtain rod through, with a small ruffle above.  To keep the curtain looking clean on the bottom, I also bought 2 yards of “homespun” fabric.  I chose a checkered pattern – that way cutting the fabric into 6″ wide strips went rather quickly…just had to follow the lines of the squares.  The folding table had a wood base under the top, and we were able to attach brackets for the simple cafe rods on the short sides, keeping the curtain a good 2 inches back from the table edge.  To make the curtain rods line up at the corner, we used wire and dry-wall screws, wrapping the wire tightly around the ends of the curtain rods and then twisting the wire around the screw.  We also made wire supports in the middle of the long sides, to keep the rod from sagging.  It took a few hours to sew the panels, but it was worth it!

Dressed-up for the holidays!

Estimated Cost:

Used folding table: $7.00
Bed risers:  $10.00
Curtain rods:  $10.00
Fabric (using coupons and sales): $30.00

Posted in DIY