Sunday, August 30, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Stonewalled!

All of the pieces necessary to the daily working of the farmhouse were in place in the farmyard: the chicken coop, the well, and the oven. The only major construction task remaining was a wall to define the farmyard boundary and to provide a tidier, more finished appearance to the farmhouse.

 I started the wall project by measuring and cutting the styrofoam pieces that I needed.

I hammered small nails around the edges of the base board and applied glue to the nails and to the edge where the wall would be erected.

 I mounted the long west front wall and the short west end wall by the wine store by pushing the styrofoam pieces down onto the nails; I pressed on the pieces gently to be sure that the wall was securely in place along the board.

 I cut the pieces for the simple gate posts and attached them to the west walls before applying joint compound to the wall sections. Stones were embedded randomly to the sides and top of the walls.

 The east end wall that connects to the chicken coop has been partially installed. I ran out of the colored joint compound that I had used on the west section of the wall and had to mix up a new batch. Always tricky. I kept a record of the colors that I used, but not the exact amounts, so each new mixture entailed much trial and many errors. The paint mixture in the above photo includes Golden Brown, Khaki Tan, and Traditional Burnt Umber. When the new batch dried, it turned out to be a bit darker than the original, which meant more mixing and matching had to be done.

 I erected the east end and east front walls, added on the gate post, and repeated the stucco and stone process.

 The wall was up all around the farmyard boundary. I placed more stones randomly along the top of the wall. The stones for the top of the east wall were individually selected by my granddaughter, Sophia, from the "stone collection" basket. (The basket she had helped fill in the first place.) Sophia had suffered a mild concussion the day before when she fell from the jungle gym at school, so she had a day off to spend with me. I don't think I made her work too hard; besides, I paid her four quarters for her labor.

 After all my concern about color matching for the wall stucco, the stucco had so many cracks when it dried that I had to thin down the remaining mixture to create a "slip" that I applied to all the walls, inside and out. So it didn't matter after all that the two batches hadn't matched - and I had exactly enough of the slip; I didn't need to mix more.

A brief aside: Pretend that you cannot see that "cow" in the shadowy barn. She has a story all her own that I will relate in an upcoming post.

The added slip has almost dried on the west front wall....

...and the east walls were in the process of drying, after which the stuccoing would be complete.

 Except, of course, for the never-ending sanding! I sanded the walls and stones lightly, so that only portions of the stones were completely revealed. And - finally, at long last - the never-ending sanding had ended! But one last thing remained to be done in the farmyard. Two bags of gravel waited to be spread over the entire area within the boundary walls.

I applied a generous layer of glue to the farmyard, working in small sections. The gravel was spread - also generously - over the glue and pressed down firmly. Unfortunately, I spread the gravel a bit too generously because I ran out of gravel just before I reached the well, so it was necessary to buy a third bag.

 The application of gravel continued on to the well area and around to the chicken run. After the gravel was securely glued down, I found a good flat stone that I placed in the approximate standing spot for using the balancing lever for the well. I placed a second flat stone at the outside entrance to the boy's room. 

There still remained numerous farmhouse tasks to complete, but the basic structure and farmyard additions were finished! It was time to move the farmhouse to another (temporary) location where I would work on the myriad of miscellaneous items that had to be done before I could call the farmhouse truly FINISHED.

 This is the table top that Robert built. He makes beautiful table tops but balks at building the table bases. So I brought these antique Singer sewing machine bases out of the storeroom, and they serve their new purpose wonderfully. The table was in the living room of our townhouse in this photo, but it would eventually be moved to the basement family room, where it would provide a permanent home shared by the French farmhouse and the adobe house.

 Moving Up! Robert (left side) and his friend Steve carry the farmhouse VERY CAREFULLY from the basement level to the living room via the outdoor route. They wanted to avoid carrying the house up the indoor stairs, not being sure of its maneuverability. (Nor its weight!)

Climbing the Hill! Our neighbor, Dick, joined in to act as rear guardsman. Just in case. I only watched - with bated breath and rapid heart rate - this oh so scary operation.

The Home Stretch! They've made it successfully around to the front of the house - ready to carry the farmhouse through the front door (only two steps up to manage) and to the waiting table, which is just a few steps inside the door.

Home Safe! And the French farmhouse was finally at rest on the beautiful new table: safe, sound, and 
all in one piece!


The French Farmhouse is nearing Moving-In time, which will also be the time when I introduce the inhabitants of the farmhouse. But before that day comes, there's another inhabitant of sorts that requires an introduction. And an explanation. And possibly even an exclamation. (Cowabunga!!) I hope you'll stop by next week to meet this mysterious embarrassment.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Well Baked

The front farmyard of the French farmhouse was the only possible choice of a site for the bake oven and the well. It would be so satisfying and so much fun to have all the space I need when I build a miniature house. But without adding on extra rooms to my real house (as Aunt Dorothy did, which you may remember if you read my first blogpost) there's no chance that space will ever be available. So I must make do with the limited space I have and hope that the inhabitants of the farmhouse won't mind making do with their limited work space.

 I prepared the farmyard by applying a thin layer of joint compound to the entire area; then I dabbed the moist joint compound with a crumpled paper towel to erase the trowel marks. I also marked off the spots where the bake oven, the well, and the gate posts would be placed. I left the outer edge of the base board clear; that space was reserved for the boundary wall.

 I measured and cut pieces of styrofoam for the bake oven, after spending quite some time working out a design. It was of necessity much smaller than I had wanted it to be, which means that the farmer's wife may need to add another baking day to her usual weekly chore.

 I finished cutting all the pieces for the oven and glued some of the pieces together. I later changed the  design of the roof to a traditional domed style.

 I laid bricks on the exterior ledge of the oven and started laying them around the door arch. As far as I can recall, this was my first attempt ever at bricklaying. Fortunately, I can place all the blame for the less-than-proficient work on the farmer and his son. They were the last ones to work on repairing the aging bake oven, and they did their best; but they're much better farmers than bricklayers.

 I added several colors of paint to the joint compound that I used as mortar for the stones in the bake oven. While the "mortar" was wet, I embedded small stones on the interior walls, the ceiling piece, and on the front and sides of the oven ledge. I also finished the brick lining around the arched door.

 I built a charcoal fire in the bake oven, using bits of orange tissue paper and bronze foil paper, real charcoal, and a center light bulb.

 I glued the ceiling piece and the arched door in place on the oven; then I made a proper pig's breakfast of cutting the styrofoam for the domed roof! Thank goodness for joint compound.

 I stuccoed over the entire oven and embedded random flat stones in the stucco. The result looked like a funny beehive!

After sanding the exterior of the oven, I attached the front brick ledge, using both joint compound and glue - and the bake oven was ready for the next baking day!

When I first read about balancing wells in my book, "The French Farmhouse," I knew that was the type of well that I wanted for my miniature farmhouse. The balancing well is a very shallow well with generally brackish water. (Generally unhealthy.) The water is drawn from the well by a long pole with a bucket on one end that is levered up and down with the aid of a sturdy upright post. Other than a brief description in my farmhouse book, I couldn't find more specific information on the balancing well. I had to rely on one or two photographs and a drawing from the farmhouse book in order to build my miniature balancing well. I have made it look as authentic as I could, but I'm sure that my farmhouse family wishes that I'd done some research on a more efficient, healthier well. They must all resort to drinking wine instead of water in order to stay healthy. But since most drinking water at that time was unhealthy, even a different well would not have saved their wine supply.

 Before I began to build the balancing well, I painted the stuccoed farmyard with a mixture of Khaki Tan and Raw Umber paint. Then I outlined a circular space where the well would be placed and painted the circle with a "brackish water" color, which looks more black than brackish in the above photo.

 I glued three styrofoam rings together in a stack and spread a generous layer of colored joint compound on the interior of the circular stack, in which I placed several courses of small, flat stones (yes, courtesy of my grandchildren) from top to bottom. I added more joint compound and stones to the top edge of the well.

 I completed the well cistern by embedding stones on the entire exterior before I glued the cistern in place on the base board.

 I started to work on the poles for the balancing well. I found a good, thick (3/4" diameter) stick for the upright post and a thinner one (about 1/4" diameter) for the balancing lever.

 I needed to cut a notch in the top of the upright post to provide a resting place for the balancing lever.  That was a challenge, because the wood turned out to be as hard as a rock, and I didn't have a proper tool (whatever that might have been) for the job. I used a thin saw; used a screwdriver that I hammered in like a chisel; used a small paring knife; used a serrated steak knife; and finally used one of my tiny all-purpose tools and just hacked away at the wood. At last - a notch! And all my fingers were intact. I contrived a wire "staple" for the top of the post so that the balancing lever had a wider range of movement. Then I hammered two small nails into the particle board base to anchor the upright post. (Actually, I measured wrong the first time, so I had four holes for two nails. Nothing new there.)

 I darkened and aged the upright post a bit. The silver chain came from my jewelry box and was put to use to lower and raise the water bucket, after I contrived a hook to hold the bucket.

 I aged the chain and hook by painting on a coat of Burnt Umber and rubbing on a bit of rust-colored paint. Then it had to be hung out to dry with the help of an Elmer's Glue bottle.

Robert helped me drill two small holes in the bottom of the upright post, into which the nails that I put in the base board fit. I swabbed the two nails with glue before inserting them into the post holes. That's Robert's hand holding the balancing lever to test the stability of the upright post. (It passed muster.) I later added a rope "pull" to the end of the lever so that it could be raised and lowered by even a child. And after all that work, this is my only photo of the finished well at this stage of the farmhouse construction! 

All those nails that you can see in the last photo are there for a definite purpose: to keep the walls from tumbling down. "What walls?" you may ask. Come back next week and watch those walls appear - just like magic! (Or like a lot of hard work behind the magician's curtain.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Cooped Up

When the time came to build a chicken coop for the French farmhouse, I finally admitted what I had known all along but wouldn't admit: There is only just barely enough space here for a chicken coop. It's a good thing that these four hens and a rooster are free range chickens, because there definitely wasn't space for a good chicken run. It's also a good thing that these are miniature chickens; I did manage to crowd them into a corner of the farmyard just outside the boy's window. So far, the crowded conditions haven't affected the hens' egg-laying abilities.

I started cutting the styrofoam pieces that would be used to make the chicken coop. Note the covered nesting box in the back, which I uncovered when I decided to put a roof on the coop.

Here is a slightly larger view of the nesting box before I modified it. I found the chickens online at SP Miniatures. 

I cut two upright posts and two crosswise posts to form the chicken coop entrance.

I tried the various styrofoam pieces for fit.

I put up the back and side walls of the chicken coop by driving small nails into the particle board base along the wall lines; then I applied glue to the nails and placed the styrofoam pieces over the nails.

A layer of joint compound has been applied to the interior walls, the floor, and the ceiling piece.

I cut balsa wood pieces for the gate frame and checked the pieces for a proper fit inside the entrance posts.

This piece of chicken wire helped to determine the current age of the French farmhouse. I had planned an 1850 vintage, the same as my adobe house. But before I started the farmhouse construction, I did some research to make sure that chicken wire had been invented by 1850 and learned that it was invented in America in 1853. By pulling strings and calling in favors, I just managed to get a shipment of chicken wire out of New York City and into the south of France that same year. Hard work! Then I found that chicken wire was also invented in England in 1844, so I could have saved myself all that trouble. But also, as it happens, chicken wire may well have been invented by the ancient Egyptians 4000 years ago. I realized that the farmhouse could be of any vintage, and the chicken wire would still be bonafide. I stayed with 1853 as the current setting for the farmhouse, but since the house was originally built in 1713, who knows how old the chicken wire might be? 

I used nylon netting for the chicken wire. I stiffened it by dipping it into a glue and water mixture and  drying it. But the netting wasn't quite stiff enough, so I ironed on spray starch. That was better. Finally, I sprayed several coats of silver paint on both sides of the netting, drying between coats. I finished the chicken wire by dabbing on paint with a mostly dry sponge. I alternated using dark gray, brown, and rust colored paints to make the netting look old and worn. (I'm not sure that it looks 4000 years old, but I think it's close enough.)

I stained the pieces of balsa wood for the gate. The chicken wire was sandwiched between two pieces of wood on four sides and two pieces that fit diagonally across the gate. (I failed to take a photo of the completed gate before I mounted it in the entrance frame.)

I painted the stuccoed interior walls, floor, and ceiling and glued the entrance posts in place.

The chicken coop roof has been secured, and the lower crosspiece was added to the entrance frame.

I stuccoed the exterior walls and around the edges of the roof.

I built a parapet across the front of the roof to provide a barrier for the roof tiles.

Next I painted the chicken coop roof with a terra cotta paint so that no white would show beneath the clay tiles.

The exterior walls and the roof parapet have been painted with a tan base coat.

I laid 65 clay canal tiles on the roof and scattered wood chips and "straw" on the chicken coop floor.
I had gathered some wild grasses while we were at our Sandhills home the previous year. The very thin, wispy grass made great simulated straw. But when it came time to use it, I searched high and low and could not find it! Finally, in the last possible place left in which to look, I found the grass. It was in a closet under the basement stairs - a very logical place, since that's where I keep my bags of landscaping materials. This was not an organizational problem, but a definite memory problem.

I removed the original shingled roof from the nesting box and painted it to look older. (But not 4000 years old!.)

I painted chicken droppings on the roost and ladder, glued the ladder to the roost, and built three nests for the hens. The hole that you may notice in the upper right hand corner was destined to have a lightbulb installed - an afterthought when I realized that the chicken coop was very dark inside; even the white hen was hardly visible.

I began the aging of the roof tiles on the chicken coop.

I finished aging the tile roof and rubbed soot on the exterior walls to age them as well. Then I glued the gate in place, partially open, so that the chickens have the freedom to go in and out during the daytime. I did not put hinges on the gate, although they appear to be there. I reminded myself that I won't need to actually close the chicken coop gate at night. After all, what predator wants to eat a fake chicken?!

The latch board has been glued to an upright post, ready to slip into the slot attached to the gate. I added gravel, wood chips, and straw to the chicken run. And after I found a nice-looking rock to use 
for a gate prop, the chicken coop was FINISHED!

The chickens have settled in happily, and their egg production meets the household needs, so all is well. Speaking of wells, next week's agenda includes a Balancing Well for the busy, crowded farmyard. Come take a look!