DIY boat bookshelf

Last July, Eric and I drove out to Lake Victoria to pick out an old fishing canoe as our anniversary gift to one another.  We saw an old one with lots of holes, half-sunk and rotting away on the banks of the river, with several pieces of trash floating in its mucky water.  It was the one for us.

This sounds like a strange anniversary gift, I know.  But we had a project in mind, so we got the help of several locals to load the boat on top of the truck, unsure if we could make it home with the huge load.  We were told to have an "African heart" and that it would all work out.  Our carpenter friend rode along with us, calling out the window to everyone along the way who were giving us strange looks, "Da flood is coming! This is Noah!" Despite the excitement, we managed to avoid all traffic police and we took every bump and pothole along the way as slow as we could, and we made it home with our rickety boat in one piece.

It was not in one piece for long.  After unloading our rotting treasure, our carpenter cut the canoe in half and there we left it, sitting in our yard waiting for the wood to dry out.  Several weeks later, the carpenter came back and nailed a few planks into each side of the boat to make shelves.  And viola!  Our anniversary gift to each other - now a unique bookshelf with a story - adorns the corner our dining room and may just be our favorite piece of furniture.

Homemade bone broth

Bone broth is one of the most commonly-made food items in our household because 1) it's super easy, 2) it's used in several recipes, and 3) word has it, there are several health benefits. (I guess there's a reason your momma made you chicken noodle soup when you were sick.)

So here's the know-how:

Get some leftover chicken (or beef, turkey, etc.) bones (I'll keep them in the freezer until I'm ready to use them)
Get some leftover veggies and herbs (or collect your veggie ends in a bag in the freezer until ready to use)

Put everything in your slow cooker and douse it in about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, which supposedly "leeches" out the nutrients.  Put in just enough water to cover everything, and put your slow cooker on low.  I'll leave the slow cooker on while I sleep or when I'm at work, for at least 8 hours.  You'll wake up or come home to the most delicious and comforting smell!  Strain the bones and veggies out and voila!  You have a yummy and healthful broth.  You could drink it as is, or put it in the freezer for future use.  I mostly use the broth for soup recipes, giving mymeals a richer flavor and a more healthful kick.

Before cooking

After cooking

DIY solar dehydrator and sundried tomatoes

And by DIY, I mean I told my husband what I wanted, and he explained the design of this solar food dehydrator to our carpenter, who made it for us.  But I looked up the design online after seeing one at a lodge here in Uganda, so I think that counts for something.

Anyway, if you're the craftsman type or you have a carpenter who you can call, here's an idea for how to harvest the sun to dehydrate and preserve your own food.  I'm still experimenting, but my first success was with sun dried tomatoes.  It took a few days for them to dry out enough, and I then used some of my dried herbs, garlic, and salt to season them while preserving them in a glass bottle with olive oil.  We used them to top some pesto pasta.

Next up, dried fruits.

Drying herbs

I've been away from my own home for so long this year and I missed making food from what I can grow on our small piece of land or buy fresh at the local markets. 

When i came back, my herb garden was definitely in need of some attention.  Some of my herbs had been crowded out by weeds, some had gotten spindly for lack of pruning, but others had absolutely exploded.  With these, it was the perfect opportunity to harvest a little crop and dry the herbs for future use.  There were other bundles of herbs I had hung to dry before I left and they were now finished and ready to use.

I simply cut off trimmings of my herbs, wash them thoroughly, tie the ends together with a rubber band, and hang them at the top of one of our cabinets, where it is cool and they get good air circulation.  When they are dry and brittle, I take the leaves off the stems, crush them into smaller pieces, and place them in containers until I need them in a recipe.

It's always a lovely feeling to cook with something I grew and processed myself, and drying herbs is such a simple way to do that.

Fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, and lavender

Dried thyme, rosemary, oregano, and lavendar

Herbs hanging to dry

Dried oregano and sage

Sage bundle

P.S. My husband and I have an ongoing argument about how to pronounce "herb."  Is the "H" silent or not?

My DIY ordeal/adventure

The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.
— Bob Bitchin

Not long after we moved into our home, I attempted to get a cow skin rug and a cow skull as decor pieces.  This was not supposed to be a DIY project, but it certainly turned out to be one.  This post is probably not a helpful one if you're looking to DIY your own cow hide, but it is the story of an ordeal that, with a little humor, turned into an adventure and a couple of impromptu DIY projects that turned out to be "good enough."

It all started by taking Eric's cousin on a photo "safari" in Kampala, along the railroad tracks.  I had never explored the area and thought it would be a great excuse to take pictures of whatever could be there.  Soon, we ran into a flock of the very ugly maribu storks, known to be Kampala's trash eaters, and I wondered what brought them to this place.  After looking around a bit, we were pointed to the maribu storks' attraction - Kampala's slaughterhouse. 

Well, one thing led to another, as they often do, and soon I was promised that the next morning I could come by and pickup a cow skin and skull.  I thought it was a deal.  I thought my entryway would look great with a cow skin rug and I would surely find a cool place to hang a skull with the long, dramatic Ankole horns.  I thought I would swing by and pick up these items, shiny and neat and ready to adorn my home.

To make a long story short, there was nothing shiny or neat about my cow skin and skull the next morning.  I was told to follow my new butcher friend as we weaved our way through the various sections of the slaughterhouse and I was handed my very fresh, very raw pieces, right off the cow.  The skull had eyes, a tongue, and skin, all of which I convinced them to remove, and the hide had fat and blood still dripping from it.  It wasn't long before I was sitting on a boda boda, weaving through Kampala's streets while holding an enormous cow head, it horns straddling me, baffled at what just happened and clueless as to what to do with these fresh cow parts.

Picking out my own cow hide


The skin is in the yellow bag on the back and the cow skull...well...there it is.


When I reached home, I stared at my newly-purchased goods, wondering what I just got myself into.

Step one: Change my clothes, which were now covered in blood
Step two: Google

The first thing I discovered was I would have to act fast with the cow hide, or it would start rotting within a few hours.  At the very least, I needed to stretch the skin, cut off the fat, and pour salt all over it, so I lugged it around my yard, attempting to hang it, but it was so wet and heavy, I couldn't manage alone.  An hour or so later, I finally called the guy who sold it to me and asked him to come do the work.  Meanwhile, my method for cleaning up the skull simply involved letting my dogs have their way with it.


My attempt at hanging and stretching the hide.  Fail.


The stretched hide on our porch, with salt all over it.

The skull, after the dogs ate off the good stuff.

After a couple of days, we put the skull in an old latrine in our back yard, hoping the ground critters would do the rest of the work to clean it up.  It lay there, largely forgotten about, for about 2 years.

The next week, the hide was dry. It was hard and a little crisp - certainly not the nice tanned hide I had wanted, but it still looked nice in our entryway, so I called it good enough.

Just last week, we pulled the cow skull out from its forgotten hideaway and cleaned the dirt off with a brush, soap, and water.  It is by no means shiny and polished, but when placed beside our hippo skull and two impala skulls, it adds some intrigue to our home.  Again, I will settle for "good enough."

The day I picked up my animal parts turned out to be one of the more absurd days of my life in Uganda.  It definitely did not go as planned, but it did provide me the opportunity to learn something new and practice my pioneer woman skills.  I suppose I can now look back on the ordeal, laugh at myself, and call it an adventure.