Friday, December 19, 2014

Super Celebration Post

The last few months of the year are host to many significant birthdays and holidays in my friend and family circle.  Here is a mega-enormous post to acknowledge some of those people and events:

First up: October! Jamie and I have been friends since elementary school so our families know each other pretty well and her mom Charleen is like another mom to me. Jamie, Charleen and I all have a slew of the same hobbies, which is how we came to find ourselves celebrating Jamie's birthday with a soapmaking, cooking, crafting sleepover!

Always remember to practice safe soapmaking, folks.

Our batch of mild, unscented goat's milk soap is finally aged enough that I am going to test a bar out this week.  Fingers crossed that my skin likes it.

On to a packed November, including my sister Jessy's birthday!

We started the evening with a family dinner out followed by tickets to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ordway Theater.  Our family does not regularly attend orchestra performances so this was a special way to celebrate Jessy's birthday by trying something new. Last year Jessy picked Whirly Ball and this year she picked a symphony.  Who knows what will be next!

I was also motivated to sneak in a Crafternoon before the December holiday plans kick into high gear for everyone.  I think this instance of Crafternoon might have broken an attendance record with 15 people.  It required some creative positioning of tables in order to make a spot for everyone. It was so fun to have an abundance of laughter and creativity filling my house.

I think this Crafternoon might hold the record for youngest attendee with Molly at about 3 months old.

Being the one behind the camera means you rarely show up in front of the camera.  If it wasn't for photographs of my finished knitting projects, there would be almost no photos of me.  Paul and I are trying to be mindful of that and so he kindly snapped this shot while I was setting up for Crafternoon.  On that platter are slices of Pumpkin Chocolate Marbled Bundt Cake, which is a recipe you should definitely make.

And, of course, Thanksgiving is in November, too! My mom hosted our extended family for a potluck meal. I have to say, our menu is getting better and better each year!

Appetizers included cheese with some of that fantastic balsamic vinegar from our trip.

The pre-meal time also included pin-faced versions of 2nd cousins.

That little bit of sauerkraut on my plate?  It has become a Thanksgiving tradition to taste test Uncle Bill's sauerkraut.  It was a little young this year, but still delicious and expertly grated.

Usually there are a select few of us who take a nice, long walk between the meal and dessert, but this year was frigid and a walk was not deemed worth it.  It didn't stop me from sampling a small slice from 3 of Michelle's decadent, homemade pies.

December! The month of my birth! I have been having a major craving to create a stash of homemade greeting cards.  I floated a somewhat last minute idea of having a cardmaking gathering as a way to celebrate my birthday and it came together wonderfully!

As party hostess, my mom did the heavy lifting and I just got to show up with my supplies and hang with some of my favorite people while enjoying lunch and creating cards.

We pooled supplies and had a huge arsenal of options that spilled over on to the floor, another table and quite a few chairs. I was so into it that I went home after the party and made cards for the rest of the evening!

The birthday cupcakes were a fun surprise.  I had no idea there was a Cupcake War winning bakery in my mom's town, but there is!  The salted caramel one from Nadia Cakes was the best out of the 4 (FOUR!) I tasted.

Sylvia was the most focused crafter of the gathering and also a perfect fit for the hat that was too small for me!

Thanks for making my birthday party request a reality, Mom and Jessy (and friends)!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Sweater for Lucas

How about another finished knit for a tiny human?  Ok! This little sweater is destined for my friend Abby's Lucas, who is about 8 weeks now.  I hope the sweater will fit him through his first New England winter.

I feel a bit clever for how this ended up coming together being that I knit it entirely with leftovers from my stash.  The green and oatmeal are Briggs & Little Heritage and are leftover from my Strokkur sweater. The dark gray is Eco Wool leftover from my Sweetheart Pullover.  It always thrills me when I can match a pattern I want to make with leftover yarn.  The likelihood of matching the right color, fiber, weight, and yardage with a desired pattern can sometimes feel like winning the lottery! These yarn leftovers were just the right fit for the Little Coffee Bean Cardigan.

On the flip side, my button stash failed me once again.  Nothing that I had on hand yielded the results I wanted.  Paul vehemently vetoed a set of red buttons.  These gray ones were purchased from 3 Kittens Needle Arts.  They had just the right number for the sweater with 1 extra to send along as a spare.  But, guess who forgot to include the spare when assembling the was me!

Since Abby is a knitter, I am hoping she will forgive me for making her a baby sweater in handwash-only yarn.

Ravelry project page

Also, Beth sent me a picture of Stella in her new hat.  I added the picture to the end of the post and wanted to let you know! Here it is!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Minnesota Valley Hike

Another stop with the time machine....back to late October! I was craving some more time with the beautiful fall colors, so Paul and I ventured out to a new set of trails for a hike. When we arrived we found the trees in this area of the Minnesota Valley Recreation Area had already dropped their leaves. It wasn't the hike I had envisioned but it was a gorgeous and satisfying day nonetheless.  The weather was perfectly crisp without being too cold and the sun was shining, adding warmth and highlighting the blue sky.

Louisville Swamp Area

After our hike, we went back to our car and ate a picnic lunch in the warmth of the car's interior.  At that point we decided to head back home only to find we were trapped!  The only way out of the park was blocked by a stopped train. We talked to those around us and found the train had been stopped for quite some time.  We ended up waiting for about half an hour for the train to start back up and move enough for cars to pass through.  From what I understand, we waiting a fraction of the amount of time the cars ahead of us had been waiting.  I hope everyone else was having a leisurely weekend day like we were and did not have a strict schedule to keep!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Putting the Garden to Bed

In the process of cleaning out my memory cards I found a few more things I wanted to share that didn't make it up to the blog in a timely fashion. So, if you are ready and willing, hop into the time machine with me this week! First stop: end of the gardening season.

I managed to save a small number of fully mature sunflowers from the birds and squirrels.  After a stint in the front porch to dry out, we harvested the seeds.  My plan is to use them to grow sunflower sprouts inside during the middle of the winter when I desperate for dirt to put my hands in and fresh green sprouts to eat.

Our 4 brussels sprout plants yielded a pretty good crop this year.  There is something really great about a plant that I put in the ground in the spring and then basically ignore until the very last day of the gardening season when I am ripping everything up.  Easy going, those brussels are.

This year I started purple tomatillo seeds indoors and then transplanted a bunch of them outside.  I had grown them in the front yard in the past and they didn't grow that robust.  This year, I grew them in a sunny spot and I learned that you should bury them deep like a tomato plant.  Those choices means my plants were really thick, tall and chock full of tomatillos.  So. Many. Tomatillos. I saved some seeds and hope to repeat my success next year but scale it back a bit so the plants don't take over the garden quite to intensely.

You know what you don't need to replant after you've planted it once?  Dill! It heartily reseeds itself.  I have it growing up in the cracks of my front sidewalk.  I caught some of the flowers at the right stage for seed collection this year.  I am thinking I might bake something with dill seeds in it to help use some of the bounty.  Any suggestions?

Either I am terrible at it or my conditions are terrible.  I am not sure if it is one or both of those things, but I have had very little success with root crops.  Beets and carrots go nowhere in my garden.  I planted a bunch of carrot seeds and ended up with a handful of tiny, stunted carrots to show for it.

I may not be able to grow carrots, but I can grow raspberries!  The patch really appreciated my pruning and the dose of turkey manure fertilizer I spread on it this year.  Nice, big, flavorful berries were my reward.

I don't harvest my Autumn Sedum for anything so it doesn't really belong in this post, but isn't it pretty?

The new raised bed beside the chicken run was home to mint and purple shiso.  I sadly didn't do much with the shiso this year, but I did harvest the mint and dry it for mint tea.

We also harvested hardy greens, other herbs and green tomatoes during our end of the season cleanup. I haven't been great about documenting my garden these past few years, but I have been using and appreciating the bounty that comes from it and learning a lot in the process.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

4th Quarter Chicken Report

It has been a long time since I have dedicated a post to our hens, but as you might have noticed, they now have bios on the sidebar! As you can read in her bio, the exciting news is that Nellie is laying eggs!  She laid her first egg on October 25th and has been laying on an every other day (sometimes daily!) basis since then.  It took us a bit to figure out it was her but we are 100% confident now that she is our hardworking hen of the moment.

All 3 ladies have learned that we often provide excitement in the form of treats (kitchen and garden scraps.)  That means that they pay a lot of attention to us.  Whenever we appear in the backyard while  the chickens are out of the run, the scene looks a little like the pied piper (minus the death!).  If we squat down, we get even MORE attention.  It looks like this:

This sort of relationship is intentional on our part as we want our city chickens to be well socialized.  To achieve this we made a point of giving them scraps out of hand and handled them regularly from the start of their lives.  Even if we had not taken these efforts, I think they would still pay a lot of attention to us since we are the ones keeping them fed and healthy. The resulting comfort level and focus on us ended up being a little more intense than I had envisioned. I have had to put them back into their run from time to time in order to get my yardwork or gardening done without interference (stealing raspberries out of my container when I am picking, getting in the way of my hands whenever they are with range of their bodies, pecking at my clothes while I am weeding, etc).

This is our first winter with chickens, so we had a lot to do in order to prepare the coop for the cold weather.  Thanks to Paul, we have electricity running overhead from the garage to the coop.  Outside of the coop. we have an electrical box where the power attaches to cords that run inside the coop.  Those cords power a string of rope lights on a timer, a flat panel heater connected to a thermostat that triggers it to turn on when the internal temperature gets to 20 degrees F and a heated water base that keeps their drinking water thawed.  This set-up has worked well so far, which is a victory since we made it through a few weeks of January/February like weather already this season.

When I got back from my trip in early October, I got to see how the chickens were undeterred by the frosty mornings as well as their newly acquired raspberry picking skills.  They figured out how to jump up and get the berries from higher up on the branches. I think I am destined to forever compete with our pets when it comes to those raspberries! The dogs were pretty good raspberry harvesters, too.

After the first snowfall, we decided to add a corrugated steel roof on top of the run and plastic sheeting on the exterior run walls.  Our thinking is that if we can keep a lot of the snow and ice out of the run as well as provide a bit of a windbreak, the chickens will be happier and healthier throughout the winter.

I think they appreciate our efforts! And, they really appreciate whatever kitchen scraps we offer as their foraging options are suddenly non-existent.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty that our Fanny cat is inside so snuggly and warm while the chickens our outside in their cold coop.

But I guess as far as chicken lives go, ours have pretty great ones.  Case in point, we leveled up in the chicken keeping world today when we brought Nellie inside to give her a bath.

Over the past few weeks I have been watching a mat of droppings stuck to her bum grow bigger and more compacted.  I was hoping the situation would resolve itself but without any dust to bathe in, it didn't look like she was going to be able to do anything about it. We took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather today to bring her inside and wash her off. Paul and I teamed up, he holding her steady in the tub and me doing the loosening up and washing. She was surprisingly unbothered by the ordeal, quietly clucking a little when she first was set in the tub and then settling in to the situation. In case you are wondering, it is uncool to send your chicken outside with a soaking wet bum. How does one address that problem?  With a light toweling off and a hair dryer! Yes, I dried my chicken's bum with a hair dryer. I was thoroughly amused by the ridiculousness of the task.

My reward? A steady supply of clean, delicious eggs.




Hidden in the picture below are all 3 of the ladies, busy foraging on one of the last days before the frost really changed the landscape.

I don't think I will have much more to say about the ladies in the coming few months as they hunker down for the winter, spending a lot of their time in their coop keeping warm. You can bet I will be checking for eggs regularly, though as this is the season for baking and eating hearty foods! Every time I eat an egg, I announce "This is Nellie's egg!". Paul is wondering how long I will keep that up. I am wondering when our other 2 ladies will be added to my pronouncements!
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