Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I've been keeping a secret from you!  For the past 4 months Paul and I have been working our way through the bureaucracy of securing a chicken permit, designing and building a coop and planning for the day where we would welcome a tiny little backyard flock into our lives.  There were a lot of hoops to jump through, which is why I didn't want to post about it until I knew we were in the clear.  We have to finish building and installing the coop and go through the final city inspection before we'll be all set but we are close enough to get the chicks!  Since these little ones need some time to mature inside before occupying a coop, we can get a jump start on the season by getting them now. Without further ado, please let me introduce you to our girls!

They were hatched at the hatchery yesterday and then immediately shipped to EggPlant Urban Farm Supply.  I had pre-ordered so 3 chicks were earmarked for me. I got to pick out which ones I wanted within the breed I had ordered. After a quick drive home, they were a little stressed and a little cold, so the first order of business was a nap under the heat lamp, leaning on each other, swaying and bobbing as they tried to sleep on their feet.

This is our brooder setup.  To give you some scale, the feeder is a pint jar and the waterer is a quart jar.  They are tiny little birds!  My dad tells me that in a week or so, I will need to put a barrier of some sort over the top to keep them from getting out.

They took to the food and water right away.  They will double in size the first week, so they spend a lot of time eating!

When chickens are hatched, they don't have feathers, but instead are rather fluffy.  You can see the immature wing with odd little stubby parts in this picture.

The fluff is so soft!  There is probably a technical word for it, but I am going to stick with "fluff."

After spending just a little bit of time with them, I am seeing some of their personality come through.  Slowest to reveal any distinct traits has been our Barred Rock (photo below) whom we've named Camilla Cordon Bleu.  She has a charming little baby comb on her head.  We had hoped to get a Silver Laced Wyandotte but the hatchery was temporarily out, so we ended up with this lady instead.  I think we'll add a Silver Laced Wyandotte in the future, but for now, Camilla is a part of the family.

Nellie Noodle Soup is a Rhode Island Red and so far she is staking her claim as top dog.  She is the bravest explorer, first to drink the water, quick to scramble up and over a flockmate to get to a prime bit of food and apt to nudge others out of the way for the toastiest spot under the heating lamp.

She spent a while trying to eat the letters on the glass jar, so I imagine she will be entertaining to watch as she explores new things.

Last but certainly not least, we have Petunia Pot Pie, an Ameraucana/Easter Egger.  She is potentially going to lay blue/green eggs for us.  So far she is winning my heart.  I picked her because while all of the other chicks were looking down and jostling for what they wanted, she stopped to look up at the people peering down at her.  Since I have brought her home, she is consistently the first one of the three to notice what is happening outside of the brooder.  She is also the only one that doesn't fuss when being held.  Yep, she is my favorite so far!

Even though it is their first day here, they are already earning their keep with their silly antics.  In this picture, Petunia decided to lay down next to the feeder to catch a quick nap while Nellie is standing partly on her and partly on the feeder trying to preen while struggling a bit with the whole balance/gravity thing.  Camilla is unaware of what is happening because she is gleefully flinging bits of food out of the feeder.

I am really excited about this new addition to our ever-growing urban homestead.  There is so much to learn and I look forward to the knowledge and experience this new venture will bring.  I view these chickens as a cross between pet and livestock.  They will give us entertainment, companionship, awesome manure for compost and, of course, eggs!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lamb's Lace Cardigan

I am happier about this sweater than I look. I can wear it!  It fits!  It is made of Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton and is so soft I have to hold myself back from caressing it in public!

The flow of lace and the raglan shaping is impeccably arranged in the Lamb's Lace Cardi pattern.  Way to go, Christina Wall!

The pattern directions were broken up into numerous small charts for each section, which ended up prompting me to bust out the scissors and tape.  I consolidated and reordered the charts to house them on single pages.  After doing that, I flew through the knitting!  It took me 2 weeks of casual knitting time to finish this garment.  Quite a treat after the experience I had with a recent troublesome sweater.

For the moment, I am using one of the removable buttons I have from Jul Designs.  I like it because I can change it out if I want a different color.  That option makes this layering piece even more versatile!

I chose a neutral color yarn so that I could pair this with a wide variety of tops, tanks, tees and dresses.  I kind of want to start another one right away!

Thanks to Paul for the pictures.

Ravelry project link here

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flannel and Felt Pillowcases

I made these down throw pillows a long, long time ago by breaking apart a really old down bed pillow.  Paul is allergic to down, so we didn't bother moving them to the east coast with us.  They've been stored at my mom's house for years.  I recently got them back and intended to use them in my craft/guest room.  But, first they needed covers!

I purchased cotton flannel and wool felt and set about making some covers.  I played around for a while with different shapes and layers of felt.

I had a lot of help.

A lot.
Too much, maybe.

Definitely more than the project required.

In the end, I opted for a super simple design with a back slit that allows the cover to be taken off for washing.

I settled on some poppy-like flowers for the front.  It was fun to sew something that didn't require a pattern or following someone else's directions.

(Note the cat ear in the bottom right of this last photo.  She was really into the project.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shoots, Sprouts and Microgreens

Thanks to the Winter Seminar Series at Mother Earth Gardens and the hardworking and humorous Karla and Elizabeth from Bossy Acres, Jamie and I learned how to grow shoots, sprouts and microgreens!

What are microgreens?  They are the first few inches of plant growth.  Why eat them?  They are super flavorful, nutrient dense AND something you can grow inside in the winter! Oh, and they are cute.  So, so cute.

a sampling of microgreens

Pea shoots!  You let these grow a little taller than microgreens, but the process and the concept is the same.  You harvest the plant before it gets too mature and you get a whole bunch of flavor.

Karle was our main teacher for the evening and shared a ton of expertise in the short seminar.

Elizabeth was the Jill-of-all-tasks that evening and showed us how to harvest using the "haircut" method and provided us with all of the delicious samples that could make any gardener a devotee to microgreens.

Sunflowers sprouts! The texture of these sprouts is really satisfying.  Even though they are called sprouts, they are grown in soil, which is different than how most alfalfa and other sprouts are grown.

The sprouts and green are grown really densely in a small amount of soil which cause root mats to form in the soil.  That means you are getting the most you can out of your soil.

So, naturally, I had to try it myself!  Getting started with the seeds, planted really densely.

After 3-4 days of dark, moist sprouting time:

After a few days under the grow lights, they are growing!

As you can see, this is very interesting to Fanny.  Luckily she has kept her curiosity from causing any damage.  She is keeping close watch, but hasn't tried to dig or lay on the greens.  Let's hope she keeps up the good behavior!

In a few more days, I should be ready to harvest!  This has been a fun prelude to the gardening season.  I am also toying with starting some seeds this year, since Paul and I attended a seed starting seminar and learned some of the things we need to change from our previous attempts to have more success the next time around.  Thanks for having such awesome (free!) seminars, Mother Earth Gardens!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Aquamarina Remix Pullover

It is quite possible I have been housing a batch of yarn that carried a curse.  Or, maybe I just made a series of bad choices.  I guess you can be the judge of that.

In 2012, I bought a sweater's worth of Berroco Remix and started Terra Linda.  My gauge seemed to be a pretty decent match in my swatch, but when I knit the sweater the yoke was WAY too deep.  I stubbornly knit the entire body of the sweater.  I blocked it before starting the arms and decided then that it wasn't going to work out.  So, I ripped it out and re-knit most of the body with a smaller needle.  Same problem.  The yoke still looked comically large.  Perhaps the row gauge was the issue?  I can't remember if I checked that.  In the end, I ripped it out and let the yarn sit for a while.

In 2013, I saw the Madigan pattern and decided this was my chance for a mulligan with this yarn. Poor choice, Trinity!  I knit the huge cowl neck and just past the divide for the arms.  I tried it on and decided it would be too heavy and drape too much.  Rip, rip, rip again. I should have seen that one coming.

Towards the end of 2013, I gave it another go with the carefully chosen Aquamarina. I did some serious swatching and decided this was the one that was going to work out. All was going swimmingly until my test results came back and the doctor told me to refrain from wearing, eating, or touching anything that might have red dye in it. She shared that with me while I was wearing a red shirt and working on this sweater in her office.  Gulp.  So, I took a hiatus from the sweater for about 4-5 months.

I recently came back to it, determined to finish it.  I did not want to be defeated!  And, now it's done (sort of)!

I didn't end up liking the way the turtleneck would look/feel/sit so I altered the pattern a bit and broke the collar up by knitting a twisted rib, flat collar. I had actually planned to add a crochet edge with buttonholes and buttons so that it could be a turtleneck if/when the wearer wanted that.  I imagined it would look something like the Grey Havens collar.  But, then I got done with the knitting and just did NOT want to work with this yarn any more.

I am pretty happy with the sweater in terms of the fit and the look.  I still think this yarn might be cursed.  After all of the hours invested in working with this yarn, I still don't think I will be wearing the sweater. The fiber blend is part synthetic, which means the sweater has 2 strikes against it in terms of wear-ability for me right now: the reddish color and the synthetic fiber.  I will let it linger a bit longer, but think this is likely to be gifted to a loved one in the future.

I guess you could say I got my money's worth out of this yarn since I knit it over and over and over again!

Ravelry link here

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Water Filtering with Activated Charcoal

Thanks for bearing with me while I let the Tchazo post sit front and center on the blog for a while. As we gain more distance from the loss, we are finding our new normal in our much quieter house. I have been doing a lot of cleaning and in doing so I have come to realize that cleaning is my form of burning sage. I went on a cleaning jag when we lost Jack, too and it really seemed to help me. There is something about a good deep clean that resets things and eases transitions for me. Thanks to those who shared words of supports on the post, on facebook, and in real life and to those that kept us in their thoughts. It was a comfort to have our loss recognized and to know that others understand that pets are family members, too. Now, let's shift the focus to something life sustaining, like water!

When I was evaluating what I needed to change after my allergy testing results, I started to research our city water. I found out that as far as municipal water goes, Minneapolis does a great job. There is even a local organization promoting tap water over bottles water, which I totally support. However, I also found out that to meet regulations, the city has to treat the water with chloramines. (I called the treatment center and spoke to a staff person there to verify.) For the ultra-sensitive like myself, this could pose a problem.

After I found that information out, I began to research filtration options that would not introduce other risks/exposures and that had a low cost of entry.  I settled on activated charcoal/carbon as a option that would be easy to implement and well supported in studies (this is what many filters like Britta are made out of).  Sadly, I could not find a way to filter shower water without plastic being involved, so I settled on the simplest activated charcoal filter I could find.  For drinking water, I was able to find an exciting option: Kishu charcoal!  It is a pleasingly minimalist solution:      

In the package I ordered, I got 3 sticks.  I opted for using the smallest one in a drinking glass on my bedside stand, the middle sized one in a small pitcher on the dining table and the largest in a pitcher in the kitchen.

I refresh them every few weeks in boiling water and will eventually need to buy another round after a few months.  But, when that time comes, I can use the sticks in the garden or as a deodorizer in the fridge. Win-win!

As for the taste of the water, it could be a placebo effect, but I love it!  I think it tastes really good! Plus, having a pitcher of room temperature water in plain site has meant I drink more water and that the water I am drinking is at a temperature my acupuncturist would approve of.

In the research I did, I read what the Environmental Protection Agency had to say about links between chloramine and skin issues.  If you would like to read it yourself, it can be found here and here.  You don't have to read it, though, because I can sum it up for you.  This is what I took from it, "We haven't done much research.  Skin issues are complicated.  That said, we haven't been able to prove chloramines are a problem so we are going to assume they are safe."  Well, EPA, you are right that skin issues are complicated, but I am going to make the opposite assumption.  I am going to assume the less chemicals I drink and shower in the better off I will be.  So, I am going with the filters for now.
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