Thursday, October 31, 2013

Guess Who Got Kittens! And Bolsters.

I have two new kittens!  They came from the last, and final, litter from the momma cat that adopted my parents.  It just so happened that that two of the kittens looked just like my two old cats, Max and Attila.  We recently lost Attila to old age and a bad thyroid, so I was extremely susceptible to the cuteness of the calico girl kitten, especially since it seems that she has a nice personality, unlike poor Attila, who was the worst.  Hopefully Nutilla (a.k.a. Newt) will be the best.  

Max, my big black and white male cat, is still healthy despite his fifteen years, but the little black and white kitten reminds me of him when he was young and energetic.  We have been calling him Ditto, since it's like having a baby Max all over again.  I like having kittens in pairs, so they can play with each other.  Besides, two kittens is just too cute!  


Brandon keeps saying that he can't believe I would bring Max's replacement home while he's still here.  Maybe that's why max hates the kittens so much?  It's been a long time since I had kittens, and I'm used to the slow pace of my geriatric cats.  These days, Max has more in common with an electric blanket than he does with these wild kittens.  Max's main objective in life, after his food, of course, is to take a nap in an available lap.   He's very handy to have around when the house is chilly.  After just a few days I'm remembering the joys of kittens, and the challenges of trying to sweep the floor or do anything with adorable antics in the way.  

Yesterday I was trying to take some pictures of my bolster project, and I couldn't even take photos without interference from kittens.  Not that I wasn't laughing the whole time I was trying to corral them, so please forgive the blurring fur streaks in my pictures.  

I've been pondering bolsters for several weeks now. Why would a person ponder bolsters?  I'm glad you asked! I've been trying to incorporate daily stretching exercises into my life in an attempt to prevent some reoccurring back pain (jeez, geriatric cats and back pain, I think I'm growing up!).  The unreasonably flexible people in the DVDs that I've been watching and trying to mimic have nice big bolsters to prop themselves with while they contort their bodies.  I've been thinking that maybe I could contort better myself, if I had a big bolster.   I can dream, right?  

I looked on the interweb at some handmade yoga bolsters, which were beautiful, but surprisingly expensive.  Then I read about how to sew a bolster.  Some people even said they buy old blankets at thrift stores and roll them into bolsters and then sew pretty covers for them.  Eureka!  I have an entire tub full of handmade afghans!  I'm sure I've mentioned my slight addiction to "rescuing" afghans from junk stores.  I can't help it, when I see something that took so long to make on sale for $3.99, I just have to buy it.  Ask Brandon how many I have and he will exaggerate and imply that we are drowning in them, which isn't true.  Not really.  I guess I do have a bunch.  

When we were in Spain this summer, I bought a couple of thin beach blankets for our day on the sand, which were the perfect width for rolling up with some folded afghans inside, and tying of the ends like a giant tootsie roll.  I figured that if a whole tub of afghans are going to be stored out of site anyway, they might as well be stored in something useful.  These are heavy bolsters, so hopefully I don't pull a back muscle trying to maneuver them!    

Now that I have my bolsters I should be able to bend like a pretzel, huh?  

For Max's personal opinion about the new kittens, watch this interview and let him tell you in his own words.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Party Raiding Party

We were a viking raiding party for a costume party we attended this weekend.  A party raiding party!   Making the costumes is the one of the best parts of costume parties, and we made sure we took full advantage of the opportunity.  We cut, sewed, painted, and wired our outfits together from things we found around the house and things we purchased at the dollar store and goodwill.  

When we finally decided on our characters, and came up with the viking raiding party, our first goal was to find some fur.  Since we didn't have time to hunt, kill, and skin wild animals in true viking style, we settled for skinning some stuffed animals we bought at the goodwill store.  I think we felt nearly as bad about killing teddy bears are we would have felt for skinning real bears.  We tried hard not to think of Toy Story while we pulled their stuffing!

Once we had nice selection of "animal skins", we tried them on in various ways trying to capture the essence of viking.  Teddy bear hair wasn't quite vicious enough for Jamie's vision.  

How about a handle-less sieve with a skinned Easter bunny?  Not really the regal warrior look I envisioned.  

Ah-ha!  Using skinned bunnies to tie the shoulders of Jamie's bear cloak (by bear cloak, I mean square piece of felt material with a hole cut in one corner tucked into one of Leigh's fancy belts) was evoking a viking scowl for my photos, so we knew we were on to something with this bunny skin application.   

Some foam toy swords needed some viking bling, so Jamie wrapped the colored foam handles with shiny duct tape, and I wired some costume jewelry to the handles.  I'm not sure Jamie was convinced that vikings would use such sparkly swords, especially swords with golden hearts, but mom and I told him that he was the viking king, and viking kings get all the best plunder.  Something about being called the viking king made him like the bedazzled swords much better.  

Mom used an aluminum cookie tray and some black electrical tape to create a shield with a viking symbol.  Once it was sprayed with gold paint, the tape was pulled off and a silver symbol was revealed.  Real vikings would have been impressed as I was, I'm sure.  

What we wanted were some horns, for our headgear.  Brandon was using some of his animal bone collection to create his viking helm, but Jamie and I had to get creative.  When mom suggested we use some of the dried long neck gourds that we harvested last summer from her garden, I had an instant head gear epiphany.  Jamie used a dremel tool to cut the bottoms from the gourds, and after pulling out all the seeds I sprayed them with paint.  

I chose to paint mine solid gold, like any lady viking would choose to do, but Jamie's "horns" are bone colored with gold bases.  

Jamie's horns were wired to the sieve, to create a helmet, and the bent handle created the nose piece.  Brandon's frightening helm is made from a toy helmet with fur and bones arranged on it.  My headpiece was made from a stuffed skunk sewed into a headband shape with gourds wired to it.  It was so light weight that most of the time I would forget I was wearing it and poke people unintentionally.  I really enjoyed the shadows cast by the antlers and gourds when lit from behind.  

My, um, .... "chest armor" got a lot of attention at the party.  I felt prepared for battle in my metal colanders and carrying my bow.  Especially being accompanied by such intimidating viking warriors.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Four Little Pigs BBQ

I expected today's work adventures to end with a camera full of lovely photos of the wetlands I explored and the wildlife I encountered in western Kentucky, but it turns out that the highlight of the day was not bright fall foliage and creepy crawlies.  In truth, the wetland was mostly cold and muddy, which may be some of the reason that taking a lunch break at the local barbecue ranks higher in my memory than mother nature.  Of course, any restaurant that features a drawing of four pigs bathing in BBQ on their menu is going to get extra attention from this carnivore!  We could smell the meat cooking from the parking lot, so I knew it wasn't going to disappoint.  When the waitress's opening comment to us was a grumpy complaint about a regular customer who always puts the window blinds up without putting them down before he leaves, I knew we were in for a treat.  I figured that any restaurant that doesn't rely on sweet talking waitresses, but can still fill the seats with what appeared to be every retiree from the whole county, is going to have some tasty food at a reasonable price.  

It's no wonder I didn't find inspiration in the wetland.  Who can pay attention to their work when they have this lovely variety of rich foods coursing through their blood stream?  The pulled pork was delicious, and the barbecue sauce was a perfect balance of sweet, vinegar, and spice but it was really the creamy hash brown casserole, sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pecans, and hot greasy cornbread slathered in butter flavored spread that really got my triglycerides excited.   And all for only seven dollars! Oh my!    

And who know deep fried dill pickle slices could be so darned good?!  I'm serious, they were worth every penny of their dollar cost.  When my coworker ordered them I was skeptical, but then I tried one and had to try a few more to make sure I wasn't imagining them.  

And to add a touch of authenticity, both of us were served on broken plastic plates.  We decided these must provide that real barbecue experience as the sauce leaks through the plate onto the table and makes a mess, so we got to use the roll of paper towels that was placed at each table.  The devils in the details, right?  

The after lunch wetland did have some fun discoveries, as we found a huge oak tree with a twenty foot circumference, and these two huge mushrooms in the photo above.  

I sent photos to my mushroom hunting friend and she tells me that they may have been maitakes, or black staining polypores, which are both edible.  I didn't harvest them, but I imaging these big guys would have been more mushroom than I would have known what to do with.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Installing a Bead Board Ceiling, Too Many Pears, and Whistling for Turkeys

Not long ago I wrote about leveling the bedroom ceiling in our old farm house.  Well, this weekend we got to really test our leveling skills by installing a bead board ceiling.  We were nervous, and discussed the pros and cons of different ceiling materials over and over before finally settling on the bead board strips.  Even after we purchased the material, and opened the first package, we had a moment of doubt and almost decided to take them back and rethink using drywall.  Then we talked ourselves right back into the the bead board and starting putting them on the ceiling.   Cross your fingers!  

Some good friends joined us Saturday evening for a campfire dinner, and we all camped out so we could get an early start working on projects this morning.  While our friends stayed in the house, Brandon and I elected to camp out in the back of our truck under the camper top.  And because we planned a camping work party, last night was the coldest night so far this fall.  The only thing poking out of my blankets was my nose, and I think it became a nose-sickle!  

The pear tree is so loaded down with fruit, even after all the pears I've picked, that we couldn't resist getting some more.  

My friend obviously has no problem with ladders!  I think the only reason she didn't scramble up the trunk to the top of the tree was because she new I would have a heart attack.  

So many pears!  And they taste great too.  I brought the giant blue tub home and I'm sure these will keep my busy for a while.  

The dogs enjoyed sniffing out rabbit trails and lounging in the sun while the guys worked up a sweat filling in the waterline trench with the dirt that was excavated from it.  We cooked a big breakfast and then immediately fired up the smoker loaded with chickens and vegetables for later.  There's never a danger of starvation when we work, that's for sure.  

The ceiling might not look very impressive in this photo, but I can't get over how good it looks - and it's level! 

On our way home we stopped by Joe's farm to do some chicken swapping, and while we were there we admired his flock of turkeys.  The male turkeys puffed up and strutted their stuff for us.  Joe whistles at the turkeys and the entire flock responds with loud gobbles in unison.  It was so funny.  Check out the short video below for a demonstration of Joe's turkey communication.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Drying Oregano, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (and Basil and Dill)

Brandon pointed out that the thermometer by the front door was right on target today since the red line was in the "Wear a hat and jacket - it's Chilly ToDay.  Be active in Play."  No kidding.  We were all shivering in the unheated house even while the sun was still shining.  A perfect day for a project that lets me wear a jacket outside and linger in the garden.  I decided to finally take down the herbs I hung to dry in July, and dry some more before the frost gets them.    

I hardly had any sprigs of sage left on my two plants, and normally I would worry about taking the last green leaves, but since this may be the last time I get to harvest these plants anyway, I decided to take as much as I could.  When I brought the bundle of fresh cut sage in the house I waved it in front of Brandon's nose and asked him to identify the smell.  This is a game I've played with him for years now, and he rarely guesses correctly.  I'm pretty sure he only knows the names of the herbs from the Simon and Garfunkel song, and half the time he even forgets those.  Today he said "that's the one that goes on chicken?" which I consider progress.  Another fifteen years of the guess this plant game and he might stop accidentally mowing them down! 

This small bundle is the entire rosemary plant that I started inside from seed last winter.  Since rosemary doesn't like our winters I've stopped trying to baby it through, and for the last two summers have just harvested the entire plant at the end of the summer, and start a new on from seed for the next year.  It's enough rosemary to last through the winter, so I like this system pretty well.  

Helen and Mrs. Hall thought I was crazy for harvesting the herbs.  The kept giving me confused looks and wishing I would move to something more tasty.  They aren't fans of herbs, which is great because it means I have at least a few plants that I don't have to protect from them. This morning I noticed that Mrs. Hall, shown in the back of the photo above, does not have a tail today.  It's time for the fall molt, poor things.  Even though Helen was flaunting her tail in Mrs. Hall's face, I could see that it's a bit raggedy, and it won't be long until I have some very unfortunate looking chickens.   

Thyme and oregano.  I hope to transplant these to the garden at the farm.

Picking basil is the most wonderful scent experience in the garden.  Flowers got nothing on basil when it comes to smell.  I also captured my tail-less chicken in the photo above too.  She's almost round!

Bringing all the different smells into the house is wonderful too.  The only drawback is that it caused me to crave pasta.  I'm must associate the herbs, especially the oregano, with pasta dishes since I tend to add a dash of everything to my sauce.  

The dill was all dried up, but the flower heads were still covered in seeds.  I don't know if I could use these in cooking, but I thought I might be able to start plants next spring, so I collected dill seeds too.  

I crushed up the dried up oregano flowers, and I think there are teeny tiny seeds mixed in with the flower parts, but I have no idea how to separate them.  I'll just put it all on some dirt and see if anything sprouts.  

Once I picked some bundles of everything, I rigged up a wire to hang them on in Brandon's studio, which I'm sure he will appreciate.  Hopefully the nice aroma will compensate for having to duck under my weeds.  If not, at least it will be good encouragement for him to help me build a drying rack somewhere more convenient.  

In an attempt to keep dust from settling on them while they dry, especially since I tend to leave them hanging way too long out of shear laziness, I covered hem with a sheet of newsprint.  Hopefully they will get enough air circulation to dry well.   

I picked all the leaves off the herbs I hung in July.  I tasted them, and they still have flavor, so maybe I didn't ruin them through neglecting to take them down and putting them in an air tight container as soon as they were dry.  

I now have jars and bags of herbs for cooking, and more bags of seeds for starting next year's garden.  The best thing about seed saving is that it stretches out the gardening season.  Even though I can't plant until next spring, I'm still collecting seeds and starting to plan for starting them indoors and in the green house in February.  That's only a few short months!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Best Way to Get an Apple Naked

These are the apples my nephew picked this weekend, which I told him were destined for Thanksgiving Apple Pie, the most important pie of the entire holiday season, for sure.  These apples came for a tree that was planted, or at least allowed to grow, by someone long ago and has been left to grow wild.  It was obvious from the many broken limbs and crossing branches that it has had no pruning or attention in a long while. Similar to my tree at the little farm.   I've been reading about pruning lately, and from what I read, having too many branches on an apple tree can cause the fruit to be small, and make it more likely to have spots because air doesn't circulate.  I always thought pruning was mostly to get more fruit and to shape the tree in a user friendly way.  And I assumed grocery store apples don't have spots because they must be coated with pesticides, fungicides, and wax.  I've had the attitude that as long as I was satisfied with less than optimum fruit production, why bother with pruning.  Spots just mean it's natural, right?  And I mostly still feel that way, but as I was admiring these apples as I washed them, I was asking myself if I would prefer they be less spotty and bigger?  I'm going to learn to prune and see if it's any fun, and then I'll decide.   

I've been gearing up for a juice-centric fast, and having two five gallon buckets full of pears, and another bucket half full of apples, sealed the deal.  This week is a juice week, and this morning I made the first juices made with our own tree fruit.  In the picture above, I juiced the pears we picked, plus celery, and spinach.  It was perfect, and less costly too, since I didn't have to buy the organic fruit.  

The orange colored juice above is apples from our tree, plus carrots, ginger, and lime.  Brandon shuddered after he drank his down in a single gulp.  Maybe a tad too much ginger for a flavor wimp!  

These apples might be spotty, but they are beautiful anyway.  The variety of autumn colors in the apples make the tomatoes seem boring and garish in comparison, and I admire tomatoes!

I have such fun using the hand crank apple corer, peeler, and slicer do-hinky, and it really is the best way to get an apple naked in a hurry.  As you can see in the picture above, most of the spots are on the peel, and once it goes through the apple peeler it looks clean with just few places that are easy to see and cut away.  Sometimes the core is dark and crumbly, like a bug was living in it, but thankfully the corer cuts all that away, and when I cut the sliced up ball in half, I can see inside the cuts to make sure it's all gone.  This contraption is great, and the best part is that the very top and bottom slices have a little bit of peal on one edge, so I have to eat these pieces as I work.  I get to taste test every apple.  Ha! I just realized why I like this machine so much - I get a food reward every time I use it!  Like my dog, I could probably learn to do tricks if anyone took the time to train me.   

The apples looked so interesting after being peeled that it inspired me to explore some the photo effects on my cell phone camera.  The piece above is titled Apple Undressed, shot with the "vintage warm" effect.  

Hurry up holidays, I'm ready to make some pie!
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