Thursday, April 24, 2014

Berserker Brewery

Can we call ourselves a brewery if we have our own label?  Yes, I think so!  My friend, who not only climbs ladders, scales pear trees, and has expert home building skills, is also a whiz with photo manipulation and surprised us with this awesome beer label.  Jamie, Joe, and I are featured on the label in our Halloween costumes (she even stuck Joe in from another photo), and I can change the name of the beer and the date as we brew new batches.     

Our annual St. Patrick's day beer tasting with our other brewer buddy was postponed until after work last night.  Yesterday morning, as I was packing the car with the cooler and some bottles from our last batch, I asked Brandon to print out a few labels so I could at least have a few bottles to show off at the tasting.  

Brandon just happened to have these big mailing labels, and at first I thought they we too big and I might have to cut them down, but once I got to the office and Jamie and I started sticking them on, we realized they were the perfect size.  I was quite proud to fill the lunch room refrigerator with bottles of our beer.  The folks who saw them were very excited about the labels.  They might have even been berserk for them!  Ha!

So not only are we a real brewery now, but I think we are a unique brewery because all our gear is transportable.  What other brewery can claim that?  For the batch of beer we brought to the tasting (which is not a competition, yet somehow we always win!) we brewed and bottled at Jamie's house for the first time.  

In this silly photo you can see Jamie diligently cleaning bottles, while Joe diligently drinks beer, and I annoy everyone one by taking photos.  We all take our roles very seriously, which is why we've reached such a high level of perfection, right?    

We say that our beer is Atlantic Amber, but in truth we selected this title because we had ingredients left over from other batches that sort of matched what was called for in the recipe.  Since none of us have ever had an Atlantic Amber anyway, we figured it would be close enough.   We might be getting a little over confident in our skills, but I thought the beer we created was pretty tasty.  It's a sweet tasting beer, more malt flavored than hops, but I thought it was a lovely color and had plenty of kick.  Our friend had both an English pale ale and an Irish red.  He has a keg set-up in his basement refrigerator with a tap, but his beer isn't as portable as our bottled beer so he gets the honor of hosting the beer tasting parties.  

The only problem with this batch is that some of the bottles have too much foam.  Since our tasting party was held outside on our friends deck, we just had to remember to hold them over the rail when opening them.  Not all are too foamy, which makes me think we didn't get the priming sugar evenly distributed in the bucked before we bottled.  I'm not sure how to print labels that don't run when they get wet.  Once we put them on ice they didn't look as fancy as they did when they were dry.  

Is Joe trying to open that beer with his teeth, or did he forget to remove the cap before drinking?  I think his new farm and new baby have made him get out of beer drinking practice!    

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lounging on the Grass Listening to Wood Bees in the Aviary

It was a momentous day yesterday - Brandon mowed the grass!!  I don't know if I just have spring fever, or if it's just been so long since we had a tidy carpet of green, but coming home to freshly mowed grass seemed like a really big deal.  My neighbors, who have been mowing their grass for a few weeks already, must also think it's a big deal.  I've been appreciating the green of spring for  a while now, but there is something great about realizing that the world is so alive that it must be cut back.  Spring isn't playing around anymore - it's on!  

After roaming around the freshly cut lawn admiring the blooms on the dogwood trees and making home movies of my chickens (What?! You would like to see them? Okay, since you asked...) I couldn't resist the green and had to lie down in a big patch of clover.  I have never found a four leaved clover in my yard, and believe me, I have looked.  I find them in my parents yard, and sometimes I find them when I'm out working, but never in my very own yard.  Mom and I even transplanted some of her four leaf variety to my yard years ago, but I think I planted them in a bad spot and they didn't survive.  Maybe my yard just isn't lucky enough?!  

I did have some luck catching Mrs. Hall on video as she crouched and let me pet her.  I think she may like being a movie star!  The clucking you hear is mostly me.  I wrangle the chickens by either clucking to get their attention or psh psh-ing to get them to retreat.  The key to harmonious chicken relations is to make sure the chickens stay far enough away that they aren't ruining whatever project I'm working on, but also stay close enough that if I walk away from my project they come too, thereby keeping them from ruining it while I'm not there.  It's become second nature.  

Helen seemed very put out that I filmed her while she was sitting on an egg, and wouldn't make eye contact with the camera.  Turn your sound on if you would like to hear me get a scolding.  

After my futile attempt to find a four leaf clover, I rolled to my back and was greeted with this view of the power lines and poles in my view.  You would think that having this many ugly transformers and wires in my view would be irritating, and sometimes it is, but, like most ugly things that you've lived with for a long time, I've stopped seeing the ugly part, and mostly just enjoy all the birds.  It's like I live in an aviary lined with bird perches.  I see so many birds hopping on the wires, that when I look up it's like being at one of those big zoo aviaries, where the birds are loose above.  

See how many I caught in only a few seconds of video!  When I talk on the phone in the yard sometimes the person on the other end will ask me where I am, like I'm out in the wilderness and they can hear the wildlife.  But these birds are noisy urban birds - house finches, robins, starlings, grackles, mourning doves, house wrens, blue jays, cardinals - all the types of birds that have learned to live with people and their ugly power lines.  To me, forest birds sound tranquil and harmonious.  My birds sound like they are always having a rowdy party!

Lying there in the grass, watching birds on the wires, I tried to really isolate all the sounds that make up the background noise.  I could hear neighborhood kids playing with bikes and skateboards, a basket ball bouncing and teenagers laughing, dogs barking (lots and lots of dogs barking), lawn mowers, and cars, all sounds that I didn't hear growing up in a house in the woods.  Living in the forest, if the dog barked you looked to see what creature was out there.  Hearing voices was cause for excitement.  It took me a while to get used to living in a neighborhood at first, but I've been here so long these people noises are comfortable (except maybe half of the dogs).  Will I miss all the noise when we move to the little farm?  

One of the noises that I really enjoy is the bees buzzing on the red bud tree.  I was standing soaking up the noises when I heard a small crunchy sound coming from the black berry trellis.  After several long moments trying locate the noise, I realized it was a wood bee drilling a hole!  The video above doesn't really show the bee very well, but I did like that a cloud of wood dust falls on the lens.  

I didn't spend all my daylight chasing bugs and filming chickens.  I did plant a tray of onions that have been getting long and stringy growing under lights in the garage.  I can't say I'm wholly pleased with the plastic tray I used to grow the seeds.  It was easy enough to fill with dirt, and the seeds germinated just fine, but pulling the little plugs of dirt from the tiny wells was hard to do, and I'm sure I mangled most of the roots trying to get them out.  

Since I skipped the step where I was supposed to get the seedlings used to the sun by taking them outside for a few hours each day, I invented my very own method of providing dappled light to the new seedlings.  I'm calling it the "coniferous shade" and it's created by robbing branches from the cedar tree and spreading them on chicken wire over the plants.  It's organic, it's free, it's biodegradable, and it smells lovely!  I hope it works.    

Friday, April 18, 2014

Setting the Scene for Easter Weekend

This is my wish list of props that I think would set the perfect mood for Easter weekend: 

1. Baby chickens!!! (of course)
2. Easter eggs
3. Easter eggs that become Easter chicks (also, of course!)
4. A fuzzy white bunny with long pink ears
5. Baby cows
6. Lambs
7. Chocolate
8. Panda cows with babies
9. Turtle (Turtles are not classic Easter, I know, but nothing sets a scene like a turtle.)
10. Spring wildflowers
11.  May apples
12. A morel mushroom
13. Fiddle heads
14. A walk in the early spring woods
15.  Red bud trees in full bloom 
16.  Frog eggs 
17.  Tadpoles
18.  More baby chickens (the more the better!)
19.  And children with kites 

Fortunately, I have had all of these things in the last week, so I am perfectly primed to enjoy the upcoming Easter weekend.   Starting with the arrival of chicks from the eggs I put in the incubator.  The adorable yellow chick at the top of the page greeted me at the office this morning.  Number 1 - Hello Easter!  

It's just not Easter without Number 2 - Easter Eggs.  These are the eggs as I saw them before I left the office on Wednesday morning.  I have been away from the office so much in the past twenty-one days, that I was convinced this would not be a successful hatch.  At various times I let the water dry up, the temperature got too high or too low.   But, these are some tough eggs!

And this is what greeted me at the office when I arrived this morning - seven perfectly formed Easter chicks, with more on the way.  Hooray for Number 3!  

On a visit to Joe's farm last Sunday, I got to see his newest additions to the farm.  By far the most adorable addition is his new baby (yes, an actual human baby), who is almost seven weeks old, and already accompanies his dad on farm tours.  I really wish I had taken a photo of Joe hopping electric wire in the cow pasture while burping his baby and holding the baby's pacifier in his own mouth.  Joe, with baby in tow, led us to the barn, where he introduced me to his new meat rabbits.  This big fuzzy lady with long pink ears is perfect to satisfy Number 4 on my wish list.   

Joe was hopping fences so he could show us the new calves that were recently born at the farm.  This little girl with brown back and white face was my favorite.  

While Joe does have sheep at his farm, it got dark before I really got to see them, but I don't have to miss out on Number 6, because my boss treated us with these funny cupcakes today.  And some of them were chocolate - which perfectly combines Number 6 and Number 7 on my list - chocolate lambs.    

This is one of Joe's cows with a panda face, and this is her first calf ever.  Joe says she's a really good mom.  Turns out panda cows with babies are perfect for Easter.  Who knew? 

While working out of town this week, we met this impressive snapping turtle.  He was quickly walking away from us, but when we approached he turned around to offer me this friendly hissing smile.  

Trillium in the forest.  

And may apples.  Thousands of them popping up through the leaves on the steep slopes where we work working.  I know that if I come back to this same spot late this summer there will be little evidence that they were here.  

The friend I was working with said to look for morel mushrooms when the may apples pop up, and the leaves on the trees are the size of a mouses ear.  Wouldn't you know, I found one!  My first ever.  I didn't pick it, but we were very excited to actually see one.  Now that I've seen a morel in the week prior to Easter, I will always keep my eyes peeled when I see mouse sized leaves and may apples around Easter time.  

Number 13 on my list of ideal Easter props is fiddle heads.  I love to see the ferns uncoiling in the early spring.  It almost seems like I can see it happening.  If I didn't have work to do, I would have planted myself in front of a fern for a while and watched to see if it really was uncoiling before my eyes.  I love time lapse videos of plants growing, and ferns are some of the best.  

A walk in the early spring woods to see the wildflowers is the perfect way to set the mood for the season, and getting to spend a couple days working outside in the sun and forest makes it easy to forget that I get paid for this!  

The red bud trees are blooming everywhere I go right now, and I think they are the perfect spring color.  

I tried sniffing the flowers, but I couldn't detect a smell.  

Check out the massive balls of frog eggs we saw in a small stream yesterday.  Hundreds and hundreds of eggs.  

When I looked closely at one of the eggs, the little tadpole in the center was still very formless, but I'm still counting it toward Number 17.  

Most of the newly hatched chicks are a dark color like this one, being held by a friend and coworker.  Its so much fun to have chicks hatching at the office, especially when it's timed perfectly to happen on a Friday before a holiday weekend.  Everyone is in the mood to admire new life on a Friday.  

Number 19 - Children with Kites.  This includes big kids too, like Brandon when he gets nailed by a falling kite, but even better was when my nephew visited the farm last Sunday and we spent some time flying the kite in the sun.  My wish list is complete. I'm ready for the Easter weekend, are you?  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kite Attack on A Perfect Day

This scene from the front field at the farm house on Saturday looks innocent, doesn't it?  Bright blue sky, colorful kite, waving sprigs of tall golden grass, all with a picturesque back drop of rolling country side.  Don't be deceived, this was the scene of a brutally hilarious kite attack!  Luckily the event was captured on video and cleverly edited by my friend so we can all have a good laugh at Brandon's expense.  Enjoy the short clip below.  I've enjoyed it over and over again!  

Make sure you watch it with your sound turned on, because half the fun is listening to Brandon's squeals.  

It really was a perfect day.  During the early part of the evening, the wind was gusty, which made trying to fly the Dollar Store kite very challenging (and dangerous!), but we made sure to take frequent breaks to enjoy beer and admire the buzzing of the bees in the blooms of the pear tree.  

Even with the strong gust of wind, we managed a few good runs with the kite.  Almost all the string was unwound and the big eyed alien in his saucer wasn't discernible on the kite because it was so high in the sky.  

Of course we had a few failed attempts with the kite too, like when we tangled it in the power line, or got it stuck in the pear tree.  Fortunately, the calming influence of the pear tree blossoms (or the beer?) would encourage us to retrieve the kite and try again after we took a short break.   

Pretty, pretty pear tree!  

By the time the sun was going down, and the moon had risen in the sky, the wind stopped gusting, and we had some really great kite flying conditions.  In the photo above, the tiny black speck in the top right corner is the kite, which Brandon is flying higher than the moon!  

The sunset was gentle that night, but it made a wonderful back drop for the kite and I considered just lying down in the field and watching the kite soar until it was too dark to see.  A perfect day.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flower Photography and Dinosaur Bones

It's that wonderful time of year again, where I roam through the yard admiring the blooms and pretending to be a garden photographer with my cell phone.  Admiring my blooms with a camera is very satisfying, and I don't think it's just because I get to share my pictures with you.  The myopia of the camera screen helps me really look at composition and detail that's harder to do when seeing everything at once.  So even when my pictures don't look very impressive, I still enjoy taking them and sorting through them.  Even better, now I get to talk about them and share them, which extends the experience of appreciating my flowers.   

I just can't resist the daffodils right now.  After such a dreary winter it's nice to see some bright color when I walk out the door.  Daffodils must be the most cheerful flower ever as they can lift my spirits even when composed with dinosaur bones.  Okay, so they aren't really dinosaur bones, but ever since my young nephew got so excited when he "discovered" the dinosaur bones under the tree, and collected some cow or mule teeth in his pockets to take home, I've thought of them as dinos.  

I like the pairing of flowers and skulls - Georgia O'Keefe style, but sometimes wonder if my neighbors appreciate the bones in my front yard.  No one has ever said anything, but after all these years I hardly know my neighbors, and maybe this is why?!  Skulls near the front door may be like having an anti-welcome mat.      

The grass looks a little scruffy right now, but it doesn't stop me from pausing to admire the swatch of grape hyacinth in my untidy flowerbed.  Seeing the purple blooms trying to peek out of last year's old stems inspired me to take a few moments to pull down the brown stalks.  In the process I found a preying mantis egg case, which dissolved all my guilty feelings about not doing a good job during fall clean up.  See, it's not a mess, it's habitat!  

The pink hyacinths smell wonderful if you get close enough.  

And the pear trees are just on the verge of a full bloom.  Jamie and I made an attempt to prune these trees last fall, and since then I've done a little research about proper pruning and know that we made a hash of it.  Oh well, they don't seem to mind that much and are making plenty of flowers.  

If I look closely, even the weeds have pretty blooms, like these little dead-nettle plants growing under my young trees.  

There's also pretty purple violets sprinkled in the grass in the back yard, but instead of lovely violet photos I got a bunch of shots like these.  

Just because I'm focusing on the ground doesn't mean there's something tasty to eat!  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Garden Forts and First Spring Harvest!

The fist asparagus of the season!  Spring is finally, really, here.  It was right on time too, since according the blog, the first asparagus spears came on April 9 last year, and this year they were only one day different.  Helen and Mrs. Hall are laying eggs like real chickens these days too, so when I skip checking the nest box for a day or two I find a bunch at once and get extra excited.  I did a taste test with one of my asparagus spears and one that I bought from the store.  When eaten raw, my asparagus is not only juicier, but also tastes more ... aspargusy.  Almost too aspargusy to enjoy raw, which gets toned down some when it's slightly cooked.   

Any idea what these little seedlings are?  They are volunteering in a bed that last year had cilantro, dill, and parsley so I think they must be one of these.  I ate one, at it didn't really taste like any of those plants, but maybe it's too young.  Or maybe I ate a weed?!  I'm pretty sure it's something, so I covered them with one of my chicken wire boxes to protect them from the chickens.  These boxes have been very handy when it comes to chicken defense.  Brandon found them out by the dumpster at school, so I assume they are an abandoned art project.  I appreciate functional art.  

Considering the lengths I must go to, and the equipment I have assembled, to keep these two chickens out of my garden, it's a good thing I enjoy their company and their eggs so much.  I used to keep them contained in their tractor during the spring months, and move them about the yard for fresh grass daily.  Somehow I've decided that it's preferable to build forts around my garden beds and let the ladies have their freedom.  This adds an extra step to my planting efforts.  Not only do I have to prep the soil and plant the seeds, then I have to engineer chicken security.  

Using tomato cages and chicken wire, I created a sweet pea fortress!  Helen is examining the defences in the photo and I was pleased to see her defeated.  Last year they ate nearly all my pea seeds before they had a chance to sprout.  

In this bed, safely wrapped in chicken wire, I planted beets, kohlrabi, swiss chard, carrots, and a few radishes.  I've never eaten kohlrabi, so I don't know what makes me think I can grow it.  Maybe the chickens will like it.  
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