Monday, September 15, 2014

Finishing the deck

This one is a few weeks late, but worth mentioning.

Last fall, my father and I built a 12'x12' deck in the backyard.  We had to let it dry before we could stain it, but by the time it was "dry," the cold had set in and we wouldn't be able to finish it until spring.

Even in spring, we were so busy, we didn't get around to painting until July. Finally, we got to painting one Sunday morning. I don't know why we waited so long; it only took about 30 minutes to get the work done. In the summer heat, the deck set in less than 2 hours or so. 

We went for "Cape Cod Gray" by Behr. It was around $40 a gallon, but we only used one, despite buying two. It was also the ultra or ultimate or whatever Behr's premium stain is called. It's supposed to be guaranteed for five years, I think. The house is dark blue, light blue, and white. The gray was about as good as it was going to get without blinding people.

The chickens promptly blessed it by pooping all over it. I have to wash it about once a week now because they thoroughly enjoy it.

I think it may be time to pen them in someplace in the yard. We plan on adding a cascading stair... thing. Pretty much a uniform step-down all around the deck since we feel putting up railings may inhibit our appreciation of the small yard.

Enjoy some photos of the event! (Please forgive my scantily-clad husband!)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Green through the winter

I've since planted more than what's pictured
Our recent tax free holiday here in Massachusetts got my husband and I out to the home box store. We're in the process of gutting our breezeway and turning it into a four-season hangout with an Amish fireplace (read: electric). That's another entry though... today I'd like to talk about the wonder that is our new greenhouse!

We took advantage of the holiday to buy the greenhouse tax-free. It cost around $700, and I'm a little skeptical about how well it will hold up in a rough New England winter. Chris really wanted to try having one, so for $700, I figured why not. Adventure time!

A couple of weekends ago, we took about 8 hours to put the whole thing up over a Saturday and Sunday. I saw "we." What I really mean is "Chris." It was such a daunting task, I was overwhelmed as soon as I saw how thick the assembly instructions were. 

Chris is a trooper and went right to town. I think he enjoys things when the instructions are laid out for him. I helped when some clever engineering was required, but that was incredibly limited. While Chris worked, I cleared some of the garden and got about two dozen bulbs of garlic into the ground for a spring harvest.

So with my free time this week, I went to town planting lots and lots and lots of seeds in the greenhouse. I figure most of what germinates will die out there come the frost, so I went a little crazy with what I sewed. I even planted some flowers, which is very not like me.

You can see the broccoli in the background there, which is still producing out in the garden. The eggplant would be going nuts if it wasn't for the chickens. The tomatoes and peppers have been fenced off, and are doing well enough. The tomatoes this year were incredibly lackluster. I don't think I'll have any to put up this year, but we've been making the most of it with just cooking a bunch for delicious meals.

Updates on the greenhouse will come as they develop :)Enjoy some photos of Chris putting the whole thing together!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fall preparations

It should be the dog days of August, but it's been ridiculously cool here. I was wearing a wool sweater at one point during the day. Not that I'm complaining... I love the dry, cool weather. Anything to avoid the typical August heat and humidity!

In feeling with the cooler weather, Chris and I have been digging up the garden. I should be more clear: we're digging up more garden space. I have no idea why we decided this was a good idea, apart from the fact that I want more fresh veggies and I want to try growing new things in addition to what we grow now.

We cut a few branches off of the maple tree to make room for sunshine a few weeks ago, and once fall comes around proper, we'll cut more off. We want to make sure the falling branches won't come down on the garden.

We're in the process of preparing three more beds. Two of them are 3' x 15', one is about 3' x 9'. We've got carrots, beets, sugar snap peas, and spinach going in one of the beds for an expected fall harvest. We had to fence it off from the chickens since they've been pecking and consuming almost everything in the garden. I've never planted a late summer garden, and I've read that we should sew seeds directly into the ground. Fingers crossed!

We're hoping to get garlic into the ground for the winter, but we're just waiting on the garden center to get their bulbs in.

I started clearing out the older beds yesterday. The lettuce was about done, so I removed it. The zucchini and squash are not far behind, but there's still a few flowers so I'll wait.

Our tomatoes have been very stunted this year. I don't know if it's us or everyone. We didn't rotate the location of the beds this year, so maybe it's us, but Chris reports that others are having trouble too. This year, what few tomatoes we've had are delicious. I'm never growing anything but heirlooms from now in. The different in taste is more than noticeable!

Thanks to the tax holiday this past weekend, we ordered some home improvement stuff (posts to come!) and, are you ready, a greenhouse! It's only 8' x 6', but it should allow for more growing time all year 'round, and hopefully a little therapy for yours truly come the short days of winter. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Huge cat, tiny box

Sweetie has no idea how large she is. 

Although she does seem to fit nicely in her new-found bed in the office.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cats in Photos

Trouble, all stretched out and sleepy

Trouble, asleep where there's sun and a little breeze

I think we know who my favorite is
Sweetie curled up with her best friend Ringo 
Sweetie, Princess Unicorn Cow-Cow Sugar Cube 

Trouble asleep in the sun
Aaaand play-mode
Ringo, born to be handsome
Casco stretching with Ringo looking on
All five in one place. Some are more photogenic than others, clearly. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yarnbox for July

I got my Yarnbox for July a couple of weeks ago, but I've been at a loss about what to make with this month's yarn. I caked it up, and have since considered putting it up on the de-stash thread on Ravelry. 

I've also seen some awesome over-dying projects that tone the yarn down into a more hazy blue. I wonder if it's too late for my skeins, since I've already wound them.

This month, some of us received Fiberlady's Makicot. It's 70% bamboo, 30% cotton, which should make a lovely summer garment or shawl. Each hank clocks in at 335 yards, and we received three hanks! That makes a grand total of 1005 yards; enough for something quite nice, and possibly large enough for my frame. 

© Eliza422 on
As exciting as that prospect is, I fear these colors won't do me much justice in anything I should choose. I love color, but these guys are pretty bright. I wish I had tried some over-dying.

I've since considered making the Gemini by Jane Richmond, the Caroline by Carole Francone, and the Amarillo by Rebecca Velasquez. and the Papillon by Svetlana Volkova. The Papillon would probably be for my sister at Christmas, and the Amarillo looks like it should use a more solid color palette. 

I'm at a loss. I need to explore a bit more. I should consider using less of my 1000+ yards for something like a shawl, but I fear it won't get used that way. Maybe I'm better off letting it go to a better home, with better ideas and smaller bodies than my own. 

Oh well. I guess you can't win them all, right? 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Improving Knitting Skills

I'm not the kind of person who enjoys paying for information. I like to learn from others, and at my own pace. Usually, I require a lot of videos or images to learn something... I'm not a very good word or text person. I like things demonstrated.

Which is perfect for this Craftsy class I'm taking on how to improve my knitting. I know most techniques in knitting at this point, although I don't practice them all consistently. Don't even ask me about intarsia knitting :groan:

This class cost me $25, and so far, I've learned quite a bit about my knitting style. I'm a thrower (which I knew), but it never occurred to me that I could improve my tension, improve the consistency of my stitches, and be more efficient in how I knit. 

If you want to learn some maintenance work on your knitting, or you're a beginner and want to learn good practices, try out Patty Lyon's Improve Your Knitting class on Within 10 minutes, I was knitting continental (or "picking") with ease. Who knew continental was more efficient at purl/knit than English knitting? Holy cow, what a nice tool to have under my knitting belt. 

I'm only halfway through this class or so, but only because I've been taking the time to actually practice my new knitting style to get a feel for it. There's more to learn about techniques and style, but I'd say my $25 has already paid off.

I'd also like to mention that there's a 50% off classes at right now (they don't pay me to say that ha ha!), so if there's anything you're interested in, from knitting to sewing to cooking and more, go have a look at the 60 online classes they have on sale right now.

I'm about to practice my Norwegian purl and move on to my next lesson. I hope you have the chance to learn something new, and at a discounted rate. :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Last night's rainy harvest

The weather was pretty foul last night, but we were out in the rain showers picking what we could find in the bushes. The cool breeze called us outside. Am I the only one totally enjoying this fall-like August? I'm terrified we're going to pay a price come winter. 

Between the rain and thunder storms, the chickens have been helping themselves to what few tomatoes we have, so we're limited to what they don't seem to attack. That is to say the things they've tried to attack and have failed. Peck marks all over our eggplant. One or two squash casualties. Some broccoli heads. 

They don't seem to mind the rain as much as we do, so long as it's not a violent downpour, or thundering loudly. Did I mention they're scared of airplanes?? I love these birds.

They definitely get the run of the garden. That will change next summer. 

For today, here's our haul, including two of Chris's roses. Alice Water's ratatouille for dinner with a few extras I have in the fridge. The broccoli will probably get nibbled at throughout the day. The tomatoes are unimpressive, and the yellow squash seems to be slowing up a bit along with the Boston cucumbers, and not a moment too soon. The eggplant is going great, and the bell peppers are promising, if they can only endure this cooler weather that's due to head in...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Relaxing in the cool summer air

All five kitties relaxing on the bed while I fold laundry this evening before making dinner.

What to do with all those cucumbers!

It's the second half of summer, racing quickly into the fall season. That means harvest time around here.

We still haven't seen too many tomatoes, but they're out there, green as can be, just waiting to turn red. And I'm sitting here, anticipating that heavy tomato haul.

These past few weeks have been filled with giant zucchini, ample yellow squash, eggplant, and my favorite, pickling cucumbersFour plants have provided plenty of pickles so far. I've shared with neighbors and friends, and I still have more. Today, I did a second round of dill pickles. I used dill from the garden, garlic from the garden, and of course, the cukes from the garden! 

There are a lot of ways to do pickles, some don't even require a canner from what I understand. I've been doing it this way for years, so I'm comfortable with it. But you can do other ways too!

Here's how I roll:

Step 1: Sterlize your jars. I do this first and foremost, since it takes the longest time. I also generally use widemouth pints for pickles, but if you have exceptionally large cucumbers, use quarts and adjust your recipe. I've done it. It's not too hard. 

I didn't want to bust out my official canner, so I settled with this large pot. It's hot out, don't judge me. 4 jars at a time is nice though. Gives you time to prepare things, especially if you have a tiny workspace like I have. 

Step 2: While you're sterilizing your jars, prepare your ingredients! Slice your cucumbers, chop or pluck your dill, mince or slice the garlic.

I have no idea how much these weigh, how many there are, nothing. I wing it. You can too, if you're fearless (read: impatient like I am).

Step 3: After, like, 10 minutes in the rolling-boil pot of water, your jars should be ready. Pull those things out, and prepare to fill 'em.

Step 4: Now you get to throw ingredients into the jar. I put about a medium-sized clove or garlic into each pint, and maybe a tablespoon or so of fresh dill in there. It's all about what you want to taste. My husband likes a little red pepper flake in there as well to give it a kick, but I like straight dill and garlic.

My dill is a little ripe. It's just starting to die out, so there are some burny-looking tips in there. I actually kinda ran out of some too, so I had to use dried dill weed. Use a little less of the dried stuff if you have no fresh dill on hand for this. 

Step 5: Get your vinegar solution moving! You're going to use this to pickle those cucumbers. For this amount of pickles, I used the following:
  • 6 cups of water
  • 6 cups of white vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup of pickling salt
  • 1/2 white sugar

I don't know about sugar substitutes, so please don't ask. I've read that using honey is dangerous when canning and preserving, but I don't know about anything else. 

You can pick up the pickling salt at your local gargantuan box store, or just order some online. It lasts forever. You can substitute salts, but please, please, please look into it before doing it. Here's a good resource, and also here. Google it, be sure of what you're doing. There's so much information out there, you don't have an excuse! :)

So get that stuff in a pot, and rolling to a boil. You want it hot when you pack the pickles.

Step 6: Start packing your jars. 

Your aim is to leave half an inch of head space, which I actually haven't really... done very well. It's worked for me, but heaven knows for how long I will get away with it.

Step 7: Pour the vinegar solution into your jars, leaving that 1/2 inch head space, and seal 'em up with your lids and bands..

Put them into the canner and let them go for a good 10 minutes at a rolling boil. If you put 'em in and the water isn't at a rolling boil, give it a few minutes until it gets going again to start your timer.

Step 8: Once your 10 minutes is up, you can pull them out and let them set quietly on a counter or shelf. You want them to cool down and seal, so I try and treat them like a child having a tantrum*: quietly ignore it while it settles down by itself and gets right.

Step 9 (and arguably the most important step for successful pickles!): Once these have thrown their tantrum and are right as rain again, put them in the fridge to properly cool off and crisp up. More timeout for about a week in the cold, dark fridge.

Step 10: After a week is up, pop those bad boys out and have a go at them. They're delicious, tasty, and crisp! 

SHARE THEM with people you love and appreciate. Give them to your friends, your neighbors, your family, and co-workers. 

*I don't actually have any children, so take this metaphor with a grain of salt!