Saturday, May 29, 2010

And Then There Were Three

Because life is never so complicated that you can't add a new twist.

This is Mimi. Mimi came from a local freecycle ad. She used to have a sister, Gigi, but Gigi went to the great chicken coop in the sky and Mimi has been very lonely ever since. Mimi can't bear being alone, so she kept sneaking into her owner's house through the dogs' open door. This did not please her owner and she decided Mimi needed a new home.

I saw the ad and just had to save poor Mimi from her lonely, barren existence--of course.

She's an Araucana hen. She's pretty small, and her previous owner says she lays a blue egg every day. She hasn't laid one yet today, but she dug out this little nest for herself, so I think she's getting ready to.

She is a sweet chicken. We had planned to pick her up with her coop, so we didn't take a box for her. Her coop turned out to be a massive--and heavy--plywood structure that we couldn't possibly transport, so she sat in my lap for about an hour while we picked up the kids from my mom's house and drove home. She is totally mellow and seems to love looking out the car window while cuddled down in a warm lap.

She spent last night under an overturned laundry basket in the garage, and this morning we introduced her to our girls.

The initial introduction was...tense. Izzy let Mimi wander around for a few minutes before jumping on her and trying to kill her. (You can see in this picture than Izzy lost quite a few tail feathers in the scrap.) After a period of separation, we tried again. This time, Izzy waited a little longer and the battle was much shorter. Mimi did her best to get out of Izzy's way, and Izzy eventually decided Mimi is no threat. Now they're all out in the chicken garden together--Izzy and Maggie at one end, Mimi at the other.

And check this out!

As I was writing this post, Younger Son came in with this, as proud as if he'd laid it himself. Our first egg!

I love chickens. All I ever get from the dogs is poop.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Do Still Knit

Despite the lack of evidence here on the blog, I have been knitting.

This is the completed back of the Tweedy Aran Cardigan (Rav link). There are approximately 5000 ptbl's in this section. I used to hate ptbl, and was unable to execute one in under ten minutes. Now I just hate it.

I have to admit, though, all those twisted stitches make for a lovely textured fabric. I'm trying to get this one finished before the summer heat kicks in. I don't think I can handle a lap full of aran weight fuzzy wool in 90 degree temps.

And I've been gartering away on my Noro log cabin blanket, which continues to captivate me with its ever-changing colors.

This is perfect carry-along and/or tv and/or social knitting. I even worked on a square at the movie theater during Iron Man II (good thing I had something interesting to do).

I love this one from every angle.

Mmmm...can't get enough of that Noro!

Someone please remind me of that when I have to join all these things together.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oops, I Did It Again (again)

There's no justification for it. Really. I just love these old machines!

I picked this up this morning. It was posted on craigslist last night and I jumped on it. It's a Pfaff, like the last one I bought, only older and more basic. It only does straight stitch, zigzag, and reverse. I haven't been able to find out a whole lot about this model, except that it wasn't actually made by Pfaff. It was made by another German sewing machine company that Pfaff bought in 1957. Pfaff seems to have put its name on the remaining stock and sold them as the Pfaff 139. There don't seem to be a whole lot of them around.

This one belonged to the mother of the guy I bought it from, and he says she used it regularly up until a couple of years ago. It is spotlessly clean on the inside and the handwheel turns like butter, so I think that's probably true. It just needs a new motor belt, which is already on its way to me, and we'll be in business!

Just don't ask me why I need another sewing machine...'k?

Friday, May 14, 2010


I love to learn new stuff. Yesterday, I decided to learn to make jam. I know lots of you are old hands at this sort of thing, but I'm a city girl and, except for the astonishing peach harvest of 1976 that forced my mother to make enough jam for the entire Pacific Coast, I don't have any experience with canning and such. This decision was precipitated by my loquat tree's first harvest ripening faster than we can eat them. As I mentioned before, loquats don't keep. Not at all. Not even overnight. And some of them were starting to rot on the tree. After several years of waiting for this tree to produce fruit, that seemed like quite a shame.

I found a number of different recipes for loquat jam online and blended what I liked from each one to come up with my own recipe. I'll share it with you; it can easily be adapted for any kind of fruit. It turns out making jam is really easy!

1. Start with your fruit. I started with a bowl of loquats which netted me about four cups of fruit.

2. Peel your fruit, if desired, and remove seeds, if any. For loquats, about 15 fruits equals 1 cup peeled and chopped. This is by far the hardest and most tedious part.

There is probably an easier way to do this, but I couldn't come up with one. I cut the fruit in half, pulled out the seeds, peeled off the skins, then broke the fruit into pieces and tossed them in a pot.

4. Put the chopped fruit in a pot and barely cover it with water. Maybe don't even barely cover it. I put in way too much water and it took forever to cook down. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it looks about right. Okay, that may be too vague. You want to cook it until the fruit is soft and sweet and you have mostly fruit without much water. It's not rocket science. You just don't want it to be too runny for jam.

5. Stir in a packet of pectin, if you want to. As far as I can tell, the purpose of the pectin is to thicken the jam as it cools. If you don't care if your jam is a little runny, you don't have to use it. You can also just cook the fruit down until it's the texture you want for jam and skip the pectin. Once you decide about the pectin, stir in your sugar. I used two cups of sugar to four cups of fruit. Most of the recipes I read had at least one cup of sugar per cup of fruit. This seemed crazy sweet to me, so I cut the sugar in half, stirred it in, and tasted it. It was perfect. So just add sugar to taste.

6. While your jam is cooking down, you need to sterilize your jars. I picked up basic mason jars at the grocery store for less than a dollar a piece. You can sterilize them by running them through the dishwasher, or stick them in a pot and boil them for a while. If you do, make sure you get the water to a rolling boil and leave them in for several minutes. We don't want any botulism! I also boiled the spoon I used for stirring and the tongs I used for removing the jars. Leave the jars in the water (or dishwasher) until you're ready to fill them.

8. Once the jam looks and tastes the way you want it to, spoon the hot jam into the sterilized jars. Don't fill them all the way to the top. Put the lids on tightly and turn them upside down on a towel. Let them stay like that for a couple of hours, then turn them over and leave them alone until they're cool. As they cool, the lids will pull in and create a vacuum seal. If a jar does not seal properly, put it in the refrigerator and use it first. The others can go on a shelf and should last a good six months. Of course, once you open a jar, you'll want to store it in the fridge.

That's it! It's really easy and fun. Oh, and the loquat jam? Delicious!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More Things I Learned Today

1. Do not use waxed hand-quilting thread for machine sewing. There is a reason the label specifies hand-quilting. This is not a scam to get you to buy more thread. That wax? Sewing machines don't like that wax

2. There are probably people who can get perfectly matched right-angle corners. I am not one of them. I know how crazy quilts came about.

3. A dog lying under the sewing table can run the sewing machine, but it's probably not a good idea.

4. Just because the needle looks okay doesn't mean it is.

5. An unidentified bent needle can drive a normally rational woman around the bend faster than a toddler with a permanent marker.

6. There is no reason to save old needles. None at all. Should you choose to save them "just in case" it is on no one's head but your own when you mistakenly put an old needle back in the machine. (See #5 above.)

7. Sewing is kind of the inverse of knitting: fast to do, sloooooooow to undo. There's no easy way to frog sewing.

8. Sewing faster will not straighten out that wonky seam.

9. Sewing a perfect seam doesn't count if the needle isn't threaded.

10. It is possible to "use up" a seam ripper.

11. The Knitting Goddess has a sister, and she is one nasty b*tch.

12. Perfection is overrated.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Welcome to Motherhood: Crazy Hair Day Edition

Sometimes motherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be. Waking up in the middle of the night to a child crying, "Mommy, I just barfed in the bed," for example, is not one of those Hallmark moments. Neither is walking in on a giggling toddler who is supposed to be napping but is instead finger painting on the walls with the contents of his diaper. And I, for one, will never forget the feeling of horror at opening the dryer after prewashing an entire new winter wardrobe for two small children to find that someone left a pack of restaurant crayons in his pocket. [Did you know, if you dial 1-800-CRAYOLA, you will hear, "For instructions on how to get crayon out of clothing that has been through the dryer, press 1"? It involves large quantities of WD-40 and paper towels. And it does get the crayon out. Nothing in the known universe, however, will get out the WD-40.]

One of my least favorite motherhood experiences is Crazy Hair Day--an annual event at the elementary school which involves several of the things I like least: doing hair, sticky substances on my hands, and a child with serious OCD issues and a hair obsession--he routinely bursts into tears when faced with the prospect of a haircut, because he absolutely can't stand having his hair look "stupid"--who has a picture in his head of exactly how he wants his hair to look that is about as realistic as my mental image of my perfect body.

Last night (at bedtime, of course), said child announced that today was crazy hair day, and did we have hair gel and colored hair spray? Um. No. And it's bedtime. We're going to skip crazy hair day this year (said with forced nonchalance in the vain hope that this would end the conversation). Which eventually led to Mom flatly refusing to go out in search of crazy hair supplies at 9:00 pm.

Mom, however, failed to convey to Dad to importance, the utter necessity, of not going to get crazy hair supplies--not when Mom is the one who has to get up and deal with child in the predawn hours.

So my morning went like this:

Son: Did Dad get crazy hair gel?

Mom (staring with dismay at the tube labeled "Hair Glue"): Uh...yeah.

Son: Good. Can you spike my hair? [This would be the hair that is down to his shoulders and would give an English Sheep Dog hair envy.]

Mom: Um. I'm not sure. I can try. But this stuff is pretty sticky, so it's going to be really hard to wash out. Are you sure you want to do this?

Son: Of course! It's crazy hair day!

Mom (sighing, because she knows where this is leading): Okay. We have to get your hair damp first. Stick your head under the faucet.

Son: Wait. I need a towel for my shoulders.

Mom hands him a towel.

Son: Wait. I need a washcloth to keep the water out of my eyes.

Mom hands him a washcloth.

Son: Wait.

Mom: What?
Son: Nothing.

Finally sticks his head under the faucet.

Son: Mom! You're getting my hair all wet!

Mom: Yes, I know. That's the point.

Son: But it's going to be all wet!

Mom: Um. Yeah. The directions say "use on damp hair."

Son: But it's wet!

Mom: Okay. Stand up. Let me dry your head a little.

Son: Ow! Ow!

Mom: Time for the gel. How do you want it?

Son: All spiky.

Mom: All over?

Son: Yeah. All over.

Mom rubs large quantity of axle grease into Son's hair and attempts to pull six inch long clumps of damp, sticky hair into spikes. Half a tube later, she sends Son to look in mirror. Son gets that "trying not to cry" look, and Mom's breakfast settles heavily in her stomach.

Mom (tentatively): What do you think?

Son: No. No. No.

Mom: Okay. What do you want me to do?

Son: Cover up my forehead!

Mom: Ah. Well. I don't know if I can do that. The hair is all sticky and clumpy now.

Tears well in Son's eyes.

Mom (grabbing a comb and silently cursing the elementary school): Come here. I'll see what I can do...there. How's that?

Son (starting to sound a little hysterical): Can you make it more poofy?

Mom messes with hair for a little while.

Son (voice going up an octave): Can you make it less poofy?

Mom (starting to show the strain): You just said more poofy!

Son: I know, but I want it less poofy!

Mom messes with hair some more.

Son (clearly losing it now): NO! That's not it! Push it to the side!

Mom: Which side?!

Son: Not THAT side!

Mom: Show me!

Son: I CAN'T! No, just put it back the way it was!

Mom (taking a deep breath and looking surreptitiously at the clock): Okay. We are just about out of time. You have two options. You can leave it like that, or you can go wash your hair. But you have to decide quickly because we have to leave in five minutes.

Son: Just put stuff in my hair!

Mom (puzzled): What stuff?

Son: Chapstick. Rubber bands. Stuff!

Mom (completely baffled now and way past exasperated): I don't have any stuff and we don't have any more time. Go wash your hair. Fast.

Son stomps upstairs to the bathroom. A couple of minutes later, Mom still doesn't hear water running.

Mom: Son? Are you in the shower?

Son: NO! I don't have time! I'll be late!

Mom: You will be if you don't get in the shower right now!

Son: There! I fixed it!

Stomps out of bathroom with hair looking pretty much the way Mom first did it.

Mom: That's how you want it?

Son: Duh! Why couldn't you have just done that to start with? Would that have been so hard?

Mom swallows sharp retort in the interests of moving child toward the door.

Mom: Grab your stuff. We're late.

Son picks up backpack, pulls door shut.

Son: Ow!

Mom: What?

Son: I just shut the door on my finger!

Tears well up in his eyes again.

Mom: Are you okay?

Son (wiping eyes and pushing at sticky hair on his forehead): Yeah.

They get in the car.

Son: This gel is going to be really hard to wash out.

Mom (biting tongue): Mmmm.

Son: It's going to hurt.

Mom (biting tongue harder): Mmmm.

They pull up in front of the elementary school. None of the other kids walking in have crazy hair.

Son (rising hysteria in his voice): Mom? IS today crazy hair day?!

Mom (supply of motherly patience exhausted): Don't know. Hurry up; you'll be late. I love you. Have a great day!

Mom roars out of the parking lot and heads for the coffee.

I fully expect to be getting a phone call from the office in the next hour, asking me to please come pick up my hysterical child so that he can come home and wash his hair.

Motherhood. Yup.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yarn, Ho!

Last week, my family got to do something really cool: we went for a ride on an aircraft carrier!

As a kid, the KH spent several years as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol. In fact, he became the highest ranking cadet in his state, and eventually went into Air Force ROTC in college. He didn't go into the Air Force, but he did end up spending seventeen years as an aerospace engineer before becoming a lawyer and embarking on a new career.

Civil Air Patrol was a huge part of his growing up years and he's always wanted to join again when our boys were old enough to do it, too. Older Son turned 12 last year, and sure enough, the two of them joined the local squadron. This means they get to do all sorts of exciting things. They've been on overnight trips, worked the air shows, gone flying several times, witnessed a combat training scenario for soldiers on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan, and tagged along on a C-117 refueling mission out over the Pacific. Usually Younger Son and I are excluded from these activities as non-members (he's too young and I'm too, well, girly), so we stay home. But this time was a family event for the ship's crew, so we got to go, too.

Aside from having to get out of bed at 4:00 AM to make the 5:00 AM check-in, it was really fun. (I don't really remember the first three hours, but I'm told they were fun.) The hangar bay was set up as "steel beach" for a barbeque, and there was a bouncy for the kids and demonstrations of various ship's activities. The ship was open for touring, so we climbed up and down lots of ladders and worked our way through various hallways, poking our heads into placed they had no business being.

The kids had a blast. I think this is the only time they stood still all day:

I liked watching the ship's operations, like the way these tugs came to haul us out of the bay:

Did you know they still haul the mooring ropes aboard by hand? I didn't.

As you can see, I wasn't the only civilian hanging out on deck:

Of course, it is still a military vessel, and we are at war, so there was plenty of security in evidence. This was one of our escorts:

And another:

And these guys were stationed on every side of the ship:

I kinneared this guy because I wasn't sure if I should be taking his picture and I don't like pissing off guys with guns.

And there were a lot of guns around. I was leaning on this convenient armrest...

...when it occurred to me to wonder what it was:

I don't think it's supposed to be an armrest.

We certainly weren't the only ship out there; San Diego is a Navy town:

These are Marine Corps helicopters:

It was pretty cold and foggy first thing in the morning and we got rained on for the first couple of hours.

See the sign on the back of that ship? Isn't that a great way to greet sailors on their way back from deployment? That's what they see as they enter the harbor.

Eventually it cleared up and became a beautiful day.

And the pleasure boats came out to play:

By this time, I'd pretty much had enough of life at sea and settled in to do what I do best:

I can't swear this is the only time anyone has ever knitted on the tarmac of the U.S.S. Peleliu, but it's probably a good bet.

The added advantage was that this spot gave me a front row seat when a sudden flurry of activity indicated something interesting was about to happen:

And that is exactly where my camera card announced it was full and I totally missed the actual touch down on the deck.

We were on board for about ten hours altogether, and I think that was enough for me for one lifetime. I can't even imagine what it must be like to live on that ship for months at a time. I was completely exhausted by the time we got home, and it was a full 24 hours before the bed stopped rolling whenever I closed my eyes. And I got to spend the day up on deck. Most of the sailors probably spend their days in some tiny room inside the ship and then return to their tiny quarters to sleep. Honestly, I don't know how they do it. I do know I'm incredibly grateful that they do, so that we don't have to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Garden Tour

[Picture heavy post.]

The garden looked so pretty in the early morning sunlight that I just had to take some pictures, so I thought I'd share them. I garden in a small yard in suburban San Diego (zone 10) that is dominated by a swimming pool, so most of my garden is in raised beds and containers. It's still pretty early in the season, so the garden isn't quite in full swing yet.

Starting in the corner by the house and moving clockwise:

The structure on the left houses the pool equipment, and those stepping stones lead to the fenced dog run/utility yard on the north side of the house.

That rocky looking bank is a waterfall I built for my husband. It has a recirculating pump and a small pool at the bottom.

We installed this umbrella over the hot tub a couple of years ago to provide shade for lounging. It's one of my favorite additions.

This is the bed behind those red chairs.

And this is a picture of the waterfall and hot tub from the other side of the garden.

The space behind the pool is only about four feet deep, and there is a street behind the fence, but the thick vegetation disguises both those facts pretty well. Gardening up there is a challenge; I have to inch along the bricks, dodging the dangling vegetation while carrying my tools. One of these days I know I'm going to fall in

A closeup of my favorite garden ornament, which overlooks the pool.

This picture shows the deck the KH and the boys built last summer after the puppies destroyed the small lawn that used to be in that space. I absolutely love the deck. The lawn never looked good, used too much water, and didn't get used for anything. The deck is a perfect lounging spot for dogs and people and gives me tons of space for containers. And thanks to the composite material we used, it is completely maintenance-free!

This is my cooking/dining area. We cook and eat out here often during the spring and summer. I want a counter to put at a right angle to the (covered) grill for a prep area. I also have a storage bench in the garage that is going to move out here to hold pool towels and provide more seating.

The chicken garden is located in the side yard on the south side of the house.

It is gated to keep the dogs out and the chickens in.

I used to grow vegetables here, but growing trees have shaded the area too much for most vegetables, so I am now filling the raised beds with flowers for the chickens. They like to eat brightly colored blossoms.

The right side of this garden is still in full sun, so I have dwarf citrus trees, tomatoes, strawberries, and herbs in pots growing alongside the house. You can also see the chicken coop with the ramp coming down. The chicken coop is actually a rabbit hutch which the KH enclosed with plywood on the sides. I made curtains for the front which fasten down to keep the heat in at night. The KH built that cute ramp so the girls could get into the coop by themselves. They go in after the sun sets, and then we close the door and fasten the curtains to keep out predators and cold. They have nesting boxes in there, and it's very cozy.

I grow lots of fruit trees in containers. This grouping has a weeping mulberry, a kumquat, a miniature peach tree, and a miniature nectarine tree, among other plants.

The tree in the foreground here is a Valencia orange. Not a good choice for a container, but I planted it several years ago when I was still new to gardening. It does give me a few oranges every year.

This corner is my favorite hangout spot. It is almost always in part shade, which is perfect for me. That is a solar lantern. I have five of them on the deck, and they're wonderful. They provide a surprising amount of light, and it lasts from dusk until dawn every night. The "birdhouse" in the back corner is our old mailbox, which we had to replace with a locking mailbox after a rash of mail thefts.

This is a loquat tree--producing fruit for the first time this year!

If you don't live where loquats grow, you've probably never tasted one. They don't keep well at all once they're picked and I've never seen them at the grocery store. They are about the size of a large apricot, with a smooth, thin, tough skin. You have to peel this off to eat it, unlike an apricot. When they're ripe, the skin strips off easily. Each fruit has two or three very large, smooth seeds, so there isn't much fruit on each one. The flavor is a little like an apricot, but stronger and more citrus-y, with a sweet-tart zing. They're delicious!

The loquat anchors Molly's memorial corner.

The boys and I made this stone to commemorate her life. The other dogs like to lie in the shade of this bed. It always makes me smile.