Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Brood

They're all here now -- six little hens, ready to provide us with eggs and entertainment.

We have three Speckled Sussex (Flurry, Dorothy, and Cosette), two Domniques (Sally and Penny), and our Blue Copper Maran (Cooley). Here's Dorothy, with Sally close behind and Flurry far in the background.




I'm quite excited that we found Speckled Sussex sort-of-close to home! At this point we didn't want to take the time to raise chicks, so buying already-laying birds was our best shot. Cosette, below, has just graduated from pullet stage and is definitely at the bottom of the pecking order (hence her name, which is French for "little thing"). Poor girl pretty much stayed inside the coop for her first few days with us! But now she's ventured out, and while she's still picked on (pecked on?) if she's too forward, she's holding her own. I always try to throw some scratch or mealworms her way at treat time, because she's usually about two or three feet away from the "action."




Would you believe that naming the chickens was quite a challenge?! Flurry was so dubbed because she has quite a bit of white speckling on her back, like a bit of snowfall. Dorothy came from "Dottie," again because of her speckled back. Cosette I've mentioned, and Sally and Penny were named for Sally Henny Penny from The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle (and other Beatrix Potter stories).

We're finally getting some tangible benefits from our chickens, because we found this in the run on the very first day we brought them home!




Flurry has been laying from day one, Dorothy started laying soon after, and one of the Dominiques has laid an egg for us, too. Hopefully the rest will get the idea... at any rate, our breakfast scrambled eggs this morning were entirely "home laid," even if we did have to save for a few days to get enough! It's always so exciting to find an egg (or two, or three) in the nesting box!

I'll have to post a picture of the completed coop soon -- it was a labor of love (mostly...), and I'm pleased with how it turned out!



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

An Expotition

While my husband was on a week-long detachment to Baltimore, the kids and I drove up to be with him -- we visited some family and long-time friends, stopped by IKEA, and managed to squeeze in a visit to the fabulous (and free!) Walters Art Museum. Well, almost free. Parking was a nightmare, and I ended up paying $12 at a nearby lot just so we could stop circling the confusing one-way streets and actually get inside.

But it was well worth it! Don't be fooled by the "Art" part of the museum -- the Walters is a mix of historical artifacts, natural history, and (of course) art. We didn't see many paintings, focusing instead on a few exhibits (which is the only way to do it when you're wrangling three kids at a museum on your own). Our first stop brought us to medieval European pieces, including a 13th century stained glass window from a Parisian cathedral. 

The building itself is lovely -- including this magnificent sculpture court:




But we didn't linger here, because we were on our way to the real destination -- the arms and armor exhibit!




I was quite astounded by the beauty of the objects on display -- there weren't many, but they were exceptionally beautiful. Like the inlay on this 15th century German piece (above), or the open work in the center of this sword (below):





Some of it was also just plain amusing -- Perhaps this helmet would look a little more intimidating on an actual person, complete with armor and weapons? No chance of a snack while wearing this. Though I can imagine the shape would be very helpful in deflecting sun, rain, and anything else that might try to get in your eyes...




Another shot of the sculpture court...





Adjacent to the armor was a room full of "wonders," in the form of interesting objects and various animals. On the other side I was pleased to find this little piece -- the littles and I have read the story of "St. George and the Dragon" a few times in The Children's Book of Virtues, and they were so excited to find a statue of the most dramatic scene:




I loved seeing what my children were drawn to (not surprisingly, it was not always what interested me!). For instance, Rosa was captivated by a 15th century German altar piece (The first 8 paintings on this page -- but they were on 2 panels, 4 paintings per panel). We talked about what we saw in the pictures -- Little man and Rosa noticed the blood, I noticed that all the people had very European features and 15th century clothing. And Laddie didn't seem to notice much of anything...*wink*

We moved on to ancient Egypt (they're obsessed with the stone sarcophagus at a museum a little closer to home, and the Walters had a real mummy!). We saw canoptic jars, numbers of statues, and this funeral mask, which Rosa commented "looks like Daddy." I don't know if he should be flattered or insulted...




Many of the Egyptian artifacts were 3,000 to 4,000 years old -- I've never really been that fascinated with ancient Egypt (I'm more of a medieval to mid-20th-century Europe kind of girl *wink*), but this exhibit was marvelous. We didn't have time for Ancient Rome and Greece, and I didn't even get a glimpse of the impressionist art. But when your one year old is getting vocal, the three year old has asked a dozen times if you're done yet, and even the five year old is showing signs of impatience, it's just time to go.

I'd love to make it back to the Walters (and stay a bit longer!), and we didn't have a chance to visit the National Aquarium. So maybe we'll make the trek back to Baltimore one of these days!


Friday, November 04, 2016

Checked Out

Inspired by some of Cheri's literary finds, I decided to search my local library -- I've read Kate Douglas Wiggin's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and New Chronicles of Rebecca (and thoroughly enjoyed them!), but hadn't read any of her other books. I was reminded, too, that it's been quite some time since I've read any Sarah Orne Jewett books.

My search turned up several gems, which were labeled as "in storage." Namely, Creeping Jenny and Other Stories by Kate Douglas Wiggin, and The Queen's Twin and Other Stories by Sarah Orne Jewett. I put them on hold, and shortly afterwards I was notified that they were waiting for my at my local branch. What I found were antique books, beautifully bound. This one, for instance, was just the 2,709th book to be added to the library system, back in 1929:

I wonder what constitutes a "Special Book?" And considering that the fine is still only 10 cents, I feel that the
fines were rather steep!


This one was a bit newer, but it still had its old-fashioned card -- the earliest date was 1979, and the latest was 1988. Which is a strange thought. People were checking out this rather obscure book before I was even born. I wonder who they were, whether they liked it as much I did, and if we had anything else in common?




I confess that Sarah Orne Jewett's writings have made me fall in love with early 20th century Maine, to the point that an extended vacation there (albeit in the 21st century) is high on my bucket list. I didn't realize that Kate Douglas Wiggin also hailed from Maine! So perhaps I really do just have a natural inclination for Maine, or people from Maine, or just stories written in/about Maine? At any rate, both were well worth a read -- simple, sweet stories about everyday life, told in such a charming way.

I'm sure the librarians were a bit startled that I was checking out something other than picture books...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

First

...and suddenly, we had a chicken! Really, it was about as sudden as that. After the fact, the decisions came more slowly -- realizing that the coop that came with the chicken wouldn't be large enough (we want to max out the six chickens we're allowed in our area), planning a new coop, building a new coop, stopping work on the coop every time a storm came through (thanks, Matthew...), finishing the coop. 

But here she is, our very first chicken. Her name is Cooley, so dubbed by her previous owner because she has such a calm disposition. 




Laddie is completely in love with her, and keeps trying to touch her. Which she, of course, loves. *cough* Fortunately for her sake, she's much faster than he is.


This was one of her first days with us, still in her former coop. 

I'm pretty sure she's a Blue Copper Maran -- I had NO idea just how many breeds of chicken there are! And some of them are quite stunning (I'm looking at you, laced Wyandottes!).

Cooley (or Coo Coo, as I generally call her) seems quite happy with us, and is so funny and curious about everything. Her little chicken noises are hilarious, and she loves yogurt. She'll eat out of our hands, especially if there are dried mealworms involved! I've even held her a couple times, though I'm not sure which of us is more nervous when I do that. Here she is having a refreshing "bath:"





Still no eggs, which has me a bit worried (she's probably at least two years old -- we didn't realize when we bought her that her prime egg laying days are likely past), but she also hasn't been getting enough protein and that can contribute to "no eggs." Now that she's on the proper food for laying chickens, I'm hoping we'll find some dark chocolate-colored eggs soon!

Five more, and we'll have a proper hen party.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Just One

While we didn't have the opportunity to start a "real" garden this year, I couldn't resist buying a few plants -- one red pepper, and one Roma tomato.

Quite honestly, I though this pepper plant was beyond hope. While the tomato sprouted, it didn't grow a single inch for months. Finally, at the end of the summer, it produced one solitary flower, and one solitary pepper.






Pretty, isn't it? But here's a little perspective...




It's an admittedly large lime, but it's also a decidedly small pepper!

Our tomato plant did better... barely. Two tiny Romas, out of the plethora of blossoms it produced (I think something must have been eating them). Ho hum... perhaps we can improve our "harvest" next year!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Go-To

I love having go-to's. No fuss, no muss, no question. Little by little, I add to my collection of recipe go-to's -- the best have simple ingredients and simple steps. This is one that's been a standby for years now! 

The olive wood rolling pin was a gift from my husband, straight from Greece --
I love the amazing grain!
.
Because who doesn't need a go-to recipe for scones? A never-fail, always delicious, always gone too soon recipe. It's superb plain, but it's also the perfect canvas for mix-ins (craisins, dried oranges, walnuts, pecans, chocolate...). These are cranberry-walnut. Or were, rather. They didn't last very long...





This recipe came from the sensibility.com message forums -- from none other than the marvelous Suzi Clarke!

Suzi’s Scones


Ingredients:
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (Sometimes I use whole wheat pastry flour, but they're fluffiest with all purpose)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 TBSP sugar 
  • 1 ½ oz./3 TBSP butter 
  • 1/3-1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk, or milk curdled with lemon juice. 

Directions:
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together. 
  2. Cut the butter in until mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the milk, very gradually, to make a firm, pliable dough. Don't let it get too sticky.
  4. Roll out in a circle on a floured board to about 1/2" thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Put in a hot oven, 400-425 degrees, for about 10 minutes.

Hope one of my favorite go-to's may end up being one of yours, too!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Little Helpers

A few months ago, I rearranged our kitchen set-up and moved the dishes to a lower cabinet, easily accessible to little people. The silverware has moved, too, because its former location was squished between the stove and the dishwasher. Now, this is what I see when it's time to unload the dishwasher:




The bigger kids take turns with silverware and dishes, which are Corelle Vive Enhancements (I never thought I'd intentionally buy Corelle, but practicality trumps almost everything when you have small children). They were a huge improvement over our former big box store stoneware dishes (SO heavy, and SO ugly!), and we managed to find 52 pieces -- 12 open stock plates (2 sizes), bowls (2 sizes), and 4 serving dishes  -- for just over $100 with a sale and a coupon code. We've had them for three years, and no regrets! Only one bowl has broken in that time. Sometimes, tile wins... We don't have to keep extra children's dishes, because they are light and durable enough for even a toddler to use. Which is good news, considering that Laddie likes to "help out." That makes my heart skip a beat, partly because he's tottering across the kitchen with our dishes, partly because it's absolutely adorable.

 I'd been wanting to include the littles in more of the household chores, and this was just the ticket. Such a simple adjustment, with such great results.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Success and Failure

This was a success -- leftover steak sliced up, fried in a cast iron skillet with some red onion and smothered in Trader Joe's bacon cheddar. Served over half a naan with some fresh spinach. 




But for every success there is a failure -- and this failure was particularly painful! I realized several inches into the patterning of my White Pine Cardigan that I'd made a mistake with the cabling (I've never read from a chart before...). I decided to go back and repair, rather than rip out. It was kind of exciting to realize that I can now rip out just a few stitches and repair them, rather than frogging back most (or all!) of the project, as I would have had to do when I first started knitting. Then, as I was finishing up the cable repairs, I realized that I had COMPLETELY messed up both side panels. Rather than the seed stitch pattern, I was doing ribbing. It looked awful, and the seed stitch is one of the "features" of this particular cardigan. I was even less thrilled about frogging back all of my pattern work (so many cables!), and decided to tear out just the side panels. This actually "kind of" worked -- I used double-point needles, and had some success with this method. 




But this is a naturally twisty yarn, and by the time I reached the end of each row the yarn was quite taut. Add to that the difficulty of correct tension over such a long section, and it was really just not right. Blocking might help, but then again, it might not. Of course, I only decided this after I had repaired both sections... So after hours of extensive "time-saving" repairs, I frogged back to the beginning of the pattern work. *sigh* 

Fortunately, all of that practice has paid off, and things are going much better now. I'm actually further along now than I was in the "repair" picture above. Quite honestly, I feel that a lot of the problems I've had are due to the way the pattern is written. I actually copied it into a Word document and split up each step, because it's all sort of mushed together in the original pattern, with no clear divisions between steps. There are fewer stitch counts than I've ever seen (which I find very helpful to see if I'm on the right track), and lots of "continue in pattern" when it's not exactly clear what the new pattern is. You're not even told if the first decrease is on the right or the wrong side of the garment! I've spent so much time just puzzling over the pattern (even my revised copy). Right now I'm repairing the seed stitch section (AGAIN!), because I don't like the way the decreases turned out (admittedly, I didn't slip-slip-purl correctly) and I've decided to omit them altogether rather than risk wonky side panels. Hopefully it won't turn out too boxy. I really love this pattern, but between the extensive twisted ribbing and the confusing directions, I'm a bit disappointed. Perhaps I'll feel better once it's done!

Success and failure. There's a balance, I suppose?