Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.38: Ups N Downs

A much cooler Wednesday at this little place here today.  The wind is kicking up, and the forecast for the next several days definitely looks like October weather.

I'm joining with Ginny and the Yarn Along for a peek at what everyone is knitting/crocheting and reading this week.

As you can see, I've been working on my Ups N Downs dish towel.  I think it's about half done.  The directions say to 'knit to desired length', so I'm going by the how long most of the dish towels in my kitchen are. Which makes this project about half-way finished, or perhaps slightly less than half.  Depends on if I stretch it as if blocking, or just measure as is.  I'm leaning toward measuring as is, because I'm not going to block it after every wash once it's off the needles and in use.

Reading-wise, I just finished (and returned to the library, so no picture!) Beverly Lewis's latest book: The Photograph.  It was wonderful, and I devoured the book in about three days.

Regular readers of this little place here may have noticed I tend to read a lot of Amish fiction.  What can I say?  I've always been drawn to their simpler lifestyle (uh, look around this little place here and see how differently my family lives compared to your typical member of American society 2015. ..), plus the books themselves are in line with what I prefer to read: no violence, no graphic sex scenes, very little political anything, no chasing after status or material things in order to determine self-worth, and certainly no following the latest trend or social media 'must do'!

Anyway, that's my contribution to the yarn along this week.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Blackberry Moonshine Update

My "moonshine" is finished!  If you haven't the slightest clue what I'm talking about, first read this post.

After my berries had steeped in Everclear for three weeks, I strained out the berries, and put the liquid back into my half-gallon jar.  Then I added a sugar solution I had made earlier in the day and let cool to room temp (4 cups boiling water and 3 cups sugar).  I put the lid on the jar and sloshed it around a few times for good measure, before setting it back into the cupboard to continue 'processing'.

Two weeks later, time was up!  Unfortunately at that time I had a roaring sinus infection and couldn't taste a darn thing.  But, the trial 'sip' (okay, a medicine measuring cup dipped into the jar) did seem to kick a hole in my cold--seriously, I started to feel better that same night, reminding me of how when DH's father was still alive we'd take a hefty shot of his homemade wine to get rid of a head cold.

My finished 'shine',

When, a few days later,  I'd gotten my sinuses cleared enough to have recovered my sense of taste, I poured out another little slug of my blackberry moonshine.  It was pretty good.  Not overly sweet, like some people reported who had previously used the same recipe I found online.  If anything, it was a tad dry for my palate.  And it didn't taste quite as strongly of blackberries as I had hoped it would; yet it definitely is good enough that I'll drink it! 

True color, just what leeched from the berries--
no food coloring added!

That was about two weeks ago.  This past weekend, I shared some of it with my extended family.  The taste has mellowed somewhat, getting a little less sharp on the alcohol and a tad sweeter. Not quite as sweet as cough syrup, nor as thick, but somewhat like that.  I have the feeling that I'm going to be making more of this in future years (especially since the family I shared it with is all ready hinting about getting my blackberry 'shine for Christmas and birthdays).

Next year, if the berries are abundant enough, I'll make my next batch.  I'm thinking instead of using table sugar in the sugar syrup (like I did this time), I'll get some corn sugar, which is what we use when brewing beer.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall Craft: Dipped Leaves

Early last Spring, I saw, somewhere in Internetland that I have not been able to find since, (and so cannot properly credit for the idea) a picture on a blog of some very lovely fall leaves that had been preserved by dipping them in melted wax.

The leaves were so pretty, their colors so perfectly saved, that I decided I was going to collect leaves this Fall and then preserve them in wax.  There are so many possible uses for leaves that won't dry out and crumble away to dust: strung together as a garland and hung across a window or wall, made into a wreath, just pretty bright spots on a table or mantle (not that I have a mantle, but hey, if I did I could put leaves on it!). . .  I can't even begin to imagine all the ways I could decorate with leaves. I mean, decorating is something fairly new to me--most of my adult life has been spent raising a houseful of kids and there wasn't money or space (or time!) for many objects whose sole purpose was to look nice; no, things had to be functional rather than just pretty.

But, as my kids grew up and moved away and money got slightly less tight and my time got a little freer, I have begun to dabble in decorating.  All as cheaply as possible, of course.  I still can't bring myself to spend a load of  money on something just because I think it looks nice. Form to function is still my mantra.  Anyhoo. . .

I present to you, my super cheap, (no, let's say frugal, because that sounds better), my frugal Fall decorating project of wax dipped leaves.

First, I collected some leaves while out hiking in the Keweenaw Peninsula this past weekend when DH, DS2 and I went to visit DD2 at her college (and DS2's alma mater).  DD2 and I were really getting into it, finding all sorts of leaves that were just starting to change color.  Since DD2's major is Wildlife Ecology, she has many outdoorsy types of classes and this semester one of them is Trees. I'm sure it has some more impressive sounding name, but pretty much it is a class in tree identification.  Now, plant identification has always been a hobby of mine, so she and I had a blast 'finding' different trees by looking for a variety of leaves for my leaf project.

Once our hike was done, I knew I needed a way to keep my leaves 'fresh' so they didn't end up dried up and crushed before I could get home and find time to dip them in the wax.  I always pack a variety of reading material when I go on a car trip, and I happened to have the latest issue of Taproot magazine in my travel bag.  Putting my leaves between the pages of Taproot seemed an excellent--and fitting--way to transport them home.

They actually looked kind of cool just hanging out in the magazine, as if they had been put there by some graphic designer.  Okay, that's a stretch, but they did fit the theme of the magazine, anyway.

But, I knew they wouldn't stay nice forever just tucked away between the pages, so when I was ready to melt the wax, I took them out.

In order to melt the wax and not sacrifice any of my cookware, I used the same sauce pan that I dissolve the fels naptha in while making laundry soap.  That became the 'bottom' of a double boiler I rigged up by washing out a large can (from baked beans earlier in the week) real well and using that can as the 'top' of the double boiler: water went in the sauce pan and a couple slabs of paraffin went into the can, then I put the whole thing on medium heat on the stove.

While the wax was melting, I put down a few layers of newspaper on the kitchen island to lay the leaves on once they had been waxed. I didn't want to have to deal with scraping wax off my butcher block when done, you see.

Then, it was time to start dipping!

Holding each leaf by the stem, I dipped them one at a time into the melted wax.  Since the wax didn't fill the can (that would have been way more than I needed), I had to tilt and roll the can a little in order to coat some of the larger/wider leaves all the way.

Once dipped, the leaves went into a single layer on the newspaper until cooled, which didn't take but a few minutes.  When I was all done, I found that some of the leaves had kind of stuck to the paper, but I was able to remedy that by grabbing my frosting spreader out of the drawer and using it to slide between the leaf and the newspaper to release the leaves that were stuck. I could have used a knife for the same purpose, but the frosting spreader was closer to where I was working.

After all the leaves were cooled and loosened I took a picture and sent it to DD2.

I love the way the leaves turned out.  The wax really brightened up their colors so they actually look like the day DD2 and I found them rather than dried leaves pressed in a book (or magazine).  

This would be an excellent craft to do with kids of all ages. All you need is some wax (paraffin aka Gulf Wax or other 'clear' wax), a bunch of leaves, some news paper, and a makeshift double boiler (pan+water+clean tin can).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.37: Finished Petty Harbour

Another beautiful September Wednesday in progress.  I'm joining with Ginny's Yarn Along again today.

Over the weekend, I finished the Petty Harbour socks I'm knitting for my Dad.  I'm glad to be done with them; while socks are my favorite item to knit, men's socks seem to take forever. It's just 8 more stitches per row, and an extra inch or two on the foot, but boy, I find myself getting anxious to just get to the toe and be done.  Same thing happened when I knit DS2 a pair of socks last year, so I'm pretty sure it's the men's versus women's size difference and not the pattern that makes me get tired of knitting.

Originally, I had planned to cast on a pair of socks for DS1 after finishing Dad's socks. DS1's birthday is in November, so logically he would be the next person to knit socks for. And if I couldn't finish them in time for his birthday, I could always give them to him as a Christmas gift instead.  But now. . . now I'm dragging my heels on starting them.  I mean, he does wear a size 14 shoe.

If I got tired of knitting a pair of size 10's for my Dad, will I find myself just so incredibly tired of sock knitting if I attempt a pair of 14's right now?

While I debate that dilemma, I will focus on finishing my Ups N Downs towel.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

So, Hay

It's the second half of September.  It's also just about the best hay making weather we've had all year.  After rain, heavy dews, and thick foggy mornings for pretty much the first half of the month, we suddenly got clear, breezy, warm but not humid weather.  Everyone around has been making hay in the last week or so; the last hay of the season.

I'm included in that 'everyone'.  Last Monday, the wife of the family who cuts my hay asked if I wanted mine done this week.  Heck yes, I wanted mine done!  Who can resist a perfect forecast like that when they have a field tall enough to make a decent number of bales out of?

So I played the farmer's gamble and cut hay on Monday afternoon. Gamble because even though the weather forecast looks decent, that can change in any given twelve hour period.  Especially with the wet summer we've had, you take a dry forecast with a grain of salt.  Or maybe an entire shaker full.

Monday night, clear skies and no dew. Tuesday was sunny and beautiful, extremely low humidity.  Tuesday night, just the slightest dew.  Wednesday, warm, warm, warm, and breezy. When the hay was tedded late morning on Wednesday, it was dry all the way through.

Which meant we were baling!!  Oh the joy that phrase brings when the weather is good and the hay is just right.  "We're baling".  Happy faces, happy smiles.

It also meant sore muscles and itchy sweaty bodies once the hay was put in the barn on Thursday. But happy smiles and a feeling of security.  Hay is done until late next spring.  The loft is full.  I have plenty of hay for my animals.  And plenty of hay to sell, too.

A barn full of hay going into winter is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.36: Just a Little

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along on this beautiful sunny Wednesday.  You know the kind of weather: sky the most perfect shade of blue, just enough breeze to tickle your scalp, and temperatures that don't chill, but don't bake either.  Ahhh, that kind of September day.

Just a little knitting going on for me again this week.  More cross stitching, more weeding of the garden, even more reading and a little sewing.  But just a little knitting.  Somewhere between a dozen and twenty rows added to the Petty Harbour sock.  Which brings me about half-way along the foot for sock #2.  Not an astounding pace, but a satisfying one.  No hurry.  This sock will be finished in plenty of time for Dad's birthday next month.

As you can see in the picture above, I got my hands on the first book of the Amish Village mystery series.  I enjoyed Murder Simply Brewed almost as much as I did Murder Freshly Baked. The story itself is very engaging, there were just a few spots where I felt the writing was a little weak but not so weak as to make me stop reading.  If anything, it showed me how the author has improved from book one of the series to book three, and I'm planning to read book two as soon as I can.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

A friendly reminder to always keep your eyes peeled while driving.  You never know what might be lurking at the side of the road.

Sometimes it's an animal that might jump out in front of your vehicle.  Around this little place here, the deer are starting to get more active, the rut will be on in a few weeks, and bucks will be chasing does all over creation paying no mind to traffic on the roadways.

Other times, it might be children you need to watch out for, playing on neighborhood streets, or running after a ball that got kicked or thrown out of the yard accidentally.

Or, it might be other drivers you have to watch out for.  People texting instead of looking where they are going.  People going the wrong way on freeway entrance or exit ramps. Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol who are endangering others with their delayed reactions and less than clear thinking or vision.

Once in a while, it is because something really great is sitting at the side of the road with a "FREE" sign attached to it.  I can't begin to recall all the neat and useful items DH and/or I have picked up from the edge of some one's yard for the unbeatable price of absolutely nothing. . .

. . . a wooden dresser in perfectly usable condition if you overlooked all the graffiti scratched into it by generations of college students (presumably this was dorm furniture once upon a time). . .

. . . a bathroom vanity. . .

. . . an end table. . .

. . .and this week, a wooden rocking horse in near perfect condition!

Being in great condition, and being the perfect size for my grand kids to use, and retailing somewhere over the $75 mark brand new, it was something too good to pass up.  I stopped, backed up, jumped out, and threw it into the back of my suburban feeling all the while like I had won a prize.

Yes, always keep your eyes peeled while driving.  You never know what might jump out at you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.35: Glory, Glory

Joining Ginny and the Yarn Along today.  Cool-ish and cloudy here; which is kind of a nice break from the upper 80's and very humid/thunderstorms we've had most days since the last yarn along.

It's been sort of a slow knitting week.  I've been working a bit on a counted cross-stitch project when I'm not outside working on things, or inside trying to do a little cleaning and decluttering.

I've only added seven rows to the Ups N Downs dish towel.  And gotten through the gusset decreases on Dad's Petty Harbour sock.

I did, however, finish Murder Freshly Baked and enjoyed it enough that I requested the first book of the Amish Village mystery series from my local library.  Hoping it will be in soon enough that I can start reading it next week.

My morning glories, straggly as they are, keep delighting me with a fresh bloom or two nearly every day. I really love how the centers, when photographed, look like they are emanating light.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Friend or Foe?

A few weeks ago I noticed this hanging in one of the spruce trees closest to my garden:

Being of curious nature, but also very wary of stinging, flying insects that create their own paper to build houses with, I crept a little closer for a better look.

By standing still and watching for a few minutes, to get a good look at the creatures that flew in and out of that little hole near the bottom of the nest, I was able to determine I am the 'owner' of a bunch of bald faced hornets.

Which somewhat concerned me, being as K3 and Toad are both pretty mobile and like to play outside.  However, the nest is on the far edge of the front yard, where the grand kids so far have never gone without an adult present.

So I didn't tell anyone else about the nest right away.  Instead, I gave it some thought, and did a little research. Because I was pretty sure that as long as we left those hornets alone, they were actually something I wanted living near my garden.

What I found, upon utilizing good ol' Google, is that bald faced hornets can be considered beneficial insects.  Meaning that they prey on flies and other insects--including yellow jackets--and they pollinate flowers.  Definitely the type of critter I want helping me to have a better garden: less bugs eating my plants, and more pollination of veggie blossoms.  Oh, and the nest is closer to the orchard than it is the house, so probably my fruit trees will show positive effects from having the hornets in residence (and so far, I've noticed a marked decrease in the number of yellow jackets on the dropped fruit under those trees).

All of which means that the other members of this little place here have been instructed to NOT spray wasp killer on the nest in the spruce tree.  K3 has been shown, at a safe distance, the nest and the hornets that fly out, and told to stay away from it so she doesn't make the hornets afraid; that they won't hurt her unless she makes them afraid that she is going to hurt their house.  Toad, being just 14 months old, should not be that far away from the house without an adult, so he is still blissfully ignorant of the hornets.

Since, according to my research, the existing hornets all die going into winter, thus abandoning their nest, and old nests are never reused by new colonies of hornets, we only have to get through fall and the danger of the grand kids getting stung will be gone. Then, this winter when things are frozen and I'm sure there are no living hornets left in there, I'll go remove the nest from the tree and have a really cool item for science lessons in the future!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How to Scare Your Husband

It's funny now, but wasn't quite such a tee-hee moment as it was happening last night.

Yesterday evening I finally got my pressure canner out to do my first batch of beans for the season.  With the garden being pretty dismal this year, I hadn't needed to use the pressure canner yet this summer.  I did my usual quick check of the lid to make sure everything was OK:

vent pipe clean and clear
plug moves up and down smoothly
gauge looks normal
gasket not cracked or missing

Then I went about putting my beans into quart jars, adding salt and boiling water until each jar had an inch of head space, released air bubbles and added more water if needed, slapped on the lids and rings, and put the jars into the canner along with two quarts of boiling water in the bottom.  I aligned the canner lid on top and rotated it into the locked position, then turned the burner on high.

Everything started out as normal: as the canner heated, steam began to flow out the vent pipe.  I let it vent for seven minutes, then put the weight on top, blocking the pipe.  After a few more minutes the plug on the lid rose into position, and I began to watch the pressure gauge so I'd know when ten pounds pressure had been reached and I could start timing the beans.

Except the gauge wasn't moving.  Ten minutes had gone by and it still hadn't moved.  I began to get worried.  What if my gauge had died while in sitting in the cupboard since last year's canning season had ended?  What if the pressure in my canner was all ready higher than ten pounds?

Well, I knew it couldn't be much more than ten at that point, since I had a fairly good sense of how many minutes that canner needed to reach the desired pressure for beans.  A decade and a half of canning beans with it had instilled in me an approximate time frame for that.  So I let it go another five minutes, then when the gauge still hadn't moved, I turned the burner off.

It was at that point that DH came into the kitchen.

"Done?" He asked.  For some reason, after a decade and a half of me canning beans he still has no clue what the required time table is.

I explained that I didn't think the gauge was working and that I had shut the burner off to be safe.  I told him that I planned to let the canner cool, and open the lid once the plug went back into it's down "no pressure" position.   Then I would see if I could figure out what's what.

DH shrugged, and went back to the living room where he'd been watching TV.  Canning; women's work.  TV watching; man's.  Or something like that.

Once the plug dropped, I removed the weight from the vent pipe and carefully unlocked the lid.  Taking the lid off, I did a quick peek at the vent pipe again, moved the plug up and down a couple of times, then popped the gasket out, looked it over carefully, turned it over and put it back into position inside the lid.  Then I removed all the jars, measured out the water in the bottom of the canner--about a quart and three quarters--added enough boiling water to make two quarts again, poured the water back in, put the jars back in, and stuck the lid back on.

I had just locked the lid into position again and turned the burner back on when DH returned to the kitchen.  He asked if I had figured out what the problem was.

"Nope, everything looked normal," I told him as steam began to flow through the vent pipe again.  I stood up and set the timer for seven minutes.

"And you're still going to use it?  How are you going to know if it's safe?" He asked, eyeing the canner warily.

"I'll know in a few minutes," I said calmly.

What I didn't tell him was that I was nervous too.  But I had the benefit of knowing about how long it should take the canner to reach ten pounds and I planned to shut the burner down again if the gauge didn't start moving within a few minutes of me putting the weight on the vent pipe.

At that moment the plug jumped up into it's pressurizing position.  DH's eyes got bigger, and he took a step back away from the stove.

Shaking his head, he turned and walked--rather quickly--out of the kitchen.

When the timer went off I put the weight onto the vent pipe, making sure it was seated firmly.
No sooner had I placed the weight into position than the gauge began to move.  In the normal time frame, it showed ten pounds and canning proceeded as it has for years and years.  I sat in the kitchen and adjusted the burner as necessary in order to not let the pressure go above or below that critical ten pounds for preserving my beans.  Meanwhile, DH sat in the living room, anticipating hearing an explosion any minute.

After about ten minutes I took pity on him and called out:  "It's working fine, just needed the gasket adjusted."

And they call women the weaker sex. . . yet give us the task of using potentially deadly things like pressure canners.  Heck, my grandma's pressure canner didn't even have a gauge, she had to put on the correct weight and know the correct rhythm at which that weight should be rocking in order to not blow herself up or give her family beans with botulism!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.34: So Many Things

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along on a hot, humid Wednesday that is reminding me summer doesn't end until late September, not the beginning.

I have much to show for today's post.  So many things going on; I'm not sure how I suddenly got time to work on all of them, but in the past week I finally sewed the buttons on my Barn Sweater and got it blocked.  (Did I ever mention that I found some awesome buttons made out of Juniper wood on etsy?)

Barn Sweater, in all it's finished glory.

Unfortunately I have gained some weight since I started knitting it early last Spring (can you say 'stress eating'?) and the upper arms are a bit tighter than I'd like.  But, I can still button it without the placket looking strained, so hopefully if I quit grabbing a handful of chocolate chips every time the 25 yr old members of my house jangle my nerves it won't take much to lose a little weight before the weather turns cool enough that I'll need to wear my newly completed sweater.

I've been working here and there on sock #2 of Dad's Petty Harbour socks and got the leg and the heel flap done.  The heel cup is also done, now I need to pick up stitches to make the gusset.  Barring any unforeseen calamities, I'm guesstimating I'll have this sock done by the middle of September--about an entire month before Dad's birthday!

I'm about seven or eight chapters into a murder mystery set in a fictitious Amish Village in Indiana.  Murder Freshly Baked opens with the actual murder, then in the next chapter goes back in time six months and the story works forward from there.  So far so good.  I believe it is number three set in the same fictitious place, but I have yet to read the first two.  Jumping in like this is making sense, mostly, so I think it will be all right to read the others later, if I continue liking this author's style.

The other knitting project you see in the above picture is the beginnings of my first knit kitchen towel.  For some reason, the 10-12 dish towels I had eleven months ago when DS1 & family moved in with us have dwindled down to only 4 or 5 that can be found at any one time. I do not like running out of clean dish towels every two to three days; yet there aren't ever enough in the laundry basket at one time to make doing a load of towels more often than once a week a viable option. Which is not cool with me.  I'm not thrilled with the idea of going out and purchasing six to eight more nice quality kitchen towels  (cuz nice quality isn't cheap, and cheap quality aren't nice), so I'm trying a pattern I found on Ravelry several years ago and bookmarked as a 'someday in the future' project.  It is called Towel Ups N Downs and is a pretty simple pattern to follow.  I'm about nine rows, or slightly more than two pattern repeats into it.  On size 7 needles, it makes a nice break from my sock dpns when I have time to knit yet aren't feeling like tackling anything too intricate.  I'm using a big skein of worsted cotton that I think I picked up at Hobby Lobby back around the same time I first saw the dish towel pattern.  I think I can make several (matching!) towels with that one skein.

The ups n downs are starting to form

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


(My apologies to Carl Sandburg; his poem can be found here).

September comes
on little cat feet. 

It creeps across the hay field
as the sun sinks low
and soon August is gone.

Yesterday evening, the last night of August for this year,  I went out to shut the chickens into their coop for the night and was surprised to see a fog stealing in across the hay field.  The day had been humid, yet for some reason, I didn't expect to find fog at dusk.

I don't know why it surprised me so, because when I took a moment to think about it, September does come on little cat feet: in low-lying evening fogs and thicker morning fogs.  Not loudly, with volatile weather like March bursts forth as we near the first equinox of the year.  No, the last equinox and it's month are more subdued.  They sneak up on us, leaving us to wonder where summer went, and how fall can be arriving so soon.