Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to NOT spend a ton of $ on wedding stationery (Part 2)

Here we are, 4 months until the big wedding, which means it's invitation time!  Seriously, I might just quit my day job for this because they turned out awesome!  And they were really fun to make.

When I first started thinking about the invites, I knew that I wanted them to be simple.  I don't really like the silliness of the extra envelope and RSVP card, plus the directions and reception info, not to mention the crazy invitation itself with the fancy shmancy wording that comes along with it.  That's just not us, and a huge waste of paper in my opinion.  I even thought of doing the invites completely electronically, but there are many people on our guest list who either are not electronically connected or who are old fashioned and would be sad that they didn't get a real invite.

So.  To keep this project as environmentally mindful as possible, I started out with a big stack of my home made paper.  I carved a block print of a fern and printed that on each sheet.  I bought a pad of vellum paper (tracing paper) and printed out the invites, 4 to a sheet.  (I got non-tacky wording ideas from  If you've never checked them out, do it.  Your head will explode at the sheer amount of awesome ideas it will give you.)  These were carefully cut and attached to the paper with the fern print using a couple cross stitches in 2 opposing corners.

I created small info cards directing people to our wedding website to RSVP electronically, but also included a phone number that people can call to RSVP also.  These were printed 6 to a page and carefully cut out as well.  I printed them on some pretty card stock that I bought previously and had used for another wedding project (you'll see those later).  Both the documents (RSVP cards and invites) were created on good old fashioned Word 2011.  I have found through this whole DIY wedding process that anything can be created on Word.

The envelopes I bought were made to look like brown paper bags and include 20% post consumer recycled waste.  I like that they're brown.  On these envelopes, I printed out address labels on the same vellum paper (once again created on Word,) that wrapped around the envelope, with the to address on the front and from address on the back.  This was my one and only idea that I got from Martha Stewart.  Once I glued these on, I used another smaller block print that I used for the save the dates and printed that on the envelopes to spice them up a bit.  Then all I had to do was slap a stamp on them and send them away!

Dudes.  Invitations can be really expensive.  Doing it this way, though it involves a lot more labor, results in really cool invites that reflect who you are, are less stuffy, and they're a blast to make.  Who says weddings have to follow rules?

5/2/12 Update:  HEY!  These were featured on the Offbeat Bride Blog!  So cool.  Here's the link:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Staying Warm

In the spirit of the snowtacular debacle that Seattle went through last week, I decided to finish a project that I started a couple months ago.  (It also helped that I didn't work at all thanks to snow days.)  I had this yarn lying around that I bought years ago to make a sweater with.  The resulting sweater was NOT flattering so I took it apart and haven't remade it since.

Fast forward to the last several months and I've found myself spending a lot of inactive time outside.  I spend about an hour a day supervising free time outside at the school I work at and I've been getting cold.  So I felt I was in need of a scarf or hat or.... both in one!

Off to I went and found a pattern.  Unfortunately, I can't link it here since Ravelry is a members-only site and this particular pattern is available for download.  That makes it sound really exclusive but it's not.  It's free to sign up and most of the patterns are free also.  Whether you are an avid knitter or not, I suggest signing up just to have access to all the variety of patterns.

Anyway, the pattern I found is called MidWinter Wanderer so you can search for that and likely find it.

It was pretty easy.  Mostly knits and purls, with a cable pattern to follow.  That's basically it.  No complicated stitches or patterns.

This will keep me warm during those cold hours of standing around making sure kids play well together.

Here is a sequence of awkward photos of me.  I don't like photo shoots.  Just look at the shrug thingie.

I like the cable pattern.

I wish the front was more interesting.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sourdough Success!

Ever since I wrote about my first try at sourdough a couple weeks ago, I've been nursing my starter on the kitchen counter.  I've made flapjacks and another loaf since then and both have been delicious, but definitely not sour.

I was adding some flour and warm water to the starter everyday for about a week, and then for the last week I've only been adding new stuff and stirring it every 2-3 days.  The result?  It's definitely getting sour.  There are more bubbles forming at the top (evidence of natural yeast formation,) and it just smells stronger.

Oh yeah, baby.  Sour.  Still kinda gross when you really think about, but I'm willing to deal for deliciousness.

I should've waited a little longer for more sourness to form, but I couldn't so I made a loaf yesterday.

Dear readers, I'd like to present to you, my first legit loaf of sourdough bread!

So soft, and sour.  And delicious.  It's almost all gone.  Don't make it unless you're ok with gorging on carbs for a day.  It's impossible not to eat it all.  In fact, it's a sin not to eat it all.  There are few things on this earth that can bring pure happiness and joy than a fresh baked loaf of bread.  And this one is fantastic. 

I'm going to tell you the recipe now.  Just remember I warned you.  Don't come back to me complaining of a bellyache because you had to eat it all in one day.  If anything you should thank me for enlightening you to this keeper of a recipe.

1/2 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cup bread flour

Mix all ingredients except the flour in a bowl.  Add flour one cup at a time.  Add enough to form the dough into a sticky ball.  Knead for a few minutes then put it back into the bowl with some oil, cover, and let rise overnight.  This is key, people, gotta give it time to rise since no extra yeast has been added. Next morning, knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.  Form into a loaf shape and drop it into a greased 9x5 loaf pan.  Let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for  30-35 minutes or until the top is brown.  Eat it all with your favorite jam.

You're welcome.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Laboring Triplets

PHEW!  Pearl gave us a scare tonight.  Shawn went out to shut them up for the night to find her looking sick.  She had her feathers all puffed up and she wasn't excited about the scratch that he threw down for them.  He put her up on her roost under the head lamp and she kind of hunkered down and closed her eyes.  Last time we saw a chicken doing this, it was Mabel and she was dead 8 hours later.

So of course, I freaked out.  When I went out to check on her I found her just the way Shawn reported her.  As I was petting her and wondering whether I would have to say goodbye, I noticed an egg under her.  It had a soft shell like the one I reported on last week, and warm.  (So now I'm thinking it was Pearl that laid the first one.  But I'll talk about that later.)  Nonetheless, even after this discovery, I was still scared that Pearl wouldn't be with us for long.

So I stopped cooking dinner and started the usual Google search for magical answers.  I found an "emergency room" forum where questions can be posted with a guarantee that they'd be answered quickly.  So I signed up and posted my question.  I also came a across a website that suggested force feeding olive oil or Epsom salts dissolved in warm water.  We decided that it would be a good idea to bring her inside to keep her warm and keep an eye on her.  We could monitor her poops and see if we needed to fix a crop blockage with the olive oil or salt.

After setting her up in a pet carrier with some straw, she seemed comfortable.  I made her a small portion of oatmeal and cornmeal mash and when I brought it to her, there was another soft-shelled egg under her!  WTF!?  (That makes three eggs for her today, including the normal one she laid earlier in the day.)  She immediately started eating and drinking and just looked better.  We monitored her for an hour and then put her back outside where she joined her sisters in bed.

I updated my question on the poultry forum with the new developments and I just got a response from someone.  She said: "It is very painful for a hen to pass a soft shelled egg, hence the "puffed up looking sick" It sounds as if she ovulated too many yolks at once and the shell gland hasn't been able to cope with the extras. Normally it takes 26 hours between eggs. In the mean time, give her a little cod-liver oil if you have it, in her feed and make sure she has free access to oyster shell grit. Don't add that to her feed, just have it handy. She will take what she needs. The cod-liver-oil will help her to better utilize the shell grit in case her shell gland has a glitch. If she's had an infection however, time will be the best thing for that. You might not get any eggs from her for some days."

I love getting straight answers!  I also love it when my ladies aren't on the verge of death.  It makes total sense that she was the one that laid the first soft egg just because she's still young and figuring out how her lady parts work.  I just hope she gets it straightened out so she doesn't have to deal with multiple painful egg deliveries.

Here is a cute picture of her sitting in her hospital bed:


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sourdough: Biology in the Kitchen

This year for Christmas, my grandma gave me some sourdough starter that she got in Alaska when she was up there on her cruise.  She didn't wrap it and put it under the tree and instead handed it to me as an afterthought after we opened all our gifts on Christmas morning because she didn't know if I would want it.  Are you kidding me?!  Naturally, I was very excited.

Before I go into what I did, let me talk about sourdough bread.  First of all, it's delicious.  Especially when toasted and smothered in butter and jam.  Having said that, the process of sourdough baking can be a little gross.  It isn't something that you can't just whip up on an afternoon like a regular loaf of bread.  You have to start with a starter.

Starters are usually small batches of old dough from past sourdough recipes that are saved.  Sometimes they're called "seed sour" or "mother dough."  They contain a live culture called Lactobacillus, which lives in a symbiotic relationship with yeast.  Starters are usually best when they are saved from a tried and true sourdough recipe that has been alive (literally) for years.  As the starter is used, more flour and water is added to the starter to let sour again to maintain the live cultures.

Starters can also be created by allowing flour and water to naturally sour.  (Meaning mix them together and leave it on the counter for a while.)  The needed cultures and yeasts are available in the air all the time, but the key is to catch the right bacteria and not the wrong ones.  Starting a culture can be a pain because it is likely that in the beginning there will be an imbalance in good bacteria vs. unwanted bacteria, but eventually it will even out with the good stuff replacing the bad.  Every 12 hours to a day, new flour and water is added to the starter.  A lot of starter is often thrown out as it is replaced by new flour and water, otherwise by the end of it, you could have gallons of starter.  But once a starter is created it can last forever with proper maintenance.  This is a really complicated process that I have not described well enough to do it justice, so I recommend more Googling to get more deets.  Wikipedia helps too.

Back to my starter gift.  I looked at the ingredients and noticed there are a lot more ingredients than are needed.  Hmmm...  I did some research and found out that this isn't "true" starter and more just a tourist trap kind of gift.  Bummer.  Oh well, we'll still give it a shot.

What it looks like after 48 hours.
Inside were instructions on how to start the starter.  It said to add the packet of stuff to a 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of warm water.  After mixed, it needed to sit in an 85 degree location for 24 hours, with periodic mixing.  Once it sat in the 'fridge for 24 hours after that, the starter would be ready.  I was excited.  The starter smelled slightly sour so I had some hope.  I made the bread recipe that the starter packet came with.

How did it taste?  Not sour at all.  Bummer.  But the bread was really delicious.  I made some orange rolls a few days later, which were also super delicious, but also not at all sour.

After new flour/water added.
So now the rest of the starter is sitting in a jar on my counter.  I'm adding some flour and water periodically and am hoping that it can start a real natural souring process.  I've been nursing it for 3 days now and it looks ok, no mold or anything.  It also tastes slightly sour, but not enough to make a good bread.  I'm still going to bake some bread tonight with it and see how it tastes.  I may have to start over with fresh flour and water because I don't know if the extra additives that the starter came with will disrupt that natural process.

So it sucks that the starter wasn't legit.  But if anything, now I'm determined to do it right.  By the end of this, I will have a good starter, I will make sourdough bread, I will smother it in butter and jam, and it will be delicious.  Just you watch.

Sourdough, this isn't over.  You will be mine.

P.S.  Just in case you didn't get enough cuteness the first time, here is another chance.

Blurriness will not get in the way of cuteness.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Scary Google and an Introduction

This morning when I went out to the chicken coop to let the ladies out, I found an egg with a very soft shell up on the roost where they sleep.  It's rubbery like an under-filled water balloon and I'm afraid of breaking it just by squeezing it.  Judging by the lighter color and the size, my first guess is that it's from Abby, but it could also be from Pearl.

Naturally, my first reaction was to Google "soft-shelled eggs" and see what popped up.  I read some advice on how really young (like 6 months) or really old (like 4-5 years) pullets and hens can sometimes lay soft shelled eggs, but our ladies don't really fall into either category.  The other probable cause is just an insufficient level of calcium in their bodies.  The main piece of advice that is given for this is to provide more calcium supplement, like oyster shell, their own eggshells crushed up, or meal worms and apple cider vinegar.

I really hope it's just a calcium deficiency problem because as I kept reading, I uncovered more and more scarier possibilities of what could be causing it and now I'm scared.

Some scarier/alternative possibilities include:

*EDS (Egg Drop Syndrome):  Caused by a virus and doesn't really affect the chicken's overall health.  There is no remedy other than to remove the chicken from the flock because it could spread to other chickens.

*Sudden stress:  Like being caught in a sudden storm or having a close encounter with a predator.

*Overproduction caused by increased artificial daylight (which we do provide):  The remedy for this is to not provide any artificial daylight and allow the chickens to chill out for a while to replenish their calcium supplies.

*Impacted crop:  This is when their crop is completely or partially blocked and they are unable to digest their food and absorb essential nutrients like calcium.  If not treated, this can cause death by starvation.

*Newcastle Disease: Super scary when I did some research, but I'm sure they don't have it.

The other thing that is scary is if this goes on, there is a chance that an egg can break inside the chicken, (which happened to Mabel) and they can get an infection which could kill them.

Despite all this new info, I'm not going to let myself freak out just yet.  This is the first soft egg, and the ladies all look healthy.  We have some oyster shell which I will offer them with their daily treat and I'll check their crops regularly to make sure things are moving through.  I really hope this isn't serious.

(You know, I really hated it when I would get calls from pet owners (when I worked in a veterinary hospital) who had done some preliminary research on google and were freaked out about really silly diseases that they were convinced their pets had.  Now I'm that person.  (Sigh))

I'd also like to take this opportunity to introduce Brutus.  My parents adopted him last week and has very quickly become the center of our family.  He's ugly.  In that really cute way.  It probably helps that he's the nicest dog that there ever was.  I don't think he has an ounce of negativity in him and has nothing to give everyone he meets but extra love.  He does have issues with separation anxiety, but we're working on that. 

He's a snorer.

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