Sunday, February 26, 2012

Moving the Homestead

Over the last several weeks, I have been having to come to terms with the fact that we will likely be moving this homestead within the next 5 months.  There are various reasons for this upcoming transition, some of them being the buyer-friendly housing market, as well as personal, financial, and long-term reasons which I won't get into here.

I have lived in this house for nearly five years.  That's a long time for a renter of my age, I must say.  The homestead didn't really get started until Shawn moved in almost 3 years ago.  But since then we have worked on this home as if it were our own and have really come to know it very well, flaws and all.  We always knew that it was a rental and it wouldn't be forever, but also wanted to make the most of it and our very lenient landlord.  We refinished the hardwood floors two years ago, and have made major improvements to the yards by taking down dead bushes, planting new plants, and in general cleaning it up to make it functional for our needs.  Needless to say, all of this hard work will stay here when we move.

Will the new place a have a chicken perch?
Which makes me kind of sad.  We've made a ton of memories here and this place has taken really good care of us.  Our old neighbors next door were good friends with Al and Doris, the old couple who lived here until they died, and they always tell us about what they were like and what they did with the house and yard.  I always felt their presence here and would occasionally wonder what they would think about the improvements we made.  We were talking with a friend who is a reiki master once about how productive our garden was and he said that the spirits of Al and Doris were thankful of our work in the home and were thanking us in this way.  Now I'm not a spiritual person or anything but I think there is some truth to it.  By maintaining the house and garden, we were essentially taking over where Al and Doris left off, and by respecting their legacy, we reaped the rewards of their years of hard homemaking.  Kinda cool.

So why don't we stay here?  To put it bluntly, this house scares me.  There are a lot of elements that have been jury-rigged and we don't know how sound the plumbing or the electrical system is.  The kitchen needs a major update and the layout is a little weird.  The house is fine as a house for young renters, but it doesn't fit our needs as a new soon-to-be-married couple who is thinking about starting a family in the next several years.  Basically, it's time to move on.

So what does that mean?  The first thing is the most tragic: I will likely have no garden this year.  We're still not sure about the timeline, whether we'll move before or after the wedding, and what the garden situation will be like in the new place.  I'll still start some seeds in hope of finding a place to plant them and have a lot in moveable pots.  But the uncertainty of when all this will happen leaves me feeling panicked about possibly not having a therapeutic garden getaway this summer.  BUT, knowing me, I'm sure I'll still find a way to plant stuff somehow.

Mabel's ashes are in the garden bed as well.
The other big issue is the chickens.  It is likely we'll have to build another coop (that makes #3,) and I'm a little stressed about that.  But hey, we've built two good ones already, so who says we can't build a third?

In the end, it will all work out.  We're looking forward to upgrading to a home that we can call our home for real.  It will be nice to make improvements to it knowing we'll be able to enjoy them for a long time and I will welcome the feeling of permanency.   My sadness of leaving this place will pass and will quickly be replaced by the joy of a new beginning and a new life with all the creatures and elements that make me the happy person that I am.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cider Results

Hey friends, this is a post a long time coming.  I apologize for the major delay in letting you all know how our cider turned out.

After the first step of brewing that I showed you all in our first post, we did a quick transfer of the whole lot into a bucket so that we could clean out the yeast that had settled on the bottom.  Once cleaned out, we transferred it back into the glass carboy and let it brew again for another week.  We could have bottled it at this point, but we hoped that this quick cleaning out of the yeast and the settled solids would lead to a clearer final product.

After 3 total weeks of brewing and bubbling in the carboy, it was bottling time.  We saved a lot of old bottles and growlers but still needed a dozen 22 oz bottles.  At the same time we also bought some priming sugar and caps.  (Dan had the capper.)  The priming sugar is a small packet of corn sugar that is perfectly measured for 5 gallons of cider.  This adds just the right amount of sugar for the yeast to feast on in the bottles to create the perfect amount of fizzy carbonation.  Putting in too much sugar would create too much pressure in the bottles which may cause them to explode.  (No one needs exploding glass bottles.)

As you can see in the video, all of this process involves a lot of sterilization of the utensils and a siphoning tube to transfer the cider from carboys to buckets to bottles.

We tasted the first bottle about 10 days after we bottled it and was surprised at how much of a kick it had.  It was definitely on the drier side.  We had been so used to sweeter ciders that are mass produced today that we didn't realize what real cider tasted like.  It smelled really good and definitely held true to it's estimated 8.5-9% alcohol because we felt the buzz pretty quick.  Shawn did some research and we found that back in the day of Thomas Jefferson, when clean water was harder to find than cider, people would drink cider instead of water.

Since then, we've been drinking it really slowly, taking a bottle or two to parties and enjoying a bottle between us every now and then.  What we've noticed is that as it ages, the kick is replaced by a softer apple flavor.  We thought it was good at first, but it just keeps getting better.  We're thinking about saving a bottle or two for 6 months to a year to see how it ages.

All in all, this was a project that was not only really fun but really rewarding.  It feels so good to know that we're getting drunk off of our own hard work.

In case you were wondering, the total cost breaks down to:
$60-Rental of cider press
$20-A dozen 22 oz bottles and caps (Which we can reuse for next time.)
$20-Yeast and sugars

Total: $100 (We think.  We can't remember for sure.  This is also thanks to our friend Dan who had all the equipment.)

For Christmas, I bought Shawn a bottle of dry cider at a fancy beer store in Wallingford which was $14.  We tasted it, and though it was really good, we decided ours was better.  (We're not biased or anything. :))  If we calculate the amount of cider we made based on the price of the store-bought kind, we came to over $325 dollars worth of cider.  Yeah baby!

Final thought: We want to do it again.

Oh, and here is the YouTube link to the video.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Toppin' the Cake

The other day, Shawn forwarded me a posting from the classifieds at his company of a wedding cake topper that someone was selling.  It was a porcelain thing with a man and a woman dancing, surrounded by a heart.  It was pretty tacky, but not horrible.  I definitely knew I didn't want it, but it got me thinking about what I actually wanted sitting atop our wedding cake.

So I made these.  They're chickens.  Duh.  What were you expecting?

Their butts.
They're cute, huh?  I combined two patterns that I found on Ravelry because I couldn't find exactly what I wanted.  Here's one.  I don't know if it will work, but give it a clickity-click.  I looked through my old sweater yarn extras bag and found all the colors I needed.  (I knew I kept those random balls around for a reason.)

They're crocheted and stuffed.  I made the bodies first, stuffed them, then made all of the embellishments.  I'll probably add a bow tie to the brown one and a veil or a bow or something girly to the white one to make them more bridal-y.  I'll also make something they can sit on so that they don't go directly on the cake and get their feet all icing-y.  But I won't do that now and you'll have to wait until after the wedding to see the finishing touches. 

Come on, I'm not going to give everything away.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Staying dry: Dog edition.

Most of you all know Brutus.  And everyone knows he's cute.
I made him the sweater.  It has a pocket so he can carry his poo bags.
What you may not know is he's a bit of a wuss.  Unlike our last dog Shel, who was by all means a real dog, Brutus is more of a cuddle monster in the form of a dog.  He wears sweaters, has a bunch of toys, and has a special bed designated for him on the couch.  He also doesn't have much fur.  His underside is rather bald, and he easily gets cold.  (Hence, the sweater.)

Being sensitive to coldness is hard in Seattle.  So I decided he needed a rain coat also.

Instead of buying him one (which would be so silly,) I made him one out of an old jacket that I had.  Heavy use in the field of restoration ecology resulted in several holes and torn seams so it was worthless as it's original self.

I looked up some pictures of doggie rain coats that were for sale just to get an idea of what they looked like.  There were all sorts of styles, but given my limited sewing and design capabilities, I really focused on the simple ones.

The best resource I came across was this one.  Though I found this and the link to the Pdf really helpful, I decided to keep it even simpler and not make the straps like the pattern and just make one strap that came around the belly.

Since Brutus is small, I was able to get all the materials from one sleeve of the original jacket.  I cut it down the seam to the armpit and over the shoulder.  I cut off the elastic wrist cuff and laid it out.  I took some basic measurements form Brutus and knew that he's got a big chest so the belt would have to be longer than a usual small dog.  I carefully drew out what I thought would be a good basic coat shape and cut it out.

This is what I ended up with.  I also knew that I wanted a bit of a skirt so that no water splashed up on him so I decided that the edges I cut off would be flipped then sewn back on.

From here I spent hours agonizing about what to sew first, where the extra pieces were going to go, and how the hell I would figure out how to make a hood that worked that didn't cover his eyes.

Then I told myself to just start sewing the damn thing and that I had a lot more materials if I really messed up and had to start over.  So off I went.  Sewing this stuff is hard because of the rubber coating which doesn't like to slide through the machine.  Some of the stitches are really raggety looking but hey, Brutus don't care.  Brutus don't give a shit.

I basically took the same approach with the hood.  I studied the original hood on the jacket for construction ideas and then cut out a piece of material that I thought might work.  I sewed on another piece to help cover his forehead and on it went.  I made sure to leave a small opening for the leash to attach to his collar and added a little cover for that so no rain got in there.  

I added a zipper to the front that I had saved from a pair of jeans I threw away but I did have to buy some velcro for the strap.  The first fitting wasn't so great because the strap was a little high and a little short.  But after I changed the placement of that, Brutus had a bonafide rain jacket.

Sorry this isn't quite a how-to post on making a rain jacket for a pug, but I barely know how I made it myself.  The only advice I can give is try to follow my not-so-good descriptions and think twice before you sew.  Oh, and Nikolai makes a terrible standing model.

And finally, photo shoots are hard when you have a dog ready for a walk and you're the only photographer.  So these are the best I could do:

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