Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday's Hunt v 4.25 and 4.26

I missed last week's Friday's Hunt due to being busy with preparing for the holidays, so I'm doing two in one to make up for it.

The prompts from last week were:  Starts with Y, Tree, and Shadows.

The prompts from this week are: Starts with Z, Reflection, and The End.

Starts with Y
Yard starts with y.  This is our front yard.  As you can see, we do have some snow, although not a lot, yet.  I like the setting of our house with all the trees around it, although I like it even more in the more pleasant seasons of the year.

Starts with Z
This is Whisp, one of our silkie hens.  She is sitting on some zygotes

A zygote is a biological term for a fertilized egg cell.  When I was away the week before last, the eggs didn't get collected and I came home to a broody silkie (i.e. a hen sitting on a clutch of eggs that she was incubating).  Not having the heart to separate her from the eggs and throw them out, I brought her inside with her eggs.  It appears that 4 of the 5 are fertile and showing signs of development.  She is really quite young - only about 8 months old at most, but she seems quite dedicated to her egg sitting duties and hopefully she will be a good mom to her little ones if they hatch successfully. 

The week before last, I was in Ottawa with another consultant to run a workshop for Agriculture Canada.  I took the train for that trip, giving myself some time to work on the train and avoiding the stress that flying causes for me.  At the Montreal train station, the holiday displays included this rather dazzling tree decorated in pink - not exactly traditional, but very effective in my opinion. 

For my train trip, I booked a sleeper cabin for the portion of the journey from Moncton to Montreal.  It's about 18 hours long, through the night, so a good sleep is necessary when one needs to work the next day.  This is my little sleeper cabin window, with a reflection of me taking the picture in it.  You can see a pillow at the other end of the seat area on the left side of the reflection.  On the right side of the reflection, you can just see the door to the bathroom that is part of the cabin.  The seat folds down and becomes a bed for the night.  It was very comfortable and cozy.

Here's a slightly better picture with less reflection, showing the seating area and my ever-present knitting bag.

At the conference location, which was one of the buildings of the Agricultural Museum in Ottawa, there were some interesting bee-themed decorations being installed in the hallway.  They look like stained glass, although they are actually a kind of plexiglass or similar substance.  I presume real stained glass would be too costly, too heavy, and too dangerous for a public space in case it broke.  It was tricky to get good pictures of the panels due to the shadows on the panels.  Here is an installed panel with shadow on it, and you can also see the shadow of the ladder. 

Here's a yet-to-be-installed panel to show more of the detail.

The End
I've enjoyed participating in Friday's Hunt for the past 3 rounds.  It helped me blog once a week in times when I didn't feel like blogging or didn't have anything to blog about.  Sometimes I feel that it is what kept  my blog going.  Since Friday's Hunt is coming to an end, I'm hoping that in 2018, I will try to make time to keep up with the blog in other ways. 

As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.  Maybe the end of Friday's Hunt will open the door for other blog opportunities.  I will try to keep writing.  Things are so busy for me these days.  Although I've tried to take some time off in the past week, work is breathing down my neck like a dragon with halitosis, and the first few weeks of January are already super booked and busy.  I'm hoping to learn to do a better job of balancing work and home life this coming year.  We'll see how well I manage with that.  I'm also trying to improve my fitness level this year.  My new sit-stand desk should arrive in early January, and I have plans to sign up for an online yoga site that will allow me to choose from various beginner level lessons that I can incorporate into my day.  I am also getting new orthotics soon, which will go into my shoes and hopefully alleviate some foot pain that I have been experiencing when walking.  So, perhaps I will have some things to write about, if I can just make myself take the time to do so.

To illustrate this concept of endings being beginnings, here is a pinecone in the snow.  It fell off the tree, and is thus the "end" of one phase of the tree's development, but the pinecone has seeds inside that will feed squirrels and possibly find their way into the soil and start a new tree.  For me, this also says that even when things are bleak and cold and kind of depressing, spring will return and with it, the joy of green leaves and sunshine. 

Progress with the Garden Shed

I wrote this a few weeks ago and forgot to post it.  Busy brain syndrome!
This past summer, my helpful local builder built a floor for my metal garden shed, and then he and his brother constructed the shed, which I purchased as a kit.  Once the shed was in place, I was using it for its primary purpose, which is the storage of hay bales for the sheep and goat.  However, the shed had a secondary purpose, which was to store my gardening tools and requirements, so they were not taking up space in the garage, which is Marc's domain.

I didn't have time to deal with the garden tools until this weekend, when I was finally able to install the tool hook racks that I bought, as well as some shelving.  Now things are finally looking a bit more organized.  The long-handled tools are installed on a partial wood wall that my builder also made for me.  Then I have two racks for the short-handled tools on the right side.  The sheep leads are hanging from the roof bracket at the far end.  Now I will be able to find things next spring when I want to do some garden work.

The other side of the shed has pallets on the floor and then hay and straw stored on them.  The straw is really for bedding in the chicken coop or the barn.  The metal garbage bins will be for storing feed for both sheep and chickens.  They have tight fitting lids so the raccoons and other critters will not be getting into the feed.

I'm really pleased with the utility of the shed now and I feel happier that this year I will not have to haul hay bales from the garage to the sheep and goat area - rather, I just have to take them out of this shed, which is right next to the fenced area.  So much easier in the snow!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Friday's Hunt v 4.24

It is time for Friday's Hunt again!  I am a bad blogger because I have not visited any other participant blogs for the past 2 rounds of Friday's Hunt.  I feel badly about that. I have been super busy with work, doing minimum 10 hour days, 7 days a week, and often more than that, so I'm just not finding time for things I enjoy.  I hope this will subside somewhat in January.

Today's prompts from Eden Hills are:  Starts with X, Craft and Growing.

Starts with X
Xanthophyll starts with X.  Xanthophylls are yellow-coloured pigments that one might find in a variety of natural sources, including leaves that turn yellow in the fall.  Specific xanthophylls include lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the compounds responsible for the yellow colour of egg yolks.

Today I made my quick and easy egg custards with some eggs from our lovely flock.  Look at all that xanthophyll!

Combine 4 eggs with 1/2 cup of sugar.  I use brown sugar for added flavour.  Wait a second...
.....why (I hear you asking) are there more than 4 egg yolks in the picture?  Well, the eggs I am using are from our Silkie hens, which lay eggs that weigh about 1 oz, compared to a regular egg that is about 2.5 oz.  Thus, 9 Silkie eggs = approximately 4 regular eggs!

Whisk together the eggs and sugar with a splash of vanilla.  A teaspoon or so will do.  Sometimes I use almond extract instead.  Action shot!

Add 2 1/2 cups of milk.  Alternatively, you can add 1 1/2 cups of milk and 1 cup of water.  I like the full milk version.  I also use full fat (homogenized) milk.  That skim milk business is nasty.  Whisk again, not too vigorously, or it will splash all over the place!

Prepare a 9 x 13" glass pan - fill it about 1/3 with cold water.  Then set the custard cups (ramekins) into it so that the water goes about halfway up the sides of the cups.  The water helps ensure even cooking, and prevents bubbling in the custards.  It is a cooking technique known as "bain marie," derived from French, and previously from the Latin.

Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes.

The tops will be firm, not wet.  You don't want the tops to be puffing up - if they do, you've cooked it for too long.  It will still taste OK but the texture will not be as smooth.  Here are my finished custards.  Super yummy with a swirl of maple syrup on top!

As most readers know, I do a lot of craft-themed things, when I have time.  I haven't had much time at all lately.  Here is a cowl I knitted a couple of months ago.  Knitting is definitely one of my favourite crafts.

There isn't much growing around here at this time of year!  However, I do have a few house plants, including the following succulents.  I am fond of cacti and succulents.  They have very interesting shapes and forms.

As you can see, I keep them on a sunny windowsill.

This is a plant with a cute common name - fairy washboard.  Its proper name is Haworthia limifolia.
Double points, for X no less (!!) - this plant belongs to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family.

This is an Echeveria, but I do not know which one - there are hundreds of species and I haven't had time to pore over the many pictures of them online and determine which one it is.  It might be Echeveria shaviana.  I do love the ruffled edges.

Finally, this is a cactus species that I affectionately call "Hairy Mary" but it is actually Rhipsalis burchellii, also called Mistletoe cactus.  I used to have one in Iowa that was huge and very robust.  This one is much smaller and less full, but hopefully over time it will become more dense.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Friday's Hunt, v 4.23

Another busy week has passed by - as I say every week!  I didn't even have time to visit other blogs for a couple of weeks, which is sad.  But here we are again for Friday's Hunt, and I'm scrounging to put together a post for this week's prompts from Eden Hills:  Starts with W, Dense and Texture.

Starts with W
As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will perhaps remember, my father is a woodworker, and he has a lot of interesting tools. Among those tools are these very small "finger planes" which are also called "whale" planes because of their shape.  Aren't they cute?!

They are called finger planes because they really only fit one finger when they are being used.  They are called whale planes because they look like tiny whales.

The whale's eye is the end of a thin steel rod that holds the wedge in place.  These planes are most commonly used by violin and guitar makers for planing the inside surfaces of the instruments.

The chicken flock is producing eggs despite the short day length, which makes me happy.  It's always fun to go out and collect eggs from the nest boxes.  I'm only getting 2-3 per day, but that's enough!  This egg is particularly pretty - it is covered with a dense pattern of darker speckles on the lighter brown shell.

I took this picture of the spruce trees that surround our house today.  They are also quite dense because they are very close together.  Unfortunately, the spruce only have live green needles at the top of the tree canopy, meaning that the lower parts of the trunks are bare.  It might be good to thin these out a bit.  The trees on the far left side are a different species.

Back to the subject of eggs, some eggs have more texture than others.  While some have very smooth shells, others have shells with little bumps on them.  This is particularly the case with the eggs from my hen, Sienna.  I don't know her breed mix but she is a bantam hen that lays white eggs, and they always have little bumps on them.  Here is one of her eggs - you can really see the textured surface in this close-up shot.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Friday's Hunt v. 4.22

I'm rather late in getting around to Friday's Hunt blog - it has been a busy weekend.  Just scraping in under the wire with my entries for Eden Hills' prompts!

Starts with V
We have two rats that we adopted from one of Marc's coworkers (her cat was scaring them so she was looking for a home where they would not be so frightened).  One rat is named Violet and the other is named Ivy, so they both have a V in their names, but only one starts with V.  We think they are lovely pets - easy to care for and easy to love.  They are fun to watch - although they are mostly nocturnal so we don't get to see them at their most active times.  Here is Violet yawning!

Our indoor cat, Mitten, does not even pay the slightest bit of attention to them.  Here is Violet again, after having a bath.

We actually put up and decorated a Yule tree yesterday!  We don't put one up every year.  In fact, I think I've only had a tree up once in the past 5 or so years.  However, we are now well settled in our home and it seemed like a good year to try to find the right spot for a tree.  It is an artificial tree because we are both very busy and remembering to water a tree is another thing on the list that neither of us really needs.  However, it is a nice quality tree and we had fun putting it up.

Marc carried the tree upstairs.

I added a festive bow to our house mouse's tail.

We assembled the tree and Pippin came to check it out.  He did an audit and determined all the lights were working properly.

A couple of hours later, it was all decorated.  I'm not much of a tinsel person.  I like handmade ornaments the most.

It looked pretty with the room lights off, too.  Here you can also see a festive wall decoration from Marc's childhood on the rear wall.

We listened to a CD of Harry Connick Jr., and then a vinyl LP of Bing Crosby, both singing holiday tunes.  It was definitely festive.  It's nice to celebrate the winter holidays even though we are not at all religious. 

Several of the ornaments that I put on the Yule tree yesterday are made from wood.  Most of the ornaments on the tree have a story or a history to me.

This lovely wood heart ornament came from Winston-Salem in North Carolina.  It was purchased on my last vacation, which I looked up today, and realized was in 2008.  That means it will be 10 years since I have been on a vacation, with the exception of a few long weekends or our short honeymoon, which was 3 nights in Quebec City. Oh, and one night away this year on PEI.  I think I am in need of a real vacation soon.

There are two wooden bear ornaments on the tree.  Marc is especially fond of bears.

This ornament is actually made from wood shavings.  I am sure it is from Europe but I don't remember where - my parents bought these long ago and I have this one from their collection.

This little camel ornament is actually made from olive wood, and I think it might have come from Bethlehem from somebody who visited there.  I'm very fond of camelids, so it's nice to have this one on the tree.

I'm hoping to do a few more blog posts about other ornaments on the tree in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Friday's Hunt v 4.21

I'm rather late to Friday's Hunt this week.  It has been a busy week as usual.  I really look forward to someday saying "It's been a leisurely week."  Our prompts from Eden Hills are:  Starts with U, Mosaic, and "I ate that."

Starts with U
When I was at the Knit East event in October, I took a picture of this unusual side-car motorcycle that I saw parked on the street.  It is a Ural brand motorcycle.  I took the picture because Marc is a motorcycle enthusiast and I thought he would be interested to see it. 

The Ural factory is in Russia and they have a long history of making rugged, heavy-duty side-car motorcycles.  You don't see them very often here, but there are a few around.  If you want to learn more about the Ural motorcycle company (whose original bikes were based on reverse-engineered BMW bikes clandestinely obtained in the early part of World War II), you can read about them here:  They still produce motorcycles today.

I really like mosaic art.  In fact, over time, I have purchased 5 books about making different types of mosaics - garden mosaics, mixed media, and others as you can see in the picture of my books, below.  I have a stash of glass for mosaic making, and the tools to cut the glass pieces.  I have adhesive and grout for mosaic-making as well.  I am all set!  I have been all set for about 10 years now, and I have yet to use any of my supplies.  Sigh.  I really need to make more time for things other than work!

I ate that
Yesterday evening we went to my in-laws for supper and a celebration of the 100th birthday of their piano.  The piano was purchased in 1917 and passed down in the family.  It is a Heintzman piano, which was a renowned Canadian piano maker based in Toronto, Ontario.  Heintzman began making pianos in 1866 and continued until 1981, when the company was sold.  As my contribution to the festivities, I made a cake to share.  I ate a piece of it (not all of it!).  The frosting was done fairly hurriedly so my hand wasn't very steady, but it's the thought that counts!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Friday's Hunt 4.20

Another busy week has come and gone.  This week's prompts from Eden Hills are:  Starts with T, Black and White, and Paper.

Starts with T
A tender moment between our two rabbits - Pippin in front and Epinette behind.  They groom each other a lot, and I always think it's rather sweet to watch how they interact and care for each other.  When treats are involved, then it's every rabbit for him/herself!

Black and White
I see a lot of woodpeckers in my yard at this time of year - they are especially interested in my suet feeder.  Most woodpeckers here are exclusively black and white, with touches of red on the head of the males. Here is a hairy woodpecker (male) I photographed last week who is removing the bark from a spruce tree in the yard - probably finding insects underneath the bark.

It is not uncommon to find paper wasp nests attached to various places on our house.  I don't actually see that many wasps, but I do see their homes.  I try to remove the nests when they are small, but sometimes I miss one.  This one was under the balcony deck that is outside our bedroom.

I like bees but I am not a big fan of wasps, although I recognize they have their place in the ecosystem.  That said, I find their ability to form these "paper" nests from wood fibre to be absolutely amazing.  They are talented insects!  I also love looking at paper fragments from the nests - there is so much variation in colour and texture.  It is like artisanal craft paper - quite remarkable.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday's Hunt v 4.19

It's time for Friday's Hunt again.  The prompts from Eden Hills for this weekend are:  Starts with S, Metal and Mineral.

Starts with S
Shawl starts with S.  I recently finished knitting this shawl and I love it!  It is called the Stay Put Wrap, and it's designed to sit on the shoulders without slipping off.  It does that job really well because of its shape

The yarns I used are Fleece and Harmony Signature Yarn in Spruce (100% wool) and Good Karma Farm 60% wool/40% alpaca yarn in "Mamma Mia" (which was a variegated turquoise and purple colourway).

Fleece and Harmony yarns are locally milled at a small mill in PEI, and you can visit the sheep while you're there!  I really enjoyed working with their wool - it is a sturdy yarn with good twist.  The Good Karma Farm yarn is milled in Belfast, Maine, and I also visited there and got to pet the sheep and alpacas on my visit.  I do enjoy using yarns from small, well-cared-for flocks.  This little shawl will be a nice extra layer for my shoulders in the home office on chilly days.

On my parents' previous visit in October, my Dad and I worked on a little project to help stop the raccoon from stealing my birdseed.  We made some raccoon baffles for my feeder poles.  I can now report that the baffles are a great success and I have had no more raccoon incidents with the feeder ending up on the ground, or the suet being decimated in one night.  The raccoon can no longer climb the poles because it can't get its paws around the slippery surface of the stove pipe sections.

The baffles are made with metal stove pipe sections, metal pipe hanger or strapping (also called iron hanger strip), and metal mesh (also called hardware cloth).

We made cuts in the top of the stove pipe sections to allow for the metal flaps to be folded down, as you can see in the picture above.  Then we cut circles from the metal mesh that would be the same circumference as the stove pipe.  The bent flaps of metal on the stove pipe hold the mesh in place. 

We cut sections of the pipe hanging strap and used bolts to tighten it around the pole.  We also used a pipe clamp and then a few layers of electrical tape wrapped around the pole just below the strap to keep the strap firmly in place so it cannot slide down the pole.  Then we bent the strapping into a shape that would allow the metal mesh to rest upon it.  You can see the hanger strip under the mesh.  The pipe section is centred, but not attached at the bottom in any way, so it's not stable if the raccoon tries to climb it.  If I lived somewhere that snakes in birdhouses were a problem, this baffle would also work for that purpose.  Fortunately, I don't have to deal with snakes!

One must be careful to put the pipe on the bird feeder pole before getting the hanger strap in place.  We learned this the hard way!  It was a fun project for my Dad and I to work on together, and it has worked exactly as intended.

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I have a chicken in my flock who is supposed to be a maran, although I'm not sure what kind of maran she is.  She doesn't fit the usual colours for the various maran breeds.  Because of her interesting colour variation, I have decided to name her "Marble."  Here you can see her wing - its appearance reminds me of marble.

Here is a picture of polished brown marble - see the similarity? Marble is a type of metamorphic rock.  Metamorphic rocks are rocks that have been modified by heat and pressure.  Marble forms when limestone is subjected to heat and pressure, and the calcite in the limestone recrystallizes to form interlocking calcite crystals.  Marble can also contain other minerals like clay, mica, quartz, pyrite, graphite, and iron oxides.  Marble that contains more minerals is more colourful, while white marble is almost entirely limestone with few impurities.

Marble (the chicken) is developing an interesting set of adult feathers.  Her chest has a lot of light fawn and brown tones.  Her legs and feet display the expected feathering for a maran.

Her wings and tail are darker with more grey and even some barred feathers, more like a cuckoo maran.  She was hatched from an egg from a farm that breeds blue birchen marans, but she doesn't look right for one of those either.  Maybe she's a mistake cross and that's why her egg was included as an extra for the person who originally bought the eggs.  She's so unusual - I think Marble is a good name for her.