Window Be Gone

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Rob gets more riled up about some of the questionable craftsmanship in this house than I do (he’s used to houses in the UK being built out of solid materials like stones and brick), but one of the things that annoys me is how drafty a lot of the windows are. I mean, the house is only a bit over a decade old — we’re not talking about hundred-year-old windows here. Oh well.

M’s window stays sealed in the winter with plastic, but in Baby Sister’s room, I was dealing with two problems: a north-facing window that was both drafty and letting in too much light. M has a black-out shade on her window (I don’t know how people trick their babies/toddlers into napping without them), but Baby Sister’s room has two windows, which was really one more than necessary for the time being. So that north-facing one got boarded up! I actually used beadboard paneling that was left over from my bathroom. Put some weather stripping stuff around the edges of the back and nailed it into place. Problems solved (I hope).

You can see that more than enough light still comes in from the other window, which eventually will get a black-out shade. There are mini-blinds on this window (still in place behind the paneling, so the boarded-up-ness isn’t visible from outside the house), but I never had curtains on it before, so it’s actually cuter now than when there was a window there! And this should keep the drafts, light, and ladybugs (fingers crossed) out for a few years — until even Baby Sister is done with naps.

p.s. — The ‘theme’ of Baby Sister’s room is Toysplosion, aka all the toys that M has outgrown, even though they’re suddenly really interesting again, now that she thinks about it.

(Almost) Spring Chickens

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If the chickens understood weather (and English), they’d be excited to hear that it’s going to be in the 40s and 50s for a while. I think they’re done with this winter business. At least a lot of the snow has melted, giving them a chance to pick through the grass for anything remotely edible.

Mister Chicken’s tail is growing in really nicely! I don’t know how much longer most of the feathers will get, but the curly ones are starting to show up, so he should have a good-looking tail when all is said and done. He’s been a pretty nice rooster, so far — when he roams around with the hens, he keeps an eye out for any threats, just like he should. He’s less adventurous / more cautious than the hens — when they’re way out across the yard, he’s usually hanging closer to the house. And he’s always tucked into bed as soon as the sun starts getting low. He would like to woo all the hens, but as you can see in that last photo, Rita (and Charlie, Aster, and Iris) have not yet fallen for his charms.

Laverne, on the other hand, is quite enamored. Mister Chicken doesn’t always immediately come out of the barn when I open everybody’s doors, so Laverne has taken to marching straight in there to see him. And she’s been laying her eggs in his coop. She still goes home to the hen house when the sun starts to set. Laverne was the one who seemed to have an injured leg last fall (she limped around for weeks — it’s fine now), so she got used to being left behind when the other hens would run after something. I wonder if that’s part of her attachment to Mister Chicken now — not having as strong a bond with the other hens. Or she’s just boy crazy. I’m happy that he’s got somebody who likes to spend time with him, though.

Vacation!

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Yesterday, we got back from a week-long vacation! Rob, M, and I went to Marco Island, Florida — about an hour’s drive south from the Fort Myers airport. It was more bustling than we’d expected, but the weather was great while we were there, and we had a good time. Most of my photos are of M doing various things, as you can see, but of course that’s how I saw most of the trip, and those are the things I want to remember. I said to Rob that I’ll probably wind up thinking of this trip as the last time (for a while, anyway) that life was ‘easy’ — M is just at a perfect age and temperament for traveling. She’s such a go-with-the-flow kid, and this vacation was so much easier than when I tried to take her places when she was an infant.

M enjoyed seeing the sea… until a wave knocked her over, but then she discovered sand and enjoyed that instead. Other noteworthy outings included the Naples Botanical Garden (absolutely beautiful, and the Children’s Garden is perfect — M loved it) and Mackle Park, a municipal park on Marco Island that has a big playground and a nice splash pad. We had fun at the farmers market, where M ate an entire ‘chocolate thing’ (pain au chocolat) and had the chance to pet a nice little kitten. And one of the coolest experiences was feeding a giraffe at the Naples Zoo! I thought M would be intimidated by the size of the giraffes, but when she saw other kids feeding them, she asked to, too. And she did a great job! She stretched up high to feed the giraffe each piece of lettuce and didn’t seem nervous at all.

In case other people are interested in traveling-with-a-toddler logistics, M had her own seat on the airplane (she has to, since she’s over 2yrs), and we brought her usual car seat onto the plane. She has a Chicco NextFit, but it fit perfectly onto a Britax travel cart — they’re sort of expensive, but it was well worth it to have something safe and easy to wheel the car seat around with (and M rode in it like a stroller while we were in the airports). I didn’t want to bring a cheap umbrella stroller, and I didn’t want to risk having her BOB get banged up on the plane, so I rented a beach/jogging stroller while we were there. M liked it! We stayed in a house, and M had her own room with two twin beds, which we pushed together. Luckily, she stayed put, near the wall, so there were no rolling-off-the-bed incidents! So much easier than the days of trying to get her to sleep in a Pack ‘n’ Play.

Now we’re back in half-melted Minnesota. It’s nice to sleep in our own beds again, but I do miss that warm weather! What a nice break it was — we’re so lucky!

Lately

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No rhyme or reason to these photos except that I wanted to share them. I had to take a picture of this outfit of M’s — she has the best clothes! If only I could buy clothes for myself at the same price (and then look as cute in them as M does).

Carbo-loading

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I probably should have put a warning at the very top of this post — is it safe to even look at this much gluten if you’ve got celiac disease? Clearly, we don’t avoid carbohydrates around here. I had a glut of eggs, so a couple batches of pasta were in order. I tried a half-whole-wheat recipe this time, using Sunrise Flour Mill’s refined and whole wheat flours. That, plus eggs from our hens, plus water from our well — the only thing that had to travel very far was the salt!

The rigatoni was VERY fun to make — I went from those little dough balls to a finished batch of noodles in about ten minutes. I was thinking I’d make a pan of baked ‘ziti’ using rigatoni, but the noodles might be too big. (There’s a ‘large macaroni’ plate for the press that should be a better size.) They’ll get eaten, though! The small macaroni is a pain to make (it all wants to stick together), but we really like it. A batch is about 1.5lbs, or about one and a half medium-sized boxes from the store. We still have 1/3 of a pan of macaroni and cheese in the freezer, but otherwise we’ve eaten all of the first batch of macaroni noodles! When I buy boxes of pasta, they sit in the pantry for a long time, but we really like these homemade noodles (which I freeze, so we don’t have to rush through them quite as quickly). I’d like to make minestrone and toss in some of this macaroni.

And while I was making pasta, my bread machine was working on the dough for baguettes. Something new to try! I just used Bob’s Red Mill artisan bread flour, since it never fails me. The baguettes needed minimal attention from me after the machine finished with the dough (which is good — the machine makes amazing bread, but I still doubt my ability to get it to rise properly outside the machine). The big baguette got slightly sunburnt on top, but it’s perfect inside. I took the two smaller loaves out sooner, so they’re just right. My plan is to slice them into little rounds and bake them at a low temperature to make Melba toasts. I’m trying to come up with snack-y cracker alternatives. M LOVES toast, especially the ‘crunchy part’ (the crusts), so I think she’ll get a kick out of thoroughly crunchy little toast-crackers!

Chocolate Caramel Cake

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A week or two ago, my friend Ann posted a link to this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake, saying she really wanted to make it… but didn’t think she could (although I’m sure she could have figured it out!). Since we’d already planned a visit for this past weekend, I volunteered to give it a try. It’s only polite to make a cake when your friend drives up to visit you, after all.

There’s nothing complicated about the recipe (which you need a Cook’s Illustrated account to view, unfortunately), but I’d never made soft caramel before, so I wasn’t sure how that would go. I’ve realized that, more and more, I like to try these things out and check them off my mental list of ‘Things I Can Do’. I think the caramel would have pretty straightforward — if my brand new candy thermometer had been completely accurate / hadn’t started to melt at the last minute. TSK. There were two phases of cooking (before adding the cream, butter, etc. and after), and I cut the first phase short when I started to sense that the sugar was starting to burn ever so slightly (even though it still wasn’t up to temperature, according to the thermometer). And then, yep, the thermometer just up and melted — not INTO the caramel, luckily! — at the end of the second phase. In the end, it wasn’t a disaster; the consistency was perfect, although if I’m being critical, I can detect a little bitterness from that first-phase over-heating. Technology!

Overall, though, the cake is great. I love the icing — a nice mix of frosting and ganache. And Ann loved it, so mission accomplished.

Garden Dreams

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I’ve got lots of plans for my future garden(s), but with a due date at the end of May, the odds of my planting ANYthing this year are slim. Maybe some flower seeds, if I can get them in before Baby Sister arrives. But I didn’t grow anything the summer after M was born, and she was a good seven months old by the time that rolled around. With a newborn? Forget it. But I might as well dream about what I’d like to do, since it’s not like I’d be doing it in February, anyway.

— Not directly garden-related, but I’d like to get two piggies (I’m thinking American Guinea Hogs) for pasture and ground management. They’d do a good job of clearing down some of the weeds in the fields, and I’d like to use them as live tilling machines, too. If I had pigs, I’d change my fenced garden layout to just be straight rows. The planted rows would be covered with landscape fabric to keep the weeds down around the plants, and the rows in between would just be mowed for walking. Each spring (or fall), I could take up all the landscape fabric and let the pigs bring everything back to blank-slate status.

— When we had a blockage cleared from the well pipe this summer, we discovered an additional outlet at the edge of the pasture (ie, saw water suddenly geyser-ing out!). It was capped temporarily and then, before the ground froze, we had a spigot put out there, one that shuts off below the frost line. So now there’s running water available in a ‘new’ spot. Perfect for when there’s one day animals back in that pasture, but I also like the idea of putting a secondary garden out that way — maybe just squash or potatoes, something I wouldn’t worry too much about the deer eating.

— I’d love to have more fruit! Of any kind, really. I miss my productive raspberry patch that I had in Minneapolis (I brought a lot of the canes up here, but most didn’t survive, although they’ve come back / spread a little more each year). I need to figure out a way to let berry plants grow while stopping the weeds that otherwise quickly choke them out. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries would be wonderful. It would also be fun to have a mulberry tree or two, although I’d really have to fight off the birds for those. I hope the two plum trees I planted last year will do well in the future. And if I could just figure out how to install a few thirty-year-old apple trees, I’d be set. I’m afraid that waiting thirty years might be the only way to achieve that!

— I’d like to experiment with growing a large crop of broccoli and freezing a lot of it. Broccoli is the vegetable we eat most often, and good-quality, organic stuff can be hard to come by around here. I also want to get serious with row covers for broccoli, as it sort of loses its allure when there are eighty-zillion little green caterpillars to pick off.

— In general, I just want to grow enough of certain things to get us through winters. Being able to make all our own tomato sauce and pesto would be great. There will be years of (possibly endless) experimenting with what works, though. I was really happy with my sunflower crop this year, but they all went moldy within a couple weeks of being cut and put out to dry. Obviously I did something wrong, but I didn’t realize it. That sort of thing is discouraging, but it also makes me want to get it right next time.

Okay, northern hemisphere folks! I know we’re all dreaming about our garden this time of year! What are your grand plans?

Sponge Brush

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Just a quick post to recommend these little sponge brushes (like these) for toddlers. M usually gets too enthusiastic with the water when she uses watercolors (so there’s not much color left), but I was able to just get this brush wet and then give it to her without extra water. So the colors were brighter. And she had a lot more fun using it, too!

Happy Together

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Mister Chicken’s setup in the barn is a smallish coop with run, surrounded by old deck railing panels to make a larger fence. I didn’t have any illusions that the fence could contain Mister Chicken (I’ve seen him sit on top of it, and he’s small enough that he could probably squeeze through the slats), but he seemed to like the boundary and never ventured outside of it. Until this weekend!

We had nice weather on Saturday, so I let the hens out of their coop and left the door to the barn open, so they could go visit Mister Chicken. Charlie headed straight for the barn and then came back out a few minutes later — followed, after a bit, by Mister Chicken! Just strolling down the path toward the house. I knew he had a good sense of where his home was, so I wasn’t worried about his being on the loose, although I didn’t know how he and the hens would interact without a fence between them. Well, it turns out everybody gets along just fine. I think the hens would have a fit if he tried to go in their coop, but they were all content to hang out with him during the day. And when he gets cold or hungry, he just walks himself right back to his own coop.

The thing that amuses me the most is the way Mister Chicken wants to lead his new flock, and the fact that the hens have absolutely no time for that. You can tell sometimes that he’s trying to convince them to follow him here or there, but they just do what they want — they’re independent ladies! He’ll go back to his home and then crow for them (here’s a little clip!), and I’ve had to explain to him that if he wants to see the girls, he’s going to have to go to them. I’m pretty sure he’s an ‘older’ rooster, and he has the look of having had to defend himself from other roosters (as well as the dog who plucked his tail), so I’m sure he’s quite happy to be the only guy with ‘his’ new ladies — whether or not they care!

Squeaky Mouse

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Meet Squeaky Mouse — who is a hamster, of course. I never had a chance of convincing M that this wasn’t Squeaky Mouse (our previously imaginary mouse friend), though, so we’re going with it. I’d always intended to get M her first hamster when she was around the same age I was when I got mine — about four. But… I really like hamsters? And she just loves animals so darn much. She’s been really, really excited about Squeaky Mouse and asks to go see him after she wakes up in the morning and after her nap, plus whenever she happens to think about him. She understands that he’s sleeping most of the time and doesn’t seem bothered by that, although she gets really happy when ‘Squeaky Mouse waking up!’ She won’t be allowed to hold him, but she’ll be excited to pet him once he’s a little more relaxed with us.

He’s settling into his 29gal aquarium (my parents’ old fish tank), which I’ve tried to make as interesting as possible. His main bed seems to be in that overturned little crate, and he’s done some tunneling through the big pile of bedding that’s behind it. You can’t see it in the photo, but there’s a ramp that goes from that area up to the raised platform. I might eventually replace the grass hut with something — maybe a bowl of sand — because he doesn’t seem to use the hut very much, now that he’s got that crate.

He’s been understandably nervous the past few days, so I haven’t been doing anything other than letting him sniff my hand to get used it. But this evening, he let me pick him up without even flinching, so I think we’re making some progress. Long time readers of twelve22 might remember my last hamster (when I was in college!), Monty, who was SO tame. I couldn’t have a cat in my apartment, so Monty was my substitute cat. We’d be pretty lucky if Squeaky Mouse approached that level of friendliness, but we’re already pretty happy to have him around!