Friday, February 26, 2010

Seedling update

We now have 45 visible seedlings in various stages of growth.

Some are relatively big and are starting to grow their first set of true leaves!

And some are still little. If Dr. Seuss had seedlings I think they would look like this one.

And some have yet to emerge (just imagine a picture of dirt).

This is our current growing set up. Not at all fancy. It's consists a cheap folding table, two heating mats from the pharmacy, and a 4' florescent shop light held hung from bar clamps which are clamped to boards which are in turn clamped to the cheap folding table legs. The plastic tray covers come off once the plants are up to avoid stem rot due to excessive condensation and to avoid suffocating them. You don't have to get the special plant/aquarium grow lights either, just get ones with similar lumens and color temperature as the grow lights at the store (isn't it nice that they on the same aisle for easy in-store referencing?). The bulbs we got are 32 Watts, 2950 Lumens, and 4100K (color temperature measured in degrees Kelvin). The pack of two bulbs cost $7. The fixture cost $27. The heating mats each cost around $12 and this is our second year using them. Everything else we already had and everything we bought for this light and heat set up we will be able to use again and again.

I think gardening pays off over time. I think about the jokes of people growing a $30 tomato due to how much money they spent on setting up the garden and for all the plants. It's easy to spend a lot of money but you really don't have to-- especially if you start modestly and work up to larger scale projects. This is our first year with a grow light and I think it works better but every other year the windows worked too-- just with more etiolation (remember what that is?) but we still got a harvest.

A lot of money is saved by starting the plants by seed instead of buying transplants. Most of the expense of starting seeds goes into equipment that can be used in the years to come. The stuff we buy every year is not very expensive and with enough planning and work could be eliminated all together. We are not at the point of making our own potting soil but we do save many seeds from our garden so the expense of seeds is mostly just for trying new types and varieties.

Gardening grows on you (the pun is coincidental but welcome).

**as a completely unrelated side note** It's snowing right now and in my opinion one real perk of living in a working class neighborhood is that it's more likely that your neighbor drives a snow plow-- and that certainly has it's advantages ;)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brown Sugar and Happy Rants

The other day it occurred to me that it has been at least six months (possibly more) since I bought brown sugar although I use it almost everyday. I don't remember when exactly but I started making my own I have kept at it quite possibly because it's incredibly easy... easier than remembering to get it from the store.

Jayna was the first person I saw make brown sugar. I had never thought about making it before and assumed it was regular sugar that was slightly less processed than white sugar. I didn't know I could be making it at home, I was just missing an ingredient.

I don't know much about Molasses. It is a byproduct of the sugar refinement process. Brown sugar is simply sugar with some of the molasses mixed back in-- we can do that!

1 Tablespoon Molasses for every Cup of White Sugar (you can make adjustments to your personal taste with less of more Molasses).

I've used blackstrap molasses and I am happy with it although I haven't tried any other kinds. I've learned that blackstrap has more nutrients (I'm not sure how much more), made from older sugar cane (can blackstrap come from sugar beets?) and can have a bit of bitterness to it so I have to be careful not to over do it. Sulphered molasses is made from green sugar and so is treated with sulphur fumes to refine the sugar (I don't have a real understanding on this)-- sounds unappealing to me. Regular molasses is made from ripe cane (and sugar beets) and is lighter in color than blackstrap. My next jar of molasses will be the regular kind so I can see how I like it.

A jar costs under $4 and lasts a really long time. According to my estimates one 12 oz. jar will turn about 10 lbs of sugar into brown sugar.

This is a 4 cup batch most recently made. This brings to another reason why I love my KichenAid and it also brings me to my BladeBeater which makes it even easier to love my KichenAid, not that it was ever all that hard but it's even that much better. Gone are the days of stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula (I've even seen Martha Stewart do this on her show-- poor Martha-- such a hardship).

This is not my typical purchase. I bought it for about $25 at Hollywood Hardware on Freeport in Sacramento. While this is pricey for me is not at all pricey compared to just about anything else KitchenAid related. I love it when products show that someone somewhere was really thinking (like baking powder cans-- so simple but illustrates that thought went into it-- I save those cans and refill them with other things that are often needed by the teaspoon). The squeegees on the edges of the flat beater scrape down the sides of the bowl as it mixes and when it's all done then the BladeBeater works as a large spatula that just so happens to perfectly fit the contour of the bowl. The only negative thing I could say about it is that if I'm mixing a small volume then it can squeak-- I can live with that. totally.

It's made in the USA and they make blades that fit different types of mixers and models.

Happy rant leading to another happy rant! yay for awesome mixers and brown sugar!

Now you've made all the way to the end-- thanks! I have a question for you... Would you like to see a post about making yogurt or english muffins/crumpets? I've recently started making both and am starting to get the hang of it. Please leave a comment-- thanks for reading.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Clothesline is Up and Running

Well, not running but you know what I mean. It's something I've been thinking about for quite a while. The motivation behind it is to save money on our electric bill by not using the dryer which is harder to do in the winter. Last winter I jerryrigged a clothesline that ran from our living room wall to our dining room wall (through the doorway in between). This method made it difficult to use the house during laundry day. So now the line has moved to the bedroom over the bed-- a place I don't use or walk around in the course of my usual day.

This is one half of the clothesline rig. There is a duplicate on the opposite wall. It's looks the same as the one above the bed so I didn't take a picture of it -- it has nothing to do with needing to tidy the top of my dresser. Being in the bedroom I insisted that it didn't scream 'utilitarian' (I had nightmarish images of a 2x4 with ragged edges and big screw eyes bolted to the wall). I needed it to be pretty so it increases my will to not just live, but do laundry. I wanted it to be something that we would want to take with us when we eventually move. I could see using these in a future mudroom or really anywhere. I like the idea that my home contains only things which I find either useful or beautiful (preferably both)-- of course it's a work in progress.

I also didn't have much to spend-- especially since the goal is to save money. The boards I used Dennis picked up for free-- yay! free! The moulding is the cheap kind and to trim both units cost almost $20 and I still have a fair bit left over and have an idea as to how I may use it for another project. The glue, spackle, and paint we had already.

The knobs I found at a local cabinet hardware shop (on Harrison for those in town). It's a nice little shop where it's not hard to find knobs in the $8 a piece range (and up-- I found one type of little sparkly glass knob for $16 ea. and I didn't ask about anything that wasn't labeled). But they had a little clearance section made up mostly of shiney brass but with some other nice knobs. The ones I purchased were $1.6o each which isn't the cheapest knob but a very good price for this quality and aesthetic-- they were going to be put under significant strain so I needed hefty one piece non-plastic knobs. Similar knobs at Home Depot can be found for $20 per pack of 10 so I was still pretty happy with the ones I found. So in total I spent about $40 for both pretty shelvey clothesline rigs.

This is with my first load of laundry. It takes a couple minutes to set up and it can't handle huge loads (because the room is 9 feet long) but it gets the job done. I just have to make sure I do laundry the first thing in the morning so everything is dry by bed time.

(mostly for Dad) Yes they are screwed into studs, three studs per shelf, two 2 1/2" screws per stud. The shelf tips back toward the wall (not square) and the top run of cove is attached off set of the shelf board creating a small lip-- I think both of these things will adequately prevent things from falling off the shelf (and onto our sleeping heads-- we just won't put cartoon anvils up there). See? functional and pretty!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The New Start on My Day

Everyday an hour before breakfast I take my generic synthroid. I've been at it for a few months and I will be at it for the rest of my life so it's good it's not too annoying and it's good that the pills are tiny and as cute as pills can be. Cute always helps!

The top is a representative of the pills they started me on after my first scan. The little blue one is the higher dose they started me last month. In March I get to do more blood work to check my levels and there may be another adjustment after that. Thyroid medications take six weeks to show their full effect so it can take a while to find my ideal dose. I'm pretty happy with what I have-- the blue ones are so cute! I'll take an increase if it's recommended and wonder what color it will be.

A nice thing about these adjustments is that it allows me the opportunity to build something of a stash since the insurance does not allow me to get more than a 30 day supply at a time. This way I can have some put away in our 72 hour kits (the ones I still have to assemble) and know that I'll be covered just in case-- I'm okay with having an out of date dose in an emergency. It's strange to think this way-- all worst case scenario governmental collapse and such but I find it's part of living with a dependency-- I need these pills-- I will die without them. How many things can you say that about and mean it very literally? At times it's still hard to wrap my brain around this concept when I stop to think about it.

I'm positive I'll get completely used to it. Cute always helps!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Somthing Fun About Snow


You can tell who came to visit, even if they don't say hello.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Starting Peppers

Nothing fights cabin fever better than planning the garden. We can look at seed catalogs forever (Dennis is still looking them over even after we have our seeds for the year). Then comes a series of layout plans... "Where should we put the tomatoes this year?" Rotation helps avoid the depletion of soil nutrients but when space is limited you just have to put the peas where they can climb. It all leads to things to think about. It helps us look in a forward direction. The only problem is that the part of spring that includes delicate plants living outside is a solid six weeks away. But we can still get started! Let's Go!

Now it's still a bit too early to start tomatoes-- they'll get too big and start to suffer before we could move them outside (we'll start them in another week or two). But this year we decided to give our peppers a head start because they grow s o o . . . slo o o wly and the growing season in Michigan is significantly shorter than places where peppers would actually enjoy growing. For instance pepper seeds like the soil to be at least 70 degrees in order to germinate-- it's not even seventy degrees inside our house-- we place the seedling flats on heating pads to accomplish this. By the time Michigan is 70 degrees the time for starting peppers is long past... we like peppers (and salsa) ... so we help them out.

In case you're following along it's a good idea when starting seeds in a flat -- especially on a heating mat-- to use the clear plastic dome to avoid evaporation and everything drying out.

In no time at all it starts to look like a little rain forest minus the plants and wildlife and anything else that would be interesting in a rain forest -- it looks like a very boring rain forest-- but since it's a rain forest on my table it's exciting enough for me. I can never resist the urge to tap the top to make it 'rain' ... oddly satisfying... oddly.

I started the seeds on Monday the 8th of February. I planted ten seeds of each of these six varieties: Serrano (hot pepper), Pablano (medium hot pepper), Georgia Flame (ummm.. hot pepper), Buran (red sweet pepper), Purple Beauty (dark red/purple bell pepper), and Healthy (a red bell pepper said to do well in northern climes). Yes that's potentially 60 plants... chances are some will not get started and some may die along the way ... or else we'll have a fun time trying to find places to plant all of these!

And wouldn't you know that exactly one week after planting we got our first babies?

Six Serranos and three Purple Beauties on Monday the 15th and as of today we're up to eight Serranos, six Purple Beauties, and two Burans visible.

Some are bigger than in this photo (it being a single day old). We have a light on them so hopefully they don't try to get too tall and straggly from reaching to find light. Dennis knows the term for this getting tall and straggly from looking for light business... but I don't... so I'll ask him again. It's one of those many things that you're not surprised that the process has a name, it's just weird to think that anyone knows the name and has it readily available for recall.

**note-- "etiolation" is the term for plant baby gangliness-- I'll try to remember that.

Ahhh, they grow up so fast i just have to remind myself to take the time and enjoy this stage. Isn't that what all mother's say? Or is told when she's having difficulty with her three year old?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fun with Uncle Dennis


I have to say that of the many fun and memorable moments of trip to California-- and there were many-- I think this one might become a new tradition when Dennis comes to visit. It started on Christmas Eve at my sister's house. My sister has a daughter who is very small for her age and Dennis wondered if she would fit in his backpack. He wondered this out loud and Alisha heard and was all for it!

She folds up very small and likes that she can fit in unexpected places. He carried her around my sister's house for a while that night and the next time he came over she asked him if he brought his backpack. It was so fun to see her head sticking out (although she totally could have fit all the way inside) we had to do it again later to get pictures. She has a twisted little sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Christmas Elfing

Yes 'elfing' is a verb. I had a handful of Christmas projects this year-- not too many but some that would be fun to share.

The sewing project for this year was for my mom. She recently got a very nice and very huge dining table so we wanted to help her dress it. In my family we have a gift giving name rotation-- which I love because instead of getting every person a tiny gift it allows me to focus on one member of the family and make/buy them something nice. This year Dennis had Mom... as you can see I helped but he contributed more than one might assume.

See the fish? and the scales? That's Dennis. He provided input for the design and ultimately decided on this one and he went to the fabric store with me... I did all the needle pushing though.

This shows the table runner's reversible-ness. And my foot in the bottom picture gives you a sense of scale-- yes we can pretend that's exactly why my foot is in the picture-- purely intentional!

This was our gift for my mother-in-law (Dennis got a nice frame for it once we arrived in California). When I was there last Summer I looked through her wedding album and took a photograph of one of their wedding pictures-- one of my favorites-- and painted this watercolor from that photograph... then I took a photograph of the painting to post it here. I think she really liked it. 2009 would have marked their 45th wedding anniversary so I wanted to do something special.

I had my sister Jayna for our gift exchange. I sent her a box of specialty groceries that are expensive where she's living if available at all-- and perhaps the best use ever of the postal service's flat-rate boxes! In that box I gave her a block of watercolor paper because I love these pre-stretched blocks of paper that don't buckle when painted. I look forward to seeing what she paints! I couldn't help but use the opportunity to give her a little painting to show my love. Again I worked from a photograph.

This is from a picture I took while I was visiting Jayna in Montreal. This is her friend Veronica. She was taking us to her marching band practice. She plays tuba. It was raining.

Monday, February 1, 2010


It all started when I was put on the window decorating committee at the little store in which I try to sell some of my puppets. (for the locals-- is called The Artisan's Circle in our new location in downtown Williamston, MI go check it out! oh and buy a finger puppet!)

For one of the elements of the window I wanted to paint on snowflakes. I knew I wanted a stencil of some kind and I knew I wanted to use 'frosted glass' spray paint to make the snowflakes look more like etched glass and a bit more subtle and less cartoonish. I had seen cans of frosted glass before and wanted to play with it but I needed a good reason. I was very happy with the result.

The stencil was a bit harder to find. First because I was looking in the stencil section. I ended up using a festive spatula (the pancake turning kind, not the bowl scraping kind) I found at Jo-Ann's-- a stencil with a handle! When you tape on a paper plate with the center removed you then have a self-masking stencil with a handle. And I must say it's very nice-- and very fast. Addictive.

The store window came together well-- in fact we won best retail window in Williamston-- yay! Not bad for the new kids. And I learned that it's a bit tricky to photograph windows well-- at least not without waiting around all day for perfect light so I'm going to ask you to use your imagination and see through the photography.

This is at night... much more magical in person. The flakes kind of glow when back lit.

Early this winter I started feeling a little down. Needing to feel Christmas without really decorating for it since we're not at our house for the weeks surrounding Christmas. So these little guys pulled me right out of it. In fact for a while there I was on some sort of snowflake high! So I guess if these snowflakes where like a drug to me then they were like pot-- because I wanted to share! I started snowflaking the windows others... sometimes when they were not home.

When I asked my beau if he wanted to come with me on a snowflake run he smiled and replied, "I want no part of your petty vandalism."

Too bad, more for me!

We went to California and I bought another spatula and another can of frosted glass spray paint. Yes I spread the snowflake love to Sacramento.

Mine are still on my window. And they still make me smile.