Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Birds and The Bees

Don't worry....this is not going to be an awkward blog post in which I sit you down and explain the facts of life.

The weather has been wonderful lately, and our backyard pets have been loving it. The bees are beginning to leave their hive and explore during the warmest parts of the day, eagerly awaiting blossoms. The chickens have been given the entire yard to wander. They spend their days looking for bugs and enjoying the sunshine. They do tend to make a mess of our mulch, but they are just happy I suppose it is alright.

Such a lovely day just called for introducing you to some of our pets.
This is Spirit, a Delaware hen. Gizmo named her because she definitely had spunk, even as a little chick. She was three days old when we got her, and was kept in a playpen along with a few fellow chicks in the master bathroom until it was warm enough to go outside. She was known for escaping, and even now she sometimes tries to come into the house.

The pretty black hen in the front is Starlight. She is the only hen we have that has been hatched by a momma chicken. We don't have roosters, so I suppose you could say she was adopted. She is incredibly soft, but extremely hard to catch. In the background is Nickel, one of our Americanas. She lays gorgeous green eggs!

Since the bees are not fully active at this point, I was only able to take a few pictures through the hive window. All winter I have been peeking in their and seeing very little signs of life. With the worry of hive collapse, it is always a relief to see all bees doing so well.

This is an area of the comb that is attached to the window. You can see a bit of their honey stores, and if you look closely, you can see the bee hanging out between the two combs.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The First Hint of Spring

Winter often brings with it some terrible air conditions here. We have weather inversions that occur during those cold months, which basically means a whole lot of pollution gets trapped here. If a storm doesn't occur for a week or two, the air quality is visibly worsened.

Wonderfully, this past weekend the clouds sent down lots of rainy goodness that cleaned the air up beautifully. It is so amazing to be outside and realize how clear and wonderful it is after a good storm. I sometimes go for a jog while Spike is at his Boy Scout meetings, but I wanted to celebrate the clean air with something more than that. Princess and Squirt have been itching to ride their bikes, so they were thrilled as I loaded their bikes in the back of my car with the promise that I had a great place in mind to ride all they wanted.

I had a wonderful stroll, and both the kiddos had a great bike ride. Princess was very proud that she was able to pedal while standing up to make it up some of the hills. Squirt made it up the hills himself, with some power boost help from me. We saw a fancy bird house, horses, birds, and lots of very interesting sticks and rocks (a few which made their way home). I know it is not spring yet, but on days like these I can feel it coming. The air is still quite chilly, but it is clean, and I am happy with that.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Recent Spinning

I have not been doing very much spinning lately. Not because I do not enjoy it, but simply because I am trying to finish up a few crochet things I have been working on that I will share when they are finished.

My poor spinning wheel, which I have named Eve, has been sitting next to the television in our family room looking ever so lonely, while my stash of angora fiber from our bunnies, Molly and Beatrix, has been adding up.

The first yarn I spun was some undyed roving I had purchased for the purpose of learning how to use the spinning wheel. It still remains on the bobbin. I do have more of the roving left, so I will probably finish it up and ply it in the future, although I have no plans for it at this time.

So what am I currently working on? I am actually finishing up on some wool roving that I purchased before I received my spinning wheel for Christmas. I dyed the roving with Kool-Aid (grape and mountain berry flavors if you are wondering) and happily spun much of it on my drop spindle.  I had two balls of approximately the same size when I got the wheel, and decided to use it ply them together.

This is the result:
 I am now finishing spinning up all the purple and blue fiber into singles, and will afterwards ply it. The plan for this wool has always been to make a shawl. It is mostly fingering weight, although I will admit I do now spin as evenly as I aspire to. I do really enjoy the process though, so I am not really upset about the rustic-ness of the finished yarn. In this above skein, I have approximately 280 yards. I am anticipating another 350 or so when I am finally done. I am really excited to make something with this!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cake for My Litttle Sister

 This past weekend, we happily celebrated my little sister's 21st birthday. She is on a gluten free diet, and her fiance was having a rough time finding a bakery that could make her a gluten free cake. We have a variety of places that make some great gluten free cupcakes, but sometimes a big cake just is better.

I did my best with trying to step up and make her a fun cake for her birthday. The bottom of the cake is an 8" cake with two layers, making it 4 inches tall. The middle, green part is a single 6 inch cake. The top was made by baking two cakes in thoroughly cleaned out tuna fish cans. I have used the tuna fish cans to make my kids little cakes that they could decorate and have all to themselves. They only require a small amount of baking time; I baked them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Of course, having such a small top layer gives the recipient their own personal cake, which is kind of fun.

I added a few personal touches, so it wasn't just a generic cake. The book is because my sister loves to read, the rock in the middle is a hearthstone from the game World of Warcraft that she plays, and the syringe on the bottom is because she does all sorts of labwork with blood at school. I realize a syringe is not used to draw blood....but it was the closest I could make and still have a recognizable object.

I also used a new technique on this cake by slightly steaming it before piping the frosting and adding the final decorations. I usually have a problem with cornstarch showing on the fondant, especially with brighter colors, and the steam really helped clear it up. Since I do not have a professional steamer, I was able to use my iron on a steam setting, holding it a few inches from the cake.