Monthly Archives: July 2008

Love Craft: is that an Elder slug?

I like to make things, but I do not make as many things as I’d like to because I often do not have a use for the things I would make. I give things as gifts, but usually only things I’ve made specifically for people. That is one of the reasons I like to cook: because the end product is sure to be used.

I have my hands in a number of different crafts which rotate around depending on my interest or need. Most recently the list has been sewing, painting miniatures, and knitting. I’ve been interested in learning how to paint with oils, learn basic carpentry, and attempt more esoteric mixed media collages. But honestly, I’d try just about anything creative, and nothing is too daunting. I love the process of figuring out how to do something cool I saw or thought about. I could use a technique once and never use it again, but the knowledge that I have it in my arsenal for future projects coupled with the satisfaction of learning something fairly difficult keeps me happy and hungry for more.

I’ve been itching for some new ideas, and since I had some fines to pay at the library, I decided to wander. Frankly, I was going for an illustrated guide to horse tack, and something that explained movement and conformation, but I never made it over there. Instead I got caught up in the knitting section, after I pulled a few random books from the beading section on titles alone. I’m notorious for leaving the library with more books than I can carry, so it took me a while to whittle down the pile of knitting books. I made some tough calls and decided on four. It would have been three, but in one of the books there were directions for a knitted screen door (!!!!!) that was so cool I just have to try it. Okay, so it also has directions for a dressmaker’s dummy that has been decoupaged with yarn labels. I now have to get my hands on one and also to figure out how to get the 300+ labels without having to buy that much yarn!

Despite my freakish interest in that awesome door and $3000 worth of labels, when I turned to the rest of the books I had randomly picked up, I was in for quite a shock. One of the books was for a purely practical skill (how to bead with cabochons), but the other two I had picked up were very cool. One was a primer on how to recreate the lush jewelry in old paintings and museum displays. As an on-again off-again historical costumer, this was right up my alley. I wish I had seen this book ten years ago. I might make a few test pieces and put a few probes out for buyers.

The other book I picked up just blew me away. It’s an introduction to something called metal clay. I’d never heard of it. I’ve handled the finished project, but I had never realized that it was not smithed or wrought or poured metal. I’ve been interested in taking the metalcraft classes at school, and I still may (no skill unworthy) but for some reason I haven’t been able to get any initiative for it. The metal clay, however, excites me beyond belief. For the first time I can put existing skills to use to get a product that I thought I’d have to work years at developing the skills for. I’ve been working in miniature with clay (and other clayey substances) since I was about ten, when I had an apprenticeship with a local artist through the TAG program at my school. I’ve since made realistic food for doll displays, shaped small figurines, and most recently, used plumbing putty and paper clips (of all things) to join, shape, and alter two-inch-tall pewter figurines before painting. Working small and delicate is a fun challenge for me. Stained-glass-like fairy wings out of easter basket wrapping paper? Yeah, I loves me some intricate work.

In any event, I am having trouble conveying the inner gleeing. Let me just post pictures instead.

Metal Clay Slug

Metal Clay Slug

This thing is very cool, and is a pretty good starting point for the sorts of jewelry and art I wanted to achieve with silversmithing and whatnot.

Building the frame

Building the frame

The eventually hollow piece is built upon a cork clay base that burns away in the kiln. The applications, oh, the applications…

Syringe Clay! Who knew!

Syringe Clay! Who knew!

Mostly, I am just very, very excited, and this book will be coming home from Amazon.

How does your garden grow?

By the time we moved in to This Old House it was too late in the season for me to get started. “Wait,” you say, “you only got there in June! What is wrong with you! Haven’t you heard of succession planting? Many plants cannot be planted until late in the season anyhow! And what about winter crops!” But you would be forgetting that I live in Alaska, and that I still have to completely set up my beds. Sure, I could get some lettuce and herbs, and perhaps a few strawberries, before the fall frosts, but nothing like what I’d like. Being a novice gardener and light on cash, I cannot afford the amenities that would allow me to extend the growing season later. I do have most of the materials in place for extending the season early, however, and I’ve committed myself to putting my all into next year’s garden.

I had planned on building raised beds and moving the soil from the existing plot over to the new location. Less trouble than double-digging, I thought. I’ve since thought better. Since we moved in at the end of spring, we’re only going to be here for one growing season. That’s not worth going through the expense of moving things around.

What I will do is narrow the existing bed from 8×8 to 8×5, getting the bed away from the trees in one corner. I will double-dig now, put manure and other compost in now, cover it with newspaper and straw, and allow it to overwinter. I will also build some zucchini hills. Once the snow is melted in spring, I will cover the beds with black plastic and allow the soil to heat up so that I’ll be able to transplant started seedlings into covered containers. That should get me my “early” spring crop. I’ll be hoping for a second planting as soon as those plants are ready.

It is both easy and hard to grow vegetables here. On one hand, the growing season is incredibly short. On the other hand, we get roughly 20 hours of sunlight at the height of summer. Early maturing plants get incredible growth. The key is short season plants and transplanting from seedlings. Seeds in the ground can work, but it’s better to get a head start.

Next year I am looking forward to carrots, zucchini, and basil. If I don’t grow anything else, those will be it.

Progress

I like blogging because I can always tell if I am getting off track with my goals. If I am not on task, I have nothing to write about. I can have nothing to say if I have made no progress.

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy today, a little off for a couple of days. I’ve been staying up too late, sleeping too late, and I’ve been generally unmotivated around the house. Could be the weather. I like the rain, but it’s been raining for weeks, and it’s kept me from a few things Could be that I’ve been overworked, as I hadn’t gotten a break from work for about 12 days. Could be that it’s just that time of the month, though I haven”t had too many problems lately.

What ever the reason, I was tired of being so unproductive, so I did some laundry and washed all the dishes and made a respectable dinner. I set up a composting container so we can start composting. I worked way past when I wanted to stop. I feel better for seeing the improvements.

But still down.

Detached

Bringing Penny home really made it sink in how much the new cat, Tweed, does not fit in here. Batman is goofy, squishy, snuggly mess, but Tweed, besides being regal, graceful, and undeniably beautiful, has nothing going for him. He’s not nasty or anything, but mostly he’s just indifferent. He’s indifferent to us, he tolerates petting, he doesn’t want to be held or cuddled. He does not purr. There’s something wrong with a cat that doesn’t purr. He is healthy, and despite a week of pouting, he eats enthusiastically. He spends all day by himself, but will play “Big Brother” and watches me from the landing of the stairs. He lays there staring at me, and tears off when anyone approaches while he’s lying on the stairs (yet he is fine with the dog, go figure). He ignores you if he’s anywhere else.

He fights with Batman occasionally, and they get really loud, but it’s not as ugly as it would get with Boo and Batman, and those two were just playing. They have their peaceful moments together on the bed, and I’ve even caught them grooming one another a time or two. It’s not that they hate each other, it’s just that they seem to have nothing in common.

Except the laser pointer. Man, they get riled up, and it’s quite a sight. Tweed is especially fast and agile, and Batman has gone to great lengths to keep up with him. So yes, Tweed’s only loves are laser pointers, cheese, and bugs he can eat. Not the cuddly cat I came home with.

We spoke about re-homing him at length one night. We think he’s a beautiful cat, but we’re not particularly attached to him. We agreed that he’s not unhappy, but he isn’t particularly happy either. We spoke tentatively about giving him back to the rescue, but I think we’ll only do that if fights between him and Batman turn really ugly. He is our responsibility, and all. I wouldn’t want to put this sort of cat into a home where people would be expecting, you know, a cat, instead of furry surveillance equipment. The next morning he was soliciting pets, and acting so much more friendly and normal. Pat and I remarked in secret about how suspicious it was, and how he knew we were talking about him going back. We may need to rename him to B.B.

If you’ll excuse me, Big Brother is watching.

Give a dog a home

I’m sitting here in a thick miasma of dog farts and I’m nothing but grateful. Eye-wateringly grateful.

The JRT came home with me on Wednesday for a trial run. I do not think she will be leaving. We’ve renamed her Penny.

She’s back in her element again as a lazy house dog. Naps galore. It’s been wet and rainy, so there haven’t been very many walks. She’s more trained than we were led to believe. She has a very reliable “sit”, a “lie down” that only works when she’s on the bed with us, a respectable “leave it”, a problematic “stay” (she gets horribly confused when Patrick tells her to “Go get Stacey”) and she knows “go to your crate”. She may be a bit rusty on her commands, but she’s a quick learner. She already knows her new name, and our names, and has learned directional commands for upstairs, downstairs, kitchen, bed, front (door) and back door. She’s also displaying targeting to my hands or to a pointed finger if she is unsure. I think she’s going to be a blast.

She’s a crafty little bugger. We’ve learned that she knows enough to chew a leash to pieces when no one is looking. I mean, astonishing, record-breaking “snip-snip-done!” sorts of escapes. It’s obvious she has losts of practice. Other than that, she hasn’t tried to chew anything inappropriate at all.

She’s rather soft, so she falls to pieces at corrections. Most of the time a little “ah” or a cleared throat is enough to reprimand her, but she’s gotten a few full-out yells for futzing with the cats. I don’t trust her with them unsupervised. It’s not that she wants to chase them or anything, but she resource guards food and attention from us. We are swift and severe in correcting this. The cats seem unconcerned, for the most part. They’ve taken a few lazy bats at her when she is running around, but nothing in their manner suggests they are upset with her presence.

She’s calm and wonderful in the house, but she’s a nut outside. She’s scared of other dogs, she doesn’t like loud noises, and most of all she’s absolutely terrified of people. I refuse to take her out for a long walk until I get her a harness, a chain leash that she can’t chew through, and updated tags with our contact info. She likes the walks themselves. She thinks we’re going to go for a ride in every parked car, she sniffs every bush, tries to pick up every bone or tennis ball we come across (yuck), and is thoroughly disturbed by the “bears” in the neighbor’s lawn. I have to get the camera for this one. Penny turns into a teensy white hyena whenever she sees the trio of painted bear silhouettes on a nearby fence. I’m sure they’ve seen bears at the farm, and I need to take her over there again so she can see that they’re not real. But damn, was it ever funny to see her all fluffed up.

Patrick is totally smitten with her. He’s never had a dog before, and I was really talking up the virtues of a dog in the year or so we’ve been preparing for one. Penny is the ideal: obviously not perfect, but gentle and compliant and silly and people-oriented and completely lovey-dovey. He’s been so cute greeting her and asking if he’s doing the right thing, or how he should correct x or reward for y and he’s been jumping up to take her outside and for walks and… well, it’s just been really great to see. Also, when he was having some stomach troubles, Penny sat with him and took naps with him and really helped him to feel better mentally. I’m glad it’s not just me.

This was just supposed to be a few days trial run, but Patrick talks like she’s a member of the family. Guess I can’t blame him, she fits in here perfectly.

In short, she’s a dog, and we love her.

My husband

My husband Patrick is very easy going. Talk about rolling with the punches. I can be a pretty stormy person to live with at times, but he weathers it extremely well. He is also very (unintentionally) Zen in that he is not very concerned with the future, and lives very fully in the present. He always seems to be a bit shocked when I say something is imminent, even though I’ve talked about it before and he knows it’s coming. It’s pretty endearing.

I feel really blessed because I’m constantly hit with all sorts of scatterbrained ideas that keep me running in a million directions, and I know I can count on him to help me out with every single one of them. I just have to remember that I need to ASK. And be really clear that I’m not asking his opinion, I’m asking for his help.

Sometimes, I don’t have to ask. He’s also very good at meandering in and asking if he can help with something. I love it! One day I had my friend over and told her about this phenomenon. It’s especially strong when clinking dishes are involved. I went into the kitchen, turned on the water, and clinked a few plates around. Sure enough, Pat comes trotting into the room with a “Can I help with anything?” My friend and I about died laughing.

We were working in the kitchen together the other day, and the conversation turned to when we might move to Virginia. It’s something we’ve talked about a little since our honeymoon, and we’ve been sorta kinda serious about it, but there certainly hasn’t been any planning. With firm certainty, Pat comes out of the blue with: “Well, our lease is up in two years, we’ll just move then.” Just like that. Simple, plain, and sound. And I thought that he couldn’t plan…

Rabbits

I have wanted to keep rabbits for a very long time. Not for pets, mind you, but for meat. The thought is even more attractive now that we’re feeding our pets raw. I’ve read up on the subject, and I even have my favorite books, but I’ve really never spent a lot of time around rabbits, and I’ve been generally scared of them, nervous that they’ll bite me, or panic and break their back, or whatnot.

At the farm, Jeanette keeps perhaps 150 rabbits, all rescues. Some of the males are neutered, a few rare females are spayed, and for the most part they are fat and healthy. Since being involved in rescue, she and her husband have decided to be vegetarian, because in her words “when we were raising show rabbits, it just didn’t seem right to go to potlucks at the end of the weekend and be eating the losers.” I get her point, but I don’t plan on giving up meat anytime soon, I just want to raise it myself in a humane and healthy way.  I think she would be appalled at how much I am learning from her practices.

They started with hutches, but they’re bulky and not very practical. They then progressed to cages in the barn, hung from the walls like picture frames. It gives the cages some spring, so even if a rabbit does panic, it’s less likely to hurt itself badly. There is one room that is set up like a commercial breeder, with cages double high and a runoff so that the lower cages stay dry and waste-free. it’s the system I’m most familiar with, but I have never been very happy with it.

What has surprised me the most is the outdoor runs. Females have been getting transferred out to colonies 4-10 members large in wire-bottomed, wire-enclosed, tarp-roofed structures that have been set with hay bales. The hay and rabbit waste breaks down into an odorless soil that is ideal for shallow burrows. She never mucks them out, and they do not smell. The colony rabbits are the healthiest, happiest, most friendly rabbits she keeps. She’s trying to get the rest of the barn rabbits into colonies before winter.

I asked her where she puts the rabbits in the winter, and she says that the rabbits do fine out there. I was so shocked! It can get to -70 with the windchill, and easily -30 without. And four foot snow buildup. Aargh! I couldn’t hardly wrap my brain around it! She’s apparently been doing it for years and has never lost a rabbit to the elements. The snow surrounds the pens and shelters them from the winds, the decomposing hay and poo keep the ground temperature from freezing, and sometimes downright warm, and the rabbits just build nests, grow thicker coats, and snuggle up with eachother. It still boggles my mind, but it makes sense.

It also makes me wonder if I could do something similar in our backyard. Even though we’re in the city, we’re zoned in such a way that we can put up a request for land use and if it is not denied, we can have certain kinds of livestock and poultry on our property, provided that it is set back from the road a certain number of feet. I also do not think rabbits are classed as livestock, so we could have them without a problem. I’m nervous about wintering rabbits, but it could be very rewarding all the way around. I’ll have to look at the costs of building a shelter. I would have to a slightly different system up for breeding, but it might be worth looking into.

Now if only I have enough nerve to petition for chickens, we’ll have fresh eggs…