Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lucky Chickens

We have quite a large pen for our chickens to run around in.  It's the next best thing to being able to free-range, but they are better protected from the hawks, owls, coyotes, our herd of cats, and our neighbor's 2 Great Pyrenees dogs.  The basic structure measures 16' wide and about 75 feet long, with a height of about 6', so I can just barely walk upright without bumping my head.  At the moment, we have 13 chickens, so there is plenty of room for expansion of the flock.  The perimeter started out with horse fencing completely enclosing it, and the roof is covered with 1/2" hardware cloth.  But I realized I needed to make some modifications.  

First, I added some corrugated panels on the roof so the chickens have some shade from the harsh Texas sun.  This picture shows it unfinished though.  It is deceiving, but the panels go one third of the way down the length of the run, and it has since been covered the rest of the way to the left side and along the near edge.   

Here is the roof from the inside.  I didn't bother to take off the hardware cloth.  I started to, and after spending 20 minutes on one small section, I decided those staples were going to stay in place!

The size of the horse fencing around the perimeter proved to be too large for the best security, so I started covering it with more hardware cloth.  Sheesh, that ran into some money!  But since we do have a snake problem, it seemed necessary.

It was also important to fortify the bottom of the fencing better by going down into the ground
about 10 inches and burying the bottom piece of hardware cloth in an 'L' shape, to deter any
digging predators there might be. 

Now for the accommodations.  I decided not to build a completely enclosed coop, but rather just to shield a corner from the elements by tacking up some cedar fence boards.

Then I built three levels, connected by a circular stairway.

Even as it is, I'm pleased with the shelter it provides, but ultimately I plan to close in the two short sides, build some cubicles on a couple of the levels, and then install some cute cosmetic touches.  The weather has turned rainy and colder, and combined with the holidays, this project is on the back burner.  But the chickens seem to like it just as it is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The important things

A week ago Sunday, I was jarred out of my interior design trance ('oooh, I want one of THESE in my newly remodeled kitchen', and 'I hate this house, I hate this house') by a frantic knock on the door and a man yelling 'Everybody get out!!!! You gotta leave now, mandatory evacuation order RIGHT NOW!!! Drive out Cardinal and turn left on 21 as fast as you can, NOW, NOW, NOW!!!' 

Well, heck, I was just settling in with some hand drawn house plans, a great cup of French Press coffee, and some fresh fruit... and now I have to hustle? That's not what Sunday mornings are all about!

So when I looked out our front window, this is the view I saw:

We decided to ignore the evac order and stay as long as possible, knowing our way out (through a neighbor's pasture) would come in handy since we were at the very back of a long dead end road.  We packed our cars full of pet carriers and belonging and carted them to the parents' house on the other side of the property.  The sky turned to this:

And then this:

We got the majority of our favorite things transferred, and begun to hose down our property, the roof of our house and shed, and filled 55 gallon barrels with water to tip over at the last minute if necessary.  The strong winds were in our favor, blowing the fire to the west of us all through the day, night, and the following day.  This was the view of my father-in-law's windmill during the first night of the fire:

I have no photographs from  Day 2.  At some point, I just had to put down the camera and get to work.  We were fighting off the fire around the perimeter of our property.  My father-in-law filled a tank of water on his tractor and he and my husband went around spraying fires in the back woods.  By early evening, the fire had encircled our neighbor's property directly behind us.  They breed and raise chickens and birds of all kinds.  We knew they had evacuated, so we felt we had to open all the cages so the birds didn't all fry in their pens.  As we did so, the fire had engulfed a couple of their sheds and was closing off the lane at the curve.  This was our way out, so we had to hustle.  My husband and his father worked through the night with the tractor and water tank.  By noon the next day, most of the fires they could see were under control, but they weren't aware of another nasty fire creeping closer to our other neighbor's house.  All of a sudden, it started exploding repeatedly.  Some other neighbors had just snuck back home via the secret back entrance, so they came running.  All of us were out there with garden hoses, which felt like little squirt guns aimed at such a big fire.  Right then, when it looked like this had gotten bigger than we could manage, the cavalry arrived.  Several fire trucks came down our culdesac.  Even THEY had to call in more help.  The next thing we knew, these angels from Heaven were coming to our aid:

These Chinooks were scooping water from my father-in-law's pond to dump on our neighbor's home.  Then  they left and Blackhawks took their place and continued scooping and dumping.  It was very noisy and exciting on our street!

FINALLY, the worst of the fires were over in our area.  Latest word (as of 9-13) is that the fire is only 60% contained as a whole.  But since we were at the 'beginning' end of it, the areas still burning are more downwind of us.

Our neighbors had set up a temporary animal rescue operation, since their daughter-in-law was a vet.  She was able to take in hurt, displaced, or scared animals and stabilize them, soothe them, feed them, whatever was necessary, while matching them up with their owners.  I believe it was also coordinated and approved by FEMA, so they had ways to monitor where animals were, who they were to be turned over to, etc.  One particularly sad pony came through who's owner had obviously neglected him and failed to keep his hooves trimmed.  This sweet little guy hobbled along much slower than the other ponies they found in his same group.

The yellowed hair on his back is where he got singed.

And more animal news... many of the chickens/guineas/swans, etc. that we turned loose have stayed around their home, and with much effort, we stopped the fires from finishing off the place.  I have gone there twice daily to refill food and water.  We managed to catch quite a few chicken and relocate them to our large pen until the owners can come back to their house.  We will help them catch the rest of the birds as best we can and get them in their repective pens.

I keep having to chase their guinea hens home.  They are quite comical!

A stray horse was found:

I took a drive through our neighborhood.  Where there used to be hundreds of homes up and down our street to the west, now there are maybe 6!  Our little cluster of neighbors fared well, for the most part. That's may be due to the fact that we stayed and fought the fire and didn't let the back-burning creep too far in our direction.  Well, two of our immediate neighbors lost homes, unfortunately.  We had no idea when our new neighbor Robert's place burned down.  We were likely working on the other side of the farm when that happened.  He had just moved in and we really hadn't gotten to know him yet, but now, through this ordeal, we are very glad he will rebuild and join our community.  We also learned what most of our other neighbors are made of.  We love our little neighborhood family!  Now, here are some sad pictures of the homes on down the street, of neighbors we didn't know.

And this is (WAS) our neighbor's house:

Now the bulldozing and cleanup begins:

We have adopted this little sweet kitten who's owner has not come home for days and his house is all burned up.  He and his brother are safe and sound at our house.  We have named them Ashley and Agent Smolder.

You can barely see the kitten hiding in the lower part of the picture.  This next picture is what is left of his owner's yard and workshop:

Now that this disastrous ordeal is mostly over for us, I am so much more thankful for the house I originally hated.  I am in less of a hurry to demolish it and rebuild another one, and I am grateful for blessings everyday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creativity Melts!

I just discovered that creativity has a melting point! When it reaches a hundred degrees, it starts dripping and oozing, and once it leaks out, you can't possibly put it back in before it evaporates! I'm pretty sure that's what has happened to me this summer. It's been consistently a hundred degrees (or more) for something like 70 consecutive days in a row now!

I'm probably just using this as an excuse for my poor progress on several outdoor projects.

The project list:

Reinforce the chicken pen

Finish the electrical wiring in the shed

Finish the shed!

Build the gazebo

Build the greenhouse

And oh, don't even ask me about the state of what used to be my garden!

Now, first of all, tell me..... do any of those projects sound creative? Barely, right? That factor, in and of itself, is enough to make me disinterested. And since those projects are out of the question, anyway, at these temperatures, I've resorted to participating in a few indoor sports, like cooking, sewing, and jewelry making... things with a higher degree of creative involvement. That's assuming, of course, that I have any unevaporated creativity left.

Lately I finished a tedious little beading project that I entered in a contest. What appears at first glance to be a twist of many strands of beads is actually many separate beaded circles intertwined to create a chain. Each circle is finished off independently from the rest, allowing a fluidity and slinkiness to the piece that is very chain-line.

I first started playing around with circles of beads, tying each one off with three or four knots, then working the two tails of thread back through the circle of beads in opposite directions, creating a clean beaded circular 'link'.

After linking up a few circles in a simple chain pattern, I knew I could improve on the look by complicating it MUCH more than that! So I doubled up some of the links.

That still wasn't complicated enough. With a double set of circles in each link section, I entertwined them to create a spiral by having each link pass through four previous links (two sets), as they are attached. Then the next links also are added through, ending up with each link connecting through eight others. I love how it closes up the space between the links and produces a solid snake-like effect.

Pictured above is a section done in a lighter gold Charlotte bead, with an occasional 22k matte gold Delica bead thrown in. Each set of links in this piece is done in triplicate. This definitely isn't for the impatient to attempt! I'm unsure how to incorporate this bulkier section into a necklace exactly. I would like to add other strands of beads and include chain, dangling charms, etc., resulting in quite a complex piece. It's a work in progress and I'm confident it will evolve in the right way if I don't rush it. Here are a few monochromatic materials I've rounded up to possibly work with.

But back to the contest entry. I finally made a section of links long enough to work into a bracelet, and then made matching earrings. This last photo shows what I entered into the contest, and I will find out at the end of the week how it fared.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My favorite side dish

You spell it tabouli, I spell it tabbouleh, tabouli, tabbouleh, tabouli, tabbouleh...
...let's eat the whole thing up!

I could eat tabbouleh with every meal and not get tired of it. I make it about once a month and I learned very quickly that the recipe I was using from Bon Appetit magazine wasn't nearly large enough. I doubled it. That still wasn't enough. So the last handful of times I've made this, I have quadrupled the recipe and that's just about right, if you eat it as much and as fast as we do.

Rather than using bulgur wheat, which is traditional in the popular Lebanese dish, this recipe calls for quinoa, a grain with roughly two to three times the protein as bulgur, and a good balance of amino acids. Commercially available quinoa has already been rinsed thoroughly enough to remove the bitter-tasting saponin residue that grows on the seeds, something which helps keep the birds away. I think it would be fun to try to grow quinoa, but I imagine it wouldn't like our central Texas heat. It's typically grown in South America, in the high altitude of the Andes, in countries like Bolivia and Peru.

I've already doubled the recipe for you, but if you plan to serve this at a picnic or gathering, you'll want to double it again. To make it easier on you, I've already done the math. Note*-The numbers in parentheses are the quadruple amounts. (You're welcome!)

Quinoa Tabbouleh

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (1/2 cup-see note* above)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1/2 cup)

1 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (2 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint (1 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced (4 cloves)

2 cups water (4 cups)

1 cup quinoa (2 cups)

1 cup finely chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded (2 cups)

1 cup chopped seeded tomato (2 cups)

Optional additions: grated carrot, diced celery, bell pepper, jicama, etc. I usually keep these to a minimum, but I do like the addition of colorful orange flecks of carrot or yellow bell pepper, though they are NOT traditional in tabbouleh.

Instructions: Bring water to a boil in heavy medium saucepan. Add quinoa, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 13 minutes. When done, remove from pan, tossing in a large bowl. Fluff with fork periodically while cooling completely. (This part is important. Allow enough time for the cooling step, because if you mix everything up while the quinoa is hot, it'll make the vegetable lose their crunch and mess up the texture.) While the quinoa is cooling, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, and mint together in a separate large bowl.

Next, chop the cucumber, tomato, and any other optional vegetables you want, and add them to the olive oil mixture. Last, add in the quinoa and add salt and pepper to taste, mixing well. Serve either chilled or at room temperature.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm a bad blogger!

I haven't posted anything in two whole months! So yeah, I suck! I've been so busy, but not much of it has been creative. I didn't feel it was worth sharing, but the time has come to at least check in, right?

In a nut shell, I've been pecking away at the shed we started building last fall. (I'll show you some other time.) We had been putting up with the inconvenience of not having a door all this time, using a piece of siding board to cover the opening, propped up with chairs and a ladder. Sheesh! It also needs insulation, interior wall board, wiring... you know, lights, outlets, the works. So that's happening simultaneously with the start of the 2011 garden. That's the other major push right now. Also there are little pieces of art beginning to evolve (the TAC 5x5 show in at the beginning of May, and I'm unsure of what to enter, so I'm making several), and I was knitting a few scarves back when it was a tad cooler, though that seems so long ago. And, do you remember the garden gate I started ages ago? I am a few steps farther along with that... so it looks like there are a lot of reports looming on the horizon. For now though, how about some garden news?

Last year, I let the garden go, and basically turned it over to the fire ants. It was insane.. and I sure paid the price for that move at the beginning of this season. This is what the garden space looked like only a couple of months ago...

You can't tell it from this photo, but much of it was over knee deep. There was no way this was going to get tilled, being primarily 'devil' grass. It sends off the nastiest runners, and it's above-ground stems are almost impervious to the rototiller blades. After much consideration, we decided the only thing we could do was burn it all off. We waited for a calm day and lit a match to the whole 5750 square feet of it, which worked perfectly. We were lucky to have a short window of opportunity without a burn ban in effect. So where we once had a dried brush field... Poof!


...and after burning, and tilling, and a bunch of 'hands-and-knees' work, pulling devil roots!...

Even these photos are older, as now there are beds starting to evolve, some looking rather lush.

After a few more days of 'shed work', I'll get back in the garden and capture more photos of real things growing!

See you soon!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egg Scramble

I'm sure no one cares about this wall, newly covered in sheetrock. I'm getting sick of it myself. This is only the first coat of mud, applied to the screw holes and over the tape, along the joints. It will get at least two more coats of mud with at least a day to dry in between each coat. It's so boring, I don't even want to work on it. Instead, I made eggs.

I haven't been cooking much at all lately. We've been surviving on coffee, soup, peanut butter and jelly, whatever is fairly instant. This morning, however, I woke up in the mood to have a filling breakfast so I whipped up one of my hearty egg scrambles. (Not that I consider this any kind of elaborate cooking.) This one turned out more decadent than most, due to the addition of some cream cheese. Every time I make an egg scramble, it turns out differently, depending on what ingredients I have on hands. So this 'recipe' can be altered in a number of ways to suit your taste or fridge contents. For that reason, I am not very specific with my measurements and quantities.

Egg Scramble
(serves 2)
1 Tablespoon coconut oil or other oil for frying
1/2 cup diced onions
handful of diced red bell pepper
a bit of diced jalapenos
a clove or two of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cilantro chutney
a few chopped green olives (about 8)
4 large eggs, whisked
heaping Tablespoon of cream cheese
1/2 cup canned black beans
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
dollop of salsa
grated parmesan cheese

Instructions: Heat oil in large skillet. Add onions and simmer until they start to brown. Add the next 5 ingredients and simmer a few minutes.

Meanwhile, soften the cream cheese in the microwave and incorporate it into the whisked eggs. Add to skillet, stirring it into the other ingredients. Add the beans.

Be sure to rinse the beans or the drab colored juice will make the whole dish an unappetizing color. It will still taste good, but... just rinse them please!

Add the parsley, salt and pepper and incorporate everything well. Plate the portions, topping with salsa and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Six more weeks!

In the midst of enjoying the Super Bowl and watching blizzards (well, from afar!), planning a garden, and knitting scarves, I didn't forget that we had another very important holiday last week... Groundhog Day! We like to celebrate the event by getting together with family, watching the Bill Murray movie of the same name, and having foods that relate to the movie as well. So last Wednesday night we enjoyed donuts/pastries, rocky road ice cream, sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist... you get the idea.

Now I'm feeling a little bit like a groundhog on a sunny day, because I have about six more weeks of work left on this bedroom and bathroom overhaul. That's partly because I work very slowly, and always seem to have other interruptions.

I decided to paint the pocket door, rather than stain it. Well, I'll admit that I tried staining it first, and did a lousy job, using water-based stain. I think it must be impossible to put down a coat of that kind of quick-drying stain on the whole door in the small amount of time you have before you have to wipe off the excess. So mine dried before I could tend to it and became very streaky. Also, working in smaller sections didn't pan out too well either, as each 'line' where I left off was noticeable. So I quickly decided I could be alright with having a 'Spalding Gray' painted door on the bedroom side and 'Montpelier Ashlar Grey' on the bathroom side. The trim is getting stained though, as I am confident I can work that small of an area in time. So the lesson I've learned is that I will have to go ahead and purchase oil-based stains for larger projects in the future and deal with the turpentine for clean-up. OOOORRRRR, use disposable foam brushes and rags, and throw them all away when I'm done.

Here are the latest (limited) views of the new wall:

I just happened to have the green mold/moisture resistant sheetrock on hands, so that's what I used. This is a shared wall between a bathroom and bedroom, so it's more important to have it on the bathroom side. But we intend to have a water feature in the bedroom eventually too. Obviously, I haven't done the taping and mudding yet. I've never done this before, so I'm in for another learning experience tomorrow.

Last week, I also learned how to do very basic electrical wiring. I installed 4 new outlets (one of them GFCI) and a double switch (single pole) to operate two of those outlets. Notice the outlet up high by the ceiling. That's to feed power to the crown moulding/rope lighting effect we want to install around the ceiling someday. The other part of the switch powers an outlet down towards the floor that will be used by the water feature (that I still have to make!) But while the wall was open, that was the time to plan for these things and get the juice in place!

This is the door panel I built to hide the shower controls from the other side of the wall. Of course, it needs sanding and painting still. We'll probably never have to access it, but nevertheless, I wanted it to look better than the old panel that was crudely screwed onto the wall I removed. This has a fun little magnetic latch that opens when you push it once, and then closes when you push it again.

So, it seems like very little progress for the amount of time that has passed. But the important thing is that I am doing something everyday. It's a lot of fun to learn new things and watch something like this evolve.