Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy: Digging for buried treasure

This might be of interest to those of you who work with clay, whether metal, polymer or ceramic.  I'm exploring some new organic shapes to complement some of my floral-styled disc beads, and made these in Precious Metal Clay (fine silver) the other day.  Here they are after patina and tumbling overnight. I swear, opening the tumbler and picking out the goodies is almost as fun as digging for potatoes.
These are destined for some very special pieces.

I used some new tools from Green Girl Studios for some of the texture with these, and it's working wonderfully for me.  Here's the swirly tool:

The possibilities with this tool for any kind of clay are endless, and I found that the shape worked very well for my organic forms.  There's also some great detail on the bottom end of the tool.  There are several variants of these available on the Green Girl Studios site, but I got mine in person from Andrew when they were at the Best Bead Show.

I also used some dried poppy seed pods for texture - see this image (courtesy of Auntie P on Flickr).  Look at that pattern!  Wonderful stuff!

Anyway, not much from me here today, but thought you might like to know about this wonderful tool.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chicken update!

There's been a few things happening on the farm lately.  Some of them make us feel smarter, but many of them make us feel just plain stupid.

First, I just wanted to offer tangible proof that the old wive's tale about the spot of blood on an egg yolk being the "rooster's calling card" is just plain wrong.  We got one for the first time the other day, and we simply have no roosters.  Guess that puts that one to bed.

As we expected, we're getting 3 eggs a day, most days, from our three hens.  We saved some up this week to combine with some of my hunter-gatherer's delicious smoked salmon and some zucchini from the garden for a yummy frittata.

It seems that we are periodically and often reminded of our noob-ness as chicken farmers.  The other day I went out to check for eggs and found Princess making a sound I'd never heard before, kind of like a high pitched cough, not too unlike whooping cough.  She was sticking her neck out and making this sound over and over.  Crap, I thought to myself.  She's sick.  My poor girl has a cold or something.  So I retreated to the house to consult The Oracle (Google), and it said that perhaps it could be gapeworms, a disgusting, horrible condition where worms invade your chickens insides and they cough and shake their head trying to get them out of their throats.  Ack.  I never considered one day having to deal with ill birds. 

I went out a bit later to check on her and she was no longer making the noise.  Nor was she hours later.  Then I recalled that the first time I went out there the neighbor's miniature doberman (all of 10" tall) was standing near the run, looking at the girls.  Was Princess telling him to get lost?  I mean, if a cat on YouTube can bark at a dog outside the window, certainly my hen could too, right?  She wasn't even facing him or approaching him in any way, but maybe...  So once again, I consult The Oracle, using the phrase "barking chicken".  Aside from a rather spectacular sexual reference in the Urban Dictionary I found some other references to pet chickens that bark - one in particular was a hen who barks at her mistress when she tries to take an egg while she's brooding.  Miss Lay-A is now under periodic surveillance for this behavior, but seems not to want to perform for me any more.  I'm thinking she's just a gifted vocalist now.

But this is not the end of our education.  Note the following conversation between my husband and I, as we sat in the run with the girls the other day.

Him:  Whoah.  Look at Princess!  She has a big lump on her chest. 
Me:  What?  (picks her up and palpates).  Oh crap.  She does.  It must be related to the barking.
Him:  And it looks like Lucille has it too.
Me:  Damn!  It's something contagious then.  I wonder if our vet will see them, and how do I get them to their office?  Cat carrier?  Yikes.  I hope Chica doesn't get it.  Feel her chest - does she have it too? 
Him:  Not really.  Boy, they really are large, huh?  No wonder she's been barking.
Me:  I'm going to open her mouth and look inside her throat for worms.  I read that you can sometimes see them that way. (grabs poor Princess and attempts to open her beak to peer inside, unsuccessfully).
Me:  (Getting up to go in the house)  Well, that just bites.  I'm totally bummed out now.  I'm going inside to consult The Oracle.  (Huge sigh).
Me:  (returning to the run about 5 minutes later with a sheepish grin).  I think they're going to be all right.
Him:  What is it?
Me:  It's their crop. It's an organ in their neck/chest that fills up with food that they digest later.  It's biggest at night just before bed, and is almost gone in the morning.  They're fine.
Me:  We're pretty clueless, huh?
Him:  Yep.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Testing Gaffer's G-198 Royal Purple

Yesterday I had some play time and tried out the new Royal Purple (G-198) glass from Gaffer, and I loved it.  I worked it with a minor burner and an L-5 oxygen concentrator.  This glass is very soft, and if you work close to your torch or work hot you're going to have some trouble.  All of these were made about 9" from my minor's torch head, and even then, the glass is quite soft.  Even one little moment of inattention while working this far out resulted in a drip of glass onto my work surface (which thankfully is metal now).  But unlike some other Gaffer colors I've used, it's not terribly shocky, which was nice.  I occasionally saw a little bit of devitrification, but nothing that a reapplication of heat couldn't dismiss.

Here are my results.  I tried a number of techniques to see how the glass behaved.  The beads on the first three mandrels from the left only used Royal Purple - no other colors were added.  Please forgive the crappy iPhone pictures.

In order from the far left:  simple spacer, heated and cooled as I do with Gaffer's Chalcedony glasses.  Next I made five small spacers on the same mandrel.  This allows the beads made earlier to cool quite a bit as I work the newer ones.  For reference, I make these from left to right on the mandrel.  You can see that the one I made last did not bloom with color as the earlier ones did, because it didn't have as many in-and-outs in the flame.  But even that color is nice on its own.

The third from the left is an egg shaped bead that was formed using a Zoozi's lentil press (these are brass), to see how brass tooling affects the color.  This bead was heated and cooled repeatedly during the shaping process, and the tooling seems to have encouraged some light blues to emerge with the magenta.  It's actually a very stunning effect.

 The third mandrel down from the top is the egg shaped bead that produced the incredible webbing effect.

Fourth from the left is another attempt at an egg shaped bead, with tiny dots of rubino.  It was shaped just like the last bead, but the addition of the rubino didn't produce the light blue webbing effect the last bead had.

The fifth bead from the left was shaped with a large lentil press (so again, some brass tooling), and I added some Gaffer Turquoise and Chartreuse dots.  Nice reactions with the turquoise, as expected.  I squished it with a brass kalera-style masher, which made it mostly light blue, and then used heating and cooling to try and bring back more of the magenta color.

The sixth from the left was a spacer bead with a twistie made from light turquoise and EDP.  Nice reactions from the turquoise, but hardly any webbing with blue and magenta.

The seventh mandrel from the left was a large bicone on which I applied light ivory (Effetre) scrollwork.  The silver in the G-198 instantly darkened the ivory.

The eighth mandrel from the left was a large bicone on which I applied some murrini made from R-108 rod and black.  I got some nice striations in the background coloration (again, all G-198), which seemed to swallow the murrini (expected for an opaque color).  This bead was shaped with graphite tools, except for the murrini which were pressed lightly with a brass tool.

The bead on the last mandrel (far right) was a gravity bead using striped cane from R-108 and black (like murrini above).  This bead was subject to the most heat of all of these (especially around the center, where the glass was moving around the mandrel), and it's evident from the brilliant magenta in that area.  The bead was shaped with graphite tools.  It was harder than usual to get much color from the R-108 in these beads.  Next time I'll try some G-1095 for the cane instead.

So there you have it!  I love the vibrance in this glass, and will definitely be getting some.  It reminds me of some wonderful tie dyed clothing.  Next I'm going to try the G-199 Purple Rose.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Heart Macro Sunday: Wild

Wallflowers are so easy, so pretty.

This last plant grows abundantly where I live, spreading its seeds via spring-loaded pods that are eager to burst.  After some research I finally learned it's name:  Impatiens Balfourii.  I just call it "wild impatiens".  It brings such cheer to the shadier spots of my garden, and if you receive any plant gift from me you will likely find one of these sprouting in the pot as well.

I hope you have an abundant day, and don't forget to head over to see Lori at Studio Waterstone and check out the other macro treats! 

studio waterstone

Friday, August 12, 2011

August Break: I is for...

"Abundance".  These were vegetables on display at the Iowa State Fair a couple of summers ago.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When fragments make a whole

My Grandpa.
Gerhard Rudolph Johnson.
You were the son of Swedish immigrants,
born in the "U.P.", gifted carpenter, high school shop teacher, and storyteller.

You would meet a beautiful young woman named Merle Dix (front and center),
from the Stout Institute,
where you both pursued occupations based on sensible, useful skills,
like woodworking, and home economics,
and you would marry her,
and in love create my mother
your one and only.

 You bought this modest vacation cottage on Houghton Lake with your hard earned savings,
and you had a heart attack digging a basement for it.
You loved this place so much you built a home across the street.
Do you know that mom and I just refinished the loveseat you built for it?
It looks beautiful, and your hands were there,
in our hands
as we worked and shared memories of you.

I am searching for this place right now with mom,
because I need to connect with these blurry images in my mind.
We have no address,
only a couple of faded polaroids and these memories,
intuition fueled by Google maps,
and the address for the county records building.

I looked forward to spending summers there with you,
eating sweet cherries until I burst,
raking seaweed up from the beach in the mornings,
wading out as far as I dared into the clear, shallow lake,
worried that some unseen creature would bite my feet.

Did you know I used to sneak over to the RV sales lot nearby,
to peek into the open models
and imagine what it would be like to travel to exotic places in them
everything stored neatly in its own perfect place.

I begged you and Grandma to take me to the touristy Indian gift shop,
where I could eat the fried bread,
and covet the trinkets, and all of the colorful little beads,
who knew?
Do you know I still have the tiny little blown glass deer,
a doe and two fawns that
I bought with my allowance
despite your sound advice that
"A fool and his money are soon parted".

I loved wading out to the neighbor's pontoon boat
to sunbathe and dream...
it seemed so peaceful, and far away.
Did you know I had my first kiss there?

I remember the after dinner drives
in the countryside
to look for deer
so elusive, so special to see.

I let you call me Patrick
just for fun.

The winters likely proved too hard for you there
and you sold both places to move back to Wisconsin,
near Grandma's family, and we visited many times
but it wasn't as fun as being on the big lake.

We cooked bratwurst in beer and onions on a burner in the garage,
watched you turn wood into thousands of ribbons on your lathe,
and helped you get large things done,
and your supply of off color jokes was never ending.
We laughed often, and heartily.

You took us fishing at the trout farm,
where the catching was easy,
and children never bored.

You told us stories of the disrespectful boys you taught in shop class.
You were a tireless practical joker.
You pretended you lost a finger at the table saw,
and when my dad first courted my mom,
you chilled his drink with the resin ice cube with the fly in it,
and gave him the dribble glass.
You distracted me and stole uneaten food from my plate.
Now I know that cows don't come to the window,
and I won't be fooled by that one again.

I spent time with Grandma in the basement at her sewing table,
standing nervously still while straight pins
were used to fit my plaid jumpers for school.
Do you know I still have her table,
with the same contact paper on top?

I slept in the breezeway in the summer,
on a roll away bed,
and listened to the birds in the morning
wondering if the "other" lake would finally clear of algae so we could swim.
It never did.

Do you remember giving me this tool?
You carried it on your key chain, always, just in case.
I keep it close, for the same reason.

I helped Grandma divide her irises
and pick raspberries,
and helped you dig potatoes.
You and Grandma were there for my mom, and for us,
when Dad passed away,
so young, 
and you never knew that
I would name my one and only child after you.

You might smile to know that Patrick built a workbench
all by herself
and dug potatoes
and picked blackberries
and yelled at the deer to get the hell out of her garden
and thought of you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Great Potato Experiment

The entire harvest

This year I decided to try growing potatoes again.  I've not had great luck in the past, for a number of reasons.  Improper soil and planting technique, too little sun, etc. were all to blame.  This year I planted small variety red and buttercream potatoes in two types of containers to see if there was a way to succeed.  One was a buttercream and the other was a red French Fingerling, both Cinacia brand and purchased in the produce section of Whole Foods.

The other day I showed what I was able to grow in a #15 size nursery pot on the deck, and today I harvested the tower of potatoes I grew in a landscape fabric cylinder containing potting soil, and supported by a heavy wire cage.  The tower took about 8 cubic feet of potting soil, and when the potatoes quit growing they were as tall as I am.  The dirt in the 2' diameter "container" was about 3' high.

Tower knocked over.

First I knocked the cage over and opened it up so I could get at the landscape fabric bag inside easily.  I didn't want to damage my crop using a shovel or pitchfork, so I just rolled the bag around on the ground to loosen the plants and discover the tubers.


I had high hopes this one would yield a ton of potatoes, but I was wrong.  The soil was great, slightly moist in spots, but overall quite dry, which may have been part of the problem.  Or maybe the potato variety itself wasn't a high yielder.  Or maybe both.  In any event, I got proportionally more potatoes (by far) from the plastic container on the deck.  Maybe it just got watered more frequently because it was more accessible to me and the hose.

My Golden Gate Gardening book suggests that we can plant three crops each year in this area, and I'm definitely going to try another one this month.

Here's a helpful "how to" site for growing potatoes in containers

Monday, August 8, 2011

Drinking it in

"Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each"

- Henry David Thoreau

Today's harvest
Potatoes from my Tower O' Potatoes, today's crop of strawberries and blackberries (with more every day), and fresh eggs.  Life is sweet indeed.

Turkish cukes
I desperately need some cucumber recipes.  These are my Turkish cucumbers from a pot on the deck, and we've been getting regular ones in our CSA box.

Summer's abundance is upon us, and I cannot ever recall such bounty.  We got a third egg (thank you, Lucille) just after I took this photo.  The Great Potato Experiment is now concluded, and I will post results shortly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Heart Macro Sunday: Late Bloomer

Although the weather suggests that summer has just gotten underway here, if I pay close attention I can see the signs that it's well along.  The rudbeckia are blooming now, and I'm so grateful for their cheer when the earlier bloomers are fading.

My heart goes out to those of you who are continuing to suffer with the oppressive heat.  I hope you can find a cool, shady spot to sip some lemonade or tea today.

"And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water."
-  Dana Gioia, California Hills in August



I hope you have a wonderful day, and don't forget to head over to see Lori at Studio Waterstone and check out the other macro treats! 

studio waterstone

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our little flock: An update

I have great news to share! As of a few days ago, all three of our hens are laying.  And by a happy stroke of luck, we managed to pick breeds that each lay a different color egg.  We now have light blue-green (Chica, and Ameraucana), white (Princess Lay-A, a Danish Brown Leghorn), and brown (Lucille, a New Hampshire Red).  Now that we know who is producing what, it's easier to keep track of things.

So far my money is on Chica for best producer.  Her eggs are just plain huge (2.2 oz), compared to Princess's (1.1 oz) and Lucille's early ones (1.4 oz). Yes, I actually weighed the eggs.  She also wins the prize for laying double-yolked eggs every single time so far. 

Now here's an even more amusing bit of information.  I hadn't mentioned it, but ever since Chica L. has been laying, she's changed from the freaky, fearful girl into the amorous girl.  I do believe she views both my husband and I as potential suitors.  Whereas she used to run away from us whenever we tried to pick her up or pet her, she now stops in her tracks, extends her shoulders out and squats.  When we start petting her down her back she raises her ladyquarters up in the air as if she wants to be mounted!  It's the craziest thing, and I have to admit that when I first figured it out I felt kind of icky.

At first she seemed to only do it with my husband, and wanted nothing to do with me still.  But now she will do it no matter who tries to reach for her.  It's quite a change from her usual fleeing response.  When we finish petting her she fluffs up her feathers, stands up and shakes, which I understand is how the rooster and hen mating ritual normally ends after, well, when business has been concluded.  Not knowing much at all about all of this chicken stuff I've spent a few minutes getting up to speed on the YouTube, where they've got video of every fowl detail, I kid you not.  Now that the other two are laying as well, they've both started exhibiting this flirty behavior too, which I can only conclude means that their tiny biological clocks are doing what nature intended to survive, although their chances of doing that with humans as suitors is probably not what was intended.

What's really hilarious is when I'm sitting in the chicken run, and petting Chica, and Princess jumps onboard and pecks Chica because she wants all of that pseudo-mating for herself.  They're downright competing for our affection, and it cracks me up.  Never a dull moment.

Coolest Dog in the World

Prepare to smile...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Welcome to the fold, Princess Lay-A!

I'm happy to report that two of our three girls are now laying!  Just yesterday Princess Lay-A (on the left) joined Club Ovulation and gave us her first little gift, so tiny and perfect.  This morning I found another, this time properly laid in the nest as opposed to on the coop floor.

 Lucille (right) studies Princess Lay-A's first two masterpieces, and contemplates the big task ahead of her.

In comparison Chica's ginormous egg is on the bottom, at least twice the size of Princess's first two attempts.  Her physical size suggested this might be expected, although I'm hoping maybe now that the machinery is humming they might increase in size.

Chica continues to lay beautiful large double-yolked eggs for us, almost one a day.  Now the only one not producing is Lucille, shown on the right.  She's always been the smallest, so we're not surprised, and I'm wondering if this explains why she's the only one still trying to sleep on the roof at night.  Too much estrogen in the coop for her, perhaps?

I'm thinking that with the recent potato harvest it might be time to make a frittata.  I just rescued some potted chives near death in a corner of the vegetable garden, and hope they might flourish for future use.  But the tarragon needs thinning...


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