Friday, July 31, 2009
I have caught glimpses of a creature that I believe could be responsible. It is small and fuzzy, with no discernible tail (and therefore Not a Rat!), roughly the size of a field mouse, but darker brown.
Another related mystery, I believe, is these tracks that we saw in the snow last winter. They looked like someone rolled a very small snowball along. There were not any actual paw prints to identify.
As far as I can tell, there is no damage being done in the flowerbeds. I'm just extremely curious to find out who my mystery neighbor is!
To be continued...I hope...
Thursday, July 30, 2009
On the way up to Woodstock, I took a little detour and picked up one box near Elgin. Too late the discovery was made that someone had removed the bug spray from the car (with the exception of one small hand wipe that I scrounged from the back seat). The box was at a marsh, and that's all I'm going to say about that.
A number of the people in the group have been participating in this hobby for a very long time, and it is always a privilege to talk with them and get their perspective. I came away with much to think about. What is and what isn't letterboxing? And how do I want to shape my involvement in this obsession for the foreseeable future? There are definitely lines drawn in the sand, but is it possible to walk both sides? More about that later.
One of the highlights of the evening came when Der Mad Stamper put up the display of every single patch on the planet relating to letterboxing that has ever been made.
The most astonishing thing, however, was that I didn't come home with a single cootie in spite of leaving my hat in plain view on the table for the whole evening. Life is good.
PS-it just occured to me that I didn't take a picture of Wisconsin Hiker and Martini Man, who set up the event! Ack!
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The farmers returned one day after the wheat was stiff and dry and had long forgotten what it felt like to be grass. They cut the wheat with large, noisy machines that billowed clouds of dust behind them. The hollow stalks were cast aside for someone else and the seed heads rubbed against the drum inside the harvester until all of the little kernels fell away and were carried into a holding bin.
Eventually, all of the kernels were transferred to semi trucks and taken away. The wheat berries (also known as kernels) didn't know it, but they were in for the processing ride of their life. They would be sorted and cleaned and sorted again. Some of them would be ground into various forms of flour to be made into cereal and bread and the like. Others were destined to become beer and even stranger creations.
A relatively small amount of the kernels were set aside and taken to the farmers' wives. They would create a Julnek to celebrate the blessings God had given them in a bountiful harvest.
(It should be noted that "Bearded Wheat" is much prettier, but as you can imagine, all of those barbed pieces caused innumerable amounts of equipment grief, and thus farmers everywhere rejoiced when the beards were engineered right off the plants. In an extreme effort at self restraint, I am going to avoid the rant about how all grain is genetically engineered now days, and the protestors against such are insane.)
They would also mill some of it to make delicious, healthy foods~mostly of the bread persuasion~for their families. Hard red winter wheat is naturally low in gluten, which is great if you have a sensitivity to such, but not so great if you want bread that doesn't resemble a brick. In order to produce light, fluffy bread from such wheat, either vital gluten must be added or the flour must be mixed with other flours.
Our Daily Bread (in other words, the bread we make most often for sandwiches and other ordinary uses)
Half Whole Wheat Bread Machine recipe
8 1/2 oz. water
1 T. Honey
1 1/2 c. bread flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 T. brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 T dry milk
2 T. butter
2 t. active dry yeast, or 1 1/2 t. fast rise yeast
Whole Wheat cycle
Our Not So Daily Bread (aka, the Fancy Stuff)
Egg Braid Do It By Hand Recipe
2 packages yeast
1/2 c. warm milk
1 1/ 2 c. warm water
1/4 c. sugar
1 T. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. butter, softened
7-7 1/2 c. flour (half whole wheat, if desired)
1 egg yolk
2 T. water
Dissolve yeast in water. Add milk, sugar, salt, eggs, butter and 3 1/2 c. flour; mix well. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. On a floured board (on in Kitchen Aid!), knead until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, 1 1/2-2 hours. Punch down. Cover and let rise until almost doubled, about 30 minutes. Divide into six portions. On a floured board, shape each into a 14 inch long rope. For each loaf, braid three ropes together on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends to seal. Cover and let rise until doubled, 50-60 minutes. Beat egg yolk and water; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 375* for 30-35 minutes, until golden.
Try not to eat entire loaf in one sitting. (recipe compliments of Taste of Home magazine)
The 7 year old's braid is on top. It is so not fair that hers looks better than mine. I did at least manage a photo before tearing off a steaming hot slice that is melting in my mouth right now.
The obligatory stamp~This stamp was carved a very long time ago when I was still stuck on negative images. It is currently planted in a traditional letterbox, but I hope to replace it as soon as I can find a cool image that I'd like to carve.
I'd like to thank Massey Ferguson, Bosch NutriMill, Kitchen Aid, and West Bend for making this bread not exactly possible, but certainly a heck of a lot easier than it would have been in Pioneer days.
Monday, July 27, 2009
But that's not the kind of thing that one's brain can let go of all that easily. Hence I give you (albeit, four months too late), the Spastic Colon Card:
In case you were wondering, I was intentionally trying to create a card that was "a little bit off"; something you're eye didn't exactly relish looking at. After all, in reality a spastic colon is a painful thing. The card does look slightly better in person, but not much. How did I do?
Yes, Fluffy, its on it's way.
Facing west from our front porch is a panoramic view that speaks volumes of life in the country. The seasons are measured by which tractors are in use at the moment, and time is marked out in three year cycles by the ever rotating crops just on the edge of our yard. Spring winds ripple the green wheat like waves on a lake. For a few brief weeks fireflies fill the dusk with glitter. Sultry summer heat hovers over the soybeans like a palpable cloud and the clock visibly slows. The cicadas shout their glee during the day and the crickets echo it at night. Finally a cooling gust rustles and crackles through the dry corn stalks foretelling a brief rest and time for celebration during the coming winter months. Each change brings with it a host of rich sensory pleasures that defy planning or being organized into life, but are simply experienced with joyful abandon when they present themselves. Free from manmade constraints like train schedules and traffic lights, farm life flows with the pulse of the earth.
The unobstructed view offers up the sights of roiling storm clouds sweeping across the land and sunsets so vivid they bring tears to your eyes. The wide open spaces also bring winds that tear the spit right out of your mouth and rattle the pictures in the upstairs hallway. In the spring, before the crops cover the soil, the wind carries the dust in through the open windows where it settles in fine layers over every horizontal surface it can find.
A little over six years ago, all of this ground was planted in soybeans. After several years of dreaming and planning, we dug a hole and built a house that we love and hope to grow old in. We have to stay here. We planted lots of little trees and we want to watch them grow up. We want to enjoy their shade. Someday we hope that they will block a little of that wind. In the meantime, we’re learning to work with our windy environment and plant lots of sturdy prairie wildflowers instead of fussier hybrids. The yellow patch outside the fence is a perfect testimony to the endurance of native plants. Before the house was finished, or the lawn seeded, I threw out a handful of seeds in the corner of the yard. Nothing happened. The grass grew in and I began the ritual of mowing. For three years I mowed; first with a riding tractor which took more than four hours to mow our three acres. I learned a great deal from that mowing. My Father in Law then gifted us with a John Deere Zero Turn Hydrostatic mower and the weekly task of grooming our grass started taking only 2 hours and became almost a pleasure. At least, it did after I learned how to handle the thing without mowing down our baby trees. Shortly after the arrival of the new mower, I noticed some strange leaves in the grass as I sped past. Upon closer examination, they revealed themselves to be in the Cone flower family and I remembered the casually flung seeds. Several weeks of avoiding the patch rewarded us with a mass of bright yellow Mexican Hats. That patch has been joined by several others now and all of them are fair game for the girls’ flower picking delight.
Memories of family come flooding into mind; everyone flocking together to build that fence and celebrate a special birthday at the same time. There were brothers and fathers and In-Laws digging holes, driving posts and stretching fence. The women chased children and dogs, cooked and cleaned a little and were extremely pampered by the hiring of maids and a chef. There were tractor rides, games of corn hole, and a clay pigeon shoot. Lots of presents were opened, and even more pictures were taken. Hard work, good food and simple entertainment working hand in hand to draw us closer together. And now the dog spends far more time tagging along with Grandpa on the farm or following the kids around than he ever does inside the fence.
On the horizon, just left of center is a white farmhouse belonging to friends, family, neighbors, and piano teacher; all rolled into one. One of the occupants grew up in the house when it was located five miles down the road. Several years ago, he purchased it and we watched as they jacked it onto a truck, hauled it down the road and across a field to its new location just around the corner from us. In fact, every house in that picture holds either relatives or friends. In the country, there are no strangers.
The power lines visible in the distance, while barely recognizable, are the very same power lines that showered deadly sparks on Jerry Shaw and Rachel Holloman on “Route 126” in the film Eagle Eye. Once again, the country bumpkins watched from their porches as the filming crew set up base in the parking lot of the Lutheran church and busily drove their white vans back and forth and flew their helicopters around and even recruited a few locals as stand ins. We purchased the movie as soon as it was available; not because it’s a dramatic movie in which world wide disaster is averted by a few unlikely characters who find the strength deep within themselves in the eleventh hour. No, we bought it because in that one scene we can see a portion of our wheat field digitally preserved for all time.
So this isn’t just a boring picture snapped on a whim. It is a flood of memories brimming with love of family and the joys of nature. And it’s exactly a thousand words.
Friday, July 24, 2009
The first butterfly had apparently emerged during the night or early morning. When they first come out of the chrysalis, they look very strange. Their bodies are overly plump and their wings are shriveled. They hang from the shell of the chrysalis, slowly swaying back and forth, and over the course of about an hour, they pump the blood into their wings to inflate them. We were not sure why, but the first butterfly was laying upside down on the bottom of the tent, still only partially inflated, but the wings had cured already. It was barely alive and shortly after we took it outside, it died.
The same thing happened with the third butterfly, but this time we saw it fall and tried to rescue it. Unfortunately, after falling, it thrashed around in the tent and broke it's wing open. Since it was still in the process of pumping the blood into them, it quickly bled out and died. There was nothing we could do, but at least we understood what happened to the first one.
From the beginning, we have tried to shield our children from an over exposure to tragedy, but not eliminate it entirely, since that isn't realistic. I am thankful we had the sense to do that. They understand sadness, and recognize that we live in a fallen, broken world that needs a Savior; but they also know that grief doesn't consume us because we do have the hope of redemption. The death of a butterfly might seem a strange place for such a discussion, but all creation groans with us, and so it is appropriate.
Here is Mourning Cloak number 2, wings almost fully cured. We always name our Monarchs, but after losing the first MC, we decided not to get that involved.
After it's wings had dried for over an hour, I carefully removed the shell of the chrysalis and gently transferred it outside to the flower bed. It hung in the shade of a Black Eyed Susan leaf for several hours before it launched itself into the sky and disappeared quickly.
I did not get any pictures of the Mourning Cloaks with their wings spread. The Monarchs always seem to move slowly and are more than happy to hang around up to a full day. They are content to walk on your arms and pose for pictures. The Mourning Cloaks on the other hand took flight almost immediately.
Overall, it was interesting to try raising a different type of butterfly, but we have decided that the Monarchs are just sturdier and more of a sure thing. The strange summer we are having is effecting the crops and the girls and I have both wondered aloud if the lack of heat might not be effecting the insects as well.
Of course, the adventure isn't complete without a stamp!
First you need the recipe:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c. buttermilk (fresh is best, powdered is acceptable, but do not use soured milk)
3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
Mix flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar, then add egg, buttermilk and flour mixture. Place in airtight container and chill overnight.
Quite a few recipes will use sour cream in place of buttermilk (at a different ratio), but we like this recipe better.
You will also need:
Flour for dusting
A cold surface for rolling. I have a cutting board that I put in the freezer before rolling.
Preheat the oven to 375*. Remove a small portion of the dough to work with at a time. I divide a single recipe into about 6 portions. If you take too much, it will get too soft before you can get them all rolled.
The keys to perfect Kringla are Cold, Speed, and a Light Touch. Prepare your rolling surface by dusting it lightly with flour. You only want enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, but not enough to make the Kringla powdery. Lightly flour your hands as well. Take a slightly rounded tablespoon of dough and using a very light touch, quickly roll it into a thin log about 6-7 inches long and about as thick as a sharpie marker (or just a touch thicker). This is where all of that practice making Play-doh snakes comes in handy.
Expect your first several attempts to be disastrous. Once you get a feel for the dough and how much flour you need, things will begin to go much smoother.
There are two accepted shapes for Kringla: figure 8s, and pretzel/hearts. The pretzel shape is easier to start with. There will be a little bit of open space in either design before you bake them, but this dough puffs up considerably and those gaps will close--provided the spaces aren't too big.
I put about 9 Kringla on a tray (Nordic Ware baking pans, of course.) Bake them at 375, one tray at a time for proper browning, for 10-12 minutes. When they are done, they will only be very slightly browned on the bottoms. The tops won't have much color at all, but should by dry and not doughy.
This is a bad Kringla. It is "burnt" and the spaces are too open. The result is that it will be dry. My hubby will probably eat it anyway. A single batch should make about 30 Kringla. Yes, the spelling is the same for the singular and plural, just like "sheep".
And this is a perfect plate of Kringla! The proper way to eat them is to butter the bottoms first. Of course, the Norwegian put butter on everything. Again, a warning: there isn't much to Kringla, but they go down awfully quick. In our family of four, I don't expect a single batch to last 48 hours. With or without the butter.
Maybe next time, we'll do Potato Cakes!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I'm not particularly happy with this coloring and may try again later, but the stamp itself took me just over 8 hours~a record for me.
Now listen up! I am not carving another fairy, or faerie, or pixie, or sprite, or any other mischievous fantastical creature for a very long time, no matter who asks or how nicely. Got that?
At least not until next month.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
On Sunday, we had a birthday party here at our house for my wonderful Mother-in-Law. I do truly feel blessed with the family that I married into almost 13 years ago. Each one of them brings a measure of God's grace into my life. Wealth comes in many forms, and I am richer for knowing them.
We decorated with large vases of cone flowers and greenery and everyone raved at how gorgeous they were and wondered what florist I bought them from. Which is quite funny since all I had done was take my little snips out to the propane tank and cut a giant handful of the wildflowers growing there. The greenery is lots of the wild tansy that has spread all over our three acres and that we can't get rid of no matter what we do.
I never knew how many different kinds of Cone flowers there were until we started trying to restore parts of our windswept prairie. These are just a couple of the yellow varieties that we have. There are several other yellows, plus purples, whites, oranges and even one the color of Campbell's Tomato soup! Who knew?
I feel a little better now. Flowers, birds and bugs always cheer me up. Right now I'm going to park myself outside with my camera and try to solve The Mystery of The Holes. If I'm successful, you can read about it tomorrow.
Monday, July 20, 2009
For a very short while after emerging, the pupa is still soft and it wriggles around, looking very otherworldly, until it gets settled in a comfortable position and is still. About an hour later, the chrysalis is hard.
It is difficult to see in the pictures, but each spike is tipped with red. Out in their natural environment, these pupa would be camoflaged very well, appearing to be a dried up leaf.
We started with 5 caterpillars, but one was much smaller and at a different stage than the others, so we let it go. It is much easier to keep track of them when they are all the same age. Now begins the waiting. I'm pretty sure it will be at least another 2 weeks before we see any butterflies. For now, their tent is clean and quiet and out of the cat's reach. My biggest question at this point is "Why did every single one of these guys choose to attach themselves to the zipper?"
This is what their full tent looks like. The girls and I have decided that we are going to go out and look on the bush where we found these caterpillars to see if there are any chrysalides there. We want to compare notes to see if there is any difference in the cycle when they are indoors. Empirical Science at it's best!
Friday, July 10, 2009
Those first ten stamps were pretty horrid, and I am ashamed to say that one of them (the book) is still in an active letterbox desperately needing replacement. The turtle was first, followed by the ground squirrel. Our first signature stamp (down in the R corner) came next. It was carved twice (after the tail fell off) before I found the infamous Nitrocat and Kittens image that we are still using. The remaining six were planted in a series of boxes in a local forest preserve. The red flower is a recarve after the first stamp broke. All of them have been retired. Can you see the teeth marks on the spider web from when it got taste tested?
We were now several weeks into our boxing experience and by that time I had consumed vast amounts of the AQ message boards and tutorials. I had discovered the pink Speedy Stamp and postals. Miss Moppett was my very first postal carve; a definite improvement over the turtle, but also my first black hole. I mailed this one off and have never heard from it since.
In some ways, these carving posts are in the wrong order because what happened next has already been seen. I picked up an Exacto knife. Magpie Magic, Watership Down and Theosophy were the results. Something clicked on in my brain and now I can't put the thing down. Everywhere I go, I see things that "would make a great stamp". I lie awake nights. My family thinks I'm nuts, and my chiropractor just shakes her head. I still use a gouge for some things like cleaning out larger areas and texture (the fur on the hedgehog and the bats, for instance), but am largely a knife carver. People like SHH and Archemedes Screw are proof positive of the insanely fantastic things you can do with a gouge. The exacto just works better for me. More on that later.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
After Teasel, I have a soft spot for hedgies. I wish you could see them around here in the wild.
A couple of nights ago, my In Laws next door brought me a specimen to identify (I have a bit of a bug lover reputation). Audubon helped a little and on plates 2/625 we found it to be a Mourning Cloak caterpillar. They feed on Willow, Ash and Poplar; sometimes in such large numbers that they can defoliate trees. As a borderline pest, they sometimes need to be "dealt with".
Since these were found on a Pussy Willow bush they have been trying to get rid of for years, they decided to selectively control some and leave a few. There were so many that you could hear them chewing from several feet away! I kept 5 of the larvae and the girls and I put them in our butterfly tent. I'm having trouble finding specific timing info on their life cycle, so I have no idea how long until they chrysalize (not sure that's a real word), or how long before they emerge. I'll let you know when it happens. I do know that it will take at least three weeks to emerge and the adults can live almost a year.
Here is a close up of one of them. Their barbed spikes make them look quite ferocious, don't they? If you are considering keeping caterpillars of any kind, I should probably give you a heads up. Anything that has a diet made up entirely of roughage is going to create a great deal of waste relative to size. That's a polite way of saying "You would not believe how much a caterpillar can poop!"
Some great insect identification sites:
What's That Bug?
And More Butterflies
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Of course, there was a bonus stamp too. The Magpie is about 5 1/2 x 3 inches and the feather was about 1 x 3.
These stamps have also lived a very full life both as postals and as traveling event stamps. They hold some sentimental value as well for several reasons, but that is a story for another day.
Another one of my first postals was the For Bibliophiles Only ring. Since I will never be able to pick just one favorite book, I created two stamps. Watership Down was my "grown up" submission, although the story is a wonderful tale for young people as well. Think of it sort of as Homer's Odyssey, but with rabbits. If you have never read Richard Adams' Watership Down, then you need to go to the library today. Seriously.
The stamp is a reproduction of the cover art from the first American edition of the book, and is quite large at over 4 x 4 1/2 inches. It has done a ridiculous lot of traveling and even been divided into two stamps with the compass rose going on it's own separate journey for awhile. In spite of all of that, both pieces are safe at home and still in perfect stamping condition. Who knows where it's next adventure will take it?
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
It seems a long time ago now, but shortly after I started boxing, I discovered Postal letterboxes. Since my girls were still pretty little, getting out was tricky. Postals hit the spot for me. "Theosophy" was one of my first and part of Celtic Quinn's MC Escher ring. I was completely intimidated. I attempted to carve "Blowball" first, but threw the design and stamp in the garbage after hours of frustration (that's another story). Theosophy was my fallback. And I love him. He has gone around several times since, but has since been retired. I don't know if I could bear to lose him.
What is your favorite Escher design? And have you carved it yet?
Rosmaling is quite beautiful and each region of Norway is represented by a different style of painting. I can't decide which is my favorite. The Gudbrandsdal is a style that imitates carving. Perhaps that's what I need to try. Carving a painting that imitates carving. Hmmm. This large stamp is 3 x 2 1/4 inches.
This smaller stamp turned out a little better, but still isn't what I was hoping for. It measures 1 1/3 x 1 1/4 inches.
Of course, no set of Norwegian stamps is complete without this sentiment, which pretty much expresses how I feel about the whole deal. This one is big at over 2 inches each way.
Monday, July 6, 2009
"Butterflight" was my very first HH. The girls and I created it when we were raising Monarch caterpillars the first year we started boxing. The butterfly is a two part stamp; one piece for black and one for orange. It was hacked out of a piece of mastercarve and sent on it's way with the hopeful instruction that it should migrate to the west coast. Somewhere along the way, the stamp broke and some beautiful person mounted it to a wood block. I received scattered reports of it's movements and awhile back was completely surprised when it and it's full logbook arrived home in my mailbox--all the way from the west coast. After a successful run, it was retired.
"Al Capone's Getaway Car" was created for the Great Atlas Quest HH exchange (or something like that) where I exchanged with mokeymiddle from Portland. She sent me her "Stumptown HH" which I have run across several times since then.
Last I knew, Al's car had been found in Jay's Toolbox.
"Global HH" started out in the International Triple postal ring, where it traveled around the US, UK and Canada. It currently resides in my craft cabinet, but with a new logbook it will be ready to travel once more.
"Hardanger HH" was a special creation. After DH had his surgery in the Twin Cities, he was trying to rest and recover and I was bouncing around the hotel room like a pinball. He made the mistake of asking if I didn't have any clues with me. I didn't return until after dark.
I drove up along the gorgeous St Croix river to Scandia, where I found a whole slug of fantastic Scandinavian themed letterboxes by She Who Plants. One of them was the "It's Been a Quiet Week in My Hometown HHH." After such a great day, I wanted to send a thank you. Since controversy seems to surround inflicting a poor, hapless hitchhiker with what some consider a prison sentence, I decided to make a HH that could happily stay in the Scandia hostel for the rest of it's natural life. Hardanger is a Norwegian needlepoint and I carved the stamp from one of my pattern books. It could have turned out better. I mailed it up to Art Gekko (I think) and it was added to the HHH. It has long since moved on though.
Last and certainly least is the "Hydrant HH". This one is neither success of failure. Yet. I created a box for a letterboxer in the Sacramento area a couple of years ago and it has yet to be planted. The stamp was of a Dalmatian dog. The hitchhiker went with the box and included instructions to try to keep it in Dog themed boxes. Eh.
I do have one other release, Bedtime Buddy, that went into the Bear themed boxes in Troy Grove. It was a recycled stamp.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Quite some time ago, I made a number of LTC puzzles (and here are two more). Well, one of them didn't get quite finished. They are still sitting in a box and only need some minor assembly and they would be ready for trade (hint, hint).
When I get this one listed it will be Jigsaw Puzzles: I Love America, or something like that. It is difficult to tell, but the pocket has fireworks embossed in an iridescent, sparkly ink on it.
This LTC uses all recycled stamps. The USA stamp was from the International Triple postal project, Global Housewarming. It made it's way around the US, Canada, and the UK before coming home. The fireworks were part of one of my Periodic Table trading cards; Phosphorus, to be exact.
I wish everyone a happy, safe Independence Day!