Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rainy Day & Baking

Finally, it has started to rain. I think the ducks were even happier than I was. My poor perenial beds and herb garden have been gasping and panting for days now. It is amazing how a scant inch of rain causes all sorts of green growth and sudden blossoms to appear! Unfortunately, the cool weather did not sit too well with the silkie chicks who have been moved out into the shed. But, a quick visit from my handyman Jack with his spare stash of insulation left-overs, and the eaves are now plugged which helps greatly with the draft. I have several quilts draped over their little habitat (I knew my quilt collection would be useful someday!), which is helping the heat lamp to keep their little area at 85 most of the time.

Breezy damp issue resolved, I headed indoors to take care of some baking. Friday night I felt the need to make a cake, and this afternoon I finally got around to frosting it. You can't go wrong with carrot cake smothered in home-made cream cheese frosting. Yum! In preparation for the upcoming 100 mile garage sale, 4th annual trip, I made some wonderfully easy peanut butter cookies, with miniature peanut butter cups in them. In case you are drooling over baked goods and fantasizing about making some of your own, here is the recipe:

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
1/3 c. nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 large egg
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup miniature peanut butter cups (in baking area)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, dry milk, and baking powder, set aside. Cream together butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add egg, sugar, and vanilla. Beat for three minutes, until very fluffy. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in peanut butter cups. Use an ice cream scoop with spring release lever to scoop out large cookies onto greased baking sheets. Lightly flatten cookie mounds. Bake for 10 minutes until just lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for two minutes, then remove to rack until completely cooled. Store for 1 week in air-tight container or in freezer up to three months.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sun Porch, Reclaimed!

It took me close to four years, but I have finally carved out an "outdoor" space to call my own. The sun porch, which does take advantage of an open southern exposure to great success, has long been the hang out for assorted cats, bees, beetles galore, and other unwanted critters. Most memorably, the invasion of two grumpy raccoons that stuffed themselves through the cat flap in search of That was a night! In any case, the cat flap is no more and I now have a comfortable, relaxing space to while away an hour or two, reading a book and listening to the chickens cluck away in peace. As you can see from the pictures, it is an assortment of odds and ends--wicker chairs, repurposed and repainted plastic bench, old family heirloom rocker, a couple of nifty furniture finds--that works to make a contented space to relax in.

This sideboard is the marriage of an old mirror salvaged from the toss pile of an antique shop, and an ancient and decrepit kitchen cupboard that has lived on the porch for who knows how many years. A coat of paint, a few screws for reinforcement, and there you go: Perfect. I found little flower LED lights to wrap around the mirror, which really add a lot. Girly vibe!

This little hutch is a miniature version of the usual size. It's a one-of-a-kind that I found hidden at a local junk shop. Once I cleaned off the dust, bird droppings, and mouse poop, it is really something. I found assorted candles and lanterns at local thrift shops, which will make for nice ambience in the evenings. I can hardly wait for visitors to come and join me on the porch for iced tea & conversation!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sleepless in Spring-Time

You would think that after a long and busy day, I would be ready to drop. Not only did I wake up early and head out to the fun of my "real" job, but I came home and played in the garden, fed assorted livestock (those ducklings can eat, man!), moved the silkies to a bigger box, and then started to clean and arrange the sun porch. I am converting it from a cat/bee habitat to a more useful seasonal hang-out porch. It is a project, let me tell you--sweeping dust from everywhere (and I mean, everywhere!), moving furniture, setting up new shelves, figuring out how to make plastic storage bins disappear--and I am looking forward to its' completion. And then, I had to round up dinner for the dogs and myself and race to the computer to attend class. Now I am sitting here, full of mindless energy and wishing it wasn't quite so dark out at 10 PM, because I'd like to go outside and muck around with yard projects. Does this make sense? No. What is the cause? Stress, too much caffeine, anxiety, illicit drugs? No. It is simply spring-time madness, the urge to compulsively play outdoors with no attention paid to darkness, coldness, rainy-ness or buggy-ness. It's only cure is high summer, when weeds conquer the once-lovely garden beds and watering for the millionth evening/morning in a row becomes another pallid chore swamped with humidity. For now, I live for the long sunny afternoons where it is warm enough to toss aside the sweatshirt and revel in short sleeves. I have a mild sunburn on my arms and back of my neck! My freckles have reappeared after a long winter vacationing under my skin! Leaves are unfurling, bugs are awakening, the crocuses are sprouting. It is Spring! Spring! Glorious, heavenly, madness-inducing Spring!

And now, off to find the warm milk and head to bed...and dream of the garden, awakening and blooming. Spring!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Chicklets!

Most mornings, I drag myself out of bed. It isn't because I didn't get enough sleep, or feel so tired I can't move--I just really like to lie in bed, smothered in quilts and a cat or two, pretending that the day hasn't started and I don't have anything pressing to accomplish before I can crawl back into my cozy nest.

But this morning, when the alarm went off and after my initial sleepy thought of "oh man, it is early...", I sprang out of bed!
(Okay, stumbled out of bed--but I got up!)

Today was chick delivery day #1! A box of 25 peeping, micro-sized silkie chicks was due to arrive, and I had things to do to get ready for them. Around 7:45 AM, the phone rang. Claire at the post office was calling, to say that he had a box full of chickens for me. A quick dash across town, and I had a cardboard box perforated with holes peeping away in the passenger seat.

As you can see, I have an assortment of colors of very tiny, fuzzy chicks. I think there are buff, white, black, and splash (a mix of colors in splotches)--it is a little hard to tell what colors they will be until their real feathers start to fill in. Out of the 25 ordered, 23 chicks made it and seem to be doing well in their new abode. For the next week or two, they will reside in style in a quilt-draped, extra large rubbermaid tub with a balmy heat lamp shining down upon them. As soon as the temperature gets settled and everyone seems to be comfortable, I will jet off to work and leave them to
eat, peep, drink, and sleep in peace. I do love baby chicks!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Look, It's A Quilt!

This was such a fun project to do! If you have a shed or barn or just want a really different "yard art" installation, you must try this.
I started with a design, which I transferred onto graph paper and played around with colors. The quilt block design is called "Hens and Chicks": The large blue triangles are the hens, smaller blue triangles are the chicks, both are heading to the turquoise 'feed' square at the center. Then, I found a 2 foot by 2 foot oak plywood square and gave it two coats of creamy, butter-yellow paint.

After transferring my grid onto the painted square with a yard stick, ruler and pencil, I used painters tape specifically made for delicate, already painted surfaces to mark out the shapes for painting. I was able to find the blues and turquoises of my color palette at the hardware store, in the small $2 each sample sizes. A set of foam brushes from the dollar store worked great to dab on a nice, thick layer of paint to fill in the spaces. A good trick for precise lines is to really press the tape down tightly, particularly on the edge that joins with another painted shape, and remember to peel off the tape while the paint is still damp. Works great every time!

After letting the first painted shapes dry for a couple of hours, I was able to lay down more tape to paint the other shapes--first the big triangles, then the small triangles. Here come the chickens!

After all the different shapes are painted, it really looks like a quilt block! In order to ensure that my lovely shed quilt will stand up to all the weather Wisconsin can throw at it, a couple coats of a good outdoor sealant, such as marine varnish, will keep the paint and the wood intact for years to come.

As you can see, the final product is mounted on the shed (a couple of 2x2 boards work to support it on the wall and allow for airflow behind the quilt, so it won't rot). Doesn't it look great?!? My new Hens and Chicks shed quilt--the perfect accessory for my backyard homestead!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Inspiration in Art

I am a fan of barns. I love them. Standing tall, round ones, falling down or with trees growing up through the hay loft, I love them all. I mean, hey, I live in one!

One of the most lovely things I have ever seen on a barn is a barn quilt. Made from 8 foot by 8 foot squares of plywood and painted too look like a quilt block, these lovely pieces of art are scattered across the Midwest. The largest concentration of them can be found in Sac County, Iowa (, but other counties throughout Iowa have started up barn quilt committees as well. In Sac City, Iowa, there is a "house quilt" committee--with sheds and homes and even mailboxes decorated with smaller-sized wooden quilt squares! Over Christmas, I drove south on US Highway 63 through Iowa and saw several of these beauties as I passed farms. I thought: Someday, I need to make one of those!

And so, the "shed quilt" project was born! Last weekend, I put three coats of creamy, butter yellow paint on a 2 foot by 2 foot oak plywood square. I researched traditional barn quilt blocks, and found a pattern called (aptly) Hens and Chicks. Today, in celebration of a four-day Easter weekend, I mapped out my quilt block pattern and started painting it in. The colors I chose are blues and turquoise--given the shed will be a vibrant purply-pink with light gray trim, I think my quilt will show off beautifully. Photos of the project are to follow soon, so stay tuned!