Sunday, December 20, 2009

Traditional Bridal Ornaments

I've read that, according to an old German tradition, the tree of a newlywed couple should include the following twelve ornaments, symbols to insure blessing and happiness for their life together. Usually, the list is part of a pitch to sell a very pretty glass set of ornaments. But since I'm of German descent, I thought maybe my tree should have those ornaments - and besides, a household can always use more blessings and happiness. However, my tastes are much more eclectic. I figured over time I could make or find my own versions.

Angel - God's guidance in the home
Rose - affection
Rabbit - hope
Teapot - hospitality
Pine Cone - fruitfulness
Santa - goodwill
House - protection
Fruit Basket - generosity
Bird - joy
Flower Basket - good wishes
Heart - true love
Fish - Christ's blessing

I'm certainly not a newlywed any more, but I do have all twelve now. My teapot is a survivor from my old childhood doll dishes. I glued the top down, and wrapped an ornament hanger around the handle. A couple of inches in diameter, it's quite heavy, being china, so it needs to be hung a bit to the inside of my tree, closer to the trunk.

For the rabbit, I had a little pottery figurine from my first trip to Mexico (back when all you needed to cross the border was a photo ID and a copy of your voter's registration. A girlfriend and I had lots of time, but little money, so traveled via buses and trains over to, and then down, the Pacific Coast as far as San Blas - quite an adventure). By knotting a bit of gold cord around its neck, it's now an ornament (shown hanging next to some Guatemalan worry dolls glued to a hair barrette - too fragile to wear, I turned that into an ornament too).

I think the strangest one, and one of the last ones I found, is my fruit basket. I found this in a little curio shop in Willamstad, capital of the Caribbean island of CuraƧao in the Netherlands Antilles. It was so bizarrely strange, I knew it would be perfect. A little more than an inch across, I especially love that the strawberry, bananas, and slice of watermelon are all the same size. I'm not sure if those are grapes, or maybe breadfruit. There's also a slice of papaya and something that looks like a Delicata squash on the other side - a wonderful little piece of folk art.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Pig, and a Batch of Home-Brew

When Aries and I were planning to elope, my co-workers wanted to give me a bridal shower anyway. They asked what we needed for our new home together. Since we were combining the households of two self-sufficient adults, we knew we would be busy getting rid of doubled-up items, and we said we really didn't need anything. When they persisted, we said fruit trees, or maybe a weaner pig.

That second request totally mystified my co-workers. They pictured a weiner-pig - some sort of dachshund/porcine pet. I explained that we meant a weaned piglet, to be raised for food. That was a bit too much for any of them to consider. But tied to the top of the box from Sandee, Maggie, and Betty was a little stuffed pig Christmas ornament, just darling with its beribboned curly tail. It's graced our tree for 20 years now.

During Aries' past "weekend", while I finished up my holiday decorating, he thought the cold and overcast day a perfect time to make a batch of beer. And it was. The humidity from five gallons of water, hops, and malt boiling on the stove warmed up the whole house; the pile of snow off the deck made a perfect spot to cool the wort enough to add the yeast. So now my holiday decor includes a 5-gallon bucket of Irish Brown Ale on the kitchen counter, bubbling merrily up through the fermentation lock.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tiny Reed Boat

This is one of my newer ornaments. My last big travel adventure was spending 3 weeks touring Peru. I never like carrying very much in the way of souvenirs on my travels, but always look for a refrigerator magnet and something that will work as a Christmas ornament. This little reed boat is about 4" long, the people less than an inch tall.

As part of the trip, we spent a night in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and then a night out on Amanti, a rocky island in the lake, the group split up into different people's homes. On our way back to Puno, we made an afternoon stop at one of the floating reed islands of the Uros tribe.

Everything on the island is made of reeds, including the islands themselves. The islands are 2 to 4 feet thick, anchored to poles stuck in the lake bottom, and can be moved when necessary. As the bottom layers rot away, they add more to the top, creating a dry, spongy, bouncy surface (kinda like walking on a waterbed). Next to the dock where we pulled in were some of their traditional reed boats, these decorated with puma heads at either end.

First stop for our visit was a circle of reed benches, where we learned about life on a floating island. A little toddler girl came by, and was totally fascinated by me and my sunglasses. She climbed up next to me, holding my hand to keep her balance, for the entire presentation. Afterwards, each of us went to one of the islanders' homes - basically their chance to sell things to the tourists.

I speak quite a bit of Spanish, so the woman I went with (to the house in the photo, the pointy building next to it is her kitchen) and I ended up doing more visiting than vendoring. Seeing that she had a TV (solar panels provide power), I hummed the theme song from Bonanza (my universal way of getting folks to understand where I'm from - never fails), and we talked about my home, our families, and her home there. She showed me the various handcrafts she'd made to sell - lots of decorative bags and textiles, and some long hanging strings of little bits and pieces strung together like wind chimes and sun catchers. Those were too big and too fragile to try and carry the rest of my trip, but at the bottom end of one was a little reed boat, llama heads on either end, and carrying two teeny-tiny people she'd dressed in hand-woven traditional costumes. I loved it as soon as I saw it. She agreed to cut just the little boat off the end for me. Tucked into one of my shoes in my duffle bag, it made the trip home in fine shape, and now brings back wonderful memories every Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Drive-By Food Drive

I had to get up really early and drive up to Lake Tahoe to work the hotel departures for the group that came in on Monday. One of our stranger weather phenomena is that despite it being another couple thousand feet higher in altitude, it's warmer up there than it is here in Carson City. The lake is so deep it never freezes, and so helps moderate temperatures somewhat. And then, it's been quite still so we get a temperature inversion thing going on where the coldest air sinks down into the valleys.

When I got home, I bundled up in about four layers of clothing and my Santa hat, and spent the afternoon outside the Governors Mansion, volunteering for the Share Your Christmas Drive-By Food Drive. It ran from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. and there are always lots of volunteers and simply tons of food donated.

The Mansion has a circular drive in front, so cars pull in, volunteers take the offered bags of food, and the car drives out. Off to the side, others are sorting the donations and loading trucks. Our town's collection goes to the local domestic violence shelter, so there's another crew at work there, unloading the trucks and filling the storage shelves. There are also drop-off spots in Reno and farther south in the Carson Valley that go to other area food banks. One of the local TV stations does news reports throughout the day; the schools send their choirs to sing (elementary students are so cute; the high school singers are simply amazing). Temperatures never did get above freezing, and it snowed lightly off and on all day, but there was an almost steady stream of cars coming through the entire time I was there.

And tonight, the bathtub drain thawed out so we could take showers again. Hooray!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Art of Dish Arranging

It's my turn to post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog, so I've written a post entitled the Art of Dish Arranging. It might bring back some memories if you've ever lived without a dishwasher, or spark a note of recognition if you've ever unloaded a dish drainer someone else put together.

But maybe, just maybe, during this holiday season, it's not really about dishes at all. Check it out here, and let me know what you decide.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Absolutely Freezing Here

The deep freeze continues. Temps are below normal, but not all that unusual - we get a cold snap like this once or twice each winter most years. Last nights lows: outside -13F, inside 50F; today's high: 17F. The cellar is holding steady at 47F so the fruits and veggies down there are in fine shape. I got three eggs today - some of the hens are really hanging in there. I've asked Aries to stop taking eggs to work for the guys - I want to make sure I've got enough for us and my Christmas baking.

The bathtub drain froze up last night. It usually does when temps drop below zero. I'm just glad it doesn't happen very often. There's no way to thaw it out either. We just have to wait until daytime temperatures get above freezing, and that's gonna be a couple more days yet. So it means sponge baths, or short showers standing in a plastic tub that can then be emptied into sink or toilet, and baling or wet-vaccing out what's left in the bathtub (or else having a tub gradually filled with scummy, cold water). I'm thinking I'd rather wash my hair at the community swimming pool showers tomorrow (it's too long to wash easily in the kitchen sink).

I haven't put up my Christmas tree yet. Every year, I debate whether I want to bother with it, and every year I end up doing it. And I'm always glad I did, too. Sure, it's quite a bit of work (and means rearranging the furniture too), but I like having the extra lights in the living room during the darkest days of the year (and the carpet gets vacuumed underneath the couch). Even better, I love going through my ornaments once again. I made quite a few of them, and others are souvenirs from my travels. I'm thinking I'll post pictures of some of my favorites during the rest of the month.

This little hot-air balloon I crocheted in bedspread-weight crochet cotton to fit over a 3" satin ball ornament; the basket was starched and shaped over a shot glass. The pattern is in a 1984 American School of Needlework Christmas booklet by Mary Thomas. I love that I found perfectly-sized wooden Santa and Mrs. Claus figurines to ride inside.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Boys and Their Toys

The sun came out today, and the fresh snow sparkles and glitters like a million bits of glass. Here are a few more photos for those longing for snow.

I wish I could post some picturesque vistas of pristine mounds of snow, but Aries has a new toy to play with - a free snowblower he repaired and got running again. Consequently, right now our lot looks more like a giant Fox and Geese game.

Boys and their toys - what can I say?

A few statistics:
Last night's Lows: Outside -1F (that's minus 1)
Inside 54F (not too bad)

Today's High: 22F (that's with the sun shining)

Me, today: 56 :-)

Monday, December 7, 2009


Woke up this morning to about a foot of new snow, and it kept coming down all day. Which, normally, is just fine with me. We really need the moisture - just about all of our annual average 7" precipitation comes in the form of snow. Usually, I shovel out the chickens, come in and warm up, shovel a path to the woodpile, come in and warm up, and know it will all melt away in another week or so. But this morning, I was working a group arrival on five different flights into the Reno-Tahoe Airport.

I'm so glad it was Aries' day off. He got started on the driveway while I got ready to leave. And it meant I could use his 4X4 truck. I don't think I would have made it if I'd had to take my car (BTW, it's a little sedan with a regular trunk - that's all wind-blown snow piled up on the back end).

A drive that normally takes about 45 minutes took me twice that, but I left early so made it right on time. And then spent more than five hours in the airport. First flight canceled, next two delayed, another one canceled, the last one finally came in an hour late and then sat on the runway for another hour waiting for an open gate. Had to do some shuffling around to get everyone onto their transportation up to the Lake, and then I could head home. Still snowing, my drive back took just as long.

Aries got to play with a new toy all day. He'd been given a big old broken-down snowblower earlier this year. He cleaned it up and got it running again. This was the first time he got to use it, so by the time I got home there were all kinds of paths and all of the driveway cleared, all the way back to the garage. And twenty-four hours later, it's still snowing. Wheeee!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December Cold

Oh, brrr! It feels like December now. My car had been slow starting the past couple of weeks, and then a couple of days ago wouldn't start at all. Time to go battery shopping. I was only heading out to run some errands, so it didn't bother me to stay home until Aries got home from work. I was just glad it finally died on a day when I didn't really have to be anywhere. I should be fine now. At least, I hope so.

Our night temps have been falling into the teens(F) but it's been warming up daytimes into the low 50's. With the draft dodger at the kitchen door, the styrofoam panel on the glass sliding door, inside the house has been dropping to around 60F by morning. But the sun coming in the east window warms it up enough that I usually don't bother to start a fire until afternoon.

Not today! Last night's low was 6F, and the house was down in the mid-50's by morning. Good thing I switched our bedding over to the down comforter last week. The barometer is falling and there's a miserable cold wind kicking up horrible sandstorms. Clouds moving in mean no solar warming today, and the first snowflakes are zipping by sideways. I've had a fire going for hours, and it's now warmed up to the mid-60's inside - that's a comfortable temperature for me. The house pets have stretched out from their tight little curls, bellies towards the stove. I had to take fresh water out to the birds at noon - what Aries took out in the morning before leaving for work had already iced over. Forecasts say its gonna get a lot colder in the next few days. Hello, Winter!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good-bye to Fall Decor

I love vintage linens. When I'm in a thrift store, I head for the tablecloths and pillowcases, looking for colors that grab my soul. Then, refashioning some things, maybe doing a little custom embroidery, layering and combining things, I make the cozy home I need to feel at peace. Since early September, looking around my house makes me smile. The colors I love most of all are the earthy, fall-toned ones - the oranges, tans, and golds.

In a small house, a unified color scheme keeps things looking serene and coordinated. The flow is just better from room to room. My base decor is lots of golden-toned wood, beige backgrounds in the wallpapers, with dark green and maroon the unifying tones, present in every room. Then, by changing pillow and table covers, towels and napkins, I economically bring in a fresh look seasonally.

But now it's time to say good-bye to my fall decor; time to get out the Christmas things for their brief, five-week reign. And, you know, once I get everything switched over, I know I'll love that too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mites in the Chicken Coop

I received an email from Jen, asking about a mite infestation in her chicken coop, and if I knew any non-chemical remedies. We've never had a mite problem (knock on wood). I do have some old poultry reference books, so I did some research for her. I thought I'd post my reply:

When I showed your email to my husband, he said your deep straw bedding might be part of the problem. It might give the mites a place to hide out and breed. I don't know about that. We have a coop with a slatted floor, droppings pit underneath, straw only in the nest boxes. Figuring out a way to keep wild birds out of your chicken coop might prevent them from bringing in mites too. But since the mites are already there, here are a few folk remedies you can try:

*give the chickens a dustbath box or pit filled with wood ashes - it's supposed to suffocate mites. We have an open burning period in the fall, when we can burn weeds and small brush piles. Our chickens love to get out in the burn pit to dustbathe.

*try dusting your chickens with diatomaceous earth - hold them upside-down and get it down underneath their feathers to their skin (but not in their eyes); you can also put it in their feed.

*Red mites hide out by day in the cracks and crevices in wooden roosts and nest boxes, coming out at night to feed on the chickens as they sleep. To check for them, pluck one of your chickens from her roost at night and look for the mites beneath her leg feathers. A folk remedy is to chase all the chickens out of the coop in the morning, locking them out for the day. Wet down the roosts, especially underneath, and bottoms of nest boxes with a 50/50 mixture of used motor oil and kerosene, using a paintbrush or dabbing with a rag. Keep the chickens out until as late in the day as possible. You might have to repeat the treatment after 2 weeks.

*If you can see the mite, it wouldn't be scaly leg mites - they're microscopic, causing scales that stick out, and sometimes fall off, on the naked part of their legs. Washing the legs then rubbing in Vaseline, or dipping chickens' legs in salad or baby oil weekly is said to work for that.

*Depluming mites cause the chickens to pull out their feathers to try and stop the itching, leaving your chickens are almost naked. Dunk the bird, wetting it all the way down to the skin, in a mixture of 2 oz sulfur plus 1 oz soap per gallon of water.

*Last Resort - chemicals: Sevin (carbaryl) as a dust or spray, or Co-Ral (coumaphous) dust. This is the only treatment I could find for northern fowl mites, reddish or dark brown ones that spend their whole life-cycle on the bird. Look for them around the tail and vent during the daytime. If the infestation is severe, they could be on the eggs too. Insecticide powders in the feathers of a mother can kill the chicks underneath her, so any treatments have to be done well in advance of hatching.

This is Baldy. No mites here - the photo is from earlier this fall when she was molting. When the days get shorter, most of our flock lose their feathers, stop laying eggs in order to grow new ones, and then are all nice and newly fluffy when the cold weather gets here. Then, when the days start getting longer after New Year's, they start laying eggs once again.

When Baldy was a young chick, on her first day in with the rest of the flock, she found a small hole under the chicken pen fence just large enough to squeeze under, but not all the way through. The rest of the flock, vicious little beasts that they are, pecked her on the head as she lay trapped. I thought they'd killed her, but when I pulled her out she was still alive. I took her inside, sprayed her head with liquid bandage, and after a couple more days in the house she rejoined the rest of the flock. Her head comb never did grow back, though.