Monday, June 27, 2011

Harriet goes to Hollywood

Weekend before last we went to L.A. for Minnette's 95th birthday. It was Harriet's first plane ride and it was a long 3 hours. We stayed with our dear friends Jimmy and Loey, Minnette's younger sister, and we greatly appreciate their hospitality, as usual.

The party was Saturday and Minnette was dressed in her finest for the event. Does this outfit look familiar to anyone? The party unfortunately ended on a sad note with Minnette having to go to the hospital due to difficulty breathing. She is home now though and doing better.

Kiara Minnette and Harriet Minnette, Minnette's great granddaughter and honorary great granddaughter, respectively. They were born a week apart.

someone's got an attitude.

We went to the Los Angeles Arboretum. There were peacocks everywhere. We went in hopes of seeing this, but it had just been taken down a week before, to our dismay.

We went over to the Pasadena Chalk Festival and saw hundreds of chalk art in vibrant colors. Most were pretty good.

Pajama time with Grandpa.

Harriet with Loey and Jimmy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Anne, Nicole Meg, Laura, Meagan, Allison, Me (guess the person who isn't a Brewers fan in this picture)

Mini college reunion

This post is long overdue, but better late than never. Over memorial day weekend we went down to Milwaukee for a get together with my friends from college. We went to a brewers game. It was fun to catch up with everyone, a couple I haven't seen since graduating. We had a great time together and it was fun that Laura and Arik came all the way from Tennessee. After the game we went over to Meg's house and brought Harriet over to meet everyone.

Husbands. Matt, Rod, Arik, Steve & Ken.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Front yard hardscaping/landscaping

Our front steps were falling apart. We had to continually spray paint them black to hide the chipping and cracking. The rise of each step varied from 6-10". The railings were super cheap and unstable.

Old front yard, sans stairs.

We hired the landscaper that helped in our backyard. He had his concrete guy demolish the stairs and prepare the above form in preparation of the concrete truck. We opted for much bigger stairs.

Once the stairs were complete we had some of the sidewalk removed to make way for a paver walkway (to match the backyard). Then we spent several nights gardening. When Harriet would go to bed at 8:30 we'd go outside to remove old plants, rake the old garden beds, remove grass to enlarge the garden area in general.

The existing plants only covered so much area so we bought a few and Christina contacted her family friends Mary and Malcolm about splitting some of their hostas. Boy did we luck out! Mary and Malcolm had a beautiful garden with more hostas and more shade loving plants than they knew what to do with. We would have ended up taking even more had we not filled the trunk and back seat of the car with plants. Above are some of the gifts.

We don't have a great before picture of the front garden, but it was kind of a sad mess. It was transplants waiting for their next home and weeds. We hadn't really touched it since we moved in. So, we saved what we could.

Finished garden. Complete with pavers as edging and blue stone steppers to be sure the mailman still had a dependable route between yards.

Finished product with fresh sod installed in the old gardens along each side of the entry walkway.

Another after.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

In with the new, out with the old.

We picked up three new hens in Faribault a few weeks ago. A Buff Orpington, a Black Australorp, and a Rhode Island Red. They are almost four months now and should begin laying brown eggs in July. The are all pretty shy and seem to like staying together. That may have something to do with being introduced into a well established backyard flock. Our original four hens were close to four years old. Were? Past tense? Yes, the old hens are gone.

When we decided to get chickens we talked about what would happen when their egg production was no longer... productive. Well that day came. We have not had an egg from our hens since October. Chickens egg production falls off considerable after the first thee years. They still lay, but less often and with longer periods of absolutely no eggs. That said they eat more than ever and the risk of egg binging (getting an egg stuck!) increases. So judgment day has come and gone. At this point some of you may want to stop reading this post. I'm going to explain how my friend and I slaughtered and ultimately consumed the hens.

First I researched local butchers to see if I could forego doing anything myself. Near the Twin Cities this was not really an option. Once I realized I was going to be involved I started researching things. The internet is an amazing place; youtube and blogs specifically. I'm not a hunter and I've gutted perhaps a fish or two in my whole life. I needed help. My friend Aaron jumped at the chance. He is an avid hunter and had some experience butchering chickens as well. He even offered up his enormous backyard outside of the city. So on a rainy weekend day I boxed up our four old hens and drove over to his house to, shall we say, send them to the freezer.

I'll save you all the details. We basically cut their throats, tied them up by their feet, skinned them (avoiding a messy plucking ordeal), gutted, then cleaned them.

Voila! Just like you'd see at the meat market. Left to right: Dutchess, Marie Antoinette, and Camilla. Queenie had been acting strange for a few days prior and was noticeably weak when I wrangled them all for the trip to Aaron's house. Well, she was no longer alive after the 15 minute trip. I was sad at first, until I realized I was about to kill all my chickens. The whole experience was very interesting and, I have to admit, took a bit out of me. I'm glad I did it. Raising hens is primarily to be more sustainable, and understand and appreciate where our food comes from. Mission accomplished.

As for eating them; slow cooking was a must. Chicken you get in a store or at a restaurant are 6 weeks to a few months old when slaughtered. Our hens were almost four years old. Old hens have tough meat, and in our case they also had more exercise so they were fairly lean and muscular. For this reason they're known as stewing hens. One hen, two quarts of water, salt, pepper, and parsley in a crock pot on low for 10 hours made a wonderful and flavorful stock. I took the chicken out and removed most of the meat, then returned the meat to the remaining broth and added potatoes, carrots, and celery. The soup was tasty, but everyone who tried some agreed the meat was still pretty tough.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Annual Garden update

Not too much new in the garden this year. We put down a ton of uncomposted compost in the veggie bed last fall and then some more finished compost this spring so we're hoping this will aid in a bountiful crop this year.

The seedling exchange yielded a bunch of tomatoes, basil, parsley, rosemary and some thyme. We bought a bunch of hot peppers, broccoli and cauliflower at the friends sale and I put in the carrots, radishes and peas that I grew from seed. This went well despite it not being recommended. The peas are slowly growing and I am a little skeptical that they will grow up the bamboo stakes we put in. They don't appear to be going anywhere, but they do have some peapods on them, so who knows. Every year we are trying something new so we will see how it goes.

Although I don't typically plant tomatoes until June, this year I planted them a couple weeks ago. These plants, above, haven't been planted yet and have tomatoes already on them, pretty crazy. We are growing 11 plants, which I know is a bit nuts, but I'm sure we can find people to take them off our hands. We're sticking with almost exclusively heirlooms and my favorite name for one of the plants is Mr. Stripey.

As for the rest of the garden, we lost a few plants due to the snowy winter we had (which doesn't make a lot of sense since the more snow we have the more insulated the plants are from the cold). Our real problem this spring is ANTS! They are making their homes everywhere. We had the pavers resanded with locking sand and they are pulling all the sand out. Curses! We would welcome any advice on a nontoxic way of killing them. Boiling water hasn't worked.