Archive for September, 2009

Project #233 – Pengiun Army

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I’ve been talking to friends of Clark who are keen at business about how they started their own companies. The best piece of advice that I’ve gotten is that I should only consider starting a business if it encompasses my passion, and, no, making lots of money doesn’t really count as a passion. It’s a cliche, of course, “Follow your passion”, but they are right. I keep thinking of business ideas that would be profitable, but make me wince when I think about all of the tedious programming I would have to do just to set up a proof of concept.

Still, at the end of my fantasy of building a successful software company, I always sell it for a high price and retire to making and selling little things with my hands. Maybe I should just skip to the fun part at the end.

So, just to see if I could take hours and hours of making little things, I decided to make something big for once and put it up for sale in my etsy shop. I recreated my penguin decoration set from my wedding, but instead of making everything over the course of a few weeks I did it over two days. I think I handled my repetitive task well, but it was only for a few hours at a time.

I don’t think I will be quitting my job anytime soon, but it’s a nice chance to make a little extra money and get some feedback on what I’m working on.

If you’re interested in buying lots and lots and lots of penguins, the Etsy listing is here.

Project #232 – Half Baked Idea Speech

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I ran across an interesting announcement via I Heart PGH, the Waffle Shop will be holding a speech competition for visionary ideas. For those of you unfamiliar with the Waffle Shop, it’s a place to buy breakfast and a talk show. The examples of visionary ideas they gave were not very conventional (“a way for animals to run governments”, “a cloning system that reinvents history”), so I came up with my own half-baked, impractical idea and sent it in.

How to Teach Animals to Speak the King’s English

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if animals had better manners? Deer would no longer leap in front of cars on the highway, ants would await invitations before attending picnics, and the insult of pigeon poop would be a distant memory. The only way to encourage animals to embrace politeness is on a being-to-being level. That is, we must learn to communicate with animals and get them to communicate back with us. The trans-species conversation could spur on better human stewardship of the environment, more understanding for endangered species, and help teach barbaric-mannered animals to be more considerate.

But are animals capable of the higher order brain functions needed to produce the King’s English? Consider this: the computer on your desktop at home has about the same intelligence capacity as a frog. It has a number of bits in its memory chips comparable to the number of neurons in the frog’s brain. Your computer has the power to correct your spelling and grammar as well as look up words in dictionaries containing millions of entries. Not only that, your computer has the capacity to let you play games, do your taxes, and remind you to send your mother flowers for her birthday, among millions of other tasks it is capable of performing. We are not asking the average frog to fill out a 1040, we are asking it to have a simple conversation and comment on the weather, something a the average computer is capable of doing.

Certainly, we have had other friends in the animal kingdom who have already learned to converse with us, for instance Koko the gorilla or Alex the African gray parrot. Additionally, it is a historical fact that Alexander Graham Bell taught his family dog to say “How are you grandma?” Now, that is not only functional and polite, but also respectful of the elderly.

There are several layers of functionality to a language. That is, any language must be learned (in ascending order of complexity) phonetically (sounds), lexically (words), morpho-syntactically (grammar), and pragmatically (intention and discourse structure). By tracing along this pathway, starting with sounds and words and ending with polite conversation, we can teach nearly any animal to communicate with us from the humble grasshopper to the mighty elephant.

Of course, we practice what we teach. My husband and I care for three Rhode Island Red chickens who are currently undergoing lessons in elocution and table manners. They have brains the size of peanuts and yet the are keenly aware of the goings on in their tiny backyard and are prone to gossip, a habit we are trying to mend.

We took a cue from Mr. Bell and his talking dog in order to train our chickens. In order to prepare his dog for speech he first trained it to growl continuously before teaching it specific sounds. We used pumpkin seeds to encourage the utterance of specific phonemes. We knew off hand that they could say ‘buk buk’, which gave us two important consonants, Through a system of rewards we managed to get them to say ‘rrr’, ‘mmm’, ‘nnn’, and so forth until they were prepared to form words and then sentences.

I propose to teach these methods in detail to a live audience. I hope in the end help spread good grammar and fine manners throughout the animal kingdom and build a new era of communication.

Project #231 – Mini Mushrooms

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

I made tiny mushrooms for my planters, you know, because mushrooms are awesome. Though it is a little odd that the cutest mushrooms in nature are usually poisonous. For instance, I know of no red toadstools that won’t at least make people violently sick when eaten. Hmm…there’s a metaphor in here somewhere.

Also, speaking of eating dangerous mushrooms, I had to take these out of my herb planters immediately because the chickens thought they were food. It’s like living with a backyard full of toddlers. I constantly have to chase them down yelling “What did you just put into your mouth!? Give it to me!!” Of course, the chickens are not fans of being yelled at, so I have to chase them down and hope they drop whatever little piece of plastic they were tasting.

I baked the mushrooms with little twisted pieces of wire inside them to keep them upright.

Project #230 – Hamburger Cake Toppers

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

So, Clark and I had penguin cake toppers on our wedding cake, but I know that if Clark had been in charge, we would have had hamburger cake toppers. On a hamburger shaped cake. Scratch that, they would have been on top of a giant pile of hamburgers because the man does not really care for cake.

Sadly, he does not share my sweet tooth. That means that I usually get to eat his dessert (yay!), but he usually does not buy sweets (boo!).

Personally, if I could go back in time, I would top my wedding cake with miniature wedding cakes…that would be topped by even smaller wedding cakes. Hmm, I should make those anyway.

Project #229 – Terrarrium

Friday, September 11th, 2009

My husband really misses his ducks*, so I made a little terrarium scene with some mini replicas of our beloved Yama and Sabu. I wanted him to take it in to the office so he would have a little something green to look at during the winter.

Plus, nothing says love like a terrarium.

He is also a big fan of moss so I dug up a patch from the concrete on the side of our house and arranged it to fit in the jar. I had a bare spot, so I added a little clover plant, too. They are both from a super shady part of the yard, so they should both be kept out of direct sunlight.

The jar doesn’t drain, so I have a layer of gravel at the bottom to absorb excess water without completely removing it from the system. The soil is ordinary potting soil and the moss is just sitting on top.

Keeping the moisture equilibrium in the jar shouldn’t be hard. Just open the jar if the glass fogs up, and spritz it with water if the moss feels dry. Otherwise, the jar should be sealed.

*In case you missed it, the ducks moved back in with their breeder because duck quacks do, in fact, echo, especially at 6 am on a Saturday. Just in case you’re worried, the breeder does not eat birds.

Project #228 – Stovetop Popcorn Toffee Bars

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I’ve grown a little sick of salty, fake-butter microwave popcorn, so I went back to basics and learned how to pop popcorn on the stovetop, something I’ve never done until this week. It’s so easy that I might give up the microwave kind forever. Just take a medium sized pot and pour enough vegetable oil in it to cover the bottom. Heat it until it starts to smoke. Throw in 2-3 tablespoons of kernels, depending on the size of the pot. You want enough to cover the bottom of the pot without any sitting on top of one another, but not so few that there is extra oil and you end up with a greasy bottom layer of kernels.

Cover the pot and shake it gently on the burner. Popping will start after only a few seconds and probably last only a minute. Keep shaking. Wait until the popping dies down and remove the pot from the flame. You should have a pot full of popcorn and no lingering oil. Almost every time I end up with every kernel popped and no yucky burnt ones, which would be a miracle with microwave popcorn.

It’s overall much, much cheaper than buying the bagged kind. Also, I love buying anything where the ingredients list contains only one item. It even says ‘ingredient’ instead of ‘ingredients’. I love it!

Of course, I can never eat all of my popcorn. Coating the popcorn in something keeps it from getting stale, so I opted to cover mine in toffee. Actually, I wanted to coat them in caramel, but I don’t have a thermometer that goes high enough to distinguish between frim-ball and hard-crack, so I ended up with hard crack popcorn. All things considered, it was a tasty way to go, but not the best idea if you have dental work.

I used this recipe for fleur de sel caramels for the coating. Despite the name, this recipe is not salty at all. If you want toffee follow the recipe, but cook the caramel mixture to 258┬░F.

Line a baking pan with wax paper and grease the hell out of it. Add a layer of popcorn. Make the caramel/toffee mixture and pour it over the popcorn. Don’t stir. Let it cool for an hour. Slice and then gorge.

Project #227 – Turtle Cake Toppers

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes your head pops off in the oven and fuses to your torso.

Oh well, it’s nothing that a little glue can’t fix. Still, I’m not in love with the way these turtles are sitting, probably because real turtles don’t sit. Their limbs somehow look too long and too short at the same time; it’s just awkward. Oh well, I’m going to chalk this one up to experience.

I do think the flower is cute, so I might start using it elsewhere. It’s a good way to specify animal gender without getting graphic.

Project #226 – Forest Edibles Hike

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Hello! Come into the woods with me today where we shall dine on the dew and fairies of the hills of West Virgina. I’m told that fairies are quite tasty when dipped in honey-mustard.

Continuing my decade-long quest to uncover new sources of free food, we now turn to the forest, specifically the fungus-covered part of the forest. I’ve been researching wild mushrooms and sometime yesterday I convinced myself that I had enough just enough knowledge to find some of the easier to identify ones without getting us killed.

We used a remote state park in West Virgina to test my mushroom hunting skills. We neither saw nor heard one other person during our entire hike. I pulled up some mushroom identification web pages on my mini-laptop while we were still at the B&B so we could use them as a reference guide on the path.

Of course, the laptop restarted on its own and we were suddenly left without any external guidance. I think these could be chanterelles (tasty!) or they could be false chanterelles (blech!). It’s almost like every edible mushroom has an evil twin! Mushrooms are jerks.

These bracket mushrooms were one of the first big mushroom specimens we ran across. I’m pretty sure that these are oyster mushrooms, and luckily, there are no poisonous look-alikes in North America. However, after researching at home it seems that there are some untasty imitators out in the woods. I have a small sample of this mushroom in my fridge, but I’m a little scared to try it out. They do smell really, really tasty, though.

Okay, I am positive that these are turkey tails, as they have no look-alikes. Aren’t they lovely? They smell heavenly, just like the oyster mushrooms (?). They are a little too tough to be eaten, so they are usually consumed by steeping them to make tea. I’m told that they are good for fighting off cancer.

I found them after wandering off of the path and down a slight slope to investigate some fallen logs. We took just a little so that the patch would have a chance to continue growing.

I found these little puff balls growing on the same log. We left them as they were, but it looks like something has been nibbling on them.

I also found this adorable moss patch on the same log. It was about the size of a quarter. Most people probably don’t think it is possible for moss to be cute. Those people are wrong.

We also found wild blackberries on the trail. They were so ripe and perfect that we couldn’t resist having a few.

Later that day, we took a trip over to the Dolly Sods, mostly because I heard a rumor that there were still blueberries and huckleberries growing over there. We found neither, but the environment was so unique it was still worth the ride up some scary, blind dirt roads.

The Dolly Sods covers a plateau on top of a mountain. Over the last century, the area was extensively logged, ranched nearly to death and then set on fire for nearly a decade. After that, only ferns and lichen could handle the soil, so the cattle moved on. Now the land was only good for one thing, blowing it up with mortar shells by troops in training for World War II. Today it is part of the Monongahela National Forest.

Still, despite the abusive history it’s a pretty place and home to plant and animal life that is not found anywhere else in the area.

Project #225 – Wrap Front Shirt

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

The pattern for this shirt is B4789, and I’ve made it least twice before. So, really I should not have been surprised that it’s such a low-cut pattern…but I was. I have a goldfish-strength memory sometimes.

It left part of me thinking that I needed to install a ‘modesty panel‘. Is there a grimmer name for anything in fashion? It makes me think of the fussy calico dresses work by my grade school teachers, the kind with tiny pastel floral prints and a prim white panel if the dress even dared to show some collarbone.

So, for that reason, I’m going to reject the idea of a ‘modesty panel’ and show a little d├ęcolletage. Whatever, it’s not like we burn people for doing that anymore. Right?

Project #224 – A-Line Skirt

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

I finished my green corduroy A-line skirt in the car at the last minute as we drove to the Cass Railway, the first stop on our 2nd Anniversary trip. I spent most of the 4 hour car trip in my pajamas, which is actually a pretty comfy way to travel. When we arrived at our hotel I did a quick change and Clark drove like a maniac on little mountain roads to get us to the train just before it left. We made it with just 5 minutes to spare.

The whistle on the train is very loud. Next time I’ll ride in one of the rear cars just to protect my hearing.

Clark’s Dad worked for Union Pacific Railroad until he retired last year. Clark inherited from him a strong case of train fever and spent a while after dinner deciphering the machinery on the Shay #6 that drove us up and down the mountain.