Sunday, May 27, 2012


The most recent issue of Big Backyard magazine had a recipe for Starfish Pretzels, and Conan really wanted to try it. It didn't look too hard, so we gave it a go. Not only was it a lot of fun to make the pretzels (and didn't make too much of a mess), but they were really delicious too! In fact, in case you were wondering why Conan's wearing two different shirts in the pictures below, it's because they were so fun and easy and good we made them again the next day.

The first thing we had to do was proof the yeast. Conan thought it was really interesting to watch the yeast wake up and start making bubbles once we added it to the warm water.  He loved the idea that there were tiny "sleeping" organisms in the yeast packet that would wake up and make bubbles.

Then we mixed the flour in to the dough, kneaded it for a couple minutes, and then it was time for the good part: rolling it out.

A long snake cut into 5 peices makes a starfish shape.

We also made a number of other shapes: twists, knots, loops and even logs!  Once the pretzels were shaped, we painted them (lightly!) with egg, and then sprinkled them with salt before putting them in the oven to bake. 

Ta-da!  They came out great.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the extensive and enthusiastic handling of the dough, the pretzels were tender and delicious, with a nice crisp crust.  We'll be making them again & again!

The recipe is:

1 pkg active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water
3/4 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
4 c. flour
1 egg 
2 tbsp. coarse salt (for sprinkling on top)

Stir the sugar and table salt into the warm water.  Mix in the yeast and let it sit until the yeast begins to foam

Stir the flour into the liquid gradually until it is all incorporated into the dough.

Knead the dough until it is elastic, about 2 minutes.

Portion the dough (we found splitting it into about 8 pieces made pretzels about the right size).  For starfish, roll each portion into a long rope, then cut the rope into 5 pieces about 3 inches long.  Stick them together into a star shape on a baking sheet.

Beat the egg.  Lightly paint the pretzels with the egg, then sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Bake at 400F for 25 minutes.

Saturday, May 26, 2012



We found a bunch of pupae when we were working up the garden, so we decided to hatch them and see what they would turn into. We kept them in a jar for several weeks. Finally a big fat grey-brown moth hatched out of one a couple days ago. Two more hatched this morning. We let them go outside.

I'm still not sure what kind of moth they are, but it hardly matters. The important thing is that Conan got to watch a fascinating natural process up close, and loved it.

Update 5/28: Another one hatched this morning!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trixie's 2nd Birthday

Trixie is two!  We had a delightful time at her party yesterday.  Conan and Kiah played several games of chess on Will's giant chessboard.  Kiah knows the names of several of the pieces and also knows that you can take other players pieces (she's a little fuzzy on how, but she knows she gets to do it).  Conan didn't like having his pieces taken, so he very sensibly put them in his shirt.  The kids had fun taking turns on Trixies swing, but most of all, they played on the NEW TRAMPOLINE!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Massacre

Yesterday tragedy struck.  It started out a perfect day, warm and sunny, blue skies with a light breeze.  We went out to a lovely Mother's Day brunch, never suspecting the carnage we would find on our return home: a raven killed all our sweet innocent ducklings.

I saw the raven perched in the tree above the duck pen, and then watched as it flew a short way and landed at the end of the driveway.  I realized that it was carrying something, but it still took me several moments to comprehend that it was a duckling.  Ravens were simply not on my radar as a potential predator.  I was dumbfounded as I watched it tossing the limp fuzzy yellow body around.

Conan saw it too, and realized at about the same time I did what it was.  He shrieked and ran into the house sobbing. My heart broke knowing that I couldn't shield him from this grief, but I went after him and held him as he cried.  I didn't think it could get any worse than seeing him realize that there was nothing we could do to save his duckling.

But it did get worse.  Cary had gone out to chase off the raven and check on the rest of the ducklings.  He returned with the simple, dreadful news that there were no more ducklings.  None.  We hadn't lost just one duckling, we had just seen the last duckling die.  We had fundamentally failed to keep those sweet, tame baby ducks safe.

"Ravens are BAD! They stealed all my baby ducks and eated them! I hate ravens!" Conan sobbed.

I held him close and we talked about predators.  We talked about how lions eat zebras, and the zebras don't like it, but that doesn't mean the lions are bad.  They are just lions.

We talked about sharks and seals, T-rex and stegosaurus, cats and mice, robins and worms.  Animals have to eat other animals, but it doesn't make them bad.  They are just animals, doing what they have to do.

We talked about how the raven probably has a nest with baby ravens in it, and the baby ravens are happy now because their tummies are full.  And the baby ravens aren't bad, they are just hungry babies.  And the mama raven isn't bad, she is just a raven mama who has to feed her babies.

Once we had worked our way through the basics of predation, I said we would get more ducklings.  "No mama" Conan snuffled.  "The raven will come and eat them too."

So we talked about netting, and how papa was outside Right Now putting netting over the duck pen so when we got new baby ducks they would be safe.  Because even thought the raven wasn't bad,  we sure didn't want it to eat any of our baby ducks ever again.  (No no no no no!)

We've ordered more ducklings from the farm supply, and on Wednesday or Thursday we'll have ducks again.  We've learned some important lessons about life and death and daytime predators, so things should work out better.

And just to be on the safe side, we won't name the new ducklings after desserts.

5/15 Update:  Conan told me this morning that he dreamed of the raven that killed the ducks.  In his dream, he caught it "and it didn't even try to bite me!"  I asked him what happened after that, and he said "Nothing.  I letted it go.  And it is my friend.  All the ravens in the whole world are my friends now!  All of them.  And they are good, not bad.  All the ravens in the WHOLE wide world are my friends and they are good."  I asked him if he was still sad about losing his ducklings and he said he was, but "not as sad anymore now that I have raven friends."

What a sweet heart my little boy has.  It seems losing our ducklings, though painful and sad, has taught us a thing or two about forgiveness as well as life and death.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


We just brought home 5 ducklings. The grey one is a Blue Indian Runner and the four yellow ones are Fawn Indian Runners.  The Blue is hatchery run so there's a 50% chance it will be a drake, the others should all be female.

Conan has named the grey one Bird. The yellow ones are named Ice Cream, Cake, Cupcake and Cookie. He named them after his favorite things.  He is very, very gentle when he handles them, so he got to take each one out of the box and put it into the house.
The baby chickens have sucessfully moved in with Chicken. We lost one of the Partridge Reds to some kind of predator, but the other 7 are doing very well.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Die, Horsetail, Die!

I spent the last two days hand-tilling the garden and pulling out horsetail roots.  This is a picture of the last wheelbarrow load of them.  I lost count of how many times I filled and emptied the wheelbarrow, but it was a lot.  I went deep - down to the hard pan subsoil at about 18 inches.  I was thorough.  I'm sure I missed a lot of little pieces that will doubtless sprout into new horsetail plants, but when they do, I will pull them up.  Now that they aren't part of the vast, tangled web of horsetail rhizomes that used to underlay the garden they will be very vulnerable.  Mwahahaha!

I'm not sure I will be able to walk tomorrow, but I'm pretty proud of the job I did.  I didn't finish the whole garden, but in the area I did cover I really massacred those prehistoric homosporous vascular rhizome bastards.