Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Candle Making

At the risk of telling all of my family and friends what they are getting for Christmas, I'm gonna go ahead and write this post. It was so fun making candles and documenting the process, I can't resist.

We don't have a fireplace in our house, so we like to pretend by lighting several candles and watching the flames flicker. Or we watch this video of a fireplace, but it just isn't quite the same as the live flame.

If you are making a lot of candles, it takes most of the day, so leave plenty of time for cooling.

Here are some more images from my day of candle-making.

First you start with your supplies: molds, wick with wire in it (I found this type to be easiest to work with), metal wick anchors, a stirring stick, an old pot for cooking down the wax, pliers for handling hot cans, old tin cans for melting wax in, and newspaper.

I like to recycle old candles to add color and scent to my new candles.

Cook down the first batch of wax with similar colors by putting the wax in a cleaned out tin can (paper removed) and "double boiling" it, with water around the can in the pot. You don't have to dig out the old wick or anything else that might be in the candle- it will sink to the bottom and you can pour the clean wax off the top.

While you are doing this, prepare the molds by cutting them down to just above the height you'd like your candle to be.

Cut your wick to the right length and squish it with pliers in the metal anchors and tighten them down.
When the wax is ready, carefully pour it into the mold you've selected, then pull the wick as strait as possible, and then place the wick and anchor in the very middle of the mold. I suggest using newspaper under the mold- wax is messy and hard to clean up.

If you do spill on fabric, here is a tip:
put newspaper over the fabric and use a hot iron on it- the wax will melt and most of it will be pulled up into the newspaper.  

Next is the hard part- waiting and watching. Don't let the wax cool too quickly or it will deform the wick to one side, or worse yet, crack the wax. It is likely to form an indentation no matter how slow it cools, so save a bit of the wax from the original batch to fill it in once it is cooled down. You will likely have to remelt it, so keep it in the same can you cooked it in the first time.

Once the candle is completely cool (I usually wait overnight) peel the paper off the outside to reveal the candle inside. This is the best part!

I usually wait to make candles until I have a bunch of old candles sitting around, and I collect molds in the meantime.

You can get fancy-
  • I've done layers with colors (waiting to pour the wax in until after the previous layer is completely cooled), 
  • Put ice cubes in the mold, pour in one color, wait until it is cooled and the ice turns to water, dump out the water, then add a second color
  • Add cinnamon sticks or other whole spices to bring out a scent and add some texture
  • Add dried flowers or leaves or paper to the outside once you've pulled off the paper. Attach them by using a paint brush to apply some melted wax, place the decoration on, then paint over it with wax several more times.
  • Use funky molds to add shape variety. I reuse milk, juice, or ice cream containers, and sometimes even plastic sandwich containers from the deli. Just make sure to clean them out very well before you store them, or you'll get a nasty surprise when you go to craft your candles in the future.
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Steady Tank Decline

Our beta, "The Dude" was one of the first to go
This morning I chopped off the head of a "Cori" catfish. It was very sad (and a little gross). Catfishes are tough and it took awhile to get the knife through him.

It was a mercy kill- he was very sick, and like many of the other fish in my tank, I performed the beheading with the best intentions.

I've spent the last few months pulling "morts" out of our tank (that's fish hatchery talk for "moralities"). It is so depressing to have to use a pair of tongs to pull a rigor mortis fish off the filter intake, or to have to dig behind the fake plastic plants for a dead body. Can you imagine how the rest of the fish must feel to see the big green net descending- yet again?

What astounds me is that a degree in marine ecology, five years of water quality monitoring experience, and a summer of working at a fish hatchery has not equipped me with the knowledge to prevent these deaths. This is the second tank in two years that has experienced this "steady tank decline", as my wise (ass) husband likes to call it. I've medicated, filtrated, cognated and advocated for these fish, and still they die off.

I wouldn't want a tank so badly if our baby SJ wasn't so into it. The sight of the bright fish swimming (or, in our case, twitching in the throes of death) and the sound of running water immediately soothes and lulls her off to sleep (the tank is next to her crib).

Good thing I'm aspiring to be an inland farmer. If anyone has any advise, I'm open!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thelma and Louise

Thelma Thunder Thighs
New hens! Two new birds were delivered last weekend by a friend of a neighbor and they are beautiful.

I read in my Backyard Poultry Magazine about incorporating new birds into the flock. The article basically said "out with the old, in with the new". This is in order to avoid disease and pecking, but if you HAVE to mix it up, let them duke it out through a fence first.

I kept the new lovely (and BIG) ladies separated for two days adjacent to the main flock so that they wouldn't kick my other chickens' asses.

Prissy strutting her skinny stuff
for the new ladies
Cora, a smallish White Leghorn cross, got her comb bloodied on the first day by Louise, the obvious leader of newbies.

By the end of the second day they had all made peace and I let everyone in the bigger yard together. There was a bit of flapping and posturing, but mostly they all played it cool and pretended the other group wasn't there.

Meet and Greet
Now they are best buds- Thelma and Louise crowd onto a deck with the other younger birds at night to sleep. They don't quite fit (especially with fatty Thelma, who I think must be some sort of Buff Cochin- she is HUGE).

I think the fact that I added two chickens and they were so much bigger than the others helped them integrate a little easier. Now, to get these big meat birds to lay eggs...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back from Baby

SJ with our neighbor's pumpkin harvest
Fell off the face of the earth with this blog for awhile. After marriage comes the baby in the baby carriage. AND HOW.

We got ourselves a youngin' on our little urban farm- Sonora Jane- and she is the reason for my prolonged hiatus (and my protruding tuckus, too, but I'm working on that).

I think I haven't written on this blog for a whole year, and here are my excuses:
  • I was using all my creative energy to grow a baby. Or, pregnancy SUCKED, sapped my soul, and made me want to puke all the time- didn't want to risk getting vomit on the keyboard. 
  • Once S.J. came along, sleep became my number one priority (I'm writing now in a sleep-deprived fog on Saturday afternoon- I should be taking a nap with the rest of the family). 
  • Our little angel is ultimate farm animal- I vowed she is the last "pet" we'd get for a long while, yet we keep accumulating fish and chickens. Just. Cant. Stop.
In any case, we downsized the garden this year (in other words, we grew 7 crops instead of 25) and really worked to make things simple so we could concentrate on Babykins. I'm happy to say that I spent this morning in the garden, planting buckwheat/clover combination cover crop for the winter, mulching with hay, and generally putting it to bed.

Scott and Casper with the same look on their faces
I'm very excited for planning the garden out for next year and continuing this blog.  And though we  haven't yet acquired any goats, it is still the dream. As a matter of fact, since hunting earlier this month with our brother-in-law, Scott is very interested in Llamas too. Now that we have a child, this begs the question, "Is YOUR Mama a Llama?"

Stay tuned for more soon...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Grown Up

Strange sensation, being proud of a chicken. Prissy, our White Leghorn pictured at left, laid her first egg on Saturday.

I feel like we need to have a coming of age ceremony for her. She made it through chick-hood without succumbing to whatever one of her cohorts did. She made it through the night earlier this summer when another youngster was abducted and eaten by a fox.

By luck, pluck, or maybe even cluck, she grew up and now prances around the yard like she owns it. Come on over for chicken bat mitzvah next weekend.

We also just acquired two new pullets from a friend of our neighbors to replace the ones we lost. So the head count is:
Scott got to name this last one. He feels outnumbered by all our female pets, so he had to have one "dude" to bond with. I'm sure Bob's eggs will taste the best for Scott.