Luxury, or What We Did on our Holiday

With Covid raging we made the wise decision to stay the fuck at home during our holiday, and with 2.5% of people returning form “risk areas” testing positive (mind you, these were mass tests, not tests of people who themselves suspect anything or show symptoms), this was a smart decision if we ever made one. Instead we invested the money in a steelframe pool with a dome tent to protect it.

What sounds like putting up an oversized kiddy pool was indeed about two weeks of hard work. Not the pool or the tent, but the preparations. First Mr had to clear the area in the overgrown area we rent from the city. Then we had to level the ground. The area has a very small slope. Really, you’d hardly notice. 20 cm on a 6m area. When you need to level it you notice, because you are shovelling several tons of dirt, not to mention the roots and that nice block of blue concrete that we had to remove. But after three weeks of backbreaking sweat soaking work, we needed about an hour and a half to put up the pool and my dad and I needed another 2 hours to put up the tent.

So here it is, and with a heat wave rolling over us, it was one of the best decisions ever. I can tell you, finding this house with its garden at a reasonable price was the best piece of luck we ever had.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

It’s got a diameter of 3.5m and can be filled to 1.3m depth. I suggest applying insect repellent before getting anywhere near because this is nature.

 

Project Degus: Houses

As I mentioned on TNET, we’re getting pets. More specifically, we’re getting degus. We did all our learning and deciding whether degus will make good pet for the little one, and then we went into the planning phase. Degus are day active and very active, so they need space, but holy fuck, those cages are expensive. Luckily, my grandma’s old kitchen was still up so we took that.

First of all: WORKSPACE!!!

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Look at it. A counter and cupboards and drawers. I still need to put up a shelf or two, power outlets that are not just extension cords and light. I also need to think about ventilation, because the window you can see is only about 20cm high. I basically grew up in that kitchen and I never noticed that all the drawers have different widths. Matching that kitchen is a high cupboard that we’ll turn into the degu home, but before that transformation can start, we’ll prepare some other things that they need, mostly huts.

Degus are rodents, which means they’ll gnaw everything, which is why the German word for rodents in “gnaw animals”, so stuff has to either withstand their teeth or be constantly replaced. For the huts I decided to do both: light plywood houses that will need replacement and terracotta pot houses that will last a while, so the little one and I went to the DIY store. While I was pushing 75 bucks worth of material she happily chattered how making your own things isn’t just so much more fun, but also so much cheaper… Now, she is right in general, but I had to explain that it doesn’t exactly come cheap.

OK, back to the houses… For the wood ones the standard house is an ugly box, and like most commercially available pet supplies way too small, so I designed them to be a more like hobbit houses and of course large enough, so I first cut out all my pieces on my brand new bandsaw. I didn’t know how much I needed a bandsaw before I had one. Sure, I thought, it would be nice to have one, and a small one is only around 100 bucks, so I treated myself when my contract got renewed. Holy shit, I’m in love. It’s so easy to saw things. Not just the plywood, which is to be expected, but also resin pieces that usually are such a pain in the ass. So I cut out all the pieces for two hoses and then the little one got to sand the edges.

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Next I glued pieces of a square bar to the front and back, let it dry and then glued on the sides.

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This is actually the backside. You can see there’s a second exit in the back, which is something many commercial rodent houses are also missing. This is an absolute must because two degus might get into the same house and one may decide it doesn’t want to share. And while degus do fight, they mostly prefer just to leave. Having just one exit means that a degu may be trapped with another one. Having two means that the second one can just leave.

Next step we carefully glued strips to to the roof, which was a bit fiddly, but not too hard. Ta-daaa, degu/rodent house version 1:

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All the Pretty Little Flowers 4: The Residents

Now we’ve talked a lot about how important wildflowers are in general for all kinds of lovely critters, so here they are.

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Teensy tiny bees. The flower has at most a diameter of 15-20 mm. The bee is the size of my pinky finger nail.

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A very fat fly. Probably one of those that try to eat us alive.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

This one dressed all up for the occasion.

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Yes, there’s also spiders.

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And pretty birds ;)

All the Pretty Little Flowers 3: The Downstairs

Poor PZ is still mowing his lawn. Around here Mr regularly sighs “I need to mow the lawn and then we do something else. I like that. I think we will make some hay later in summer in preparation of the degus. For now it’s a pretty wilderness.

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Though we should not use that area for feed as there are many raspberries starting their career there right now.

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All the Pretty Little Flowers 2: The Slopes

As you may recall, our house is built on pretty steep terrain. The ground floor windows in the front are the first floor in the back. From there you have another treeish metres height difference to the garden. last year we had the stairs remodelled, since the old ones were rapidly becoming accidents waiting to happen. The slopes on either side are still steep and this year we started to stabilise the left hand side so we can put a lamppost on top.

The small area created at the top has been sown with “butterfly meadow” and “wildflower mix”. You can buy these seed mixes easily in Germany as many people are trying to bee more friendly. I also always toss a few handful on the rest of the area, which remains in pretty disarray.

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The dark side of the pumpkin patch. That area is more or less permanently in shade and this year we just didn’t have the nerve to look for something that would thrive there after the slugs ate the first round of plants. Suggestions welcome. But you can see the structure well.

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The pumpkin/squash/courgette patch. they are coming along nicely with several promising plants already. Only I never know what is what. You can also see the bane of my gardening existence: Horsetail. A plant that survived the dinosaurs. Common gardening advice is “nuke it from orbit”. It spreads through rhizomes that are also very fragile and will snap quickly so you’ll never get them all out. But you can make some wonderful fertilizer out of it: put the plants into a bucket with water and let it rot. Stinks like hell, but 100% organic, free and efficient.

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All the Pretty Little Flowers 1: The frontyard

Pz has been raging and ranting about lawns and lawnmowers and I wholeheartedly agree. It also prompted me to do a bit of bragging about the sheer beauty of not having a lawn. Let’s start with the front yard, which was carefully weeded when we bought the house. Here’s another aspect of those lawn and front yard regulations: To keep them up to “standards” you need time to do it or money to hire somebody else to do it. I quickly reduced weeding to an absolute minimum. Nobody touches a dandelion in MY front yard. One thing that happened quickly was that wild strawberries overtook most of the ground. They do many things at once:

First, they protect the ground from drying out.

Second, they provide flowers for pollinators.

Third, they taste so good.

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In spring I built a plant tower in an empty space that had previously been occupied by some useless evergreen bush that got thankfully eaten by caterpillars. I also planted some regular strawberries there.

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Guarded by my little dragons

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M

If you want to make bees happy, plant lavender. It will also make you happy. Lavender is low maintenance, just cut off the dry stalks in autumn and ok with dry weather. I don’t know if it can survive Minnesota winters.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

Probably no German frontyard is complete without a hydrangea. They are lovely, but high maintenance (needing much water, cutting, right ground) and absolutely no good for insects. Like most plants here they are a leftover from the previous owner. I figure that with so many bee friendly plants around I can afford a couple that only look nice.

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I have no idea about most of the plants that grow here. They were already well established when we moved in. Some of them have already bloomed long ago. I basically get flowers from March to October.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Also one corner has been taken over by some wildflowers. I like them, the insects like them. We’re good.

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Oh, and btw, the next door neighbour has a lawn (I’m not criticising her, she’s 90 and still living all alone). It’s a sad brown area right now and the grass always creeps into my yard which means that I have to do the weeding there.

Hater’s Obsession: I Feel Like a Fucking Celebrity

Not.

In the grand and probably small scheme of things, I’m pretty much a nobody. I have no illusions about being a prolific writer, an inspiring activist or an amazing artist, despite doing all three of these. When everything is said and done I’m a middle aged woman with a nice family, an exhausting job, a couple of interesting hobbies and some really good friends with whom I hang out on a small blog.

Yet, over the years I seem to have picked up some amount of obsessive haters, with an interesting overlap between “gender critical feminists” and plain old slymepit misogynists, all seeming very obsessed about whatever stupid thing I write. Now, I’m the first to admit that I like a good verbal fight and can be 80 grit abrasive bordering on asshole (ok, maybe full asshole), but as a rule I generally don’t follow people I disagree with around. Like follow them on Twitter. Or keep reading their blogs and then comment on whatever they write in my own space. And to be honest, most of them and those arguments will drift from my mind. I will remember whether the interaction was positive or negative, but please don’t ask me who said what in the comments section on some blog or other in 2016.

But apparently I manage to inspire that kind of behaviour in others. After Marcus posted a note “On Trans Issues” on his blog, multi-nymed commenter [apparently not steersman, edited]/steppenwolf/RojBlake/DavidinOz used the occasion to complain loudly about how horrible I’ve been to him (without me having participated in that thread at that point), “kicking him from Affinity for a statement of truth elsewhere” when I don’t even have admin privileges, I did try to refresh my memory on what exactly happened, googled a few things and look and behold: Only the correctly spelled version of Giliell (did they all sleep through their Sindarin classes?) alone yields 9(!) pages of search hits on the apparently defunct slymepit, where people still think that calling me “fat” counts as some sort of argument when I would simply say “yes, I am”.

Yet Butterflies and Wheels isn’t much better (and if anybody needed confirmation that Roj Blake is steppenwolf, he made the almost same comment about me “trashing” Caine’s legacy there under Roj Blake verbatim). And now, since I know you’re reading, let me just say this: get a life. Seriously, you’re all grown people obsessed with whatever a nobody mummy blogger on an obscure blog who is happy about five nice comments on her bird pictures says. Oh, and to answer your question, Acolyte of Sagan: I am a fully licensed teacher for grades 5-13 and what I mostly teach my kids is basic maths, reading comprehension and writing skills, and that “retarded”, “gay”, and “girl” aren’t insults. I hope that satisfies all your questions, because I sure won’t answer any more of them.

Tummy Thursday: Tahin Caramel Shortbread

As mentioned before, our holiday plans this year is meeting in each other’s gardens, so this Sunday we went to our friends’ place (their pool is already filled and delightful) and I made some shortbread for the coffee table. Because maybe the most German food tradition is “Kaffee und Kuchen”, coffee and cake, in the afternoon.

I started out with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Oriental Millionaire’s Shortbread and adapted it for my needs.

Shortbread:

  • 40 g icing sugar
  • 35 g cornstarch
  • 40 g sugar
  • 175 g molten but almost cooled butter
  • vanilla
  • 250 g flour
  • a pinch of salt plus some fleur de sel

Mix sugars and starch in your kitchen machine, add butter and vanilla while it’s running, turn to slow, add flour and just mix until it’s blended. That’s what I like about shortbread: it’s quick and easy.

Prepare a 20 X 20 cm baking tray (as per recipe) or use a 12″ round one as I did, heat oven to 200°C. Bake until golden brown. The original recipe said 25 Min, but mine was much thinner and baked in 10. Let cool completely.

The original recipe says to add a layer of crushed halva, but I didn’t have halva at home for the simple reason of being really allergic to peanuts, which is often a main ingredient in commercially available halva, so I simply moved on to the caramel.

  • 200 g sugar
  • 120 ml water

Boil until dark copper brown, remove from heat

  • 80 g cream
  • 100 g butter

Add to the caramel. I hope you used a pot that’s got some space because it bubbles up and splashes at this point. When it’s a nice homogenous mass, add

  • a generous spoon of tahin

Pour the slightly cooled caramel on top of your shortbread and sprinkle with some more fleur de sel.

I finally added a very thin layer of dark chocolate. Cut into pieces and enjoy. It’s really sweet but damn delicious.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

 

Wednesday Wings: Haven’t you grown?!!!

It’s been a while since I posted an update on our adorable Nile geese.

The first pics are from two weeks ago.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

They have almost their parents’ colouring and size, only the heads are still darker. Sadly, 7 gosducklings turned into 4, but nature is a cruel place where often adorable baby birds turn into a fox’s next meal.

On Monday we met again, and one of them was just as interested in me, as I was in it.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

There was no aggression in its behaviour, just pure curiosity in that strange creature with a box for a face.

Resin Art: The Jewellery Board

Or: I blame Charly. I wanted to make a jewellery board for a while and had already bought a white mdf board when Charly posted the video about making Ocean Waves Boards. It also coincided with our cleaning up the cellar so I finally had some space where I could work on something a bit larger and leave it for curing. Of course, me being impatient meant I fucked up several ways and had to spend more time fixing my mistakes. Will I ever learn?

First step: Pouring the ocean

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First of all I forgot to tape the sides and underside, meaning I had to scrape off resin for about an hour once I was done. Second mistake: I should have sanded the surface to create a rougher surface so the resin would stick better. You can see a part in the top left corner where it refused to go at all. And last but not least, I greatly underestimated the amount of resin it takes. I ended up doing a couple more pours, both to extend the “sea” area as well as adding a “beach” because I didn’t like the white. I also painted the cleaned off sides. During that time I also created the knobs that would be added to the finished board and also the parts meant to become a little shelf for earrings.

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Tummy Thursday: You Gotta Eat it All

Yes, I know, that’s similar to the post in October about the little one’s cake, but we are in for another Pokémon themed cake. It was #1’s birthday on Sunday and she wanted a Zorua cake. Well, actually she wanted a Reshiram cake, but I balked at the idea of trying to make one. There’s being ambitious and there’s being stupid. I think it was my most complicated motive cake so far as it does not have a simple geometric form as a basis but the cut out of the Pokémon and the decoration took me almost three hours.

The cake is vanilla and cherries, the filing is German mango buttercream and roasted almonds. I then covered everything with Italian buttercream and added several layers of fondant. It was delicious and pretty.

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Resin Art: there’s different roads to success, but infinite ways to fuck up

Remember the seashell resin bowl failure? Of course I didn’t want to leave it at that and made another one. This time I cast it in the early afternoon so I could form it in the late evening. Also the painter’s foil I’d used to pour it on was pretty matte, and I wanted shiny, so I used cling foil again. Well, only that the cling foil melted when I used the heat gun…

I could salvage the result and I actually do like it very much.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

Only it’s got some gaps and slashes and you should be really careful when you handle it because resin can be sharp as a knife.

Next try: using a non stick baking sheet. That was definetely heat safe. But, you already know there’s a but, it was also quite rigid and didn’t fit the tray I use for pouring well, so the result became smaller and thicker than hoped for. Also they matte surface again.

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I had to glue some pebbles into the bottom because it’s asymmetrical, but the overall result is good.

OK, back to square one. Cling foil, no heat gun, just my lung capacity to blow the resin around. But also remember what I did wrong in square one? Right, pour at night, form in the morning. This time it didn’t tear, but it also didn’t move much. The result is so much off balance that I had to put a pound of pebbles into it and still the slightest wind couldmake it fall over

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And now for the last one, poured in the afternoon, no heat gun, on cling foil:

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©Giliell, all rights reserved

Here you can see how soft the resin still was and how easily it shaped. It is the tall, slender, wavy thing I’d been hoping for.