Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quick plug for NoMi lead testing

Hey all! I know I just posted an entry, but this is pretty important. There is going to be free lead testing on Saturday, Dec. 3 in the Webber-Camden neighborhood from 9-noon.

Lead poisoning is one of the leading causes of environmental developmental damage to children, and can poison adults as well. For residents of NoMi, testing is especially important because our houses are very old, and one of the more common causes of lead poisoning in children is consumption of lead-based paint.

Click here for all the details, and if you have kids, definitely bring them to this clinic - you won't regret the peace of mind you get from knowing that your kiddos are lead free!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adventures in DIY - Hand Sewn Bear Hood

While cruising through the mall last week with a friend, I saw an adorable hat.

Anyone who knows me knows that there is a special spot in my heart for odd accessories. The hat in question was a cute faux fur hood with long scarf sleeves and bear ears. The only problem: the price. At $130, it was a steep tag, and so I passed it up.

Fast forward a week later, and I'm having a conversation with another friend about this hat. I still want it, but I can't justify the cost. My friend says to me, "That's only four or five seams. You could sew that, no problem." Thus began a quest - the quest to make the Bear Hat. Pictures of the assembly follow, and as always, you can click each picture to access a bigger one.

Drafting the pattern straight onto the faux fur. Probably not
my brightest idea, but I figured this was a simple enough
design that it would work out okay.

The hat has a flannel lining, made from flannel shirting
I bought from Jo-Ann fabric. I thought a cute touch
would be to add felt paw prints on the bottoms.

Sewing the paws on with contrasting red thread.


Finalized half of the hood. I added a topstitch to
this part to secure the lining.

To secure the ears, I cut a hole through the hood, and
stuffed the ear through. There were too many layers for
my poor machine to handle, so I had to hand stitch this part.

All done! I had originally planned to sew pockets into the
bottoms to keep my hands warm, but I made the tails a little
too long. It also sits a little weird, but in another session
I'll take some scissors to the hat and trim it so it fits better.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Redd's Week In Review

It's been a pretty crazy week here in our little corner of the Internet. Tonight I'll blog about the awesome stuff we did!

Seventh Street Entry - Blue Scholars, Bambu, Grynch, and Mally

Previous to getting here in town, Blu had raved about First Avenue as a venue for a while. He has played there before, but on top of that, he's a HUGE Prince fan and Purple Rain was filmed there.

First Avenue has played host to hundreds of amazing
 bands playing the Twin Cities.
Blu, the Prince fan.
So when I found out a hip-hop outfit that I am rather fond of was playing at the Seventh Street Entry, I bought tickets and requested the night off work.

Boy, am I glad I did! This show was epic, sold out, and had a ton of energy. The show opened up with Mally, a local hip hop artist that had a pretty big following of his own. Seattle artist Grynch followed, and was pretty great as well. But the highlight of my night, despite buying tickets specifically to see the Blue Scholars, was the artist called Bambu. He's from Los Angeles, just like me (I grew up in a small eastern suburb called La Puente), and according to Blu, a self described musical know-it-all, is one of the members of Cypress Hill.

I'm not going to lie here - Bambu is an angry, angry guy, but he's angry about all the right things. The topics he rhymes about are all very poignant social justice issues, from domestic violence to bullying to wage inequality in the US. These are all things we should be acutely aware of, especially when living in the city, where it's more difficult to turn a blind eye to the poor. 

After his performance though, he said something that I have to share with everyone reading. Listening to him or any other musical artist that preaches revolution is one thing - getting out and making the changes is another, completely. Anyone who considers themselves a community revitalizer or anyone that wants to become one needs to remember that change always starts with you. Those of us living in North, or any other Minneapolis neighborhood need to remember that to create a good neighborhood, we have to start by being good neighbors. That was my take home message. We may not be able to change the nation, but we can change our homes, and our blocks, and we just need to start with that.

The Lowry Café

I have been wanting to try this place since hearing about it from the realtor who first turned me on to North as a cool place to be. On Sunday, we finally got to have some eats, and they weren't too bad! It's classic diner fare, not too expensive, and close to home, all things I like to have in a restaurant. Food porn follows!

The Cafe features very spacious seating. You could probably
 squeeze 6 into this table.

This was some sort of sandwich...not quite up my alley but,
then again, I wasn't the one eating it.

Mushroom and swiss burger.

The Durango burger, which I was immediately envious of.

I was in the mood for breakfast, so I had a Denver omelette
with hollandaise sauce on top. The hash browns were AMAZING

The food here was good, but I'll skip the hollandaise next time - it didn't blow me away like the hollandaise from my two favorite Uptown haunts, The Egg and I and the Uptown Diner. The verdict here is: good food, good prices, close to home. I'll definitely visit again.

Minneapolis Indie Expo

The Twin Cities are home to lots of very talented artists in the community, many of which are involved in creating comic art. Blu, me, and our friends Daniel and Eleanor got to visit the Minneapolis Indie Expo on Sunday after lunch. It was pretty awesome, and I wish we would have gotten to stay for longer. We spent a few hours touring the various booths. I felt bad for taking pictures, so you won't see too many here.

MIX took place at the Soap Factory this year, an art space donated by Pillsbury in 1995. The Soap Factory hosts a lot of art shows and installations of Minnesotan artists, as well as artists all around the world. 

The place is boarded up quite creatively. If only they could do this
in our hood....
It's hard to emphasize that the place was PACKED. It was
awesome to see so many people interested in local artists!

I managed to score an awesome book, illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon, Minneapolis artists. It's an intricately illustrated, highly technical (do these even go together? wow!) book about DNA - everything from structure, to replication, to the basics of genetics. If I had had this book during some of my more difficult molecular genetics classes they might have gone just a little easier...

Very, very cool.
They also had a similar book about evolution, as well as some cute children's titles at their booth as well. I am definitely looking forward to purchasing more art from these guys in the future.

That's it for now! I hope you enjoyed reading. In my next post, I'll write about my adventures in knitting and wonder at how the hell I'm going to dress myself for winter (I'm still in denial).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More winterization - and gushing about a contractor!

I've been pretty crazy busy with work the last few days, training in a different department in addition to my regular 40 hours. That isn't stopping us from continuing to get the house ready for winter, though - Blu installed our new water heater blanket today!

Snug and warm. We should have no trouble
keeping our water hot this winter!
Other things we plan on doing are insulating the basement water pipes, putting covers on the basement wells, and tuning up the furnace (after it's done being fully fixed, that is - we're so cold!). We have baseboard heating in the upstairs half-floor, where our office and master bedroom is, and both those units are functioning well if a little old. Eventually we may trade up to newer, more efficient units there.

So then, we're almost done!

Today we also were able to get our garage door fixed. Previous to our buying the place, it was a rental with a bit of a storied history, if the neighbors are to be believed. After the last tenants were evicted, they took it upon themselves to take as much as they could and break the rest, including flooding the basement by putting the garden hose through the window and turning it on. This is the major reason why the furnace is borked - a lot of the electrics were shorted out and had to be replaced. At this point almost all the innards on the furnace are fixed, the last part of which is the blower fan.

One of the other things that was broken was our garage door opener. The opener motor itself worked, but one of the motion sensors was broken, the transmitters were missing, and the entire trolley and swingarm assembly were gone. I have no experience with garage door work, never having had one before, so I kept that in the back of my mind.

Enter Lincoln Door, who I found working on a neighbor's door in the alley while I was driving to work one afternoon. I asked him if I could have a couple of cards, and he gave them to me, and asked if I was having problems with my garage door. I explained about the missing swingarm, and he rummaged through his truck and handed me one, just like that! He told me that if I had any problems, to just call him and ask.

However, while trying to install the swingarm myself, I discovered that the entire trolley assembly was missing as well. While Blu and I are not exactly the most eco-conscious people on the planet, we do prefer to fix things that are broken rather than replace them. We do this for different reasons, but honestly in this economy I would rather my money stay in the community than go out of it, and giving a repair person cash to fix a broken item in my books is much better than sending it to some faceless mega-corporation somewhere.

The part circled in red was missing, but the rest of the opener system
was in good shape. Click to embiggen
Lincoln came by our house this morning (after a bit of a mixup, but he profusely apologized for the miscommunication) and fixed our opener very quickly and for a very reasonable price. All the parts we needed were available used (and therefore free of charge, very cool), so all we paid for were his service fee and the cost of two new transmitters.

Blu and I have been totally burned in the past by scammy contractors, so when we get a good one it's absolutely imperative that I share their business with everyone I know. So, I wanted to take a second and heartily endorse Lincoln Door for helping us out - the garage door was big, heavy, and hard for me to lift, so being able to have the opener take care of the job for us instead is beyond convenient.

Stay tuned for more blogging - tomorrow I am taking off work a few hours early so Blu and I can go to the 7th Street Entry to see the Blue Scholars, a very awesome Seattle hip-hop outfit. Until then - have a great week!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween at Redd and Blu's!

It's that time of year again! Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays, for a few reasons. It's the beginning of an amazing season of holiday cheer. It means autumn is officially in full swing - leaves are falling, the sun is going into hiding, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the other high holidays are right around the corner!

Halloween, though, is something very special. Besides the traditions of trick or treating, costumes, and jack o' lanterns, it's a time for us to solemnly remember our dead regardless of our religious tradition (or lack thereof).

Just yesterday, Blu and I went to go see a Halloween extravaganza performed by BareBones Productions entitled "A Fistful of Dirt: How the Death was Won" at the Hidden Falls Regional Park in St. Paul.

I wish I had more pictures, but it was in a very dark
place, and using the flash would have been rude
It was a pretty interesting play, though very visually oriented. We sat far from the front, so at times it was hard to hear, as well, and I had to go back and look up the story to get a fuller understanding of what was going on.

The production was about a lost soul, a traveler stuck between worlds when the tengu (Japanese spirits) decide to break the Veil by sundering the Book of the Dead. In the 150 years following, people grow old and never die, and after pleas from the elderly victims of their choice as well as the dying Earth itself, the tengu are finally convinced to restore the Book and reopen the Veil for all to pass. The audience is asked to participate in opening the Veil with the power of their breath.

The production is very grassroots, featuring handmade puppets, a volunteer orchestra, aerialists, stilt-walkers, and dancers. It is also heavy on audience participation, ending with a funereal procession and a burning of a pyre, where all in the audience are asked to shout the names of their dead as the smoke rises from the flames. It was very beautiful, and I found myself tearing up a little despite being absolutely freezing cold. After the show, free soup, pasta, and hot chocolate were served by Sisters' Camelot, a mobile food-share and organic collective. It was AMAZING!

Unfortunately the last showing of this year's production was tonight, but I urge all of you to mark it in your calendars for next year, when BareBones will be putting on their 19th annual Halloween extravaganza, and to support them as well as Sisters' Camelot by donating your money or your time. I feel so blessed to be living in a community with such a healthy arts community, and this show truly was worth the commute AND the cold.

In the meantime, Halloween geared up at our place with a big bowl of candy. I'll be the first to tell you that I am no Martha Stewart (or Carla, seriously, go read her blog) but we spruced up our porch with a couple of pumpkins and an inviting sign:

My pumpkin. Blu's, unfortunately, did not survive the carving.

Ugh, I have got to get this front step repainted. Add
another to the list!

Matt's pumpkin, still surprised....and on FIRE! AAGH!
All in all, we had a total of ten trick or treaters. What a disappointing turnout, and almost none of them were wearing costumes! I was hoping it would be significantly more than that, but with the plethora of free trick-or-treating nearby, I shouldn't have been surprised.

We turned on the blacklights on our patio, ordered pizza, started a horror movie, and had a great night. Trillian was a surprisingly good dog the entire time - maybe I'll get a costume for her next year!

Trillian says, "oh please god no."
With that, I'll wrap it up for tonight. In future posts, I'll blog about our adventures with our garage door opener, more winterization (including the all-important water heater blanket), and our ongoing battle with the furnace. The joys of being a homeowner never cease, and as long as they exist, I'll be here, blogging about them. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Game night at Redd and Blu's

After finishing what I could get done with the patio, we invited our friends Matt and Kris over for dinner and pumpkin carving. I bought a couple of little kits at Menard's today while getting the window insulation, and we got to work with the little patterns and tools they provide in those kits.

Blu industriously tracing an Iron Man pattern onto his pumpkin.
Can you tell we're hopeless nerds yet?

Of course, I'll be showing off our handiwork in a few days, once our porch is ready for trick-or-treaters. Does anyone in NoMi know if we get a lot of them? Should I look forward to more tricks than treats? Let me know in the comments section.

Matt's very surprised looking pumpkin. Hopefully I don't look
like this if mine gets strewn across the street!

We followed dinner with two games - Asmadi's "We Didn't Playtest This Either" (sequel to the chaotically fun "We Didn't Playtest This At All". Seriously, guys. If you are the kind of person who loves to let the good times roll, spend a few bucks on a copy of either of these. I promise you'll have a great time. Asmadi also publishes a few other games: Innovation (essentially Civilization: The Card Game) Fealty (very fun, and generally quick to pick up), and some others I haven't been able to try. Asmadi is an awesome gamehouse, and definitely worth supporting.

Each player is dealt two cards, and plays one. Cards include
"Kitten Ambush" and "Motorboat" and sometimes require
you to do ludicrous things in the name of winning.
The second game we played is called Gloom, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Each player (up to four) controls a family of five different characters. The goal of the game is to score points by making trouble befall as many of your family members as possible before sending them to their untimely deaths. I think it's a game Lemony Snicket would approve of.  It was also the 2005 Origins Awards Card Game of the Year, pretty high praise!

The cards are see through, so you can see how the effects stack on the
character. You can play cards to cancel rival players out, and accrue points
on your characters. Playing an Untimely Death means the points
are sealed in stone.

Winterizing - the beginning

Being from somewhere where the winters are relatively mild (in the low country of Colorado, below 0°F is rare, and wind chill is not a thing when you're butted up against the mountains), I never had to give too much thought to winterization. Now, however, we have an old house. I have no idea how good the insulation is, either - we won't have any idea until the bills come rolling in. That being said, I took some pointers from Hammers and High Heels (seriously, go look at this blog, it rocks!) and bought some inexpensive window insulation:

Made in Canada....Blu would be proud
It was about eight dollars or so at Menards, so well worth the investment if it pans out.

It may not have been the best idea, but we are starting with the patio windows. The poor three-season patio is very drafty and we have huge windows in the front of the house, so making sure that drafts didn't hit those windows seemed like it would be a good idea. Hopefully it pays off!

Installation was fairly simple. Just line the windows with double sided tape, cut the plastic to size, and smooth the plastic out over the tape. Then comes the fun part!

Hit that plastic with the warm air from a blow dryer on HIGH, then watch as the plastic slowly shrinks and lands taut against the window. Our storm door is still missing glass and will probably have to be replaced (but first things first, getting that damn furnace running properly!), but this should help when the biting Minnesota wind comes to call. 

While the patio won't be warm by any stretch of the imagination, at least it won't be a major entry point for strong winds coming in from the west. Phew!

I was only able to finish half the windows in the front patio tonight before turning in to blog and having friends over for dinner, but luckily I'm a second-shifter and I'll have some time in the morning to finish up.


I almost forgot to mention that this morning I was able to pitch the yeast into the cider must in my carboy. It's sitting on our kitchen floor. I eagerly await the appearance of bubbling and the delicious smell of millions of little yeast cells at work. Yum!

Soon. Soon. 
Cleanup - a pain in the neck, but sadly necessary. Good thing Blu
is the domestic goddess in our marriage.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections on a month in our new home

I realized today that we've been in our new home for just a little over a month. Exciting, right? We're still in various states of unpacking, but we haven't had a good excuse to really finish (housewarming party, anyone? I need the motivation to show our place off!)

It leaves me with a few frustrations, however, mostly having to do with the undone state of a lot of the work promised us by the seller. As a CYA, I had a rider added to our contract stating that a number of things would need to be finished prior to Oct. 15 - a lot of them aren't done, or anywhere near. And so, while I have the recourse of having these things done professionally and having their costs taken off the total value of the house, Blu and I just can't afford to have a lot of them done. However, we have made a number of small improvements inside and well...improving a house really does just take time.

Tonight we sat and enjoyed our beautiful weekend evening by cracking open one of our new games. Blu and I have a hobby of sending our used books to Amazon and using the proceeds to buy new things. We're board game aficionados - the weirder, the better - and a friend of ours back in Colorado turned us on to a little game called Pandemic. The goal of the game is simple. Discover the cures to four diseases before the world outbreak is impossible to contain. You do so by traveling around the world, researching, and discovering the cures. The game is cooperative (everyone against the board), and pretty difficult to win.

Blu demonstrating a typical setup of a game of Pandemic. The little blue and red knobblies are our player markers. The colored wooden blocks represent levels of infection in their respective cities. Once a city gets 3 blocks, it "breaks out" to all the cities surrounding it.
A night of Pandemic, a bottle of wine, and a (winning) Packers game made for a great night. Tomorrow, we'll be heading to Menards to start winterizing the house!

Fresh autumn cider!

This weekend, I was invited to an apple-cider making party at a friend from work's home. As someone who has never lived in an area where apples are in great supply (chiles, yes - apples, not so much), I've never had the opportunity to do this, so I dragged Blu to St. Paul and had a look.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but I can describe the process. You start with a large wooden contraption, which has a bucket and a platter driven by a corkscrew. The apples are ground into a coarse mash, then smashed with the platter until they yield delicious juice!

While in college, I was an avid homebrewer. I made small, one-gallon yields of mead (honey wine) and occasionally I would go in with a friend on beer made on his five-gallon system. Naturally, the first thing I thought while helping press the bushels upon bushels my friend brought home was, "hey, why don't I make this cider hard?"

When you move into a new town, you forget about all the things you have built up in your neighborhood map. Doctors, vets, etc. all have to be carefully researched and sometimes even then you have to wade through bad apples to find one you like! If I had only moved a few miles away from my old town, I might have sprung for the gas to head back to the places I know and love. However, I'm now 900+ miles away from that town and it's (obviously) impossible. I wondered where I could go for homebrew supplies and a fresh batch of yeast. Answer? Northern Brewer homebrew supply. I was able to get everything I needed there for a reasonable price, important for Blu and I's small budget and just around the corner from my friend's cider press.

We spent about four hours helping press, and our share was two gallons of the fresh pressed juice. I'm still deciding whether or not I want to augment that with store-bought cider or not - I'm not sure if I want to spoil it!

In any case, before you can work with fresh raw cider, you must kill off all the wild yeast already in the cider. I know plenty of people who let wild yeast do their fermenting work when making hard cider, but doing so can cause unpredictable results, and not always for the amazing. Thus, I decided to go with a domesticated yeast strain:

Wyeast 4766 - a cider strain available in stores or online
Problem solved! Now I know I can expect roughly the same flavor notes when using this yeast, instead of leaving my gallon jug open and hoping for the best.

I've skipped a lot of other major steps, but the number one rule in homebrewing (or any home fermentation, for that matter) is "sanitize, sanitize, sanitize". The bacteria that ruin your batch of beer, wine, mead, cider, or sake could come from anywhere - the bottle, your hands, etc. While brewing beer or mead, boiling the must is how you eradicate the ugly bugs and release the sugars. In cider, it's a little more complex an animal - boiling fresh cider makes it taste more like cooked apples than fresh ones, and that's not the flavor profile I was looking for. Enter something called campden tablets, handy little tabs of potassium metabisulfite that inhibit the growth of most wild yeast and some bacteria. So, after sanitizing my brand new 5 gallon carboy (remember, I've just upgraded after making small one-gallon batches), I put two of these little buddies into my two gallons of cider must:

Campden tablets, friend of homebrewers everywhere.
The semi-final product is a very lonely looking 5-gallon carboy, less than half full of soon-to-be hard cider. Tomorrow the Campden tablets should be finished doing their job, and I can pitch the yeast, fill the airlock, and wait for bubbles - my favorite part!

Don't you just wanna hug it?
I figure this batch should be done in about 3-4 weeks. Anyone want to come have some cider at our Thanksgiving dinner?

Friday, October 21, 2011


First off, I'd like to say that I am brand new to the Midwest, Minnesota, freezing-cold winters, and whatever comes with them. You might say that I jumped right in, for better or worse, in a lot of things.

After reading a wealth of other blogs centered on home ownership and city life in North Minneapolis, I decided it might help me to connect to the community of DIYers and good neighbors here by sharing my experiences. After all, I am a brand new person, not only to Minneapolis, but to home ownership in general, and certainly to the contract-for-deed business that I seem to have found myself in by way of not having high enough income for a traditional mortgage.

So, here it is: I'm a homeowner. The house I live in is what a lot of folks would call "cozy", which really means "quite small". For my husband and I, it's just right. The new roof, two car garage, and gorgeous view of Folwell Park were what sold us; that and its relatively good condition. Our neighbors are pretty awesome - long time renters on one side, a DIYer on the other, and the neighborhood snoop right behind us.

For all it's awesomeness, we've had a number of difficulties thus far, things I'd like to change, and overall a bad experience with the seller, who seems to like to make promises he is far too busy to keep.  In any case, most of the promises he's reneged on are easily enough fixable things, and just part of the adventure as far as my rosy-eyed husband is concerned.

Through what I write here, I hope to gain access to my community, meet people, learn how to do things, and overall make this cozy little place OUR cozy little place.

I'm Redd - and Minneapolis is my city. Thanks for stopping by.