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.