Friday, August 29, 2014

Come on baby, let's do the {peppermint} twist...

Before too much time goes by and I forget, I wanted to post a few completed projects that I enjoyed working on. 

First, an anniversary gift for Todd.  We're both fans of post-apocalyptic literature and zombies, so I wrote a 70-page choose-your-own-adventure book set in a post-apocalyptic South Carolina, with zombies, and Todd as the star.

"Pat" stands for Post Apocalyptic Todd, and I assure you that the mechanic coveralls he's wearing with the PAT name tag make sense in the story!  It took forever to finish, but was a labor of love.  His card was more simple - a chest of drawers with brads for drawer pulls to give it a little depth.  Socks on the back.  I also do a store-bought card every year where I write the more serious message.

I haven't had much time for card-making or fun projects lately, but when I heard about a friend's good news, I had to bake cookies.  I got the idea from Bakerella to make small round sugar cookies with royal icing on top, swirled to look like a peppermint, then wrapped in plastic to further mimic the candy.

Take your favorite sugar cookie recipe and roll out the dough.  Use a small round cookie cutter to make your shapes.  Mine was about an inch across.

Bake and cool.

I love having leftovers for later!

After they've properly cooled, mix your royal icing to a piping consistency (Sweet Sugar Belle has an amazing tutorial and recipe if you need it!), and outline your cookies.

Add a bit of water to your icing and flood the cookies.  The piped barrier keeps the icing from spilling over.  Next, tint a portion of icing pink, and dab 5 drops of it around the perimeter of the cookie. 

The swirl is easy!  Just dip a toothpick into the pink dots and drag inward, then swirl.

After they've dried overnight, wrap them.  I used plastic sandwich bags with the tops cut off.  Tie with baker's twine, and hopefully you have a reasonable facsimile!

I found a cute box for them, and I couldn't resist a little pun on the card.

I had so much fun making these, and I never need much of an excuse to make a celebration for good news! 

Now the cleanup is another story...sigh.

On to the next project.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Toad-ally Amazing!

Temperatures, which have hovered in the high 90s, have dropped a bit this week, and there's been a nice breeze.  I like to walk around on days like this, and I bring my camera, because I usually see something interesting.

I'm used to seeing bits of hapless moths caught up in spiderwebs.  

But this week I saw a really beautiful (living) moth on one of our screens.  Identifying moths is tricky, because there are just so many different varieties, but this moth's unusual coloring made it easier.  He had a turquoise and orange-striped patch of fur, which helped me to identify him as Halysidota tessellaris.  "Tessella" in Latin means little square stone, and a pattern of little square stones laid together makes a mosaic - just the pattern on Halysidota tessellaris' wing.  Isn't he lovely?

I'm seeing many more cicada husks, clinging to tree trunks and leaves.

I saw a beautiful spider web, and the alternating dashes on the supporting threads was a dead giveaway.  At last, a spiny-backed orb weaver!

A little toad crossed my path. 

 I also found a dead bat.  I don't think it's a secret that I love bats - I've had a bat house for many years, and I've had great fun knitting bats. 

I think bats have a bit of an undeserved bad reputation.  Bats eat pesky insects, and they are wonderful pollinators.  This little guy is an Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis), very common around here. 

Hooray - my chives are getting ready to bloom!

Some of them, though, are afflicted by black bean aphids (Aphis fabae).  These little pests suck the sap from the plants and keep them from opening up.  They're tiny and cling to both the flower head and the stalk.

You can kill them by squashing them, or spraying the stalks down with a soapy water mixture.  I'm afraid there's still a bit of hands-on squashing involved, though!

My sweet autumn clematis is blooming.

The flowers are small, so it's hard to see in the picture, but they start down by the driveway and climb all the way up to the tops of the gardenia bushes.  They're so, so pretty!

Other flowers are doing well - my ginger lilies, the liriope, and even a large patch of marigolds that I planted in a bed that needed tough, unfussy flowers.

I've been baking, too, a great deal.  This week I wanted to try something unusual.  It sounds pedestrian at first - just another copycat oatmeal cream pie recipe.  But this recipe includes a packed cup of dried apple rings, and cocoa powder.  I decided to give it a try.  They were wonderful!  Super soft and chewy, but firm enough to hold up to filling and stacking. 

 My only modification was adding about 2 ounces of cream cheese to the filling, which I thought gave it a better taste.  If you want to give it a try, here is the recipe. 

Have a great week! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sign O' the Times

No, I'm not referring to a Prince album with the title of this entry.  Even though it's still 90+ degrees F outside, I'm seeing little signs everywhere that fall will soon be upon us.

The deer are even more visible as they fatten up for winter.

The beavers are shoring up their dam with our little trees.

Some of our trees have started dropping their nuts, which they do every fall.  There's a constant gentle tap, tap from them hitting our roof and deck.  We have lots of squirrels here, and they are pulverizing the nuts still in the trees.  I can look out and see a steady stream of shells falling from the trees, and our driveway is absolutely covered in the little shards.

Some of our fall-blooming azaleas have opened up.

I decided to let the Sweet Autumn Clematis have its head and twine up through our gardenia bushes.  I'm so glad I did.  It's just starting to bud out.

The liriope is sending up its purple spikes.

 Our ginger lilies will be blooming soon...

The camellia bushes have little buds...

...and the little berries on some of our bushes have obtained a hint of blush, getting ready for their big fall show of color.

The blossoms have fallen from our beautyberry bushes, and they're setting up berries, too, for late winter color.

You can see the coming season in our insects and arachnids, too.  I've been looking for spiny-backed orb weavers with no luck so far, but I did spot my first Venusta Orchard spider of the season.

I still see lots of flies and bees...

...and I spotted this late-season cicada as he pushed out of the clay and headed for a tree, where he prepared to molt.

Fire ants here are most active in spring and fall, and in the past week saucer-sized mounds have been popping up all over the place.

I always tap the top of the nest with my foot to make sure it's not a 'regular' ant nest.  Fire ants look like harmless little black ants, but they are incredibly aggressive.  Even though I tried to be quick, ants were swarming on my shoe before I was able to withdraw it from the top of the nest.  Thankfully, I didn't get bit.  Look at that activity!

The cats don't care much about the changing season.  They continue with their "all seasons" reclining.  :)

Fall is, by far, my favorite season, so I'm incredibly encouraged by these subtle signs, even though the temperatures aren't quite there yet.  I know it's coming soon.

Have a great week!