Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Design This - Bulk Keychain Order

I have an easy open, music note keychain listing in my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop from which you can order one of four available keychains or up to all four. I received an inquiry late last year from someone wondering if I had a supply of keychains such that they could order them in bulk. I generally only make the number of items I have shown in a listing but often do have additional supplies on hand to be able to make more. In this case, my prospective customer wanted a lot, 35 to be exact!

I knew I had enough gemstone beads in the appropriate size, however I had to check my stock of charms, keychains and headpins to see if I had enough of those too. It turned
out that as long as a mix of gold tone and silver tone keychains would satisfy, I would be able to fill the request. I relayed this information and was pleased to find out that would be ok. We discussed the time I would need to be able to create 35 new keychains, a ship by date and what discount I could offer on a bulk request like this.

After getting the details nailed down, I set up a custom listing and got to start on the order after I heard the cha-ching from my Etsy seller's app. I selected all of the materials I would need and began to assemble the keychains. I took two work in progress pictures that I have included here as well as a photo of the finished product before I packaged them up to send off.

You will never know if an artisan can create exactly what you are looking for if you don't ask. So, send me a note if you are interested in a specific creation or multiples of something you see in one of my shops.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Here's Hoping 2021 Lets Us Turn the Corner to a Brighter Year

May the dark clouds of 2020 give way to rays of sunshine for 2021.

Hope is on the horizon in the form of a vaccinations for Covid-19. We need to maintain our composure so that hope is not dashed however. I have noticed changes in the reporting on administering the vaccine that have given me pause. Just before any approvals, there was a set of guidelines created for who should recieve the vaccine first, second, etc. There were also concerns over whether enough people would step up and take the vaccine to make a difference in the pandemic. Then we had several days of reporting that certain hospital workers were getting vaccinated, then frontline police and firefighters and some nursing home residents. From what I can tell, not all medical professionals, first responders or nursing home residents have had the opportunity to be vaccinated in my area but that process is being worked through. Front line workers in the first group to receive vaccines are supposed to also include teachers and grocery store workers as well but I had not heard anything about how those people are being identified and offered sign ups yet. Then all of a sudden just a day or so ago, the reporting seemed to indicate that a stampede of people not in the early groups may be forming to try to get to the front of the line. I hope that is not the case.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad to see a ground swell of interest in being vaccinated. That is great. Remember however that those who were given the first Pfizer shots are due for their second shot in less than a week in order to be on their way to maximum immunity. They need to be assured of supply. While I am looking forward to being able to be vaccinated, based on supply and the ranking group I belong to, I fully expect it to be more than a couple of months before my turn in line shows up. We all need to take measure of what groups we fall into and be patient if we have to be so that the process does not turn into a melee. Success will also hinge on our ability to continue to wear masks, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing while the population is being vaccinated.

While careful navigation is likely still needed in the weeks and months to come, my hope is that some sort of normalcy returns through our efforts so that we can look back at this time next year and say 2021 was a happy year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A New Twist on Putting out Seed for the Birds

Some flowers ripen into seedheads that add interest to the garden. However some of these same flowers will bloom again if you remove or deadhead them. Additionally, the seedheads can provide food for wildlife you want to attract to your yard. One such flower in my gardens is coneflower. I have tried a variety of treatments to try to achieve all three benefits. This year I tried a new approach that has been very successful.

When my conflowers developed dried seedheads, I clipped them back to where they looked like they might bud out again. This left me with a huge pile of seedhead stalks. I poked a few of the shorter ones into the ground under my birdfeeder. I gathered handfuls of the taller ones and pushed them into the ground around and partially supported by a teepee style metal trellis in my back garden that is not too far from my birdfeeder. I liked the way the seedheads looked all bunched around the base and my trimmed coneflowers in the front garden did have a small rebloom after the pruning. Now, would I actually see any birds visit my seed art?

It took a while for the right birds to show up. In December, American goldfinch began filtering back into the area. They have really been enjoying the coneflower spread I set out. The first picture in this post is one of the first birds I saw eating from the seedheads. There are a bunch of goldfinches in the second photo. How many do you see? Tell me in the comments. You can click on the image to see a larger view.

What have you done or can you do that is outside the box to support wildlife in your yard? I definitely plan to recreate my coneflower feeding station next year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Backyard Water Features are For The Birds

If you have the right features in your yard, not only will the year round avian residents thank you but so will migrating flocks, large and small. Water features are one of the best things to add to your backyard to attract birds so you can get a chance to watch their natural behaviours.

I have a fairly large backyard water feature. It is composed of a waterfall that flows into a short stream section that flows into a pond. The stream section is shallow so that birds can get a drink or bathe. Last week we had small flocks of several species of birds visit all at once along with some of the regulars. In addition to the stream, they also used a portion of the top shelf of the pond for bathing. It is interesting to watch how different birds approach a water source. Some are more wary than others and will look around for quite a while before dipping their head to get a drink. Then they take a quick sip and fly off. Some repeatedly guzzle until you wonder if they will be too heavy to take off. Others, especially larger songbirds like mockingbirds and blue jays, seem to prefer to drink from the edge of the waterfall. When bathing, some will dunk themselves repeatedly or even just hang out in the flowing water, while others take a quick splash and retreat to the cypress to wait to dash in again or preen.

One morning last week, this water feature was like a magnet. First I noticed the robins. They hogged the stream for bathing and drinking. I have a bald cypress and a bird feeder near the stream that other small birds started to gather at. A flock of cedar waxwings were like ornaments in the cypress. When the robins left the stream it was fair game for everyone else to move in. And move in they did, darting in and out. Joining the fray were a brown thrasher, yellow-shafted northern flicker, blue jays, cardinals, yellow-rumped warblers, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, tufted titmice, mourning dove, a wren and some other LBBs (little brown birds) that I was not able to quickly identify.

While I am used to seeing birds visit my backyard regularly, this intensity and variety does not happen all that often and it is such a treat when it does. I have included a couple of pictures I took of birds bathing that morning. There is a yellow-rumped warbler and a goldfinch in the first one and a male house finch in the second photo.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Design This - Replace Kettle Grill Accessory Table

Many, many years ago we purchased a wood table for our kettle grill that hooked to the side of the grill. As the weather took its toll on the table, we shored it up but finally this year it was too far gone and pretty much fell apart. I figured I should be able to build a new one using the old pieces as a template.

I decided to use cedar because it is more weather resistant than pine. The top was still in good enough shape that I felt confident in my measurements, the base, not so much. I decided to make the top and figure out the base later. After cutting all of the pieces to length, I used my router to round over all four edges. I hand sanded the boards before applying finish. I used a natural cedar stain and after that was completely dry I applied a sealer. When assembling the top I used tile spacers to get consistent spacing between my boards. It turned out that one board was just a tad too long so I had to use my chop saw to take off a tiny ammount. That meant I had a fresh end that needed to be stained and sealed. (two steps forward, one step back) After taking care of that I clamped everything up so I could drill pilot holes for my screws before placing them. Finally I had to cut the curve on one end of the table top so the table would hug the grill. These fresh ends had to be stained and sealed too.

My process is easy to describe but due to drying times, the stain and the sealer shouldn't be applied the same day. I also fit this project in here and there so the time from start to finish was considerable.

Now I turned my attention to the legs. They had weathered in such a way that they were not the same length so I had to make an educated guess of the length for the new ones. There was a nifty bit of hardware that attached the legs to the top and I was pleased to find out that I would be able to reuse them after hitting them with some WD-40. The hardware makes a sturdier attachment than just using screws. I was also able to reuse the hooks that go on the end of the table top opposite the legs to hook onto the edge of the grill as well as some hooks I had added to the underside of the original table to hang accessories from. After cutting the legs and the cross brace, I went through the same steps of routing, sanding, staining and sealing.

Finally, I could put the last pieces together. After putting on the legs I added the hooks to hang the table on the edge of the grill then took it outside to see how it worked. It was great, except that one hook did not rest on the edge of the grill, it was too high. This was perplexing. I moved the grill and table around in case my patio was causing the issue. When that did not work, I took the table back inside to try to figure out what was causing the unevenness. I knew the table top was flat and not warped. The hooks for hanging on the grill had the same profile. I finally found the problem. When attaching the last screw on the last hanging hook, it caused a knot hole to pop loose that caused the unevenness. I glued the knot hole back in place then clamped it up while the glue dried. Finally I was able to reattach the hook and
you can see from the photos, the table works like it should now.

When I was cleaning up between making the top and the legs, I noticed a small cutoff that had a very interesting and unusual grain pattern. I decided to round over its edges and finish it when I finished the legs of the table. The stain really enhanced the grain so that it gave me the impression of a landscape. I enhanced that impression by adding a tree charm so that the image now was of a tree growing by the side of a lake. It is currently sitting in my display case until someone wants it for a small accent piece in their home.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Design This - Specific Accent Color Flying Pig Earrings

Sometimes a custom request is as simple as a change of color. That was the case about a month ago in my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop. I had an inquiry that referred to my golden flying pig and colored crystal earrings. I have several color choices available to be purchased and shipped right away in the listing. However, none of the color choices were quite what my customer was looking for. They asked if I could make the earrings with a clear or pink crystal bead.

I pulled clear and pink crystal beads of the same size as the accent beads in the listing from my stock of possibilities and took a picture to see if any of them would fit the bill. During our ensuing discussions my customer also expressed a preference for gold filled instead of my standard gold plated findings. Luckily I have a small selection of gold filled findings on hand. Once the choices were made I was able to mock up the earrings and quote a price. My customer replied to move forward so I made a custom listing and created the earrings after the purchase was complete.

I usually end my "Design This" posts encouraging you to contact me if something I have is close to but not quite what you are looking for so that I can see if I can create what you want. This is a perfect example of someone who took a chance and reached out to a seller (me) to see if a little tweek could be done to an existing item to create what they wanted. Contact me with your questions, big or small, to see if I can make your vision a reality.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A New Twist for Making Mustang Grape Jam or Jelly

Many years ago my family tried making jam from our wild mustang grapes that grow along an old farm fence, with varying degrees of success. I wanted a low sugar jam but even when using low sugar pectin, getting the correct consistency eluded me. I was not an accomplished jelly maker, in fact making a jam from my grapes was my first and second attempts at it. Mustang grape seeds are difficult to separate from the pulp and the skins and juice can irritate one's fingers. My son was especially sensitive. After a couple of seasons with only so so success and life getting rather busy, we did not make any again until this year. The years in between saw me give grapes to others who were interested in trying or were used to working with mustang grapes.

This past summer we had a very large harvest coming in and for a variety of reasons, the usual suspects could not take the time to put up jelly or make other things like ice cream from my grapes, so I went in search of what I hoped would be a fool proof recipe. I stumbled on one recipe that intriqued me. It used chia seeds instead of pectin to set the jam. It was not designed specifically for mustang grapes but I thought I should be able to adapt it.

While the seeds still took an annoying amount of time to separate from the grape pulp, this method worked very well. The basic steps I took were to measure out 12 ounces of grapes after removing them from their stems and then separating the pulps into one saucepan and the skins into another one. Each saucepan was simmered for 5-10 minutes while covered and pressed with a slotted spoon regularly, especially the pulps to help free the seeds. Before beginning to simmer the pulps, I added 2-3 Tbsp of water to keep them from burning and help break down the pulps so they would release their seeds more easily. Additional water may be needed during simmering. After the skins have softened and released some juice I poured the contents of that saucepan into my VitaMix and blended until mostly smooth. After the pulps simmered I separated out the seeds before adding the skin mixture and 3 Tbsp of honey. Once everything was stirred together I added 2 Tbsp of chia seeds, stirred until incorporated and let set for 5 minutes before putting the jam into jars.

I hope to get faster at separating the seeds from the pulp, but this recipe is definitely something I look forward to making again next summer when my grapes begin ripening around the 4th of July.