Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Gardening Survival of the Fittest!


This year I was feeling lazy with respect to gardening, so I didn't plant any seedlings indoors in February to prepare for my garden.

Then, when mid-May rolled around (time to plant stuff outside!), I was still feeling a little lazy. So -- aside from my usual ten tomato plants for the year -- I didn't buy any new plants.

Instead I thought it would be fun to play "survival of the fittest"!!

Basically, I decided to just plant all of my expired seeds -- without any regard for following the planting instructions -- and see who wins!

And I learned a number of interesting lessons that I will apply to next year's garden!

I'll go through them pot-by-pot, starting from the shady side of the garden. This balcony faces due west, so the shady side is to the south. As you can see from the photo above, the wall of the neighbor's apartment casts a shadow on the south side of the balcony whenever the sun appears to the south of us (which is most of the time).

Against the south wall, we have the mints. The mints have already won the "survival of the fittest" challenge years ago, so nothing new was added to that pot this round.

This pot is the only one of the long trough pots that I haven't ever dumped to chop up and rotate the dirt. I just planted some mint plants once, and they thrive every year. I just remove the old stalks, occasionally add some more dirt and fertilizer, and they're good to go.

I feel like I might need to change their dirt at some point or maybe add some worms since the soil must be really compacted by now. But the plants are still thriving, and I'm not planning any intervention until they show signs of distress.

The small pots in the foreground are various herbs (mostly perennials) that I've bought over the past few weeks.

The first pot in the row of pots was also excluded from the "survival of the fittest" experiment. This pot had been used for raspberries since the beginning of this garden.

My parents had a shady raspberry patch for the 25-or-so years that they owned their house in Edina (and it was probably there long before and after), so I decided to plant raspberries in this shady pot.

The raspberries were very successful for many years. I had a number of real bumper crops, and they reseeded themselves for years (they're biennials).

But the past few years they'd been doing increasingly poorly. I bought supplemental raspberry plants and added them to the pot for the past two years, but they all died out. This year, no new plants grew, and the ones from last year (that are supposed to grow the berries) were all dead.

I just left the pot alone in mid-May to see if anything would recover, but they didn't. I figured that probably this dirt is just done growing raspberries, and I'm kind of bored of them as well. So last week I dumped out the dirt and chopped it up and put it back to start over.

I looked up possible shade plants to put in this pot, and I hit upon "Alpine Strawberries". Since we're near the Alps, that seemed like a good, local choice. So I bought some strawberry plants that I think are Alpine strawberries (I didn't really check), and planted them in this pot. So far they are doing well.

I finished off the pot with basil and cilantro/coriander (purchased plants) because those also like shade.

My plans for this pot for next year: Fill it completely with Alpine strawberries.

The next pot was the first one to get random seeds.

In this one I planted seeds of tomatoes and parsley. And what came up?

Mostly weeds. There's one particular plant that is very aggressive and ugly and unuseful. I don't think it's a native plant, but either way, it's not welcome in my garden because it keeps crowding out all the other plants.

I waited until the plants had all grown a number of leaves to confirm that it wasn't the parsley before pulling up the weeds, and I think some of the plants I planted got off to a slow start due to competition with these weeds. But after weeding, the plants have been fairly successful. Here's what grew:

Of the five tall plants against the railing, three of them are tomatoes. This impressed me because these started from seeds on May 15th, and they're already growing flowers. They won't grow as many tomatoes as the tomato plants in the other pot, but we'll see some.

Additionally some parsley grew (I've never had a lot of luck with parsley), plus a lot of clover (not sure what to do with that), and a single stray basil plant. I later added two (purchased) hot-pepper plants (they're plants #1 and #4 from the left), and bunch of dill because there were some yellow swallowtail caterpillars in this pot. One of them is currently a pupa attached to the left side of this pot (not visible in the photo).

My plans for this pot for next year: I would like this pot to be my caterpillar sanctuary. So this pot will be full of parsley and dill. I'll try again to grow them from seeds. Plus I'll put a row of hot pepper plants (the caterpillars don't eat them, but the caterpillars do like the shade). But for the hot-pepper plants, I'll grow some from seedlings starting in February because the shops didn't have a good selection of hot-pepper plants this year.

In this pot, I planted lettuce and pumpkins and tomatoes. The lettuce came up immediately and drowned out everything else.

Two pumpkin plants have bravely poked up leaves in this sea of lettuce, but I don't have much hope for them. (I think you can't even see them in the picture.)

What I learned from this is the following: Don't try to plant any other seeds at the same time as lettuce. The lettuce will win. There were probably some of those weeds trying to grow in this pot, but the lettuce grew thick and fast and drowned almost everything else out.

The most surprising thing is that I've seen pots of this same lettuce for sale at the plant nursery. Considering how fast this stuff grows from seeds, I'm not sure why one would buy it already grown.

The other lesson I learned was to only grow one pot of lettuce. Even eating salads as often as we can, this pot is growing way more lettuce than we can possibly eat. I don't know if you can see from the picture, but we've already chopped bunches and bunches of the lettuce out to eat.

(Also note that there's a butterfly pupa on this pot as well. You can kind of see it in the photo -- it's the dark spot on the right-hand side near the bottom.)

My plans for this pot for next year: Plant all of the different varieties of lettuce seeds and let them duke it out amongst themselves.

On either side of the lettuce pot are my two apple trees. This year has been their worst year yet as they did not even begin to grow a single apple between the two of them. Usually they grow at least a few, and one time they grew enough to make an apple pie without any supplemental purchased apples.

I'm not sure what went wrong this year. They only grew a few flowers -- which were covered with ants -- and didn't produce any fruits.

Maybe I need to fertilize them more or add some worms to break up the soil in their pots. Maybe the marjoram that has decided to grow as a ground-cover in their pots is taking up resources...? Maybe I should poison the ants...?

Or maybe it's just a fluke and they'll be fine next year...?

Next we have my prized tomatoes! Growing beautifully as always! Covered with flowers and ripening tomatoes.

I bought these 10 plants from Migros. They had a good selection this year, so I actually got 6 different varieties.

I planted some basil seeds in the pots with them, but the basil hasn't done great. I think planting basil seeds in the pots with already-mature tomato plants blocked the basil's sunlight too much.

My plans for these pots for next year: Plant the basil seeds earlier so they have a bit of a head start. Plant tomato seedlings in February instead of buying the plants in May.

In this pot we have the star winner of the "survival of the fittest" challenge: the peas!

I had planted peas earlier (last year?) according to the instructions and got only one or two sad little pea stalks. So I intended to give up on peas. But I still had the rest of the packet of pea seeds, so I thought I'd give them another shot.

This time I dug a trench along the west side of the pot and just poured the whole packet of pea seeds in. And boy did they grow! And they're covered with pods of delicious, sweet peas! (I harvested them a few days ago, so you might get a wrong impression from the photo of how many peas there are.)

The peas were the only seeds that were able to hold their own against the lettuce seeds. They had a bit of an advantage since they had the whole row along the sunny side of the pot.

As you can see, I also planted lettuce in this pot -- a different kind than in the other pot -- but it also came in thick and fast!

The other plants you see pictured are ones that I purchased and added later. The one with a little vine growing along the ground is a plant of mini-cucumbers and the one with the larger leaves is some kind of round, yellow zucchini. They're both making some progress towards growing some fruits. (or vegetables, I guess...? But I think that botanically it's the fruit of the plant...?)

I wanted to grow some ground-vine plants in the two northern-most pots because I had good luck with that strategy last year, growing some melons. There's more room and more sun in that part of the balcony, so one way to take advantage of it is to grow plants that will grow vines along the floor of the balcony.

The yellow zucchinis are not making any such vines, so I'll probably skip them for next year. We'll see how the mini-cucumbers do.

My plans for this pot for next year: Peas again!! Plus I'll grow some melon plants from seeds in February since I couldn't find any melon plants for purchase this year. Maybe also mini-cucumbers, depending on how they do.

Then, as a ground-cover for the rest of the pot, maybe some annual herbs like cilantro and basil.

The last pot is the pot that had the most adventures.

I filled it with seeds of dill and hot-pepper plants. The problem is that I didn't know what the hot-pepper plants were supposed to look like when they're small, so a whole field of this one week grew thick and fast -- and I assumed it was the peppers, so I let it grow.

This weed is very similar to the weed in the other pot (identical tiny flowers), but it has a different leaf configuration than the other one, so I didn't recognize it until the mass of weeds was practically a bush. (I later also planted the same cucumber and zucchini plants in this pot as in the adjacent pot.)

So I had a bush of this weed battling it out with some brave dill. Then a yellow swallowtail butterfly (at least one) spotted the dill and decided that it was a good place to lay her eggs. At least 5 eggs were laid (one of them was probably laid in another pot).

The caterpillars hatched and made short work of the dill. I recognized them as butterfly caterpillars (we'd caught one on our dill a few years ago and brought it in), so I bought a butterfly/caterpillar cage and another pot of dill to put in the cage and brought three caterpillars inside.

While the three caterpillars in the cage were busy eating and sleeping and digesting and pooping and growing, etc., I noticed there were two more caterpillars still outside. I decided to just leave those two outside and see what happens. (They both successfully transformed into pupae, as mentioned above -- the first three are currently pupae in the cage on my shelf.)

Anyway, around this same time, I wised up and figured out that the bushy plants weren't hot-chili plants, and were, in fact, a variety of the same weed that had been choking out my parsley in the other pot. So I yanked them all out. There were two tiny hot-pepper plants, but I don't think they'll grow big enough to grow any chilis this year.

Once I noticed the remaining caterpillar, I planted another few pots of dill in the pot for it, but without the weeds, the pot was too sunny. So the caterpillar made a long trek along the edge of the balcony and joined its sibling in the second pot from the end. (These two became the outdoor pupae.)

Since I was at the plant store, I also bought a pot plant out of curiosity and planted it in the right-hand corner. Now I'm regretting it a bit, though, because I have a strict policy against planting perennials (other than mints) in these long trough planters because it's a huge pain to dig them out if they get big and don't work out. I think I will dig this plant back out while it's still small and plant it in an individual pot. I think I'll need to buy a new pot for it.

My plans for this pot for next year: Along the west side, I'll probably grow either peas or hot peppers or maybe something else. I'll probably fill it with ground vines and some small herbal ground-cover plant like the adjacent pot.

In conclusion: my early-year laziness inspired an experiment that was interesting enough to re-energize my interest in my garden! I'm looking forward to some beautiful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and butterflies this year and next!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The best "use-stuff-up" recipe ever: Knödel (dumplings) in veggie-cream-stew!!

This is my favorite recipe, mostly just because it's delicious -- but it's also great for fighting food waste!

This recipe is especially for using up bread that has gone stale, and it's also a delicious way to use fresh vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms that maybe you don't have a specific use for.

I will start by writing out the complete recipe, then follow with tips, explanations, and variations.

Knödel (dumplings) in veggie-cream-stew

Ingredients for the Knödel:

  • 250 g. stale bread
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • some chopped fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, rosemary)
  • oil for cooking
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 dl. milk or beer
  • 80-160 g. lardons (Speckwürfeli) (optional)

Ingredients for the veggie-cream stew:

  • 1 onion (or bunch of green onions), chopped
  • 1 small hot chili pepper, chopped very small (optional)
  • 500 g. chopped vegetables and mushrooms
  • some chopped fresh herbs (e.g. thyme, wild garlic)
  • oil for cooking
  • 1 dl. broth
  • 200 g. crème fraîche

In a large pot, cook the onion, garlic, lardons, & herbs in a bit of cooking oil until the onion bits are translucent. Set this aside to cool a bit while you slice the stale bread very thin and put the slices in a large mixing bowl. Mix together the eggs, milk or beer, and nutmeg, then pour this mixture over the bread. Then add the earlier cooked ingredients (including the oil).

Knead the mixture thoroughly with your hands until there are no dry bread chunks left, and then form the mixture into 6-8 balls.

In the same pot as before, cook the second set of ingredients as follows:

Add some more cooking oil and cook the onion, hot pepper, and herbs until the onion bits are translucent. Then add the vegetables, mushrooms, and broth, starting with whichever vegetables need to be cooked the longest. Bring it to a boil, then add the crème fraîche and bring it to a boil again, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

Place the dumplings on top of the vegetable stew and cover the pot. Simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

This recipe is a combination of two different recipes I found in some local cookbooks -- with my own modifications based on the experience of making it all the time. The recipes are "Semmelknödel auf Rahm-Kürbis", p.25 of Martina Kittler's "Kürbis: Das Best vom Herbst" (GU Küchenratgeber, 2013), and "Brot-Knödel auf Rahm-Gemüse", p. 68 of "Resten Los Geniessen" (Betty Bossi, 2018).

I love making this recipe because I love to mix-and-match flavors! And I love to try out different seasonal vegetables! You can use essentially any vegetable that you might normally use in a soup or stir-fry.

Naturally you can use "Kürbis" (pumpkin/squash), broccoli, spinach, zucchini (though that one gets a little mushy), bok choi, green beans, snap peas, etc., etc. In this instance I used carrots, brussel sprouts, and kale.

You can even use protein chunks such as meat or tempeh in place of part of the vegetables.

Ideally, you can make this recipe with just ingredients that you already have in your kitchen -- so it's cozy comfort food for a lazy day when you weren't planning to go out. And since you can substitute your own favorite ingredients at every step, your version will taste better to you than mine would!

Unless you specifically dislike mushrooms, I would recommend not skipping the mushrooms as part of your 500 grams of vegetables and mushrooms. They really affect the flavor.

This time there were some fresh local mushrooms in the shop, so I bought them specifically for this recipe.

However, even when I use fresh mushrooms (and especially when I don't have any on hand), I generally add some dried mushrooms as well. They impact the flavor even more than the fresh ones do, so it's a good idea to keep some dried mushrooms in your cupboard for such occasions.

If you're using dried mushrooms, start by re-hydrating them since it takes about 20 minutes. They'll be ready by the time you need them.

In this picture you can also see the fresh herbs I picked from my balcony garden (thyme, rosemary, and sage). This January heat wave we're having is kinda scary, but I guess I have fresh herbs year-round, so yay...?

You can use your own favorite herbs from your own garden -- or maybe you or someone else in your household bought some fresh herbs for a recipe and didn't use them up -- feel free to try them out in this!

If you don't have any fresh herbs, naturally you can use dried herbs instead.

I normally divide the herbs so that I'm using some for the knödel and then different ones for the stew so that the components will have different flavors.

When sautéing the onions for the dumplings, I generally use the same pan I'm planning to cook the whole lot in later. Naturally you can use a different pan if you like, but then you have to wash two pans.

I had thought that pine nuts might make a good vegetarian alternative to using lardons in the dumplings, but they didn't really work because the flavor was too subtle.

So in this picture I'm using vegan faux-lardons from Outlawz Food. These worked really well and were quite delicious, so I'm definitely using them again.

For the bread, one recipe recommends Ciabatta (which works well), and the other lists various breads. I usually use butterzopf (which is like brioche) because my kids like it for sandwiches, and (if not eaten) it gets hard/stale by the next day.

More or less any bread will work as long as it's at least a bit stale/hard so that the liquid of the recipe can penetrate it. Both recipes say to use bread from the previous day, but I've found that bread that's up to 4 days old works just fine. Just keep in mind that the harder it is, the smaller the pieces you need to cut it into (and obviously don't use bread that's moldy, etc.).

For the liquid, both recipes say to use milk (one says milk or water), but I like to use beer instead.

This is because one time I started making this recipe and realized that we didn't have any milk (since we don't use milk that often), so I had to find a substitute. I'd heard that beer can sometimes be used as a substitute for milk in recipes (and we definitely have that), so I decided to try it out -- and it works great!

An extra advantage of using beer is that it's not sold in 1 dl portions (that's just a 10th of a liter), so you can open a bottle, set aside 1 dl of beer, and drink the rest while making this recipe!

Naturally the eggs can also be replaced with vegan egg-substitutes.

Forming the dumplings is quite simple. Just squeeze everything together with your hands until everything is mixed and there are no lumps of dry bread. Then form the balls with your hands.

I usually make six of them to make it easy to divide this into three portions, but you can also make eight for four portions.

Then set this aside and start on the vegetables.

I usually add a hot pepper here because I like the flavor combination of spicy and creamy. Neither recipe includes this (not even as a suggestion), so feel free to leave it out if you don't like spicy food.

In this case, I had preserved some hot chilis from my balcony garden in olive oil, so I used some of that for both the chili and part of the cooking oil.

(You can see my little jar of hot chilis on the right-had side of the picture of bowls of ingredients above.)

The biggest difference between my recipe and the ones in the books is the amount of broth. One calls for adding 1 dl of broth, and the other none at all. So why do I recommend half a liter of broth?

Since a bouillon cube makes half a liter of broth, I initially used to make the 5 dl and then only use 1 dl. But I found that -- depending on the vegetables you're using -- it's easier to cook them down without burning them (and simmer 20 minutes!) if you use more liquid. And since I already had more broth right there, I started using more and more of it until I ended up using all of it every time.

As you might guess, this changes the character of the recipe entirely. Both of the initial recipes are for dumplings that can be served on a plate with a vegetable cream sauce over them. My version is more of a soup or stew (hence the title) that's served in a bowl.

If you'd prefer a creamy sauce rather than a creamy stew, you can easily achieve this by using 1 dl of broth rather than 5. But, personally, I love soups and stews! So that's how I make this recipe.

If you make it as a stew, the cream actually becomes optional. If you prefer a transparent brothy soup rather than a creamy soup, you can leave out the cream entirely.

If you don't have any crème fraîche, you can substitute heavy cream. I've done this, and it works fine.

If you'd like to substitute lower-fat dairy products (like yoghurt or sour cream), the one thing to be aware of is that they can curdle when cooking them. So if you're using a substitute here, just be sure to pick something that is made to be cooked.

Then -- after a quick 20-minute simmer in their own soup or sauce -- you have delicious knödels! Made with your own favorite ingredients!


Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Very Special Totally Normal Christmas... Special!!!

 My kids and I finished up our latest Totally Normal Town episode -- our Christmas Special -- just in time for Christmas Eve!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

State of the Me: 2022-2023

This year's "State of the Me" is probably going to be the most positive one so far in this whole series! I'd just like to remind readers that I started this series in January 2010 because I was depressed about moving from France to Switzerland and really needed to make some long-term changes to get my life in order. So if this post looks at all like a brag-fest, it's that a bunch of goals I've been chipping away at for the past decade or two have actually wrapped up successfully in 2022!!

First and foremost: I actually finished illustrating book 1 of my comic book!!!

To recap: I wrote the script for the 3-book series during a fantastic vacation in Paris in 2014. By the end of 2015, I had the main concept art done. By mid-2016, I had finished illustrating part 2 of book 1. By mid-2017, I had finished illustrating part 1 of book 1. And then part 3 of book 1 -- which was supposed to be easy because it took place in mostly the same places as parts 1 & 2 -- took me until midway through 2022.

I need to do a bit of last-minute cleanup/corrections before printing a batch of copies of the comic book, but I expect to have it ready to go before the end of my Christmas vacation.

My plan had always been that I'd look for a publisher once book 1 was done, but I feel like I'm not quite ready to do that yet. Since it took me about five years just to draw these last 16 pages, I need to ensure that if & when I find a publisher, I'll be in a position where I can reduce my work hours and do whatever else it takes to draw the other two books as quickly as possible.

This leads into my main goals for the upcoming year:

1. Improve my skills at tools for creative processes. Specifically, I'd like to get better at creating music with the computer and at creating (2d) animations (probably with Unity). Plus I bought a green screen -- and my kids and I tried it out and found that it's quite easy to swap out the green background using ordinary editing software.

I'd like to be able to create at least reasonably professional-looking videos. I have no intention of doing it professionally, but I love storytelling through various media (amateur theater, comic books, puppet shows), and I feel like if I put in just a bit of effort on learning the tools better, I could make stuff that would be cool and that I could be proud of.

Additionally, it's fun doing collaborations with my two (now adult) kids, like our Totally Normal Town series, and I'd just like to get myself into a position where I feel like I have the skills to create a good video whenever inspiration hits.

I'd like to be in that position before I lock myself into another who-knows-how-many years of focusing on drawing the other two books of my comic book trilogy (hence wouldn't have the time to build these background skills) which is why I'd like to do this before doing a serious search for a publisher.

2. Improve my tool set for drawing my comic book. When I first started drawing it, I developed some simple tools in Python for some image correction tasks, and I've stuck with the same toolset and techniques for the whole eight years or so that I've been working on it. Now that I'm at a good breaking point, I think I can use that experience to evaluate how I can improve my techniques in order to create my drawings faster as well as better.

Once I've accomplished those two goals (hopefully by the end of 2023!) I think I will finally be ready to start looking for a publisher for my comic book.

Another related goal I've set for 2023 is that I'd like to join the local English-speaking community theater group (along with my kids). This so completely nails what we need in our lives right now that I'm kind of afraid to get my hopes up too high with respect to this working out. But here's the situation:

My kids attended the French school (Lycée Français de Zürich), so they never learned German quite as well as they should have, and they speak almost no Switzerdutsch. Since they have always been close with each other (plus they're not neurotypical), they didn't really even make a lot of lasting friendships among their French-speaking classmates. And English is the language they're most comfortable in by far.

A few months ago my older son Nico was feeling stressed about various aspects of his life -- including his lack of socializing outside the family. So I made some suggestions: (1) that we take a Switzerdutsch class together, and (2) I recommended joining an English-speaking community theater group I had heard about.

So we took the Switzerdutsch class together (the last class was this past Monday), and we're planning to sign up for the English theater club in January. The Switzerdutsch class was not great for socializing (it was a tiny class), but it was a good opportunity to get out and interact with other people (the institute that Nico is attending to learn video game programming/design is mostly online).

I think the theater club will be better because it will give an opportunity to interact with all sorts of people in real life -- in English -- doing something fun and creative together. I'll try to get my younger son Léo to join as well since improv theater was one of his favorite after-school activities. And we could all use some new friends -- especially locals who might be interested in collaborating with us on our other creative projects. (My husband might also participate a bit, but maybe not since he has his own separate interests.)

Naturally I'm always grateful for my more distant friends and creative collaborators! Here are some who've been keeping Main Street Plaza lively as we enter into awards season again:

I have a list of good ideas for more blog posts, but somehow I've been doing a bad job of buckling down and writing them. Maybe this will change now that I've discovered Mastodon (where I post as I always liked the decentralized landscape of the blogging world, and I'd been long hoping that a communication network like the #fediverse would come along and replace the for-profit social media platforms. Now I find I'm energized about connecting with people online again!

And now for the latest status on my other long-running goals:

1. Learning German and Integrating:

We're officially Swiss!! My husband and I and our two children now all have Swiss passports!

To some degree I feel like I will always be a foreigner wherever I go, but this step has had a huge impact on my outlook. Now I feel like I belong here -- like I'm a part of this place and a part of this culture.

I'm also happy that I was able to get my name change recognized. When I became French, I changed my first name from Carol to Carole, but I had to jump through some additional hoops to get this name change legally recognized in Switzerland (since my birth certificate says "Carol"). It's a silly little thing, but it's part of my chosen identity as a European.

My German is pretty fluent, but I've been wanting to at least understand Swiss German for a long time -- ever since I noticed that hearing it made me feel excluded. But it's really hard to find any reasonable materials for learning it!! The course I took with Nico was somewhat helpful, but not as helpful as I would have liked.

My new plan/hope/goal is to use the book Züritüütsch isch aifach schön -- which contains the lyrics to 5 CDs worth of clever Züritüütsch songs with transcripts and translations into high German and English. I like it so far -- I just need to set up a schedule to learn new songs from it regularly.

2. Freeing my apartment of clutter:

I've been talking about this one for years, and I think it's finally in a good state. It's not perfect, but I've managed to donate (online) some of the larger items that were still good, and I've recycled and reorganized and thrown away so many things that I now have space to breathe. I no longer feel like I'm drowning in junk!

3. My job:

My career is going amazingly well. Since I've been at my current company, I've had a vision of building a centralized DevOps/Cloud Infrastructure team that meets each tech team where they're at -- providing as much or as little setup/training/support as they need to deploy their projects to the cloud infrastructure (which we maintain) in a scalable and automated way. And I've made it so.

Looking at my team now, this positioning seems expected and inevitable -- but in reality, it took some work to convince various teams across the company to trust us with this responsibility rather than fragmenting the DevOps tasks.
I've had the pleasure and privilege of training and collaborating with some fantastic colleagues. My boss has done a fantastic job of helping us prioritize a new roadmap of system-wide upgrades. And the icing on the cake is that I earned a big raise and promotion -- I've been the tech lead of my team for months!

My only goal on this one is to update my CV and my linked-in profile with all of the fantastic successes in this job!!

4. Anything else...?

I've gotten all recommended vaccines and boosters, and we're still masking in the public transport and while shopping. So far none of us has gotten Covid at all.

The protection provided by the vaccines has allowed me and my husband to resume some of our favorite leisure activities, especially travel and throwing parties.

On the very bad side, the world's response to climate change is still nowhere near where it needs to be. But at least in my little micro corner of the world 2022 was a good year. Let's hope 2023 will be even better!!

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The Grim Strikes Again!!!

 If you watched my previous video, you probably saw this coming!

Our town has been great fun, but part of the fun of Legos is that your creations aren't meant to be permanent. They're built, then demolished, and then the parts find new uses in other builds -- it's the Lego "circle of life"!

A new "Totally Normal Christmas Town" has already started to spring up in the place of the old "Totally Normal Town". And, yes, you can look forward to a "Totally Normal Christmas Special" coming this season!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

And in the industrial corner...


Last -- and certainly not least -- we have Totally Normal Town's factory.

This factory is another one of the few buildings in Totally Normal Town that is wholly original and not inspired at all by any set.

Basically, I wanted to try my hand at a bit of engineering, so I built a working factory in which you can pour a bunch of studs from one of the four bins into the windowed tower, and then when you turn the gear on the back, the studs will ride along the two conveyor belts and into the bins on the ends.

One of the conveyor belts also has a mechanism that moves up and down as if to stamp or press the studs as they go by. All of these mechanisms run simultaneously when you turn the large black gear on the back.

The mechanism isn't perfect, but it works surprisingly well considering how complex it is.

I think if I make another similar factory in the future, I'll probably try to make some kind of drive train rather than making a long chain of gears in which each one drives the next one.

Overall it's a fun build though.

And once you graduate from Hogwarts, you can go to Space College!

 This incarnation of Totally Normal Town has one more school: Leo Deblin's Space College and Institute of Barbering!

This building is a reference to the very funny "Leo Deblin" series that Roy Wood Jr. did for the Daily Show. We even put a Little Caesars Pizza next door because in some of the sketches he says that it's right next to the Little Caesars.

I got the space college logo by taking a screenshot of the video.

This pair of buildings is based on the Bike Shop and Café set #31026 I mentioned earlier.

Since there's an ATM machine on one side, you can see Scrooge McDuck there getting some money with his 3 nephews -- plus lots of other entertaining characters inside and out!

Both of these buildings hinge open so you can see the interiors. Leo Deblin is in his space college wearing a blue space suit.

Hogwarts? But, of course!

No Totally Normal Town is complete without Hogwarts!

This Hogwarts building is an original design that includes some pieces from an actual Hogwarts set.

When I made it, I wanted to use these tall dark-blue columns for some reason, so I ended up with a color scheme that includes the normal Hogwarts color scheme plus some deep blues and light greys.

Ultimately, I think the chaotic color scheme in this case doesn't work, so I won't be too sad when "the Grim" takes this building.

We've gotten some more Hogwarts sets since this one was constructed, so I think we can make a better Hogwarts next time.

This building hinges open so that you can see the interior.