Saturday, October 31, 2009

Apple Tree and Fractals

This apple tree on the north side of the house is probably older than dirt. It's really gnarly and big. The trunk is 18 inches diameter (yes, 18 inches. yes, diameter. - I just measured it!). I always think of fractals when I see it. You know fractals, right? The things where the shape is the same, no matter which scale you look at it (the whole thing looks the same as a branch, or a part of a branch). I know this is a terrible explanation, so if I've confused you, look it up. Fractals.

Here is a part of the tree.

If I go in even further and take another picture, it looks the same. Like I could keep going in and it would look the same. Twigs on twigs, smaller and smaller to infinity.

The tree didn't bear this year. I think I'll leave it be and let it be the grandpa of all my other apple trees (most of which didn't bear either.... hm). It looks like it's had a hard life. A big fallen branch has provided cooking wood for some yummy meat earlier in the summer. A few times.

I've been practicing for November, the month where everything is good again and nobody in my house hurts anymore. I came home from work early yesterday, got the lawn cut and the first coat of green paint on the front door and got the ATV started. This morning I washed windows and put up the rest of the storms before breakfast (yes, I'm that kind of early bird), and got all the chamfers cut on the wood for the raised beds before the sky started spitting too much. I don't think a jigsaw was the right tool for cutting the chamfers. They are VERY uneven. Oh well. It was the tool I had.

I was really proud to have gotten the ATV started all by myself without calling some man for help. I've always had the idea that so much of this stuff falls in the man's realm that sometimes I don't try hard enough.

Here's a story from, oh about 1990, when I had just moved in with the man who was to become my husband (and later my ex-husband), and we were rehabbing the house we lived in. My job was girl stuff, like painting, sanding, you know. He worked nights. So one night, my job was to re-hang the heating vents after I had painted them. I tried, and the holes didn't match up. I called him to tell him I couldn't do it and he said (life changing statement here...), "why don't you drill new holes?" (You mean like, use a ... a drill????) After I got over that hurdle, I started to become friends with other tools, and here I am now, getting things started all by myself! Now if only I could do that with some of my other things... There's probably a lesson here, but I'm going to ignore it and go take a nap. Maybe it will go away.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Have a New Project

I saw this blog post from Knotty Oak Homestead the other day and immediately knew what my next project is going to be - mittens from a sweater! (this picture is from her blog post)

I went to my favorite store (the Salvation Army), and bought a fleece pullover for the lining, and a wool sweater for the mittens. Total cost, $4. I can't wait - I'm itching to start them.

Yes, I AM avoiding other things ... like hanging plastic and the last of the storm windows, and preparing the motors for winter, and cutting the lawn for the last time. I have some days to take off from work, so I'm thinking about taking this afternoon off to do work I should do. Then I can have the evening to do work I want to do. I'll post pictures of the project later.

In other news - I don't think Maggie will be jumping on the car any more. A few days ago she jumped on the car as I drove into the driveway and then managed to slip off as I was opening the door. She got a claw stuck in the crack between the door and the car - I couldn't open or close it without hurting her, and I had to open it so I could get out to pull her claw out. Right now she won't put any weight on it at all and is learning to walk on three legs. I'm going on the assumption that it's like getting a finger caught in the door, and presuming that she'll be fine in a week or so. So ... it's still pouring. This October has been the worst month I've had in almost ten years. I'll be happy when Sunday (and November) comes!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Goats and Business

I've alluded to this several times over the last few months, but haven't really detailed what I mean when I say that I want to have goats.

Here's a link to an article from the Shenandoah Valley News Leader about a company that's doing what I want to do:
Gourmet goats graze on unwanted plants

Here's another article, this one where a conservation commission used a farmer's goats in Mass:

I have a google alert on the word "goat" so that every day I get a list of times the word has shown up on the internet. Mostly it's listings about goat cheese or a movie that's coming out soon, or sports. But once a week or so, I see an article about a company that's doing exactly the business I want to do. It helps bring me back to why I'm here and give me a bit of energy.

So, now you know the true scoop. Capische?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good News

I took Sparky to drop him off for surgery this morning. I had to wait and have a consultation with the surgeon, and, good thing, because she decided Sparky doesn't need surgery after all! Happiness.

Here's one of the apple trees this morning. It's much easier to see the apples now that most of the leaves are gone. I took the same picture a year ago. It's neat to start building a history here, even though it's still short. Last year there were more leaves at this time.

I have got to learn more about motors. I tried to take the ATV out on Sunday and it ran for about 2 minutes before shutting off. I couldn't get it started again, and now it's sitting on the path to upper blueberry hill, where it stopped. This is on top of the splitter and the weed whacker, which both broke under my care as well (after only a few months). I got the splitter fixed and the weed whacker is still out for repairs. If I'm going to own and use motorized things, I'll have to learn how to take care of them properly and how to do minor repairs. It's on the list.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lets Do the Time Warp Again!

Last night I tagged along with a group of people that went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Palace Theater in Albany. That brought back some major memories of high school when a group of us would go to a party at Vinnie's house, have a few beers and then the party would move to the midnight showing at the Coventry (Art?) Theater. I also hung around with a group of people that dressed up and performed the roles onscreen. Last night's show was at 7pm, thank goodness - it was a school night! But then we went out to a diner, and I ended up getting home after 11.

This is the second group of people I've met in my quest to develop a social network. The first group was from, the beer group. That was very enjoyable, and I've done a few things with them. The second group are the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). They do medieval stuff, which, believe it or not, dovetails nicely with my interests these days (spinning, herb stuff, dulcimer stuff, the old ways of doing things). The third group are the greenies, and I'll visit a forge with them on Sunday. I haven't met any of them yet, but there is an active group in the area.

Last night's group of people were really nice. I had a great time. I'm going to get a chance to practice my second law of building a life in a new place. (Review: the first law is to get out and meet people. Try many different things and groups.) The second law is, when you start to get invited to things - always say yes and go. Building a social structure is about getting to know good people that you enjoy being with. First meet good people. Then spend time with them so you can get to know them. Simple. (It's just sad that I've done this so many times I have laws about it!)

I approach building a social structure like I approach just about everything. Like a set of tasks that will achieve a desired result. In this case the tasks happen to be fun! I'm not all that patient about it though - I've been stacking up a few events every week to try and push the process along. The tradeoff is that things will not get done around the homestead, and I will not sleep as much as I like. (And I will put more miles on the car and more dollars fly out of the wallet than usual.) It is worthwhile work that I enjoy despite the tradeoffs - and I am happier, in different ways, than I have been in quite a while.

Anyway - I've been invited to a Halloween party Saturday evening and I've said I'll be there. Now I have to come up with a costume, something I haven't done in years! Years!

Maggie's Feet

So Maggie has been limping since Saturday. She's licking her feet all the time, and was markedly less exuberant when I came home yesterday than usual. The problem is that she's sensitive about having people touch her feet (as in I'm never ever going to be able to clip her nails). She won't let me anywhere near her feet now.

Is there anything I can give her (like maybe Rum), that would make her calm down enough so I can look at her feet? I really, really (really three more times) do not want another vet trip. I've already taken an extreme amount of time off of work, and given the vet a major part of a paycheck in the last week and a half, and Sparky's surgery hasn't even happened yet. So much for October being a three-paycheck month.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Three Loggers Logging

(You can sing this one to the tune of A Partridge in a Pear Tree. I'll figure out what the rest of the phrases should be later. Give me a moment - or maybe longer.)

As of a week ago, about two acres was cleared. The open space includes where a spring (or underground creek) comes out. Below is a picture I took in April of the spring. The whole area here is covered with 'wanwood leafmeal,' and the phrase comes up in my mind every time I walk back here. Three points or some authentic wallpaper dust for anyone who knows the poetic reference there, author or poem or both, without looking it up!
You can see my land is rocky, that's for sure!

Invasion of the Ladybugs

The whole second floor is like this. Crunchy when I walk. I sweep it up, but they come back. Internet research reveals (because we know that all wisdom comes from the internet!) that this is not uncommon, and that these bugs (properly beetles) arrive around Halloween. Right on schedule!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bad Moon and Raised Beds

Bad things tend to come in clumps. Last night steam from something I was cooking burned two of my fingers, and I found a large and spreading water stain on the downstairs bathroom wall. It did rain all day yesterday, and according to the weather folks, I got about 3-1/2 inches. Le Lac Homestead is back. I'm keeping a good attitude, but me and my numb fingers and hurting cat and water-stained bathroom are heartily ready to wish this bad month goodbye.

What I really want to talk about is the raised beds. No, they're not done yet, silly! Today's milestone is that I finally have everything I need to put them together. I got the corners from Lee Valley. They're designed for 1x8 wood and I have 2x8 wood, so I'll have to chamfer each piece. I got stakes to keep the bed from shifting, and a big mucking whammer to put the stakes in. (It still seems that for every project I do, I have to buy tools!) The thing that gives me pause right now is this.... the level. I've read that the beds need to be moderately level. Makes sense, but the yard is not moderately level. I'll have to use the shovel - at least I have one of those!

Even after I put the things together, I bet I'll be posting as I try to decide what the heck to put inside the beds (gravel, dirt, manure, ... what)! That set of decisions is likely still a few weeks off.

Today is supposed to be nice, and I was going to take a whack (pun intended) at putting the beds together. Unfortunately I need to find the source of that water before stuff starts freezing, so I'll be inside tearing out parts of some walls. I have a suspicion that dates back to when the plumber replaced my water tank pressure valve with a much higher pressure valve in January. Good for water pressure, potentially bad for old pipes. There's about 100% chance I'll have to call someone in, but I'm hoping at least to find the water source myself. I give up on October. Come on November, you can't get here soon enough!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is Not Working

I put up an anemometer in June in an attempt to measure the amount of wind here. The thinking was that I may eventually get a wind turbine, and data on wind speeds is a good thing to have. I live at 1800 feet, close to the top of the Rensselaer Plateau, and the wind here can be tremendous.

The anemometer works just fine. The problem is that the readings it gives don't match the wind speed around here. The anemometer is only 20 feet high, not high enough to get above the trees, and certainly lower than an actual turbine would be.

A few weeks ago, wind speeds downhill in Albany reached 25-40 miles per hour. Trees were whipping around, and bent over. What did the anemometer read? Eleven.

Let's call it bad engineering. I put the wind gauge in a place where it doesn't accurately measure the wind. I won't do anything with it. I don't think I can put it higher, it's not doing any harm, and who knows, as the trees lose their leaves, maybe it will read better through the winter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sparky Diagnosis: Abdominal Hernia

He's scheduled to be operated on Wednesday morning. I have his xrays and information in case it turns into an emergency before then. I've told many people that I wouldn't do extraordinary things to keep an animal like this alive, but somehow the decisions don't seem so straightforward any more.

Am I doing the right thing? I don't know. But I just can't think about the alternative right now.

I'm Worried About Sparky

It's been almost two weeks since his overnight joyride in the tree and he's still hurting. It's painful to watch him pull himself up into a chair. No jumping for him. Plus, he's not symmetrical anymore. When he walks, his right side sticks out more than his left side. He yowls when I pick him up, although there's no obvious place that's painful when I feel his belly. I have a feeling there's a vet trip in the near future for this little guy. I went to the vet earlier this week with the dogs, so it looks like I'll be missing yet more work next week.

I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. In my quest to develop a social network I've been going out a lot (I had plans for three evenings this week, which is skirting the edge of too much for me). That's the way it works though. Try many things for a long while, and eventually something comfortable will settle into place. Saturday evening is the local Fire Department pizza night. I've been considering volunteering with them. That would be a good way to meet real local people, as in within a 10-mile radius. For now at least, there will be good pizza!

Edit: Chicken Mama "talked" me into making the vet appointment for this afternoon instead of next week. Hope the news is relatively good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Maps

Actually, the first one is the same map I posted last night, but with some additional detail. IF (big if here) my house were on the map, the red word "house" is where it would be. You can see that the road actually does go all the way to the place. My mailbox is 3/4 mile from the house, and the beginning of the red word "mailbox" is where my mailbox would be. This map is a copy of a copy of an 1852 map that is located at the state library (per the town historian).The second map is an 1876 map. There are more roads on this map. I have a hard time believing there's only 24 years in between the two maps. That north-south road immediately to the left of the red word "house"? It doesn't exist in the same form any more. It's the western edge of my property. Interestingly, my house is built so that the front of the house faces this different road.
I'm getting a kick out of researching the house's history. I can see that in addition to tracing the deed back, I'll probably want to go to the state library to see some of these original maps. Conveniently, the state library is here, in my city, so that won't be difficult.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

1852 Map

This is what my neighborhood looked like in 1852. It doesn't look like the house was there then, in direct contrast to the seller disclosure. It's looking like I'll be spending an afternoon at the country records tracing the deeds back as far as I can. I think it'll be interesting.

The Fire Inside

One and a half years ago, I was driving across Washington state towards Spokane, listening to the MP3 player and I discovered a new-to-me song, The Fire Inside, by Bob Seger. I was just back from Europe, unemployed, living with my mother in Oregon. I had no idea where my life would go. But I was enjoying the time exploring the Pacific Northwest very much. I loved that Bob Seger song so much that I played it over and over, and now when I hear that song, like I did this morning, it takes me right back to Washington state and my footloose exploring days that weren't that long ago.

I do that with music. I look for new music to "discover," and then play a song or an album I like over and over - I never get sick of it. It attaches the music to a time, and since I've been around a bit, a place. Here are some of those songs and their attachments.

Lyle Lovett, Road to Ensenada - driving through southern Utah, some of the most stunning scenery I've ever seen
The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving - 2004, playing golf in Myrtle beach with wonderful friends
Holly Cole, River - getting divorced in 1998
The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow - getting comfortable in Washington DC
Lucinda Williams, Those Three Days - Miami Beach
Cowboy Junkies, Rock and Bird - April 1995 in Cleveland
Joni Mitchell, Coyote - late summer, 1988 in Cleveland
Drive-By Truckers, Sounds Better in the Song - coming out of winter 2009

I've discovered a new way to discover music - Pandora - and now I've discovered a bunch of new songs. In heavy rotation now are: Evangeline by the Lost Immigrants, Gringo Honeymoon and What I Really Mean by Robert Earl Keen, Jr, and Checkout Time in Vegas by the Drive-By Truckers. I looked up the style for some of these songs, and common words applied to most of these is 'bittersweet,' and 'melancholy'. I've always been attracted to music in a minor key! Not sure which one is going to get that lifetime "attachment," but I think I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the listening while I find that out.

Edit: A few people contacted me off-list about this. Just because I like melancholy, minor key music doesn't make me a melancholy person! Far from it! My natural state is happy. I'm normally an upbeat type of person. No worries folks, OK?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Last November, and History

I was rambling through some pictures that I took last year and noticed this one that illustrates how much things have changed in a short year. I took this picture in mid-November, 2008, about 2 weeks after I got the dogs from a rescue organization.

The big change is obvious. Every single evergreen you see in this picture, is gone now. That's 10 big red pines, 6 spruces and 4 smaller christmas trees. The Macintosh apple tree, difficult to see, in front of the red pines - is still there. The big red pines are/were to the south and southwest of the house and blocked the winter sun. It isn't even winter yet, but the house is noticeably warmer now that those trees are gone. With the storm windows in place, the sun hits the western windows now, and the room actually warms up!

I've been speaking to the Town Historian and various other old timers around here. Without exception so far, they all remember this house, AND they've all been in this house, something like 50 years ago. The Town Historian said this morning that it's a great thing I got rid of those trees, that the house used to be damp, and now it should be better. (I was just beginning to realize about the damp.)

I have a meeting with her tomorrow in her office (in the library), and I hope to post pictures of the old roads around this house over the last 200 years. The main road between Boston and Albany, NY went right by here, possibly bordering my property. That should be a fun discussion.

The other town historian stopped by and left a note in my door last week (my house kind of straddles two towns, so I get TWO historians!). Two weeks ago, an old timer who used to make his living making charcoal stopped over (to be fair, I had invited him, in June. He's been in this house 50 years ago too.). I think I really need to start keeping the house cleaner if so many people are going to stop by to talk history. When I lived in South Carolina this sort of thing happened all the time, people stopping by. It was disconcerting to get used to, but it's like riding a bike. You never forget how to host unexpected guests. Keeping the house clean enough for guests is a habit I apparently need to get back into!

Winterizing Equipment

Now I'm going to display how absolutely clueless I am. It occurred to me yesterday that I should probably do something to winterize my motor tools. I vaguely remember it mentioned in conversation, but never paid attention before. I have NO idea what to do. Do I drain the gas? Or leave the gas in, but put in some other stuff to stabilize it? What about the oil? What else should I be doing? I just have the lawn tractor, the ATV, the chainsaws, and some other small motors. What do you folks do to prepare equipment for winter?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The WSJ Does Canning

These days I straddle two worlds, the city world and the country world.

Years ago, when I lived in downtown Washington DC, rode the Metro to work, and hobnobbed with Feds and other city people, I started reading the Wall Street Journal. I think it's a really good paper, and for the money is the best single paper one can read.

When I settled down last year and started to get caught up in what's called news on TV (yuk), I realized that my life would be a better place if I read a newspaper for news instead of watching TV. Plus, Joan Dye Gussow (who wrote the book This Organic Life) uses newspaper for mulch, and if I can do anything a fraction of how well she does it, I'll be a happy person.

So I re-got a subscription to the WSJ. It's changed since Murdoch bought it. It's more overtly opinionated and more sensationalistic. But it's still a really good paper with very strong international and other coverage compared to other papers.

Yes - I am going to eventually get to the point of this post. I was catching up over the weekend and saw an article on canning. In the Wall Street Journal. Earlier last week was an article on composting and composters. Both were on the front page of the section. Amazing.

So when does this stuff change from being a movement and cool, into being mainstream again? Is this it?? If I use the WSJ for mulch, will I have really smart plants?

The Homesteader's Car

Maggie's new favorite place. So now, in addition to having the dirtiest car in the parking lot at work (because I live on a dirt road), my car is the only car in the lot at work with dog footprints on the hood ... and roof.

That's wonderful. Just great.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The Sheep and Wool Festival was fun. The weather was cold and rainy, and after about three hours I'd had enough, but it was very sheep-y and wool-y. There were Ravelry people everywhere! They all looked young and chic, and I knew they were Ravelry people because they all had pins saying so, with their screen names. So many cool sweaters, and scarves, and hats and gloves - all knit of course.

Here's a picture of one team in the sheep to shawl competition. Most teams had 4 spinners, a plyer and a weaver. I didn't stay and watch the whole thing, even though it was riveting (!), but I think only 2 or 3 of the teams got a shawl that was long enough before the time expired. Pretty neat.

Here's my haul from the event. A 5-1/2 lb Romney fleece for $8/lb and a 6 lb Romney fleece for $6/lb plus two 1/2 pound Merino rovings for $17 each. When I first started spinning 6 months ago, I was all excited about turning raw fleece into yarn, and surprised when one of my old high school friends said she starts from roving, not raw fleece. I'm beginning to think that's smarter than what I'm doing. Let's take a moment to do the math.

There's this thing called yield, when applied to fleece means that after I wash it and card it, I'll probably get 3 usable pounds from this 5 pound fleece (removing dirt, vegetable matter and lanolin). I haven't actually finished carding an entire fleece yet because it's a LOT of wool. But when I spun my first 8 ounces for my sister I got 300+ yards from 1/2 pound. Applying the same rate, this 3 pounds would be 1800 yards of yarn. Now, I'm not a knitter, but I think 1800 yards is maybe ~ 3 sweaters worth (?) Knitters, please correct me here!

How much work is this? Washing a dirty fleece takes me all afternoon. I'm doing other things of course, but it's alot of the wool sitting in hot water in lingerie bags - 1 wash and 3 or so rinses at an hour or so each time. Then it takes days to dry in the summer. In winter, over a week. Then, let's say it takes 20 hours to card it all - just a guess, and 6 hours to spin it - also a guess. Total is maybe 27 hours of work for 3 pounds of yarn. (I'll revise these guesses as I work through these fleeces I've got here.) Looking at it another way, it's at least 4.5 hours of work for the same 8 ounces I spent $17 for. There's always the priceless value of the zen experience of carding - uh huh. [Can't you just tell I'm an Industrial Engineer? I do calculations like this for kicks!]

Leaves and Wax

The leaves were so pretty yesterday and I was feeling creative, but the wax paper was weak. I remember buying this wax paper in Cleveland. That was almost 10 years ago, which may be why the wax paper didn't stick very well. I may have to buy more and try again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary

October 17th, one year ago today, is the day I took possession of this rocky land and old house. I was a little frightened to come out here all by myself (no cats, no dogs, just me, the city girl), so I stayed at the bed and breakfast in Troy, NY two extra nights while I screwed up the courage to move out into the woods, alone.

I was full of plans and dreams of how I was going to start a business that rents out goats to eat weeds, called targeted grazing. I was going to transform my life from one where I spend my energy helping big corporations make more money into one where I help the environment and work outside. Never mind that neither this property nor the house have seen care in 20 years, the property can't support goats without a LOT of work, and you can count the times I've touched a goat in my life on one hand.

One year later, here I am, sans goats, sans outside work, and sans enthusiasm. I'm moving wood today and still struggling with something that should be simple - the raised beds. A year is a short time, and this feeling is likely temporary I know, but how does one start something like this so late in life, when the timescale for beginning is so long? Winter is coming on, and I'll spend the time making new friends and thinking about this again. My hopes and dreams haven't changed, and it's possible I'll be renewed with the spring. We'll see.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Memories of the World

A TV show I like, NCIS, this week mentioned Aqaba and Eilat which brought back more memories of places I've lived in the world. From July 2007 through November 2007, I lived in Aqaba, Jordan and worked at a container terminal helping them start their process improvement program. Here's a picture of the Aqaba Container Terminal.

Aqaba is Jordan's only seaport, at the very southern end of Jordan, right next to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, which all join on the finger of the Red Sea east of the Sinai peninsula. The below picture was taken from my apartment in Aqaba, and looks over the end of the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat, Israel. In my 5 months in Aqaba, I never went to Eilat. When other countries see that you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, things tend to get a bit difficult, so I decided not to chance it.

Aqaba and southern Jordan is one of the most beautiful places on earth (at least in my opinion), in a very rugged and desolate way. The history there is longer than many places on earth. My father visited, and we got close to Lot's cave (closed for repairs), swam in the Dead Sea and brushed our fingers in the Jordan River. The below picture is of Wadi Rum, which is 45 minutes north of Aqaba, and where you can spend the night under the stars, hosted by bedouins. I made a promise to myself while under those stars that I would make an effort to bring more stars into my life - the beginning of the changes that brought me to this mountain in New York.

I got to experience the hottest time of year there, routinely 120 degrees F, and in September the Muslim month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of fasting from sunup to sundown, intended as a time of reflection and worshipping Allah and becoming better people and better Muslims. The evening breaking of the fast is a celebration of family and togetherness, and the month was very quiet during the days, and very noisy at nights. One day I was driving to Amman along the desert highway and noticed as sunset came near, that truckers were stopping near other truckers so they would not break their fast alone. They spread blankets out and gathered in groups for dinner as the sun set.

I found through the course of my year in the world that I'm not a natural world traveller. I was uncomfortable more often than not, and often struggled. But the people were very nice - everywhere! If you haven't already, you will notice a recurring theme on this blog. How lucky I am to have been able to experience all of this! I may wish my life were different in some substantial ways, but it has already been very, very good.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sheep and Wool this Weekend

Woo Hoo! The Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival is at Rhinebeck, NY (less than 2 hours south of here) this weekend and I'm going! I'm looking forward to bringing home a few fleeces for those dark days of winter when I'm just looking for something crafty to do or spin.

Not sure if it'll be Saturday or Sunday. It would be nice to go to on Saturday when it will be rainy, so I can do outside work painting the door and building the raised beds on Sunday when it will be nice. Buuut - the Fleece to Shawl competition is Sunday morning (where contestant teams have 3 hours to transform fleece in lock form into a shawl - ) and I would really like to see that. The angora goat show is Saturday, but the Cashmere goat show is Sunday. Decisions, decisions!

Winter Comes Early

It's been about 20 degrees below normal this week, and for a few more days. I'd rather have it be 20 degrees below normal now, and not in January when the normal low is 13 degrees F. Here are all four animals last night around the woodstove.

It looks like Pancho and Maggie have become friends. Compare this to some pictures I posted in early August when these animals were just meeting each other! I tried to get a better shot, but it's really hard to take good pictures of a black dog in a dark room.

In other news, Maggie just yesterday discovered that she can jump on the hood of the car. This picture is a bit hazy because it's taken through two layers of plastic storm window, and two layers of glass. But you get the idea.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One Tiny Step at a Time - Raised Beds Edition

So the raised beds are STILL not made, but I finally got the wood for them at least. I've been seriously thinking about raised beds since June, but couldn't decide where to put them, what dimensions, how deep they should be, etc. etc. etc. Then the truck had a bit of a mouse problem in July and spent 2 months at the repair shop (that's why I got the cats at the beginning of August). I just got the truck back at the end of September.

I made half of the decisions that need to be made on these beds. I decided the dimensions (4 x 12), and how deep (16 inches of wood, probably 12-14 inches of soil). I bought enough wood to make 2 beds using 2 x 8, treated lumber. I still have no idea what to do for the corners. I've been hoping that some answer would magically come up and tap me on the shoulder - but it hasn't happened yet. As I try to put these things together in the next few weeks, I'll have to decide on something, and you know what - whatever it is will probably be OK. The lumber is *really* heavy, so I suspect the bed design will be based somewhat on my ability to lift each piece.

As I write this, the truck is sitting in the yard full of wood because when I got home from the store last night, it was dark. For a workday, yesterday was really productive on homestead stuff. I went to the grocery store at lunchtime, then to the lumber store on the way home. It's not often that I can get more than one thing outside of work done on a workday because work gets all my mental and physical energy. There's usually nothing left over for me after I've given 11 hours of my day to earn a paycheck. That's what happened last night. I got the wood at least. Unloading it will wait for another day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sparky is Hurting

This time yesterday I wasn't sure if he was in a snit (as us cat people know cats can do), or in pain. After his little adventure spending Saturday night in the tree and getting himself down, Sparky disappeared upstairs for close to 2 days. I carried him downstairs for meals, but then he disappeared again.

Then this morning he appeared for breakfast all by himself. But he's walking like he's 100 years old, won't jump up for his food, and protests mightily when I pick him up. He lifted his back leg like he wanted to scratch his ear, then decided against it. Thought about licking his back and decided against that too. He sits down reeeally slowly. He's pretty sore, it seems. I don't think anything is broken or dangerously bad, but this little guy is hurting. I hope he gets better soon. And then I hope he never thinks about going so high in a tree again. I need him at full strength when the mice move inside.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Has Promise!

Yesterday I washed windows and installed the inside storms in the warm part of the house. I hung contractor's plastic to close off more than half of the house (the cold part), and moved the bed into the warm part. Actually I moved the bed on Saturday, but who's keeping track.

Today's story is about the storms.

Looking at the picture below (taken from the Windo-Therm website,, these storm windows attach to the inside (mine are resting on the window sills) with twist knobs holding the window and weatherstripping to the window frame.

The initial verdict is good! Immediately after I put them up, the inside temperature went up a few degrees. It was windy last night and the temperature got down to 25 degrees. Inside, it was 70-71 degrees using only the wood stove, which is a BIG difference from last year. And I wasn't pushing the stove in the slightest.

It should only get better as I put in place my other wintery plans, plastic to keep the wind out of the foundation and rugs to cover every square inch of floor. It's not perfect of course. The inside wall was awfully cold. Even though I drilled a hole and have seen the roll insulation in that wall with my own two eyes, it's not making much difference. I think that's why they used to hang tapestries on walls in medieval days. I'll have to figure something out.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am WAAY ahead of last year. This time last year, I didn't even own the house yet. In November and December I was shocked, shocked to see that the windows didn't really close, and scrambling after that just to not freeze, always a little bit behind and trying to catch up. I'll probably be mostly the same this year, but I'll be catching up at a higher level. And each year after that will get better, I hope.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sparky, Sitting in a Tree

Sparky, my orange cat spent the night outside last night. I didn't begin to get worried until there was only one cat waiting for breakfast this morning. I went out to look for him, and found him, waaay up in the top of a tree. You can see him at the very top and center of this picture. He can probably stay up there a long time, but I hope he gets hungry and comes down. I'm certainly not equipped to go up and get him!

P.S. How does one clean windows, if one can't get the windows *open*? Many of my windows and associated outside storm windows are stuck shut. This wasn't much of an issue, since it was a cool, wet summer. But now I'm tired of looking through dirt and facing the prospect of looking through dirt all winter. Watch out - I sense a 'project' coming on!

Afternoon edit: I let the cat percolate for a few more hours, and just as I was going to get the ladder, I saw that he had made his way down to terra firma.

And the windows? Cleaning the inside of the inside and the outside of the outside definitely helped. Half a job is better than none.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Over the last week, I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about the gaps between the life I’m leading and the life I want to lead. The life I want to lead is outside, helping the environment and it has a partner, good friends and homesteading in it, along with lots of laughter and fun.The life I’m leading now doesn’t have most of those things. (My life DOES have lots of wonderful things in it - though for a few reasons, including the impending winter, I’d been focusing more on the down side recently.)

But not for naught! The challenge is to constructively learn from these feelings, and to grow into a better person. It took all of about 30 seconds after I complained last weekend about feeling lonely for me to realize that the solution is entirely within my control. It’s not reasonable to expect Mr Right or my next best friend to come magically driving up the dirt road! If I want local friends or a partner, I am going to have to work harder at it, both inside myself and in the outside world.

So I did stuff last week to meet people. On Thursday night I went out to dinner with 9 people at an Albany, NY brew pub. Today I went to Jenna Woginrich’s place and met more people, including Jenna. Jenna is the author of the Storey book Made From Scratch, and the blog Cold Antler Farm (

After so many times of starting over, I have a bit of a formula for it. The first step, which I had put off for almost a year, is to get out and meet people. Try many different things. Some of them won’t be appealing in the long run but, and this is where so much of the work lies, I have to try. Distance and mountains is no excuse not to do the work. Eventually (measured in months or years, not weeks), some of it will pay off in strong, supportive, local relationships, which is the big gap in my life these days. Of course, I fully expect I'll have a good time while doing this work.

Below is a shot of Jenna leading a dulcimer workshop earlier today. The dulcimer is a neat instrument and now I want one! Good thing they're cheap.

The sun is setting now, and all the animals are inside in various poses around the wood stove. I started a fire last night and have kept it going since then. When I came home from Jenna's it was toasty inside - a very nice thing to come home to! Good thing too, because tonight is supposed to be COLD.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Preparing for Winter - part 182

It's been getting darker and darker in the mornings, and rainy and windy and I've been filled with a bit of a sense of doom for the last few days. When Mama Pea pointed out that much of this dread is because last winter was so terribly hard, I realized that she's right. Every single day since last winter ended, I've thought about how to make this winter better. Now that it's coming close, it's time to implement things, and to see if my planning has been good enough.

Blog reader Cindy sent a list of questions she asks herself this time of year:
Do I have enough food to last a few days?
Do I have enough wood for the stove in a convenient and dry place?
Do I need a better pair of boots or mits?
Do I have my lamps and lanterns ready?

That's a really helpful list for me, because it highlights two things I do NOT have ready. I don't have several days of food socked away, and I don't have lamps and lanterns ready.

It's time to tack up the plastic over the foundation and buy bales of hay to hold the plastic down. It's time to force my windows closed, seal them as best as possible and put up the inside storms. It's time to re-arrange the front room so a week's worth of wood will fit in, and move the bed into the front room. It's time to close off the cold parts of the house and fire up the wood stove. It's time to get the electrician over to tie the generator into the electrical system.

It's been cold the last few days inside the house - about 54 to 58. It's so windy that I know from experience that lighting a fire in the stove won't help. The other day, honestly, an hour after the electrician left from making his material list - the power went out. I was not prepared, and read under blankets by flashlight for several hours until the power came back on. I looked once more at the wood in the woodshed and I'm terrified (relatively speaking) that it's not enough. My wood splitter has been broken for months now and is at the repair shop now.

Wood is one area I've got covered this year, thanks to the loggers. I went up to ask them to give me some, and 10 minutes later they dropped off a cord by the shed. Sweet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Hague

The other day the news had a story on the Netherlands' health system and it got me a bit nostalgic. Not because I miss their health system, but because the piece was filmed in The Hague and I lived in The Hague on and off for a year when I worked for a company that manages container terminals. The Hague is a beautiful city, and the Dutch are a wonderful people!

I lived in 3 different places that year. A hotel for a month, then another hotel for a month, and then an apartment in what's called the Centrum, near the Grote Kerk, or big church. (In between those three times, I spent time in other countries.) The above picture shows the Binnenhof (parliament building) and the steeple of the Grote Kerk.

The Centrum is a walking, shopping, eating area. Here, you can see the Grote Kerk from closer than the previous shot. I am standing in front of a movie theater, looking over some restaurants to the square where my apartment was. The below picture shows the entrance to my apartment building at the left. I walked and took the tram to work, when I was in town. The Hague's tram system is world-class.
I look at these pictures I took less than 2 years ago and am just amazed at the life I am leading now in comparison to then. Before I bought this 25 acres of woods and rocks I'm calling the homestead, I was much more a city person than a country person. Before this year, I'd never planted a garden, split wood, used a wood stove or a chainsaw - everything this year has been a first for me.

Last night was incredibly windy and I did some work to seal the loose windows of my old house in preparation for the coming cold. Sometimes I don't know what possessed me to follow my dream to this cold, old house in the north country, and I can't think about where I want to be in 5 years, compared to where I was 2 years ago. It seems too big a task. All I can do now is hold on to the dream, but focus on today. Tomorrow, I'll think about tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leaf Photos

Here are some pictures I took on my way home from work yesterday. The one is about 3 miles from my house.

The same pondThis one, about 3/4 mile from my house. If you were able to see through the large clump of trees, you might see my place. An old timer stopped over on Sunday who used to live near where I stood when taking this last photo. He says that when he was a child, he could see my house from his yard. Now trees have grown up on both ends.

It's hard not to feel lucky at times like this.

Monday, October 5, 2009


So while I was all woe-is-me last weekend, a few milestones happened that deserve mention.

1) All of my clothes are clean. Every single piece! It happens infrequently enough that it should get a shout out. Or I should get a shout out for getting it done.
2) The fuel oil tank is full
3) The septic tank is empty (or was on Friday evening)
4) I primed the front door (*finally* huh - mom). The front door that was on the house when I bought it wouldn't even close. At it's most closed, there was a 6 inch opening, and snow would blow in. It was just bad. I bought this door from an architectural salvage place for $80 and had it put on in February. I need to seal some cracks and then I'm going to paint it green.

It's time to come out of the funk and get moving. I allowed myself a short period of mourning, but it's time to look at the sun again. It's been many, many years since something like this has socked me in the gut, and I hope it will not come often to these shores. I am bound to get it wrong often enough, but I will not stop trying. Enough. I am done talking about this. It's time to talk about homesteading.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One More Day

One more day of melancholy and then I'll have to move on. It feels terrible to be here wrapped in things that feel bad, and besides, the world calls. It rained on and off yesterday and the morning came with fog that is burning off now.

Being here and trying to start this homestead and this goat business from scratch is not the first time I've started over. We moved often when I was growing up with many starts and as an adult I've started over in South Carolina, Washington, DC, Europe, and now here. I'm fairly comfortable with making a full life from nothing. Of course it's not easy.

This time is harder for several reasons. I'm 45 minutes away from the city. I consider doing things that I have done in the past to meet people, and often pass because 1-1/2 hours of driving is daunting. I'm trying to do things here that I have no idea how to do. I have no path and no mentor to show me the way, and no help. On days like today, it feels impossible.

I want to run back to Cleveland where I have friends that I've had for 25 years and where I feel safe and loved. I want to give this up and do something easier. Maggie looks at me with concern and licks the wet salt from my eyes. I don't want to start over any more times. I want to be finished with starting. I want to build a life that has laughter and fun and people and animals and outside in it, right here.

I don't know what I'm going to do long-term. I don't know if I'm capable of doing what I'm trying to do. But I know what I'm going to do today. I'm going to cut the grass. I'm going to do more to get the house ready for winter. Tonight, I'm going to go to choir rehearsal.

I'll close with a quote that I found online in the depths of last winter when I was so very cold and doing everything wrong. Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

I think that's what I'll do, for now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I've lived by myself for years. I've traveled the world alone, driven across the country, twice, alone. I've lived on this 25 acres for almost a year, alone, and I can't remember the last time I've felt this lonely.

If loneliness had a face, it would look like this part of my property. Stiflingly close, very rocky and grey.

Sometimes I long so much for an other half that it's palpable, and it makes me forget that I've been a whole person for my entire life, and forget how happy I generally am by myself. First, I'm going to feel what I'm feeling for a little while. Then I'm going to go out and be part of the world and the people in it. I'll be tip-top again soon enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Season's First Fire

When I came home from work last night, the house was 54 degrees inside and 41 degrees outside. There's a saying, much older than me, that wood heats you three times, and so this wood has, even though I bought it pre-cut and split last winter. First, I put it into the basement this January. Then, I took it out of the basement this June, after it had molded for 6 months, and stacked it in the woodshed. And last night I brought some into the house. After bringing it in I was warm enough to put off starting the fire for a bit. But it wasn't long before this baby was shaking off the fall chill as September draws to a close.