Monday, November 30, 2009

Mud Puddles and Trenches

My driveway looks like this these days, higher than the yard on both sides, and mostly mud puddle.  Last year, I had moved in for a whole week before it started snowing and the puddles froze.  To avoid the ice, I parked on the far side of the driveway on the yard (thanks to my time in SC I know that's OK).  What happened is that I killed all the grass over there with dripping salty water.  It's just now mostly grown back.  Some people advised me to fill in the holes (ie, raise the driveway more), but it seems to me that's just going to make the problem worse in the long run.

When the ground thawed in the spring I took a shovel out and dug a trench on both sides of the driveway so water could drain  into the yard.  (The lower right corner of this picture shows one of the trenches.)  The trenches worked great, so I tried to "make it better" by filling the trenches with sand.  It should work!  Wastewater treatment plants use sand to filter water.  But in this case, the sand completely stopped the water and I ended up digging the sand back out.

What's happening now is that trucks (logging, garbage, etc) and my car ride over the trenches and I need to re-dig the trenches after every rain to empty the puddles.  I desperately want to make sure there's no ice in here over the winter.  I think I need to bury pipes in those trenches to keep them open, but I have no idea what to buy.  Just a standard PVC schedule 40 pipe?  Something special? It's OK if I don't immediately find out the exact right thing to do.  I've got a shovel and two good hands.

Western Massachusetts Wind

I took a trip into western Massachusetts yesterday to finish shopping for Christmas.  I've only been there a few times and took a new route.  Here's what I saw on the western edge of the Berkshire mountains, just into Massachusetts.  Wind turbines.  This is less than 10 miles east of my house as the crow flies (quite a few more driving miles though).  Google maps terrain view indicates that the higher turbine is at about 2400 feet.  Hmm.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cheeseburger Conversions

Yesterday was a trip to the planetarium in Schenectady and a visit to the attached museum.  The planetarium show was very nice and the museum was surprisingly interesting.  Here's what I learned at the museum - a gallon of gas contains roughly 30,000 kilocalories of energy.  This is the same kcal that we eat 500 of when we eat a big mac.  So it's pretty easy to calculate how many big macs would equal the equivalent of a gallon of gas (about 60 in this calculation).  Interestingly, the museum got it wrong in their exhibit - obviously not made by anyone with a mathematical bent!

Further, if we use about 100 kcalories by walking a mile, it would take us walking 300 miles to work off the amount of kcals in that 60 big macs or 1 gallon of gas.  So ... we humans have an mpg of 300.

The other thing I learned, but not at the museum, is that google does calculations now.  If you type in "500 x 60" in the google place, the answer comes up as your first search result.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why I Don't Have Mice Anymore

These murderous beasts have systematically slayed every single rodent in the house, and many outside, too. And I've only had them since the beginning of August!  I meant to call them Pancho and Lefty (anyone know the reference?), but since I got them in response to the mouse problems I had with the truck, resulting in the truck starting itself in the middle of the night prior to spending 2 months at the repair shop - I'm calling the left cat Sparky.  Pancho on the right and Sparky on the left.

I've been being a hermit here at the homestead since Wednesday, and these days at home have been a godsend.  Last week I wrote that I was going to relax, but anyone that knows me knows I am constitutionally incapable of relaxing (oh how I wish that were different!).  Instead, I got many things done that were lower on the list.  I set up a wireless network in the house, sortof.  All the computers can print wirelessly to the printer, but the computers can't see each other.  I'd like for them to see each other so that I can move pictures all to one central location.  Maybe I'll get to that this weekend, or maybe it will happen next time I "relax."  I put a few hooks in the basement so I can hang clothes coming out of the dryer.  I finished constructing the raised beds.  I cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner.  I washed many loads of laundry. I took a savage axe to all the stacks of disorganized paper, shredded a years worth of things, and filed the things I want to keep a while longer. Yay for finally being better organized, paper-wise!  My house was built before closets were desirable, I guess, and there aren't any closets on the first floor, except a broom closet in the bathroom.  It's taken me a long time to make places for everything with shelves and boxes, so that it looks relatively OK and everything has a place.  (Of course, different people have different definitions of OK....)

And ... I mostly finished the neckwarmer!  All that's left is to put the buttons on, and I went to my button stash to find some good candidates.  I can't believe I successfully made buttonholes!  This knitting thing is pretty neat.  I may be hooked.
Today's plan is either a guest here at the homestead, or a visit to the planetarium in Schenectady, depending on the weather.  The precipitation has stopped, but I have about 3 inches of wet snow on the ground, slowly slumping into mush.  I'm leaning towards going to the planetarium, and my companion would probably prefer that, too.  He's not a fan of the rustic nature of the homestead, and besides, the road isn't plowed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Here's the Spread

Right after I took this picture, I remembered the mashed potatoes, still on the stove.  So, add those to the spread.  Everything, including the cranberry sauce, was home-made (except the pie crust).  I made the cranberry sauce and dried the stuffing bread earlier this week.  The blueberries in the pie are from my bushes, but the green beans, turkey and bread were store-bought.  In future years, I'll move further towards using food from the homestead. Small steps!

The tablecloth is the only link to those past years when I used to cook a huge Thanksgiving spread for my husband, his brothers+ girlfriends and various friends and family.  My husband's family is russian orthodox, (they celebrate Christmas and New Years eve on different dates than we do), and Thanksgiving was the beginning of a season full of feasts (two christmases, two new years' eves, one birthday), fueled by alcohol and family stressors.  Over the years I grew to dread this season.  I didn't help myself by planning elaborate, showy menus that required a huge amount of preparation and ingredients.  Last night I looked at this tablecloth and appreciated even more this simple meal that took only a few hours to prepare. I was also thankful for the absence of alcohol-fueled crying, fighting, making up and other dramatic things that happened so often between the brothers during the holidays.

Kate asked about cooking in the toaster oven.  I'll start off by saying that this house came full of appliances (a selling point!) that were all about 30 years old (not a selling point!).  The tiny refrigerator smelled and leaked.  There was a rolling dishwasher and ancient microwave that I made the seller throw away.  The only appliance that's still here is the propane stove, and looking into the oven is a scary event!  I think mice lived there.  So I bought a toaster oven big enough to work for most things except bread, cookies and ... meat.  Since Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without turkey I bought the smallest turkey breast the store sells, six pounds worth.  It had bones and structure so that stuffing could fit in there, and altogether it fit into the toaster oven - barely.  I had to tilt it on its side to make it shorter, and since the toaster oven only goes to 50 minutes, I had to restart it three times in the two hours of cooking.  Thank goodness for oven bags and my meat thermometer!  The turkey and stuffing were MOIST, and cooked just right!  Yum.

So, why did I replace the refrigerator but not the stove?  Last year I was thinking that I'd eventually get a wind turbine and convert the entire house to electric.  Now I realize that even if I were to get a wind turbine (solar electric is more likely than wind at this point - fewer moving parts), it would still be smart to keep using the propane tank.  So yesterday evening I shopped for a new gas stove on  I picked the new guy out and may buy him in a few months.  A new stove is about the same price as my drum carder was, which is interesting.  For the money, I would have used the oven more than I've used the drum carder so far.

Here's the blueberry pie.  It's a variant on Mama Pea's recipe, except the bottom layer is a cream cheese mixture with sugar, milk, vanilla and crushed pineapple. I'm obviously a whipped cream newbie - I whipped this either too much or too little.  It still tasted good, but no peaks for me!  (Yes, I did read the newspaper at dinner.  I'm almost caught up on Wall Street Journals!  Unfortunately, they keep sending more, so I have this backlog of four that I can't get rid of....)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Here's one of the advantages of living alone, and hermit-ing over the holiday.  Today is going to be the last nice day in a while, so I decided to postpone Thanksgiving cooking until the raised beds were finished.  (I can cook tomorrow if I have to, but I will not want to finish raised beds in the rain!)  Now the bed construction is complete, the turkey breast and stuffing are in the toaster oven (boy I hope THAT goes OK), and I am making blueberry pie with blueberries from MY bushes, taking a break while the base pie layer cools in the fridge.

I am thankful for so much.  When I moved here last fall, I had this vision that I would have a goat business going now.  I had an expensive horseshoe-shaped road built for loading and unloading goats that I am still paying off.  After I realized that this business would start much slower than I had planned, I worried that I had made an expensive mistake, that maybe I should have used that money for other things instead.

But now it's beginning to look like having the road built wasn't such a bad idea after all.  The loggers are using the road for staging their(my) wood, and for loading wood onto trucks, and having the loggers around is affecting many other things.  This picture has the fingerprints of the loggers all over it, starting with one of their log skidders at the end of my driveway.  (If you click on the picture, it should get bigger.) There's a pile of 2x4s to the right of the building that will be used to rebuild the woodshed, which is the middle "structure" with the rusty, uneven roof.  There's a pile of dirt just past the far corner of the right-most raised bed that they dropped off yesterday.  That dirt (plus gravel they'll bring later) will be used to fill in the depression from the old swimming pool.  They'll be bringing over some topsoil and manure to fill the raised beds.  And, last but not least - I'm standing where the 10 stumps used to be, recently graded, grading paid for by the logger.  I have no illusion that this work is free.  I'm paying for it.  But I can say for definite sure that each one of those things would have involved MUCH more effort and time if I had to do them myself, or learn how to get them done.  So I'm thankful for the loggers - and that it was these loggers that posted the craiglist ad I responded to.  (And no Chicken Mama, they're not single.)

The black lump to the left of the dirt?  That's Maggie, rolling in the grass.

So mom - you can start planning what to put in the raised beds!  There are three of them, at 4ft x 12ft each.

There's more that I'm thankful for, but this post is long enough already.  I'll post about the rest later. Now, off to finish the blueberry pie and start the potatoes and beans - there'll be a Thanksgiving feast today after all!

Christoph Niemann

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The West Side Market

One of my Facebook friends from Cleveland mentioned shopping at the West Side Market and it brought back some fond memories of this Cleveland institution.  It's been a farmer's market on the west side of Cleveland since 1840 and for the last 100 years has been a huge brick landmark near the Cuyahoga River.  Every year around election time politicians come to the market to shake hands.  Visit the hoi polloi.  It's that entrenched.

Here's the website for the market:

I lived in the same neighborhood as the West Side Market for the last 10 years that I lived in Cleveland.  Most Saturday mornings involved buying far too much food there, and then buying an apple fritter and a diet coke.  There is a semi-secret observation deck on the second floor where I would sit and watch people milling about and eat the fritter and drink the diet coke.

I don't visit Cleveland much any more, but every time I visit, I make a point of stopping at the West Side Market, usually early in the morning before the crowds arrive.  I buy an apple fritter and sit in the secret observation area and think a bit about the trajectory of my life and give thanks for how good it's been, so far.

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, and all this week, this place would be jam-packed with shoppers.  Here are some pictures I took in April, 2008, the last time I was in Cleveland.  I got there shortly after it opened and before most of the shoppers arrived. 

This outside area goes around two sides of the building and is where you buy fruits and vegetables.

Inside are the meat and cheese vendors.

Almost makes me want to go on a roadtrip to Cleveland!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November Broccoli

Out of 6 broccoli plants planted in June, only one survived varmints to produce broccoli.  I harvested a few heads, but left some on the plant because I wanted to see what would happen.

Here's what the plant looked like on Sunday.  Still flowering.  Still producing edible broccoli.  It's been a tremendously warm November.  Me and the broccoli are enjoying every minute of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Raised Beds - Progress Continues

I had forgotten that at the far end of the left-er bed is a large underground rock about 2 inches down.  So the left one needs to be two courses deep and I pushed and hauled and grunted the thing together yesterday.  I'll need to check the ground in the right one, I may leave it at one deep - or may make it two deep if I find another huge rock in there.  They are level to about 4 inches over 12 feet, which I hear is good enough.

Next question:  I've read that I should be using hardware cloth at the bottom of these to prevent burrowing animals from getting in.  Opinions anyone?

See how nice and smoothly graded the orchard area is on this frosty morning?  I spread grass seed yesterday, so it's possible that I just doubled the area of grass I have to cut (oof!).

This is a Terrible Picture

I took a quick shot this morning to illustrate something.  We'll get to that in a minute.  But first I want to talk about how terrible this picture is. I was standing near the dining room table looking east-ish when I took the shot.  You can clearly see the dowel that's holding the upper window closed and the crack in the storm window from falling down (because the tracks are loose).  You can see less clearly the reflection from the west windows (yes, there is a view clear through the house east-to-west), and you can see even less clearly the view through the window, because you're looking through 2 layers of plastic and 2 layers of glass.

This terrible shot shows something I've been thinking about lately.  I'm terribly proud that I'm living in this ancient, crooked house in the woods, more or less successfully.  But I'll never be able to clean it up enough to make a city boy comfortable.  It's a loose, dusty place with far too many ladybugs, and his discomfort makes me uncomfortable.  Years ago it would have been me with the look of distaste in my eyes, but now I see the look in other eyes, and I find it terrible.  Enough with the word "terrible" for today!  You know how when you look at a word too long, it starts to look funny and wierd?  We're there with this word.

Let's get to what I wanted to illustrate.

I'm practicing a trick I learned when I lived in South Carolina. Parking the truck in the yard, that is.  When I first noticed that South Carolinians park in their yards (at least where I lived they did), I was (terribly) put off.  It grew on me though, and before too long I was parking in the yard like a pro. 

There's something else I learned in South Carolina that I sometimes practice.  It's how to use the word "shortly."  South Carolinians use the word "shortly" to mean any time in the future when they don't want to specify a time.  As a transplanted northerner, I thought the word "shortly" meant the same as "soon."  It doesn't necessarily mean that, but it may.  See how much freedom "shortly" provides?  Practice it often, cricket.  It's a very useful word.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homestead-y Saturday

This is beginning to look like it's supposed to look!  The pattern is a 6-row repeat where every row is different, so I can't knit and watch something I want to pay attention to at the same time.  But now I can tell the difference between the front and the back so if I lose my place, I can at least eliminate 50% of the possibilities right away!

I'm knitting this with my own chunky 2-ply handspun, from merino I got at Rhinebeck.  The wool is very soft and loose, which will be nice against my neck.  However - that means that this is going to eventually start looking more fuzzy than anything else.  A pattern that doesn't have all this detail would have been more appropriate.  Plus, the cables would have popped out more if the yarn were more even in thickness.  Oh well - that's what learning is, right?  Making mistakes and discovering what NOT to do again.

I've been in a very Thanksgiving mood lately.  Even though I plan to be a hermit, I'm still going to make a (little) feast.  Yesterday I made mulled apple cider (with the fresh cider from 2 weeks ago), cookies and got a headstart on some other feasty items. I've even got a turkey breast, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and green beans for the big day.  Unfortunately, even though I bought the smallest turkey breast the store sells, it won't fit into the toaster oven (which is what I'm using as an oven these days), so I'll have to be creative.  Maybe I'll split the breast and have TWO days of cooking Thanksgiving stuff!  That's one of the advantages to living by myself.  I can have Thanksgiving whenever I want! Even twice.

I also watched Food, Inc., courtesy of Netflix.   Not a movie to watch if you're trying to pay attention to which knitting row you're on!

Today, I'll take a stab at finishing the raised beds.  I had an epiphany last week about them.  Now that the grader has taken away the big rocks and most of the grass from where the beds were going to be, I won't need to make them two courses deep any more.  It's looking like the homestead will end up with FOUR 4 x 12 x 8 inches deep raised beds instead of TWO 4 x 12 x 16 inches deep beds.  I'm not positive yet that that's the way I'm going to go. Of course I'll post pictures of the finished product, if I ever finish them!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Internet Access - The Final Chapter (I Hope)

I received the internet 'speedup' equipment yesterday and bench tested them earlier this morning, just to make sure all the pieces fit together and I could get it to work.  And .... it does work!  Very well!  Here's a dslreports analysis of the entire getup (with the laptop connected through wi-fi to the router).

It's not blazing fast, but it IS much faster than I had before!  For comparison purposes, here's the same analysis, but with the USB modem connected directly to the laptop as I have been doing for the past year.   Of course, running this test 10 times will yield 10 different results (I ran it two more times and did get faster speeds), but you get the rough picture.

For the past year, if I haven't been sitting next to a window, the internet connection has been too slow to be usable.  My work is OK with me working from home, but the connection has been so slow that I've been unable to do most meaningful work.  For example, earlier this week I worked from home, and it took me about 2 hours to do something that involved loading a few 9MB files and sending some email summaries.  If I had been physically at work, the same tasks would have taken about 10 minutes.

It's incredible how much difference in my life, this stuff is going to make.  There's a wireless signal throughout the entire house now, so I can compute from anywhere.  I will be able to work from home more often (which will make a huge difference this winter when the 45-minute commute gets hairy sometimes).  I can't say enough good things about this!

Oh - it gets even better!  The outside antenna is sitting on my dining room table right now, propped up in a flower vase.  Imagine how much better it will be when I actually install the antenna outside, where it's supposed to be!

For info purposes, here's the equipment I got:
Wilson 50 ohm building mount antenna
Cradlepoint MBR-1000 router
various cables and connectors

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slowing the Whirlwind Down

For the past month or so, I've been out more days and evenings than I've been in.  It's great fun and I'm meeting and getting to know some wonderful people.  But I'm completely comfortable with solitude and so much running around and socializing has me feeling a bit frazzled and in need of quiet time.  Entire days of it. I'm looking forward to spending much of this weekend alone at home and most of next week, too.  I'm woefully behind on Wall Street Journals and I have some library books to read as well.  This weekend, I want to finish the raised beds, and next week (after Monday), I want to accomplish ... absolutely nothing except relaxing and being lazy.

To continue the feeling of peace and relaxation, here's a picture I took in July.  Does anyone know what this plant is?  I'm not positive, but this plant may have red berries out now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Frost on the Fields

Driving down the mountain on my way to work this morning I noticed that there is more frost, it seems, the lower I go.  Why is that?  I thought the top of the mountain would be colder.  What am I missing?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Day Later, It's Almost an Orchard

Here's what the south yard looks like now.  The grader started at 9:30 this morning, and two hours later it looks like this.  (The picture below is what it looked like in August.)  Now the monster rock is moved back and is on end.  All the areas where the yard was too rough to mow are gone.  Smoothed.  I won't be getting the lawnmore stuck anymore.  Those were the days!  No more firepit.  no more stumps and big rocks.  I'll rebuild the firepit, better than before, but the stumps can stay gone for all I care.
I'll do a little hand-picking up rocks, sow some grass, and next spring - plant trees!  The below picture shows the same scene in August (a mere 3 months ago).  There are huge pine trees browning and quite a few areas of crap, rocks and stumps.

Here's the same area from this morning, but now looking toward the house.

And below is a picture showing how it all began (actually after a little clearing).  I took this one in April of this year and it shows all the trees, all the roughness, all the yuck that is gone, gone, gone.  In my short year here, there has only been one other day that so much changed in one day.  I've gotten much done.  I think I can give myself permission to stop working on things until next spring.  AFTER I finish the raised beds!


I found a use for the extra four bales of hay I didn't need for the front of the house.  Windbreak!  The winter wind screams up the hill and beats the west side of the house (and me) into submission.  Last winter and spring, I came up with the idea of eventually building a rock wall to create a quiet space just south of the house (and maybe turn this area into a patio).  Here's a good way to cheaply test that concept.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Internet Access - Here's What I Did

Here's a picture of what I've got.  It's a Verizon USB modem, which means that when I want to connect to the internet, I have to "dial" in.  It's technically a broadband device, but doesn't have a strong signal here in the woods, so is rather slow.  I'm halfway through a 2-year contract.

I asked what you folks thought about satellite and got mixed opinions (which mirrors what I've seen online when I read reviews).  I called the local cable company to see if there was any chance that cable would come out here (no).

I decided to try and maximize what I have before I make any more commitments to new providers. So, here's what I did (unfortunately after an absurd amount of time-consuming research).  I bought an external antenna, a few cables and connectors and a router.  Ideally, the signal will get stronger (faster), and I'll be able to set up that home network I've been looking forward to in a week or so.  If those don't work well enough, I'll buy an amplifier - but I'll try this stuff first.  We'll see how it goes!

Starry Morning

I set the alarm for 4:30 this morning (only an hour earlier than I get up anyway), bundled up and took the camera and table tripod outside to the south yard.

The dark sky makes it impossible to see what the camera is pointed at, so I just pointed the camera in some general direction and took a few 30-second and several 60-second exposures.  The only way to get a picture of a shooting star is to have an exposure going that a shooting star happens to go through.  I used the self-timer in order to eliminate the camera shake that I add when I push the shutter button.   All of the 60-second exposures show some movement of the stars, caused, I think, by the movement of the world. (Slow down, you move too fast...)

Here's a 30-second shot that shows Orion in the lower right corner. In the hour I was outside, I saw about 10 shooting stars.  Unfortunately, none went through the camera frame, so this is all you get!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leonid Meteor Shower 3:30-5:30 EST Tuesday Morning

I really really didn't plan to post three times today, but I can't resist posting a notice about the Leonid meteor shower.  It will be tonight, or more properly very early tomorrow morning.  Posting about this tomorrow will be too late!
(photo from at the link below)

This article says there could be a few dozen meteors per hour!  It looks like it might be clear overnight - I may get up a little earlier than normal to see these!

This Was Sunday

On Sunday morning I said that I'd spin this romney wool in the washing machine and then set it outside in the sun to dry.  Here it is.  In the sun. Yeah. (Sunday was a little wierd, alternating sunny and foggy.)  I don't think it really felted, but I think it did felt a little bit.  Is there such a thing as 'partially felting?'  Anyway - I think it will be usable, but next time I do this, I'm going to spin at a slower speed.  I'm curious how much of the 6 original pounds are left and how much was oil and grease.  I decided to save the other fleece washing for spring, in favor of getting done the next item you'll see.

Bales of hay, and plastic on the windward side of the house!  You can see that the foundation of the house is rock, which means that the wind comes up the hill and then blows right through the underpart of the house.  A few months ago, blog reader Cindy (at least I think it was you!) suggested plastic and straw bales to hold the plastic down.  (One lesson:  next time I haul hay in this truck, I don't think I'll set them on end like this.  Everything was OK and I did manage to fit 10 bales in there, but I was pretty nervous driving the 25 miles back home.)

Below is the finished project.  Plastic hanging from just below the windows anchored by hay bales. We'll see how that works.  You may also notice the wooden dowels holding up the windows.  It's basic, but it works - and you might not believe that last winter these windows fell down (as in open) several times.  Believe it!  I also put a bale in front of that door just outside the right edge of this picture.  That was an incredible source of wind in the house last winter.

Then, after being productive and completing that task, I took to the knitting.  I've arranged this little project shown below so that it looks a little like a surrender flag.  The pattern I chose has a 6-row repeat with ks and ps in the same row and a cable knit c4b and c4f in row 5.  I guess it's not difficult once you know how to knit, but it might not have been the best starter project to do with chunky, uneven yarn.

For all you knitting afficianados out there, here's the gobbeldygook:
RW 1: Sl 1, p1, k4, p1, est seed st pattern - k,p,k,p x 6 sts, then p1, k4, p1, k1.
RW 2: Sl 1, k1, p4, k1, seed st x 6 sts, k1, p4, k2.
RW 3: as RW 1
RW 4: as RW 2
RW 5: Sl 1, p1, c4b, p1, 6 seed sts, p1, c4f, p1, k1.
RW 6: as RW 2

Part of the reason it was a bad idea to start with this is that I have no idea what the stitches are supposed to look like, and the yarn adds lots of unpredictable bumps.  PLUS, and this is a big one - I stopped after 3 rows on the second repeat without noting which row I was on and then tried to pick it up the next day.  Big mistake!  I knitted a few rows twice and had to pull it out, twice, before I finally got it right.  This little uneven, lumpy thing is probably going to be my favorite knitted thing, ever, because it was the first. 

I remember the first thing I ever sewed.  It was a t-shirt dress made with shirting and I gave it to my mom.  I think she actually wore it. Once.

Satellite Internet?

There was a bit of a discussion in the comments the other day about satellite internet, and I wanted to bring this question to the full forum.

If you have satellite internet, would you recommend that I get it? Is the experience good enough that you would recommend to your friends to go for it? (For geeky six sigma or marketing types, this is the net promoter score question.)

A little about my situation. Right now I'm using a USB modem, which has the capability to work at broadband speeds (and does in the city), but here in the woods is closer to dialup speed. I do not have a land line, so DSL is out of the question, and cable doesn't come out here. It's this or satellite.

So, if you have satellite internet and care to comment on whether it's been a good thing or a bad thing, please do!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall Flowers

I saw this on some other blogs - about plants that are confused about the not-quite-warm and not-quite-cold weather and sometimes blossom or bud in the shoulder season. I didn't have to walk far to see two examples in my own yard. Above are buds on one of the lilac bushes. Below is a violet. Interesting to see in November.

Washing Fleece

Since it was going to be 60 degrees today (it's already 55 and it's not even 10 am yet!), I started to wash this fleece yesterday afternoon. Today will be a perfect day to let the fleece dry on the 'patio' table outside in the sun. What you're looking at is six pounds of romney fleece in lingerie bags, divided between two plastic totes sitting on a hand truck. (This is the same hand truck I'll use, when it gets cold, to carry wood in from the woodshed.) The whole mess is sitting in the kitchen, next to the kitchen sink. (In another aside, you can see the muslin that I've used to replace the kitchen cabinet doors. It worked perfectly - the cats go in and out of the cabinets at will and I haven't seen any mouse poop in ages.)

Why do I use plastic totes and a hand truck instead of just using the kitchen sink? Well - the plastic pipes under the kitchen sink happen to be just resting next to each other. They're not actually attached to each other. So when I dumped water one time, most of it ended up on the floor under the sink. Normal washing is OK, just not so much water at once. This is where the hand truck comes in. When it's time to dump, I wheel the whole mess to the porch, carry the totes outside and dump the water outside. Then I wheel it all back into the kitchen for the next round. Following blog reader, Alison's suggestion, I did two washes yesterday and three rinses. Each one soaks about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. I started about 1 and wasn't finished at 5 when I had to prepare for my evening plans. (The math doesn't quite work out - maybe each round was longer than 45 minutes! I wasn't keeping track!) So I left the wool in the second rinse water overnight, and now it's sitting in the third rinse water.

I'm going to be brave and try to use the spin cycle on the washing machine to get most of the water out (I did that with an icelandic fleece last spring and ended up felting the whole thing, so I'm a little scared to use the washing machine for spinning fleece.) But if I don't spin out the water, it will take DAYS for the fleece to dry. I know this from experience.

Then, I think I'll wash my last remaining unwashed fleece that I got at Rhinebeck, also a romney. That may take the rest of the day, but if the machine spinning works it all may be dry today or tomorrow. Then I'll have something like six washed fleeces (fleec-i?), ready for carding through the cold, dark days of winter that feel so far away today. I hear there's zen somewhere in the washing, carding, spinning process, but I haven't found it yet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday Afternoon

This picture is the result of three things:
1) Friday afternoons at work are lightly attended and I had plans last night that meant I needed to stay in town after work
2) I'm having problems making the neckwarmer I showed the other day. For starters, I don't know how to knit. I can't figure out the pattern acronyms and my yarn is too chunky and uneven to tell if I'm doing the stitches correctly
3) My internet connection from home is too slow to watch videos

Soo -- at the end of the day yesterday, I used whatever implements were handy at my desk and practiced some stitches while watching the videos online. Please tell me I'm not the only person on the planet who's done this!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raised Beds - Progress Stops for Now

The logger-boss is having a friend come over next week with something that will smooth out this whole area south of the house. He suggested that I hold off on finishing the raised beds and the guy can flatten that area too. That big rock is on the edge of a circular area that formerly housed a swimming pool. A depression surrounded by a round ridge, you can see the pattern of green. Next week, I'm hoping all of that will be flat(ter), and the big rock will be moved about 15 feet farther back to sit with some other rocky friends. The stumps I've been avoiding for months and the rocky mess - all smooth and ready for the orchard to be planted next spring (a year or two earlier than I had planned).

By the way. I know it looks like there will be 4 raised beds, but the second from the right is a figment of your imagination. A too-tall rock (about 12 inches high x 3 ft diameter) is in that space. I think I'll put two 4 x 5 beds in that place (instead of one 4x12) and make them three courses high, covering that rock with maybe 12-15 inches of dirt. One of those 4x5 beds is slated for basil - only basil. Lots of it.

The wood you see is for two beds, two courses high. Not four beds as it appears. But hey, two 4x12 beds plus two 4x5 beds = 116 square feet. More than enough to start with, especially for one person. And I might possibly, finally have enough basil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Green Merino Yarn

I have not been able to take a picture, either at home or in the office, that adequately captures the green color of this yarn. I made another 28 yards last night because now I think I want to make the below neckwarmer instead of the one I showed yesterday. (Pattern from here: , picture taken from here: No matter how many pictures I take, my yarn won't be this bright!

This Merino yarn is SOOO soft! I used to think I liked Border Leicester, but this Merino seems much softer, and I'm all about soft. Especially around my neck. It's not very lustrous though, which I'm OK with. I get that there will be no fiber that's perfect for everything.

I Love Words

One of my dear friends ended a long, long-distance relationship recently, and she wrote about it in her blog in a way that made me think about a book title I saw recently. I'll get this title wrong, but it's something like "The Intersection of Bitter and Sweet." I've been going through some of this recently too - growth that is sometimes painful, but ultimately good. She thanked this person on her blog, and said, "our time together changed me for the better." Wonderful words.

I grew up in a literate family. Both of my parents have multiple college degrees in english and english-related things. My mother worked in a library. It's pretty natural for me to read and write, and for decades I've been collecting words that strike a chord in me when I read them. It's actually sequences of words, sentences and paragraphs. Single words alone don't do much for me.

Here are some words that I've been carrying around for over 20 years. The original source is long-lost to me. Every time I re-discover the index card I have these written on, I pause and reflect.

Ask yourself these five questions about your life choices: (the company you keep, the foods you eat, the work you do, the ways you give and receive love and money)

1. Does it lead you toward a fuller life or does it confine you?
2. Does it bring you closer to your heart or does it take you farther away?
3. Does it open you or does it close you?
4. Does it allow you to trust yourself further or does it make you frightened of yourself?
5. Does it enlarge your life or does it make your life smaller?

As fall turns into winter and I make choices for my own life, it helps to think about whether and how the choices I am making change me for the better as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Me on Apple Cider Day

Here's a picture that someone took on apple cider day. That's me turning the crank to grind apples into apple chunks, the second step to apple cider goodness (third step if you count picking the apples).

First Knitting Project

Last night I finished spinning/plying 86 yards of bulky merino double with pre-carded wool I got at Rhinebeck (I forgot to take a pic last night). I've heard that once you start spinning nice, thin wool, it's hard to go back to bulky, uneven stuff, so I had to try for bulky early. It was pretty difficult to draft the wool on in big chunks, more difficult than letting the wheel spin and pull. Oh well, it's all learning at this point. Basically everything I'm doing here is for the first time. Just gotta try to do it, even if things don't turn out right.

Here's what I want to do with that yarn. The SCARF, silly! Minds out of the gutter! (From here: Later this week I'm going to a 'spinny' where I've been promised that someone will teach me how to knit. I hope this project is simple enough for a starter!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Raised Beds - Collective Wisdom

OK folks, it's collective wisdom time (which is a fancy way of saying I'm stuck and I have a question). (Ps, this picture gets a little bigger if you click on it.)

How level do I need to make these things?

The left end is about three inches higher than the right end (over 12 feet) and a big rock is preventing me from digging the left side down any more. The long piece is roughly level, but you can see that the end pieces won't match up. If I have to make the tops absolutely level, I'll need to cut the bottom of the wood off on the left end, which I'd prefer not to do unless I absolutely must.

I'm going to post this on Facebook too, and see what my FB friends say. I got a huge (for me) number of replies when I asked another raised bed question a few months ago.

Soooo ... what do you say?

Let's Think About Winter Some More

It's going to be near 70 degrees here today (probably not on my mountain, but close), so it's time to revisit Cindy's winter checklist.

Do I have enough food to last a few days? Check

Do I have enough wood for the stove in a convenient and dry place? Check

Do I need a better pair of boots or mits? Got 'em and made 'em

Do I have my lamps and lanterns ready? Check

I'm cheating with this lantern (it's LED, not kerosene or oil), but I figure that I've got enough things I don't know how to do going on that I deserve a break on the lantern. Do you buy that excuse? Good. I did put fresh batteries in a few flashlights. The electrician never followed up on tying my generator into the box, and now that I've spent $1800 on animals and the truck, I'll put that work off. The generator is usable right now, which is good enough.

It was cold the other night and sitting near the western wall of the house I felt a bit of a breeze coming through the wall. I think I need to pop off the molding under the window, see what's underneath and possibly fill with insulation. A few weeks ago I looked inside the switchboxes and outlets and could see right through to the outside wall of the house. Now they've got some insulation in them, too.

I still need to put plastic outside the western wall and haybales down, but that's pretty much the only winter prep item still open. Since it's warm today, I'm going to take the afternoon off work and finish building the raised beds - planning for next spring!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A New (to me) Apple Tree

It was wonderfully warm and sunny today, and I took a walk (more of a saunter) around the yard this morning. Looking through a high blueberry bush, over the broken remnants of old beehives, I saw some golden orbs - apples on a tree I hadn't really noticed before. Very easy to see now that the leaves are gone.

I went over and took a bite of one, and this is a type of apple I know by taste. Golden delicious. Yum.

Apple Cider Day

The rake and the bag worked really well for picking apples. Eventually, the rake was too short and I used an 8-foot piece of wood to knock apples down. I wish I had a 12-foot piece of wood, there are still a bunch of apples at about 20 feet that I just couldn't reach. (Actually I do have 12-foot wood, but it's 2x8 and too heavy to lift.) I got this half-bushel of gnarled, small, pockmarked apples from three trees. The small apples on the right side of the basket are from the Mcintosh tree. I don't know what kind the ones on the left are. Never figured it out.
The cider press is this amazing contraption with the grinder on the left and the press on the right. After the press has taken out as much juice as it can, you remove the right basket and dump the remainders, then slide the left basket to the right and start pressing again. I don't know how many hundreds of pounds of apples were pressed, but it was something like three pickup trucks' worth, plus my little gnarly, pockmarked apples (which were the worst, by far). Everyone else's apples were grocery-store quality, and free, gleaned from various places on Friday. You could stick a cup under the spout and get fresh apple cider, one day off the tree.

It was the best apple cider I have ever tasted!

I wasn't keeping track - we probably made 40 gallons of cider. Several people brought 5-gallon plastic or glass bottles and added yeast to make hard cider. Someone took some of the spent apples to try and make apple liquor. Me, I got a few pitchers of apple cider to take home. Now I know what I'll need to bring next year, and I have some ideas of how to get better apples next year too. Yum.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sometimes Ya Gotta Give up What You Want and Go with the Flow

I'm going to call this a story of incredible luck and some very nice people. All in all, last night was an odyssey like I've had only a few times in my life.

Let's start from yesterday afternoon. I'm at work and the auto shop has told me the truck needs a complete brake job. They told me to call back at 4, and they'd let me know if it would be done that day, or if I'd have to come back to get it another day. (Now, this auto shop is near work. The logistics of me getting the truck another day are very painful: ask someone to give me a ride the 25 miles home from work, drive my car in the next day, then figure out how to get a truck AND a car 25 miles home. Alternatively, find someone who can pick me up for work in the morning from home - the closest person to my home would have to drive 1/2 hour out of the way to get me. This is the pain of living alone, in an out-of-the-way place!) So, I really, really wanted to take the truck home last night, to avoid all that crap.

I talked to the shop at 4 and they thought the truck would be done and road-tested by 4:30. So I asked my boss to drop me off at the shop and I'd hang around waiting for the truck to be ready. Which is what I did. EXCEPT - after about an hour of bleeding the brakes, they realized that the system wasn't holding pressure and the job wasn't finished. I'll be needing a new master cylinder in addition to all the other stuff. There I am, in suburban Albany with no way to get home, and all my coworkers gone for the day.

Here's where the odyssey and the nice people come in. One of the shop guys lives tangentially in my direction. He was willing to take me about halfway. Then I called my boss, who thankfully lives about 20 minutes from me, and he was willing to take me the rest of the way. The drop off point was a popular bar/restaurant a few towns away from me. So I had a beer and didn't mind the wait. My boss brought me home about 8, helped me retrieve Maggie from outside the electronic fence, and saw parts of the inside of my house (so now he knows what I'm talking about when I mention things). Unfortunately, the cats had played lets-put-everything-on-the-floor yesterday and the house looked not-ready-for-guests, which is embarrassing.

But, I'm home. Everything is fine, more or less. I don't know when I realized that yesterday was going to be an odyssey, but the only thing one can do what that happens is relax, go with the flow and enjoy it as best you can. A big THANK YOU to the people who helped me yesterday. They don't read the blog, but I had to give them a shout out anyway. Now, I'm off to have breakfast, and figure out how to get those apples down.

Friday, November 6, 2009

November Apples

Yay - I've been invited to make apple cider with some folks this weekend (hard cider too)! Yay! Yay! Can you tell I'm excited? I'm going to do my level best to get every single apple off this tree so I can do my part, and take some of the treasure at the end. Since I don't have any tools designed for apple picking from high branches, I'm going to design something involving a rake and a bag. If all else fails, there's always knocking apples off branches and picking them up! The ground doesn't have any apples on it because the dogs have been diligent about cleaning up fallen apples. It looks like I'll have to get these babies off the branches and get them before the dogs can!

The brakes on the truck are not working very well, which made the drive into work a religious experience (please stop, please stop ... thank you!). This is the first time I've ever had to use the gears to slow a vehicle down, but I've gotten semi-good at it since this morning, and thankfully the truck has, 3-2-1, and I drove slowly. So it's into the shop again for the truck. November is starting off to be not such a great month - we'll need to shake the Octobers off soon!

Afternoon Edit: One complete brake job on all 4 wheels + calipers + pad + rotors on rear + rotors + pads on front, and $1000 later .... ugh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Here's a picture of the south yard from this morning (bigger if you click on it, in case anyone wants to look at it closer). I did get some snow last night that only whitened the upper mountain. You can see where I want to put the raised beds, just past the Macintosh apple tree. There is a rocky spine right at the far end of the wood pieces, and looking at it from here, one can see it's higher than the surrounding ground (the high spot of the whole yard, in fact). Just past the raised beds is where I want to put a small orchard of maybe 6-12 trees.

As recently as three weeks ago, the pine trees I had pushed down were here, and there was a 250 square foot brushy, thorny area here too. The loggers took the pines (yay), and a neighbor scraped down the brushy thorns. I was hoping it would smooth this area enough to prep it for the orchard, but it's obvious more work needs to be done. Stumps and rocks need to be moved, and the whole thing needs to be graded to be smoother.

On another note, both dogs disappeared for two hours this morning after breakfast, on a jaunt of some sort, way outside the fence. I gave one of the loggers the wire I got the other day, and he says he'll put it out today. What will happen is that this new wire will effectively jumper out the logging area and make it so the dog fence can be electrified all the time again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Next Sewing Project - Gaiters

I need to make or buy a pair of these. I had snow in my boots many times last winter when I walked outside. Even though my boots go to mid-calf, the snow was higher ... so the snow won last year. They look fairly simple to make, elastic to go under the shoe, a hook to attach it to the shoelaces in front, elastic around the bottom, top and at the ankle. You can't see it in the picture, but I think there's velcro in back. They're too thin to slip on over boots. Today is Salvation Army day (80% of the store is half-price on Wednesdays), so I'll see what waterproof jackets they have for cheap. Ah, the thrill of the hunt.

It's supposed to be nice this weekend, so I may get the raised beds put together and leveled!! That will be one long-term project I can put to 'bed.' Hee hee, bad pun, I know.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mitten Project

Before I started thinking about dead people today, I was going to post about the sweater mitten project that I started last night and finished this morning. I bought the materials at the Salvation Army last week (a fleece pullover and a wool sweater). Material cost, $4 for both.

First, I drew an outline of my hand on a page of the Wall Street Journal. You can see that the paper is well worth the subscription price - I can use it for multiple things! I wanted the mittens to go several inches above my wrist, so that's how I traced it. However, I gave it more ease above the wrist (drew the line farther away from my body), to allow for the arm being thicker than the hand.
I placed the paper on the fleece and drew a chalk line about 1/4 to 1/2 inch away from the paper's edge. I was lazy and didn't pin the paper to the fleece. I drew and cut out four, two with the thumb to the right, and two with the thumb to the left. Then I sewed the fleece pieces together and used the fleece undermitten as the guide for cutting the sweater. This time I did pin the undermittens cutting guide to the sweater, and cut 1/2-3/4 inch away from the fleece edge on the wool.

I sewed the wool pieces together, turned them outside out, put the fleece inside - put my hand inside - and voila! An extremely warm fleece-wool mitten for those awful winter mornings when I have to scrape off the car to go to work. I may tack the fleece and wool together in a few places and clean up the wrist a little, but altogether, this project took maybe an hour at most. Extremely quick and cheap project!