Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Year and This Year

I've finished my first, full calendar year here, and boy has a lot happened!  Last winter was my first winter in this old, leaky farmhouse and I struggled to stay warm more than anything else.  I had big plans of starting a goat business (on a property with no fences and no barn structures, but hey - optimism rules!).  I wanted to put fences up, have a road and a barn/shed built, get goats, learn how to handle goats, plant a bunch of food, and so many other things!  My hopes were bigger than my ability to make it all happen in a year, but I did get a good start!  Here's a short summary of my 2009.


In March of 2009, my truck was sitting in a small lake, and I could look southward past the truck to see 10 red pines and 6 large spruces keeping the house from getting any winter sun.  In between the pines and spruces was a blackberry bramble patch and some other trees.  I wanted to get the pines taken down, and thought of building a small, tight cabin in the bramble area, so wanted the spruces down also.  I tried to start some plants from seed (peas, basil, tomatoes, rosemary).  I hung a fluorescent light fixture above a tabletop using sawhorses and turned the light on and off giving plants 14 hours of light a day.  I learned how to spin yarn with a drop spindle and then with a spinning wheel, and how to turn raw fleece from the animal into fiber that can be spun.


In April of 2009, I cleared much of the bramble, cut some of the small trees down, and discovered some dwarf cherry trees, buried in the bramble (6 dwarf cherries shown above)!  North of the house, I cleared many small trees in an attempt to give some blueberry bushes light.  I eventually realized that I should have instead been spending time preparing a place to plant all the seeds that I had started, and the asparagus roots that I had bought.  Most of the seedlings didn't make it to planting stage.

In May, I wasn't ready, but had to do something with the plantlings, so I just put them in the flowerpatch in front of the house.  I bought tomato, broccoli, thyme, oregano, basil, melon, and some other plants, and just flopped them in the flowerpatch too.  Since I hadn't done much preparation of the soil or protecting of plants, the peas died just about immediately.

In May and June I took 2 cords of cut wood out of the basement that I had put there in January thinking that's where it should go.  I was wrong.  The wood had started to mold - I spent roughly 6 weeks after work and on weekends using the ATV winch and a home-made ramp dodging raindrops to get that freakin' wood out of the basement and into the woodshed.  I started to use a chainsaw to cut wood for the coming season and found out that the hardware store had sold me a "girly" chainsaw, meant for hobby cutting, not firewood cutting.  I bought a dehydrator and learned how to make beef jerky. I started this blog at the very end of May.

In June, I had the large trees taken down and a horseshoe road built uphill from the house as access for a future barn. The below shot is after all of the trees had come down, except the last big one you see in the picture. On the woodshed I built a temporary roof (over the existing roof) to keep rain off the wood. I hired someone to stabilize the roof of the house for a few years until I can save enough money to replace it.




Over the rest of the summer, I discovered that I have pretty large areas of chives, oregano, and thyme, as well as horseradish, blackberries and raspberries (ironic, since I had bought two raspberry plants before a neighbor told me I didn't need to buy raspberries).  I discovered that in my zeal to clear, I had mowed over a large area that had irises in it.  In the flowerpatch, I had planted where there were peonies before.  I resolved to stop ruining my property before I spent some time watching it to see what was there.  I let some loggers in to clear part of the place out.  I picked blueberries - a TON of them.

My truck died in July because of a mouse problem.  It spent two months in the shop and in August I got 2 cats that are very good mousers.  I found out that one of my rescue dogs likes to eat dead mice. I learned how to dye fiber into interesting colors, and experimented with blueberries as a dye (not good).

I didn't do much in the fall, but loggers cleared about 5 acres south of the house.  One of their guys graded the bramble patch.  I made apple cider with some of my apples using someone else's mill. I built some 4ft x 12 ft raised beds. I discovered about 15 more blueberry bushes on the downhill slope west of the house (that makes three blueberry hills now!). I learned how to knit and knit my first item with yarn that I spun myself.  I prepared the house for winter. The temporary roof on the woodshed blew off in the winter's first storm.

This year has been quite a ride - and I hope the ride is just beginning!  In the picture below, and the one immediately above, one thing has not changed.  In the lower center-right is a large rock with a white post on it, and a sundial atop the post. You can use that touchstone to see how much has changed in the south yard this year (and click on the pictures to make them larger).


So here I am, at the end of the year, looking southward from the house at dormant everything.  Here's what I want to do next year, in no particular order:
-Plant 9 fruit trees in that space just past the raised beds, next to the existing dwarf cherry trees. 
-Put soil in and plant in the raised beds. 
-Rebuild the woodshed with 6 extra feet in back to store the ATV and lawn tractor.
-Build a chicken coop and get about 5 hens
-Learn how to make hard cider
-Learn how to make cheese
-Hire someone to give me structural advice - stabilize the first floor of the house
-Replace the floor, toilet, sink and piping in the first floor bathroom
-Insulate water pipes in the basement, insulate air ducts in the basement
-Go back to sleeping in the bedroom, like normal people do
-Find a better winter sleeping option, one that doesn't completely take over the living room
-Make the front entry room into a workroom, with work surfaces and maybe a sink
-Learn how to preserve food that I grow - can the moist basement be used as a root cellar?
-Learn how to prune
-Improve the condition of my apples by pruning, and doing something about the scab and curculio
-Help more blueberry bushes north and west of the house see the sun, prune some of the blueberry bushes
-Investigate more potential sources of income - herb mixes? fiber? meat? dairy?
-Build a small shed for goats
-Get 2 or 3 goats, maybe dairy to start the grand experiment?

There's 100% chance I won't get all of this done in the upcoming year.  I suspect that the majority of these items will fall this year.  I have the energy and the will, but since I have a full-time job, I don't really have the time.  We'll just have to see, won't we?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sparkly Trees

The sunrise this morning was beautiful, with the sun coming through the trees making the ice on the tree branches sparkle.  Further, it was snowing tiny little flakes that sparkled like diamonds coming down.  It was 6 degrees mid-morning - I went outside to take a picture of the light through the trees and it actually felt warm to me, after yesterday's bitter weather.  Good thing, because I went out in my slippers and sweater, just to get past the windows that dulled the shine from the tree branches.

I spent time last night picking out what apple and pear trees I want to buy.  I also spent time trying to figure out what apple trees I already have, using the St Lawrence catalog and some websites as a guide.  As usual, when trying to identify something, you have to make a guess before you can decide if it's right or not.  The challenge for me is, what to guess. I think that two of my trees that bore last year are McIntosh and Golden Delicious,  (I'm not so sure about the McIntosh now).  The third one has me stumped.  First I thought it was an Empire, then I thought Cortland, and now I'm thinking maybe Duchess.  The SLN catalog helpfully lists the apple colors, so, since I would describe the mystery apple as yellow-green with red stripes, I could dismiss any solid-colored apple.  Here's the mystery apple (the spots are from plum curculio, I learned in November). The options, leaning toward old types, are: Avenarius, Canada Baldwin, Duchess, Dudley, Early Cortland, Jenner Sweet, Northern Spy, St Lawrence, Striped Harvey, White Astrachan.  Oh well.  I may never know - unless there's an expert person or website I can send some pictures to.  It's only important because I'm curious, and I want to choose varieties for cider, keeping and canning that are different from what I have already.

Back to the tree-picking, woman!  Anyway - here's what I want to get.

Apple trees: 1 Norland, 1 Freedom and 1 Jordan Russet (couldn't resist)
Pear trees: 1 Hudar and 1 Jubilee
Apricot trees (from a different catalog): 1 Sungold, 1 Moongold
Peach trees: 2 trees, not sure what just yet

For those readers that have or have put in apple trees - what kinds do you have?

Lookit What I Got for Christmas!

It's hard to read, but the left one says, "Jordan's Berry Book."  It's a compilation of berry recipes, for all the types of berries I have here (blueberry, cherry, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry).  The right one says, "Drying Fruits and Vegetables."  It's a printout of a U Idaho publication. AND, the thing on top of the right book is a cherry pitter from Santa!  I did get some nice roving to spin, and a book about fiber as well.  My family is not about spending huge amounts of money for Christmas, and I'm pretty happy with that.

Today is my birthday. I've started the day right by oversleeping an hour, making tea and opening a few presents.  I'll work from home a bit today, until the temperature here gets up to about 10 and I don't feel so bad about leaving the dogs outside, and then I'll head down to mountain to the real world.  I think I'll buy myself a birthday present on the way home from work today - don't laugh - nice bathroom rugs to replace the junky ones I've got now.  (Although if it wasn't my birthday, I'd manufacture some other excuse to buy these rugs.)  And some of the junky rugs can move to the car!

It's not great to have a birthday between Christmas and New Years.  Yes, birthday presents often end up disappearing into Christmas presents.  And on more than one occasion I've had some drinky-poos with friends on my birthday and then had no desire to drink anything on New Years Eve.  Terrible, I know,  (smiling). 

I've been invited to something down the hill tomorrow night, but haven't decided yet whether to go.  A few days ago they were warning about a big storm tomorrow, but I think that's moderated now.  I've been putting off composing my big post about this past year and my goals for next year - I've got one more day to put those thoughts together!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guess What Time It Is

Maybe I'm a bit early for this, but I've already begun thinking about what to plant.

I think I want the orchard to have 3 apple trees (focused on cider, keeping and eating), 2 pear trees, 2 apricot trees and 2 peach trees.  From reading the St Lawrence Nurseries catalog, I see that they don't use dwarf rootstock, meaning I'll have to allocate 20-30 feet per tree.  Meaning I have to go out and measure the space I've set aside for the orchard to make sure I could actually fit all those trees in, and then learn to prune to keep the tree sizes semi-manageable. For the first year, I'll probably buy maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the trees, so if I screw up while learning how to plant trees, I haven't lost a huge investment.

I'm still thinking about what to plant in the three raised beds.  It's a bunch more space than I had last year and I really wouldn't count last year as a year I did any planting or taking care of plants.  What I did is plant boughten plants into the flowerbeds and then basically neglected them. I got an ear of corn from 6 plants, two tomatoes from 6 plants, a single head of broccoli from six plants and a TON of cucumbers from one plant.  I'd call this year my second try at beginning planting! 

I want to get the seed decisions out of the way early so I can figure out what to do with the dirt that the logger has, unfortunately, not provided yet and maybe build a cold frame.  Today I'm working (can't you tell?) from home because I can't bear to leave the dogs outside in this zero-degree weather with HUGE winds blowing up the hill.  Honestly, last night I thought the wind was going to blow the house down!  Didn't sleep well at all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Blogs I Read

One of the benefits of slowing down a little is that I can do a little of what I'm calling "blog strolling."  Normally I read my list of blogs through Bloglines, which lets you see content a blogger has put up without actually clicking through the blog.  (Is this heresy?  I know Blogger has a mechanism for this too, but I find the Bloglines way more convenient.)  When I have extra time, I'll click into a blog and start exploring the links they've posted.  Before I know it, I'm several jump-steps away from where I started.  Or sometimes I'll click into someone's profile and they happen to write a blog and I'll investigate it.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I discovered a few new blogs and added them to the link list on the right, and just in the last week, I discovered a few more.  I'm trying to stay away from posting every single blog I read on the right (my Bloglines list probably has over 50 blogs! Goat blogs, fiber blogs, homesteading blogs, farming blogs, funny blogs, well-written blogs, Adirondacks blogs.  If there was a way for me to post a link to my Bloglines list, I'd do it).  I'm still evolving in my thinking about what to post on the right-hand side of my blog, but in general, I want to post links to sites where I learn from and that represent a variety of topics.  I mean, learn how to do the things that I'm trying to do.  (However, that means I should really remove a few links to homesteading blogs that are just amusing to read.  You can see I'm not practicing what I preach!)  That means in the spring when I build the chicken coop, a chicken-based blog may enter the fray.

Anyway again, one of the links I've just added is to a blog called Our Engineered Garden, where an engineer (yay) is doing square foot gardening in Alabama.  The posts look sufficiently geeky and engineering-y to make my heart warm!  The other one is a blog called A Growing Tradition, by someone in Massachusetts who just this year moved to 1/2 acre and started trying to do the same thing that I'm trying to do (or close).  He's got some really nice links to articles, videos and websites.

Anyway again, again.  Enjoy the reading!  Not like you were looking for an excuse to read more blogs, were you?

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

I'm home.  I took the redeye flight back last night (overnight, leaving at 10 pm, arriving in Newark at 6 am).  Normally this is a flight that I dread, but several things happened to make this flight pleasant.  First, when I checked in, they were able to put me on an earlier flight from Newark to Albany, getting me home about 4 hours earlier than I expected.  Then, security was empty.  Empty.  I walked right up to the metal detector and, yes, I had to do everything but undress for the metal detector.  But it's so much worse when you have to do the same thing after waiting in line for 10 minutes.

Then, my first flight left early.  You read that right.  Early.  And the second flight left a bit late, but arrived on time.  So here I am at home, working on getting the woodstove warm enough to warm up the house.  I'm still getting text messages from Orbitz on the status of my original flight from Newark, and it's currently delayed 2 hours (hasn't left yet).

I expected security to be insane because of the recent attempted bombing on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, but it was normal.  On the eastern end, they're doing random searches of cars entering the airport and they may be doing other "extra" things inside the airport that I'm, thankfully, unaware of.

The road was dry down in Albany, but when I hit about 1000 feet altitude, I got to this.  Unplowed roads with about 4 inches of new snow, falling fast.  Good thing I have a big, heavy truck and the big, heavy truck has 4-wheel drive!

If I have to be driving on snowy roads, the part I enjoy is when I am the first one to disturb the snow.  Here I am, in front of my house, looking back at the only track in the road.  Mine.  Right after I took this picture I discovered something else.  Under all this pretty snow is a thick layer of ice.

What I don't like about taking the redeye flight is that I'm never able to sleep on the plane and last night was no exception.  I feel like I've pulled an all-nighter.  I used to hate doing that in college.  Sleep is just about my favorite thing to do.  So, as soon as I can get the woodstove stable and running on it's own, I'm going to do exactly that.

It was the perfect vacation.  I was happy to arrive and happy to leave.  There was plenty of time with family and not much rushing around.  I had enough time out of my normal life to be able to see it with some perspective.  And, it's not bad.  I'm relatively happy with the way things are, but can see a few changes I want to make with the new year.  (Shh - they're NOT resolutions! They're NOT!!)  Mostly around eating better, more local food, some of it extemely local (as in, from the 'stead).  I'm going to write a post later this week about this past year and the next year, where I'll talk about that stuff some more.

Right now, I've got some sleeping to do!

Oh, and no, nobody came over and did my dishes or took anything.  Do you think maybe I should post a sign on the house, "I'm not home - can you please come in and do the dishes?"  No?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Duck - You Are So, So Out of Luck

A song my 4-year-old niece and her 7-year-old sister taught me yesterday.  It continues, "Up above the world so high, like a Beaver in the sky..."  I'm not sure it's correct and there may be more to it, but this is what the kids taught me and I'm staying with it.

Now you know which side they're on, in the Oregon rivalry between the Oregon State Beavers and the University of Oregon Ducks.  Vewy important!

I only have one other thought today, and it's a true engineering thought.  I can't get it out of my head since we saw the Grinch a few days ago.  You know all of those fantastical machines in the Dr Seuss stories?  Are there any groups of people making those or selling those?  Any college contests where two teams of students have to make a (whatever machine in some Dr Seuss story) and do a race or something?  It just seems like too good of a concept.  I did a brief search, but didn't find anything, and hopefully now that I've written the question down, I can forget it.  It's not worth the time to do any more research, unless I were a true geek.  And I'm not.  Really.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Not Raining

I can't get over the moss on the trees, and how nice it is today (over 40 degrees).  Here's a shot of my mother's back yard with the obligatory window reflections in the lower left.

Years ago I came here for a week over Christmas and it rained The. Entire.  Week.  Nonstop.  It was so traumatic that I avoid this time of year on the west coast if at all possible.  Thank you, El Nino.

I'll be back home soon and notably it's about the same temperature at home as it is here.  Even more notably, within 24 hours of my arrival, the temperature is scheduled to plummet to 10 degrees, exactly where it was when I left.

It's been a very nice time away, but I'm beginning to miss my furry family terribly.  Work, which I must do next week, I do not miss.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Child's Sense of Wonder

It's a beautiful thing to see.

The Littlest Gingerbread House

This reminds me of my house.  All crooked and ugly and surrounded with snow.  It's like the little crooked tree in the Charlie Brown television show that I remember from childhood.  The tree is crooked and ugly and nobody wants it until Charlie Brown comes along to give it a home and love it.

It's been a nice family Christmas filled with fiber, both spun and un-spun.  I brought two neckwarmers that I knit (the first one you've seen and a repeat), hoping to give them away.  My sister has been knitting for years, her house is filled with expertly knit items and her family is to-the-gills with knitting.  They were unimpressed and I will return with the same two I came out with.  It was like giving ice to eskimos.  The mark of a good salesman is to be able to sell ice to eskimos.  Me, I couldn't even give ice to eskimos.

Hope Christmas finds you and yours happy and well!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Rainforest Christmas

I am a few hours south of Portland, Oregon, looking out the window at moss-covered trees.  I'm always amazed at how much moss grows here, over everything, if it stands still long enough.  This part of the Pacific Northwest, from southern Alaska down to northern California is classified as a temperate rainforest, because it rains so much, and (duh) the temperature is so moderate.  So, here I am, wishing you a Merry Christmas from the rainforest!  It's in the 40s here and because of El Nino, not raining for a change.

I'm beginning to relax into the routine here.  No carrying wood.  No letting dogs out.  No letting dogs back in.  No filling the woodstove and filling it some more, trying to maintain temperature.  No 10-degree wind whistling around the house.  It's peaceful, and very easy.  Yesterday I decorated cookies with my nieces, 4 and 7, and today we will decorate gingerbread houses. The letters to Santa are written, the cookies for Santa have been chosen.

I remember a few years ago, when the girls were younger and still figuring out what Christmas means.  The eldest niece would open a present, begin to play with it, and then look at us like we were weirdos when we told her it was time to open the next present.  She hadn't had time to properly enjoy the current present!  We were the ones pushing her into consuming, more, more, more!  As much as we try not to be consumerist, it's a tough behavior to un-learn.

This blog is about 7 months old now.  I really enjoy writing it and I'm thrilled to have a few people that enjoy reading it and participating in the discussion, by commenting or emailing.  My life is richer for knowing you folks and I look forward to the next year of learning to homestead.  Hopefully next year will bring a few goats!  Merry Christmas to all!  May Santa bring you exactly what you were hoping for!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traveling Music

I've traveled a lot over the years. Traveling doesn't have the stress for me that it has for many people.  Strike that.  I love traveling.

I've traveled in the airplane sense.  I've had several jobs where I traveled over 50% of the time (one week out of two away, or half of every week). One of those jobs was working for an engineering consulting firm out of Cleveland.  That was a fun job.  I sometimes wish I was still there. The other 50% travel job was working for the corporate HQ of a diversified industrial firm.  I had to go to many of their plants all over the world.  One job was 90% travel, leave on Sunday and come back home on Friday 9 weeks out of 10, teaching Lean Six Sigma classes.  One job was ALL travel - I lived out of suitcases.  Literally.  Air travel was so much more enjoyable years ago than it is now.  But with the right attitude it can be semi-OK.

I've traveled in the driving sense.  I've been to all continental 48 states of the 50 states.  I got 44 of them naturally through work and living, but I had to make a special trip to see Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota.  I loved Idaho and Montana and have been back to both states since.  I would live in western Montana if I thought I could support myself.  It's beautiful and I like the people.  Same for Idaho.

I've driven across the country three times.  The first time was with a friend, driving from LA to Cleveland in 3 days.  We stopped and had a beer in every state.  Fun, until you have to have a beer at 9 am in Wyoming.  In Arizona in mid-afternoon, our only two choices were a trailer park or the local dive bar.  Got to meet the locals.  Fun. The second two times were by myself, from Washington DC to Oregon, and then from Oregon to upstate NY.  I took 3 weeks going west and stopped in Sedona, AZ, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, beautiful Utah, and then up to hot springs in Idaho and west to Oregon.  I took 8 days coming back east.  My car doesn't have cruise control, so 500 miles a day was about my limit.  I sometimes daydream about being a long-haul truck driver. I think I'd enjoy it.

And I've traveled in the moving sense.  I have lived in: New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington DC, Oregon, and now New York again.  Also, The Netherlands, Jordan, Singapore, Egypt, and Oman for shorter periods of time.

This post has been quite a bit more wordy than I intended, but tough!  It's my blog and I'll write what I want.

I've had an MP3 player for somewhere between 5 and 8 years, and over the years I've collected a playlist of traveling songs that I pull out and play at top volume with the windows rolled down whenever I start on a trip.  It's called, appropriately, Traveling Songs. Without further ado, here are my Traveling Songs.  All of them.

The Kingston Trio, A Rollin' Stone
Bob Seger, Roll Me Away
Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee
Suzanne Vega, Calypso
Cowboy Junkies, First Recollection
Nanci Griffith, Going Back to Georgia
Dixie Chicks, Cowboy Take Me Away
Nanci Griffith, The Flyer
Nanci Griffith, Southbound Train
Joni Mitchell, The Refuge of the Roads
Lyle Lovett, The Road to Ensenada
Melissa Etheridge, Baby You Can Sleep While I Drive
Marti Jones, Follow You All Over the World
REM, Don't Go Back to Rockville
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
Rod Stewart, Mandolin Wind
Bonnie Raitt, The Song About the Midway
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Southern Cross
Cyndi Lauper, I Drove All Night
Little Feat, Voices on the Wind
Little Feat, Willin'
Stevie Winwood, Dust
Old Crow Medicine Show, Wagon Wheel
Martin Sexton, Freedom of the Road

Anybody know of other traveling songs that I'm missing?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Me and Knitting, Sittin' in a Tree - K-I-S-S-I-N-G

First comes love.  Then comes marriage. Then comes a sweater in a baby carriage!  (Remember that verse, except with actual kids' names?)
Knitting, I think you and me are in for a long and fruitful relationship!  Here we are at the Newark airport with you keeping me company during the layover that was supposed to be 5 hours, but ended up being only 3 hours because the flight from Albany was 2 hours late.  I looked really smart for scheduling such a long layover when most of the people on the plane missed their connections. Some had to spend the night in Newark.  Then the flight west was also very late, but you and me together made the time go quickly, with our friend MP3 player.  I can see the benefits of having a book on MP3.  Here's the zen I was missing with spinning.  I have to expend some mental energy to keep track of what stitch and what row I'm on, so not enough mental room for worry or stress.  It works!  You can see that there's still some city girl in this emergent homesteader.  How?  I'm making my second project, the below hooded scarf in fuzzy charcoal grey, a variant of black.  Totally a city color.

I wasn't paying attention and broke an unwritten blogging rule in the last few days.  Don't let people know you're not going to be home.  For those 3 of you that know where I live and could actually get there.  If you go to my house to steal anything, can you finish washing the dishes?  Thanks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

All Set and Ready to Go

I've got my reading material ready (staying caught up on WSJs means other things fall through the cracks - like all my magazines).  And I'm not even staying caught up on

I'm all packed, wood's brought in, cats are fed for the week, litter's clean, everything's ready and waiting for it to be time to drop off the dogs.  I'm in waiting mode now, but soon it will be time to start rushing, then waiting, then rushing, then waiting and eventually I'll get to Oregon, late tonight.

I will be online this week, posting and all that other stuff.  I'm beginning to think about what I accomplished this year and what I want to do next year and those thoughts will work themselves into a post or few.

Enjoy the day all!  Talk to you soon from Oregon, where it will probably be ... raining.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solstice Soon

One day away from the winter solstice, the sun sets as far south as it will set.  In a day it will start moving northward again and days get longer.  The temperature will take a month to change direction.  It is still getting colder.

Those bumps are part of a small mountain range, the Helderbergs, south of Albany.  The highest peak is about 1000 feet, 800 feet shorter than me (boy, I'm tall!) and about 30 miles away.  Twenty years ago this view west from the house was clear of trees, and hopefully a year from now it will be mostly clear again.

I took the car out for some exercise and drove to a yarn store in Altamont, just past these peaks.  I'm working my way up to an analysis of prices and costs for fiber-y things.  Amazing how much knitters pay for yarn.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Today's Yarn

Today was all spinning, spinning, spinning, with a few loads of laundry thrown in.  It was a frigid 15 degrees outside, so we all arranged ourselves near the woodstove and worked the long day away.  (Yes, those are mattresses in the front room.  I'm taking advantage of this perfectly good woodstove I've got, and am sleeping near it for the winter. I have no problem sacrificing convention for comfort!) I had two Netflix movies I wanted to watch, forgetting that they're foreign films, meaning I'd have to watch the captions - NOT compatible with spinning where I have to watch the yarn.  Hm.

So I watched (listened to) several episodes of Good Neighbors, a 1970's british sitcom about a suburban London couple that decides to leave the rat race and become self-sufficient, on their suburban lot.  Great series!  I read about it from Mama Pea several months ago, and I'm SO glad!

I can't get over how cute the cats are.  They're brothers, rescued from a humane society in August and I love how well they get along with each other. Pancho, the one on the right gets along well with both dogs too.  Especially Maggie, my younger dog.

After approximately 10 hours of spinning and plying, I got the below 202 yards of green yarn.  When I added the felting yarn to make the color look the way I wanted, it changed the texture, and it's not soft any more.  The felting yarn is Merino lambswool (should be plenty soft), so I suspect it's remnants of the natural dyes they used which rendered it rough.  I calculated how much more yarn I'll get if I finish spinning the batts I made earlier this week, and it's not enough to make the heelhead scarf.  I'll have 362 yards, and the scarf requires 450-600 yards.  That's a little heartbreaking.  I thought I had enough raw wool prepared, but I was wrong. I have one more full day here before I leave for Oregon, and finishing this yarn is not the best use of the time, if I can't use it for that project.  Of course, now that I've gotten attached to doing that project, I sense some trips to local yarn stores in my near future.  Hopefully they're open on Sundays.

I have an ulterior motive in doing all this craft stuff.  I want to figure out if there's a way I can start a business renting goats out to eat weeds and quit my day job one of these days.  I expect that I'll need a winter source of income, so am learning and trying things out now, before I get the goats, to see if any of these crafts has moneymaking potential.  I just learned to spin about 9 months ago. Today's yarn is the 4th batch I've made.   So far, I'm not feeling the zen in spinning, and with how much labor this has taken, I don't think it will pay enough.  It was a valuable exercise though.  Now - what to do with 202 yards of rough, green merino/romney yarn and 3.6 ounces of prepared fleece, ready to spin.. ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Wool Project

I'd like to take a project with me when I travel to Oregon next week, for something to do in airports, but also something to do with my hands while sitting at my family's house.  I really do find it difficult to do nothing!  (An aside: I'd be surprised if there  weren't one or two broken things waiting for me to fix. Yup, I'm the family fix-it person!) 

Here's the project I want to make (Ravelry Heelhead Scarf by Carissa Browning).  This week has been an entire project-before-the-project to get enough of the right color wool carded before I can spin it into the yarn, before I can even think of knitting it into this project.

I want to make it with the same wool (thinner yarn though) that I made this neckwarmer with.  Except - I only had 3 ounces of this fleece left after making the neckwarmer yarn.
I love the color variegations of this green, so I tried to extend the remaining 3 or so ounces by carding in some of my other wool.  I carded in some orange, some pink, some green.  Except the greens I have are more turquoise.  The effect has been to make the whole thing lighter, which I do not want.  Plus, after hours spent carefully carding in different colors, I had only carded in one more ounce.  I had 4-1/2 ounces now - not enough to make much.  Must. Get. More. Dark green. Wool.

Hm.  I know!  I'll dye some of my light Romney that I got at Rhinebeck.  Except that I don't have dark green dye.  But I DO have blue and yellow and orange dye!  So Monday night I dyed 4 ounces in a mixture of blue/yellow/orange.  And got ... dark turquoise (on the left below), virtually the same color I already have.  So Tuesday night I overdyed 3 ounces of that in a yellow pot and got an interesting green (on the right below).  Lighter than I want, but oh well.  The wound up wool is part of what I have after carding in all those other colors, before adding in any of the stuff I just dyed.

Then I took all the dyed and overdyed wool and mixed it in with the previous wool to get this "interesting" mixture ready for carding.  I don't think it's going to be attractive.  It needs more blue and dark green.
I bought a few ounces of dark green and blue from the felting peeps (you can see them below), carded them in (also below), and will start spinning it tonight.  I need to get 450 - 600 yards for the hooded scarf.  I'm beginning to think I would have been alot better off, colorwise, if I had just bought some yarn instead of trying to make it!  I  know I gotta try and fail a bunch of times and that's part of the learning process, but who's going to wear a hooded scarf that's the color of baby poop, or throwup?

Later note: Interesting things happened when I started spinning the above wool.  The single looks like this - - really good!  This is the first ounce of it.  I've got 6 more chunks to go.  Then plying two singles together into a double.  This is my weekend project, right here.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tractor Supply - I Looove You!

You sell so many useful things!

Here's my haul from today's lunchtime trip.  A tow rope, an oil lamp and a heated water bowl for my furry little cabbages.

(That is one of the few things I remember from 7th grade french. "Mon petit chou," or "my little cabbage" used as a term of endearment.  Here's an explanation of the term:

Now I can be a good mommy and give my babies water that doesn't freeze while I'm gone.  It almost balances out the fact that I'm a bad mommy for leaving them outside in  9-degree weather.  They do like the wool blanket I brought them though.  I suspect they snuggle on the wool blanket on the porch loveseat and keep each other warm, even though I can't catch them at it.  Every time I come home they're in the yard waiting for me because they heard me coming up the hill, (or Maggie heard me and Desmond followed her out - Desmond is hard of hearing). 

How Much Wood Could a ... Oh You Know

It was 4 degrees outside and 68 degrees inside this morning, thanks to the inside storm windows and the plastic outside on the windward side of the house.  I can't get over the fact that something I did made so much of a difference from last year!

Now I'm at the next phase of learning - I'm learning about wood.  Specifically, how using wood in the stove is a little symphony.  Sometimes you want fast-burning wood to heat up the stove.  Sometimes you want slow-burning wood to keep the fire burning low all night or all day while I'm gone.  Sometimes you want tinder to get the fire started and sometimes medium-sized wood to get it bigger.  Mama Pea wrote a blog posting about a year ago on this very issue!  Most of it went totally over my head at the time.  This is one of those things where you have to know a little before you can understand enough to learn more!

This picture shows the three sizes of wood that I have.  What I don't have are separate stacks for fast-burning or slow-burning wood.  I'm not using the medium-sized wood as fast as I thought I would, since I'm using birch wood to get the fire hot instead of smaller wood.

I am going through wood a little faster than I expected.  Good thing I have an extra cord sitting outside, and I know how to use the chainsaw if all else fails.  No worries about that cold day in February or March when I run out of wood in the woodshed.  This year I had about 2 cords in the woodshed in October.  Depending on how long that lasts, I'll know how much more wood to cut for next year.  Year upon year, building up the knowledge and experience to get good at this homesteading thing!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How the Purse Was Made

Unfortunately I only took one picture of the purse in progress... and here it is:

I made the purse inside out, around this piece of plastic, called a resist.  The wool sticks out and I wrap it around the edges so it can felt with the wool on the other side, making the whole thing a pouch.  After three layers of wool are laid down on each side of this plastic, the design layer closest to the plastic, then the outside color, then the inside color last, the whole thing is felted a bit with hot soapy water. Then a slit is cut near the top to pull the plastic out, and a half-moon is cut out of the top part, leaving the handle as an integral part of the purse.  Then lots of felting takes place, involving a tremendous amount of physical labor.  (If I ever take a rug-making class, the physical labor involved is so great that the labor-saving step is to tie it to the back of one's car and drive around.)

I have no idea if this is a common, well-known way to felt, since I knew exactly nothing about felting before Saturday morning.  Now I know nothing plus 24 hours worth!

Here's the finished purse.  Notice the handle was the top edge of what you saw in the previous picture.  There are two half-moon pieces, one is under my keys and the other is still attached to the purse, as the flap.  The piece under my keys is folded over and shows the inside color of the purse - red.  The outside colors are blue and aubergine, which unfortunately look like purple and red in this picture.  The wool in the red basket is my next project, which I'll write about shortly.  (Remember what "shortly" means??)
It turned out completely differently than I imagined it would, which I've been told is one of the charms of this type of work.  It looks better in real life than this picture - I'll try to remember to take a picture of it in natural light one of these days.  Sparky likes it already!

More Felting - Purses

I'm taking the day off work today to take another felting workshop.  Today's lesson is how to make a purse.  I missed the seminar last week (had to work), so asked them to re-do it this week.  I missed hats, vessels and will miss scarves later this week, but I've been assured that there will be more workshops later in the year.  The good news is that she is willing to give a workshop if one just calls and asks for one.

Here are some purses from last week's class.

Here's a link to the studio: 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sometimes the Drive is Quite Enjoyable

Like a few weeks ago, when sunrise coincided perfectly with my drive past some farms.  The earliest rays are hitting the first sign, but haven't gotten to the second sign yet.

Let's look a little closer at the second sign...

This pastoral scene is about 5 miles from my place, before I get to any major roads.  At night, I can see the lights of the Hudson Valley, Albany and Troy twinkling brightly ahead of me, 1200 feet down and about 20 miles away.  Just beautiful.  I'm so lucky.

Leonard Cohen

If I got the cats now, I'd name them Leonard Cohen.  One would be Leonard and the other one would be Cohen, I'm not picky on which would be which.  I know Townes Van Zandt (who wrote Pancho and Lefty, the song from which the cats get their names) has been extremely influential, but for me personally, Mr Cohen has had a far greater influence.

I started paying attention to music with types like Springsteen, Bowie and early Everything But the Girl.  Moved through the Cowboy Junkies, Holly Cole, John Hiatt, Aztec Camera, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat and others to hit upon good ole Leonard when I lived in South Carolina.  I think many of my favorite artists name Cohen as a major influence.  There's a tribute CD called Tower of Song, where multiple artists sing Cohen songs that I listened to non-stop for months on my 45-minute commute from Camden to work at Sumter and back.  Lest you think I'm all sad music and stuff, I've also been through the Weakerthans, the Shins, the Killers, Faithless, Jane's Addiction, Rilo Kiley, Magneta Lane, and even more hellacious bands. 

Cohen's quite the lyricist. His songs are the ones that grow and change with the listening.  Years later, I hear different things than I heard when I listened to them before.

I have so many favorites - just now I've spent too much time looking at lyrics trying to decide which to post, so gotta just put something up. Here's a few lines from a song called, "Hallelujah,"  for the rest, you'll have to look it up, or listen to Leonard Cohen sing it.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Monday, December 14, 2009

Felt Vests

Here's the end product from last weekend's workshop.  They're still dripping wet in this picture.

The 2nd half of last week and all of last weekend had me rushing from one thing to the next, until finally I crashed to earth last night after the choir concert.  I'm not sore yet, but I will be, and I wouldn't be surprised if I get a cold.  It's not often that the various parts of my life come so close together, but yesterday I forgot the proper shoes for the choir concert.  What did I wear?  The same shoes I wore to felting, which are the same shoes I wear walking in the mud at the 'stead.  Good thing I'm tall, which means I stand in the back row.  All the shiny-shoed people were in front of me.

It's time to slow down and take care of myself for a bit.  I got on the scale this morning after months of ignoring it and find that things are a little out of control.  In October I said I needed to focus outwardly to make friends and a support system and I've been doing that.  But what happens then, is that I spend less time planning meals, making food, being mindful of what I eat, and more time driving places and being social.  I did what I said I would do - I tried many different things and met a lot of people.  Now it's time to choose the one or two things where I really feel that I fit, that nurture me and focus on those, but add taking care of myself into the balance, which means that some of the things I've tried in the last few months will have to fall away.  It's all part of the process of making a full life in a new place, proceeding exactly the way it should.

One more week to the darkest day of the year and then we start to get more light.  This time next week I'll be dropping the dogs off for boarding and be on my way to visit relatives in Oregon for a week.  I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Log Skidder Gone

Sun rising this morning, you can see the yellow ball (like a big, bald head - know the song reference?).  They moved the log skidder back up the hill on Friday and plowed out the turnaround. 

I put gas in the truck on Thursday afternoon, 18 gallons of it.  Then I drove out somewhere Thursday night, to work Friday, did some grocery shopping at lunchtime Friday, and had 150 miles on the tank by the time I got home Friday night, 25 hours after I filled the tank on Thursday.  Ugh.  One more commute to work and home and I'll have to fill the tank again, 18-20 more gallons.

So I used the bathroom rug trick to get the car out of it's winter parking place and drove the car this weekend to felting class.  Worked OK, except we got snow and mixed rain this afternoon.  About 2 inches of snow and rain on top of it.  Got home just fine, but couldn't get the car back into place without a fair amount of back and forth in the driving rain, and the bathroom rug again.  Yuk.

Remember last week I said that the woodshed would be fine as long as it didn't rain?  I did all that work last summer putting that temporary roof up to avoid exactly the situation that's going to happen (or is happening now, as I write) because the roof blew off last week in the first storm of the season.  A frozen lake of ice on the floor of the woodshed and a big, fat pain in the rear to get wood.  Or maybe a big, fat pain when I slip and fall on the ice.  Next year, this will all be a big, fat memory as there will be a big, fat new woodshed and roof.

And oh yeah - no meteor shower here!  It will probably be wonderful, if I could see through clouds and rain.  I guess it'll be next year on that one, too.  Hope some of you got a chance to see it!

I Had No Idea Felting Was so Hard

One of the ladies here came to an earlier workshop where she learned how to make a rug.  She says that it was incredibly hard, all that thwacking and rolling and whatever else she did to shrink it.  After the end of that day, she says, she was so tired, she went back to her hotel room and didn't even have the energy to get dinner.  Gasp, too tired to have dinner???  But I have a choir concert tonight!

You may not be able to tell from those mysterious hairy mats on the table what they are, but we're making vests.  The purse workshop was yesterday and the vessel workshop was earlier in the week.  Oh brother, those things are gorgeous! Two people came from so far away that they're staying in a nearby inn.  One came from Mississippi.  There's a scarf workshop later this week (you can see those pretty things hanging near the wall, they're so Amelia Bedelia, which is my code for flowers, lots of flowers).  There are two workshops that have noone signed up.  Maybe I'll sign up and learn how to make a purse instead of whatever was scheduled.

In a short, unrelated aside, but since I'm thinking of Amelia Bedelia...when I got married in 1991, I didn't organize the same dress for the women.  I asked all the important women to wear dresses that had flowers on them.  That was the theme.  I remember that look from my childhood and attach it to Amelia Bedelia, but I just googled her, and I'm not seeing all the flowers I remember.  Childhood memories - sometimes they have little resemblance to actuality!  (Maybe it was wallpaper?  In any case, it would have been 35-40 years ago, and Amelia's style may have changed since then.)

I do want to learn how to make a felt rug.  Lookit this one, obviously in use. I have a childhood memory of a very pretty one, although since we've just established that my memory may or may not have basis in reality, this too may be imaginary!
Anyway - today is more felting (what we're doing today is the fulling part) and then I have to rush straight to the choir concert (must remember to bring appropriate attire with me).  I suspect I'll be exhausted tonight, just like that other lady.  But it should be a good exhaustion, from using my body and being creative.  No complaints about that!

Don't forget - meteor shower tonight.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some Quotes

I'm on my way to being late for felting class, but here are some quotes I've been thinking about lately.

Marilyn Monroe:
"I'm selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I'm out of control and a little hard to handle, but if you can't handle me at my worst, you sure the hell don't deserve me at my best."

(The below, if anything, is what got me through last winter.)
"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

(The song is in heavy rotation these days, so I've had opportunity to listen to it a few times lately.  Aw, hell - I'll just put the whole thing in.  Amazing it got past the PC police.  It's funny!  I like the last phrase the best - You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce)

Lyrics to You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch:

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a bad banana
With a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders,
You've got garlic in your soul.
Mr. Grinch.

I wouldn't touch you, with a
thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile.
Mr. Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you
I'd take the seasick crockodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks
Your soul is full of gunk.
Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you,
are, and I quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch.
You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato splot
With moldy purple spots,
Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an apalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable
rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch.
With a nauseaus super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey
And you drive a crooked horse.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool
With arsenic sauce.

Copyright © 1957, Dr. Seuss.
Gotta go!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Geminid Meteor Shower Sunday Night/Monday Morning

One item I was thinking about on the way in, and forgot to mention in the last entry....

Look it up.

Winter-y Update

Brief updates on several things...

It was 9 degrees this morning outside and 65 degrees inside, in the warm part of the house.  I think we can conclusively say that last year's temperature problem has been fixed. Oh frabjous day...

The anemometer is whirring merrily away, but not transmitting data any more.  The battery is probably dead, and a tremendous pain to replace.  You can see it in the below picture at the rear of the shed.  I miss being able to see the numbers showing how fast the wind is going, but not too much, since those numbers were wrong anyway.  It's like the wind just disappeared!!

I'm taking a felting workshop this weekend, learning how to make felt vests. As much as I don't want to give away my entire weekend, I'm looking forward to learning how to felt. Other classes at this studio are on how to make hats, bags, table runners. I love that I'm off in the woods, but there are artsy people close enough around here!

The choir christmas concert is this weekend too. Dress rehearsal is tonight and the concert is on Sunday.  I enjoy singing, but will be happy to have Sunday evenings back again. I'm not planning on singing in the spring concert.  It's important to me to be able to spend at least one uninterrupted day at home every week, if I want to.

It'll be a busy weekend, but busy in a nice way!

Say goodbye to Mr Schenectady.  Over the weeks I began to view time spent with him (and driving, so much driving) as time I couldn't do other things I wanted to do.  I took that as a signal that dating him wasn't where my heart is at.  It wasn't a surprise for him.  It didn't last all that long, but it was exactly the right thing at the right time for me. Just what I needed.

All of the roof pieces I put on in June came off the woodshed roof.  You can see the wretched roof in this picture.  It's actually not a problem ... if it doesn't rain.  Rebuilding the entire woodshed is one of next year's projects anyway.  The wood for the job is already at the 'stead.

And last, but not least - I have to buy something to keep the dogs' water from freezing on the porch.  Right now, I'm knocking the ice out every morning and refilling with fresh water.  It's frozen again when I come home.  They're outside now, dog beds on the enclosed porch in this 20-degree weather.   I just bought them a wool blanket from the Army surplus store to supplement the Salvation Army hot pink polyester sleeping bag that neither of them like.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

4WD Season Begins

Exactly as I expected, the town snowplow avoided the log skidder, and as a result, also my driveway.  If the skidder weren't there, the plow would have made a nice big turnaround which would have cleaned off about half of my driveway.  Last year, this helped tremendously and I managed to make it through the entire season without a snow blower or plow.  I still don't have either of those things - was hoping to make it through this season the same way as last season. 

Here's the start of the troublesome dropoff that means people without 4WD won't make it to my house in the winter.  It's about 1/4 mile long.  Today I drove the 3/4 mile to my mailbox in 4WD and then 2WD the rest of the way (on dry roads).  I do the same on the way home - change to 4WD at the mailbox, and then 4-wheel it up the hill home.  When the weather and the roads get more consistently bad, I'll use 4WD for the 6 miles to and from the nearest highway.  Twice last year, I was so nervous, I drove all the way to work in 4WD.  Once last year, after an evening of fun in Albany, I wasn't paying enough attention on the way up the hill and ended up in a snowdrift.  Had to have a neighbor with a bigger truck pull me out.

Only one person has said they didn't need 4-wheel drive to get here, but that was the plumber and he has a heavy van full of plumbing equipment.  The folks that installed the invisible fence last winter would call before they came up to ask what condition the road was in, so they could choose which car to bring.

I don't like driving the truck if I don't have to.  It gets 10 miles to the gallon, 1/3 the mpg that the car does.  The daily 50-mile commute to work and home will use up 5 gallons of gas.  At $2.78 a gallon, that's $13.90 just to drive to work and back.  I'm happy to spend the money though, when the alternative is not being able to get to and from my house at all!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Do I Care How Much it May Storm

(And no, the next line of this song is not applicable here...)

Being able to work from home is wonderful!  When the storm forecasts got worse and worse, I knew I was going to be working from home today.  It's a great opportunity to see how well the house holds up under it's first real test of the season.  The results of the test?  Mixed.

In the front room near the stove it's great!  Toasty warm, no real breezes to speak of.  The outside temperature has been rising from 22 when I got up to 29 now, but inside it's a toasty 67 where the temp gage is, on the DR table.  I'm happy every minute I feel the warmth on my face.

But outside, projects are popping up left and right.  Some I can fix and some I can't.  The first set of projects are the doors.  Three of them.

I love my dog Desmond, but he won't use the dog door that's right next to the front door.  So, just for him, I've been propping the woodshed door open. (The door immediately to the left of the front door.) There's another entrance to the woodshed from the porch so Desmond can walk throught the woodshed when I want to keep the front door closed.  Except now, the wind is blowing the woodshed door back and forth and it's only a matter of time before it blows apart.  I need to put a dog door in the woodshed door. 

The door to the left of the woodshed door is the door to the shed.  That won't stay closed either.  Which is amusing because last winter, it wouldn't open.  I'll need to put a better latch on this door.

The last door project is the inside front door, where Maggie has destroyed all the gasketing between the door and the jamb.  Wind is blowing through the front door now, and since I only have a curtain separating the cold part of the house from the warm side of the house, the wind is blowing the curtain inside the hallway, making a pretty big gap for cold air to get into the warm part of the house.  I'll need to replace that gasketing, and do something about that curtain, I don't know what yet.

That's all the stuff I can do something about relatively quickly - after the storm.

What I can't really fix, is this.

This white thing is a piece of plastic I had put on the woodshed roof at the end of June along with 2 other pieces.  I knew it was temporary, but was hoping it would last longer than not even through the first storm.

Here's the view from the top so you can see that it's the middle piece that's missing.  You can also see that the 2x4 I had holding the plastic down is no longer serving its purpose.  I don't know how much longer the other 2 pieces are going to last up there, but it won't be long.  Like I don't think they'll last the day.

What you don't see up here is the two 2x8s that I had resting across the gap (so I could shimmy across).  They blew off.  I know where they landed and am thankful they didn't destroy anything on the way down! I guess the wind has got some serious power!  Of course I have no idea how fast the wind is actually blowing - my anemometer is saying 11-13 mph.  I'm certain the wind is moving faster than that.  This anemometer has been really useful - not.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I am So Happy Suzanne McMinn Can't Keep Her Stove Lit Either

Here's the link to her blog where you can read about her fire issues:

I mean this in the most constructive of ways!  I felt like an idiot last year when I struggled to keep the stove lit.  Remember that I was trying to housetrain Maggie too, so had her attached to me on a 6 foot leash ALL the time I was home, even sleeping.  I would come home from work, take the dogs out, light the fire, then start thinking about dinner.  But think about dinner is all I could do.  Because if I stepped away from the stove for even 5 minutes, the fire would go out.  Then I'd scream, cry or both and re-light the fire.  I had to re-light the fire a lot, because the dogs and I didn't have a schedule yet (I got them at the beginning of November last year).  And because Maggie wasn't housetrained - if she even looked a little funny, it was outside for all of us, like 10 times an evening.  I was attached to the stove (and Maggie) for hours, until the fire got warm enough to self-sustain.  Usually, that was around bed time.  And then the fire would go out overnight.

I never had the energy or time to go through that routine in the mornings, so mornings were just cold.  (Actually mornings weren't all that cold.  I kept the thermostat at 60 degrees, but still went through an entire tank of oil a month for three months.  Expensive! Then I lowered it to 50 degrees.)  I'd come home from work every evening, prepared to do battle with the stove and the dogs thinking, "it can't be this hard! This isn't the way normal people do it!"  But I didn't know how normal people DID do it, so I continued to struggle.

FINALLY, at the end of January a friend came over and showed me how to use all the levers on the woodstove, and helped me hang contractors plastic to close off 2/3 of the house.  It was like day vs night!  It got a little warmer inside (I could never get it warmer than 58), but I stopped using oil like it was rushing out the bottom of the tank.  From February through October, I only used 1/4 tank of oil, because now I could keep the fire lit 24 x 7, and I was only trying to heat part of the house.

Anyway - that's all a distant memory now.  I read Suzanne McMinn's blog about her struggles keeping the fire lit and constant re-lighting of her fire, and I can smile now.  I'm only a year ahead of her on that, but she does so many things well that I can't help but realize - what I was going through was exactly what normal people do!

Here's a shot I took last year shortly after I got the dogs, of them playing under trees that aren't there anymore.  With the exception of the apple tree at the far left, all those tall trees are gone now (meaning the winter sun can actually warm the house).  I started a fire on Thursday that's still going strong.  Cindy put it well in a comment this morning - I'm not playing defense any more!