Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not Wordless Wednesday

I can't do it, I've got too much to say.  I didn't even try too hard to be wordless today.  Maybe tomorrow I can be silent.

I love looking at how these little plants are growing.  Closest is broccoli rabe, then broccoli and leeks.  In the farther pan are peppers, which haven't shown yet even though it's been almost a week since I planted them.  I'm a little worried about the rabe because many of these guys are floppy, and you can see a little fuzzy mold in the peat pot of the second one from the right.  Someone told me to stop watering them, and I have.  Really.  I don't know what the floppiness is, but I don't think it's good.

This could be a problem....  I came home from work yesterday and the peppers on the right were moved.  Cats are curious creatures.  In fact, the peeps I bought this stand from sold it because their cats had messed up everything they were trying to grow.

And lastly, I'll leave you with a shot of 5 yards of topsoil, two black dogs, a lake and some dirty snow.
See what I mean?  There's too much going on today!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kitchen Project

Here's what my kitchen looked like before I moved in and messed it all up.

I got rid of the dishwasher and 30-year old microwave before I moved in, and got rid of the leaking, 30-year old refrigerator shortly after I moved in .  Sears doesn't sell any fridges that small any more, so I got the smallest one they sell, but still had to rip out the cabinets above and to the right of the fridge in order to get it in.  The stove is so scary that I haven't used the oven in a year and a half (actually the water heater guy says it's unusable anway).  That will be replaced soon.

Everything else works.  Sort of.  The sink has two P traps that are just resting next to each other, and it blocks up pretty regularly, and too much water at one time pushes the traps apart and ... everything gets wet.

But other than that, everything works.  Even though I cleaned the cabinets, the mousies still get in and poop, so I don't use the cabinets for anything that I use.  Even if I did want to use the cabinets, the door holes are small, so stuff doesn't really fit.  I took the doors off so the cats could get at the mousies, and now there's muslin held up with velcro over the cabinet door holes over mostly empty cabinets that I think are just gross.

But other than that, everything's fine. Actually there's nothing left after you take out the fridge, stove, and cabinets.  Oh, the countertop.  That's fine.  Yeah, it inclines down toward the back, so liquid runs toward the wall.  But it's really fine.

(By the way - I'm not complaining.  You don' t get a house and 25 acres for what I paid without some serious problems somewhere.  I knew it was going to be fairly bad, and was prepared to have to do work.  I wrote a blog post a while back talking about how I found this house online while I was bottom feeding the real estate listings.  And by now you know that I love a project!)

What I'd really like is to have just big open spaces under there that I can cover up with curtains.  Since the kitchen is more or less usable, I've been putting it off.  Replacing the cabinets and countertops are a want, not a need.

Until I saw this:
I walked into this guy's kitchen and immediately realized I was going to have to take pictures.  This is what I want.  And even better - he made these out of plywood from Home Depot.  This is something I could actually do and not spend a mint to get a kitchen I like.

So I've been going back and forth.  Should I do this project this spring, this fall, or put it off until next year?  Yesterday I was forth.  This morning I was back, and now I'm forth again.  I've replaced a kitchen before.  Actually twice.  I mean ... two kitchens.  In different houses.  The only part I haven't done is build the cabinet things.  And this project should be easier than those other ones - I'm going to leave the floor intact.  The white tile is pretty solid and doesn't look bad at all.

Now that I'm back to being forth, I'm deciding what I want the countertop to be.  One thought is butcher block, like the picture above.  The other thought is this:

boomerang laminate!

with chrome edges, like this!
I love that stuff!  But I haven't got any prices yet - it may change.  In fact - the whole project may change - or not happen at all.  This is one of those decisions that don't have to be made on any timeframe.  I'm pretty on the fence, and it's possible I may go back to being back (which for those of you not keeping track of my back and forth means not doing it).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Evening Walk

I came home from work Monday, fed everyone and then went outside to bring some wood in.  It started to rain and I started to wander.  On past the raised beds, the orchard area, along the path to upper blueberry hill.  Then past it and on to the back 20.  I checked out the clear cut (maybe 5-6 acres)

and then wandered on back around to upper blueberry hill.  All the bushes in this picture with reddish branches are blueberry bushes.  Some as high as 10 feet, some waist high, and some only ankle high.  There is an apple tree in the left-center of the picture.  The moss is soft and spongy.
I saw some big scat.  Each pellet was maybe 3/4 inch long.  You can see my finger for scale.
This stone wall is immediately north of upper blueberry hill, going east-west.
The blueberry bushes are beginning to bud.
Turning towards home I can see the house and the path along another stone wall.
A third stone wall  separating the wildness from the orchard area and the last patches of snow.
And a fourth marking the return into the south yard and home.  Jon Katz has been writing about and taking pictures of stone walls, which makes me notice them more today, think a bit about the people that made them and what clearing the rocks off parts of this land did for them.

The only sound on this walk is the soft rain (and Maggie frantically barking for me).  I used to be a little terrified of this wild, and I can't say that I'm friends with it yet.  But I am not uncomfortable any more.  I never did bring any wood in.  But that's OK.  This time.


I was finally successful in making butter! I took 1/2 gallon of heavy cream bought at the grocery store, heated it up to 86 degrees F and added a bit of mesophilic culture.  I let it percolate for about 3 hours, then churned it.

It took maybe 10 minutes to turn into butter.  I'm sure it's because I chanted Mama Pea's song!  I poured out the milky stuff - maybe 3-1/2-ish cups.

I rinsed the butter a few times in the churn, and then put it into a bowl and added salt.  Mama Pea said 1 tablespoon per pound - I added 1 tablespoon for all I had, almost 2 pounds, and that was plenty.
Then I worked the butter.  It started out sounding squishy before I pressed out the remainder of the milk, and then started feeling solid, which is when I stopped.  I wrapped it into 4 ounce chunks and froze most of it.

I wanted to taste the buttery goodness of it, so I made pancakes for dinner using the buttermilk as the liquid, and slathered the yellow stuff on top.  Yum.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Kingdom For a Thimble!

I'm currently employing one of my favorite tactics to fix something... do something else and hope it fixes itself.  Since I don't expect that will work, I'll tell you what it is near the end of this post.

The weather has been cold this weekend, so I've been trying to finish inside projects preparing for next weekend when I'll start some outside projects.  I'm going to have 5 yards of dirt delivered during the week - the weather will be great next weekend, and I'll have the perfect chance to fill the raised beds.  I'm looking forward to it already.  Really.

But first, finishing inside projects.  I finished recovering the two brown pillows you see here, which were originally Salvation Army pillows whose covers disintegrated on me.  I made the two backing pillows for the porch loveseat.  As promised a few weeks ago, I used red embroidery thread to pull in the two sides of the three loveseat pillows, and started to do the final closure by hand sewing (they're held closed with safety pins now).  Ouch!  My fingers aren't tough enough to push the needle through multiple layers of canvas and other material.  Wouldnt'ja know, after taking apart my whole sewing box and giving it a spring cleaning - I don't have a thimble!  Finishing this project is just going to have to wait until I get a thimble. But I did put the sewing machine away!

Then I installed the innards of a $9.72 fluorescent light fixture from Lowe's into the second old metal thing, and now I have two working grow lights.  I put the tools away like any neat person would, and took a picture to prove that it looks better now than the other day.

I started to wash the butter churn to get ready for another try at making butter and ... realized that the kitchen sink is stopped up.  I tried Drano.  I tried my little drain cleaner snake thingy.  Neither worked.  I think I'm going to have to get down there, disassemble some things and try the real peoples' snake.  It's gonna be dirty and not-fun.  Which is why I'm sitting here writing a blog post and hoping it fixes itself!

I have a project planned for April/May timeframe, to replace the kitchen sink, counter, stove, cabinets and shelves, pretty much everything except the floor.  I'll get a chance to get back to the walls, fill mouse holes and put up some insulation, as well as make storage areas that are actually usable.  I expect to be without a functioning kitchen sink then, for up to a few weeks.  Looks like I can practice living without a sink early!  If I don't get the drain cleaned out, that is.

Edit:  Wishin' and hopin' worked!  The sink is usable without snaking - for now.

Cats Don't Respect Boundaries

No wonder Desmond doesn't think much of Pancho.

It's been so long since I've had young cats that I had forgotten how destructive they are.  Just being cats.  They like knocking things off surfaces, so nothing on a table here is safe.  They don't have much work to do now that they've gotten all the mice, so they play with Maggie a bunch.  It's sweet to see how well they all get along. Pancho follows Maggie everywhere and Maggie will lick and nibble on Pancho.  Sparky is still very kitten-ish while Desmond is just ... old.

The spring and summer are beginning to fill up.  Two weeks from now is a pruning workshop in New Paltz with this fellow: Lee Reich.  He's written a few books, including one on pruning.  May has two weekends away, one for a camping trip and one for goat school in Maine (I think I may postpone going to goat school until fall). Then June sees the visit of a good friend from Colorado and a longer visit by my mother, who will come in the 2nd week of June and stay for a month. 

Last year's long visit by my mother was very nice.  I enjoyed having company, and having two people around made everything easier.  Things were cleaner, I didn't have to cook every. single. meal. and it was nice to come home from work to someone to talk to.  Plus, mom gave me a valuable second set of eyes (and opinion) on several decisions I was making, and she took charge on a few things that hadn't reached my radar.  AND, she plants things!  She's got loads more experience than I in the plant-y world and will be able to show me what to do when putting these babies in the ground.  The 'stead feels much more civilized than last year and I'm looking forward to showing it off!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Food Revolution

I don't watch television much.  A few days a week, I'll watch the local news to get the weather scoop.  I watch NCIS on Tuesday evenings and the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks on PBS on Friday evenings, and that's it.  I really can't stand how loud the commercials are compared to the actual show, and find myself turning the sound down, down, down.  Many nights a week, the TV never gets turned on.  It's pretty cool how much more gets done in the evenings when the TV isn't on.  Last night however, was a TV on night.  I saw an advertisement for a show I just HAD to watch on ABC - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

From the Time Magazine article on the show:
In Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Oliver — who did a similar show in the U.K. — goes to Huntington, W.Va. (pop. 49,000), where, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half the adults are obese. He finds a town hooked on processed food, a school cafeteria serving pizza for breakfast and kids who can't identify a tomato on sight. His goals: get the kids to eat right young, and set up a community kitchen to teach healthy cooking from scratch.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Biggest Vice

Well one of them anyway, after smoking, drinking, using bad words and ending sentences with prepositions.  It's not putting things away.  (Just kidding.  I don't really use bad words...or smoke.)

Here you see the seed starting shelves I bought off craigslist a few months ago for $50.  I just took the innards from the thin, shiny cheap Home Depot light fixture leaning up on the right, and put them into the nice, big, wide white fixture hanging up.  The other big fixture is behind the thin, shiny one.  I don't have any more Home Depot cheapies, but I know where to get one!  Home Depot.  $20.

Everything interchanged pretty easily, except I had to drill 3 holes in the white metal to attach the ballast.  That's some strong stuff!  None of my drill bits would do more than scratch it, so I had to use the masonry bit.  I'll bet that's a big no-no, like using pinking shears to cut cardboard, or using a chisel as a screwdriver.  Shh! - I won't tell if you don't tell.

I was so freakin' proud that it actually worked that I stacked up the tools on the lower tray and decided to call it a night.  That's why my house looks like a freakin' mess!  If the project isn't done done, I'll leave everything out.  I'm going to get to the other light in the next few weeks, so the tools can stay here.  The sewing machine is on the dining room table because that will ensure I don't forget to finish some pillows I started 2 weeks ago.  Etc, etc, etc.  I think I'm being efficient, but then I'm surprised when my place looks like there's 24 projects going on at once!

Oh well.  Enough of the beating up.  I'm going to pat myself on the back for a job well done and then relax.  If I had half a brain I'd relax Friday evening and part of Saturday, too. I doubt I'll be able to do that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Young Farmer Ninjas

This is Severine von Tscharner Fleming, the person leading the organization that put on the weekend hoggett event.

And here's an article about it. (picture from the article)

And here's the quote from that article that brought tears to my eyes:

Q. Are the new young farmers you know thinking about the macro or micro? Do they want to feed the country, feed themselves, or is it both?

A. Think globally, farm locally. Dominated as our food system has become by the mega-consolidation of poultry, beef, dairy, and hogs, the government has got to crack the monopoly. Our role is to replace that monopoly with a mosaic of small and medium-sized farms and food businesses. That means more new processing plants, cheese makers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, more locally owned grocery stores, more entrepreneurship at all levels, and more protagonism within those businesses.

It took Monsanto 20 years to consolidate their hold on our seed supply, and it'll probably take us 20 years to shake that monkey, but that is only half a professional lifetime for my generation.

Here's another one:

Q. What's the connection between farming and empowerment?

A. Jefferson knew. Washington knew. The new agrarian movement knows.

Farmers make sugar from sunshine. Farmers work at the interface of the wildness in our landscape. Farmers are the foundation of our economy. Farmers are fiercely independent, self-reliant, and accountable to their relationship with place. Farmers are good at identifying bullshit.

As with so many things, I don't quite fit in this movement.  I put myself on their map, but had difficulty because I'm not planning on growing a product, and the questionnaire is very "what do you grow" oriented.  Oh well - not quite fitting in is nothing new for me!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the New

I was gonna write a post about the two hunks of Gouda cheese I made over the last two days and call it, "Life is Gouda," but I have something more urgent to write about and besides, the second hunk of Gouda is pressing overnight.  I'll write the Gouda post when I have a picture of it/them.  It will be good-a.

What was so urgent, you ask?  You know how you're in the homestretch of the evening, winding down into bedtime and ... you notice the fluorescent grow lights flickering ... again.  Like they have for the past two days.  Replacing a tube didn't fix it.  So you wander over to take a look, get the screwdriver to take it apart and see what's inside.  You realize that this nice old fixture has innards that can be taken out and replaced with innards from a new fixture.  And then it turns into a project....

Below is the ballast, cloth-covered wires, and socket ends of the old fixture.  Above is the ballast and wires from the new fixture.  It was pretty easy to take apart the two fixtures and all I'll have to do is drill a few holes, reuse the mounting hardware and ta-dah.  The old fixture is nice and wide, covering the whole tray.  The new fixture is chintzy, cheap and narrow.  The stuff is surprisingly interchangeable. After I put the new innards into the old fixture, they'll let me keep my engineers card.   (Maybe they'll let me blow the whistle! - an old joke.  When we talked about my being an engineer, my high school friends used to ask me if they'd let me blow the whistle.  (think trains) Ah the memories.)

But what idiot starts a project like this right before bedtime??  I was looking forward to going to bed early tonight, but I guess I blew that one away when I got carried away with light fixtures.  Blah!  I had to force myself to stop - I'm a sorry person when I don't get enough sleep.  The baby plants are going to have to fend for themselves with natural light for one day until I can finish the project tomorrow.


Snow is Back

So here's my list of complaints.  Remarkably, I'm still in a good mood because none of this is actually bad. They all fit under the heading, "Annoyance."

  • It's mud season!  The driveway's so muddy that I haven't been able to put a car on it for the last week.  It rained a lot in the last few days, so the lake has gotten bigger and is now draining over the driveway into the other side of the yard.  The wood that the loggers brought last fall is floating!
  • I've had internet problems for the last month or so.  I'm not sure what part of the system isn't working (antenna, USB modem, router, laptop), but it works intermittently and consumes a bunch of time restarting stuff when it isn't working.  I've upgraded the driver sets and the firmware of the USB modem.  I just reset the router and had to edit the network on both laptops since I changed some small thing from last time.  It's working now, fingers crossed.
  • Yesterday morning after I had just gotten to work and was getting ready to take a shower, the water heater peeps called and said they were on their way to my house.  So, 45 minutes back home I drove.  They replaced the water heater, but almost 24 hours later, I still don't have hot water.  They are coming back out today - so I have to be at home for the third day in a row.
  • I'm down to burning either punky or wet wood in the wood stove.   It's almost a waste of time to burn it at all. It takes forever, and doesn't even heat up the stove to 400 so I can start running it through the catalyst and actually heat up the house.
  • I was not able to interest anyone in going with me to the local farmers' dinner at the brewpub, so I'll have to go by myself.  I've eaten alone at restaurants all over the world, so I know that one doesn't actually die from eating alone at a restaurant. It's just not my favorite thing to do.
On the flip side -  I love that my job allows me to work from home in these instances.  I save 1-1/2 hours of commute time, which is big, and I can work in my grungies.  And there are worse things than being able to stay at home and work! I can get lots of small tasks done, including laundry - when I have hot water, that is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

I had to leave work early yesterday to be home when the water heater guy arrived.  So I thought, what a perfect time to multitask, work from home and churn butter while thinking hard about numbers (or something).
So I churned and I thought and I churned and churned and thought and thought, for a really long time, like an hour.  All the liquid in the container did is get foamy and double in volume.  So I put down the churn and looked online for "what happens if the cream doesn't turn into butter".  As far as I can tell, according to the internet, that doesn't happen.  It always turns into butter.  I couldn't find a single thing on ways that you can screw up making butter.

I let it rest in the refrigerator for a few hours and tried again later last night.  Still nothing buttery in that foamy fluid.

So now I have 1/2+ gallon of creamy stuff that I have no idea what to do with.  I don't know what I did wrong, or what it is, exactly.  Can I pretend nothing happened, put it back in with the milk I took it from and make cheese with it all together?  Feed it to the chickens, the dogs? eat it? ... what??

This is so frustrating.  With most stuff I've tried, I get a reasonable facsimile of what I was looking for, and I see that I can tweak this or that to get closer to what I want.  This is a total failure. I have 2 more gallons of milk, but I hesitate to take the cream off and try again because I don't know what I did wrong.

Hmph.  This is a good example of one of the skills that was lost in the ages of time that I wish our ancestors would have not lost.  Here we are, a raft of people trying to learn all over again things that "we" (the universal we) used to know.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Hot Water Until Wednesday

The mechanical contractor came over to look at the hot water heater and recommended that it be turned off.  And then he did it.  But he can't put the new one in until Wednesday.  (sad face)  The new HWH will be electric, not propane, so there won't be any heartburn because it wasn't vented. (happy face for the safer situation)  Plus, right now, electricity is cheaper than propane. Now I feel like I'm camping in my own house!  I've already put together the travel bag so I can take a shower off-campus.  And to think that I was jones-ing over a few tens of dollars just the other day...

In better news, here's the status of my seedlings, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and leeks.  The leeks have done nothing so far, not a thing.  My handy-dandy book of telling me what to plant says that I should plant pepper this week.  And so I will.  I'm good at following directions!  It's just beginning to occur to me that I may need to transplant these into something bigger before they go into the ground in the week of April 26th.  Uh oh.  I got nothing.  Time to run around and get supplies again!  But first I have to read some gardening blogs to find out what I should get.  I'm such a beginner!
I didn't get a chance to churn butter last night.  So that's on the list, as well as making cheese with the skim milk leftover from skimming the cream off.  I'm feeling so homebody-ish, or maybe it's camper-body-ish.  This house feels so incomplete without hot water...

Signs of Spring

No denying that spring is springing!

I took this same picture of the snowdrops next week last year, on March 28.  Last year I didn't know what they were when I took the picture.  I spent so much of last year trying to identify plants - and asking for help from blog readers for ones I just couldn't get!

Daffodils! (That one is easy. I remember them from last year.)

Rhubarb. Me and mom planted this last June. (At least I think it's the rhubarb.  That's where we put it.)


It "only" got to 60 degrees on the mountain, about 20 degrees above normal.  It will go back to normal temperatures later this week with rain and possibly snow.

It was such a welcome break from the unrelenting cold and clouds, I just can't express.  I got a sunburn from being outside (duh, like they happen any other way) moving dirt, moving rocks, pruning the golden delicious apple tree.  I did real work this weekend!  It feels good to be sore today!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Short Note

To say thanks to Mama Pea for getting me up off my butt, out of my head and cracking out there!  I was on the way or there already when I saw the other comments.  A big THANKS to you folks for calling me out on this one.  I don't yet have close enough friends locally to run this by earlier.  You know, the ones you talk to every day or most every day, so this stream of consciousness decision-making discussion could have come out earlier.  I wish it had and I would have gone yesterday.  It was a good time, although there were only about 15 people there today.  They're nice folks.  Noticeably younger than me, though I'm probably the only person that noticed (and I'm not that old!).

In other news - I figured out what the black smoky stuff is from.  The key is that when I came downstairs from the shower this morning it was there.  There was nothing running, no wood stove, no gas stove, no oil heater, no furnace.  It is the water heater, which runs on propane, and has black, streaky marks on it.  Either this is a load of dirty propane - is that even possible? - or the burners are clogged and need to be cleaned - can one even do that? - or the whole darn thing needs to be replaced.  At least I know who to call for this one, which is a big step forward over last year.

Hope you all had a nice weekend!
Well, I didn't get a spigot jar.  I got a 2-gallon glass jar instead, thinking it would be more useful overall.  It's full of milk/cream now and I'll do the separation and start culturing this morning.  I was hoping to avoid making the butter on Sunday night or Monday morning, but that's what I get for taking a 24-hour pause to get something.

I haven't gone to the hogget thing yet, either.  I'll tell you the story and you can let me know that I'm looking at this all wrong. 

When Jenna posted on her blog about a hoggett cook off put on by The Greenhorns, I got really excited.  After all, that's what I am.  A greenhorn.  I would LOVE to meet other new farmer folks.  I followed the link she posted that said it was on Saturday.  Then another source said it was on Sunday.  So I emailed the contact and asked for more information - like, maybe a schedule of events.  That's when I found out about the price and my issues started.  The event is both days, and it costs $45 - $200, sliding scale.  (Now, sliding scale things drive me a little nuts. I can't handle pay-what-you-like things.  Really.  It drives me nuts.) As an *employed* engineer, I should pay the top end of that range.  But I gotta tell you - that's not going to happen.  $200 is two whole electric fence netting sections, not a few hours at a farm.

I went back and forth several times.  I can't help but feel that real beginning farmers don't pay that much for stuff like this, and there may not be many of them there.  It must have been a fundraiser for something - The Greenhorns, a nonprofit group.  Not a group that one joins, mind you.  I decided not to go.  Then, I felt that these may be the people that I hope will pay me someday. So I decided to go.  Then I emailed Jenna and found out how much she was planning on paying. She's in the middle of buying a house, but was going to pay more than I would pay.  So I decided to go again, and pay more than I'd like.  Then I looked at the schedule, and found only one thing I really wanted to see, besides dinner. Plus, Jenna's getting a fair amount of PR off this event.  So I decided not to go again.

It's an understatement to say that I've over-thought this.  I'd really prefer to go to something like a potluck, or a farm tour, where I don't have to pay someone a huge amount of money that I had slotted for a goat shed. But I feel guilty about not wanting to pay.  Sometime I'm going to have a farm business and expect other people to pay more than they want to for my service.  So now I feel annoyed and guilty.  It's wreaked havoc with my peace of mind this weekend, and I hate that.  But I would feel crappy as well, if I had paid the dough and not met any other beginning farmers, or farmers at all for that matter. What I'd love to find now, is someone who'd let me work at their farm some weekends in exchange for teaching me how to milk a goat.  Call me an idiot, but I don't think those are the kind of people who I'd find.

So tell me - am I being selfish and petty and I should have gone and gladly paid up?  Or do my concerns make sense?  There's still another day - if I'm wrong, I can still go and donate.  It's OK to tell me I'm wrong - I won't get defensive.

I felt so guilty about this that I've found another thing I'll do instead (or in addition).  On Thursday evening Browns, a local brewhouse is having a fixed-price dinner where only local food is served.  I'll post the info after I make my reservation, if they even take reservations, because I'd love to have company if there are any readers in the Albany area that are interested.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spigot Jar

I'm aware that with every new project comes a set of new "things" that need to be bought in order to get the project done.  That's how I come to have so many saws (but never the exact type of saw that I need!).  I think one of the markers of proficiency in a topic is when you can start a project and don't have to buy any new equipment.  That's me with sewing, and simple home repairs.  I have a well-used crowbar and whammer - what else is there?  Joking. Kind of.

I got the butter churn a few weeks ago, but haven't tried it yet because I need raw milk, and haven't taken the time to go and get some.  Well, yesterday was the day.  I left work at one (double grr for things that make me stay at work an hour longer than planned and have me leaving work in a foul mood).  I drove a different, and much longer way home from work, taking a chance that the self-serve refrigerator at the dairy would still have milk in the afternoon.  And they did!  So I got 4 gallons, brought it home and only then did I start to do online research on how to skim the cream from the top.

It looks like there are 3 ways.  The first is to pour it off while the milk is in the original gallon jug.  The second is to pour the milk into a wide-mouth glass container and use a spoon to take the cream from the top.  The third way, from Food Renegade, is to use a spigot jar to drain the skim milk from the bottom.  I do not have the equipment for ways 2 or 3, but don't expect 1 to really work.

Hm.  I'm going to go off the mountain this weekend (to the hoggett cookoff Jenna mentioned in her blog, coldantlerfarm), so I guess I'll make a stop at Target and see which option for which they sell the equipment.  This is a perfect example of a skill that, at least to my knowledge, has been lost in the dust of ages.

Speaking of dust, I'm going to change subjects now.  There's a mystery here at the house that has me stumped.  For the last month or so, I've got very fine black stuff making it look a little foggy in the house now in the morning, when the sun shines directly in the east windows.  This dust settles on the white refrigerator, highlighting fingerprints, settles on spiderwebs making them look dark, and lots of other places.  I have no idea where it's coming from, but here are my ideas.  Somehow the enclosed oil heater isn't enclosed any more, and these are oil particles?  The most recent load of propane is somehow dirtier, or burns dirtier, and this is soot? It's something from burning wood that isn't dry?  I've eliminated the third one because I haven't been using the woodstove for the last few days, and this stuff is still in the air.  It's just weird.  Of course, if the inside storm windows weren't on, even windows-closed, there would be a breeze moving this stuff around and out.  If it stops when I turn the oil heater off, I'll know it was that.

I still plan on making cultured butter this weekend, if I find the right equipment to skim the cream from the milk.  It should be an adventure!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Snow, Snow Go Away

I've still got snow in every direction, and it's going away at it's own, glacial (ha ha) pace.

Looking south, the snow is still 6 inches deep in places.  The notable thing here, besides the empty raised beds waiting for dirt, is that the snow is gone where the wind blows strong.  It's good information to know as I decide where to put the goat shed and the chicken coop.  Out of the strong windy places.
Looking east, just past the truck is a snow mountain range and an ice lake.  I'm going to buy dirt for the raised beds and expect they'll drop the dirt where the truck is now.  I'm impatient to get the dirt into the raised beds - and plant peas!  But I need to wait until I don't have to haul dirt over a frozen wasteland.  I suppose I could always go around the house the other way... hm.
It's interesting that north is the least-snow direction.  It's hard to tell, but this area is very rocky.  The kind of rocks that don't look very high, but make it impossible to mow this area neatly.  I think I'm going to build some raised beds on top of rocks and grow herbs in this area.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Should Just Give Up On Wordless Wednesdays and Call It Wordless Thursdays

A Myriad of Pageloads

Sometime in the last day, this blog passed 10,000 pageloads.  In olden days the word "myriad" referred to 10,000, so now there have been a myriad of pageloads! 

I remember when, in mid-2008 my friend Linda suggested I start a blog, I pooh-poohed the idea thinking I didn't have anything to say.  Then Mama Pea suggested it last spring and off I went.  Now I can't shut up.  I have so many things to say that sometimes two posts a day can't contain it all.  I really enjoy writing it - thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Honestly - I Didn't Know

When I wrote a post the other day about wanting to learn the nurturing ways of women, I didn't know that the New York Times had recently, as in less than a week ago, written an article called The Femivore's Dilemma (femivore????..that's terrible! I hate that term!) and several blogs have picked up on it.

My sister sent me a link to an article at Food Renegade called Backyard Farming is a Feminist Act, talking about the article, women and homesteading.
Here's a quote:
Ms. Orenstein goes on to show how the things that drove women into the workforce in the first place — a desire for self-sufficiency, a sense of autonomy, and a quest for personal fulfillment — are the very things that are driving this new movement towards urban and suburban homesteading

This from one of the comments on Food Renegade:
It seems that in an attempt to "empower" women to equality in the workplace (a good thing!!), the importance of taking care of the home and nourishing the family was sidelined.

That's the same feeling I was trying to express.

Another blog I read, Miss Effie's Diary, talks about the same NYT article.

She says, after confessing how the outdoor homesteading lifestyle affected her emotional outlook:
As the article says......... this is not a panacea for every woman. But it is a lifestyle that gave me a life worth living and I hope I can share that with others.

Who woulda thunk that my weak homesteading efforts and getting chickens was this much a part of a trend? I certainly didn't, but maybe the breeze that's blowing us into our backyards is so strong that legions are moved to care for chickens, and plant.   I do occasionally get the sense that my feelings mirror those of a larger and larger group of people, and it makes me feel good.  Less alone. 

The regular homesteading headlines in the Wall Street Journal don't lie.  Now, if only some of those legions of folks were going to be around on the weekend when I get 5 yards of topsoil and try to move it into the raised beds....

Another Ten Dollar Chair

From the Salvation Army.

I love shopping and completely believe in retail therapy.  These days I do my shopping at the Salvation Army on my lunch hour, once every few weeks or so.  It limits the time and money I can spend, but I still get the enjoyment of the hunt.

I like this chair.  It's comfortable and adds to the jumble of styles and colors at the 'stead, making the overall style of the place completely my own.  It was priced at $20, but marked down to $10.  Even at the Salvation Army I'm waiting for things to go on sale!

I also notice that the hammock is patiently waiting for me to take it out.  It's supposed to be nice all week and I'm considering taking Friday afternoon off, just to get a little longer weekend.  Hopefully I'll get the hammock out and spend some quality time contemplating the sky.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Blinked

This 10x12 shed was offered on craigslist on Sunday for $75.  I was the first person to contact the owner and make an appointment to see it.  I lined up my peeps who can move a shed for me (the logger dudes).  By now, every Tom, Dick and Harry in the area was sniffing around.  Cheap sheds are very much in demand around here.  But then ... ... I got cold feet about the thing, and let it go.  The excuse is that it's a little too big for the dudes to get on their flatbed.  I'll go with that one.

Logger dude has a 4 x 8 one that he'll give me for free, so I may turn out OK yet.  It's the shed he used when he got his first sheep.  Good omen - huh.  He told me about a livestock meet at a local fairgrounds in April, the idea being that I'll get my first goats there.  I'm eager, but nervous.  I have plans to go away for two weekends in May, and I don't have any animal care backups in place.  I know.  It's a weak excuse.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I run a shipshape establishment.  Them that sits still gets waxed and them that breaks, gets boiled in oil.  OK, water.  I don't care if it's the chickens' fault ya broke.  It's hot water for the lot of ya.

Why I'm an Engineer

Here's the spoiler: it was the guidance counselor.

When I was a senior in high school I wanted to be an astronomer.  Or a poet.  Or, or, or.  I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I looked through college catalogs, but didn't seriously consider college-hunting because my mother worked in the library at a perfectly good one in Cleveland (think free tuition). 

Early in the spring of my high school senior year, a guidance counselor called me in to his office to let me know about a scholarship for minority engineers offered by TRW, an industrial conglomerate with factories in town.  Those were the days when a white girl qualified as a "minority," in engineering.  I applied for the thing and got it!  Never mind that I had absolutely no idea what an engineer was.

The scholarship was $1,000 a year, but more importantly it was an engineering job every summer for 4 years while I was in college.  I don't think I was even 18 years old when I walked into the TRW factory shortly after I graduated from high school.  I worked in the Industrial Engineering department and surprisingly, they gave me real work.  They took the time to explain concepts, calculations, and show me things.  I learned how to measure parts with gages, how to determine if a capital investment had been a good decision, how to talk to machine operators, how to make an area layout.  It was amazing, and as I said, I wasn't even 18.  I also learned that I like Industrial Engineering.  No kidding.  With an introduction like that, how could I not!

So, I didn't choose engineering as much as slide sideways into it.  I worked in that factory for 4 summers while I got a degree in Industrial Engineering.  I worked there for 2 more years, and then had my first moments of doubt.  It was 1989.  I wanted to work outside.  I wanted to make a difference in the world.  I wanted to save the environment.  So I went back to school (a cheaper school this time, since I was paying) and got a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering (for saving the environment).  I stayed at the TRW factory for 2 more years while I was in school, but worked in the chemistry lab.  Hours like 4am to 8am plus a full courseload and another part-time job and a husband that worked 2nd shift, but that's another story called The Things I Did to Make It Work.

Since then I've done a lot of cool engineering work all over the world.  I've had several more moments of doubt with the same wants.  I want to work outside, save the environment, make a difference in the world.  Now, as you folks know, I've never been closer.  But now my doubts are deeper.  Maybe my sister got it right.  She got a high-power degree too, in international business and German (sorry if I got it wrong-sis!) and worked all over the world as well.  She married her Mr Right and now she's a mom, doing some part-time work from home but mostly raising 2 daughters and managing the domestic front.

I understand that you can't have it all.  When I chose to frolic through careers, companies, states, and the world, I gave up the option of having a family, being stable, domestic.  But now I desperately wish I was a ... housewife.  There's a deep vein of something there that I'm just beginning to see.  Me and a whole raft of forty-something women who've worked incredibly hard to forge new boundaries and get respect in the corporate world, turn around and look at ourselves.  Incredibly accomplished but alone. Good at working in the world of men, but unskilled in the ancient, nurturing, supporting ways of women.

It's a bit of a new thought for me, and I haven't thought it all the way through.  I may not ever get to the other side of this one. Where's the guidance counselor now?

The picture above is of my yard yesterday.  Last weekend's rain took much of the snow away, but there's still places where it's a foot deep.  It's supposed to be a wonderful week after today, so this same picture taken a week from now will be completely different.  I hope.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gotta Stop

I've been sewing for 12 of the last 18 hours (with a few hours off for sleep) and I can't stand it any more.  I haven't finished, but I have to do something different for a while.

Here's what I started with.  Two torn up cushions that must be 50 years old.
First, I made a bag from an old sheet and moved the foam into the bag.  I added some new foam because I thought that the old foam would be really compressed with age.  It was.  It isn't compressed any more though!
Then I made the piping.  One does this by cutting out thin strips of diagonal material, wrapping it around the cord and sewing it together with the needle really close to the cord, enclosing the cord in fabric.  I made my strips too narrow (and then tried to use them anyway instead of just cutting more like I should have).  So there were many places where, as you can see below, the fabric came loose.  I spent boucoup hours last night and this morning repairing places like that - instead of just cutting wider strips like I should have.

I cut out the cushion top and bottom and attached piping to each.  Then I cut out the side piece and sewed the top and bottom to it, ending up with a big pillowcase.  Below you can see the beginning pieces, the bag filling, and the cushion cover.  Then I put the foamy bag into the new cover.
And gave it the sit test.
As I said - I'm not done.  I need to redistribute the foam a bit and then pull the top down to the bottom in several places, to make the pillow flatter and keep the foam in place.  But I'm done for this weekend on this project.  I can't stand to look at it right now.

Plus - I have another "project" I want to work on this afternoon.  Starting seeds!

I'm a little annoyed with myself.  The weekend's almost all the way gone and I've been working my arse off for virtually all of it.  I'm going to go to work tomorrow feeling like I didn't take any time off.  I hate that feeling.  I think it's time to drastically slow down, relax a bit, and try to wring a little weekend feeling out of this weekend.

Hope yours' are going great!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Make vs Buy, Take 2

What I'm Buying
My current chicken coop (really, it's a chicken playhouse) is too small for the chickens I've got, and besides, it's not a "good" coop.  Good coops are well ventilated but not drafty, and the playhouse, due to it's lincoln log-type construction, is open on the corners and extremely drafty.  I had no idea when I bought the thing that it would be a bad long-term choice, since I was such a n00b.  But it allowed me to get chickens in the middle of February, and me and the fresh egg in my tummy can't complain about that!

I've been keeping an eye open for a better coop on craigslist for a few months and ... nothing.  I've considered making a coop from scratch, or buying a new coop locally.  New coops are really expensive and still too small, and aren't movable.  So I decided to make a coop to save money (ref our discussion earlier this week about making vs buying). 

But then I started thinking about how I would actually do this making of a coop.  I don't have a ton of tools - my saw inventory runs only to jigsaw and sawzall, pruning saw, hacksaw and chainsaw.  I don't have a workshop, or even an outside flat area to get things square and straight.  And, I don't have the skills or experience to do something like this well.  Making a chicken coop from scratch is just not something I can do without a huge amount of effort.

So I decided to buy the one you see above!  Actually, it's a kit that I'll assemble.  All the pieces are there, cut and predrilled.  I think I can do the rest.  It's got some characteristics that I like over other coop kits.  Wind won't tear off the roof or flip it over.  It can be moved by one person. It's big enough for about 10 birds if I decide to be-big the flock.  And, it's cheaper than other coops, while giving me more of what I wanted, space, wind resistance, movability.

What I'm Making
Sofa cushions - and piping.

First off, my midcentury outdoor furniture is a different size than current outdoor furniture.  Meaning that cushions on the market don't fit - at all.  Not even close.  Second off - this is something that I do have the equipment to do properly.  I also have the knowledge and experience to do this pretty well.

I found an outdoor fabric at JoAnns that I don't hate, but did not find a matching blue piping to buy.  So I'll have to make the piping, even though I complained mightily about it earlier.  I've estimated that I'll need about 16 yards of it, so what you see here is the cushion fabric, piping fabric and all 16 yards of piping.  It will be a long trudge, but rainy weekends are tailor-made for projects like this.

I'm happy with the make-buy decisions.  I'm going to be spending time on something that's a relative strength of mine and outsourcing what I'm uncomfortable doing.  Its possible that I could go all the way to starting up this little goaty enterprise without building a single building myself.  I'm OK with that.

Price of Entry into the Geek Club

If you wanna be a geek, you have to keep track of your miles per gallon.  I can't bear having data at my fingertips and not using it.  So for every tank of gas I get, I keep the receipt and write down how many miles I've driven on that tank (before resetting the odometer back to zero for the next tank).  I've been doing this ever since I got my geek card - in high school.  But back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, they didn't have these handy electronic thingies at the pumps - I kept a booklet in all of my cars to keep track of the mpg.

Nowadays I calculate the mpg on the receipt, and then generally throw the receipt away... eventually.  Above are 3 receipts I just found crumpled up in my purse.  The two left ones are from the truck and the right one is the Scion.  I used to keep all the historical data ... forever, but now I see that's going a bit too far into geek territory.  I might not be able to get back out!

As far as I can tell, I'm not unusual.  Every single other engineer I've ever met does this too.  One of my engineer friends from South Carolina ended up driving with the tailgate of his pickup truck down, because of the positive effect it had on his mpg.  It can actually be useful on occasion.

Here's the story:  A few weeks ago, I took the Scion into a local dealership for routine work.  It was obvious to me a few minutes after I got the car back that something was wrong.  When the car got to 40 miles per hour, it started making a terrible sound that didn't go away at higher speeds, and it wasn't steering the same.  Further, when I got gas and calculated the mpg, it was 25.  Then the next tank was 26.8 (above).

Now, I've had this car for 5 years.  In all of that 5 years, the miles per gallon ranged from 28 to 38, but usually around 30-33.  It has never gotten below 28 mpg.  It was pretty obvious to me that something was wrong. 50 fewer miles on a tank of gas is a big difference.

So I took the car back to the dealer and told them that.  By the way - don't even bother trying that.  Especially if you're a woman.  They took the car for an hour and told me they couldn't find anything wrong.  I wonder if they even looked at it.

I drove it for another week, noticed a slow leak in one of the tires and took it to another shop.  Replaced the tire and -- wouldn't you know -- all of the other problems went away too.  The mpg is back up to 31, where it's supposed to be.  Problem solved.

I'm not proud of having to do this mpg calculation.  I've taken a fair share of ribbing about it from my non-engineer friends.  But I'm not stopping.  I can't!  They'll take my geek card away.