Sunday, January 31, 2010

Coopilicious

I was hoping to have something chicken-coopy to show you today, but progress has been quite slow because of a myriad of factors.  It's been more costly so far than I expected as well.  The playhouse/coop was $75, the feed and water supplies were $80+, the trip to the hardware store $55+, and there will be another hardware store trip after I get a little farther along.  I haven't even bought the hens yet.  Granted, most of this is startup cost and won't be spent again.  I guess that's one of the gifts of being a beginning homesteader - every project is a startup project.

Here's a picture of Sparky in the tinder tote, warming his face.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mars at Opposition

(I know, I can't fool you.  The title of this post is about Mars, but the picture is of the moon.  Be patient and go with me here.  It'll be OK, I promise.)

It seems like the moon has been full for several days now because it's been clear and the moon's risen as the sun has set.  At my house, the moon rising shines directly in the east windows and the moon setting shines directly into the western windows.  I don't have curtains.  I can't imagine blocking out any of this natural beauty, and with no neighbors or cars driving by, there's no reason to.

My camera wouldn't focus on the moon as I tried to catch it setting this morning, so here's a shot I took a few years ago.  Same moon.


For the past few mornings there's been a bright, reddish star near the moon as it sets.  I just looked it up on skymaps (www.skymaps.com publishes a monthly skymap and calendar), and skymaps says that first, the moon is at perhelion, the closest it will be to us all year.  So if this full moon looked especially bright, that's why.  Second, Mars is at opposition, meaning that Mars is opposite of the sun now.  So that's what the red star is.  Mars.

Other items:

The owner of the laying hens says that he'll hold them for a week for me.  Yay.

Its -8 this morning.  The coldest I've seen it in my short time here.  That means it's probably 2 down the hill in Albany.  It's very predictably 10 degrees colder here than Albany.

The woodshed roof started to fall down.  That's not unexpected, but now I have to decide what to do.  I think it's dangerous.  Wear a hard hat to get wood for the next few weeks until I use up all the wood in the woodshed, then pull it down?  I wonder if I can move all the wood out, pull the roof down and then put the playhouse/chicken coop in the woodshed?  It's sheltered from the wind, but the floor is  a low spot and gets wet when it rains.  Hmm some more.  I can say for sure that I don't want to deal with it until it gets a little warmer.  I bought a fur-lined hat with ear flaps last year and never wore it because it's too hot.  Yesterday it was perfect.

If I don't have to rush around today to prepare for chickens, I can enjoy my original plans today, which involved beer and socializing.   I can stop at Home Depot later and do building work tomorrow instead of today.  See how I can procrastinate and make it sound logical?  I have some apple cider fermenting which should be ready, I think, in 2 weeks. 

It's a normal day here on the 'stead.  Everything's frozen.  Some stuff is falling down.  Some stuff is getting built.  I'm thrilled to be able to sit here for a few minutes before I start the day taking care of things, happily at home.

    

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Wonder ...

It was -1 this morning, but I had to be at work.  So out the dogs went and guilt-ridden mom went in to work.  I couldn't stand it after half a day, so I came home to work from home for the afternoon and let the dogs back inside.

I stopped at Agway on the way home and I think I got everything I need to feed and water chickens.  That was surprisingly easy.  It must be coming up on chicken season, because the chicken stuff took up a whole shelf, right in the middle of the store.

Instead of working this afternoon, what I really did is try to put the playhouse together - on the porch.  It's not working.  The seller of the playhouse did mention using vegetable oil to ease the parts together.  I bet that's what I need to do.  My intention was to lean the parts together so I could measure and make a shopping list for Home Depot tomorrow morning.  When I brought the pieces into the porch to take a look, it occurred to me that this chicken coop could stay here on the porch.  Yes, that's where the dogs stay, but I suspect that the dogs will spend a fair amount of time near the coop no matter where it is.  That's what the hardware cloth is going to be for.  Having the chickens live on the porch will solve some thorny problems having to do with wind and cold and snow, but add a problem in that I'd have to take the whole thing apart to get it off the porch in the spring.  It's probably worth doing anyway.  Hmm.  I wonder ...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who Am I Kidding?

There's no way I'll be able to pick up 5 laying hens on Sunday morning. 

 
Here's what the chicken coop looks like just 10 minutes ago.  Yeah, I'm going to put it together, figure out how to make this playhouse into a chicken coop, design nesting boxes, buy the materials, do the carpentry work that will protect the hens from, a) the cold, b) the dogs and c) from being blown away.

And oh yeah.  It's 10 degrees outside right now and the wind is blowing so hard that the house is shaking. The cold snap hasn't even started yet.  This weekend is going to be the coldest weekend of the season.  Never mind that it's going to be in the single digits while I try to do carpentry work outside, but every time I need something from the shed, I'll have to crawl through a little hole in the wall to get it because the door doesn't open.

Then, I'm going to figure out what I need to buy to feed and water the little things.  Both the equipment and the actual food, scratch, grit and whatever else.  Then I'm going to find out where I can buy it.  Then I'm going to go buy it.

Oh, and by the way, I have a job I have to be at all day tomorrow and plans I don't want to cancel for much of Saturday.

I'm going to call the owner, talk to him and see if he can hold the hens for a week.  I'm not sure I can do all this stuff even if I had another week, much less trying to do it in 2 days.  If he'll work with me, great.  If not, I'm going to pass on these hens. Period.

A Few Years Ago




A few years ago, I lived in downtown Washington DC in a 12th floor apartment that looked like this on the outside and the below on the inside. I grew basil and mint in containers on the porch. I think you can see the tip of the Washington Monument in this picture and the top of the Old Post Office building.  I was definitely downtown.

Then I lived in some hotels and apartments in Singapore, Jordan, and The Hague.  Like the one below in The Hague:


Before all of that, I lived in a house in South Carolina that looked like this:


It was an old fire station with one HUGE room, 12 or 14 foot ceilings and a tree growing in the middle of the room.



And before that I lived in Cleveland in a few houses that I can't find e-pictures of, but they were on typical city lots, 40 feet wide and 150 feet deep or less.

And before that I lived in North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, and New York.

But now - I've settled down, I swear!  I'm living in the last place I want to ever live.  It's totally different from any place I've ever lived before with space and sunlight and trees and snow and wind.  And this weekend I'm going to get chickens!  Chickens!  A few years ago, I never would have imagined this!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

5 Egg Laying Hens

Craigslist post, January 21:
We have 5 Beautiful young Delaware hens for sale. We have too many eggs! These chickens were hatched last April, and are in their first year of laying, starting last September. I'm reducing the flock a bit, because they're laying like crazy! Strong, healthy, mild mannered, and very cold-tolerant...They will lay right through the worst cold snaps upstate N.Y. can deliver...


Craigslist peeps (ha ha) have been crazy for chickens, they go fast.  So on Monday I responded to the ad, asking if they were still available, but thinking they were gone already.

You know how you tell someone, "we should get together for lunch," or offer to help someone, fully expecting it to never happen?  You get points for being a friendly, helpful person, but rarely have to actually DO anything.  That technique usually works pretty well for me, and I never mind if I have to put up occasionally.  Which is what I might have to do here.  The owner responded this morning and the hens are available.  He wants me to come get them on Sunday.

Holy ****!  I'm not ready!  I got the coop/playhouse yesterday expecting to not need it until April or May, and not get eggs until August.  Maybe this is a case similar to having children.  I've heard that if you wait until you feel ready, you'll never do it.  You have to just jump in and muddle through.  Yikes!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chicken Coops

The two ladies I met on Sunday at the NOFA conference had absolutely NO patience for my argument about not being ready to have chickens because I don't have a chicken coop.  They said that I could literally use ANYTHING to make a chicken coop.  They said that I was making too big of a deal about it.  One of them uses a kiddie playhouse in her front yard as a chicken coop (I'm going to have to drive by there one of these days just to see it).

Well I came back energized, determined to move forward on this chicken thing.  I looked on craigslist and saw this:


And, guess what?

I got it. 

Chicken coop - check.

Now - where can I get chickens where I don't have to get 25 of them?  I'm thinking that 5 is a good number.

The Lake is Back, and Wood

It rained all day yesterday, and so I expected to see that the lake is back when it got light this morning.  And it was.

This low lying area fills with water every time it rains heavily.  Last summer I got 10 inches of rain in 2 days, and boy that was a nice lake!  This area drains slowly under the best circumstances, so I'm guessing the soil underneath is clayey.  Since everything is frozen now, I expect this water/ice will be here until the next thaw, which may be March.  It's inconvenient, but doesn't actually harm anything, so having something done about this is pretty low on my list.

You can see that the snowplows clear themselves a nice-sized turnaround.  They've cleared off about 10 feet of my yard here, which doesn't bother me at all, since it includes a fair part of my driveway too.  Down the hill in the city, the snow is virtually all melted off, but as you can see, it's mostly still here at my place, except in the windy areas.  Now it's icy snow.


I'm going to start into the last row of wood in the woodshed this week.  I think this will last about 3 weeks, which means I'll have to start into the outside wood mid-to end- of February.  Boy I wish I would have gotten a tarp that covers all of the outside wood instead of just using the too-small tarp that I had!

This is the first year that I used wood that I put into the woodshed.  Last year, the previous owner had left me some wood that I used, so I really didn't know how much wood was there.  This year I know.  There were 2 cords in the woodshed, which I now know is not enough. Next year I'll go for 3 cords of wood.

Here's another time vs money decision.  I think that as long as I have a good-paying job and homesteady setup things that take most of my time, I will probably buy wood instead of cutting and splitting my own.  I spent a freakin' huge amount of time last year trying to cut my own wood with the wrong type of chainsaw (I didn't know anything about chainsaws, so just bought what the guy at the hardware store recommended, which was a mistake.  He recommended and I bought - a chainsaw designed for hobby, pruning work.  It gets like 15 cuts before I have to fill the gas tank, and 45 cuts before I have to have the chain sharpened.)  I have a better chainsaw now, but also have a healthy appreciation of how much work it takes to cut and split my own wood.  That's why, as long as I have a choice, I don't want to do it.  Sorry.  I feel like a wimp, like less of a homesteader, but that's the way I feel about cutting and splitting wood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Choices That Make Habits

My alpaca-owning, conference-attending friend is what Malcolm Gladwell would call a Connector.   For her, the conference was a series of conversations with interesting people.  She missed a few things over the course of the weekend, because what she focuses on is talking to people.  I'm not that way, but benefitted anyway, because near the end of the conference she caught up/met some people who live fairly near to me.  What I learned from them will likely change the course of my next year (and future years).

Let me step back a moment.  At the end of the year last year, I wrote that I wanted to change how I eat to include more local, sustainably raised foods.  I mostly meant meat, eggs and dairy.  Right around that time I asked my butcher if their meat is local meat.  He said, "No.  Our meat is good meat.  The only meat you find around here are old dairy cows, and who wants to eat that?"  Like an idiot, I sortof believed him and let it drop.

I'd also written about my difficulties finding raw milk to make cheese.  I finally found a place an hour south of me and made some great, great cheese.  I still haven't found goat milk.

Eggs, I thought would be the least part of the story.  There is an Agway on my commute, where I can buy eggs for $2.75 a dozen.  That, plus my plan to get a few chickens this year should take care of the egg situation.

What's really happening though, is I'm doing the same thing I've always done (at least for the last year).  I'm going to a grocery store near work on my lunch hour and buying whatever is cheap.  Eggs, meat, the works.  I can't get past how convenient it is and how well it fits into my life, compared to the high-quality stuff.

Here's what brought this to the forefront.  There was an Amish family at the conference selling their wares, raw apple cider (yessss), cheeses, eggs, and other prepared goods.  When I found out how much they're selling the eggs for ($5/dozen), I decided against buying their eggs.  They are probably really good eggs!  But I chose to stay with the cheap grocery store eggs, this time.

The choice I have to choose, is whether to pay more money and spend more time getting good, local fare, or continue the grocery store habit.  Honestly, it depends on how important this is to me.  Normally this sort of thing is a time/money tradeoff (you spend more money to save time).  This is exactly the opposite (I'd be spending more time to spend more money to get better food). A little hard to swallow, given all the other things I want to do in my negligible free time.

This is where the two ladies I met yesterday come in.  They live a little east of me and north, which is not ever on my path around this little planet.  I go west. What they told me though, makes a big difference.  What they said is that if I continue past the Agway, I'll get to a beef farm that has an honor system freezer in his breezeway.  And on the same road is a dairy that sells raw milk for $6 a gallon.  Score!!  I can visualize doing this!  Maybe not all the time, but enough to move the quality of the food I eat up. I do think I can do it enough to make a habit.

We also talked about chickens and coops and bees, and a bunch of other things.  I had my notebook and pen out and took copious notes - more than some of the actual workshops!  It's going to take a while to work through all their recommendations, but I know where to find them again, at the Bennington farmers market or the Hoosick Falls farmer's market.  I'm in the inevitable emotional slump after such a good weekend (and it being Monday), but thinking about the local things I learned goes a long way towards making it all better.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What the Weekend Was

I've been practicing safe blogging by not saying before now that I wasn't home this weekend.  For anyone who might have wanted to sneak into my house to wash dishes - too late.  I'm home now.  And besides, this time the dishes were all actually clean.


The NOFA conference was this weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY.  NOFA stands for Northeast Organic Farmer's Association, and this year was my second NOFA conference.  Last year, I went with a coworker who owns an alpaca farm.   I was all full of piss and vinegar, thinking that I would start a business renting goats out to eat weeds in the next year (as in this past year).  I had business cards and brochures made up and did the conference thing with energy.


Now it's a year later.  My friend got laid off in June along with 10 other people, and I hadn't seen her since then.  We're both a little older and wiser than last year. I still want to start the goat-weed-eating business, but now I'm looking at more options than I was before, and not expecting it to happen in one year.  She's working on becoming a teacher, thinking that it will be a more stable field than manufacturing.

The conference had over 1,000 people!  There were maybe 10 breakout rooms that had workhops, two in the morning and afternoon yesterday, and then two more this morning.  I went to a few sessions for beginning farmers, and listened to other people tell their stories, how they did it, what worked, what didn't.  I went to a cheesemaking session, flour milling session, and I can't even remember some of the sessions I went to.

For some reason, several of the sessions found me dabbing my eyes multiple times.  I'm not exactly sure why, except that it's this close to the tender heart of everything I've been devoting all my emotional and physical energy to for over a year now.  It's an understatement to say that I found it moving.

What a weird looking bunch of folks! These are people who don't do much thinking about what other people think. They run organic farms.  They sell organic produce to us at farmer's markets, through CSAs, restaurants, and who knows what else.  They're about 10 years ahead of the curve.  Some of these folks have been this far ahead since, like 1983, and the rest of us are just now catching up.  One thing that struck me is how healthy they all look.  This pasty, overweight person looks at them and just thinks, "whatever they've got, I  want some.  I want to be part of that."

That's about all I can say right now about the conference.  As I work through some of the things I learned, I'm sure I'll bring pieces and parts up again.

One other note:  the temperature has turned around, and it's all uphill from here!  I spend an inordinate amount of time this time of year looking at the daylight and average temperature charts and comparing them to our actual temperature.  This past weekend was the lowest average temperature of the year.  Today's average temperature is warmer than yesterdays, and tomorrow's will be warmer than today's. Now that, my readerly friends, is what I'm talkin' about!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Radical Homemakers - Copyright 2010

I have in my hot little hands a book called Radical Homemakers, Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.  It's copyright 2010, a year that isn't even a month old.  It's by Shannon Hayes, the lady that wrote a book called The Grassfed Gourmet, a book I haven't read, but probably will, soon. From the website grassfedcooking.com:

My goal was to record the voices of people across the country who are consciously working to heal the planet and create a cultural evolution through a simple, yet profound transition. Rather than focusing their energies on consumer-driven lifestyles, they are making their homes, families and communities the center of their lives.  Initially, the intent of these interviews was to explore the range of domestic skills these homemakers have re-kindled (many of which have been lost in our culture for nearly three generations).  But as we sat at their kitchen tables, another body of information emerged:  the nature of true wealth.  

These “radical homemakers,” as I have come to call them, no longer measure their assets by the mere accrual of dollars.  Instead, they measure their fortunes by their garden plots, their ability to darn a sock, preserve their harvests, cultivate enduring relationships, and to celebrate the joy of creating something useful and nourishing, rather than relying on an empty consumer culture for provisions and shallow amusements.  This quantification of wealth is universal to these homemakers, whether they live in city apartments or bungalows, suburban neighborhoods, rural villages or remote homesteads. 

Darning a sock.  I knew there was a skill I hadn't gotten to in my quest to become the perfect homemaker!  Seriously - I saw her speak today, before I'd even heard of her or any of her books.  By the end of the talk, I was standing in line to be one of the first to buy the book.  I so want to read the stories of people just like me, who are working to make true wealth come from the land and the hard labor of our hands and our hearts.  I'll write more tomorrow, but I can say right now that this stuff is hitting close to home.  Extremely close.

Year Over Year

I'm at the beginning of what I expect will be a very fun weekend, and an opportunity to reconnect with where I was last year and marvel at the difference between last year and this year.  I've written before about the physical differences (ie, I can start a fire now and I couldn't do that last year.  My house is around 70 degrees this year and it was at 58 last year). What I haven't written about, because I didn't know, is how my thought patterns have evolved in the last year. I'm repeating a weekend thing that I did last year - and the differences between me now and me last year are really striking to me.  I need to absorb it and think about it a bit before I write about that more.  I'm also catching up with a friend this weekend, who knows a lot more than me about animals.  Even the questions I'm asking her are different than last year. Striking.


I can't bear to post a post without including a picture, so here's one from earlier this year of a butterfly in the comfrey.  Then I pull back to show the entire comfrey field.

There's this huge area plus two other smaller areas.  I've read that comfrey is very useful, but extremely hard to get rid of.  Looks like I would be well-suited to figure out if there's an income stream from it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Presses and Grinders

As I go through the process of designing and making my first actual cheese press, I'm reminded of some of the research I did earlier this year on apple cider presses.  I'm a big fan of hard apple cider (actually hard anything cider, pear, berry, etc, etc.).  It tastes like apple cider, but has the kick of beer.  So when I realized I had apple trees about a year ago, one of my first thoughts was to make my own cider.

I did a bunch of research on what equipment I'd need, thinking first that what I need is a cider press.  That's true of course, but the press doesn't do much if the apples aren't ground up first.  So a grinder is necessary as well.  I looked at pictures where some people made their own grinders and presses and it looks do-able compared to the price of buying one, which is very high (about the same price as a new stove).  In November, I got myself invited to a gig making apple cider on someone else's grinder/press.  A bunch of people brought apples and we all spent the entire day cutting, grinding and pressing.  I took a half-bushel of my ugly apples over.  It was the best cider I've ever tasted!  Now I know what to look forward to next year!


I've been watching for a used apple cider machine on craigslist.  I don't really expect to see one, but if I don't look, that guarantees that I won't see one.  I could see buying a press new, and then renting it out by the day to other people, like me, who have apples but didn't want to invest in a complete setup.  In fact, I'm surprised that isn't being done already. The below picture shows the grinder on the left and press on the right.  It's pretty ingenious, the barrel that collects the apples is simply slid over to the press side.



I'm bringing the apple cider press up now, because when I started to think about making a cheese press, I thought about whether or not it made sense to make a multi-press.  A single press that could press everything I might want to press around here.  Of course, since apples need a grinder, why don't I just invent a multi-press-grinder?  Something that would grind and/or press.  Grain comes to mind, or corn.  (Taking it to an unrealistic extreme, I could grind grain or corn and then press it into tortillas. ) It didn't take me long to realize that while the multi-press concept might be interesting, designing it would most likely take up a bunch of time and not result in anything usable.  Since my goal was to get a working cheese press soonest, I've put off the idea of a GrinderPress, or maybe it's a PressGrinder.  Or maybe some cheesemaking, apple cider-swilling, homesteading engineering weenie (other than me) has already invented one!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cheesepress 2.0 - Progress Report


Before I slid backwards down the hill the other day, I stopped at Lowe's and bought (3) 2-foot pieces of PVC pipe and a piece of oak (and a Dremel and 2 pipe clamps, which is going to make this cheese press rather expensive.   Thankfully I can amortize the Dremel and the pipe clamps over everything else I'll be using them for.).  The PVC is in three different sizes, 2-inch, 4-inch and 6-inch.

Two of the PVC pieces will be used when I make cheese, either the 2- and 4- inch or the 4- and 6-inch, depending on whether I want to make a 4-inch round or a 6-inch round.  If I want to make a 6-inch round, the curds will go in the 6-inch piece, topped with a follower plate (to be made out of this wood).  Then the 4-inch piece of PVC goes on top of the follower plate and the weight goes on top.  I'll be applying the weight through a lever.  The whole shebang will sit on a plate in my sink.  I need to make a trip to a kitchen supply store (like maybe Target) for the last few items, so there'll be another post about this topic soon.

The PVC pipe rather obviously says, "Not For Pressure," which set me back for a few minutes.  I'll be applying up to 50 pounds through the follower plate into the cheese, which will be pressing outward on the PVC.  Estimated area of pressure is 2 inches deep x the circumference (2 x pi x r = 2 x 3.14 x 2 or 3 = 12.56 inches or 18.84 inches).  If the cheese is 1 inch deep instead of 2, the applied area of force is halved, 6.28 inches or 9.42 inches.  Worst case scenario is 50 pounds of force applied over an area of 6.28 inches = just under 8 psi.  [ sorry - sometimes I can't resist geeking out!  What would life be like if one couldn't do all these fun calculations?  All you non-engineers - don't answer!]

The only website I could find that addresses the "pressure in a PVC pipe that's not designed for pressure," question was a website devoted to making potato cannons.  They say this pipe could withstand 40-50 psi pretty well, but for obvious reasons recommend other pipe.  Since failure of a cheese mold is likely not going to be catastrophic, like if it were a potato cannon, I think I'm OK.

The other thing in this picture that's interesting is the PVC shavings.  Yes, I used the Dremel last night.  It's my new favorite tool!  I cut all three of the PVC pieces to leave the 9-inch pieces you see on the table, started with the Dremel, tried a hacksaw, and ended up using a jigsaw.  I ground the rough edges off and drilled small holes in both the 4-inch and 6-inch pieces.  Good thing I won't be doing that again any time soon.  It smelled - PVC stands for poly-vinyl-chloride, which is a polymer of vinyl chloride.  Vinyl chloride is bad stuff.  The poly version is absolutely safe!  The smell is just something I don't want to think about.

There must be a Jeff Foxworthy bit about how you know you're a redneck if you use your dining room table as a work table and there's shavings and grinding dust all over the floor in your dining room.  There was probably a smarter way to do that, but I got carried away.  Guilty.  But, oh, I had a good time doing it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Operator Error

Every day is a landscape of new discovery here at the homestead.  Part of learning, in addition to doing things right, is doing things wrong and finding out what happens.  For the last few days, I thought something was wrong with  my woodstove.

Here's a primer (like I'm an expert - ha!  This time last year, I couldn't even keep the fire lit!).  About 11 months ago, not only did I figure out how to keep the fire lit, I learned how to keep it lit ALL the time, 24 x 7, more or less.  The key is the lever of the left side and it's buddy on the right side.  The left side lever is the damper.  When the damper is closed, everything goes through the catalytic part and the heat comes into the room instead of going up the chimney.  The right side lever is for air.  When it's open, the fire burns hot and fast.  When it's closed, with enough wood in the chamber, the fire simmers overnight and can roar back to life when I open the levers in the morning.  The goal is to keep the thermostat on top of the stove around 400 degrees.

For the last 2 days, the fire has burned out overnight and I've woken to a cold stove.  There's not enough time to get it up to temperature in the morning, so when I come home from work, I've started a new fire.  I was worried that I had broken the right side lever somehow and had begun to think about who to call.

What I realized this morning is that it was entirely operator error!  When I emptied out the ashes a few days ago (you can see the ash tray partway open in this shot), I must not have completely closed the bin.  So air was getting in there, making the fire burn hot, and negating the effect of closing the right lever.  You can see that in this picture the fire is really burning.  That's because of all the extra air I let in by opening the tray.

This is cool.  Now I know what happens if I don't close the ash tray completely.  Maybe the next time I make that mistake it won't be 2 days before I correct it.  (To defend myself a bit - it's not as obvious as it looks in the picture.  There's a locking lever that did appear to be locked!  I did not check it though.   I will next time!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Interesting Commute

I wish I would have thought to take a picture of my truck, sideways across the road, but I didn't.

I admit I've been a bit cocky lately about how well this winter's been going.  I was just being thankful this morning that, except for a bitter cold December (actually December only seemed to be bitter cold - it didn't really go below zero at all).  Anyway, except for a cold December, January's been pretty warm.  Night-time temperatures have been in the upper teens and twenties for the last week or so, which is about 10 degrees above normal.  Because it's been so warm, I've been thinking that maybe I could consider driving the car instead of the truck. Heck, I've even left the parka at home for the last few days!

It turns out that because it's been so warm, just a little below freezing for the last few days, that stuff is melting and freezing.  How did I find out?

Well, I, being cocky and considering driving the car, decided to try and take the hill from the mailbox to my house in 2-wheel drive.  I didn't get far before I realized I should be in 4-wheel drive, but I had to stop to switch into 4WD.  Except that I was on a hill which I later found out, along with several of my neighbors, is a solid sheet of ice under some snow.  I couldn't get purchase, and slid about half a football field back down the hill, ending up sideways across the road and THANKFULLY, not in either of the ditches.

I didn't feel comfortable trying to get righted, so I walked to a neighbors house, they called another neighbor, and a third neighbor came driving up behind me.  The third neighbor is good at this sort of thing, so he just drove the truck to a good place (and a good direction) and gave the wheel back to me.  With knuckles seriously whitened, I gave the rest of the hill my best effort and ... made it up.

Have I mentioned lately how lucky I am?  Yes?  Oh.  This could have turned out SO much worse.  What I learned today is that having a big heavy truck and 4-wheel drive isn't really enough.  I should have better winter tires.  See how much better next winter is going to be?  Oh - and thankfully I brought my work laptop home with me.  I think I'll be working from home tomorrow.

Cheese Presses

I got cheese on the brain!  After Saturday's cheese press adventure, I decided to get serious about researching the right way to press cheese.  Or at least a better way.

The first place I looked was the website of the  New England Cheesemaking Company, where I bought my starter cheesmaking kits, here.

They sell this cheese press for over $200.  Even though I'm pretty sure I'll make a lot more cheese, I think I don't need to spend this much money to press it well.

She does sell instructions for how to make a wall-mounted press, similar to what I did - but I think I can figure it out without paying her money for the plans.  I do plan on staying with the wall-mounted, lever setup though.



A sustainability/prepper blogger, mmpaints uses homemade cheese presses that look like this.  She made hers with wood, threaded rod and PVC pipe, and used bricks and weights for the top.  Here's the link to her blog: http://selfsustainedliving.blogspot.com/2010/01/home-cheese-making.html




David Fankhauser uses a cheesepress that looks like this.



I did a google search on "wall mounted cheese press" and found a cheesemakers forum!  With a whole section on equipment!  Here is a link to the forum (the equipment part): http://cheeseforum.org/forum/index.php/board,155.0.html

This press is apparently a Dutch-style press...






I found a few people who wrote about using a wall-mounted setup, but they didn't post pictures.  I only found one picture that uses the wall like I did:


And lastly - here's the cheese I made on Saturday.  I don't have wax, so I'll probably eat it in the next week or so rather than let it age and pick up too much of the terroir from my refrigerator.  I couldn't wait and tried some of it last night.  It was good, but when I start using the right starters - the it will be truly yummy!  I ordered some cultures, wax, and other minor stuff last night, so should receive it next week, and by then I should have cheesepress 2.0 ready to go.  Hard cheese here I come!


Monday, January 18, 2010

No Goats, No Glory


Last week I wrote about wanting to personalize the truck with a bumper sticker.  Then someone pointed out the goat collection of bumper stickers at Cafepress.  So, here it is.  No Goats, No Glory.

Another Craigslist Score - Luck

I'm regularly struck by how often luck plays a factor in my life, as it did this weekend.  I've been keeping my eyes open on craigslist for an interesting daybed, that would fit stylistically in my living room, allow me to still sleep in front of the woodstove, but wouldn't take up the entire room, like my mattresses have.  My decorating style sense could be called, "Salvation Army/Craiglist."  The only thing I paid full price for was the stainless steel table.  Everything else was used.  I like bold colors though.  Bland colors that "match everything" drive me nuts.

I found a great-looking, unique daybed on craigslist last week, and here's where my luck comes in.  I was not the first person in line. This is the third time that the exact same thing has happened in the last month, and I ended up with the goods in all three cases. This time, I had enough cash to pay for the item, plus about 15 dollars.  So off, I went into the wilds of central Massachusetts.

I stopped at a rest stop in MA, noticed an ATM from my bank, so got cash in addition to the other things one does at a rest stop, and went to check out the daybed.  Here it is in the space formerly occupied by a full-size mattress set:

I've got my living room back!  It's very comfortable to sleep on (with sheets and blankets of course) and has a working trundle where both pieces make a big bed, should I, ahem, want a larger bed.  It's got angle pillows and an ingenious design for a back if I want to use it as a sofa.  I recognize that many people would think it looks awful, but I like it and, hey - the 70s are chic these days!

AND - (lucky again), they offered to sell me this dresser for $40.  It's really solid and clean, with smooth-moving drawers.  I'll take it!  I'm dresser-poor these days.  Good thing I had gotten the cash.  The only thing I was worried about was how to get it into the house when I got home.

Lucky yet again, the loggers were at my place when I got back (which hardly ever happens.  The last time I saw them was, maybe Thanksgiving).  They carried the dresser in and everything is set for now.

There's a years-long process of getting settled in a new place that I'm about one year into.  Move things around, try things in different places, match the locations of stuff with activity patterns, etc, etc, etc.  For now, I like the way the living room flows.  With the mattresses out of the way, there's less pressure to get rid of them immediately.  I can use and move around the living room much better than before, which is what I was after in the first place.

Note: some other changes happen now that I've got this daybed.  The dogs are not going to be allowed on it, weaning them from sleeping with me.  And when spring comes around, I'm going to sleep upstairs in one of the bedrooms - like normal people.  I'm all about creatively solving problems, but at some point I need to be normal, too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More Wayback


Here I am in, probably 1988 with my 1973 Caprice Classic convertible.  I was on an outing with my college sweetheart when he visited me, after we had broken up.  We were deciding whether or not to get back together.  We didn't, and he met his wife shortly after this visit.  Now he's a software engineer in Boca Raton and has 3 kids.  He's extremely stable.  When I knew him, I thought that stability was boring, but he's had a family for 20 years and I haven't.  I don't really "do" regret, but there's something I feel when I look at this picture, when everything was so full of possibility and carefree. Something about choices not taken.  I can't put a name on it and I don't think I want to.

Homemade Contraption - Cheese Press

When I started making the cheese yesterday, I didn't really realize that I was going to have to press it in a cheese press (something I don't have).  Yes, I read the instructions all the way through, but I was reading LOTS of instructions for various cheeses, looking for something I could make with what I have.  I forgot the part about putting the cheese in a form and pressing it until I got there, and then.... made something up.

I used David Fankhauser's recipe for basic cheese from here. His recipes use easily obtainable ingredients, instead of special cheese ingredients.  For example, instead of special cheesemaking salt, he uses normal salt.  He uses buttermilk as mesophilic starter and yogurt as thermophilic starter.  If I had used the other lady's recipe, I would have had to order more things from her (something I will do soon enough anyway).

I warmed the milk (this is raw milk that I got on Tuesday), put some buttermilk in it and let it sit overnight (they wanted a 68 degree room overnight to acidify the milk, so I left the oil heater on all night).  In the morning I brought the milk up to 30 degrees C, put in the rennet and let it sit for an hour.  This time the curd was much more solid than the times I made mozzarella.  I cut the curd, stirred and heated to 39 degrees C (I got a better thermometer at the grocery store the other day), and then was ready for the next step.  OOOPS - I wasn't prepared with a mold ready for the cheese.

I thought about emptying one of my cottage cheese containers and cutting out the bottom.  I thought about emptying one of my cans and cutting off both ends.  Eventually I realized that the beginner's goat cheese kit I have comes with some molds.  A Ha!  Unfortunately the molds are not straight up and down (the bottom is smaller than the top), so that posed a bit of a problem, and the molds are small, so I had to use two of them. 

Without further ado, here's what I came up with:

On the left, you can see the mold shape and note that the bottom is smaller than the top.  Thankfully I have many different size of cans.  I started with larger cans when the cheese was higher in the mold, but had to move to a smaller size can as the cheese compressed.  The metal going across the top of the cans is pieces from an old pendaflex filing system that I brought home from work (I thought those metal pieces might be useful at some point).  And then the key to the whole thing is the broomstick handle and the window molding (the handle is stuck under the molding).  That provides the force for compression, because I have stuff hanging from the other end of the handle.

About 3-4 pounds of food in cans and jars are in this bag, pulling the handle down.  The window molding is holding it down at the other end, and the force is transmitted across the metal pieces down through the cans and compresses the cheese.  The instructions say to leave it like this for 24 hours, but I needed my sink, so I dismantled it after about 14 hours.  For being totally unprepared, it turned out OK! 

I've seen cheese press instructions that use two sizes of PVC pipe, and I think that's what I'm going to use for mold and follower.  Other than changing the actual mold and follower, I think I can leave everything else the same in the future (except I'll use one cheese mold instead of two).  The window molding/broom handle/weight worked great for pressing (and it's conveniently over the sink, so the whey has somewhere to go).  That's a keeper.  Geeky enough? Think they'll let me keep my engineering degrees?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Homesteady Weekend - Garden Planning, Cheese

Blog reader Karen Sue sent me this link the other day when I mentioned starting seeds: http://littlehouseinthesuburbs.com/2009/01/free-download-2009-spring-garden.html


She's right - it IS exactly what I need.  I printed it out have it collected together with all my seed packets and am looking forward to an exercise of planning when to start what seeds, where (oh yes, I've got the where figured out already, yay!).

The first task is to find out my last frost date.  Albany, NY is my nearest large city but the weather here is consistently 10 degrees cooler than there (and I'm 1800 feet higher).  So I found a weather station at a state park that generally has similar weather to mine (Grafton Lakes).

For example, here are the Albany last and first frost dates:
Last Frost 90% April 9, 50% May 2, 10% May 15  First Frost 10% Sept 23, 50% Oct 3, 90% Oct 13

Here are the Grafton last and first frost dates:
Last Frost 90% Apr 22, 50% May 8, 10% May 24  First Frost 10% Sept 16, 50% Oct 2, 90% Oct 17

If I use the 50% (I have no idea - all you experts out there, is that the date I should be using?), there's about a week delay to plant here.  Neighborly chitchat last year taught me that people on my street generally plan to plant around Memorial Day weekend.  (What a difference from South Carolina when the planting is around Good Friday - an entirely different holiday!)

Some cheese is gelling while I write this.  Instead of making mozzarella again, I'm trying something that takes more time (perfect for the weekend).  I need to do some research and buy more stuff.  My starter kits don't take me far.  I'll pretty much have to wait to try goat cheese until after people start milking their goats (which would be after birthing, in a few months). 

It looks like I'll be taking a trip into central Massachusetts today to pick something up.  If all works as planned, my sleeping arrangements soon won't look so weird, while still allowing me to sleep near the woodstove.  I'm going to be getting a daybed that trundles into a full bed and giving away the mattresses and this sofa on craigslist (yes, Chicken Mama, the twin to your sofa!).  Plus, if it looks as good as the pictures, it's really stylish and worth the trek.  I'll see soon enough, and so shall you!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Walking in the Snow


The drive into work has gotten so much more interesting now that there's snow on the ground.  I have to concentrate on maintaining speed and direction at the same time my head is swiveling this way and that checking out all the animal tracks.  I was steaming down the hill this morning and glanced off to the left to see these tracks.  I screeched to stop (actually slid), backed up and took this picture.  The shot of the animal tracks isn't that great, because I didn't want to get my dainty feet wet.  Really I wanted to show you that this animal, whatever it is, isn't trespassing on my property.  They're close though (I think this sign is the edge).

This is the old road that my house faces.  Two hundred years later, it just looks wierd that I go in and out of the back of my house, while the front porch faces nothing.  Good thing nobody cares.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It Worked


On Tuesday and Wednesday I was heartened because I made it up the last 1/2 mile to my house without needing to use 4-wheel drive (in a 5,000 pound truck!).  So Wednesday night I dug the car out, ran it for an hour and decided to risk driving the car to work on Thursday.  The road is snow-covered for about 1/2 mile and dry for about 24-1/2 miles of my commute.

I was a little concerned because I didn't really have a backup plan if the car couldn't make it up the hill.  Maybe park it at the bottom and walk up?  I made that walk ONCE, shortly after I moved in.  In good weather, it took 45 minutes and I had to stop many times to rest.  Leave the car until spring?  Maybe.  But spending $50 for gas every 200 miles (about 3-4 days) made it worth the risk.  The car costs about $25 for gas every 250 miles.

I took the risk (risk-taker that I am) and for those of you that read the title, you know what happened.  Yay.

The log skidder is a bit of a mystery.  I think it has a bad battery and they bring it down so they can plug it in to start it. Yesterday I came home and the loggers had helpfully shoveled some, including clearing in front of the shed.  I wish they hadn't bothered.  The shed door doesn't open in the winter.  A rock heaves up when the ground freezes, blocking the door.  I knew that, but they didn't.  I'm planning on changing the door from a standard door to a sliding barn door, so it won't matter how high that rock goes.  I priced the hardware for that last week.  Expensive.

Wayback


Facebook peeps are doing this wayback thing that got me looking through some old pictures.  I'm going to take a short break from being miss "accomplish something every minute" and show you this picture of me, my mother and her mother at Chatauqua in 1969.  I was -11. (Which is what I'd have to be in order to be 29. Which is what I am - that's right, uh huh.) One thing I am pleased to have gotten from my mother.  Her high cheekbones.

I jest.  About the age, not the cheekbones.  I, like many people, am getting happier as I get older.  28 was SO much worse than 29 is....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Caprese Salad


Google images displays some of the myriad ways one can make Caprese salad.  Three simple ingredients, mozzarella cheese, tomato and basil.  Yet, so varied in presentation.  But, oh, there's two things they all have in common.  The tomatoes are round and the mozzarella is round.  What am I doing wrong??  My mozzarella can't hold it's roundness!  My mozzarella is flat.

OK, OK - on the grand scale of things to get worked up about, this one is small.  Gotta figure it out though, because when I move on to the next thing to learn, I'm not going to come back.  Gotta figure it out, say in the next gallon of milk-to-cheese.  Must. Watch. More. Videos.

Sawdust and Ashes

I was debating whether I should call this post, "The Trip Was Worth It," or, "Sawdust and Ashes."  You can see which one won - this title is so much more mysterious and ... dramatic.  I'll get to why.  Later.

So I made the lengthy trek to the biodynamic farm store and bought 2 gallons of raw milk.  Then I made mozzarella cheese with 1 gallon of it.  Everything was different with raw milk.  The curds set up differently.  Not harder, but cleaner.  More custard-y.


Stirring the curds was different.  After a minute or so, they started to congeal around the spoon like this.

It made a nice, shiny ball that I didn't see either of the two previous times I tried.

Even the whey looked different.  It's hard to tell, but the whey on  the left is clearer. Today's whey is on the right.  I got 12.8 ounces of cheese, and the whey almost fills up the containers the milk came out of.



The cheese looks different. Today's cheese is on the left.  More translucent, creamier, smoother.  The cheese from whenever it was I did it last, is harder, more fall-apart-y.  It still got flat though!  What's the secret to nice, round mozzarella balls???


I bought some mighty fine looking tomatoes so I could make Caprese salad (a slice of tomato, a slice of cheese, some olive oil, and some basil).  The tomato looked wonderful, but it tasted like... sawdust and ashes.

The cheese, it was very, very good.

I cannot wait.  Stress that.  Cannot wait until I can make a Caprese salad with a tomato so fresh that it's still warm from the sun, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves, just picked.  Mmmm.  Yum.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cheesy Plans

Suzanne McMinn had a post today about making cheese.  She made farmhouse cheddar (which is pressed and aged), but she helpfully posted a bunch of pictures of her process.  I got one thing to say.  My curds look nothing like her curds.  Her curds are robust cubes of wonderfullness that stand firm on her slotted spoon.  My curds are weak, spineless blobs compared to hers. To misappropriate a term, my curds are milquetoast!

Check her post out: The Making of Farmhouse Cheddar

So here I am, working from home, trying to concentrate on some boring thing, being overwhelmed by how great her cheese curds look.  I've made mozzarella twice now, and although I wouldn't call it them failures (I did get something that tasted like mozzarella cheese after all), I wouldn't call them successful either. The first try slumped into flat goo overnight, and the second try, while harder than the first, are now flat little balls wrapped in saran wrap, but still expelling whey.  Here's a shot of my first and second attempts.  I'm really glad I didn't proudly post pictures of my weak-ass curds!


I made pizza last night, and the texture and meltiness of the cheese (2nd try) was just right.  The flavor leaves a bit to be desired, but then again - I would never use fresh mozzarella cheese for pizza. This is an exception.  There's not enough flavor.  I have some ideas about what I did wrong, but until I try some more times, I just won't know.

So I hatched an idiotic plan that only works because of the 1-1/2 hours of driving I saved by working from home.  The plan involves driving a little under 2 hours (1 hour there and 1 hour back), to pick up some fresh, raw milk at a farm store south of here (at least that's how long google maps says it will take).  Google maps is not always right.

I love exploring.  I was going to check out the farm and store anyway, sometime - why not today?  If the stars align and everything goes as planned, I'll have a 3rd attempt at mozzarella cheese later tonight, this time with raw milk!

Balance

I was all woe-is-me about my job yesterday, but today I'm working from home, saving $14 of gas and 1-1/2 hours of driving.  Must not be that terrible of a job if I can work from home on occasion with no problem.  Aside from the 11-hours a day thing and the frustrating work thing, the job isn't bad.  I have a good boss and a lot of flexibility.  Of course, it doesn't stop me from resenting the intrusion on my ideal life and doesn't change the fact that most of my energy goes toward helping investment bankers get richer.  I would gladly work much harder than I work now for much less money, if I could align how I make money with my goals, even in roaring sunlight, sleet, rain, snow.  Hm.   ...   Hm.   ... Things that make you go, "Hm."

Mama Pea wrote a comment on yesterday's post that got me thinking all over again in creative ways about my options.  Thanks Mama Pea, and others, you brought tears to my eyes.  In a good way.  It's nice to have outside confirmation that my sense of wrongness isn't all wrong.  I so often feel like I'm all alone in this.

Here's a quote from another blog that I read (A Posse Ad Esse) where this couple struggled to find balance when the wife got a part-time job.   They had more money than before, but less time to make good choices.

Getting back to basics. A lot changed this year for A~ and I. She started working part-time (this was planned for next year but the right opportunity presented itself so we acted on it) and it really threw us both out of whack. I knew I depended on her as my partner, but I had no real idea of HOW dependant I was on her. We really struggled throughout the year to find our balance and to be able to maintain our lives the way that we had worked into them. Because we had some extra money for the first time in a long while it was really easy for us to fall into some habits that we hadn't had before because we were so conscious of our income. Eating out more often than we wanted to and not effectively using all the food we were able to grow, not keeping up with making our own organic cleaners and not making the most use of the time we did have available because we were just feeling hectic we welcomed the chance to relax. This year A~ and I want to re-ground and get back to our basics. Time to re-group.

And these folks are two people, struggling to find balance, compared to me being one person!  It really goes a long way towards making me feel more normal as I struggle to align how I spend my time with my values and goals and more often than not, fail.

Things I can do: 
-get better at controlling dollar leakage (ie - bring my lunch to work instead of buying lunch)
-focus on better food, local meat, dairy, etc
-be nice to myself - things may not be happening as fast as I want, but I am on the right path

Monday, January 11, 2010

Workin' For a Living

I have a bad case of the Mondays right now.  I'll start by saying that I know I have a really good life and a pretty good job, but what I want to do right now is complain. 

I am an Industrial Engineer (and a Chemical Engineer, but that isn't where my career has been). What I do is called process improvement.  It has a fancy name (Lean Six Sigma) that doesn't mean anything to most people, but what it really is, is fixing things.  When things don't work in companies (besides managerial stuff), it's usually because processes aren't working, sales process, purchase order process, shipping process, etc, etc.  Without being an expert in anything other than improving processes, I can come in and help people make their processes better.  When it works, it can be really satisfying, and really make a difference.

I'm not making my job easier.  I'm helping other people make their jobs easier.  What this means is that I accomplish my job through other people doing things.  In most companies, since their jobs will get better, most people like having me come in and help.  Most people actually do the things that will make their jobs better.  Everybody looks good and the company makes more money.  Not here.

At my current company, people don't answer the phone, they don't answer emails.  They say they're going to do things and then "forget."  For months, even though I ask every week about it.  We have the same conversation over and over and never move forward on anything.  People feel like they can just wait me out and eventually I'll go away.  This isn't just one or even a few people.  It's the whole place!  I've spoken to my boss about it, but he's part of the mindset that the way we are isn't a bad thing.  He's never worked anywhere where process improvement works the way it's supposed to.  It's frustrating.

I come home from work for weeks, even months on end and can honestly say that I accomplished Not. A. Single. Thing.  In the process improvement sense, this is the worst place I've ever worked.  The work by it's nature (even when it's good) isn't often satisfying.  A good day might be one where I lead a meeting and get some groups of people to agree to something.  Woo hoo!  Not very tactile. [I won't even get into my growing ennui about helping corporations make profit.  That can wait for another rant. Suffice it to say that there's not much about my job that fit with my values these days.]

If I was younger, I might care more.  I'm past the part of my life where my career actually means that much to me.  I spent years and years beating my head against various walls (I mean gaining valuable experience) and now I'm over it.  Now I just want a paycheck.  What frustrates me most isn't the job, per se.  It's that I have to waste 11 hours out of every day accomplishing nothing (7am when I leave for work to 6pm when I get home).  I could be spending that 11 hours on real, homestead-y stuff.  I spend most of every day wishing the clock would go faster so that I can get home.  Then when I'm home I wish the clock would go slower, but I'm too tired to do much anyway.  I think it's a cruel twist of fate that means I only get 2 days a week to work on stuff that I really want to do.

I know that many people don't enjoy their work (remember Thoreau saying that most people lead lives of quiet desperation), and most spend years and years disliking their jobs.  The lucky ones have family at home to balance the bad work and share the load of work to be done.  I don't have that outlet and sometimes I feel it keenly.

There are always options.  I'm considering asking for a direct engineering job, where I actually work with the product (that would be my first job actually using the ChemE degree. I'm not sure I'm qualified).  I'm considering asking to go part-time, 4 days a week.  I'm considering pursuing teaching where teachers get 15 weeks a year off.  I've been thinking about starting that goat business.  Right now though, I need to sit tight, keep coming into work and trying to get things done.  I know that.  That's why I'm here, complaining to you.  Thanks for listening.  (end rant)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Craigslist Rocks


Here's the new seed starting shelves next to my wood-toting hand truck for comparison.  All in the room I'm thinking of converting to a workroom.  Last summer I slept in this room.  These shelves are huge, they must be 4 feet long and on wheels.  And, it all works!  The fixtures have spaces for fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs, the trays have drain plugs and, and, ...  all for 50 bucks!  Craigslist rocks!

Oh, and I just got the seeds that I will be starting in them!  You can see them leaning up on one of the fluorescent fixtures.  Good point Mama Pea - I need to go through these seeds and calculate when to start them by backing off from when I want to put them in the ground.  Shouldn't just start everything in March like I did last year.  Hm. 

I had a nice afternoon.  Since I was going into the city to get the plant stand, I stopped and bought a few baskets to make up for the fact that I don't have any closets, and then met someone for a couple beers in town.  Now I'm back home and I think I'm going to make my second attempt at mozzarella cheese.  The first attempt looked good at the beginning, but slumped overnight into flatness.  This time I'm going to try more rennet.  Wish me cheesy luck!

The Basement, and Score, Maybe!

Things get better, year by year.  There's an Italian term that's used in the music world.  Poco a poco.  Little by little.

I have a basement under about 1/3 of my house that has a stone and dirt floor and stone walls.  In my first December here, I thought wood was supposed to go down there, so I put 2 cords of wood in here. Then I spent 6 weeks in May and June taking the wood out after it started molding.  That was a big, rough lesson.  When it rained bunches, you could see water in the cracks between these stones, although the tops of the stones stayed dry.  I despaired of ever being able to use the basement for anything.   Until, that is, I started to read about root cellars.  Now it looks like the basement might be useful for something after all. It's cool and humid, and there's airflow. Poco a poco.  More research to come.

I'm going to jump the gun on this next one because I'm excited about it.  If all goes well, in a few hours, this little baby will be coming home with me, courtesy of craigslist.

Last year I tried to start seeds by hanging a fluorescent fixture from two sawhorses on a table in a cold part of the house.  I think one of the reasons that went poorly is because it was too cold (the cold part of the house was about 47 degrees last year), so this year I've resolved to start seeds in the warm part of the house (I've hung contractor's plastic and closed off about 2/3 of the house for winter and I'm living like a college student, on mattresses on the floor in front of the woodstove.  The front room is big though, and there's room for seed starting if I rearrange some things.).

I'm not all that enthusiastic about sharing my room with some sawhorses and a table.  I mean, the whole shootin match is about 6 feet tall and 6 feet long.  I'd been keeping my eyes open for something more appropriate and saw this about a week ago.  I was not first in line, but I got lucky and the first person in line flaked out.  We'll see how it goes!  Poco a poco.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday Walk

I took a walk about the property this morning to see there are any mysterious animal tracks to photograph and try to identify (like I need more mysteries in my life!).  I didn't find very many, but I did find other things that made me want to pull out the camera and shoot.


Right-hand-side of the road approaching my house.  The previous owner planted all these evergreens along the road on one side.

Maggie and a blueberry bush.  The big one is the blueberry.  I don't know what the little evergreen is.

Another view of the approach that's less contrast-y.  I'm standing at my property line looking uphill.

The Golden Delicious apple tree to the left of another blueberry bush in front of a spruce (?).

The dogs waiting for me to come around the corner next to an evergreen and yes, another blueberry bush. Maggie on the left and Desmond on the right.


The dogs in profile, Maggie in front of Desmond. Maggie is almost 2 and Desmond is maybe 11.

Looking south at the well, sundial, McIntosh apple tree, raised beds and orchard area.  All sleeping for the winter.

And finally, some mysterious animal tracks.

And some more. I guess a little mystery isn't a bad thing.