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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's been a long time since I posted last- I've had a lot going on and not much to show for it.

Let's see- I've been looking for work.  Jobs are scarce as hen's teeth these days, but you still have to have something to show the unemployment folks every week if you want to continue to collect unemployment.  And now I have to go to some 'reemployment workshop' in January, which is mandatory. *Sigh*.

I knit Steve another hat and he liked that one fine.  Then I knit my niece a hat for Christmas and was really gratified that she loved it. She wore it all the rest of the day, even though we were in the house.  She's a teenager, so I was afraid of not being able to please her but I managed, so yay!  We also played poker Christmas evening and you'll be relieved to hear that as the only woman at the table, I had the most chips until I just couldn't stay up any longer at which point all the guys said that it was past their bedtime too.  So I won. Yay!

I have a spreadsheet put together for my crop schedule.  It will take the frost dates and planting dates, factor in the days to maturity and give me the harvest dates.  Yesterday I got most of my seeds ordered from two different outfits- Territorial Seed, which is here in Oregon, and Peaceful Valley Farm, which is in California- they specialize in organic seed and have been doing so since '76. I tried to order my seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange, but after their website led me through a couple of hoops it came back and said their website was closed for ordering once I'd hit the submit button.  So I will try them again on Monday.

Which reminds me that I need to contact Burnt Ridge Nursery in Washington to find out if I can add some fig trees to my tree order.  Steve and I decided to plant fig trees in strategic places instead of building an arbor across the back of the house.  It would be much, much cheaper, although it may take awhile for them to get large enough.  I'm thinking of growing our hops along the side of the house so that we can have some fast shade for the west side of our dark brown house, because last summer was brutal.  We had two days where the temperature was 106F and one at 105F, and we have no air conditioning and don't plan any.  It wouldn't have been quite so awful, but it never cooled off those nights like it usually does, so it was still in the eighties in the morning.  And who says there's no such thing as global warming?

Speaking of which, I'm really disgusted with our world leaders that they didn't get a climate treaty signed in Copenhagen in December.  It looks like if we're to save the planet, it's up to the various people of the world to do the leading, take the initiative, and change their lifestyles and habits to try to ameliorate what's going on here.  There are several arguments out there that dispute the fact that mankind caused global warming, and it is possible that this is a natural occurrence.  There is also the recent news that some of the numbers may have been skewed and global temperatures are on the decline.  It's certainly getting colder here in the Portland area of Oregon- we just had two and a half inches of snow here- not nearly as bad as last year's storm, but hey! It's still early in winter yet.  What cannot be argued is the fact that glaciers all over the world, not just at the poles, are melting and receding, and the permafrost is also melting.  It's not supposed to- that's why they call it permafrost.  So even if you don't believe in global warming, it would probably behoove us all to get our heads out of the sand or wherever it is we keep them and start doing our individual bits to make changes that will help.  If our leaders can't agree because China doesn't want to disadvantage themselves, or the developing countries don't think it's fair they don't have the opportunity to pollute as they grow their economies, I say tough. I won't buy anything from China, if I can consciously avoid it because I don't like their trading tactics, or human rights record, and I don't want to be responsible for the embodied carbon in their products or the carbon it takes to get them here.

I wish I could quickly come up with more concrete things to do- I already use public transportation for commuting (biking is out due to health and distance), and I'm working on my own self-sufficiency, but I think the time for a global grassroots movement is now, because our so called leaders are failing us.

We need to bite the bullet now and think and act for the long term, or else there won't be one.

Happy New Year, and a peaceful, prosperous, and green 2010 to everyone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bits and Pieces and a Hat to Boot

First Hat

Well, I finished it, but I'm not 100 percent happy with it.  I did learn a lot making it though!  I've already started the next one, but am knitting crown-down instead of brim-up.  This one doesn't quite fit Steve's big cabbage either, even though I measured both his head and the hat.  So I'll wear this one and make him a better one.

It is cold- this morning was 14, which for the Portland metro area is pretty darn cold.  It's super-dry as well.  Today we are having a ton, AKA a pallet, of Bear Mountain bricks delivered to stretch the firewood, through which we are blowing like there's no tomorrow.  I have a stash set aside for power failures, because if we ran out of wood, really, we can turn on our gas furnace.  But during a power failure that's not an option because it runs on electricity. Burns gas, but runs on electricity. So no heat in a power failure.  We're supposed to get freezing rain this weekend, so we'll see.   In the meantime, I have to suit up and go clean and rearrange the garage so we can fit a pallet of bricks in there.

I also want to move the workbench under the window in the garage, and rehang a couple of fluorescent lights that are out there, with the intention of starting seeds on it. I find that I am more comfortable working wood on my sawhorses, which are a better height for me than the bench, which is darn hard to lean over and grab a tool from the hanging cupboard.  I was pretty stoked when we bought the place that the workbenches and tool storage were staying, but they don't exactly fit me. I am, how you say, vertically challenged.  So the bench may as well be a seed starting table. Which reminds me that I need to get my crop schedule done.

This week has so far been spent researching unemployment insurance, and finding out that just looking on Craigslist for a job doesn't count.  I have to apply or send my resume and talk to somebody, which is really hard when what I do is kind of specialized, and there's not a lot of call for it. Plus-  most of the jobs listed are for management, and I am seriously unqualified for them. They want six years' experience, I have three.  They want a college degree, and I don't have one of those.  I learned from one place I worked that my lack of degree didn't really matter because I could out-think and out-write most of the folks I worked with, most, if not all of whom had degrees.  But employers want to see the sheepskin, and I can't produce one. And would never in a million years lie about it, either.  However, something will turn up- it always does.

But now to the kitchen, and then to the garage!  And I know exactly which hat to wear, even if I don't have a sheepskin.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cat Wants A New Hat

We are having a gorgeous day here- thirty-six Fahrenheit and super clear. Once of those crisp, late-autumn days that you have to be dead to not enjoy.

Ever since getting home from Thanksgiving away, I feel like I've been behind the eight ball. I haven't been able to get to start on the hutch, and now his lordship wants a new hat for Christmas, which he really needs.  He has some cheap, black watch cap that is looking very tatty and since he's balding, I'm concerned that his head is cold.  So I am in the process of knitting him one, which will be a challenge because I've never knit a cap before.  He also wants some color variation in it, which will also be a trick because I've never done that before either.   However, if he doesn't like it, I'll wear it.  I spent several months knitting him a Guernsey-style sweater, which was the first sweater I ever attempted. I had to adjust it, because of the whole gauge thing, and because Steve is very long.  Anyway- he tried it on when I was done with it, but won't wear it because it makes him "feel like a serf".  It's way too big for me to wear, but I can probably wear the hat when it's done.

Now all I have to do is find a number five circular needle that's sixteen inches long.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, and See You In A Few

Just want to wish anyone reading Happy Thanksgiving; we're taking off for Steve's sister's place in the country for the holiday (can't wait!!!) so I'll be incommunicado for a few days. Back on Saturday.

Keep it safe, but make it merry.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Gonna Be a Hutch After All

Yesterday we went to the local home improvement store and purchased (among other things) my stud finder, the firring strips and twelve 1X6X6 number 2 pine boards for the back of the shelving.

Today I took the stud finder to the wall next to the fireplace and it worked great! It found the edges of the first stud so I was able to mark the center of that, which gave me where I needed to look for the other stud, and sixteen inches to the right I found it where I expected it to be.   On the perpendicular wall though, I couldn't find a stud.  Studs are supposed to be sixteen inches on center (ceiling joists are twenty-four inches on center) and in the thirty-nine inches of wall, there was no stud to be found anywhere in the middle of the wall where it should have been.  I even took the stud finder out to the front hall to the other side of my kitchen wall to try it there and same thing: not a beep- no stud.

So I scratched my head and thought, well what the hell am I going to do now?  With the amount of weight I'm planning on putting on my shelves, I want them anchored in a stud. But there is no stud, so I'm stuck- it looks like I have to do a hutch.  But I still have the problem of the gap that the hearth creates.  I went out to the garage and found the leftover waste of a 1X4X8 and try that as a filler next to the fireplace brick. It fits! Now all I have to do is get Steve to understand the issue, because he just spent $140 on materials the day before, and he just needs to understand what's going on here.

Steve comes to the kitchen and I point out the problem with the missing stud in the wall.

"Well, can't you use a molly bolt?" he asks. I don't like molly bolts- they're fine for some things, but not something that's supposed to hold a lot of weight. Then he says,

"Hey- isn't the door in that wall? How would you get it opened or closed if you had something nailed in it?"

Oh yeah!  We have a pocket door there!  That's why there's no stud there- the space in the wall is for the pocket door!

I can hear it now- how come I can't get the door closed? BECAUSE YOU NAILED IT INTO THE WALL, DUMBASS!

I'm really glad he and I had that little conversation, and now I know what I'm building. A hutch.

Bats, Books, and Daybeds

This is the corner of the living room in which I write my blog, which I haven't been good about for the last couple of days, I know.  I haven't had much to write about, so I haven't, but I know how I feel about blogs that don't get updated frequently.  They get crossed off the list. So here I am, with a musing more than an update.

That bookcase and daybed that you see were made by yours truly.  It was the first time I ever worked with plywood and was probably also the last.  I used a nice birch veneered plywood- I could have purchased an oak veneer, but I only like oak if it's centuries old, and the oak-veneered plywood was incredibly dear and not worth the extra expense.  I think everything turned out okay, but I'm not sure that I have all that sawing left in me for another project.  It took a lot of sawing, let me tell you.  At any rate, now I have this great big bookcase in the living room, and I can't fill it with the books I currently own, which is great! Because I love going to the bookstore!  Back in Florida, there was a really great used bookstore in town called Chamblin's Bookmine, and I loved bringing visiting family to it because we all love used books. Used books for Christmas presents are way okay with us.    I also now have a wonderful daybed with quite possibly the most comfortable mattress I've ever experienced.  I have another daybed across the living room, and they are both sporting the same mattress, which were actually manufactured by a small mattress company locally- just a town or two away.  That just turned out to be a lucky break for us.  Steve and I try to stick to local everything- we can't always, of course (the stupid plywood for the bookcase was made in stupid China, for instance), but we do try.  So we were glad that the daybed mattresses were manufactured locally.  That they turned out to be incredibly comfortable was just lucky.  We're thinking about replacing our very expensive Stearns and Foster king-sized bed for one of these in a queen once our mattress finally wears out.  Oh yes, we're going to downsize the bed eventually.  It turns out that the king is really too large- we're snugglers, so there's a lot of wasted real estate in that bed that would be put to better use floorspace-wise doing something else.  I guess it's a good thing that we don't have a proper bed and just have the frame that came with the mattress and box spring set, a situation I've been lamenting for the last eight years. Well, since we got married eight years ago, that is.  At any rate, I have a bunch of French army blankets that I purchased from an army-navy surplus store out of which I'll sew proper mattress and pillow covers.  They are a really lovely dark grayish-brown, and I purchased them because of the color.  It turns out that the weave is pretty gorgeous too- almost like a heavy wool crepe.  They ought to be really pretty when I'm done, but I need to get lessons on my new sewing machine so I can use it.  My thirty-some-odd year old Singer bit the dust past repair right before the blankets showed up.

Speaking of married, you may be able to see a card stuck in between the books in the lower right-hand corner of the picture.  That is the housewarming card that Steve gave me while we were still dating, and it was given to me on the occasion of the installation of my bat house up in one of my oak trees by my arborist neighbor, who took advantage of his tree climbing gear to get way up in the tree and affix the bat house to it.  I was very excited to finally get that house up in the tree because I dearly love bats, and Steve very sweetly bought me a housewarming card for it.  I casually mentioned what he did to the girls at work the next morning and one of them exclaimed, "oh you have to marry that man!", which turned out to be very sage, indeed, because it turned out that I did have to marry that man.  The house and bat house are still in Florida, but the man and I are in Oregon now.  I'm still on the lookout for bats on warm evening walks though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is It An Obsession, Or A Compulsion?

I have a confession to make.

I am a lousy housekeeper.  I deliberately did things differently with the remodel of this house in order to make it easier to clean, because I knew that I was going to be wanting to spend most of my time out in the garden, and I just frankly don't like to do housework.   We installed slate flooring throughout the house.  We installed wall-mounted faucets in the bathrooms so that I won't have to clean around deck-mounted ones.  Also installed under-counter-mounted sinks to make wiping off the counters a breeze.

The kitchen sink is also under-mounted.  And the stove.  I swore after living with a glass top cooktop in Florida that I'd never have a glass top stove again. It was such a horrible pain to keep clean!  Simply wiping it off wasn't allowed- you had to use this thin toothpaste-like concoction to clean it, which had to be polished off with a paper towel after you let it dry. It seemed to take forever to get it clean.  Such a pain!

So when Steve and I sent looking for a new stove for this house, I warily dismissed all the glass topped stoves.  I originally wanted to just put in a cooktop and have two wall ovens, but Steve convinced me that it would be just as good to have a regular stove with an oven and a separate wall oven.  His argument was that the only time we'd need the second oven would be when we were entertaining, and he argued that he'd be in the kitchen with me if we were and that he could handle getting things out of the lower oven. I have a bad back and this is an issue for me.  We wanted to get a dual fuel unit, because I love cooking on gas (I'll never go back to electric!) but we could not get the gas oven in our rental to make a decent pizza crust, even with the stone, so a gas oven was out.  So it had to be dual-fuel.

 The next thing I had to make sure of with this stove is that the oven had the old-fashioned kind of rack holders- you know- where the side walls kind of undulate in and out and you slide the rack where it sticks out from the wall.  You would not believe how many oven manufacturers there are out there that are using this new-fangled rack holder that is basically a separate rack screwed into the sides of the oven in several places.  I took one look at that and could see what an oven-cleaning nightmare they would be, so no new-fangled oven rack holders for me, thank you. 

We searched high, we searched low. Our stove search was starting to be a worry, and then we found it.  A beautiful Bosch dual-fuel stove with an oven with old fashioned, beautiful, wavy rack holders.  It was like the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and the angels on high were singing.   Gas cooking on top, electric baking and roasting on the bottom, with German engineering- I was satisfied and happy.

Until the day that it was installed and I got to cook on it for the first time. Or, maybe I should say, clean it the first time.

It has a glass top.

I totally didn't see it for the excitement of finding what appeared to be The Stove.  Consequently, I tend to let cleaning it go for, um, ah, several weeks at a time. I let it get good and grotty before I get around to cleaning it because it is such a pain to keep clean.  Besides, it seems that every time I clean the stove top, Steve has to make pretzels right after that, and it always leaves the stove a mess.  So yesterday, I took off all the pot racks and took a scraper to the cooktop. Oh yeah- you can't just wail on it with a kitchen scrubby- you might scratch it. No- all the glass-top oven makers out there include a cheap razor blade style paint scraper so you can scrape off the cooked-on stuff.  I scraped and scraped, and after I got all that off, I took the sponge side of my kitchen scrubby to it with some Bon Ami cleanser (Hasn't Scratched Yet!), which seemed to work pretty well and was a lot easier to get off the stove than the cleaner that came with it.  Next I took several paper towels and my homemade spray cleaner to it, and that worked great.  I realized then that if I stay on top of it with the spray cleaner, it won't  be such a chore to keep clean.  So I firmly resolved to clean the stove top every time I do the dishes.   This morning I dumped egg on it, so after breakfast I removed the pot racks and cleaned it with the spray cleaner. I only had to scrape a little tiny bit, but everything else came off with the cleaner and a couple of paper towels.  Not too bad!

I can see how keeping this darn stove clean could devolve into obsessive-compulsive behavior, though.  We'll just see how long the new me lasts.

I Have a Cunning Plan

This is the corner of the kitchen into which the hutch was supposed to go, left of the fireplace. I mentioned yesterday or the day before that I was going to have a problem because the hearth, which is some sort of stone, is sticking out into that space and was going to make building the hutch a real pain. Not that building the hutch wasn't going to be a pain in the first place.  The hearth just further complicates matters.

Since shelving seems to be my strong suit, I've decided the best way around this conundrum would be to install shelving into that corner.  But instead of having it go straight across the back, I'll have it hug the corner so that it will be on both walls.  I'll nail up firring strips across the studs first, and then nail up wood (probably a 2-inch thick cedar) vertically across the back so that I can attach my shelving directly to that.  That way, it should easily hold all the weight I'll put on it.  I'm really happy with this solution because it will make better use of that corner by increasing my storage, I'll be able to get it done fairly quickly because it will be much easier to accomplish than making a hutch, and it neatly solves my problem.  Open shelving is an inherently dustier proposition, but I like the way it looks, and it kind of makes up for the dust with greater accessibility.  This will keep me busy for awhile.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


 I'm sure it would have been prettier in pale blue-gray

Remember how I said I was going to build a bookcase for my cookbooks? Well, here it is. I think I got this one done in record time, but it was pretty simple.  The way I have it hung on the wall is kind of ugly I'll admit it, but I wanted to make sure that the shelves would hold up all my books without coming down, so they are screwed up there into the studs with three inch No. 14 screws and fender washers. I figured that the cookbooks will cover them up anyway.  Finding the stud proved to be a challenge, for a change.  Usually, I can just keep on knocking until I hear it.  In fact, Steve offered that maybe I should go buy a stud finder at the hardware store, and then laughed indulgently at my double-entendre when I retorted, "Oh I can find a stud, alright!"  Well, I couldn't find a stud alright, and this is how I finally had to do it:

Arrow marks the stud. Only took me six tries!
Getting back to the bookcase:  This is now holding all four boxes of my cookbooks.  But do you notice all the space? Do you know what this means? That's right: I need to go buy more cookbooks! I need like, two more feet of cookbooks.   And I know just the place to go for them.  An entire city block of books, several stories high.   A mecca for book lovers. Notice how many cookbooks they say they have.

Now that the cookbooks are taken care of, it's time to get started on the hutch so that I can put away the rest of the kitchen stuff still in boxes (I swear, it'll be like Christmas by the time I get to open them up and unwrap everything).  I'd planned on building the hutch into the space between the wall of the kitchen up to the brick on the left side of the fireplace, but I discovered that the hearth is sticking out into that space by about an inch to an inch and a half.

So now what do I do?  Whatever it is, it's going to be a royal pain, or I'm not going to like it.  I may have to think on this awhile.  And no, I can't just shove it to the right because the right side of the hearth abuts the open shelving we have on the other side of the fireplace.  I was thinking about wet-sawing it, but I don't want to do that in the house because it's very messy, and I don't think Steve and I can pick this huge slab of stone up together.  On the other hand, I do have a brick hammer- I'll just have to research how to get a nice, clean edge with one.  Not sure what I'm going to do here, but I'm sure I'll think of something. I usually do.

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

I think I mentioned earlier that we are in danger of running out of firewood well before we run out of cold weather, especially in view of the fact that we're still roughly a month away from the start of winter.  Steve mentioned to me the other day that he remembered that the other half of our contractor team who does heat his home with wood had said that he goes through three cords of wood a season, so we definitely under-bought our firewood.  Since buying a gross of Bear fire bricks last weekend, Steve also discovered that Coastal Farm Supply carries them as well, and had them on sale last summer at $199 for a ton, AKA a pallet of eighty-one cases.  So we'll keep a look out for that next summer.

In the meantime, though, I am eking out the cord wood by alternating it with a fire brick.  Steve just came out from his office and said, "is that another Bear brick?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Oh I see what's going on," he said, putting his hands on his hips like a nagging housewife. "You're trying to get a trip to Coastal Farm Supply out of this deal."

Well, that wasn't quite fair. I reminded him that I could just as easily want to go to Wilco, which is further away and has more stuff,  like straw and hay, which could be useful if we had goats, not that we're going to get goats. But we could. Little bitty ones.

"But I haven't determined that Wilco has the Bear bricks" he said.

"No, but the point is, if I wanted to go to a farm supply store, I'd say so.  I'm just trying to make the firewood last."

"Humph," he replied, and went back to his office.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Best Darn Thing For Your Planet - Biochar

One of the things on my list to research is biochar. I'm far from being finished researching, but I was so excited about this one video I found that I couldn't wait to share it. This link will give you some general information about biochar, AKA Terra Preta which was evidently made by prehistoric peoples in the Amazon basin.  Biochar has some remarkable properties, not the least of which is that the soil fertility it produces lasts for centuries, if not millennia.

I am always interested in the do-it-yourself version of something, so I also looked for making biochar, which brings me to the video that I couldn't wait to show you.  Take a look at  Making Biochar 
and I'll tell you ahead of time: I was really impressed with what happened to the smoke when he put the stack on.  He also gives a lot of good information about biochar as well.  After watching this though, I realized that the charcoal that I'm pulling out of my woodstove with the wood ashes is basically made the same way, because our stove burns off the wood gases.  I'll have to sift them out of the ashes first though, because the ashes can be applied directly to the soil, but the charcoal cannot or it will compete with the plants for nutrients.  You have to innoculate the charcoal first by mixing it into your compost (and some fish emulsion wouldn't hurt either) to get the good microbes to take up residence in the charcoal, and then you can add it to the soil.  It's supposed to be immediately bioavailable to the plants at that point as well.

But don't take it from me- do some research of your own on biochar- it's kind of a fascinating dig.

To Tank or Not to Tank

It's Sunday evening, and Steve is watching I Am Legend, about which I had a very bad feeling early on, so here I am over in the corner writing my blog and listening to Baroque Dreams for Flute to drown out the violent noises coming from our surround sound system.  I got the ear plugs in not a moment too soon, I must say, because the crashing and thrashing noises started almost the second I got them in.  I will never understand why this stuff appeals to him.  I really like Will Smith too, but I can't stand violence, or worse, suspense.  Yeah, suspense is the worst.  I can't even handle the suspense in a comedy where you just know the outcome in a scene is going to be super embarrassing for one of the characters. Train wrecks are definitely not my thing.

Today I got the cookbook shelves stained, and now they are in the kitchen finishing drying. Tomorrow I'll put a coat or two of varnish on them.  I've been using water-based varnish of late, because I can clean up the brushes in the kitchen sink with dish soap. It also dries hard enough to sand in two hours, so with diligence I could probably get three coats on them.  I also got a start on tomorrow night's dinner (frijoles refritos) because I pretty much had the wood stove going all day long.  It was a damp and dreary day, and it took nearly all day to get the house up to sixty-eight degrees F.  Because I had the stove going all day, I also got a start on tomorrow's laundry. In both instances, I figured I should be taking advantage of the heat off the back of the stove.

Steve and discussed our next largish purchase this past week, which will be a new water heater.  I've taken to keeping a large soup pot of water on the wood stove for washing up the dishes, in order to save on the gas for the water heater.  If I can use the stove for heating water, I will. I hate forking out money for utilities.  I even made the experiment this week to pour a soup pot full of boiling water (heated on the wood stove, of course) into the tub to see if I could run a bath that way.  It cooled off immediately.  So yesterday when we were at the fireplace store buying Bear bricks, Steve noticed that they sell a tankless water heater by Navien.  We took the brochure home and Steve read up on it. He also read up on what other folks were selling (Lowes sells Bosch, Home Depot sells Rheem, others in the area sell a bunch of others) and researched what kind of features they sported.  Then I asked him, so what does Consumer Reports say is the best one?  He looked that up too and discovered that they recommend a regular tank water heater, because the tankless are so expensive, that you don't really have any savings over the old kind which are much, much less expensive when you factor in the cost of the tankless, versus running the gas all the time on a regular tank heater (although he did find a distributor in Portland that sells a smaller Bosche for around $1100).  Steve also found the receipt for the water heater that came with our house; the old guy who owned it before us paid $159 for it in 1999, so it was cheap and it's now ten years old.  Armed with that information, we're still not sure what we're going to do when the old one goes.  Ultimately, I'd like to have an evacuated tube style solar water heater, but we can't think about that until it's time to replace the roof.  In the meantime, though, I'd like to be using less gas for heating water.  One of the things that the Consumer Reports doesn't seem to take into consideration is what the cost of the gas will be in the future. When you look at the cost of running an appliance on the nice yellow Energy Guide sticker, they tell you how much you can expect to pay a year to run it, but that's based on average gas prices at the time they printed the sticker.  It doesn't factor in increases in gas or electricity prices  Our current water heater is supposed to be around $162 a month.  Well, that was back in 1999.   Ten years later, it could be a whole lot more than that if the price of gas keeps going up.   Steve pointed out that natural gas is something of which the US has a lot. Then I reminded him that we still don't know what the cost will be going forward, lots of it or not, because if we (as a nation) move transportation and industry over to natural gas, the demand will obviously be higher, so the price will have to go up.  If we had a solar water heater, we could lock in the cost. Theoretically. We'll have to consider how much it will be to buy and install a solar water heater, and then maintain it. And replace tubes that are broken in hail storms (had one of those yesterday).  We'll have to see.

I'm just glad that we don't have to replace it immediately.  Now watch it break tomorrow just because I wrote that.  That would be okay with Steve because he extended the home warranty for another year, and he wouldn't mind if they helped out with paying for it.  But it would force a decision that I'm not sure we're ready to make.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Somewhat Lazy Saturday

The tree is ours, the truck is not.

Today we headed into Portland for breakfast at Pine State Biscuits, which is a heavenly breakfast mecca if ever there was one, but we decided on the way over there that if there was a line out the door, we'd go find something else, because it was just too chilly to hang out waiting on the sidewalk.  Sure enough, there was a line, which I expected on a Saturday.  We were in southeast Portland to go hit the fireplace store and score a bunch more Bear bricks, which are little fire bricks compressed out of waste sawdust.  We need them to eke out the cordwood.  Bear bricks obtained, we then had breakfast at Libbie's in Milwaukie.

Libbie's is a funny little dive of a place, where we've always had great meals, although Steve was a little disappointed in his chicken-fried steak this morning.  Everything else was good, and the coffee was great. They brew something called Douwe Egberts. At any rate, we've now had dinner, lunch, and breakfast, in that order, at Libbie's and the food was great every time. 'Cepting the chicken-fried steak.  If you go, don't miss the home fries. They're better than mine and I am no slouch in the potato department.

Then we came home, raked up leaves from the largest sweet gum known to mankind (get used to it- it's how I always refer to this tree), and then I finished assembling my cookbook shelves.  I have them in the house to dry the glue because it's a lot warmer in here than the garage. Tomorrow I'll stain them and possibly put a coat of varnish on them.  I also started a little fire stool for myself to sit on when I start the fire in the morning so that I don't have to carry my dining room chair over there, which is just inconvenient. I am now having a Tension Tamer tea, to warm up; Steve is reading Better Off over on the couch, and we're mighty close to cocktail hour. All is right with my world.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Next House Project

 I'm beginning to understand why folks around here who heat their homes with wood have at least two or three cords drying all summer.  We really seem to be going through the wood and it's not even that cold yet.  We only bought one cord, and last July when I was stacking it, it seemed like a lot. Now I know better. I wouldn't be surprised if we went through it by the end of December.  On sunny days, though, I can get away with burning less because the sliding glass doors do a good job of capturing solar gain.  This picture was taken this morning- I cooked hot cereal on it, and kept a kettle warm for tea.  Today was overcast, and in the forties, so I have another fire going to heat the hall bath up for bath time.  Then we're done with the stove for the day. By the way, the odd looking thing to the right of the tea kettle is an Eco Fan.  It works off temperature differentials, so it doesn't use any electricity, which I think is pretty cool.  I discovered all too late that the two-bladed fan, which is the one we have, moves 100 cfm, and the three-bladed fan, which is what I wish I'd purchased, moves 150 cfm.  I found them cheapest at Amazon, if you go looking.  The stove is a Lopi Revere, and we bought the Revere because it has one of the lowest EPA-rated emissions ratings, and had a cooktop.  I figured if we were burning wood, we may as well cook with it. So this morning's cereal didn't take any gas.  We could have done the coffee with the wood stove too, but neither one of us can wait that long for coffee. Actually, a cup of coffee sounds really good right now, and it's after five, so too late  in the day for that.

The above is the corner of the kitchen into which I'll build our breakfast nook- I drew plans for it yesterday.  The plans also include a book case in the upper left hand corner, or left of the window, if you will.  The bookcase is the first thing to get done, because it will let me clear five boxes out of that corner.  We've been in this house almost a year and I still have lots of stuff in boxes- the guest room is full of them as well. Anyway, I spent a good chunk of yesterday figuring and drawing out the nook plans, which I've posted below.

The stuff on the left is more doodling and trying things out, but the two scale plans on the right (one is the floor plan, the other is the elevation) show where the benches will go, and where the book case will go.  I decided to go ahead and leave the top shelf with only eight inches because I'm going to put my over sized books up there on their backs.  Everything else should fit fine.  Steve went with me to buy the lumber and hanging hardware, which totaled a little less than forty-five dollars.  I wanted to paint them a pretty French blue-gray, but decided that I should probably use stain and varnish that I already have, instead of buying more paint.  Seems like the more responsible thing to do, even though I would really prefer the blue gray color!  At any rate, today I spent some time working out a template for the braces, and tomorrow I'll get started on making it.  The other things I did today was look for work (nothing) and get started on my crop schedule.  Now I need to go throw dinner in the oven (chicken) and scrub the tub so I can take a bath.  As my friend Chelle once said, "a bath rocks!" It really does.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Homestead

Isn't that a lovely picture? I wish it was mine.  This picture was taken in 2006 at Steve's mother's cousin Karl's house in Kaiserslautern, Germany.  That well you see in the center of the path was hewn from a single piece of stone.  Here's another picture, this time from within the kitchen garden portion of their yard:

Someday, I hope that we'll have as good a set up or better.  But why homestead at all?

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed applicants freehold title to 160 acres for the taking if they filed an application, improved the land, and filed for deed of title.  Freeholders then scratched out a living off their land, making do without, or making whatever they needed themselves, or saving up and buying what they couldn't produce with money earned from what they could produce themselves.  It was a hardscrabble way of life.

Homesteading, particularly urban homesteading, is a movement gaining momentum.  For most folks, it involves trying to grow most of their food on their little urban or suburban plots or allotments, and making efforts to reduce their reliance on modern conveniences like cars, cable TV, etc.  They want to know where their food is grown and what goes into it, and do the fine, upstanding thing that reducing one's carbon footprint is. I'm doing it because I'm reading the signs and I think life is going to become pretty difficult in the future, and I want to make sure that Steve and I don't have to choose between eating and getting our meds when we're old. 

So what are we doing?

Well, aside from our garden aspirations (okay- my garden aspirations - Steve is not a gardener), we've already replaced all the windows in the house with new double paned, thermal insulated windows.  Two of them were enormous sliding glass doors- one six-footer, and one eight-footer.  The eight-footer replaced a large picture window that was in the living room.  The idea behind this was to take advantage of the solar gain we get from our southern exposure.  This wasn't so wonderful last year as we had a giant incense cedar at the back of our yard whose shadow pretty much ensured that we wouldn't have any solar gain, but we had that removed last spring.  Now the living room gets nice and toasty on a sunny day, and seems to warm up appreciably on cloudy ones.  On sunny days so far, I can only build a small fire because once the sun hits the window, it really starts to warm up fast, sometimes getting too warm.  It will be interesting to see how this will all work this winter when the temps really start to fall.

We have the wood stove now, which helps.  I'm planning  a coppice to supplement purchased firewood. Since we only have a quarter acre total, I'm not going to get much wood, but I'm going to try. I was going to plant a few Black Locusts, because they are suitable for coppicing, grow really fast, have a high BTU content, and make great bee fodder (their flowers are supposed to be lovely), in addition to being so hard that their wood is supposed to last 70 years in the ground, which is why they're used for fence posts.  But then I found out that they sucker horribly, and since the coppice is supposed to go along the back fence, I didn't want to do that to my neighbors.  So I'm still trying to figure out what to plant back there.

Small electrical appliances are being replaced one-by-one with hand-powered versions as they die.  We now have a cast-iron stove top waffle iron and an old-fashioned eggbeater.  I think the old-fashioned eggbeater actually cost more than the electric hand-mixer it replaced, but at least it will never have to go into a landfill.

You saw our laundry set-up.  We also have an HE front-loading washer.  We replaced the two toilets in the house with a couple of Toto dual-flush toilets, and practice water saving with them, if you know what I mean.  Steve works from home.  I commuted by public transportation, back when I worked. I'm now looking for work closer to home so that the commute is not such a bear.

The other goal of homesteading is to simplify our lives.  Granted, homesteading means a lot more work- I'm not kidding myself.  But the idea is to be able to live with fewer and fewer outside inputs.  When we first moved here, I thought we may have made a mistake because the normal places we do our shopping are so far away now.  But after reading Better Off, by Eric Brende (which was an interesting read, by the way, and recommended) I realized that we're perfectly situated to hardly need the car at all, if I can get most of our food from the yard.  In one direction, our bank is about a mile away.  In the opposite direction, a nice grocery store, the post office and the library are two miles away.  All we need are bicycles.

I'm learning how to can, so we can reduce the number of cans we have to recycle.  I purchased a pressure canner this summer, so that part is done.  Steve already makes our bread, and learned how to brew beer this autumn.  Hard cider is next- several of the trees I ordered are cider apples.  I'm planning a wooden work table-island thingy for the kitchen, to which I'll affix our pasta machine so that I can make all our pasta from scratch.  We're planning cold storage in the garage, so that we can keep vegetables out there during the winter, and so Steve will have a better thermally-regulated place for his fermenter.

Since we don't have any debt outside our mortgage, and we live well beneath our means, the next trick is to pay off the mortgage early.  Then I think we can scale back and really simplify.  Someday, we'd like to replace our asphalt roof with a metal one so that we can install a rainwater harvesting system.  I think a solar water heater is also in our future.  I doubt we'll do solar panels because I don't think we have enough life left in us to get them to pay for themselves.  Maybe if the economy of scale kicks in and they get a whole lot cheaper we could consider t it, but not at this writing.  We may add chickens (we're still just thinking about it- they are a commitment after all); I'm definitely getting bees- maybe as soon as next spring.

So little bit by little bit, we're trying to simplify our lives by homesteading, such as we can.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday is Laundry Day

So Monday is laundry day, and has been historically.  I used to let Steve do it, but two things happened:  I got laid off and didn't think it was fair that he still had to do this, since I have the time now, and I finally decided that I didn't like the way he did it.  At any rate, doing the laundry got to be more fun once we got the clothesline (picture below), believe it or not.  There is something more relaxing about hanging wash on a line than chucking it into a clothes dryer, setting it, and dashing off to go do some other chore.  I guess that because hanging the wash does take more time, you have to slow your pace a bit.  Then there is the fresh air and breeze, and my favorite- birdsong- that happens while you're out there.

How do you like my clothespin bag?
Made it myself, I did.

Another obvious benefit is the lowered electrical bill.  That, and not heating up the house with the dryer when you don't have an air conditioner and it's perfectly hot outside.  The difference in the electrical bill became pretty clear when this last one was a little over ten dollars more than the previous.  Let's face it, ten dollars buys a lot of beer, especially when stretched out by making your own.  I decided that if there was any heat at all, even just warmth, coming from the back side of our new wood stove insert that we had installed in the two-sided fireplace we have between the living room and the kitchen, I was getting a proper British clothes airer, which I did, directly from the manufacturer in Wolverhampton, UK.   I figured out that even with the exchange rate involved, it would be less expensive than purchasing it State-side, and it was; I saved nearly fifty dollars ordering it from the UK.  Here it is, hard at work:

Now, I have to admit- it doesn't hold much at a time. They (Cast in Style) have ones with more slats, but I didn't want it sticking out into the kitchen.  Consequently, I can't get much on it at a clip, so I have to do it in batches, and then they go half-dry into the dryer in the laundry room.  But this works well, because our dryer has a dryness sensor, so even if I set it for the usual time for a mixed load (thirty-four minutes), once the clothes come to the right temperate, the dryer senses how much longer it will take for the clothes to be dry and it adjusts the time down automatically.  So we still save money.

And saving money's the name of the game right now.

Hubby's First Beer

This is the first of Steve's very first attempts at brewing, which we finally got to sample yesterday.  It is a lovely stout, and quite drinkable, but we both want to give it another week to see if it improves.  The current batch he has in the fermenter is a Califnornia Common, so named because of the strain of yeast he used.  The closest commercial equivalent would be an Anchor Steam beer.  And after the California Common is done and in the bottles, he's going to make me a Pilsner!! 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You Gotta Start Somewhere

So here's the plan. Teach yourself to feed yourself from your garden and become otherwise as self-sufficient as possible, so that you can retire, early if possible.  This is what I hope to do with the backyard, which faces south and has almost no plants in it.  We looked long and hard for a house with a southern exposure at the back and very few plants in it- a blank palette if you will, and then nearly died from the heat the following summer.  We have no air conditioning and don't plan on putting any in, and the temperature hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of days this past summer.

Back to the plan:  this is very different from what I originally envisioned, because I had the good fortune to get Gaia's Garden for my birthday, and it changed how I think about what should happen back there.  So the garden is planned, most of the trees are on order (they'll be here in January), and the next thing to get done is to create a crop schedule.

I found that I was pretty much late with everything last summer, but that was because I was so involved with the house.  I even ordered cool weather cover crop seeds, but didn't get them in because I was feverishly finishing up the bookcase and day bed before friends came for a visit.  Seems I'm always catching up.  So next spring, I want to have a solid plan and calendar of when everything gets started and transplanted and all that.

Did I mention that my soil is clay? From one extreme to the other. Back in Florida, my soil was sandy.  We left Florida because it has only two seasons: Winter, and Weed and Bug Season.  So here we are in Oregon, and the soil is clay.  I have a lot of work to do.