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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beer, Apfelwein, and Project Plans

Steve is out in the garage cracking barley for the next batch of beer that he's brewing today, and if I remember correctly, it's a Mexican Amber.  He finally figured out why his brews are a little on the malty side; he just bought a new thermometer to screw into the side of his brew kettle and decided to calibrate it against the dairy thermometer that he has been using and an ambient thermometer and discovered that the dairy thermometer is low by two degrees at 60F, which could translate to being exponentially off the higher he gets the contents.

The apple wine he made from commercial apple juice turned out very well. He opted not to use the second pound of corn sugar in the fermentation and I'm glad he didn't, because it's plenty alcoholic the way it is.  The commercial apple juice and Montrachet wine yeast fermented into a pale, dry wine, that he carbonated like beer, and it's really a pleasure to drink.  It's dry, and crisp, and has an apple bouquet, but it's not over the top in any direction. The good news is, that unlike beer, Apfelwein can be fermented over the summer.  Steve wants to try an ale yeast the next time he makes it to see if it will leave a little more apple in the flavor of the wine.  I'm game to try it, but I'm pretty pleased with how this batch turned out.

I decided that I needed to turn my goals list into an actual plan and attack it like a project.  First I put all the goals into a master list and then listed what can be put on a punch list and taken care of quickly; the low lying fruit, in popular project-speak.  Then I decided what is a major project, what the predecessors are for that project and whether or not it's an ongoing project, like the garden.

Today I added a Garden sheet to the plan, and listed out vegetables I want to grow this year, and then I noted important things about each of them: what season or seasons they grow in, whether or not they grow well here, whether or not we like them, whether or not they produce multiple harvests (important when you don't have a lot of time) and whether or not they keep well on their own, i.e., do they keep without canning, drying, or freezing.  All this will help me figure out what to plant and when, and where.

In the meantime, here is a link to a cool site with a bunch of interesting ideas and a few videos.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Getting Real About 2012

I suppose that when I drew up my list of goals for 2011 last year, I had unrealistic expectations of myself, even for a fairly industrious person with a lot of time on her hands.  I must have figured that I had all year to get this stuff done, what could possibly get in the way? Clearly I didn't consider the possibility that I'd actually find work and have a whole lot less time in which to get it all accomplished.  Even though I had half the year off, I didn't get half the list done, although I made a good start on some of what didn't get finished.  I wonder if goal setting is like playing horseshoes- does close count?

I will say that, in spite of putting up my list for God and everyone to see and feeling somewhat underwhelmed by my own, what's the word…impotency works here, I still think that putting it out there is a good thing if for no other reason than the darn list doesn't get lost.

Without going over the whole, sordid year (that's what the archives are for after all) I'm going to build 2012's list on last year's list, but I'm going to try to be a whole lot more sensible about it, and try to ground the year's goals in reality.

So what didn't get done:

Build dining nook- that one I have started and the hard part (read: time consuming) is almost done. There is no reason why this can't get done this year (save me sawing off a limb or something) so it's going on the list- I might even get it done by Easter. Maybe.

Get the glass into the cupboards- I'm not sure about this one.  At this point, Steve and I are really used to reaching through the doors to retrieve stuff, and only open them when they're actually in the way. The doors may come off altogether- I haven't decided.  Pretty much the rest of the kitchen is in open shelving, and while dusty, it's convenient, so I'm undecided. (And before you say anything about an earthquake, Mom, cleaning all this stuff up off the floor will give me something constructive to do while fretting about why the insurance agent hasn't called us back yet.)  This one's getting tabled for awhile.

Sew and hang the living and dining room drapes- speaking of getting dusty, all the fabric I've purchased for this project is pretty dusty at this point, so no rush.  And having a place to sew is somewhat predicated on getting a few other things out of the way, so this is tabled for now as well.

Get the craft closet in the guest bedroom done- I did manage to get the doors installed for this but that was it.  But since having a place to cram all my handwork and bill paying out of sight and locked up is pretty key to getting the guest room done, this is going on the list.

Build the guest room beds- also key to finishing the guest room, so on the list it goes.

Get the second coat of paint on the pergola - this is not actually my project because I don't paint. Trust me, you don't want me to paint. This is Steve's project and in his defense, he did get a lot of paint on the pergola last year, but it isn't finished and it should be, so this goes on the list.

Plant the pergola- some of that second coat of paint went to places on the pergola so that I could have planted it, but I couldn't make up my mind what to plant: hops? grapes? roses?  I've finally decided to do grapes after all, so we can get this done this year.

Put together planting calendar for our area- now - this is a tricky proposition, because the darn climate in the PNW is really wacky, and getting more unpredictable every year.  The first summer we were in this house (2009) we had two days of temperatures at 106F, with a full week over 100F.  The next summer wasn't nearly as bad, although instead of starting like someone flipped on the switch on the fourth of July like usual, it waited until the week after the fourth to start.  Then this last year we had hail in May, a long, chilly and wet spring which lasted until the third week of July, and the summer, when it did finally start two weeks later than usual, was in the seventies and low to mid-eighties.  It didn't actually even get hot until the second week of August, and then we only had a total of three weeks of what you could call hot weather. I am more convinced that instead of building a calendar for planting, what I need to build is a greenhouse of some sort. I've experimented with various hoop-de-don't houses, which means that I've made a number of half-assed attempts, but The Mother Earth News had a great article this year about building a hoop house, so those are the plans I'm going to use. It will go over the bed that I dug up last year and on which I have a variety of things in various states of rot because I'm composting in situ. So yeah- I know what I'm doing and I know where it's going- both in terms of where in the backyard and on the list.

Eat from the garden every day- *sigh*.  The garden was such a bust this year. Such a bust.  But oddly, we're still doing pretty well in terms of getting use from it, even though I had a lot of trouble with it and the weather.  I still have a lot of garlic and shallots, and those I use almost every day.  I have a total of four celery plants that I dug up, wrapped up in paper, and planted in a pot of dirt in the garage, and those are doing great! When I need celery I go out and unwrap one of them and cut a stalk or two off and then re-wrap it.  The other night we had the first of the parsnips out of the garden with leftover New Year's ham and they were *awesome*.  I have a load of golden turnips out there I'll treat the same way, and we can eat the greens.  I have some January King cabbages growing, so we'll see what they do this spring.  But I'm bound and determined to do better this year, even while working, so how do I write this as an achievable goal? Put in a realistic garden and take care of it.  I don't know what a realistic garden is at this point, but it's got to involve stuff we like to eat, stuff that grows well here, and mostly stuff that produces a lot of food for one plant or for a small space.  Sounds like an entire separate post.

Find and buy pastured pork, poetry, and dairy- Steve and I really believe that animals, whether raised as pets or for food, should have reasonable lives and should be raised and slaughtered in a kind and humane fashion (well, not the pets of course) , and that raising them on pasture and field harvesting them is the way to go. Last year we purchased a grass-fed half-steer from Carman Ranch in NE Oregon, and that was a good experience. Actually, make that a great experience. The only reason we didn't do it this year is that we wanted to try pork, and a half-steer is a lot of meat for two people who don't eat it as often as the average American.  However, the pork project was not as happy an experience as the beef. It was slaughtered a couple of months early (presumably because the corn supplements were pricey) so we didn't get as much pork as I expected for the same amount of money- instead of being around five dollars a pound, it was eight dollars a pound.  Plus, it was corn supplemented, which made me wonder about the whole pasture thing.  Then we had an unsettling and unhappy experience at the butchers where we picked it up.  I thought about asking my friend Rae to grow a porker for us and our retired-farmer neighbors to our west, but she also had an unsettling experience with a different butcher she used this year. So I'm not sure what we're doing for a meat order this year, especially since we are going through the pork very slowly, possibly because it was cut so weirdly. Maybe having more of it ground up is the way to go- I dunno.  We still have two of our own roosters in the freezer (thank you again, Rae)  and pasture-raised eggs are not a problem because we've been buying them for awhile from the local fancy-pants grocery store down the street.  So I think this year's goal should be to eat all the pork, render all the lard, use all the suet, and then figure out what we're going to do next.

Put together bug-out box for emergencies- I actually did this, but couldn't quite cross it off the list because I got flummoxed by the beer can stove instructions, and a bug out box is nearly useless without a stove. While in Florida, I did successfully make a tuna can stove and tested it successfully, too, so I'll do that one instead and get this thing done.  At this point though, I need to go through the comestibles and rotate my stock.  A calendar reminder for stuff expiring might also be a good idea, and setting one up for the pantry would be helpful as well, so those will go on the list. In the meantime, though, I've been backing the car into the garage every night, just in case we have to load it, and for the practice.  Steve has taken to calling the garage the Bat Cave.  I'll be less amused if he starts calling me the Old Bat.

Finish the bedroom- I don't know how much 'finishing' of the bedroom I'll manage this year but by golly, I am getting a real bed this year.  This month even, although it will take eight to ten weeks to build. After that, everything gets moved around and I can start on the guest room, once the dining nook is done, of course.  And then, once the guest room is done, I'll have a place to sew stuff for the bedroom, so finishing the bedroom has a lot of predecessor projects in order for it to be accomplished.  I think I'll just call this one 'make headway on the master bedroom'- a real bed will be a great start.

Redesign and build a hoop de do for next winter- this has been addressed earlier.  I'm not designing it, and I think it needs to be done earlier than for next winter if I want to have things like tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplant and peppers. And I do. I want all those things.

Spend 20% less on utilities where we can control it, i.e., gas and electricity- this is a piece of cake and we're doing better than 20%, because of the solar water heater and solar PV system Steve had done this year.  He figured out a PV system large enough to send so much power out to the grid during the summer months as to make our net bill at the end of the year zero. In the meantime, we're still careful with the electricity.  The big utility action we need to take this year is to get the rainwater harvesting system in- that's what the metal roof was for, after all.  This one is going to be my project though, and I need to do more research. I have a general idea of how a system works, but I need to research for our needs if it will be better to have our contractor dig a big hole and bury the cistern, and whether to buy one or have him build one out of concrete or ferroecement, OR have him pour a pad and sit the cistern on top of the pad. The former would be hidden, but require a pump, the latter would be highly visible, but but most likely be gravity-fed. Like I said, I need to research this, which will involve involving Jef the contractor, but it should go on the list.

Reduce active spending- well, we're not really doing all that well here, especially since I'm working, but the new plan is to live on my income, and throw all of Steve's income at the principal and get the house paid off early.  This first month of the year that won't exactly happen, because we're buying a bed, but- we'll still try to do as well as we can, and we started this back in September or October, so I can report with some cheeriness that out of the mortgage payments that we make every month (besides the extra principal), more of it's going to the principal than the interest. So I'll put this on the list instead of reduce active spending, because to do it, we will have to reduce active spending anyway, and I think this is a more concrete goal in that regard.

Reduce trash created- generally, we do pretty well in this department, although we're far from the one bag every two weeks goal.  Being more self-sufficient would go a long way here, although I don't believe there is such a thing as self-sufficiency.  I do, however, believe in self-reliance, so I guess I'd better get more self-reliant about the trash, not that I'll be burning or burying it or anything. The next goal on the 2011 list gets rolled into this one.

Develop several sources of income- table this- I can barely keep up with my job, although I'm grateful to have it.  See me again in a couple of years after we get the house paid off though.  I might be singing Johnny Paycheck's tune by then, provided, of course, that I can still remember it after I have my stroke.

Fix the irrigation- I should. I really should.

Then there are the goals I crossed off but that later failed: I need to do bees and chickens again, so those go on the list. I'd like to do rabbits, too, but I'm not starting another species until I can successfully raise the others.

I have a few things to do in the garden because I have more trees coming: I need to move the perennials to the back of the yard and closer to the hive, and then plant the hops where the perennials were. The idea here is to give the hops something on which to grow that will provide shade for summer lettuces.  I also need to plant the six regular-sized blueberries that I just got at Christmas where the raspberries were, which means I also need to amend the soil there with some peat moss. And I also really want to try to grow some wheat; last year I harvested some volunteer grain that grew from the straw I was throwing into the compost pile, but it made such a pretty shock that I hung it up in the kitchen and can't bear to pull it apart. Plus, I don't really know what it is.

I also have a new project for inside the house- I want to turn the utility room into a walk-in pantry, and I've already talked to the contractor about it.  It will be doable, and affordable, so win-win. Plus, we'll be able to move the grain mill out of the garage and back into the house, where it really belongs.  And it may be cool enough to extend Steve's brewing year.

And then last but not least- not least, by any means: I miss having a dog in my life, badly I miss it, but I have to get the front yard enclosed first because I don't want a peeing and pooping dog in the backyard where all my food crops are. But in order to enclose the front yard, I have to get the rainwater system in first so that its construction doesn't destroy the new fencing.  But a new dog is on the list. Definitely on the list.

Reviewing the list, which is nearly as long as last year's, makes me realize that I've given myself a tall order again that is not particularly grounded in reality after all.  But if I can get at least half of it done, I'll be doing better than last year with less the time, so I'll still consider it a win.

Particularly if the chickens are all pullets, and the bees don't die.

And especially if I get the dog.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm Excited!

I'm excited because, after ten years of marriage on a decent enough (king-sized Stearns and Foster) mattress on a metal frame with no head board, Steve and I are finally going to buy a real bed!  Part of the reason we're finally getting around to this is that we've been lost in a king sized bed and discovered that even in the summer when we're not plastered together trying to keep warm, a king-sized bed is still way too much real estate to devote to sleeping, so we're downsizing to a queen. This will give us a lot more room in the bedroom to move some stuff around.  Another reason is for the feng shui aspect- a bed that surrounds you in wood gives you more control over your career.   But in the interest in local production and better sleep, we're going to buy an Englander mattress, which are manufactured up the road in Tualatin, Oregon.  That is the mattress on our day bed and I l-o-v-e sleeping on this mattress.  When I really just. can't. fall. asleep, I go out to this bed and fall in and asleep almost right away.  Really.

And I think I found the bed, too, and I'm more excited about that than anything else.  Made of sustainably forested hardwoods using old-fashioned joinery techniques (read: lasts a lifetime or more), the company is in southeast Portland and seems to have a pretty square head on its shoulders.  I mean, how could you not love a guy who describes himself as 'founder and head slacker'?  Plus, I just really like this bed.

All I have to do is convince Steve that this is the right one for us.