Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time change

I'm sure this is a popular topic today, but at the risk of repeating what's been said elsewhere, I'll talk about it anyway.

Spring forward, fall back. Did you know that there's a spike in the auto accident rate after the spring time change? (And a drop after the fall time change.) I'm not a huge fan of the semi-annual clock reset. Not at all. I just wish we could split the difference, and then stay put or something. I hate the fact that it's suddenly dark at dinner time in the fall, and that I suddenly have to get up an hour earlier for no apparent reason in the spring. I have enough trouble getting a good night's sleep as it is. Not to mention the fact that animals, kids, and internal clocks cannot be adjusted by turning a dial or pushing a button.

I know, I know, it's supposed to conserve energy or something. I'll spare you a dissertation, but I'm not convinced.

Now, having said that, I'm thankful for the time change today. It was a full weekend, and slipping away fast. But the kids are in bed an hour early. And the seventh anniversary of the beginning of wedded bliss gets extended by sixty minutes.

I hope you enjoyed your extra hour if you got it. For my Down Under friends, I hope you aren't feeling too surly after listening to somebody who just gained an hour whining about the time change. Feel free to taunt me in six months when I'm whining even more after losing an hour of sleep.

And don't forget to check your smoke alarm batteries. Guess I should do that too...


Toddler Vocabulary

Ameya - Amelia

diggow - To laugh or giggle. "Ameya's diggowing"

payf - To pay for something. "Did you payf'er it? Is it payf'ed yet?"

caa-corn - Popcorn. "Can you get me some caa-corn?"

teedee - Television

deedeedee - DVD

suppin - Something. "Can you get me suppin ta drink?"

caapiwar - Catipillar. "The caapiwar wants to come inside."

nayvers - Neighbors. "Can we go the the nayvers' house?"


Saturday, October 28, 2006


If you want to join The Cult of Peak Oil (which I can't imagine why you would), watch this 52 minute video. Normally the makers of this video charge 20 bucks for it, but they've posted it free online for a limited time.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming...


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!

What the hell is going on any more? Why is everyone I am in contact with being diagnosed with major and/or rare medical disorders?

My daughter has something called pseudohypoaldosteronism. And some unnamed sleep disorder. And maybe autism. Sort of. They don't even know. They just throw up their hands and say developmental delay. Next patient! Next door: 8-year-old with autism. Two doors down: 14-year-old with cancer. My mom had a bout with lung cancer last year. My cousin (er, step-cousin? One of those relatives by marriage that we see around holidays and family gatherings) has multiple kinds of cancer. So did her brother. One of my closest friends has been diagnosed with pseudo tumor cerebri (during pregnancy, no less!). Half the women I know have thyroid problems. Then there's a couple people with celiac, extreme food allergies, more cancer, more sleep disorders... Even our male cat is on canine birth control pills - for a skin condition!! WTF, man?

I don't want to make light of it too much, because some of these problems have huge impacts on people's lives. But the phrase "thoughts and prayers" keeps coming up all too often, and I don't understand why there's so much of this happening any more.

Did the previous generations have all these problems and just not know it? Has the medical field just lost the ability to make people healthy? Do all the tools and technologies just give them so much information that they get in over their heads? Has the cumbersome health care system addled their brains? Do they even know what they're doing at this point? I want answers!

I half expect to go into the doctor's office and have my physician tell me, "Well, it looks like you've got, um, pseudo...thala...druidinoidism. But it might be, uhh, hyper-cranial..... octopi...? Hell, I don't know. Tell you what - try some of this Florephidol. I've got free samples. If that doesn't work, I'll write you a prescription for some Zaloxodil. It says the side effects include intense dreams and euphoria. Can't go wrong with that, eh? What's wrong?... You wanna take a swig of scotch from my flask here?"


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Muscles... sore...... Body... not... responding...

It was a good weekend.

The odds were stacked against it, with cold, windy, rainy, and overcast all figuring prominently in the forecast, and a fair bit of physical exertion on the agenda, and some bad luck piled on.

Our truck died in the most inconveneint spot - halfway through the gate into the pasture. After what seemed like an hour of trial and error on my part to get the truck running, some very aggressive goat herding on Lori's part, and much screaming and crying coming from inside the truck, where the kids were both waiting not so patiently, we threw in the towel.

Those lucky boys finally got their wishes to come true. They got to run with the girls in the other pasture. At first the boys were nothing but raging horemones and stink, chasing the girls around. The girls were running away, looking back at us, as if to ask, "What have you done to us? What did we do to deserve this?" The bucks are pretty disgusting, frankly. They pee on themselves to make them smell sexy, they make noises like a cross between a turkey and a bullfrog, and they're about as suave as I was back in Jr. High. And Mack lost a horn, so he's got a horn on one side and a blackened, bloody mess on the other.

But they settled down as the sun set, and they all shacked up in the love nest, and were much more chummy today.

Despite the new (or should I say never-ending) truck troubles, I got the second of three shelters winterized. It was harder than the last one because a) I was working alone, b) the straw bales had to be transported much farther, and c) I was, at times, ankle deep in a soup of mud, hay, straw, and donkey manure.

I also got a corn sifter built out of bits and pieces we had lying around. The corn has stray bits of cob, stalk, dust, and debris mixed in, which hasn't caused a problem with our corn stove so far, but I figured it wouldn't be hard to sift out. The top of the sifter is a wire mesh that lets the corn through, but not with a lot of room to spare. From there it drops onto a screen that is angled downward. As the corn rolls down the screen, the dust falls through. The corn continues down to a little make-shift chute and into a waiting bin. The whole thing works fairly well, but I think the slope of the screen may be too steep because the corn comes out pretty fast, and some of it ends up on the floor. We don't need any extra reasons for rodents to camp out in our garage. So I may need to tinker a bit more.

The tractor got its front inner tube replaced. It had been patched once, and I figured patching it again would be dumb. And for five bucks, it's hard to go wrong. Thank you, T & B Tire.

The Circleville Pumpkin Show was this weekend, and man, what a madhouse. Having never been, we decided to check it out last Wednesday. It was basically just like the county fair, but instead of being at the fairgrounds it was in town, and instead of having livestock, they had giant pumpkins. (By giant, I mean 1400 lb pumpkins. And 13-foot pumkin pies. Is this a good time to mention pumpkin waffles or pumpkin burgers?) But the trouble with the Pumpkin Festival (other than the fact that the big mural says "100th Anniversary: 1903 - 2006) is that it's too big for the city. A fifteen minute run to the store for some wood screws took an hour, because once I got in, the only way out was to drive 10 miles north of the city and 10 miles back on a different road. They let me in and then blocked off the only underpass within 10 miles that would let me get home...

I also got the garden beds partially cleaned up, harvested a few leftover crops that kept going after the frosts, turned some compost, cleaned out the garage, hung some insulating blinds, and oh, I don't know what else. A bunch of stuff.

Somehow all this added up to a sore, stiff, uncooperative body tonight. But somehow, it feels good. Hopefully I'll still think so tomorrow morning.

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Sustainability, in brief

"There's no away to throw to."
— Harden's First Law

"We can never do merely one thing."
— Harden's Second Law

"We have not inherited the world from our forefathers -- we have borrowed it from our children."
— Kashmiri proverb

"The chief cause of problems is solutions."
— Sevareid's Law

"At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done—then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago."
— Frances Hodges Burnett

"Having to squeeze the last drop of utility out of the land has the same desperate finality as having to chop up the furniture to keep warm."
— Aldo Leopold

"We must learn what sustainability means in practice if we are to apply it to our daily lives and restore the health and vitality of our planet".
— Sir David Attenborough

"The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation."
— Albert Einstein

"The future will be green, or not at all."
— Sir Jonathon Porritt


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Smoke screen

It would appear that Ohioans want to curb smoking in public places. In fact 20 Ohio cities, including our nearby capital of Columbus, already have smoking bans in place. Now we have on our upcoming ballot, not one, but two, state-wide anti-smoking proposals to vote on: Issue 4 and Issue 5. One is sponsored by a group called Smoke Less Ohio, the other by a group called Smoke Free Ohio. Both are polling in the 55-60% range for passage. Now, setting aside your feelings on whether you think a smoking restrictions are good or bad, what could be more democratic than a direct vote on such a topic?

Well...... Hmmm.....

Two different smoking issues on the ballot at the same time?

Does that seem odd?

Does anyone smell a rat?

Keep sniffing.

Issue 4 proposes a new ammendment to the state constitution to put some relatively minor restrictions on smoking in indoor public places. Issue 5 is for a more restrictive state law that would prohibit smoking in most indoor public places.

What happens if they both pass? I'll get to that in a sec.

Issue 4 is sponsored by a group called Smoke Less Ohio. They call their bill "The common sense smoking ban." Members of the Smoke Less Ohio coalition include:
  • R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
  • Lorillard Tobacco Company
  • Retail Tobacco Dealers Association
  • National Association of Tobacco Outlets, Inc.
  • Cigar Association of America

Huh. That's interesting...

Now let's say they both pass, which looks pretty likely. That should send a resounding signal that Ohioans want to get away from secondhand smoke, right?

Let's see what will actually happen: Passage of Issue 5 would mean a new state law. Passage of Issue 4 would me a new constitutional ammendment. Constitutional ammendment trumps law. Issue 4 supersedes Issue 5. Furthermore, as a constitutional ammendment, Issue 4 also supersedes any local laws on the subject. So any existing restrictions (like the one passed not once, but twice by voters in Columbus) would be tossed out.

From this we can deduce the following key points:
  • Politicians are corrupt
  • Voters are ill-informed
  • Tobacco comanies are evil
  • I hate politics

Quod erat demonstrandum

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wheeeeee hours

It's three thirty three A.M.

I'm wide awake.

Don't you hate that?

No reason for it this time. I just fell asleep while putting e5 to bed, and woke up about an hour and a half ago.

Pepper says, "Hi." Actually, he says, "Could you feed me please?" (He's very polite.)

Well, at least I got a little reading done. Work won't be much fun tomorrow I'm guessing.

I imagine Chaos Girl will be up in another hour or so. Maybe I inherited her sleep patterns. Maybe I'll inherit her penchant for spinning things too! Can you inherit from your offspring?

What is the point of this post? I wish I knew. I bet you do too.

Well, here's something pretty to compensate for the pointlessness...

Hmm, kind of looks like what I see when I close my eyes.


Back to my book, I guess...

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Battle of the Eggs

"Ladies and Gentleman... for your edification and entertainment, we now present The Battle for Egg Supremacy!"

"In this corner, in white with a red stamp, holding the title of 'America's Best Tasting Egg,' we have Egg-Land's Best, 'Farm Fresh' eggs from 'Vegetarian Fed Hens' dining on a patented blend of natural products."

"And in this corner, in various shades of brown and tan, we have eggs that came from some chickens at a lady's house down the road a ways. They ate grass, weeds, bugs, grains, and whatever else they felt like."

"Well I gotta tell ya, I can see why people like the Egg-Land's Best there. Snappy dresser, pure looks, and fancy pedigree... But personally, I think the farm eggs have a bit more character going in. They seem a bit more natural for this kind of fight."

Round 1:

"Oh, and both fighters have broken their yolks. The eggs have been cracked into bowls, and both yolks have been busted. Well, good thing this is a scrambled egg fight, eh? Egg-Land's Best is looking just a little palid. It's interesting that the yolk is paler, but the white is cloudier. What's that about?"

Round 2:

"Well, both eggs have been scrambled up, and cooking is done. The Egg-Land eggs are still looking a little pale there. I'm not sure if they can go the distance here. I guess those vegetarian fed hens must not get out much. I guess keeping them cooped up is the only way to insure that vegetarian diet, huh? That patented vegetarian diet, I should say."

Round 3:

"Well, the fight is over in the third round. The taste of the farm egg was far superior to 'America's Best Tasting Egg.' Now, I'm not one of those guys who thinks everything natural is always better, but really, it's like comparing store-bought tomatoes in January to one ripe off the vine in July. Maybe I should think about becoming one of those guys. 'America's Best Tasting Egg'? Well, I guess the American Culinary Institute must not have any back yard chickens around, ya know?"

"So in the end, the ragtag bunch of renegade eggs from some lady's back yard beat out the high-end grocery store eggs, and at a dollar a dozen, they came in at half the price. Those plain old back yard eggs are gonna be hard to beat, if you'll pardon the pun..."

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tomato dehydrating update

Well, that crazy contraption actually worked. When I was putting it together, I felt like I should have been making a video of it, which would then be sped up and dubbed with some kooky music.

It worked quite well actually, considering the fact that it rained the first night I put it out, it rained all day the next day, and we've had a severe thunderstorm, a tornado warning, and two good frosts since then. I just left the tomatoes out there through it all. Part of me was expecting a big mess.

What I found was this:

Lovely sun-dried tomatoes. They taste like concentrated fresh tomato. The ones that were cut lengthwise didn't fare as well, or at least they need some more time. That makes sense though, since they've got more water to lose. I think I'll slice them the usual way next time though.

Best I can figure, here's what's going on: The corrugated metal acts as a radiant heat barrier to enhance the greenhouse effect under the glass. As the air between the ridges heats up, it flows upwards (due to the slope), carrying away the moisture and creating a convection current (with a key point being that the ridges run top-to-bottom rather than side to side). The screen insures good airflow between the corrugated metal and the black cloth. The black cloth protects the stuff you're drying from getting sun-bleached, and it also adds heat due to the black color. The south facing slope arrangement insures maximum sun exposure. The author of the original article claims this works better in humid climates than other sun-drying methods. I think under normal circumstances, things would dry much faster under appropriate weather conditions, but it's good to know that it works even in extremes.

I'll call this a success. I wish I'd tried it earlier in the year. It should be interesting to try it with some other garden goodies next year.

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Rain, Part 2

First, some lessons learned in trying to set up a rainwater collection system:

Lesson 1: Water is heavy.
As they say, "A pint's a pound, the world around," which means that a 55-gallon barrel holds about 440 lbs (200 kg) of water. So before you start collecting water, make sure any cinder blocks or other platforms are level and solid. The mud that collected under my first rain barrel softened the ground, which caused one cinder block to sink, which caused the barrel to tip over, crushing some nearby plants. If you don't have a solid base, you may want to put down some rot-resistant planks down to distribute all that weight.

Lesson 2: No really, water is heavy.
I changed my mind about where I wanted the barrel, but it was already full. I had to use up all the water before I could move it, and that took quite a while. Even a 1/4 full barrel is a pain to move.

Lesson 3: Use only round containers.
I tried storing water in a rectangular container, but the weight and pressure of the water bowed out the sides, which meant the lid would no longer go on. With a circle, the pressure is even all the way around, so it won't bow.

Lesson 4: Plan for good drainage.
If your rain barrel is already full, and it starts to rain, what happens? Make sure you have a way to divert excess water away from the base of your rain barrel, and away from your foundation. I can almost guarantee you that the first time it rains, your barrel will be full. You should also take into account what would happen if your barrel ever develops a leak.

So after several mistakes and mis-steps, and these lessons in my head, I've got a setup I like. It's probably a little overly elaborate, but it does what I want. For the record, what I want is to have water for the garden. You may have other ideas, so the way I did it may not work exactly for you. I had a few specific things in mind.

First, I wanted to have a closed barrel. That eliminates the possibility of mosquito breeding and cuts down on dirt and debris getting into the barrel. If you have an opening at the top of your barrel, you probably at least want to cover it with screen. A closed barrel is certainly not a necessity, it's just a personal preference.

Second, since I was minimizing debris in the bottom, I wanted to be able to get every last drop of water out of the barrel. Our roof doesn't have any overhanging trees, so leaf litter, twigs, and the like are not a problem. If you expect to have a little sediment and debris build up at the bottom, you'll want an upright barrel with a spigot a few inches up from the bottom, so the dregs will not clog your spout.

Third, I knew I would have almost no water pressure coming out of my barrel, so it was either filling up a watering can or running a soaker hose along the ground. I went with the soaker hose option. (Our old house had a raised deck. The rain barrel sat on the deck, which provided a good bit of water pressure for the gardens below.)

On the barrel nearest the raised garden beds, I ran a length of regular hose from the rain barrel to the edge of the first garden bed. Then I put in a splitter with shutoff valves on the two outgoing hookups. One side went to a soaker hose (with the little rubber disk that's supposed to inhibit water flow removed). The other side of the split went to another short section of regular hose, which went on to the next garden bed. Then another splitter to another soaker hose. I don't know if I could get away with a fourth split due to the low water flow rate, but I might try it next year.

The second barrel just had a short length of regular hose and then a long soaker hose that went through some extra tomato plants, some sunflowers and some corn. I have a third barrel, but I haven't set it up yet...

Because I needed several short sections of hose, I bought some of those little threaded hose repair pieces, and some capped hose repair bits for the dead-end soakers. I cut some existing hoses into the lengths I needed and used the repair peices to create several short hoses. The splitters and other pieces can be found at just about any hardware or garden store.

All in all, the setup works pretty well, though it may not scale up tremendously. I haven't discovered the limit to how far the water will travel with only one cinder block of elevation, but it'll make it through 20 ft of regular hose and another 20ft of soaker hose without any trouble. The higher you can raise the source, the further the water will go. I hope to add a second layer of blocks at some point.

Now to get the water from the downspouts to the barrels, I used a product called the Garden Watersaver. It allowed me to have the closed barrel setup I was looking for. The other nice thing about it is that if the barrel fills up, the back-pressure will cause the water to back right up the feeder hose, and any excess will just continue down the downspout and drain away like it used to. (Note that this back-pressure will not work with just a trash can with a lid on it. If you try that, you'll just get water leaking out around the lid. You'll need some kind of overflow tube or something.) The narrow feeder hose also cuts down on the debris a little.

The other nice thing about this type of setup is that you can connect multiple barrels together for some serious rainwater storage.

The Garden Watersaver site also describes a simple little cinder block & wood setup that keeps a closed barrel on its side, and tipped just right so that the entire barrel can be emptied out. (You have to scroll down toward the bottom of the linked page to get the exact details.)

The downside of a closed system is that you have to be more careful with very cold temperatures. If you remember from your high school science class, ice takes up more room than water. If the ice can't expand, you can break your barrel. But I don't water during the winter, so I just drain the barrel and cap the feeder line at the end of the growing season, the same time I put the hoses away.

The upside of this setup is that all I have to do is wait for dry weather. To water the garden I just walk out and turn on the spigot, and then in a couple hours, turn it back off again.

So there you have it. It's not the prettiest setup ever, but it's very functional. Maybe next year I'll block it off with some lattice and grow some nice vines over it or something. If you want aesthetic, call Beo and Mia. And if you really want to get serious about rainwater, check out Beo's article on rain gardens.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rain, Part 1

At our old house, we had a lovely meandering stream that ran through our back yard. It was one of my favorite things about that house. It was really pretty, and it brought all kinds of wildlife.

Unfortunately, it also brought beer cans, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and even occasionally logs and landscaping timbers. Why? Because so much water was channelled into it when it rained, it turned from a meandering stream into a raging torrent. Our property extended to the far side of the stream a little ways, and I remember a friend or relative suggesting a little decorative bridge, or a gazebo on the far side. It didn't really appeal to me - I like my nature au naturel - but I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd pursued the idea.

After reading an article on the National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat site, I decided to build a brush pile on the far side of the stream. I needed to cut down the invasive shrub honeysuckles anyway, so I was getting a two-for-one deal. The brush pile was probably four feet high, and ten or fifteen feet across. The first hard rain, it was gone. Completely. No trace of it.

Luckily the floodplain was away from us. But there was a drainage pipe that fed into the stream. It went under the road, under much of our side yard, through some big rocks, and then into the stream. It would turn into a frightening blast of water during storms. Rocks the size of a microwave oven would get tossed about in it. When we moved in, the banks of the stream were were lined with nice flat, decorative rocks (see first photo). By the time we moved out a few years later, most of the rocks were washed down into the stream, and the banks were starting to erode. The 30-foot tree (never did figure out what kind) was getting it's root mass undercut. I tried to plant various things on the stream banks to hold them, but most plants couldn't put up with going from the heat radiating off the rocks to submerged in Class III rapids and back again.

Why am I telling you this? To illustrate what rainwater runoff can do. When you start talking about things like rain barrels and cisterns, people usually think of one of two things: old rural houses (a West Virginia holler) or desert environments (gardening in Phoenix). Why would somebody install rainwater collection in the suburban Midwest? Or in the country for that matter, since you've got free well water?

There are a lot of reasons. Rainwater runoff is one. As more and more subdivisions are built, the flow of water is redirected, restricted, and not always well thought out. And despite the prevailing culture that says everything is in infinite supply, water supplies are not free. City water has to be treated, often with lots of chlorine and flouride and such, and well water is often treated with water softeners and rock salt. Why not spare your garden the chlorine or salt residue, or hard, cold well water?

Underground aquifers are not unlimited, for that matter. In some Great Plains states in the Western U.S., groundwater is being removed 100 times faster than it can be replenished in the huge Ogallala Aquifer.

Something as simple as a rain barrel cuts down on several problems. It reduces runoff, which reduces flooding and erosion. It reduces the need for water treatment. It reduces the use of aquifers. It provides soft, temperate, free water for your garden and your flowerbeds.

And yes, this is probably a very weird topic for October, but Beo started it!

Next I'll describe how I set mine up, what mistakes I made, and what lessons I learned...


Simple solar food dehydrator

I built a very simple solar food dehydrator, based more or less on this article. Without diagrams or pictures, I'm not entirely sure I got it right, but it did a fabulous job drying some sage and rosemary before we went on vacation. Now I'm trying it on something a little more challenging: Tomatoes. I got some grape tomatoes and some of the smaller roma tomatoes. I cut them a couple different ways to see what works best.

Tomatoes to be dried:

Tomatoes cut -
some lengthwise,
some crosswise
(for comparison)

Corrugated roofing,
leftover from goat
shelters, propped
up at an angle

Screen from our
old propane fireplace

Black cloth draped over screen
(cut to 2x the size of the screen)

Sliced tomatoes
placed on black cloth
(set on level ground
so they don't roll off)

Black cloth folded in half
over the sliced tomatoes

Glass front from old
propane stove placed
on top of the black cloth

The whole stack
propped at an angle

It was a bit overcast today, and it may be tomorrow too, so it might not be the best time to test it, but I'm willing to experiment on a small batch.

The best part is that the whole thing was made from stuff I had lying around. It didn't cost me a dime.

I'll post an update in a day or two once we see how it goes.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

A post on Mia's blog has me thinking about religion. I have more negative feelings about religion than positive ones. Why? Well, for starters, The Crusades, The Inquisition, The Holocost, September 11th, preists molesting little boys, televangelists, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the British-Irish conflict, the Shiite-Sunni conflicts, countless other wars, "ethnic cleansing" events, bombings... I should probably stop now.

I realize that it's probably a logical fallacy to disparage all religion due to the actions of some, but in my mind, logic and religion needn't go together. I strive to think for myself and keep open mind, and (with the rare exception), religion tends to advocate deferring to authority and dogma - leave the thinking to somebody else.

While I don't hold most organized religions in high regard, I respect virtue. I know, I know, without religion, virtue becomes a mushy, maleable subject, but regardless of religion, I think most of us know real virtue when we see it.

To tell you the truth, I generally don't even like to discuss my religious beliefs with any but my closest friends. Especially since most people have never heard of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Religion is like politics - in many contexts, discussions are more likely to lead to conflict than to enlightenment. You're not going to change somebody else's beliefs, and they're not going to change yours.

Since we've been busy doing all these crazy, weird things like canning tomatoes, buying scythes, and milking goats, a friend jokingly asked me how long before I "go Amish". I said I couldn't do it because it involved too much religion.

But in the aftermath of the dreadful shootings at an Amish schoolhouse, I was touched by something I read in a blog Lori directed me to:
...[The Amish community] had invited the widow of the murderer to attend the funeral of one of the little girls that he had slaughtered, and that, at their insistence, a fund had been set up for her and her family.

Further reading on the subject revealed that dozens of Amish people attended the funeral of the gunman who murdered their friends.


I can only aspire to be that virtuous. Maybe I should consider going Amish after all.

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Chalk up another completed project

Here's our new kitchen "chalkboard":

(The wide angle lens distorted it a bit. It really is a rectangle...)

It was created with "chalkboard paint" directly on our kitchen wall. I was tempted to take it from floor to ceiling and door frame to door frame to maximize the writing space, but we decided to go with a more practical approach.

I have visions of different sections appearing on it, like What's Ready in the Garden, grocery and project lists, upcoming events and appointments, quotations, artwork from the kids (and the grown-ups), ucomping expenses, wish lists, random silliness... Like a giant inhouse blog... And of course in these visions, all this stuff is artfully adorned with colorful flourishes, like those creative menu boards in some cafes. Reality will probably be a little more utilitarian, but at least it doesn't make me feel like I'm in some godawful meeting at the office, like those dry-erase boards tend to do.

For what it's worth I did run across an article about making your own chalkboard paint in small batches. The advantage is you can use any color or type of (acrylic) paint you want. Of course, it'd take quite a while to paint a large area if you have to make it five teaspoons at a time...

At any rate, on with the flourishes...


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mirror, Mirror on the wall....


Saturday, October 07, 2006


This is Pepper:
He's 18 years old.
That's 126 in dog years!
In a few more years, he can legally drink!

This is Not Pepper:
This is a cat that's been hanging around in our yard lately.
He's in love with our daughter, and afraid of our son.
We've started calling him Doppel-Pepper.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Whatcha read'n?

I'm having a bit of brain lock on the old blog here. I have several half-written things that just aren't quite working for me.

But I'm reading a lot. We (and by we, I mean Lori and our son) hit the library almost weekly. Libraries are great anyway, and the city of Columbus has one of the top library systems in the country.

[Can you imagine the uproar from publishers if somebody proposed a new concept called a "public library" where people could borrow books, for free, as much as they want? If libraries didn't exist already, they sure wouldn't come into existance today.]

Since it doesn't cost anything, I usually give Lori a list of books each week, and she picks up any she can find, along with others that look interesting. Since they're free, I like to read a few pages here, a few pages there, and figure out what grabs me. Then I go back and delve deeper into the ones that look really good. Sometimes I never get around to some of the books at all.

I used to read one book, start to finish, and then move on to another book. But between the library, my new interests, my ignorance in many of the things we're trying to do, and my disjointed free time, I'm usually into quite a few books at a time any more.

So here's what I've delved into lately:

Small Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon.
The book is out of print, but you can download it for free [voluntary donation] here. Some of the information is slightly dated, but most of it is timeless. It's all about how to raise things like wheat, barley, sorghum, oats, and soybeans as garden crops. He starts the book by bragging about his "pancake patch" to a neighbor. Grains always seemed a bit mysterious to me, but now I want to grow some next year. He's even got recipes...

Building Your Own Greenhouse by Mark Freeman
This one has a lot of good examples and variations, from cold frames all the way up to sunrooms. After reading this, I'm tempted to build a small greenhouse with bent cattle panels, dry-stacked cinder blocks. (Cattle panels are so freaking versatile! We saw them used to make pretty good portable chicken pens too!) I'm a little worried about any structure that has thin plastic film as a major component though, since it's so windy here, but it might be worth trying. I hope someday to have a small greenhouse that's a little more durable, but the simple one would at least let me get my feet wet.

Plan B 2.0 by Lester Brown
This one looks really good, but for some unknown reason, a momma earwig decided to raise her brood inside this book. I'm interested in getting back to it, but it's not very good bedtime reading when tiny, creepy bugs are dropping from between the pages.

The Permaculture Way by Graham Bell
Pretty good so far, though I always cringe a little at gardening books that start talking about the gravitational effects of the moon on things like harvest size and seed germination. But hey, what do I know? Permaculture has so many great ideas that one kooky-sounding one isn't enough to ruin it for me.

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian (audio book, narrated by Patrick Tull)
One in a series of historical fiction known as the Aubrey/Maturin Series. One of the books (not the first in the series) was made into a movie - Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. I listen to this in the car, and narrator Patrick Tull is one of the best narrators I've heard. Set in the early 1800's, the series follows the lives of Captain Jack Aubrey of the British Navy, and his friend Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. Dr. Maturin is also a famed naturalist, an intelligence agent, and a comically un-seamanlike person, even after a decade at sea. If you can get used to the nautical lingo (don't worry about what a "mizzen t'gallant stays'l" is), it's really fascinating. I've learned more history from this series than I did in all of high school. How can you go wrong with a book that ranges from officers trying to learn the music of "young Bach" to ship's boys attempting a mangled version of Hamlet, to the ward room singing, "Bugger old Hart! Bugger old Hart! The red-faced son of a blue French fart!"

Good Spirits - A New Look at Ol' Demon Alcohol by Gene Logsdon
I wondered how hard (and how legal) it would be to brew my own ethanol for use in the family tractor. While looking for information, I came across this book, which happens to be by one of my favorite authors. It seems that in the US, you can make your own beer and wine, but it's quite illegal to distill your own spirits. Luckily, it's not illegal to read about it. It's also not illegal to make your own ethanol for fuel purposes (with a permit). I'm not a big fan of ethanol as a replacement for gasoline on a large scale, but a little homebrew for the tractor might be just the thing. Besides, I'm getting an extensive and fascinating education on the history behind prohibition and moonshine, as well as recipes for making beer, bourbon, cider, apple jack, and both wine and vinegar from grapes, apples, peaches, elderberries, raspberries, etc. And if distilling beverages ever becomes legal, I'll know just what to do (which is weird, because if I have one alcoholic beverage a week, it's unusual).

There are a few others that are calling my name, but those are all the ones that I've answered.

So what about you? Read any good books lately?


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gratuitous vacation photos

This was our first actual vacation in, um.... a long time. We went to Isle of Palms, South Carolina to stay with some relatives. Here are some cute kids who came with us...

Chaos Girl, anticipating the next wave

Chaos Girl, attacking the next wave

E5, making a sand castle

E5, enjoying a boat ride.

E5, realizing he's being photographed

Chaos Girl, debating whether to dive in

Me and Chaos Girl

... and e5, realizing he's not in the picture

Chaos Girl, after a long day of fun

E5, admiring some fish

Chaos Girl, preparing to fire on enemy ships

E5 was alternately camera-shy and camera-jealous, so it was harder to get good shots of him. Chaos Girl had a smile on her face the entire week. He loved the sand. She loved the water. And the sand.

Lots of fun. But I think we're all glad to be home...

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