Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter Meditations

There is a slight etch of snow on the limbs of the trees surrounding our home. The winter light is diffused by an incoming storm. This is the calm.

A few weeks ago I commented to Mark that our winter had been mild. Warm sunny days. A little snow painted the landscape; more like water color than oil paint. Now the brush strokes of winter are bolder, colder. Winter can be hard. Snow banks get sculpted by snow plows. Little arms and legs turn to putty when introduced to snow pants and jackets. The slightest outside chore can seem overwhelming when the temperature reads minus 10.

Every season has its moments of quiet. Spring brings small moments of wonder as the first sprouts appear from the soil. Summer brings the quiet satisfaction at the end of a good day of work. Autumn brings grander moments of awe as the landscape bursts into the beauty of change and decay. And winter has its quiet hibernation where the silence is punctuated by the sounds of seed catalog pages turning, spoons scraping the bottom of soup bowls, the click of knitting needles.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Almost Fireless cooker part 2- how to use.

In the previous post, I posted a tutorial on making a simple fireless cooker. Today I would like to share how to use the cooker.

At 10:00 am this morning I put two cups of water in my pot. I placed the pot on our woodstove to warm the water. We have had quite a cold spell so our woodstove has been pretty warm. My intention was to use the cookstove as little as possible, so if I put warm or hot water on the cookstove to boil it will use even less fuel. The whole purpose of this exercise is to conserve cooking fuel. When I checked the water it was at a slow boil. I put the pot on the cookstove and brought the water to a roiling boil. I poured one cup of short sweet brown rice in to the pot. I put my pot on the cork hotpad, then covered my pot with the cozy.
Two hours later the pot was still warm. When I opened the pot, however, the rice had not really absorbed the water. I had it on the counter in the kitchen. This corner is pretty chilly and furthest 1st floor corner from our woodstove. So I heated the water up again. Replaced cozy and cover and put the cooker near the woodstove.
One hour later, I had some mighty fine looking brown rice. I put in some homemade tomato soup I had made for dinner the evening before. So not only did I save fuel but I also stretched a soup for a few more meals.
I am not sure if I should have waited three hours or whether it was a matter of a different location. I am leaning towards location.

I would like to make a larger version of the hay box cooker, such as this one. We have a small cubby located next to the woodstove. I am thinking that we could build a small cupboard for this corner. When I cook on the wood stove I do not have a really good place to put a spoon rest, pot holder and the cover of the pot with whatever homemade goodness inside. I could put the fireless cooker on the bottom of the cabinet and a little shelf for stacking the newspaper that we use for kindling.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Almost Fireless cooker tutorial part 1

Our lovely new home is at the end of a very long dirt road. Given our last home this has provided a measure of peace, quiet and solitude that we appreciate greatly. But there are also some challenges that we have found that we need to adapt to.

The town maintained part of the road ends about a quarter mile before our drive. Our drive is also a bit long. We have decided not to plow the drive and road this winter. Instead we don our snow shoes when we have a fresh snowfall. We pull laundry, groceries and 4 year old on a sled back and forth to our car at the top of the road. The benefit to this is that we are getting a lot of exercise without even thinking about it. The downside is that some services that were once easy to deliver are no longer easy.

One service that will not be delivered is propane gas. We only use this for cooking. Fortunately, we had a delivery the beginning of December when the road was open. But we will not be able to have another delivery until our mud season is over. Hopefully by May. So we must conserve the propane if we want it to last that long.

We have several strategies for conserving the fuel. First we do have a woodstove with a nice flat top. I use this several days a week to slow cook stews. We keep our tea kettle on the stove so we always have hot water for tea. If we need to heat up anything we put it in a pie pan with another pie pan on top of it. When I bake bread I make sure that I am not baking only one item at a time in the oven. So I will time the bread baking with a casserole dinner or muffins. And now there is one more way to conserve fuel...the almost fireless cooker.

I found the original idea for this at John Micheal Greer's (JMG) Blog the Archdruid Report. He has begun his Green Wizard project; in which he shares some ideas from the appropriate technology movement, as a way to learn to adapt and gain skills in a world of diminishing resources. I was inspired by this post on Hay Box cookers or retained heat cookers. In that article, he challenges his readers to try a small experiment with a cork matt, a tea cozy and a metal pan in order to cook some rice. My tea cozies only fit my tea pots so I decided to come up with my own version.

If you would like to try one yourself you will need:

bulky wool yarn, I used Lopi
a large pot holder
a pot for cooking rice in
knitting needles, I used size 10 1/2
a tape measure
a cork mat or a piece of wood, I found an old cutting board at the thrift store for .50.
some wine corks, I have not tried this with the synthetic corks because I was not sure how they would handle high temps. I had some corks saved and some acquired for our wine making.
a glue gun
very basic knitting skills

First, I gathered my corks and arranged them on the board so I would know how they would fit. Then I glued them onto the board.

Then, measure the pot you will be using. Measure height and diameter.

This requires very basic knitting skills. Once you have your measurements you must do a gauge swatch. This will determine how long, and how tall the bottom part of your pot cozy will be. So cast on about 16 stitches, and knit each row for about 16 rows. Cast off. Take your tape measure and lay it flat on your gauge swatch. Count how many stitches are in an inch. My pot measure 21 inches. I had 3 stitches to the inches. I multiplied 21x3=63. This will be the number of stitches I use to cast on. You could add a couple more stitches for selvage ( the stitch lost when sewn up) but you want a snug fit. Now knit to the height of the pot. Cast off.

For the cover I measured the size of the pot holder I would be using. After figuring out the number of inches of the pot holder's width, I figured out the number of stitches and double it. I knit to the height of the pot holder.

Now you will sew your two pieces. For the pot I took a couple of clothes pins and figured out where I would need a hole for my handle. Sew up just these spots. I used a back stitch.

For the top piece, fold and sew up two of the sides.

Weave in the ends. Turn right side out. Put you pot holder in the wool pocket cover. Heat rises and this will help to retain heat.

In part two, I will post about how to use your fireless cooker and our results.

Here are a few helpful links:

How to sew a backstitch.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tristan turns 18 today. 18! How does something like this happen?

Today he is spending the first of what he hopes to be many weekends at the New England School of Metal work. He is taking a blacksmithing class to make some of the tools he will need to use while smithing. He has been busy writing an essay and filling out scholarship applications to the school so he can perfect his skills. He is looking at some community colleges so he can get welding certified. He is in the process of getting his GED so he can fulfill the welding goal. He also wants to take a metal sculpture class at the Maine College of Art.

When he gets back we will go downtown to get him registered to vote and get him registered for selective service. We waited for him to get his license until he was 18. So this week he also needs to take his permit test.

This boy is going places. I could not be prouder.

There were times during our homeschool adventure that I was not sure if it would all fall into place. He is a quiet kid. His math skills could be stronger. On the other hand when he seizes upon something he wants to learn he tries to learn everything there is to know about it. To see him when he is at work at the forge and to see how his skill has grown over the last year, I am confident that he will do okay with whatever he wants to do.

Having said all this I have to share a story...

This weekend away from home is the first weekend where he is responsible for himself for the complete 4 days. He has gone away to camp and stuff but that was with adult supervision. The school has a dorm with a kitchen so he can prepare his own meals. So he had to write a grocery list for himself and go shopping for what he needed. I paid for it but I thought I would leave it up to him. I did offer guidance in terms of thinking about what he should have on his list. Stuff like oh, I don't know ...vegetables, easy to prepare meals, since it would probably just have a small kitchen and he would be sharing it with his classmates. So the other day we head to the grocery store. He picks up a small basket and starts wandering around the store. I catch glimpses of him reading labels, putting things in his basket. We meet in the dairy section where I find that his basket has a fair assortment of healthy food. But when I asked what sort of green vegetable he got he showed me some celery;) When I pointed out that although it is green I was not sure if I was sufficiently green enough to constitute a green vegetable.

His response, " Green is green"

Okay, so, now I know that in future care packages that I send him he will require some kale:)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Resolutions, goals and other miscellany...

Today is my birthday. I am now officially 44...says so on my drivers license. Sure would be easy to stand in front of the mirror today and count the gray hairs and weep over the new saggy bits and pieces. But no, time waits for no middle aged woman.

Over the last few years I have set myself some new years resolutions, birthday goals. Some were wildly overly ambitious and fell far short and others were accomplished. The lesson derived from both approaches is that I do what I can. But if I don't set the goal then, well then I never know if I can.

This is the year that we try to get as self-sufficient as possible. The primary areas I would like to focus on is food, fodder and cooking.

  • Food. We are finally in a spot where we have incredible soil. BIG garden. I would like to get the orchard in good shape this coming year with proper management. Grow a pig. Get chickens again. Provide all our own maple syrup this year. I will be taking some wild food classes this year.
  • Fodder. Will be growing Mangle-Wurzle Beets for our sheep, chickens, pig and beer. I would like to have our sheep eating on pasture all summer this year. I would also like to find a small field that we could scythe a couple of times this summer so we could at least provide some of our own hay for the winter. We plan to build a few more cold frames for season extenders.
  • Cooking. This is the exciting bit for me. We cook with propane gas. We live at the very end of a dirt road. The part of the dirt road that we live on is not maintained by the town. So large trucks are unwilling and unable to drive down to our home during mud season. This means that the propane delivery guy will not be down for at least 5 more months. We need to conserve the gas we do have. Ideally, it would be great to get to a degree of independence with cooking fuels that we do not need to use propane ,except maybe during canning season. We plan to do this by first using our woodstove more for slow cooking. We do this already but we could do it a bit more. The other thing we plan to do this year is build a solar cooker. Tristan is taking a welding class this coming spring so we have asked him to make the reflective box for the top of the oven. In the meanwhile I have been experimenting with a small, homemade fireless cooker. I'll have more on this later this week and maybe even a tutorial on how I made mine.
These are my homestead goals. But I have a few personal goals as well. For my age, I am in pretty good shape. Good Cholesterol, good weight, good bone density for someone who is occasionally on steroids. But man, I can not get my butt in gear for any sort of regular exercise. This time of year I like to sit on my butt and knit. So, I really need to just think about doing some kind of moving everyday. I don't want to commit to so many miles walked everyday, or a certain numbers of sit ups (ugh!). Unless the I feel inspired. When I lived in the city my exercise came easily as a result of living in a city. I walked everywhere. So I need to think about what I can do in my everyday life that will help me to move. I like the idea of chopping wood, hauling wood, heavy gardening work. But this time of year there is not enough to keep me going.

And finally, I want to build up the knitting business. I want to get back to doing some craft fairs. I also think I want to explore some free-lance writing. My ideal goal is to be able to earn income for my family without having to leave my home to do it. So guess I gotta get to work:)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Anyway Project update

Well, one month into the Anyway project and I think that we are doing pretty good. There are some areas where we haven't reached the goal we set ourselves for the month but other areas where we have gone far beyond what we planned to do All in all pretty good.

So lets see...

Domestic Infrastructure: Well, nope not much got done on this. We got the roof on the shed but we still have to add more siding to it. We did not get tarps for our wood but we are stacking it in the shed so it is mostly out of the elements. I did not get a thermometer for the cold room. But I have been using a cooler with frozen water to keep some of our left overs chilled. The cooler is also in the cold room and the room keeps pretty cool. For January we will try to get some of last months goals completed. Thermometer and Shed.

Household economy: We did not track expenses but we did keep a pretty frugal Christmas. We paid off a couple of bills. We had car expenses this month and that definitly put a crimp in our lifestyle...such as it is. So our goal for this month is to open a Christmas club account that we can access next December when, again, our car will need to be inspected and registered. This should make our next December easier. I still want to track expenses. We are spending a lot of money on food lately. Partly, because of our move and the fact that we just did not put up a as much last summer as we have in the past. I want to have a comparison for next year to really gauge how much we can save by providing as much as we can for ourselves.

Cottage Industry: Well, I got the Etsy shop up and running. Tristan has photos and possibly some blacksmithing work that he would like to post on it so I think I will try to help him with that. We have been able to put up some more firewood and a neighbor has half a cord of wood for sale. This should keep us going for the rest of the winter.We can then focus our energies on finishing the shed. We also have to start thinking about sugaring season. We need more taps, maybe larger collection barrel for sap. Tristan is going to help us make an evaporator pan for sugaring this season.

Resource Consumption: We weather stripped all doors leading outside. We put plastic on some drafty windows upstairs that shall remain unmolested by cats. I sewed a curtain for a doorway leading to our utility room; there was quite a draft coming from the bulk head in this room. My goal for this month is to start sewing some window quilts for a big sliding glass door and the window in Evan's room.

Outside work: well I forgot to include a goal for this last month. But I am going to be teaching knitting to some kids at Mark's school starting this week. We will be knitting for Nest Maine; a charity knitting group that donates hand knitted woolens to those in need in Maine. I noticed that our local Adult Ed does not have any knitting instructors. I am thinking of writing up a proposal to teach an basic knitting class and maybe a class in sock knitting.

Family and Community: I did not join the Maine Time Bank or the Coop yet. Our month just got away from us. Those are still on my to-do list. My other goal is to have a date with my husband this month. I think it would be nice to institute a game night also.

Time and Happiness: I have been so busy getting Tristan where he needs to go. I have been busy holding the fort while Mark is gone three nights a week with lessons and chorus practice. I need to take a little more time for myself. I found a wild foods class at this great school around the corner from us. There is also a medicinal wild herbs class offered though our adult Ed. So I would like to register for those classes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The shop is Open!

Well, the New Year is starting off with a completion of one of last years goals! The shop is open. No easy feat for this technophobic knitter. I am still working out some of the kinks and there is still much more to be posted. So please stop by. Oh and any suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Snowman

Mum and Tad were busy getting ready for the storm. Wood needed to be brought in, extra water put up if the power should go out, a soup pulled together to simmer on the woodstove, a few loads of laundry. Tad was busy digging out snowshoes, cross country skis and shovels from the crawl space. Evan would tag along, carry wood, give hay to the sheep, hand laundry to Mum as she hung it up to dry. This may be the work of snow but tomorrow there will be play. This was going to be the first big snow of the season and Evan could not wait to make a snowman.

It was a windy snow storm. All night the howl of the wind conversed with the creaking of the trees. In the morning little swirls of powdery snow danced across the yard. The thick layer of snow was enough for skis, enough for snowshoes, enough to pull firewood in a sled to the house.And now begins the long slow ritual of donning snowpants,layers of wool, winding carves, wool socks making feet more snug in winter boots.

But the snow was not snowman snow. It was too dry, too powdery to hold together.

For several days there were thin tracks made in the snow as ski trails were broken. There were trips in the sled as Tad tried to get Leroy Brown Goat to pull Evan around the yard. Mum made hot chocolate and the last of the Christmas cookies were eaten. There were quiet moments by the woodstove as Tad read new books from Christmas to Evan. There were music making moments as the new Ukelele played along to Tad's maritime songs.

And still the snow was not snowman snow...not even snowball snow.

The weather man predicted warmth and rain. Mum and Tad are busy getting ready for the storm. There is firewood to be brought in.Hay and feed to put away. And finally, a snow man to be made. Mum begins with a small snow ball and rolls it in a large but firm foundation. Evan follows her example and makes the middle. Together they roll the head. Evan finds two sticks for arm. Mum goes inside and finds two black buttons from her button drawer and a small carrot. A curved stick is found to make a fine smile. Bunches of pine needles are placed on top of its head to give the snowman a full head of hair. He seemed a happy fellow.

And then it rained...

The next day the sun shone down on a diminished figure standing just outside the door. On the ground is a stick arm, some button eyes and a carrot nose. Evan puts on his snowpants, winter jacket, mittens, socks boots...such a labor. He helps Tad feed the sheep, helps to bring in some firewood. After the chores he has his own chore to attend to.

From the kitchen window Mum watches as Evan returns the button eyes to their proper place. A nose is centered. An arm is put back at an angle that makes the snow man seem to wave to Mum as she washes the dishes. Once the snow man is restored to a hint of his former self, Evan gives him a hug. A gentle pat on the back. A small comfort for the iceman as the sun beats down on his back.

Monday, January 3, 2011

And the winner is....

The winner of the hat is ...InnStitches... Please leave your address in my comments. They are moderated so I will not post it. and the size hat you would like. A small hat fits a large child or small adult. Medium or Large..which fits a pretty large head.


Thanks to everyone from commenting and all your kind compliments!

The current plan is to have the shop up and running by next weekend. I need my tech support guy (Mark) to help me. So soon...very soon...