Tuesday, October 27, 2009

rome in costume

tabitha made link (legend of zelda) costumes for the kids. yes they all wanted to be link for halloween. rome is really cute in his. tabitha just finished making it. she had made all the kids costumes and rome's was the final one.

the swords that i made a few weeks ago are also part of the costume. i pity any marauding enemies on halloween night.

happy halloween!

Monday, October 19, 2009


i finally mustered the courage to cut that leaning tower of pisa the electric company left in my front yard. no matter how many times i cut a tree with a larger diameter than the length of my chainsaw blade it always freaks me out a little. my saw didn't really meet the radius length either since it was more of an oval than a circle i barely managed.

i cut the stump about chest height. any lower and i wouldn't have been sure to get it down. as it was, when it started to go i stepped away from it for safety and it leaned to fill my notch and stopped right there--hung. a couple of rakes from my spinning chain across the newly revealed notch and it fell.

tristan had been helping me all morning. he is learning to stack wood. he stacked that whole smaller row. sure it is only the first layer but most of that wood came from across the yard. he can move a wheelbarrow flush with wood. mostly he loaded the wheelbarrow completely full with wood and i'd come and wheel it over to his pile and dump it there, where he'd stack it from. it is surprising how much that frees me to get other dangerous stuff done.

these stacks are ten feet by five feet tall. this wood sitting right here is likely enough to get us through next winter. oh, but that isn't the half of it. we'll have several more stacks like these before this tree is completely worked up.

i chased tristan off while felling the big log. when i was done i discovered him collecting acorns.

he was getting them for the pigs. they get so excited over acorns. he took it upon himself to provide them with some excitement. such a good-natured boy.

the acorns were falling heavily this day. you could hear them pelt the steel roof of the chicken coop every few minutes.

tabitha was out getting groceries from the yard.

these turnips ended up as part of the most glorious turkey-pot-pie. it had sweet potatoes, acorn squash, chard, onions, carrots and garlic. nearly all the ingredients were from our little farm, sans the turkey. it was so good that i ate a second huge helping and almost exploded.

we have to burn-carbon today. that is what we call it every time we drive anywhere. i must attend a seminar on our heath care. the state health care is changing affiliations and i need to understand the new stuff completely to make informed choices for my family. the whole family will go to springfield with me. we'll run all those errands that get queued up and likely end up in a fabric store or two. we love our new van. it has been such a blessing in disguise. don't get me wrong being in debt really sucks. none-the-less we love our van and are happy as things are.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

greenhouse 1.2 filled

i got up early and started filling the raised beds with dirt. we decided to save the final compost for the top layer. i dug the dirt from around the compost bins and some by the door of the old hog pen. the dirt was great, as good as the compost that i was saving back. i managed seven full wheelbarrow loads. tabitha picked rocks, weeds and japanese beetle larvae. we moved our jasmine plant and a few herbs into the back.

we hope for a big jasmine bloom this next summer.

tabitha dug the red swiss chard and handed them to me.

i carefully loaded them into the wheelbarrow.

here is our first load and the dug up bed.

tabitha grabbed some dill too.

we put the dill against the wall since it will grow taller

tabitha densely packed the swiss chard.

here is the bed of toscano kale that we moved in to the greenhouse.

here it it all planted.

the open area on the left is direct seeded lettuce mix and arugula. we left a third of that flat area open for successive seedings. there will be rows of shelves will be filled above here with deep boxes of dirt for more successions of greens. we are really going to try to get a full season of greens in our diet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

greenhouse 1.2

we cleaned out the greenhouse. it had a huge castor bean plant and a large fruitless tomato plant in it. i took out the old shelves and we loaded all the pots and seed starting stuff into the wheel barrow. with the floor clear we discussed a layout for the raised beds that will host our greens. i set a row of block across the back and closed in that end. i cut an old piece of plywood and zip tied it to the back.

i folded the surplus plastic across the plywood in the back and screwed and even older/ scrappier piece to hold the plastic in place.

very secure and cozy for winter. i plan to seal up the front door area a little better with some surplus bubble foil insulation. if that doesn't keep the breezes out i might install a secondary plastic wall with a overlapping slit pass through just inside the existing storm door. only as a last resort though because it will take considerable effort to make that happen.

i went to the local lumber yard and got a couple of (two by twelves). i opted for the pressure treated stuff because greenhouse 1.2 probably be there until the planned addition is completed. greenhouse 6.0* will be attached to the south facing wall of the addition.

there is about twenty inches of planting space on either side of the walk. the walk way is twenty four inches wide. there will be four (one foot by eight foot) wire shelves against the north wall, on the left. that will afford a bunch of sunny space for seedlings this late winter.

i'll fill the bed area with dirt tomorrow. i have some compost in a few locations that might go a distance in filling that area. had i been feeling better i'd have gotten that done today. it is funny how illness slows things down so much. i'm feeling a little worse for the wear right now.

luckily tabitha made an excellent dinner tonight. it was a gourmet meal made from our pantry. tomato and meat pasta with extra garlic. she baked two focaccia breads. one of them has fresh rosemary garlic and coarse sea salt. a fresh salad picked five minutes before we sat down. it was fabulous.

we commented on how removed we are from the standard method that most people have a meal like this. all the fresh ingredients and quality of preserves from our garden, the fresh baked bread, our own meat pork and beef, we feel so blessed. meals like this really makes us appreciate the simpler things in life more fully.

i asked tabitha to take a photo of her lovely focaccia. she got a little distracted and we have no proof for further braggin' rights. you'd have to take my word on how it tasted so what's a little more of a leap of faith?

* 6.0 because advances in technology will be so vast that several version numbers must be skipped

Thursday, October 15, 2009

sweet potatoes

here are some of our sweet potato harvest. they were so easy to do and flourished. we'll be allocating a much larger portion of our garden to these little (big) favorites next year.

the black plastic mulch method proved a grand success. all we did was prepare the soil, cover the area with black plastic, cut holes in the plastic (i'll use a plumbing torch next time to burn the holes), plant the slips that tabitha started and nurtured since winter. while we went to st louis the cows broke into the garden and ate most of the leaves from them. they bounced back and made tons of tuber in spite of it all.

the whole house has a snotty cold today. it is not completely debilitating but it just as well should be. all it does is leave just enough energy to make me feel anxious about the stuff i need to get done. i have even started a few things and regretted my lack of concentration and exhaustion afterward.

i went to work today a half day. i brought home some leftover polyethylene tubing.

it is enough to make a small row cover for extended salad season. this stuff is pretty cheap and wouldn't need to be this large in diameter. we might have some more left over after the final project. i imagine that it won't hold up against uv exposure for many seasons but we'll see.

i also need to build tabitha a sewing machine/serger cabinet. mostly i need to lock the kids (toly) from nearly ruining it at every opportunity. i'll try to do that this weekend. another task we'd like to get on this weekend is clean out the green house and plant some more greens in there. we want to start our own onions this year from seed and will have to get the greenhouse going so early that we might never really close it down. i'm going to go look at onion varieties any suggestions? we are considered short-day but on the border and could get away with the right long-day variety on the right year.

the wood stove almost chased us out of the house last night. i enjoyed it since i was sickest and could have enjoyed a native american sweat lodge. i hope this illness passes quickly.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the colder season is upon us

tabitha dug the sweet potatoes. they were huge. she left them out to dry and it has done nothing except rain ever since. we'll bring them in tomorrow and let them cure in the house. we removed the top super from the bees and got a little more honey. they are mostly closed in for the winter now. i have yet to wrap them in tar-paper and put their top feeder on. they should have plenty of honey stored for winter but i will feed them anyway. i don't want them to die. like the bees from last year did. strangely every ones bees in the immediate area died last year. that is little consolation though.

i replaced the gaskets on the wood stove. toly and rome managed to destroy them through out the summer. the remaining gasket was hard and crunchy. the wood stove manual suggest that they should be changed every year. i can't imagine doing that. the gasket material cost twelve dollars and the special high temperature glue was another five. not too expensive but it was a pain in the butt. i scraped and wire brushed the old gasket and glue and put in the new gasket. all the doors had to be readjusted the make a proper seal.

i had to clean the stove pipe and chimney too--messy work. the flue was nearly completely clogged. ash had fallen and settled where the stove attached to the pipe. i took it completely apart and realigned the pipe and made sure that it fit very snugly. all the proper heat shields needed adjusting too. it took a few hours but i feel much safer having gone over the wood stove in such detail.

i lit a small fire to take the damp chill out of the house. the draft worked great and the stove seals to the point of killing the fire with the damper shut. i'll trim the white rock-wool around the pipe next time it cools down. i left extra there to be sure i got a good seal and could use the surplus to stuff into leaky areas.

i also loaded a little wood on the porch. most of the wood is soaked from the wet weather we have been having. this should dry and keep us until sunny weather returns. i have taken a cold so that is about all i can do for today.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

boy do i feel old

my job at the state has me taking waste water classes. they require a certified operator for their water treatment system. i didn't have a calculator since the kids destroyed the last promotional one i received for some convention years ago. the last class i took had loaner calculators. during this first class they said i'll probably need a calculator. calculating the amount of chlorine necessary to treat the water in a ten inch pipe two miles long requires ME to use a calculator. i looked at calculators and decided that i'd spend a few of extra dollars to get a better one that maybe tristan can use in a few years for pre-algebra.

so i got the sharp EL-W516. it was less than twelve dollars and has all the fancy stuff. on to what is making me feel old. this calculator adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides fractions and gives the answer in fractions. A FRACTION... when did they do that? calculator answers used to use the decimal point only. a fractional answer was how they were sure that you knew how to preform the operation.

when did this happen? i guess i realize it has been possible for quite some time but this is crazy. when i took pre-algebra it was the only a few years before that they hadn't allowed calculators in class. logs were still in huge volumes of tables and needed to be looked up and applied. i even learned to use a slide rule because it was a skill that i might still need. what will they do next? or maybe they already have and i have yet to discover it.

i remember when i learned to use my RPN calculator and that felt like cheating, NOW this really feels like cheating. the answer as a fraction, where have i been? i feel like rip-van-winkle.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


O'Melay kids are really rough on stuff. in fact everything we have ever loved is now broken--no joke. over the past six years tristan has had several swords--more than ten. from plastic play swords to bamboo karate sparing swords. none of them have survived. the longest surviving sword was one of my manufacture. it was thin enough to fit into a long extinct scabbard that came with an inferior short lived purchased sword. it lasted and lasted and i was convinced that it would pass the grade and others might need to be constructed for his siblings using the same paradigm. alas it failed and the flaw that caused it was not easily fixable. the wood split down it's natural grain. that happened several months ago.

every night since all O'Melays have dreamed of nothing except swords. i got daily request from at least one O'Melay that they needed a sword. finally the stars aligned and the weather forced indoor activities only. sword making began in earnest.

i began with a thin board of oak that i had planed down at bobs for the old thin sword. i cut the board in half and glued them together making sure that the wood grain crossed so no further splitting could occur easily. here is a piece of the laminated stock.

i cut out the shape of three swords making it a single piece from tip to end of the hilt. i cut out a guard to protect little hands while crossing blades.

i glued two pieces of the the thinner oak on as the hilt to hold the guard in place.

the final product is incredibly strong and should not have the earlier flaw of the obsolete sword. tristan is practicing his most threatening grimace.

i also fixed the old broken shield. i predict that it won't last two weeks. but the sword should last for several months if not years. as long as they don't leave it out in the rain or let the grass grow up around it and destroyed by the mower.

i could never sell these things since i'd have to charge over a hundred dollars for them. even at that price it wouldn't be for any kind of a profit. maybe if i had more than two clamps and some other power tools my production could increase. currently they are mostly hand made. files and chisels remove oak wood very slowly.

now that all three sword are finished the kids are out on some adventure. i made each sword a little different so they can easily tell which one belongs to whom. toly's hilt grip is smaller for his little hand while they get progressively thicker for kassi and tristan respectively.
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