Wednesday, November 28

Just scratching the surface....

It is painfully obvious every time I walk through my living room that I am way behind in my reading. Between the Mother Earth News Fair bookstore, the library book sale, the great used book store in town and countless library options, I have a backlog that is staggering. Add to that the books that I have on the shelves that i had before the fair and the sale plus what i have downloaded on the kindle and i am in serious trouble.

And I love to read! I want to read constantly. I currently have 5 books started/in progress. The problem is two-fold. First, the piles are so intimidating. Where do I start? Who do I read first? Should I tackle the shorter books first or take on the big Shelby Foote Civil War collection?

Secondly, there is the matter of time. With winter approaching I will have more time indoors and not as much yard maintenance on my plate. And there is nothing better than sitting in the chair by the fireplace with a book in my hands waiting to be started. But, as you know, i have two children. And because I have two lovely children, I do not have the luxury of free time.

If you are a Mom, you know about the magic hour. When all children happen to take a nap at the same time and there is that realization that you do in fact have a little free time. For me, it is the sound of a heavenly chorus in my brain - which quickly turns into sheer panic. "What do I want to do? I have FREE TIME! What to do first??"

I spend the first 10 minutes completely freaking out about the fact that I have free time and then another 10 minutes stressing about all the things I want to do and trying to pick one that will fit into the allotted time for around an hour and a half.

Reading, blogging, genealogy research, house chores, garden projects, taking an uninterrupted shower....

How do you tackle your book shelves? How do you find time to digest all those wonderful hardcovers?

Monday, November 26

The Break

I used to travel - a lot. I have been to more countries in Europe than I have to states here in the US. I love hearing new languages, seeing new things and experiencing new ways of life, if only for a few days.

This past Thanksgiving holiday I traveled to Nevada to spend time with my brother who could not come home this year. I had a great time catching up with him, but I realized that my traveling days are going to be limited to the occasional long weekend within driving distance of my home for the foreseeable future.

Readers, I am getting old. I am getting 'set in my ways', 'past my traveling prime' and 'on the downward slope toward 7pm bedtimes'. At least as far as traveling goes. Gone are the days of spontaneous adventure, of flying 8 hours and then having energy to roam the streets of Edinburgh and of thinking that airports are fun and exciting places.

My back is killing me. I spent way too much time in a cramped little seat looking out a window the size of my Kindle. I really just wanted to get home.

But I also really needed the break.

Life has been throwing everything it can at me these past few weeks, indicated by my lack of posts. We have been dealing with family situations, the loss of a long time pet, child behavior issues and many other daily life tidbits that seemed to have all come at once.

So I flew to Nevada and spent 4 fantastic days in 70 degree weather doing absolutely nothing. Yes, readers, i am guilty of hanging out. Slacking off. Being lazy and non-productive. I did not knit a single thing. I did not read anything pertaining to homesteading. I drank Coke and ate pizza with reckless abandon.

My brother lives alone in a new house. I should be ashamed to say that I enjoyed the wall to wall carpeting, the dishwasher, the television that is bigger than the windshield of an SUV. But I am not. I enjoyed it all. I reveled in it and loved it.

Like I said, I needed a break.

On Black Friday, instead of fighting hoards of people for cheap merchandise, I spent the day hiking with my brother and his dog in Red Rock National Park. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we had a great time. And it only cost us the $7 entrance fee.

I learned a few things these past few weeks which i will share with you all shortly. This trip made me run the gambit - from excitement and spontaneity to fear and panic to discovering limitations and realizing that they are not the end of the world.

Balance is coming, my friends.....

Tuesday, November 13

Gadgets on my Counter vs. Pure Water

So I have a new gadget sitting on my kitchen counter and it is taking up quite a bit of precious space. It arrived last week and apparently it makes water.
The MH943T (sounds so futuristic, right?) makes 100% pure drinking water. And it actually tastes good - really good. I was surprised because I tend to think that simple is better. I don't want a huge fancy gadget on my counter to produce drinking water when I can just run some tap water through a britta filter, or (gasp!) drink tap water.
So I have a dilemma here - this distilled water tastes really good but it uses electricity to produce. Weighing the health benefits of pure water vs. the cost of electric. And free counter space.

"The basic principle behind making distilled water is to boil water into steam, then to cool it to collect the pure water from the vapor. The main advantage of distilled water is that it is 100% boiled, sterilized, clean, safe, and environmentally friendly."

In order to make my choice more clear, this blue meter should be able to help. I filled three glasses with water - one glass with regular water right out of the tap, one glass with water that had been run through the britta filter, and one glass with water from the MH943T.

It measures the total dissolved solids in the water and gives you a number reading in parts per million. The chart below from the company website helps put things into perspective. The results speak for themselves.

 - Glass of regular tap water: 152 ppm
 - Glass of britta water: 145 ppm (I will re-test the britta water when it comes time to change the filter and get a reading from the first water run through, just to see if there is a difference).
 - Glass of MH943T water: 001 ppm

TDS-EZ Water Quality Tester
"Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) are the total amount of mobile charged ions, including minerals, salts or metals dissolved in a given volume of water, expressed in units of mg per unit volume of water (mg/L), also referred to as parts per million (ppm). TDS is directly related to the purity of water and the quality of water purification systems and affects everything that consumes, lives in, or uses water, whether organic or inorganic, whether for better or for worse."

Monday, November 5

Coyotes, Cats and Reassurance

Last night was a chilly one here - into the low 30's - and I put an extra blanket on the bed. Even though the woodstove does a great job at heating most of the lower level of the house, the upstairs is significantly cooler. I don’t mind this since sleeping in a cold room is preferable to me and the kids have their footed fleece jammies and plenty of blankets to keep them warm and toasty.

I went upstairs last night with the intention of crawling under the blankets with my warm alpaca socks and reading the next chapter or two of DianaGabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I was a few paragraphs in when the coyotes started singing. I could hear them howling and snipping at each other somewhere out in our neighbors 40+ acres, but tonight they sounded a little closer than usual.

A rather loud belt of robust squealing resulted in Cheese, my 3 year old Maine Coon cat, flying up onto the bed and taking up residence on my chest.

When we first adopted Cheese she was a tiny ball of fluff, barely able to claw her way up onto our bed. The first three nights she was with us she slept on Roy's neck, right under his chin. She was scared of being in a new place and sleeping in this somewhat strange place seemed to comfort her.

Cheese has since grown into a beautiful example of a Maine Coon and her fur is thick and soft. She is the lady of the house, and she knows it. But last night she was trying her best to curl up on my neck like a kitten. She was shaking and digging her claws into my shoulder. The coyotes, that we hear at least once a week, were just too close for comfort last night. I put Jamie Fraser on the nightstand and wrapped my arms around Cheese. I scratched her head and told her that everything was going to be ok. Her fur was warm and long and soft and she slowly released her claws from my shirt and relaxed enough to dose.

I took this as my cue and reached over to turn off the bedside light. Last night I fell asleep listening to coyotes playing with a heavy, warm cat on my chest. Sometime during the night she jumped down and went about whatever she does during the night hours. And sometime during the night I remember wondering how nice it would be to have someone scratch my head and tell me everything was going to be all right too.


Sunday, November 4

The Produce Bag Problem (and solutions!)

Every time I go to the grocery store, the first section I hit is the produce department. And when the garden is not growing, I buy a lot of fruits and veggies. I try to go organic as much as selection and the household budget allow and usually I can get a good variety for an affordable price.

My problem has always been those plastic bags that apples, pears, broccoli and just about everything besides the bananas go into. I bring my canvas grocery bags for the checkout line, try to buy organic and look for items with the least amount of packaging and yes, I feel good about my "green" efforts. But those plastic produce bags haunt me.

A few months ago I came across a blog posting about a woman who made some light weight cloth bags for produce and bulk department purchases and I emailed her about them. I wanted to know how they worked out for her. In my mind, I could see her going to the store, feeling great about her cloth bags, filling them up with green beans, snap peas and lentils but arriving in the check out lane only to be scoffed at.

How are they weighed? How does the cashier know what is in the opaque bag? Who does this crazy lady think she is trying to be all different? What? Our plastic bags are not good enough for Ms. Eco-Green?

I actually never heard back from her but I kept the idea in the back of my mind, and it was brought to the front every time I went shopping. But somehow other projects came up and I never got around to putting serious thought into making my own bags.

What material could I use? How would I keep them clean? Would I remember to take them to the store? Would I be turned away at the cashier because they wouldn't know how to weigh the items?

I remember quickly scanning Google and finding a few crochet examples of small produce bags at the time, and those cloth ones I mentioned earlier. And at that time, I had many other projects a little higher on the "these-get-my-limited-time-and-attention" agenda.

Today I went shopping and I saw a sign posted by the big roll of plastic produce bags: these bags are recyclable! I though about how I might put these very lightweight items into my recycling bin on pick up day without them blowing away. Would they really be recycled?

I just couldn't picture it. So, making produce bags is now #1 on the to-do list.

In just a few short months I can not believe the explosion of produce bag articles, instructions, patterns and buy-them-already-made web pages. Cloth, mesh, crochet, knitted, muslin, hemp, recycled plastic....  The important aspects for me would be knowing exactly what the bag is made of and if it can be cleaned easily.

Here are just a few of the great products and ideas I found. Most state in the product description or the patterns that the finished product is lightweight and does not effect the weight/cost of the produce.

I will weigh my options (no pun intended) and let you all know how things unfold at the check out line.

Natural Fabric Produce Bags

Lightweight Polyester Mesh Bags

Reusable Cotton Mesh Produce Bags

Gauze, Cotton or Net Produce Bags

Cotton Produce Bags (Created from the sleeves of slightly used 100% cotton t-shirts)

Mesh Produce Bags (100% recycled Reprieve yarn, which is made entirely from things like plastic bottles and manufacturing discards.)

T-Shirt Produce Bags

Hand-Crocheted Produce Bag

Reusable Produce Bags (I really like this one!)

Crochet Produce Bag

Thursday, November 1

My eyes are so sore and tired that they feel like they are burning. But I am still here on the computer, multi-tasking and trying to cram as much as I can into the time that I have. Everyone is in bed and the house is quiet, except for the fan on the wood stove and the clanking and banging of a sweatshirt zipper tumbling around in the clothes dryer with the other darks.

So many back episodes of American Experience to watch, so many pages ear-marked in Mother Earth News and Grit with information look up or to explore, and so very, very many ideas and beginnings that are just a click away.

Books to read and blogs to browse and I may watch Episode 1 of the third season of The Walking Dead for the 6th time just because I love that show so much.

You may ask why I am using the clothes dryer instead of my drying racks by the wood stove and I will tell you that it is because of a certain baby who has figured out walking and climbing. She thinks that the racks are her personal indoor jungle gym and I have had to rescue her from a pile of half-dried dress shirts after she has pulled the rack down on top of herself. I was getting pretty tired of having to re-hang Roy's work clothes to dry and sometimes having to re-wash them because they fell in the path of the wood box or a hastily discarded juice cup. So, in the interest of time and having to use more water for the washer, plus the baby's safety and my sanity, I have been using the dryer more than usual. And it has become a habit now to throw things in the dryer. Until I can figure out some sort of baby gate clothes drying rack encompassing system, the solar is going to have to pump out a few more amps to get the laundry dry.

Another task weighing on my mind tonight is the storm cleanup that must be done around the yard. My initial evaluation showed not much in the way of damage but when I got out into the yard and looked a little closer, there are quite a few things that will need to be repaired or cleared. We lost a large section of a big cedar bush by the field and also a large branch from the lilac bush. The trees shed more than their fair share of branches and large limbs that the little man and I will pick up one afternoon this coming week if the sun comes out. The wooden 4x4 that holds my two birdhouses toppled so I will be digging a new hole - in a different place I think - to put the birdhouses. These are the favorites of the blue birds and I definitely want them to come back next spring.

The chickens area was not damaged, which surprised me since the netting over their outdoor pen is prone to weather related malfunctions. But it stayed in place and in one piece and I am grateful that that is one thing I will not have to tend to. The gutters on the barn were damaged by flying debris and one of the ends in now bent at an angle that does not let it drain properly. So we have water coming down where it shouldn't, which must be corrected since it is right on the corner of the barn foundation.

Today was what I like to call a "resting day." The little man is under the weather and the baby is showing the signs of a slight cold. It was raining and cold during the daylight hours and spending time inside by the fireplace with books, play dough, legos and leftover chocolate cake felt like the right fit. Now it is time to put a couple more logs in the stove, check the humidifier in the baby's room and climb into bed under a bunch of warm quilts.

Tomorrow is another day.