Our “Soft” Sustainability Targets For 2014!

There is a certain energy as Winter transitions to Spring. I’ve been thinking about it, and really now is the real start of the new year. It’s not some date on a calendar, for me I think it’s this transition from dormancy to bloom. Today was warm. Even though it might snow on Saturday, the days are going to be predominately warmer from here on out I suspect. Winter has been a four-month long psychological wasteland. Spring brings a whole new chapter. A change from the monotony and depression of Winter.

Seemingly the whole world awakens into some sort of subsurface energy that permeates from everything. The pace of days has picked up. I’ve been busy with work but also busy in my head thinking about outside; thinking about everything that will happen once the days become more reliably warm. It’s a long list.

Besides me, my fellow house mates need to get out and stretch after the long winter as well.

The other day I left the studio door open. It doesn’t close properly because of the missing strike plate. Anyway, I saw Daisy’s first foray into the real world as I pulled back into the drive after dropping the trash off at the end of the drive. Her little striped tail sauntered back inside much to my dismay. Presumably the snow did not agree with her. Now she eyes up the door every time it’s open. She’ll be a runner for sure.

I started reading my stack of orchard and farm books. Overwhelming and depressing to say the least. First off, half of the decisions that influence how well apple trees do are made before or during planting. Well that cow is out of the barn. And now the organic care and maintenance of the trees is daunting. Raising apples, or having a micro farm for that matter, is something either people with jobs do on the weekends, or farmers do. People in the middle like me have no business dreaming of such endeavors.

That’s why I’m doing it. Cause most people don’t, or say it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. I hate being told “no”. Another reason though, it all should prove to be a pretty cool place for the kids to grow up and learn.

Like any life though, mine is figuratively walked precariously on a mountain ridge about eighteen inches wide – loose and rocky with very little margin for error. Every day I run the numbers and it could go either way. Honestly, between you and me, part of me wouldn’t mind scrapping the whole endeavor – lose the house, downsize and go live like every other “normal” person out there: golf, socialize, wait for death to come rescue me. But alas I don’t think that’s the cloth the good lord cut me from.

My sustainability thoughts have turned to “farm”. Now that we’ve been here for a while and we’ve made good progress with energy conservation, I’m ready to infuse the next round of earth-friendly living. Besides anything more on the house front would be expensive (e.g. solar water heater, photovoltaics, electric car). Micro-farm related stuff around the property is a mix of money and sweat; which means I can use my mind, and back, for free and yield results. I look at it this way: the house and infrastructure are “hard” sustainability targets, and the social, lifestyle and farm related ones are “soft” targets. This year we’re focusing on the soft ones.

Our (my) lofty goals for this year outside:

  • bees – ramp up to have three hives total, one of which provides us with honey and wax.
  • veggie garden – plant lots of sunflowers for their seeds, along with the staples that we grew last year. Also planting tea plants (for tea), lavender (for bees and drying), and kale (first time). Nixing growing peas, and so many peppers which didn’t do well.
  • guinea fowl – to eat the ticks I’ll build a little house (Joe design me a guinea house!) next to the garden and well by some baby guineas. We can even harvest their eggs and eat them when they’re older (which we won’t do). New adventure this Summer.
  • apple trees – I’ll read through the four encyclopedic books I have and attempt to know what I’m doing. I doubt we’ll have any apples this year though.
  • berries – ditto the apples. I need to figure out what I’m doing.
  • herbs – once again, I need to figure out how to grow and preserve this stuff.
  • wild flowers and clover – plant more wild flowers for the bees as well as clover for the bees and deer.
  • CSA – we joined a Community Supported Agriculture program which supplies us with locally grown produce, cheese and meat.  My goal is to migrate towards at least 50%-75% locally sourced food for our household, maybe higher.
  • Meat – I’m going to look into sourcing all of our pork, beef and chicken from local farms; talking to the farmers to understand their practices and assure their methods are humane. I am also very interested in harvesting a deer for the freezer!
  • Veggies – to offset the higher, (more fair, by the way) cost of meat and food my thought is to eat more veggies, pasta, etc. This will hopefully make us healthier too, which will lower healthcare expenses.
  • Communicate – I want to get people out here to enjoy it all, maybe go for a walk, appreciate the land and get ideas that they can take back to their homes. Regardless I want to have people over to enjoy a drink and burger or something. Working from home makes me want for human interaction. The cats are gettin’ to me. 🙂

All of this will hopefully push us closer to independence on the food front. Then after we win the lottery we can go after the hard targets.

Why do we (I) do this? Partly cause I’m crazy, but also because the world we live in is crazy. We’ve made so many bad decisions over the last 150 years that we need to start making some good ones. I’m tired of being at the mercy of what “they” tell me I have to eat and how I have to live. I won’t achieve the lofty goals in my mind, in my life time. But hopefully my kids can and to their kids it will be second nature.

By time they’re around maybe my apple trees will finally be producing apple trees.

Rodents have been eating my apple trees, and decimated our new jersey tea plants (the ones we drove to Chicago to get). I hate rodents.

Rodents have been eating my apple trees, and decimated our new jersey tea plants (the ones we drove to Chicago to get). I hate rodents.

The bees were flying. Tomorrow we're going to open the hive cause it should be 70 degrees out.

The bees were flying. Tomorrow we’re going to open the hive cause it should be 70 degrees out.

Daisy enjoying our 10" deep window sills on a sunny Spring day.

Daisy enjoying our 10″ deep window sills on a sunny Spring day.

This is why we built the house. So the cats would have sunny window sills. I'm not joking.

This is why we built the house. So the cats would have sunny window sills. I’m not joking.

Daisy.

Daisy.

 

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How To Gut Shoot A Wednesday Morning

What should have been a day where I worked all day wire-to-wire, turned out to be lost to time with little production to show for it. As I settled in to work on my project, the one due Friday morning, I could be found clicking away at my computer. Adjacent to my four-by-eight veal box of an office is my studio. In my studio are the litter boxes for our three resident felines. Well the boxes really needed to be cleaned out. I should have done it days ago but just got really busy. They smelled enough that I had to do something – I can work like that no longer. I figured I could scuttle an hour this morning to increase the aromatic niceness of my office. Someday I’ll move the cats to the basement, clear out all the junk at the bottom of the stairs and set up a litter box spa for our furry friends. But that day was not today.

So as the wife left for the dentist I started in on cleaning the litter boxes. On my way back and forth I noticed the box that the FedEx guy dropped off; the spousal unit had set it in the foyer. It was the 501 air filter for our Aprilare air cleaner…

Okay, here’s the deal: I have some sort of metal disorder where I can’t do something monumental if I have something minor weighing on me. My OCD requires me to make a mental list and check items off of it. So in lieu of working – you know, the stuff that pays the bills – I now had to clean the litter box AND change the air filter. I could bang them both out in under an hour I thought. Just work later into the evening. Sounds like a fair deal I negotiated with myself.

So I grabbed the filter, whose replacement now superseded the litter boxes, and went down stairs. I spare you my perplexity as I tried to figure out how to change the filter without reading the directions. Luckily the new filter had complete instructions printed on the box, albeit in an unreadable (by my forty-year-old eyes) green color. Despite the instructions it was still a royal pain-in-the-ass: There are these pleats…and these pleat separating things…and god, it’s just a complicated ordeal. Meanwhile Dixon and Daisy are milling about. And not surprisingly EACH of them decided to walk INTO the open air filter, leading to the innards of the furnace and ductwork. Twice I had to reach in there and retrieve a cat. Both got tush pushes courtesy of yours truly; encouraging them to go play anywhere but INSIDE the furnace.

Okay, filter replaced. Go back to litter box, then work. Behind schedule but, check the “air filter that you replace every 6 months, but I change every 2 years instead” monkey off my back.

Top of stairs, turn to laundry room to clean litter boxes….“What’s that?” I said to the yellow envelope sitting on the bench.

Picking the envelope up I looked at the label, “Hey, these are my ionizing wires”. They were shipped separately from the filters. Looking around…“I could get these in quick, then do the litter boxes. Be back to work by ten, tops” I thought. See, ionizing wires stretch along the length of the air filter assembly and ionize something so that something else happens in there. All I know is I had two broken ones. Oh, and they cost $16 a pop.

“What’s that?” a little blond kid asked. I had forgotten I was supposed to be watching the kids too. Things weren’t looking good on the work front. Don’t even get me started on parenting.

“Ionizing wires.” I carefully opened the envelope and cut the plastic bags, knowing that if I broke one..cut one even…there was a good chance I would lose my mind and probably burn the house down out of spite, then spend the rest of the day in the bar down the street.

Back downstairs I pulled out the furnace air filter assembly, yet again. With barely a blink my two furry companions were on me like white on rice: checking to make sure I wasn’t screwing anything up. Oh, and to crawl into the furnace again. “Damn it, get out of here!”

Looking down I fiddled with the ionizing wires. There are nine, and before me lay seven intact, and two flailing about between my finger tips. “Alright, I can probably salvage this one”

“Bring me a flashlight!” I yelled upstairs to my kid. It’s amazing how blind I am; it’s like a switch they flick when I turned forty. Life is a genuine bitch.

“What?”

“Oh my god, bring me a freaking flashlight.” After trying to insert the wires blind, I was this close to throwing the air filter assembly through the argon filled basement window.

“Ooooo okay.” He was jazzed cause he got the “put-me-in-coach” call from his old man in the basement.

Now I had two cats and a kid watching me wrestle ionization wires. After I tried three times, flashlight between my teeth, the cats gave up on me and moved on to trying to defoliate a fake christmas tree.

“Here, hold this…and point it right here” I handed my little helper the flashlight and gestured to the end of the ionization wire I was making love to.

“Voila!” I was able to re-use the one wire. “$16 will buy a lot of beer” I thought.

The next wire was just as fickle as the first. Well I must have exceeded the attention span of a five-year-old because now the flashlight was dancing all over the place.

I fired him on the spot and took back my flashlight. He sheepishly walked back upstairs. I felt bad, but this is the big leagues. Better he learn life’s disappointments from me than some random prick out in the real world.

Back to my wire, I snapped it on the third try, and out came the new shiny wire. Eventually I got it installed; it’s a miracle I didn’t break it or have a stress induced heart attack.

“Cool!” I smiled as I slid the filter assembly back into the open furnace.

Snap.

Flick.

Blue lights on…everything’s working.

Look around. It was eerily quiet.

“Where are the cats?” I wondered.

“Where are the cats?” I wondered out loud…like really loud.

“What?” a five-year old voice called down from the top of the stairs.

Fourteen life choices cycled through my head in a matter of one second. “We need to find the cats. NOW.” I yelled upstairs as I shut off the air cleaner and pulled out the air filter assembly. I gazed inside half expecting to see eyes.

Nothing.

I put the filter in the way of the opening to block it, in case they weren’t in there; they wouldn’t now be able to get in. The taller of the two blond kids that eat my food came down stairs. “Do you know where the cats are?” I asked him.

“No”

“Well let’s play a game whereby we find them and then daddy doesn’t go to PETA jail because he stuffed his cats into a running furnace.” I mean normally the damn things are easy to find, even in our basement; which looks like an episode of hoarders. I instructed my oldest to keep looking, and I went upstairs.

“Have you seen the cats?” I asked pip-squeak. He was watching Disney’s ‘Frost’ for the 1,472nd time.

“Oh I know” he said and then proceeded to lead me along a string of false, and historically inaccurate cat sightings dating back to around the time they lost that plane in Malaysia.

It was a blur. I some point I turned off the furnace at the thermostat. Figuring that might be a good idea. Eventually I found myself back downstairs.

We found a cat.

It was Dixon.

He was sitting so nice. God, he’s such a nice cat…really tame and friendly…and here he was sitting so nice in front of what will be a future bathroom someday, down in the basement. There he was sitting nice…

And looking up.

I went over to him and looked up too. Then it hit me. Animals don’t look up because they are philosophizing about the plight of blue-fin tuna in the Far East.

“Oh you’ve got to be F*CKING kidding me.”

I said that out loud.

“Is that even possible?” I thought as my eyes traced back along the labyrinth of silver ducts…eight inch round leads to twelve-inch rectangle…leads to big ass return air…leads to air cleaner.

I mean how could she even climb up and around that duct work. But this is Daisy we’re talking about. Just the other day I saw her climb the fireplace to the ceiling. Sure the duct was smooth, but I wouldn’t bet against her.

I quieted myself. Dixon looked at me, then back at the pipes and tilted his head.

And that when I heard it.

So faint you’d think it was a lie.

The faintest sound of claws. On metal. Moving left to right.

My ninja cat, she can barely meow and her purrs can only be felt, was in the ductwork of our home.

My eyes traced a line as she moved towards the foyer. I started calculating the ramifications. There was a joint in the pipe. I could cut that. Keep her localized between the floor vent and where I’ll rip the pipe from the ceiling. I grabbed a stick and tapped the pipe; hoping to get a faint meow to confirm my suspicions.

Nothing. Just faint claw clicks.

And that my friends is while I should not work from home. If I went to an office like every other poor stiff out there in the real world this would have never had happened. See, working in an environment with so many distractions only leads to me getting grey hairs and a one way ticket to OCD-stress endured psychosis. And they do not serve beer in mental wards. I’ve checked.

With a sigh I followed Daisy’s quiet march, walking along and looking up.

Then I saw it.

Between the two ducts above my head.

I saw a flash of…

Fur.

“Bad cat!” I exclaimed in relief. My oldest kid came back down the stairs. “Did you find her?”

“Yep.”

She wasn’t inside the pipe, she was on top of the pipe. Balancing her tiny body (it could fit in a cereal bowl) on top of the pipe there was no way for me to see her. It is tight in that joist bay; filled with two air ducts. Well that was a win for me. I wouldn’t have to tear down the ductwork. The blond kid got a good chuckle out of it. As did I. Later he’d tell his mom all about it with laughter and eye gleams only a little kid can muster. Real family memories no doubt.

As for Ms. Daisy, she walked her way back to the end. I think she bit off more than even she could chew because I had to get a ladder to get her down. I have no idea how she got up there. You could look at every possible way and couldn’t figure it out. At the very least she’d have made some noise scrambling UP there but I heard no commotion when I was working on the air filter wires. A mystery that I doubt she’ll repeat anytime soon.

I’m just glad she wasn’t inside a duct.

You can’t imagine how glad.

By time I got to work it was eleven in the morning. Ultimately my morning was shot. I did get three chores off my list – and the reality is, doing so did allow me to focus on my work better. I didn’t get nearly enough done today, but tomorrow will be better.

After all I’m not planning on opening up the air filter.

I don't even know what to say. Suffice to say she wasn't coming down of her own accord.

I don’t even know what to say. Suffice to say she wasn’t coming down of her own accord.

You can see the air cleaner sandwiched down low between the furnace and the rectangular air return duct.

You can see the air cleaner sandwiched down low between the furnace and the rectangular air return duct.

The two ducts on the far left is where she was at.

The two ducts on the far left is where she was at.

Yep.

Yep.

 

Waiting For Spring

Writing-wise all is at a standstill. Tuesday evening finds me burnt out. After a week of travel for work, this week finds me up to my eyeballs in work – both paying and the behind the scenes stuff that doesn’t pay anything but hopefully sows seeds that will amount to something someday. Nothing is going on around the estate as we wait out the remainders of Winter – it snowed yet again today.

I have spent some time working on a few maintenance items including a new filter and ionization wires for the air cleaner. Cost is around $75 annually to replace these items. And I’ve made arrangements to have the septic tank pumped; glamorous yes, I know. One note in case you’re curious, pumping is around $350 dollars for 2,500 gallons. I believe our tank is closer to 3,000 so I don’t know if that means we get 500 gallons free or they leave 500 gallons in there. Pumping only is needed every 2-3 years. Maintenance on the septic is $250 per year too. So while we lack a sewer bill, there still are costs involved. 100′ is the cutoff from tanker truck to tank so I’m hoping we’re closer than that – something I never thought about when we built the house and had the tank installed.

We’ve started making our Spring chore list for outside if the weather ever breaks. Included on that are finishing the sand box and cleaning out the veggie garden. Once warm weather arrives we’ll venture in the garage and find all the seed starting supplies. I bought sunflower seeds, and the wife bought a variety of tea related plant seeds…like camomile? Does that sound right?

Beyond that it’s work, work, work 24/7.

I won’t be writing much in the foreseeable future. I’m even too tired to come up with anything profound, inspiring or otherwise. Be kind to each other everyone. Stay active and involved. These are exciting times to be alive. Take the time to hug your loved ones and enjoy every minute of every day. Soon we’ll all be able to flee the confines of our homes and run around in the sun chasing sprouts and butterflies. Or at least I hope so.

I’ll give Dixon a hug for all of you. He’ll like that a lot I bet.

Why bees are disappearing Video

Great 15 minute video, please watch, learn and share:

Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing

Things you can do right now, this Spring:

  • plant native flowers in your yard
  • stop using chemicals: herbicides, and pesticides in your yard and on your lawn
  • plant a variety plants in your yard to create a polyculture, not just for bees
  • buy organic produce
  • become educated
  • be a champion for bees
  • talk to your family and friends – spread the word
  • plant a variety of vegetables in your garden – you’ll be amazed how well the bees amp up your crop yield – we saw this first hand last year with our zucchinis and cucumbers

 

 

The Pond Unclogged Itself

Today I’ll share a picture of the impromptu front yard pond which drained itself this morning. Apparently the clog in the pipe melted and all the water rushed out. In cool fashion all the ice collapsed and cracked.

This is what's left of the pond. Inch thick ice cracking under its own weight with no water underneath to support it.

This is what’s left of the pond. Inch thick ice cracking under its own weight with no water underneath to support it.

I got to pull my stick out of this pipe. The clog melted and now water runs through the pipe again.

I got to pull my stick out of this pipe. The clog melted and now water runs through the pipe again.

Broken pond next to driveway.
Broken pond next to driveway.

 

Water

Today (Tuesday I suppose…though they all run together any more) was another beautiful day outside. Just like sledding the other day, we took advantage of our time, as a family we went to the movies around lunch time. See, we’ve got this movie theater bucket sitting in the pantry that we can fill with popcorn for three dollars, and there’s no sense not using it. We went and saw ‘Frozen’ which is surprisingly still playing at the theater; at least there still is a noon matinée.

I really enjoy going to the movies. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite pastimes. I suppose it’s the escapism it offers: for around two hours I forget all about life’s ills. And the more ill life becomes the more it’s nice to take a break and immerse one’s self in some other reality. The more I think of it, the more I believe that the people who make movies really do earn their keep. It’s always slightly disappointing stepping out into the harsh light of the afternoon from a darkened theater.

They need to invent a job where you watch movies all the time.

Back at home I got some work done as the boys took a nap. The wife was busy working upstairs when I reached my break point (not breaking point). I snuck outside and went for a walk. That’s probably one of the best things about working at our home: taking walks. With all the warm weather the water was running again this afternoon and I wanted to see how it was getting along.

I walked along the soggy yard. My pond slowly trickled over the driveway. I went up to the nature path towards the south hedge row. The walking is easy – everything is devoid of leaves and the snow knocked pretty much all the grass and brush down. I looked around for the “big rock” that supposedly marks the south line, at least on paper it does. I didn’t find it, but I watched as water flowed from the neighboring field through the row, pooled, then continued its journey towards the makeshift pond. Buried deep in the hedge row I saw an old riding tractor. It looked almost like a quarter scale, old farm tractor. It was nothing but rusted metal, though the black rubber of its knobby rear tires looked as good as new through the thicket. I thought of inspecting it closer, but I wasn’t really dressed for bush whacking; after all this was just a “walk” I was going on.

I left the micro tractor behind and headed up the nature trail. The thought occurred to me to look for shed antlers. So my gaze danced along the meadow and wood floor as I followed the path I had carved last year; then the paths made by deer. I didn’t find any sheds but it was peaceful to follow the little trails in the woods and watch as the land reverted back to its brown canvas from its blanket of white.

I circled around and passed the bees. They were enjoying the warm temperatures. Steadily they would emerge from the hive and eventually return. I could hear the rush of water streaming down the only “real” water feature on the property. Last year we didn’t have nearly this much rain or snow. It is liking seeing the property again for the first time. Or at least the first time in Winter.

The land was alive.

Without any leaves one can see for a great distance and your eye picks up sublet terrain changes that you’d never observe any other time of year. Eyes open or closed, it is as if you can feel the land, trace it in your mind, see the water flow over it. Man-made or god-made the contours are there. The faint din of water seeks out every crease.

Flowing.

Flowing.

Merging and diverging until it all hastens to one general spot and exits the property. It’s wonderful to see the order of things, how nature works. That’s awe. That’s wonder. That’s beauty. All that from a simple afternoon stroll.

Tomorrow will be frozen again. May not get out of the teens, and more snow is expected. But the damn has been compromised, Spring is on its way.

I can’t wait to see the chartreuse wash of longer days, but for now I can appreciate the beauty and solemnity of a hard fought winter.

Snow Melt

Warm temperatures mean all the snow we’d accumulated is melting. The pond in the front yard crested the driveway and created a small stream over the top. The ten inch pipe under the drive is clogged, either with dirt or hopefully just ice. In my waders I went into about two and one half feet worth of ice water with my shovel and hoe. I dislodged a lot of ice from in front of the pipe but there’s a blockage right in the middle. I tried to use an 8′ long piece of wood but all I managed to do was get that stuck in the pipe, after hitting it into the blockage with a sledge-hammer. I guess I just need to let nature take its course, and try to clear out the pipe in the Spring.

We have a most wonderful stream running through the south meadow into the east meadow. If I had the money I’d re-grade the front yard to drain the water off of that, and then deepen the swale around the gum trees and finally deepen the vernal pond on the west side of the driveway – would be a great eco-system for frogs and other amphibians.