Friday, February 26, 2010

Mushroom beginnings, again

Last year Jeremy wouldn't let me tell you all about his mushroom log experiments - until it all worked out and was successful. Now, since it was successful, I can give you more of a detailed, close-up look at the whole process. Not that you all want to see every last boring detail! Too bad - I'm going to share anyway. =)

First, you may ask, why are we doing more logs? Isn't 100+ logs enough?? Mushroom logs will keep growing mushrooms for 5 or so years. The amount of mushrooms goes down after several years, but they keep producing. If we stopped now, we wouldn't have any mushrooms in five years. So we keep doing logs and in several years we'll be "retiring" the first logs we did to make way for more productive ones. That's the plan anyway.

Jeremy found a new logger up north to get his logs from. This logger's parents have 40 acres and he thins the trees out from time to time.

So Jeremy borrowed a friend's van and drove up to get the logs today. This whole project of inoculating the logs is going to happen in our garage. I was too embarrassed to take pictures of how awful our garage was just a few days ago. Basically all of our storage was in it: wood, tools, a bathtub and two sinks for eventual remodeling projects, some furniture, a bale of hay for the chickens, two giant windows for eventual remodeling projects, crates and pallets, boxes and bins, our bikes, some trash that needs to go to the dump, etc, etc. Yes, you heard it: everything AND the kitchen sink!

We moved all the inside things into the basement (we can still sort of walk around down there) and organized everything else against the back wall of the garage.

We sort of forgot there was a three foot high pile of broken up concrete blocking the garage door, but we worked around that. Melting snow had also frozen the garage door to the ground, but that was nothing a shovel and some leverage couldn't handle!

Jeremy pulled up with his van load of logs and I made him move most of them since they are incredibly heavy!

That is a lot of logs!

Starting tomorrow, or Sunday, or some day soon, Jeremy will get to work drilling holes in the logs, stuffing the holes with mushroom spawn (which arrived in the mail just yesterday!), and covering the holes up with wax.

I do not envy him out there in that cold, cold garage (it's been in the 20s to 30s) for hours on end. But I'm sure he'll envy me in the toasty warm house sewing away!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Four Illusions of Money

On Valentine's Day Jeremy and I treated ourselves to a complete day off - and a day of indulgence. We went out for lunch and dinner and dessert! (Of course, we always share a small plate so it didn't cost all that much.) We went to the zoo and we went to one of our local bookstores, just to browse for an hour or so.

Just as we were about to leave, I picked up a book that looked mildly interesting, Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City, by Christopher and Dolores Lynn Nyerges. I skimmed through it and in moments knew we had to buy it.

From the introduction:
Simply put, we have chosen to live lightly on the earth right here in the city, and to do so in a way that represents solutions to the problems that today confront everyone.

They live in the Los Angeles area on a fifth of an acre, grow lots of their own food, save water, recycle like crazy, use alternative energy sources, and so forth. We don't agree with everything they do (for one thing they have livestock animals but not for food, which Jeremy thinks is pointless) but they have some pretty incredible things to say.

They have a whole chapter about water and water conservation. We already have rain barrels and three rain gardens, but I feel encouraged to go further than this. I'm hoping sometime this year to work a little grey water recycling into our lives (stay tuned).

Then I got to the section on economics and their list of the four illusions of money:
1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want
2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others
3. I need more money for my family
4. Money is necessary for security in old age
Money has been a very difficult thing for us lately. How do we make more? How do we survive when there aren't any jobs? How do we pay for health care? How do we visit my family when it takes money to fly out west? How do we keep working on the house and our dream for it with no income?

Honestly, I spend an insane amount of time dreaming about all the things I'll do when I win the lottery - insane when one considers that I don't play the lottery!

But really I don't want to be obsessed with money. I certainly don't want my sense of safety to come from money. And then I read their statement about the fourth illusion:
Money is necessary in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.
The real security most needed by the elderly can be enhanced by money but can never be built solely upon money. Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, neither of which depend on money. In fact, one of the best ways to "prepare for old age" is to become the type of person, inwardly and outwardly, that others will want to be around and work with. This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and share, generous, and so on - none of which are intrinsic virtues of the wealthy. Developing one's character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, even wars, depressions, and social chaos as well as a whole range of personal difficulties.

So that was a great reminder to us. We're not making any money, not saving for retirement, and we're not going to have kids to take care of us in our old age. But hopefully we'll keep developing our incredible community and we'll still be taken care of, one way or another, when we're a couple of oldies.

And in the present, we know how to live simply, how to grow a garden, and how to barter for things. For the rest, we just have to be patient.

We're still digging into this book, so you may hear more in the future.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't forget the paint

I don't know why this image caught my eye. It's kind of like a construction still-life. Piles of wood lying around ready to go up on the walls. A chair set up, more likely for standing on than sitting on. A sander plugged in and ready to go, with the cord snaking back through the piles, seeking an available plug-in. And the word "paint" written in paint - of course.

Just a reminder, as you head down the stairs at the end of a long day: did you put the lid back on the paint can?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chocolate pizza (freezer challenge of course!)

Jeremy remembered we had some mole (as in the thick, chocolaty Mexican sauce; say it like moh-lay) in the fridge. Usually he makes that up with some chicken and we eat it in tortillas with tomatoes, maybe some lime juice, cilantro... But Jeremy had a brainstorm and decided to try mole pizza.

He just made up the mole and chicken, mixed it all up and put it on the pizza crust, topped it with roasted red peppers (from the freezer), and some mozzarella.

A short while later, it was done:


Jeremy actually thought it was a little bland but he wasn't sure what else he'd do to give it more flavor. I thought it was pretty incredibly tasty!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday!

I realized earlier this week, just in time, that our chickens had a birthday this week. I'm not exactly sure whether they were one or two days old when we picked them up so I kind of made that up. But close enough! So our chickens are one year old today!

I had plans to make them a cornbread cake but then yesterday I burned a whole batch of bran muffins (stupid oven). Chickens don't care, so I decided they could have the bran muffins instead.

Then last night a friend brought over a tub of greens for the girls. The perfect decoration!

We carried the plate out and Jeremy sang happy birthday. They were very happy birthday girls.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Freezer challenge: venison & peaches

Don't worry, we didn't make a dish that included both of those! Though I guess it could be done with a peach chutney, but I don't like chutney.

Anyway, we have a fair amount of venison in our freezer. Jeremy didn't get the deer, but he did help his friend dress it and then he got a lot of the meat. We've had a couple stews with it and lots of steaks. We thought we were out of steaks (I mean, the deer is from fall 2008!) but then Jeremy found some more. We ate a couple more steaks and then Jeremy decided he was tired of steaks.

So he pulled out our tiny grinder and set to work grinding up some of that deer.

It ground very nicely. Venison is a very lean meat so Jeremy added some rendered pork fat so the final product would have some extra flavor and not be so dry. He added some shallots, fish sauce, and tamari and cooked up a couple burgers (topped with cheddar from the co-op).

Served on my latest batch of whole wheat bread rolls, with a slather of mayo and mustard and a mountain of sprouts which we grow on our kitchen table. Jeremy of course had his beloved bread and butter curry pickles on the side.

For dessert, I had baked the Whole Wheat Peach Kuchen, found in the Simply in Season cookbook.

It's a pretty simple recipe - flour, baking powder, a little sugar and butter and press that into a springform pan. Put peaches in the pan and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. I used our peaches from the freezer which worked quite well. They weren't even quite thawed and it still worked fine. You cook this a bit then pour in a mix of yogurt (I used buttermilk instead since Jeremy can't handle yogurt), egg, a little more sugar, and some vanilla. It's a custardy dish full of peaches. It can be done with blueberries too, but I haven't tried it yet.

I'm really glad we've taken on this freezer challenge because it has meant some seriously tasty meals.

I didn't get any pictures, but in the last few weeks we've had a pancake-fest making Righteous cakes (vegan, tofu, etc), buttermilk pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, and corn pancakes. Of course the main ingredient for the last two were from our freezer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Have you ever had one of those projects that you absolutely dreaded? You put it off for days, weeks, months, as long as you possibly could? You obsess over everything that could possibly go wrong? You consider paying someone else to do it? You fret and complain and procrastinate - and then finally your wife loses it, lays down the law, and tells you to get it done!?

I'm the wife in that scene. We bought a door for the upstairs months and months ago. Jeremy knew it needed to be cut down to fit but he was a bit reluctant to do the deed. So for months this heavy monstrosity has been leaning against one wall or another in the upstairs. The thing was always in the way.

All this time I thought he had a plan about when he was going to get around to that door, but recently I realized it was all avoidance! Slowly, over the past couple weeks, we've made plans and acquired equipment for the trimming.

Finally, yesterday, I informed Jeremy of my plans for his life: "Today, you will cut down that door!"

We went upstairs and got the door laid down and started measuring.

Then we had to find the exacto blades (since we were making a score line to stop excessive chipping). There was a search for the long ruler, which we never did find. There was the search for the new, special saw blade and then installing it. Then finding the ear protection. Then the safety goggles - but these are scratched! Oh, my glasses are dirty, I have to go wash them. And so on - and this just for the practice cut! Then Jeremy decided maybe it was a good day to start learning the accordion.

One good long glare from me (and a laugh) and we were back on track. The test cut was very informative. But then - we had to go eat lunch. I considered washing the dishes after lunch, but I knew I couldn't abandon Jeremy in the final moments. We went upstairs, made final measurements, scores, laid down some tape, and attached felt footies to the saw so it wouldn't scratch the door as it slid over the top. Then Jeremy did the deed. And it went quite well.

A light sanding, some poly, and some hardware attached, and voila! Our new sliding door:

If you ask Jeremy how the door went he might say it was no big deal and he never worried about it - but don't believe him! In his defense though, it was a pretty expensive door and if he made a mistake there was no going back. And also, I am frequently victim to worrying obsessively over some sewing project which usually turns out perfectly fine in the end. I guess it's human nature.

You may have noticed the paneling is progressing since my last paneling post. The east and south walls are done in the study...

...and work is progressing in the bedroom.

It's getting to the point where we have to move stacks of wood around each time we move to a new wall. But we're very close to finishing the outer walls and then we turn our attention to the basswood closet - and then finally the floors! The trim around the windows and floor may need to wait, for a long time. The mushroom logs are arriving in two weeks and when they come, Jeremy will be working on that full time - no more time for the upstairs! So I hope, I hope, I hope we get it done so we can move in!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yesterday Jeremy and I went to an all day beekeeping workshop. We met in a huge warehouse-like room with dozens of long folding tables set up for us to sit at. I did a rough estimate and there were probably 100+ people. Lots of interest!

The organizers handed out notebooks including all of their powerpoint slides for the day, articles about beekeeping, magazines and journals about beekeeping, catalogs for beekeeping, and a whole book about beekeeping.

Most of the day we sat while half a dozen different presenters shared about the history of bees and beekeeping, experiences of new beekeepers, bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to get started, bee diseases, and so forth.

In the afternoon they had several stations set up where everyone could handle all the beekeeping equipment and the bee boxes. At two stations we practiced assembling bee boxes and frames. It was a great stretch break and it was very helpful to see everything up close.

(pic from the American Bee Journal)

They had an incredible array of food for snacks as well. I have never seen such a huge variety of donuts, brownies, bars, cookies, and other sweet snacks. I rather enjoyed it. =) And lunch was provided as part of the workshop fee.

We connected with another beekeeper in Minneapolis and Jeremy asked a hundred questions of every beekeeper he could find. We've picked out a spot in our yard where bees might live and a friend of ours may have equipment we can use. But, it will probably be another year before we plunge into this adventure. We're just in the research and collecting stage for now!

Friday, February 5, 2010


After visiting my mom we spent a day with my sister, her husband, and my adorable niece (who will be one year old next week!) We learned to play Carcasonne on Xbox, the game Munchkin, and they made a very tasty soup for us with sausage, potatoes, onions, spinach, broth and a little cream. It was excellent.

Jeremy had found out about a little urban farm in NE Portland, Going Goaty. They have a big garden, 6 chickens, and two goats, all shared between several households. It was a rainy Monday, but we went to visit anyway and ask lots of questions about keeping goats.

Goats like to eat things, like jackets - especially zippers and buttons and snowshoe passes...

Yes, that girl knows when a camera comes out and she likes to pose for it. She did notice the goats a few times and seemed somewhat interested. We'll have to see how she reacts to them when she's a couple years older. The woman we talked to mentioned a farm store not too far away with some pygmy goats (or were they just miniature?). My sis may head there someday to see more goats.

After talking about goats for awhile, we went into the house and got to taste a hard cheese and a chevre that they made with the milk they get from the goats. Holy cow it was tasty! I was so amazed that they made the cheese on their own, and it seemed pretty easy. They were also very nice and gave us a little jar of milk to take home. All in all, it was a fun field trip.

Later in the car, I caught Amaya making funny faces:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No rest for the hardworking

As I mentioned yesterday, Jeremy and I went to Oregon last week. We stayed with my mom for 4 days and she had an incredible list of things she wanted help with. She just moved in October and it takes awhile to get a house set up.

But perhaps more importantly, she had outside projects to do so she could start putting in her garden. Two things stood in her way. One, this gazebo:

and two, this line of tall arborvitae tree and a 6 foot high chain link fence:

My mom had started clipping the trees a bit, but that's all she had gotten to.

Jeremy got to work right away taking the shingles off the roof. (Hey! haven't we done this before??)

I clipped some more of the trees and got the first part of the fence down.

Jeremy got most of the roof off and I started dismantling the walls. (Surprise! There's a hot tub in there. A friend of my mom's is taking it away.)

Then Jeremy came over to help me with the tree project. Nothing like a little chainsaw action.

Then the roof came all the way off.

And the rest of the walls and most of everything else.

We finished taking down the trees and chopping them up. Jeremy also had to take down another tree in the front corner and a line of boxwood hedge next to the drive. All just to get that hot tub out of the yard! Actually, mostly because my mom doesn't want anything around that isn't bearing food or is shading garden areas.

We made an incredible pile of salvaged wood from the gazebo and wood from the trees (which she'll burn someday)

We also took down a big rickety grape arbor and I chopped up piles and piles of dead grape vines. We're pretty happy with all the work we were able to get done - especially because of the weather. It was supposed to rain the entire time, but I think it ended up only sprinkling a little bit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Christmas, part III

Yes, it's my last Christmas post. Last week Jeremy and I went to Oregon to spend some time with my family. We had a Christmas exchange on Sunday when my brother and Grandpa were around. We also gave gifts to my brother for his birthday. And, we did a ton of work for my mom. She just bought a house in Salem and is attempting to turn it into her own urban farm. More on that later.

I just wanted to show the other gifts that I made for Christmas.

For my niece Amaya I made a little quilt that was called "Baby Biscuits" in the book I found it in. You make all these pillows and sew them together.

Here she is enjoying her bell toy more than the blanket - but I'm sure someday she'll notice it and like it. =)

I made a quilt for my sister too. I've made one for my younger sister and brother and a couple for my niece. I've been meaning to make this one for years and I finally got around to it. (I took it to Kansas for Christmas and, with a little bit of help from others, it was quilted in 12 days!)

My little sister got this wristlet (as they're calling them) and a book by my friend Peggy Parsons.

I made these hot pads for my grandpa. They're based on the classic Danish hearts, but I made them in blue since red seemed kind of girly for my g-pa. He liked them.

I made fleece pajama pants for my brother and brother-in-law and a bag for my mom - but I forgot to take pictures of them!

My little sister made me an awesome bathrobe and pajama pants. I was pretty surprised. I've been making pajama pants (and a robe once) for the guys in my family (and my sister once) for years. Maybe 4 or 5 years. This is the first time someone made me something so that was really cool.

So, Christmas is over for another year...but I'm already planning and thinking about gifts for next year. You have to start early when you make things!