Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pre-Tday Preparations

Thanksgiving is still a couple of weeks out, but I am doing my "fall stuff". You know how it is, getting in the harvest, getting things canned, jarred, frozen, prepared, and ready for all the holiday frenzy.  I have been stocking up on flour, sugar, and essentials for my favorite holiday cookies and candies.
Today I cooked down two pumpkins and a Kabocha. After cooking I blended them and packed the product for freezing. I will use this all winter for pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread.
Then there were the cranberries. I do a baked cranberry jam that keeps the cranberries whole and pretty. I did two bags of cranberries and have one left to go. They are such a pretty color and go will with goat cheese or cheesecake.
I have also been busy harvesting the last of the cotton boles. I put them in the dehydrator and extract the cotton when they open. I have a couple more days of this before I finish the crop. The second year with these Pima plants made way more than the first year. I have four 1 gallon bags full and still more to gin (remove the seeds).
I have also been spinning, knitting, weaving and sewing and getting my holiday gifts done. I have already given out my Step mother's gift. It was a birthday//Christmas pair of adorned socks.  I am still trying to finish my daughter's socks, my husband's socks and some weaving projects.
I have one loom warped and working well, and another is poised to receive a new warp for a Jewish friend. It needs to be done by Thanksgiving- Oye! Gotta move, gotta fly.
So the next things on the list-
I did manage to vacuum the living room yesterday and will be doing some major cleaning in the rest of the house. When we close up the windows the dust kills my lungs, so I need to do the deep cleaning before the cold nights get to me.
We have a lovely wood pile ready for winter, and the yard has had its general clean up. I won't have to prune the trees for another month.
There! I am getting organized. Slowly, I am getting my house in order and getting ready to tear it apart. I have construction plans for patios, rooms, sheds and landscape. The spring is going to see some wild activity here.
So I am going to hibernate while I can.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mother of Vinegar

My yard produces an abundance of fruit. So much fruit that I can't eat or process it all. Much of it goes into the recycle containers to become mulch and compost. But this year I decided to try something new- Vinegar.
I took excess apples, chopped them up and added a bit of sugar. And a dash of yeast. Some of the yeast came from the fruit and some came from bread yeast. I covered it lightly with layers of cheese cloth to keep bugs out. And moved it to a spot near the wall to "rest" for a few months.
In time, there was alcohol. The whole house smelled of apple cider. I strained out the solids.
Then the vinegar started. It takes a few fruit flies to bring the bacteria to the liquid but just a very few. Too many and things go astray. After two months, batch one- made with peaches was too contaminated even though it smelled like vinegar. I didn't feel good about it so I tossed it.
Batch two- with apples, looked really good. The mother had formed and sunk to the bottom of the jar, so it was ready.
I strained out Mom, the boiled the vinegar to pasteurize it. Now it is time to filter and bottle. I am having a tough time getting it to filter through the coffee filters. I have first used cloth, then the coffee filter, but it is very slow and clogs up fast.
I am hoping that this little experiment helps me find a practical use for the excess apples and peaches. I use vinegar in making cheese, dying wool, and cleaning house. It would be kind of fun to make my own and use it for all sorts of things. Even pickles and chutney.
We will have to see how this turns out in the long run but for the moment, I have this mother of vinegar staring at me waiting to be fed more alcohol. Feed Me!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Little More Time, Please

Today, I am home cleaning up  my mess. The mess is a dirty house, projects left incomplete or not even started. A garage full of stuff that needs sorting and removal. Dying plants, growing plants and weeds. So much to do in this never ending "work in progress".

Today, I finishing winding on the warp for a gift that was intended for xmas 2012. I still have to thread the heddles and test the warp before actually weaving anything, but just getting this far has been a near miracle. I am also testing marshmallow recipes for my xmas 2013 presents.

As I work through the "list", I give myself time to reflect and appreciate the amount of work that is being done. Otherwise, I could just beat myself that it never gets finished. There is always too much on the list. The list gets more stuff before the old stuff gets done. So how does one go about getting "done" at the end of the day?

This is what I do. I know the list is "forever long". So is have insignificant things that must get done (like shower and dress, or take out the trash). And I have significant things that must be done (like paying the bills, finishing the patio plans, or getting new tires). There are important things, (like getting groceries for dinner, checking on family, and making sure we have clean underwear). Then there are the MASSIVE things, (like selling a car, painting the house, or planning a trip). Of course there are always the GARGANTUAN things, (like assisting my father in his final days, cleaning out my mother's 84 years of "collecting", and starting the room addition).

The list has some things (gargantuan things) that have been on the list for many years and get a little bit of attention at a time until they are actually done. Some of them I want to hurry along and others I want to slow down, but they all get to the end in time. Massive things seem to take months or large blocks of hours. Sometimes research. Most of my list is full of the regular high and low priority things.  I have determined that getting a dozen things done per day is really quite an accomplishment. I give myself an A+ for a day where 12 things on the list get done, even if they are rather small things. That is a pretty full day.

4 or 5 things per day is really slacking. It is mostly a goof-off day. I can even get that much done when I am sick. It would be like- shower, dress, do a load of laundry, make dinner, empty dishwasher. This is a pretty light load and didn't have anything very significant in it. But if it had "Finish the taxes, or repair the plumbing" it might be a bit more work and worthy of praise.

For the last three years, I have been getting lots of little things done during the day and only a few of the bigger things done. I realize that I am going to have to get some significant amounts of extra time in order to get some of those big things done. So what I am suggesting her is that we extend the Fall/Winter time frame for about 4 months. I tend to get more done in the Fall and Winter. The cooler weather makes me hustle about but warm weather makes me drowsy and sluggish. If I had a longer Winter, I could possibly get caught up on some of the bigger things. People would not be coming over as much. I would not be traveling as much. The garden and yard would not need so much work.

Definitely, I need a second Winter this year. I know that some of you will complain about the cold and snow and heating bills. There are always those who don't benefit from a new plan. I feel that after I get a little bit more caught up, I could then loan you some extra Summer for your list. I am sure, with some consideration for each other, we can work something out. But right now, I have to get back to the list. Today, I have made a little bit of progress, but not enough to get any special points. Today is about a 6 (C).

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Business as Usual

My home business is small. I file my sales tax one time per year because volume is low but consistent. And for some reason, every year it seems like the world is happening at my house just when I need to do this filing. Even with the swirl of activity, I manage to get this to the top of the list and get it done on time.
This year I did it on time as well, but much later in the month. The dread of missing the deadline or forgetting to do it nags me until it is done. I keep looking at the calendar and wondering when I will have time to sit with the receipts and sort. So I bite of pieces- first gather the receipts into one area. Then find last year's information as a reference. Then finally add up the receipts, write a calculation sheet and commit to the website.
Really, it doesn't take a long time, but it does take some organization. That seems to be the issue. Too many demands on my time and my organization goes down the drain. The first thing to fail seems to be the woolyroom which is always on the edge of calamity.
This year, as well as last year, my son came to visit from China and is staying in the guest room (which is also known as the overflow of the woolyroom). This means the over flow had to go back to the woolyroom. Oye! the woolyroom is where I do my paper work and sales tax stuff. So the documents got covered with overflow.
As the deadline approached, what little organization I once had started to wobble, and I found the box of receipts just in time. I stuffed them under the desk. Each day, the dread grew but the work didn't get any closer to getting done. Finally, in a state of panic, I forced myself to do the sales tax report and file the taxes, write the check and get it into the mail. 3 Days before disaster.
I sometimes think about people I know who say they are bored and don't have anything to do.  I can't imagine how that happens. Life is way too exciting and full to ever get bored.

Friday, July 12, 2013

June was Fuzzy

It seems like it was a long month, but it went by in a blur. First there was the long drive to San Francisco. And home again. 1100 miles. After which, I turned around and drove again to Oregon and back, 2100 miles. While I was in Oregon, I fondled many, many fleeces from many kinds of sheep. I partied with friends and worked in the Wool Show. It was wonderful, but tiring. And then I came home to - a really dirty house and my son coming to visit from China.
You would think I would start cleaning right away, but I can't seem to get motivated. So much to do, now where to put everything. AND, I am making cheese.
Yes, cheese is higher on the list than cleaning out the house. I did fix some of the lawn sprinklers. And repaired a plumbing leak. I am closing out the books for an organization and doing the end of the year report. But, the house, ugh! I just can't face the clutter and the mess.
I will get there, before he gets here. But for the moment, there is goat's milk and cheese on my mind and in my cheese press. And soon, it will be in the brine. That is one of the great joys of staying home and playing with my toys- fresh peaches, home made cheese, delicious fresh meals, and some wool to spin.
Life is sweet and I am taking my time to enjoy it.
Bon Apetit!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Assimilation- the me becomes the we

In most of my travels, I have striven to find the "out of the way" experience. I have wanted to live like the locals even if just for a few days of my visit. I do not take the packaged tours. I visit the farmer's markets and back row shops. I daringly eat from the carts and sample local produce. There is freedom in being outside of the madding crowd and out of step with the tourist rush.
One of the benefits is not waiting in lines to get on the bus and then waiting for the bus to start its day. The freedom of planning my own schedule and finding my own way around is exhilarating!
But here, in the Great San Francisco, I am feeling something different. For some reason, I don't want to be out of step. I want to be in the crowd of tourists staring at the sea lions, watching the cable car turn and visiting the local tourist shops.
I think that part of this feeling is the uniqueness of San Francisco itself. All during my life, San Francisco has been the place to go for people who are out of step with the rest of society. Yes, it has its rich and stifling element, but it was also the destiny of the hippies. It has great music, free on the wharf. It has wonderful public transportation systems. It is casual chic, relaxed formal, and internationally natural. San Fran is the place where international immigrants came (on the west side) to escape their native country oppression, to start a new life, to find a new way. It is the wild west refined. It is the gold rush free for all. It is end of the line and the beginning of something new. For some reason, I feel comfortable in the crowd, here.
So I bought the muni-pass and have been in line waiting for the cable car every day to take me from the Wharf to Downtown and back. I stop along the way and shop, explore and dawdle just like all the other tourists. There are dozens of bakeries in China Town and I have visited 3. There is only one Fortune Cookie factory and I went there. Ghirardelli Square, Union Square, and Market street. Crab shack- yes. Boudin sourdough- yes. Clam chowder.
All the tourist traps are calling my name- loudly, and I am happily wandering over to explore what the other tourists have done for a hundred years. Here, the tourist is the normal person. The whole environment is 24/7/365 tourists. It is the blood and heartbeat of the place. I am surging in the veins of the city on the cable car, on the side walk, in the crush of people, in the shops. I am new and familiar at the same time. In two days, I know several of the cable car drivers by name and help others find their way around. The people are friendly and busy. The visitors are happy. We are becoming as one. Listening, walking, floating through time, moving with the motion, relaxed and still alert. I am becoming the crowd. We are one.
It is going to be hard to go home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Silver Spoons in my Pocket

Over time, I have learned much about my family history that is either supportive or contradicting of what they have told me. This last weekend, again, we hashed some family history and sorted out some of the past- through the stuff of ages.
A historical note that I am certain of is- My Grandmother Katie (Katherine) Morrison, Dlugos, Pratt (there are some others but they didn't stick) liked to go to estate sales. It is at these sales that she purchased her family history. She would buy items then tell a story about how they were a part of the family valuables handed down through inheritance. She would embellish about the wealthy uncle or aunt many times removed and far distant in location and her relationship to this wealth. After telling the story many times, it became the truth to all who would wonder or have contact with her. After all, there was no real way to check it out. I am certain of this because I attended several estate auctions with her and my mother.
So this last weekend, my mom surrendered up the contents of her China Hutch and cabinet. The sacred shrine of all the stuff of ages- china, antique pieces, crystal, silver and miscellany. The old and very old was mixed with the newer. The valuable was mixed with the trash. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection, just volume. But some of it was more familial than others. I had her tell me the story of each piece as she remembered it. Some had a vague sense that it came from old family, but some of it had a specific story attached to it. Some of the stories I had heard before and knew they were estate sale items. It is difficult to keep quiet in the situation, but I managed.
In sorting through the items, I made separate piles of really not very valuable stuff, valuable but not really family heirlooms, and valuable family heirlooms. The ones with real history are more meaningful to me than the mere stuff collected for appearance.
I do not have much space for things to show off. Stuff must have purpose and usefulness. Lead Crystal is not terribly useful because of the lead that leaches into foods and drinks. But it is really shiny and heavy. Sometimes I am won over by the sparkle of things.
So this brings us to the Spoon issue. In an old anti-tarnish bag, was a collection of "collector" spoons. Some were silver plated and some were sterling. No story came with it. No family member name was attached to it. Just a bag of old spoons. Some parent up the line had visited a few places and purchased a silver spoon to commemorate the visit or possibly had had it purchased for them as a gift. The collection was small and generally confined to the United States. My family was not much into international experience. We have Chicago, St.Louis Mo., St. Charles Mo., Mr. Rainier in Seattle, Wa., and the Brooklyn Bridge New York. These were in Sterling silver. There is also an Ammish looking decoration on one spoon that has European silver marks on the bowl. The collection of silver plated spoons is small and mostly not interesting at all, like old baby items and a couple of location or memorial types. These are in really bad shape with most of the silver rubbed off or tarnished beyond hope.
These are actually interesting to me. It is possible that my grandmother didn't buy them and that they were in fact handed down from a family member who was into collecting spoons. The Spoon Craze generally ended around World War 1 with little revivals mostly of cheap silver plate and stainless steel types, but the spoons from this bag are very ornate and heavy.
So what do you do with a silver spoon. I did some research. If a person had a silver spoon, then they were usually a land holder and a free person as opposed to a slave or an indentured servant. I could carry it with me as proof of my status. Also, a silver spoon was a sign of wealth, especially is a very poor environment. You can use a silver spoon to test of arsenic poison in your food. Very handy as the silver will tarnish in the presence of sulfur compounds. And, lastly, you can melt them down for the silver content. Generally, according to the ebay sales I viewed, they are not worth much and no one is really collecting spoons anymore. There are spoons for sale, page after page, and pretty cheap by the dozen. That would suggest the " sign of wealth" thing won't hold much water now, about a teaspoon full. So, I have to confess to being won over by the sparkly and the ornate decorations. The silver plate stuff will have to go , but the sterling can stay and if all else fails, I can have it melted down into a giant silver blob.
And thus, stuff is passed from one generation to the next. I know nothing of my family who originally owned it. I know nothing of the travels, the adventures, the struggles. Because my family purchased history and lied about themselves, nothing has real meaning as an heirloom. But sometimes, curiosity and sparkly are enough to make the next shrine open up and hold it for another generation.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Still Cleaning Up Messes

Life seems to be a constant series of messes and clean-ups. I am not a person who makes a mess and walks away. I have to stay to clean-up. Pack it in/Pack it out. Leave no footprint. Tread lightly...etc...estimate your carbon footprint.... reduce/re-use/re-cycle...conserve/compost. It seems to be my understanding of the world that I want to live in. Yet, sometimes, I feel the pressure to organize/clean/declutter keeps me from enjoying life more.
My mind is full of clutter. Way to many projects, jobs, hats, and demands are filling my head with other people's messes as well as my own. Like this organization I started doing some work for. It seems that along with the regular work, there is about 30 years of clutter that needs to be sorted and tossed. And that is just in my area- bookkeeping/treasurer. Old files need to be purged. File cabinets need to be re-organized. Consolidation. Shredding. Because it is time consuming, none of the others before me wanted to do this work, so the "mess" builds over the years and becomes a mountain of work. Now it is a job all of its own- the organization needs a cleaning crew to come in and bully the clutter into submission.
I did this for them in another area, which then exploded into three areas and now is exploding again. You move one box and the world comes tumbling down in a cascade of trash. My only hope is to run away as fast as I can before the mountain can smother me. To this, I have given much thought and have planned my termination from this position. An escape route. But the tendrils of the organization, the other areas of vast clutter and mess, keep calling to me.
So as I turn my focus to my own clutter, I realize that I have many unfinished jobs sitting on my plate waiting for me to apply my time. Like my taxes. I proudly say, I have filed my extension on time. Yet the mountain is looming precariously over me.
This weekend, I did manage to get one  item off the plate. Of course, there are many more sliding on, but this one brought a sense of closure as well. I was able this weekend to finish the estate paper work for E's mom's estate. He was able to send a final check to his sister to close his obligation as a trustee. After she cashes that check, he will close the account permanently. One piece of clutter off my plate. Three pieces of clutter off his plate. Less to track. More brain space for me. I feel remarkably light and silly with all this extra space in my head. Buoyant even.
And because of this buoyant feeling, I cleaned the refrigeration shelves and drawers. What! you say. You didn't go out and celebrate? No, I cleaned up another mess. Damn! What is wrong with my brain?
Reality is- there is way more mess than can ever be cleaned up. Take time to play, too. Leave other people to clean up their own messes. Today, I will focus on my own things, my own messes, my own fun. I will warp my loom. I will knit my socks. I will relax and let the world spin in its sea of trash without picking any of it up. Now I have said it. Now I have to find a way to live it without feeling the pull of all the other messes calling my name. One day at a time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

When things go bad

I was cleaning out the pantry. It has to be done on occasion. It should probably be done more often than every 5 years, though. This was a goal I set for myself after cleaning out my mother-in-laws kitchen when she was sick before she died. She had stuff in her pantry that was 10 or more years old. And stuff in her refrigerator that was just as old. I swore that when I was done taking care of her I would clean up my own mess.
This is a warning! Don't swear when you are tired and stressed!
Now I am cleaning out my mess. It started with getting rid of stuff I don't use- like kitchen items, clothing items, bathroom items, etc. Just surplus stuff that had gathered through the years. I don't need three broken electric razors, old disposable razors, and old toothbrushes. I am not going to clean with the toothbrushes, either.
After doing a big sort and toss in all the regular rooms, I peeked into the pantry. LO! there were jars of things I had canned that were 5 years old. It was time to do some serious cleaning.
So I pulled them out and set them on the counter. That was 5 months ago. They just sat there taking up space and being a reminder that I am so busy I can't get anything done. Today I emptied 10 quart jars of peaches, tomato sauce and pickled beets. I still have 5 mystery jars on the counter waiting for me to get the nerve to open them. These jars don't have dates or names. I don't know what I made or when and that alone is reason to dump the contents. But there is also a curiosity factor. What exactly is this stuff?
While I was in the panty, I found about 8 jars of various dried beans and peas. I like to make split pea soup and black eyed peas. I like to make soups with beans and vegetables. But mostly I use canned beans because I don't have time to cook for hours and soak over night.
Again, the swearing thing. I swore to use up the beans before the end of the summer. That was last summer, by the way. I had completely forgotten that swear. Stuff in the pantry is behind closed doors so it doesn't really exist. Now it was in my face, telling me to get out the pot and cook. The first batch of black eyed peas went in to soak.
Now when they beans or peas are done, they are delicious. And once I commit to soaking and cooking, I actually stay home and do it. I can say that I have emptied 1/2 of one quart of dried black eyed peas.

This is the recipe and instructions:
2 cups dried black eyed peas
1 gallon water
Soak for two hour or over night. I change the water two or three times after a couple of hours. The little skins start to slip off and float. I like to let the drain off.
If you soak overnight, the beans will start to sprout and cook faster.

Empty the soaking water and refill the pot with about 1 gallon of water. Heat to a boil then turn the temp down to medium/low but slightly higher than simmer. Let them cook with NO SALT for about two hours adding water as necessary. I don't put a lid on the pot. And I skim the foam off periodically because I don't like it. If you put a lid on, you need to turn the temperature down more so that it doesn't over boil. Check liquid level every 1/2 hour and increase as needed with fresh water.
After about two hours, or when beans are soft enough to chew easily but still grainy, add 1 cup of crumbled bacon and 1 or more teaspoons of salt. I like to finely chop about 1/4 of an onion and add that, too. Cook another hour keeping an eye on the water. You can use ham or smoked chicken/turkey instead of bacon. Or you can use some celery and skip the meat altogether.
The beans are done when they are soft and almost mushy- just a little bit of resistance when you chew.

After I make these things, I remember why I buy dried peas and beans. I just need to do this more often than once a year.
And I should probably not buy so much at one time. 1/2 pound dried black eyed peas is enough for 6 or more servings. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pima Cotton

Last time I posted, I said I would do the Pima Cotton part later. I was waiting to see if it made it through the winter. Sometimes, cotton plants will winter over and start up again the the spring- like a head start over the other new seeds. I had decided to let the Pima Cotton go for it. And IT MADE IT THROUGH!
How do I know? Well, there are lots of new leaves and a flower. Already, a flower.
I have been cleaning out another area to start some brown cotton seeds and some green cotton seeds. These will be the shorter plants and will make their bolls in the summer. But the Pima, tall and stately, is going for the tree status. 8 feet tall and going on.
Well, back to the analysis of the cotton adventure.
I managed to gather about 90 grams of Pima cotton after removing the seeds. I have about a 1/2 pound (200 grams) of seeds from the different plants. The Pima seeds are easy to identify because they are naked- no fuzz. The colored cotton seeds can pretty much be identified by the color of the fuzz that sticks to them.
So there we are- my little plot- grew enough cotton to make a thong panty, for a small person. I actually could make a wash cloth, or a thin dish towel. 90 grams is around 3 ounces before spinning. There may be a bit of loss in the carding, but most of it will end up as thread/yarn. Knitting will use more, because it is thicker fabric, but weaving has loom waste. Hmmm. What to do?
I could just spin this up and wait for the next season's crop. Then I could have a full size under pant or possibly a t-shirt of some sort. I could use some other cotton I have to make a few stripes and have some all natural colored item.
I didn't use any chemical insecticides or fertilizers- just  regular nitrogen and compost. The water was about what a person would use on a lawn. In the winter, I didn't water it at all. So, Organic and home grown, and natural colors.  I need to do the math now. How many feet wide is an acre? How many plants could be sustained in this manner on an acre? How many grams of cotton from one acre? How many t-shirts? Is this a reasonable thing for a home spinner to do - grow your own little cotton forest? Is there enough fiber to make it worth while and usable?
Like growing silk worms- what I have learned is that as a spinner, I am terribly spoiled. As a consumer even more so. My 8 week silk worm experiment yielded 260 cocoons which will yield one ounce of silk. My year long garden plot of cotton will yield 3 ounces of cotton. We use much more than that every day in our clothing, household products, and craft fun. I spin several pounds of fiber every year to knit and weave. It would take me several acres of land, a sheep, 4 generations of silk worms just to keep my hobby going. Socks and sweaters would be my reward-  but I would still need to buy ready made clothing, like pants and shirts. And what about those towels? That is an acre in one towel.
It makes me humble when I realize how little my plot can do, and at the same time, I am proud to have done it. I just love knowing how it all happens and being a part of it, no matter how small the part is.