Monday, October 27, 2008

Turn your heat down willya?

Are you tired of paying for the Natural Gas or Heating Oil company exec's new cars? Are you annoyed that your heating bill has gone up and is going to go higher? Me too.

I say let's stick it to the man and turn our thermostats down. Oh and the whole reducing your carbon footprint thing? Well that will just happen naturally if you play along with me.

Here's our current situation - hopefully some of my solutions will help you too.

We live in a 1500 sf tri-level 1969 ranch. All our windows and doors are original and the insulation is minimal at best. Until this summer, we had zero insulation under the floors and they used to get icy cold!

We had the crawlspace insulated in September (as deep as the rafters are...but I forget the R value, I think 17). In Oregon we rarely get snow or ice, and even more rarely have the temps drop under 30. But in an old drafty house like this one, mild weather doesn't help at all! It's still hard to keep it warm.

Here are a few things that I am working on to help offset our heat needs this winter.

I have collected old linen tablecloths and sheets from yard-sales over the years. I am turning them into multi-layered curtains. First I stitch a rod pocket into the tablecloth and slip it over a tension rod that is placed on the inside of the window frame. Then I stitch up a double thick top curtain of a sheet, tablecloth or whatever I have handy. I place those on a rod that extends outside the window frame. That way there is dead air between the layers of curtains (dead air = insulation).

I am going to make window quilts this year from sheets and old blankets (just sandwich the blanket inside the sheets and voila, quilt) for the two sliding doors and huge picture window. They ooze cold when the weather turns. I like to make the top layer of my curtains really snazzy so the house still looks all cute (but frugal) hehe.

We are also layering rugs on the hardwood floors in the bedrooms to stave off chilly toes. Same in the living room, but we have carpet and new insulation. So the extra rugs are just extra coziness.

We have an unusable fireplace that sucks warm air out of our we put a yard-sale find super heavy 1950s style bookcase on the hearth and have blocked the draft and created a nifty place to store the baby's books.

We also spent time this weekend pulling all outlet and switch covers and placing foam inserts inside.

Next up is a heavy blanket for the kitchen/ garage'll make a huge difference in the house I am sure. My dad has done this for years and it really is amazing how warm the kitchen gets once the door is insulated.

Cooking at home helps heat your house for free. A pot of boiling water or soup, or some potatoes in the oven really heats our house up.

When we are done baking, or the dishwasher finishes its cycle we open them and let their heat flow into the house. We also let warm water from the bath sit in the tub until the water cools.

Add to all these things a nice cozy sweater and socks, and a fluffy blanket for the couch and it won't feel so bad when your thermostat reads 63*.

As part of the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge we've comitted to no more than 65* during the day and 50* at night. We have zillions of blankets and we co-sleep with the baby so it should be fine.

As another blogger so aptly said - I'm looking forward to the overpayment notice from NW Natural Gas in the spring when my equal pay bills for the winter all level out.

***Addendum - I also use the sun to passively heat my home by opening all the south facing curtains when it is sunny out in the winter. It's really incredible how much heat the sun puts out when it is magnified through glass.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I <3 Oregon! My ballot came in the mail today!

I ripped the envelope open and double checked to see if Obama really was on there.
Guess what? He was!

Only 17 more days...

A note to all (whatever party you belong to): Please vote. You have a right to be heard.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shameless Pig Exploitation! ((more of the Dream))

I'm not going to try to take credit for the fantastic idea that I am about to bestow upon you. I read it somewhere in passing. I 'want' to say it was "Five Acres and Independence", but I recently checked it out from the library and didn't seem to find it in there.

O.K. enough with the disclaiming...

On with the idea!!!

I was thinking about the 22 acres at my mom & dad's and how best to use them. I mentioned before that 2 acres or so are covered in blackberries, overgrown fruit trees and whatnot. My parents usually have a large garden each year too. But the land has to be reclaimed from mother nature every season. Seriously, in the Willamette Valley if you do not mow, the grass will be 6 feet high by May. So this is where my ultra-clever, semi-swiped-from-someone-else idea comes in.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you know about little things like crop rotation to foil pests and disease. But in case you don't, I am going to explain it in great detail.

Stop me if I go too fast ;)

In nature, multiple plants are in the same genus - so tomatoes, peppers, nightshades, potatoes, and tobacco are all related. Brassicas are cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and the like and they are all kissing cousins.

If you grow the same types of plants in the same areas year after year it's like putting a neon diner sign out for pests. If plant diseases are a problem (we have powdery mildew like crazy starting in August every year!) then what I am about to tell you will possibly change the way you garden.

Two words...

I bet you have no idea what words...

Drum roll -



O.K. so you already guessed, but it was still fun no?

In order to actually maintain a good crop rotation schedule, you have to plot out ahead of time how and where you will place your plants (keeping in mind the kissing cousins et al). This is a lot of work and makes my head go foggy. If you are constrained by a small space then you will have to plot and graph your way to pest free living. If you have a large space (say 22 acres?), then you can passively rotate your crops by following my simple plan.

First divide your area into 3 plots. Obviously the 3 areas should be appropriate for vegetable gardening (6 hrs + a day of direct sun). No special fertility or any other requirements need be met at this point. I highly recommend an overgrown plot that needs a lot of work. That way, my Spectacular Idea will seem all the more wonderful.

So you have your 3 spots picked out right?

Now fence at least one of them with hog or cattle fence. It's probably cheaper and easier to do all 3 at once in the long run, but do whatever feels best for you at the time.

Each section will need its own gate.

Buy some piglets in the spring and place into the first pen. Apply appropriate TLC.
Feed them all the compost scraps that are fit for the pigs to eat...and then let the pigs work their magic on the soil in the first pen. They will root out the weeds and chomp down the brush like nobody's business! Word to the wise though, make sure any plants that you want to keep are protected.

So that's pen #1. Let the pigs stay in there until butcher time (here it will be spring to late fall).

In the second pen, either have a garden or pasture poultry. Do the opposite in the 3rd pen.

The next year, put the piglets into the plot where the garden was and move the poultry to the pig pen. Into the chicken pen throw any leaves and non-edible compost items. Don't worry because when the pigs are in that pen, they will destroy anything that is left.

Each year the pigs will churn your soil and reduce pests and disease to a minimum. The chickens are just for fun, but will benefit from the fresh pasture too.

This method takes a bit of work, but not very much planning which I like!

I'll lay it out in simple terms before I go...


Plot #1
Piggies and edible compost items

Plot #2
Garden (will be limited in size a bit in year 1 unless you are incredibly lucky)

Plot #3
Pasture Poultry and other compost items


Plot #1
Pasture Poultry and other compost items

Plot #2
Piggies and edible compost items

Plot #3


Plot #1

Plot #2
Pasture Poultry and other compost items

Plot #3
Piggies and edible compost items

And so on, and so on, and so on into infinity.

What do you think? Am I on to something?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Dream Continued

And now back to our regular programming...

I'm still dreaming a little dream.

Although the reality of mortgages, car payments, and the need for health insurance keep me solidly entrenched in the life I long to shed...dream with me anyways...

I've mentioned my parent's farm before but I am going to elaborate on a few, hopefully fun, things.

The farm was once two 1240 acre homestead grants, dating from the mid-1840s. Time and life changes have reduced it to 22 south slope acres in the fertile Willamette Valley. Currently most of it is leased by a “Bent Grass” farmer. Bent Grass is golf course grass. This is not an organic operation, which annoys me, but it does pay the taxes every year. Were we to move there, the farmer would be eliminated from the equation since we would need all 22 acres to support a sustainable lifestyle for numerous family members. The local market is always open to selling local produce and farm products, so we would definitely keep that in mind as we determine what crops and animals to grow.

I'd start with chickens, since we could whip up a coop and fence an area in no time and with very little cash outlay. The chickens could actually feed us completely if need be. Eggs are an excellent source of nutrition and if you toss in some veggies and a teeny bit of cheese, you have a meal fit for a chicken farmer ;)

After the chickens were settled in, we'd need to start fencing the acre and a half or so of orchard with hog/ cattle fence so we can raise piglets (and maybe other critters). The idea for the pigs came from my childhood when my parents lived in Odell, Oregon. We had a couple of acres, chickens, pigs, and a Black Lab named Duke who kept me out of harm's way. I was three.

We had 3 pigs Alouicious Abercrombie the First, Second and Third. They were generic pigs (in my memory) and we fed them and the chickens all sorts of scraps and things. Duke followed me everywhere and was my best friend. We bought the pigs early in the spring and fed them with summer's bounty all the way until November when the last of the pears and apples had been devoured into their giant bellies. I remember how smelly they were. I also remember how fascinated I was with them. They were so immense (to a 3 year old) and so messy. I used to think about going into their pen and playing in the mud with them, but whenever I strayed from the “Duke-approved” areas I was firmly but gently tugged back to the right area by kindly doggy jaws on my wee little bum. Anyways, after the pigs had devoured the last of the produce for the year, my parents had a slaughter truck take them away. Thankfully I was napping. I am ,and was, a very sensitive person and seeing them taken away would have had me distraught for weeks. Later on that winter we were shopping at DeHart's Market in Odell and we saw some packages of pork. My parents had finally explained that they had sold two of the pigs to the market. So when I saw the meat (specifically the ~gulp~ feet), I hollered MAMA ARE THOSE MY PIGGIES!?!?!?! She shushed me and said yes. While we were checking out, I kept asking the cashier why he won't give me my piggies back. I remember this vividly. I was very mad at him for taking my friends away.

Odell was a great place for a child. We had a creek, Neal Creek to be specific, running through the back of our land. We had a cow farm to the south, and a crazy old lady to the north. She had a parrot and a very deep pond. Both inspired me to wander over there when my mama wasn't looking. Duke, of course, was at my heels and if I went anywhere within many feet of the pond or the road he would either stand in my way or tug on me gently. He was quite a babysitter.

That winter our creek flooded and when I was outside with my daddy who was feeding the critters, I wandered away to the creek. Duke shoved himself between me and the water and grumbled at me. He scared me and made me cry. My daddy patted Duke and scolded me, and the next time I tried to make him let go of my hand he wouldn't. Apparently, I was a handful and I owe a great deal to my sweet Duke.

Our house was very small, but we had a huge pantry that my parents put gleaming jars of tomatoes and plums and things in. I loved to go into there and run my fingers across the letters on the jars. Unknowingly I was tracing B A L L and K E R R. There was a tiny window in there that let a little light in, and sometimes when the sun was sinking into it's bed it would shine through there for a few moments. The tomatoes nearly glowed!!

I also remember my parents making and bottling Root Beer. It was so much fun to watch and taste. They didn't quite follow the recipe correctly though, because in a few days we heard small explosions from the pantry. All the bottle tops had burst. It was a real mess and nobody let me help clean it up. I was not very happy about that either!

Ok – so after that long diatribe – now you know why and how I plan to grow pigs. It should be easy and fun (well not in November when the slaughter truck comes – especially for Mssrs. A. Abercrombie 4 – 10)...but well you know what I mean!!

My next Dream posts will be about sustainable energy and heat sources (ie solar, growing a forest for harvest etc).

I hope this finds you well and happy. I am much restored after baking, cooking, sewing, gardening and hanging out with my family.


Friday, October 10, 2008

There's a Wolf at the Door.

I'm a pretty optimistic person. I try to look on the bright side, or I just see the bright side for the most part. But lately, my optimism has been waning.

Today as I read the news (why oh why do I do this to myself?) on I started to feel panic. Even though the headline loudly says "Anxiety Makes it Worse" and "Calm Down, Be Brave". Frankly I feel a bit anxious and not very brave right now.

I googled Depression era recipes. I also looked up Victory Gardens. I perused some of my favorite blogs and after awhile came to the conclusion that I need to do something in order to feel like I am doing something.

Make sense?

I've been paralyzed by the mortgage meltdown. Frozen by the Dow sliding into no-man's-land. Held hostage by the drama of a desperate Republican Party.

It's like someone pressed pause on my normal life. I don't like it one bit.
Now, I realize that I can't change the past, or help with crude oil prices, but I can do small things at home to prepare for whatever is headed our way.

So in the interests of distracting myself from the current disaster at hand, I am going to do the following during the next 3 days...

Harvest tomatoes that have been ripening under my WT Greenhouse (WT = white trash hehe).

Cook down said tomatoes into sauce and freeze.

Whip up some curtains to save energy and make our home more cozy.

Finish organizing and mouse-proofing my new pantry area in the garage.

Bake stuff. Not only does it warm the house, it warms the soul.

And last, but not least, log off the internet and stay off of it until Monday when I am back at work.

I seriously need a break from all the dire news.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Checking In

I'm sorry that I have been lax in posting. Between summer ending and fall beginning (read the rains have started!)...and my new job (a surprise promotion I might add :o))...I have been a bit distracted.

The fiance is building a triangle-shaped-tunnel for my garden today. It's kind of ghetto (read - made from wood in the garage),but it will extend my tomato harvest and enable us to plant greens where the rains can't destroy them.

It's such a sweet gesture, and I am ITCHING to go play with it.
Once it's all up I will post pics.