Tag Archives: United States

Ding Ding Ding, end of round one

12517-maple-syrup

Yesterday saw the end of our first batch of syrup making. Leah slaved away at the cooker and stove for what seemed like days on end. With the weather in the mid 50’s and lower 60’s for most of the week, the sap had stopped flowing but there was the risk of it spoiling on us if we didn’t get it cooked down. This meant that we had to get it cooked, soonest. Because of that, we dragged the propane cooker out of the basement and brought the sap to a boil on it before putting it into the big cook pot on the rocket cooker. Not what I would have preferred to do as propane costs money that winter keeps in short supply. But we make do. When the temperature drops back below freezing at night and the sap freezes, only the water freezes, not the sugar. This allows us to pull water out without expending any energy. It also speeds the process along. That didn’t happen this time. Which has to be one of the oddest things I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve cooked sap. Remember, we are in the Northeastern corner of Ohio, and this is JANUARY!!! Why the temperatures are that high is beyond me. But no matter. We got a little over 2 gallons of syrup and the season hasn’t officially started yet. Here’s hoping for a long one.

 

Let the Sap Flow

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The weather outside has certainly turned to the weird. My folks, who live in western Central Ohio, had a low of -2 F just a couple of nights ago. And though it didn’t get that cold here on the shores of Lake Erie, we are facing temps in the 50s tomorrow or the next day. Up and down, up and down. Like a regular ping pong ball. What that means to us, here at the farm, is that the Maple trees will be giving up their life blood in the days ahead. Now, I know that the going wisdom once said that the day to tap trees wasn’t until February 15, we have been tapping our trees in January for, at least, the last few years. Any time the temperature goes above and below the freezing mark can be considered Maple season. So we put out our 20 buckets.

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I decided to tap a bunch of different trees this year. Rather than going all the way to the end of the driveway for the 2 clusters out there, this time the buckets are all right by the house, particularly at the north end of the house. We’ll see how that goes. Several of the trees are pretty small (8-12″) so they only got 1 spiel. Also different this year, I read on some tapping page or other to try and set the spiels either above a large root or below a large limb. Makes a lot of sense. That and to stay away from trees with any large dead sections. Every year we learn a little more. Like drilling the tap holes to 2″ so that the sap can drain from the phloem, cambium, and the xylem. I don’t think I was drilling deep enough before. We shall see.

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We had freezing rain and then rain on top of the 8″ of fresh powder that got laid down in the last few days. This made the snow, Oh So Packable. Leah made a bearded snow creature (I think it is Old Man Winter) to say Thank You to the trees.

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I just rolled up a bunch of giant balls and stacked them up into a lumpy monolith. Maly said that the stick belonged in his mouth, NOT stuck into the snow. Always the critic. I’m looking a little rangy. Winter. Grown ass adults making snow sculptures. We have a long way to go til spring.

 

Chasing off the Snow Giants

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Tuesday night saw what I think of as the first day of a New Tradition. It’s really only new to me, not at all new to the history of humanity or to those currently living. 5 of us met out back to honor Mother’s Night and burn a Yule log in order to light the way for the Sun to return to us after it’s gradual waning. In the image above, you can see our Log nestled in the core of the fire (its bark runs horizontally while all others run towards the vertical). With its burning, we release the failures and angers and discomforts of the last year and look forward to the new year’s hopes and dreams.

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As I was unfamiliar with the spirit of Yule, I had to make a few things up as I went along. Our Log was the bottom section of a Black Locust tree from our land (traditionally they are Oak). We had no Holly sprigs to carry our past year’s frustrations and no acorns to carry our hopes for the new one. This will be rectified in the future. Our Ceremony was loose and unorganized, but as Will said,”the archetypes are what truly matters, even if we aren’t as familiar with them and don’t get them exactly right.” It took me nearly 2 hours and at least 3 attempts to build the fire in a way that felt acceptable. A single attempt was made to bring the fire to light and it was a far greater success than even I had hoped. This is in alignment to my bone level KNOWING that I was never much of a Fire Fighter while I was on my local fire department. My personal history taught me that I am more of a Fireman.

fireman

play 

noun  fire·man  \-mən\
Popularity: Bottom 30% of words
  1.  a person who tends or feeds fires:stoker

  2.  a member of a fire department :firefighter

  3.  an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery

  4.  a relief pitcher in baseball

It is in accordance with the first definition that I find guidance in my life rather than any of the others (the baseball reference is new and totally alien to me). I know that I have written before of the history of my family and how my mother’s father (Andrew Patrnchak) started his career in Warren Ohio as a Stove Tender, shoveling coal into the blast furnaces at Republic Steel. He retired as the Steel Pourer, actually controlling the Ladle as the liquid steel is poured into its forms. He would know what I’m talking about. Being able to look into the heart of a fire and tell, by color or texture or movement, the exact internal state of the Fire. My time spent at Ohio University firing their wood kilns to 2300 deg F is in line with this. Building a fire that will vent properly. Positioning the lay so that the wind works to draw the fire through the fuel rather than forcing it to choke on its own smoke. These things as as much instinct as learned. Maybe more so.

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In the setting of making this fire, I had the added tension of the actual lighting of the fire. Tradition stats that the head of the household needs to spark off the fire on the first attempt to ensure good fortune. This I did with seeming nonchalance (I say seeming because I was more nervous than I apparently needed to be and certainly more than I looked.) The wind at my back, the tiny spark took to the kindling and rushed through the small stuff, forced down and inward. There it found and set the core of the fire. It is this moment of kindling that the year ahead rests upon. If in spirit and attitude if nothing else. The fire took hold and began to wrap back and around our Yule log, releasing to potent magic inherent in the woods I chose to carry the fire. Red and White Oak, Wild Cherry, Aspen and Tulip Poplar, Beach and Green Ash all played their part while Hophorn Beam was doing the real heavy lifting to release the true energetic potential in the Black Locust at the fire’s heart.

We sang no songs and intoned no chants. No animals were sacrificed to slake the blood thirst of angry spirits. In their stead, stories were shared, and libations were offered, to our Ancestors, to the sun and the darkness, to Thor, and to the Spirit that Moves Through All Things. We gave thanks for what has passed. We gave thanks for the day’s lengthening. We recognized Mother Night from which all things come. As she carries and cradles the seeds underground, in darkness, that spring forth into the light and give new life.

Our tradition is new. Our celebration small. Much like the seeds we press into the soil. In time our circle will grow. As will the sun. As will our endeavors. Our hopes and dreams will also grow and spread, bringing new patterns of life to this worn out, beaten down land. A land waiting, under its icy blanket for the coming spring to show us our paths.

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May the log burn,
May the wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the Sun return.

As winter blows in

Even though the temperatures are starting to slip down towards the freezing mark, I’ve kept at it out in the barn. Why not? I’ve got the rocket stove out there now. For now, there isn’t a lot of heat retention as the walls are basically just a bunch of reeds bound up together. Around the edges, at the corners and the top, the wind can still come right in.  I’ve wrapped the outside of the addition with tarps and some old old greenhouse plastic. I’m not trying to seal the room up completely, that will come later. My efforts are simply in order to block out the worst of the wind and to keep the snow out of the room. In any case, every bit helps. The door to the outside has a removable window and a little sliding door at the bottom so that the birds will be able to get in and out without having to go through barn. More than that, I would very much like to get the birds to stop turning the yard in front of the barn into a mud pit. My intention is for them to go out this new door and turn the side yard into a mud pit. Hence the little door. Figuring out a door that is able to resist the intentions of a skunk or raccoon isn’t as simple as I first thought. But after about an hour of staring at the bottom of that door, I had a solution. The little sliding door actually nests inside the outer casing. Only time will tell if it will do the job. It feels like it should. I hope it does.

The walls, as I stated, are simply bundled reeds. So anything I do on the inside of the barn will have to be relatively removable. That and I want them off the floor. I don’t know if you can tell from the images, but the nest boxes are actually attached to the window cases with a brace at the bottom to hold them off the wall. When the time comes to finish the inside, the boxes will need to be removed. The way I attached them allows that. The red/white/green along the top of the boxes are small sections of metal roofing that was left over from cutting in the roof. This will allow the birds to use the upper boxes without getting pooped on. More importantly, the slope will make it so that the birds won’t be able  hang out on top. Anyone who knows chickens knows that they crap almost constantly. The slope will dissuade them from hanging out up there. It worked pretty well on the old boxes.

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The perches are set. The way I’ve done them this time is to set boxes/braces on the wall that the perches can be set in. The perches aren’t actually attached to the boxes. This will allow their removal when I need to clean up under them. Instead, I ran wire through the wall and secured the boxes in place so that the cob/plaster layer will come right up to it. I think it was something I saw in one of the straw bale books that I have. The bottom 2 perches are most likely going to get replaced with straighter poles. If I have the energy to do so. In the current coop, the perches are actually secured in place. Until you have either been crapped on while mucking about under perched birds or simply felt the (literally) crappy perches rubbing along your head, neck and back as you try and work, you haven’t lived. It’s a not obvious in the image but there is also a window (same size/shape as the one in the door) set high in the wall. This will allow paper level ventilation in the summer and just a little more light year round. I’m just trying to make the space as light and airy as I can. Not that the chickens will let me know if they are content or satisfied with what I’ve made for them. If any of you can speak chicken, please please please come over and help me talk to these birds.

 

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my Rubber Biscuit, the liar

As for the animals, Biscuit has apparently shown her true colors and a full on liar. I’ve been waiting on her to show signs of an imminent birthing and she as more than willingly taken the feed I’ve been giving her as if she is owed the sweetness. In fact, when I contacted the family that sold her to me (and assured that she was due “any day now”) they informed me that their other doe was also not showing signs of imminent birthing. What this leads me to believe is that their Pygmy buck simply isn’t up to the talk. In Biscuit’s case, I think that I mean it literally as well. I think he just couldn’t reach. She is a fairly big girl as far as it goes and he was just a little guy. The other nanny was his size though so who (besides the goats themselves) knows? As for the chickens, I now have 4 extra roosters and a young hen that is laying an egg a day. Another hen lays maybe 4 or 5 times a week. Everyone else seems to have stopped completely. 2 eggs in a day (at best) with 28 birds is pretty pathetic. There is a bit of electrical work to take care of and then I’ll hook in the timer and try and get a few more of them to start laying again. At least I hope they start back up. Time will tell.

Everything is fine?

fine1
fīn/
adjective
  1.  of high quality.
    “this was a fine piece of filmmaking”
    synonyms: excellent, first-class, first-rategreatexceptionaloutstandingqualitysuperiorsplendidmagnificentexquisitechoiceselectprimesupremesuperbwonderfulsuperlative, of high quality, second to none; More

  2.  (of a thread, filament, or person’s hair) thin.
    “I have always had fine and dry hair”
    synonyms: thinlightdelicatewispyflyaway More

 noun
  1.  very small particles found in mining, milling, etc.

adverb

informal
  1.  in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well.
    ““And how’s the job-hunting going?” “Oh, fine.””
verb
  1.  clarify (beer or wine) by causing the precipitation of sediment during production.
  2.  make or become thinner.
    “it can be fined right down to the finished shape”

    So apparently the formatting for wordpress hates me today.

  3. I can’t seem to get it to knock off this numbering thing.
  4. I’m stuck in what feels like history class from when I was a kid.
    1. I can even put things in closer

though I’m pretty sure I’m stuck here

Oh, uh, I have no idea what I did, but now the entire thing is correct and it looks like i’ve just made all that up. really I didn’t.

So Leah and I were talking about something in the car the other day and she asked me if a thing was fine. It’s getting blurry now that I’m trying to re-hear the conversation. “Was it fine?” or something like that. I sort of mumbled, “ya gesso.” and a drip of sweat fell from my nose onto my shirt. Which launched us into the meaning, and usage, of the word FINE. While I recognize the many applicable meanings, what I think of most often in reference to the word FINE is just sort of ho hum. No complaints really. No problems. Functional adequacy. (I just made that up) Nothing special to write home about. She threw back at me that there is a Class distinction in usage that isn’t fully conscious on my part. My dad used the GI bill after his time in the USMC and learned how to lasso numbers and get them to do what he wanted. My sister got that from him. I did not. Not that anyway. I got other things from him. But she got the numbers. My father is part of that great AMERICAN DREAM that the Greatest Generation believed in. His father, my grandfather that gave me my last name, got a gob with no significant education (maybe finished high school but I’m not entirely sure) in a Tool and Die factory in Youngstown OH. The factory moved to Conneaut is 1948. Because of his skills, he, like my steel worker other grandfather, was ineligible for the draft to serve in WWII. Essential services. They were made to feel good about their not fighting in the War to End All Wars 2.0. They weren’t cowards. They made a living and provided all the things they were supposed to, per that AMERICAN DREAM. I would imagine that household was fairly loud (Italian) and undoubtedly got pretty physical at times (3 boys). Grandpa watched his boys go off to the Marines (2 of them) and then a different 2 get college educated. The dreamers in the family weren’t my father. He got a numbers job with the State and turned that into one with the Federal Govt. Private Contractors were Civilian Employee back in the early 80’s. So he made enough of a living that we never wanted for the basics, not ever in my memory. So according to the terms of the American Dream, he/they did it right. And I can’t argue that. They did what they “knew.” Especially my grandfather and his Greatest Generation. Regardless of the ultimate cost.  Our lives weren’t hot new cloths and the latest sound system and dirt bike and a zipper jacket for everyone. Not that kind of money. But enough to get it done. My childhood was not brutal or a struggle by most any standard. I grew up a pink skinned boy in the 70s and 80s. Back the, being such a person gave me an advantage that I didn’t really know about for many years. Things were turning towards the toilet and they had absolutely no clue how weird it would all get. But the thing I remember asking my mother about that rings loud and clear after at least 35 (closer to 40) years ago was, “What class are we?” “Oh,” she replied, “there are no classes in America.”

Well, no. We were all taught this. Boot strapping your way to the top. Rags to riches blah blah blah. And here the big circle closes, we were shown that we as NOT Elites simply could not understand what made something FINE. So we blew it off as serviceable. We were shown movies and told stories about how the elite live. Of kings and queens, Tzars and Brahmin. I caught on at some point that this was not and never would be my world. Fine things were only ever glimpsed in museums or in images in TV shows or magazines. Never tangible or accessible. Fine of that sort was fairy tale. It’s that elite FINE that is unobtainable for the great unwashed.

“How’s that shirt fit?” Fine. “How does it feel?” Fine. “What do you think of the style?” Fine. Now set that conversation against a different background. Make it a costume made silk and linen designer shirt that retails for $900. One of those ones that go under Armani Suits. Brooks Brothers and all that. That is a very different FINE.

Drinking a cup of home brewed tea out of one of my cups is undoubtedly a different16th century Nipponese Tea Bowl

from drinking it out of a 16th century Bowl used in an actual Tea Ceremony. For one thing, I like the way I make my tea. The 1 tea ceremony I went to back in 1981 was interesting but I was 11 at the time and pretty overwhelmed at just being alive and drawing breath to really pay attention to just how amazing it was to live as an 11 year old in a little island in the Pacific that had been invaded by my people and was in the process of still occupying the land that was already in the midst of several hundred years of occupation. (Okinawa is a distinct people and culture from either Japan or China) So yeah. How well do you remember one more cool thing from when you were 11? I’m amazed that I even remember it. Flying sideways off a trampoline in gym class? Seared into my memory forever, up to the part where I lost consciousness. Tea ceremony? Yeah. I guess.

So all of that, right? True class warfare sort of stuff. Well. No, not that far reaching. But it is a usage distinction that is bred not taught. I was never taught to appreciate the feel of great/fine clothing or how it feels to interact with fine foods or furniture. The stuff we had was fine and we went on with things. And most likely is comes down to that lack of breeding, but from my perspective, that tea bowl, pictured above, that’s priceless and more that 500 years old, works exactly with the same utility and function as a Styrofoam cup pulled from a sleeve. Both vessels are fine. And it really depends upon who you are asking. I know things about pottery so I have an understanding (very course and base) of how pottery can ascent from the realm of craft into the place of ART which is so amazingly rare as to be nearly nonexistent. (think 1 in 1000 thrown cups might be clear of form and line and glaze true and hold form and just be effortless to hold and interact with in terms of balance or the way it stimulates my finger tips where I’m touching it and my lips and tongue where I press my face to it to consume fluid that flows across an area of that vessel to meet my mouth. Proportion texture form volume all contribute to experience. Why else are there 900 styles of beer wine booze glass? What exactly is a high-ball? And does allowing the pilsner to speed up flowing down the long glass introduce it to the back of my tongue first and does that really allow for a fuller appreciation of the more subtle flavors?

Or is it all exactly bullshit?

It’s a cup. It’s a shirt. A car has 4 wheels (usually) and gets me from point A to point B. I got to drive a 1968 Chevy Corvette Stingray. All original and the head liner was hanging down just a tiny bit and touching my head. While I did not get to OPEN ER UP!!!! I could indeed tell that this car was about the most ridiculous, ill conceived means of moving about that I had ever been in. There is no back seat. And it did have a trunk because it was not a convertible. Driving it wasn’t a stupid thing to do. Not at all. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do either. I was taking it to get brake work done. But I could just tell that new, spanky squeaky new, this thing was a rocket. A rocket with nothing but open roads ahead. Must have been an awesome illusion. Same illusion someone gets in a Bently or Rolls. It is a car. It’s fine. I have never been a Rolls or Bentley, so I’m guessing. Sure looks like a car. Still gotta change the oil. They break when the hit things. Whoop dee doo.

I guess I was just never introduced to the world of fine things. My world was full of things that were fine.

As an aside, I did learn a thing or 2 about boots. White’s Boots has been making their product if Washington state for a century. They know what they are doing. Custom built boots are the shit. These suckers cost me all my discretionary funds to keep in shape and in soles. If there is an issue, send them back and for a cost, they re-build them from the ground up. New boots. Boots that are fine. Fine for fighting forest fires or digging holes or walking around the block. But I prefer heavy boots. My idea of fine in this case is particular. imagine working an 8 hour shift washing dishes are Applebees wearing an Armani suit. Not fine. These boots. Totally fine. Please, don’t get me wrong, these ARE NOT $8000 boots. No No No. Nothing that stupid. They are just the exact same boot that people, men for the most part, have been stuffing their feet into for a long time. They figured it out. If there is a Chippendale version of boots, I don’t really care. I’m fine with them how they are. Did I neglect my step-daughter because I did not encourage her to look higher above the horizon and appreciate the fine things in life? Is that something that is even do-able? Does any of this matter? I’m willing to bet that no one in an Armani suit, sitting in a Bentley, is wearing White’s boots. They just aren’t. And I imagine that my thinking a car is a car and a shirt is a shirt is the entire point. I’m too stupid to even care that there is a difference. I guess being this stupid has it’s own benefits. I don’t have to pay the up keep on one of those monsters. Can you imagine what the insurance costs? And you know they have most than just liability. They have the kind of insurance that spells out how they can take whatever body parts needed to rebuild the Bently owner from other party. Regardless of who’s fault it is. I mean, I guess that’s fine.

 

Syrupocalypse

syrupocalypse

Just throwing this one out there really quick.

DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE ,TURN YOUR BACK ON BOILING SYRUP.

especially at night, cooking with small sticks and a friend in from out of town.

I lost a lot of syrup last night when this happened. Not all of it. The pot contained everything I’ve cooked down in the last 3 weeks. It’s not devastating. I did catch it before it just burned into the bottom of the pot. When it happened to me a couple of years ago, it took a wire wheel on a drill to get it off the bottom of the pot.

Joys of DIY

Oh, What have I done?

Got a little set back on my heels last night on Permies.com’s rocket stove forum.

It wasn’t a case of trolling or keyboard rage or anything like that. Simply my realizing that the words I was reading were in fact true and in fact, truer than my own thoughts to that point.

I designed this system to operate with a 6″ duct pipe. my first drawing offered up 2 possible routes around the new coop, heating as much of the floor as possible.

There is just no way my stove, as I built it, and the duct system I have planned ,will draw, let alone heat the room. The best solution would be to tear down the stove and rebuild it to a 7×7″ interior which would support an 8″ duct downstream. If I had the soft brick to do it, I would do it. The thing is, I cut almost every single piece of soft brick I had in order to insulate the riser. It was also recommended that I make the entire riser out of soft brick as that would allow it to heat up very quickly.

The one I build in the pottery studio across the road will be made that way.

Last night was an unsettling one for me as I was contemplating tearing down what we had spent so much time assembling. This morning while I was in the barn doing my chores, it dawned on me. I don’t need to heat the entire place. If I can pour heat into a smallish mass at the core of the structure, I’ll achieve my goal of taking the worst of the edge of the brutal winters to come. I don’t need to heat the entire room to “room temperature”. Above freezing is fine.

So, insulate around and under the mass contagious to the pipe and cut the entire thing down to 10′ or 20′ with a 15′ chimney.

And, the fire tunnel between the fire box and the riser is much longer than it needs to be. The sooner the flame is going up the riser and getting the turbo vortex going, the better it runs. With the long tunnel that is on there now, that extra length has to heat up before heating any of the riser. There is some fire physics and thermo dynamic interplay of exchanging gasses or something going on here that I sort of understand but can’t really explain yet. The “Kiln Tech” parts of my brain from back once ago are pretty rusty. Switching my thinking towards a place that I can see these stoves, not as stoves, but as kilns has changes my perspective. I’m not all the way to understanding what these things can do. Not even close to a long shot.

The question is, what am I trying to heat? Not the air. Just the wall and the floor. The wall is already dry and isolated. The mass around the pipe MUST be dry. Wet mass won’t heat up. I think it will just use the heat to evaporate away the water. The entire floor will need to be isolated away from the ground. The cement and shingles and assorted junk getting thrown into this floor won’t stop water completely. Separating the specific mass around the pipe away, from the rest of the floor, will allow it to capture more of the heat and release it more slowly. I’m thinking of it as a bench set into the ground. The side towards the barn will remain uninsulated so that it can also capture the heat and release it into the barn itself.

There is a lot of floor to fill in before I need to finalize the size shape and philosophy of this stove. the exterior goes down to the footer for the block wall, making it nearly 3′ that needs filled in. Not all of it comes from across the street, to be sure. A lot of it does though.

Back to the syrup.