Monday, December 29, 2014

Domestic Sunday

Not a lot happening here yesterday, it was yet another cloudy, rainy day. I don't think the temp got much above 40 for the high, so I puttered around in the house.

 Whenever I use any sort of vegetables I put the trimmings and leftover bits in a bag in the freezer. This could be anything from onion skins, sweet potato peels, broccoli and cauliflower stalks, kale stems, carrot tops, celery leaves, bell pepper bits, you name it. This stuff adds up pretty quick around here because we eat so much fresh produce.  Once a month or so I pull out the baggie, dump it into a huge stock pot, add water and a few seasonings then simmer for a couple hours and can it. Yesterday I got 11 1/2 quarts of broth/stock, a nice addition to the pantry from something that often gets thrown away. The remains of the vegetables get buried in a garden bed and left to compost in place.

I also had a ham hock in the freezer that needed to be used, so I made up a batch of split pea soup to can.  I ended up with 8 pints and enough left over for supper.

In between the canning I managed to get 14 more items photographed, boxed and listed on eBay.   One of the items that did NOT get listed on eBay is the old VitaMix blender. One minute I think I'll sell it, the next I think I'll keep it. I finally decided last night what to do with it.

Split pea soup in my house gets put in the blender since I like it creamy not chunky (other than some chopped ham that I add when heating it to eat). Blending hot soup is a major pain. You can only fill the blender container half full, then empty it out and refill the blender multiple times. I started eyeballing that old Vitamix with the dispenser spout on the side and the rusty old cogs in my brain slowly started to turn....

Yes, the canning funnel fits into the top of the blender like it was made for it, although it makes it a bit tall when pouring in simmering liquid. (Especially when trying to take a picture at the same time.)

Yes, it will assimilate each new addition of chunky soup in just a few seconds, and YES you can open the pour spout and dispense it directly into a canning jar while it's whirling away!! YAY!!!

It would be faster with two people, one to keep feeding the blender and one to fill the jars, but even so I got all the soup from the stock pot blended and into jars in just over 2 minutes. It would have taken MUCH longer to do it in multiple batches. So, the old VitaMix gets to stay.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Ok,  maybe it's not a very Christmas-y sort of thing to do, but today I spent experimenting with kitchen appliances. Perhaps a little background would help here. Two days ago I had to run into town, and stopped by the crappy Goodwill store. Why is it crappy you may ask? Well, besides having the mass quantities of clothing that is typical of many Goodwill stores, they have very little of anything else. And recently they've started selling "new" stuff. Think Walmart or dollar store made in China junk in beat-up, taped together boxes, with big warning signs saying DO NOT OPEN, AS IS, UNTESTED. The prices are very close to what these items sell for new based on the original price tags on many of them, at best 15% off of the new price but often not discounted at all. They also have a lot of new off-brand stuff like dish soap, aerosol air fresheners, soap, toothpaste and deodorant along with cheap made in China seasonal crap and plastic wares etc. I don't know if this is common everywhere or just here. I rarely go into a Goodwill, although I've often thought that I should start my own chain of stores where someone donates all your inventory and you pay your employees peanuts, plus the tax benefits of being a 501(c)(3)charitable organization. Seems like a great business plan to me.

Anyway, I decided to stop in, just to see what if they had anything laying around that I could list on eBay. They happened to be putting out new merchandise and there was an older couple poking through the mostly plastic items on the rolling cart the employee was pushing around. I glanced at the cart, and... be still my beating heart, what it that I see on the bottom shelf tucked behind a dozen coffee mugs?? It's stainless steel, tall and narrow, with a motor at the base... could it really be what I think it is? I practically ran over to the cart and grabbed it off the bottom before the old guy could spot it... YES!!!  It's a Vitamix blender! An early Vitamix 3600 to be exact, with the spigot on the side of the container! I tried not to show my enthusiasm as I asked the employee if it worked. She said she had no  idea, they don't test things. Um, yeah, it's soooo hard to plug in an appliance and flip the switch to see if it works. *eye roll*

I looked at the price tag, it read $3.99! I figured at that price even if it didn't work I could sell the blender container on eBay and make out fine. I hugged that thing all the way to the check-out and tucked it in the front seat for the drive home.

Once home I plugged it in and it ran like a champ through all it's speeds. The chrome base is a bit pitted after 30-40 years of use, and the rubber gasket around the lid needs to be replaced, but no leaks from the spigot. I spent 20 minutes giving it a good cleaning then spent some time looking it up online.

It blends, obviously, but it has surgical steel blades that are blunt edged and not designed to be sharpened, it's more of a hammermill than a straight blender. It has forward AND reverse speeds, which you can switch between instantly, so besides just blending and mixing it can grind grains and seeds, juice fruits and veggies, and knead bread dough. I have a Vitamix Professional 300 that I absolutely love and use at least once a day, and I bought the old one with the intention of reselling it, but I'm rather intrigued by it. I dislike plastic, which the blender containers (and base) of my new Vitamix are made of, and they don't make stainless steel containers for the newer models. Both models will make smoothies and ice cream, and produce hot soup through just the speed of the blades, but the old one dispenses them from the spigot. Both will grind grains and seeds, although the plastic container on my new one is already quite scratched from these activities, along with being a bit discolored from different food items that have been processed in it. There is a dry mix container for the new model that has a different blade that's said to be better for grinding flour and seeds, but so far the wet blade/container has been working fine for me, and the second container sells for $75-100 depending on source. 

So, how to decide what to do? I decided to do a side-by-side comparison.

I've never made bread dough in the new model, so that's what I tried. I used the multi-grain wheat bread recipe in the old model instruction manual. It calls for a lot of meals - flax seed meal, oatmeal flour, sunflower meal, but I just added the whole seeds to the flour. I don't mind if there's a bit of crunch in my bread, but both blenders ground it into a fine flour with no problem. If I want whole seeds I may have to knead them in by hand at the end. It called for rye flour which I don't have on hand, so I substituted almond meal.

Both blenders did a good job of kneading the dough, although the old straight-sided container was easier to scrape down than the new one with the ridges in it. The dough also seemed to stick to the plastic much more than the stainless, and there was a LOT more dough stuck under the blades when I dumped the dough out into the bread pans and it was hard to get it out from under them. There was a bit of dry flour in the bottom of the old one which came out on top of the dough in the pan. I should have pressed the dough down into the blades better when kneading it. I just pressed the loose flour into the top of the unbaked loaf, and you can see it in the photos.

The directions said to let it rise until double, which seemed a bit low to me. The yeast here has some age on it as I haven't made bread in a long time, and that may be part of the issue as well as the house being pretty cool. At any rate, after it had risen for 20 or 25 minutes and had doubled in height it seemed to be starting to collapse so I put it in the oven.

Both loaves came out about the same height, with the extra bit of flour still visible on the old model  loaf, and both were pretty flat by my standards.

When my kids were young I used to make 20 loaves of bread every week, that's a lot of hand kneading. I need to dig out my old bread recipe and try that along with some fresh yeast before I make a decision I think. Knowing now about pressing the dough into the container more firmly on the old model should eliminate the little bit of dry ingredients left over, but it smelled and tasted just fine! They both did!

The two loaves came out almost identical, which I had expected, the trial was more for user friendliness and ease.The old machine did get a bit of a hot smell, maybe due to my pulsing it too fast or not allowing enough time between pulses, the dough also got a bit warm. The new one has also smelled hot a time or two in the past when I've worked it long and hard. Clean up was easy with both models, just add water and a drop of dish soap and blend. I was concerned that maybe the inlet for the spigot would clog up with dough and be hard to clean, but it seems the contents are only pushed into the opening when the blades are in forward, and the dough is kneaded in reverse. The new machines only have forward speeds, and the wet blade that I have is designed to pull food down into the blades instead of up like the dry blade which would account for all the dough stuck underneath the blades.

I bought the old one with the intent of reselling it. I could sell the new one instead, and make more money but I also paid a LOT more for it brand new and would likely lose a couple hundred dollars selling it. The old one is taller but the height makes no difference to me. The old one is stainless, and I really hate plastic. The new one has a handy way to wrap the cord to the desired length and store the extra underneath it, the old one seriously has a power cord that measures 6' 9" in length with no obvious method of dealing with all the extra. I'm wondering if it was replaced at some point as I can't see a manufacturer putting a cord that long on a kitchen appliance, but it would be easy enough to replace it with a shorter cord. The old one did have a hot smell at the end of the kneading process, so it will need a few more workouts to see if it's an ongoing problem or just user error. I'm not sure how easy parts are to come by (like a new gasket for the lid), and the warranty on this 1970's model is obviously expired. The new one has a 7 year warranty, with about 6 years remaining. From what I've read it seems if you send Vitamix an old model they will discount a new model by $100, instead of repairing the old ones anymore.  I would hate to sell the new one and then have the old one go belly up with no repair options.

So... I still don't know what to do. Perhaps they'll both live on the counter for a while longer as I continue the side-by-side comparisons (and I've got soooo much counter space you know  lol). Out with the old and in with the new? Or keep the old-timer with it's stainless steel build? What would you do?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leading up to Christmas

The house is quiet tonight, it's just me and Archie the Yorkie along with the four fat cats.  My younger daughter left here Friday with her dog and drove to Omaha where she picked up her significant other at the airport. He had flown in from Salt Lake City and together they drove to Sioux Falls, SD where my older girl lives. His folks are just over the border in Minnesota, and the youngsters will spend a week in the area visiting family and friends before driving back to Salt Lake. Younger daughter plans to spend a couple weeks in Utah with her guy before heading back to Tennessee.

I've added a crude oil price widget on the side of my blog. I guess I can say that at least gas prices are low for DD's road trip, but that's about the only thing good about the prices, at least for me. I retired very early, primarily because my grandfather had owned some land in North Dakota and in 1996 we started getting oil checks every month. My siblings and cousins have all continued working, as the checks aren't exactly skyrocketing us into the upper income brackets. Now, if my Dad had been an only child and I had been an only child... well, I'd probably be sipping a fancy cocktail with an umbrella in it and smiling from the deck of my luxury yacht anchored in some tropical bay somewhere. LOL

 I've always been pretty frugal and have often lived with very little income so I stopped working for someone else when I first started getting a check from the oil company.  The checks have always fluctuated month to month, but never anything as drastic as they have been dropping the past several months. My income is almost half of what it was six months ago, and with a rise in the oil price in the foreseeable future looking rather unlikely, a period of austerity is ensuing around here.

I've been working at eliminating debt for several years, and that will continue. In recent years I've paid off my truck but then I bought a new car. I crashed my motorcycle and shattered my ankle. (Who knew breaking your ankle without insurance would cost 84,000?!) Younger daughter's orthodontist will be paid off in April, but that payment will go towards the steep increase in health insurance costs, thank you very little, Obama. There is about a year left of car payments, I pay a bit extra each month on the car even though it's financed at 0% interest, and I still have a small mortgage on the one acreage in Minnesota which I also pay extra on each month. The massive cash flow required to completely gut and redo the house here in TN has dwindled to a tiny trickle, and there are very few little projects needing attention at this point, it's mostly just routine maintenance now. After taking 7 years off I've started selling a bit on eBay again, mainly to try and get rid of some "stuff" but a little extra cash coming in never hurts. Losing the two large dogs this fall has dropped the dog food bill considerably. Next years estimated taxes should be quite a bit lower than this years, and because I've been paying in based on last years much larger income I may even get a little bit back in April instead of having to come up with an additional large chunk of cash. I'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

My Christmas gifts are all bought, and according to Amazon they will all be delivered before the big day.  As for me and the critters, we're planning a very quiet, low-key week to celebrate. Just the way I like it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Frustrating day

Today seems to be one of those days where nothing goes as planned. It's actually not raining today, at least not yet, and I thought I would get a few things done outside. There are rows of Bradford pear trees along the road in front of the house and all along the east side, and I've been waiting for them to drop their leaves so the garden area would get some light. The previous owner had let them grow as bushes, so very year I trim them up into something more resembling a tree, and cut down a few of them completely. When I bought the property there was no grass in the front yard due to the very dense shade, along with the foot deep leaves laying on the ground all winter that smothered anything struggling to survive there. This was taken standing by the raised beds looking toward the driveway.  In this view there were 5 more Bradfords, 2 ornamental peaches, a weeping willow, 3 maples and 6 assorted shrubs.  Yep, no grass could survive that amount of shade.

The past couple years I've bagged the leaves with the riding mower and used them for compost in the garden beds and around trees, but I left the riding mower up north this year. The push mower that's here also has a bagger, but I can only go 8 or ten feet before having to stop and empty the bag because the leaves are so deep. Ok, that's doable for getting some deep mulch on the garden beds, except the mower is very cold-blooded and reluctant to run when the temps are in the low 40's. LOTS of pulling on the starter rope before it finally decides to run, then 10 feet later it gets shut off so I can empty the bag. Actually, it shuts itself off when you let go of the handle. Next time I may zip tie the safety bar to the handle so it will keep running. Anyway, after a dozen or so of these start-stop cycles it decided it wasn't going to start again, no way, no how. The gas is from June, and I suspect that may be part of the problem, plus it's due for a tune-up.

Ok, I'll switch gears and do something else, like weed one of the beds so I can plant the chard. I had real good luck growing the chard in a stainless steel restaurant pan this summer up north, but it hasn't been faring so well since I got back to TN. With many nights around freezing I was concerned that the roots would freeze so it has been hauled inside at night, and back outside during the day once it warms up. Between the deep shade from the Bradfords and the seemingly never ending string of gloomy overcast days it just hasn't been happy. I have never minded weeding, until I moved here and have to contend with the wire grass? that takes over everything.  I did get one bed cleared, worked eight bags of chopped leaves into the soil, transplanted the chard and got the floating row cover on.

I didn't take any before pics, but this is what the next bed looks like after getting half of it weeded.
Nasty, nasty grass. Pulling it can cut your hands and will definitely give you blisters, and the rhizomes can go down a foot or more, and run for what seems like miles. I've pulled some that were 6 and 8 feet long, and they had broken off so who knows how long this stuff can actually run. The two beds in the back in this picture don't have much grass, maybe due to the deep shade, so those are easy to weed. I even got a few bags of leaves/mulch on them before the mower decided it was done for the day. So, no more mowing, and my back is telling me I'm done weeding.

Ok, maybe the weed trimmer will run and I can clean along the edge of the wheelchair ramp and front of the house. After getting the trimmer out, winding some new line on it, gassing it up, and pulling the starter about a million times it did run for a bit. Maybe 5 minutes. Then it also decided it's too cold to do anything and stopped.

I'm not even going to think about getting the chain saw out! LOL My arm is going to complain enough as it is. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

New pantry

When I bought this place in TN several years ago and came down for the first winter I brought several dozen canning jars with me, but the bulk of my jars remained in MN. This summer I cleaned out the basement in MN and boxed up all the jars to bring south with me, mainly so they would all be in one place. The immediate problem after unloading all the boxes from the truck was "where am I going to put all these?" A single-wide mobile home doesn't exactly have a ton of space, and the storage shed freezes in the winter. The best solution I could come up with quickly was in the back hall/laundry area. It makes it a bit tighter getting to the washer and dryer, or out the back door, but the dryer door still opens completely and with the two big dogs gone I rarely use the back door.

I used 1x12 pine for the uprights, and bought 2 sheets of plywood to rip for the shelves. Since this is not up against a wall on either end I used some electric fence wire with turnbuckles to make a large 'X' on the back side to keep it from leaning over to the left or right. There is also a wire across the front to keep the end uprights from pivoting and dumping the shelves.

Instead of using wooden cleats to support the shelves I bought the narrow metal bookshelf brackets and clips so the shelves can be repositioned.

Gallon and half gallon jars fit 2 deep on the 1 foot wide shelves, quarts fit 3 deep, and pints fit 4 deep. There are just shy of 600 jars here, sadly not very many of them are full yet but it's a start. I will likely hang some fabric 'curtains' on the front to block out the light.

I also ordered a TSM stainless steel food dehydrator and it arrived a couple days ago. I have dried food in the past, but really dislike the idea of putting food on plastic and heating it for hours, with the plastic possibly leaching who-knows-what chemicals into the food. I had been looking for a good dehydrator for some time, and even though the Excaliber brand is highly recommended I wasn't comfortable with them as the case is lined with plastic. When I found the TSM brand I was sold, it just took a while to save up my pennies for it.

So far it's just living on top of the clothes dryer until I can figure out a place to put it. There is almost no counter space in this mobile home, in fact not much more than in the camper, so it can't live on the counter. It's been humming along quite happily where it's at, so far I've dried almond meal and coconut flour along with some wonderful white raisins.

This will give me another option for food storage that doesn't require freezer space and is much lighter than canned fruits or veggies along with taking up far less space. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Quiet Saturday Night

Not much going on tonight, other than working on some shelving to hold canning jars. Last night was a different story though.

Sometime shortly after dark, I was sitting in the office when I heard sirens. I asked my daughter who was in the living room if they were coming down our road. It wouldn't be the first time, the guy 2 houses down has OD'd or been sick or suicidal or something at least a couple times a year since I bought this place. This time there was no ambulance though, and they turned off the sirens and lights a half mile before they turned onto our road. Next thing we knew there were 10 cop cars on the street. Cops were hiding behind their car doors with guns drawn yelling "Put the gun down! Put your gun down!" It took 45 minutes for them to talk the guy down, then they handcuffed him and threw him in the back of a squad car. As they left we counted at least one DEA vehicle along with a canine unit.

My property (6acres) is wedge shaped, very little road frontage, but the house is very close to the road. The next door neighbor has 19 acres, also wedge shaped with very minimal road frontage, but their house is set way back. The next place has 3  mobile homes on it lined up along the road, the nut job lives in one of them, so all this was going down about 100 yards away from my front porch. I REALLY need to be someplace where there aren't so many (stupid) people.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The cost of not living there

I'm back in TN for a while. Before I left MN I emptied and unplugged the large chest freezer in the shop which has run the past few winters. I also shut off the main in the house, and the main on the shop that runs all the outbuildings and the well. So there is nothing electrical running on the farm, right? Well, no, there is a yard light on the pole in the yard. It's one of those nasty sodium things, casting it's sickly green glow over everything and forcing you to walk out past the grove in order to actually see the night sky. It was there when I bought the acreage, and I've always disliked it. It's unmetered, so there is a flat fee for it's use each month on the electric bill.

I called the electric co-operative yesterday and said I wanted to shut off the power for the winter. The gal in the office said I would have to just pull the main. I said I wanted the yard light off, nothing else was running and I couldn't see paying a bill each month for the light. She said I would have to pull the main. I said I'm 1000 miles away with no plans to return before next year mid-summer, can't you just shut it off at the road??  After going around like this for 5 minutes she dropped this bombshell: If the co-op shuts off the power, when they reconnect it next summer not only will they charge me a disconnect and reconnect fee, which I had figured on, but they will also back bill me for the months it was shut off. WTH?!? You can back bill me for something I didn't use, and couldn't possibly use because the service is shut off? Yes, it's in our policy.

So the unmetered yard light will stay on, since I'm stuck paying for it whether it's on or not. Not only will I be paying the monthly fee for the light, there is also a "cost of providing power" fee in the amount of $15, along with the "vacation" fee of $9.95 for the internet. Once again I'll have a bill of $37a month for crap I'm not using. That's almost $450 a year.

Next summer the sodium yard light WILL come down, and with luck I will get a small wind generator or PV system installed, either grid tied and they can pay me during the winter months (MN requires utility buy-back on grid tied systems at the average retail rate), or off-grid and I'll tell the electric company to take a flying leap. I also need to figure out an internet solution to avoid paying for satellite internet in two places. The service was paused in TN while I was gone, no fee, but up north they tell me I have to pay the $9.95 per  month vacation fee because if they actually shut it off they won't be able to reconnect it as my equipment is too old. I own the Wild Blue dish up north,and rent it here in TN, and would love to disconnect both services. This may mean I have to break down and get a smart phone and an unlimited Verizon data plan. We'll see how that plays out over the winter.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The last night in Minnesota

I've stalled as long as I can, but winter is coming to Minnesota tomorrow night and I've got to go! The weather has been pretty good, even hitting 70 last week, but the temp has been slowing dropping, the wind has been blowing 30-40 mph for several days now and a nasty cold front is heading this way. Winter Storm Watches and Warnings have been posted for South Dakota and Minnesota, snow amounts of up to 12+ inches possible in some areas with blowing and drifting. I've got most everything packed up and ready to go, there are just a few things to finish up early tomorrow morning then I'll hitch up the camper and get while the getting is good.

I'm happy with what I got done this year considering that I didn't get here until August. The vintage Shasta is tucked away in the cleaned out granary, and the "new" 1968 Holiday Trav'ler camper is here. The 30'x50' shop is actually clean, furniture projects stacked in a long row down the center, the north wall lined with heavy-duty shelves that are filled with stoneware, glass items and other stuff from the house that won't be damaged if mice get into it. I completely filled the large dumpster and it's been hauled away, and I gave away 5 or 6 truckloads of "stuff". I canned applesauce, chicken broth and vegetable broth, hamburger, carrots and chicken. I didn't get as much done in the house as I had hoped, but again I didn't have a ton of time to work on it. I hauled several pieces of furniture to my older daughter's in Sioux Falls, including the floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall bookshelves that I delivered yesterday.

On the trip north earlier this summer I said that Bubbles, my ancient Great Dane, was coming home to Minnesota to die. She had a good summer, we got to enjoy numerous bonfires, she got lots of attention from the neighbor when he came to check his cows (he rents my pasture), and we walked the land where she roamed when she was younger. As the weather got cooler she started going downhill, and on Oct. 31 she stopped eating. I called the vet, and Bubbles got to go for one last ride in the truck. Dusty, my daughter's Golden Retriever, had died a week earlier. He was no spring chicken himself at 9 years of age, but we thought he had a few good years left so his death was quite unexpected. The two friends are buried beside each other near the bonfire pit, about 40 feet from the house where Bubbles was born 10 years ago.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Still in Minnesota

I'm still sitting in Minnesota, still working at getting the house cleared out.  I really should have taken "before" pictures, but it was just so packed it was almost unbelievable.  The problem started about 5 years ago, when I sold the little house in town that I had used for my eBay business and I hauled all that stuff out to the farm. My youngest daughter had gotten divorced and moved in with me bringing all her stuff, my mom died and I got a ton of stuff from her house, my significant other died and I got some things from his house, and I swear all this "stuff" was breeding when I wasn't looking.

A lot of what I've been doing is just going through boxes, throwing out a lot of it, reboxing the rest as either flea market, eBay or keep. So far the flea and eBay boxes are FAR outnumbering the keep boxes, so I am happy about that. I've given away several truck loads of things, and had a lot of bonfires to get rid of things that will burn. I've also displaced several mice, and I've started "feeding" the ones that are still around.  The bait was disappearing pretty quickly at first, but it's starting to slow down now. Of course, this time of year there are always mice looking to get inside for the winter, and uninhabited old farmhouses are prime real estate for them. I'll leave a lot of bait out for them when I do head south.

I didn't get much done on the house last week because my brother finally flew in from Arizona and we met in northern South Dakota so he could transfer the land to me. It's not huge, 7 lots that total perhaps an acre, but it's been in the family for over 120 years. Our great-grandfather owned the general store in what was then the town of James, SD. There's nothing left of the store, and very little left of the town, there are only 3 or 4 other households. My bit is the blue section.

Here's the view coming into town from the east. Quite the metropolis, isn't it?  lol

 Two views from the northeast corner, the first looking straight south and the other looking southwest.

In the second photo, and also in the Google photo you can see a bit of junk, mainly along the property line and along the road on the north side where my land juts out to the west. There is an old camper and a semi trailer that belong to the neighbor parked there, and a few piles of junk on the southern end of the property. My brother had problems a few years ago with this guy, he's a hoarder and had filled up his land so he started piling stuff on ours. After getting the sheriff and attorneys involved most of the junk was removed, and hopefully next spring I can get him to clean up the rest of it without having to get lawyers and law enforcement after him again.

I had hoped to use this as my permanent address in South Dakota instead of the mail forwarding service I use currently, and after talking to the gals at the post office in Groton it sounded like it would work. I headed back to Aberdeen to buy a mail box, and while I was in the store the post mistress called and left a message on my phone saying that she had been informed by Sioux Falls that there had to be a structure on the land in order to get mail. I am going to have to talk to the person in charge in Sioux Falls about this, since I would be living there in the camper (the gal in Groton said she thought a camper was a qualifying structure) in the summer and forwarding my mail south in the winter but since I live in the camper full time I obviously won't be leaving it there over the winter. So at this point I still don't know if I'm going to be a South Dakotan or a Texan. This has to get cleared up pretty soon, since my vehicle tags all are due in November, open enrollment for health insurance is Nov 15, and the 65-70 degree weather we've been experiencing won't last much longer.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


I've got a couple things to celebrate tonight. After 3 days of concentrated cleaning, shoveling, sweeping and hauling things out of the granary, Daisy, my vintage Shasta trailer, is finally inside! The doors of the granary have rotted over the years where the hangers are attached, which has dropped them down and they no longer close (or open further) so it was a bit of a squeeze getting her past the doors, but with her backed in there is room to move around on both sides. And it only took me jockeying back and forth a couple times to get her lined up well enough to roll inside without scraping anything. Snow will blow in this winter so I still need to get a tarp over the top of her to keep the melting snow getting in through the leaky roof next spring, and to keep the barn swallow poop from building up on the roof next summer.

This was a pretty major accomplishment for me. The granary had 7 motorcycles, a large garden tiller, a 16' church pew, 8 large rabbit/bird/small animal cages, a bunch of garden tools - rakes and such - 2 enamel-top kitchen tables and chairs, an old Victrola, and several old desks, cabinets, dressers, wash stands and miscellaneous junk stored in it. The swallows poop on everything, and the sparrows build nests but seem to leave more hay and grass on the floor than they get into a nest. There was about a bale's worth on the floor, plus several inches of dirt that had blown in over the past few years.

Several pieces of the old furniture were shoved into the shop, but much of it was put on a bonfire last night. I hated to do it, but I've got a lot more that was already in the shop that's in better condition that I may or may not eventually get around to refinishing. The old dog hung around the bonfire until it burned down to coals.

Basking in the warm glow of the fire.
 The other thing I'm celebrating is my brother finally bought a plane ticket and is flying into Minneapolis on Monday.  We will meet in Aberdeen, South Dakota on Tuesday to transfer the land up there, but I plan to go up Monday to mow it.  I talked to several people at the courthouse in Aberdeen earlier this week, and the land now has a street address. I'm hopeful with a SD street address that isn't one of the "known" full-timer mail forwarding addresses that I can get health insurance. I really don't want to become a Texan due to having to do the vehicle inspection each year. I guess I'll find out Nov 15 when open enrollment starts. I don't think the weather will hold out long enough for me to stay up here that long, and the vehicle tags all are up for renewal in November so I'll have to do that before I head south. It would really be the pits if the health insurance doesn't pan out and I have to pay to register them right away again in TX. 

I'll leave you with this feathered visitor I had early in the week. I believe it is a female Yellow-rumped Warbler. I hadn't dumped the bucket of apple peels on the compost pile yet, and it was after the flies/fruit flies/bugs that were in the pail. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hibernation projects

What's a person do when they're hibernating due to cold weather? Well, the camper was looking pretty messy after several weeks of working in the house and shop so it got a good cleaning. Then I proceeded to mess it up again. I'd been fermenting a small batch of sauerkraut for several weeks, and with the colder weather decided it was time to get it in jars.
 This was my first time using the German style pickling crock. In the past with three kids (6 when the ex's three came from CA for the summer) I always used either an eight or ten gallon Red Wing crock to make kraut, but with just me I could never use that much so I broke down and bought this small crock. I'm pretty happy with the way the kraut turned out. I'm NOT so happy about the tiny bit of counter space in this camper, but getting the kraut into jars worked just fine so I got brave and decided to tackle a more ambitious project.

The fellow who rents my pasture every year came by to check the cows several days ago and asked if I wanted any apples. I said "Sure!", and the next day he showed up with two 5-gallon pails full! I don't have a canner up here, but there are 483 canning jars in the shop, (I know this because I dragged them all out of the basement, washed and boxed them all and stashed them in the shop a few weeks ago) so I grabbed a couple boxes of them and found that pints would fit in my Fissler pressure cooker. I also have a crock pot with me, so between the crock pot and my large Magma pan I cooked apples all day and well into the night. The pressure cooker will only hold 4 or 5 jars, but the crock pot took quite a while to cook down the apples so it all worked out alright if slow. 

Since I don't have a sieve here either I peeled and cored the apples before cooking them down, and the first gallon of "scraps" went into a gallon jar with water to make apple cider vinegar. It will sit for a couple weeks, then be strained and the liquid will be left to do it's thing for a few more weeks until it is vinegar. Did I mention that I have no counter space?

I added a touch of honey and a bunch of cinnamon to most of the batches as the apples were quite tart, you can see the different colors of different batches in the finished product. I got 28 pints, plus 2 jars that didn't seal. The two that didn't seal were Weck canning jars, and I think I overfilled them as they belched a lot of applesauce out from under the lid and couldn't make a good seal. After the first load (which contained the ones that didn't seal) I switched to the jars with metal lids and they all turned out fine. I also put the pressure cooker lid on loosely and let the jars exhaust for 10 minutes before locking the lid down and letting it build up to pressure. Perhaps the Weck's would have been ok if I had done that with the first load. Have I mentioned that there's no counter space for doing all this?

A nice benefit of all this canning and cooking was the furnace didn't run all day and well into the evening hours. A downfall of all this canning and cooking is the humidity level in the camper went through the roof! There is NO range hood or exhaust fan above the stove, and there is also NO fan in the ceiling vents, either in the main area of the camper or the bathroom. So there is NO way to get rid of excess humidity without running the a/c.  Water was running down the windows and dripping off the door and window frames. I kept wiping it down every so often, but eventually had to admit defeat and turn on the a/c. Part of the water was from the cooking, and part from the condensation with 30 degree outside temps and toasty inside temps, and a cheap camper with hardly any insulation.

Other cold weather projects included making a new batch of cold-brewed coffee and a bottle of homemade coconut milk. Actually these are every-third-day projects, I like my iced coffee. Luckily these jars live in the refrigerator and not on the non-existent counter.

I also started a batch of kombucha, a fermented sweet tea. This is my first attempt at brewing it myself, but I'm tired of spending almost $4 a bottle for it, when I can find it. I'm not sure how well it will work when I'm more mobile because you're supposed to leave it undisturbed on the counter (what counter??  LOL) for a week but I guess I'll find out.

I was at a local store and they were closing out their remaining garden stuff, so I picked up 3 pots of rainbow chard. It was marked down to $1.50 a pot, way less than what you pay at the grocery store for a bunch of chard. There were 4 plants in each pot, and because I'm anti-plastic I spread them out and potted them all in a used stainless steel steam table pan. They're starting to put out new leaves now that they're getting over the shock of being transplanted. I've been picking and using the older leaves in different dishes, salads or smoothies, and I'm hoping they keep producing for quite a while. I want to pick up another pan or two and maybe plant one with spinach and one with a lettuce mix. The pans are easy to move outside or bring indoors, and I used a lot of organic vermiculite with some good compost so they're not too heavy. And the bright colors make me smile. They didn't seem to mind the high humidity, and they don't take up any counter space, just a hunk of the table. LOL

Friday, October 3, 2014


I think I saw a few snowflakes whipping past the window of the camper just now!

How can that be!! It was just summer here! In fact we had 80 degree temps over the weekend, and even two nights ago it was very nice out, mid 70's during the day and warm enough to sit out by the bonfire in a T-shirt until late that evening. Bubbles, my antique Great Dane, has always loved bonfires, and this one was no exception although she slept through most of it. 

Yesterday was rainy in the morning and early afternoon, and quite a bit cooler, upper 60"S for the high. Last night the cold front came through with the wind switching to the north and starting to blow. This is today's afternoon weather update email I get from the Sioux Falls television station, KELO.

"Good Afternoon, Temperatures have been below average for all of KELOLAND today. Afternoon temperatures mostly in the 40s. It has also been a windy day with wind gusts in the mid to upper 40s and sustained winds at 20 to 30 mph. Most cloudy in the east with clearing skies in central and western KELOLAND and some areas in the east have even squeezed out some moisture some viewers have sent in reports of a few snowflakes.
For tonight, there is a Freeze Warning that will be in effect for the overnight hours for much of central and eastern KELOLAND. Skies are expected to clear out and winds to calm down so lows tonight will cool down to the mid-20s to around 30 degrees across the area."
I AM NOT AMUSED!! With no heat in the shop and no heat in the house it feels colder inside than it does outside, minus the gale force winds. Therefore, I am officially hibernating today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Everybody's going south...

except me! LOL

Fall has definitely arrived here in southwest Minnesota. Sitting outside on the morning of Sept 9th Prairiewind (youngest daughter) and I noticed a Monarch butterfly fluttering through the yard. Then another one. And another one. Then a few more. We grabbed cameras and went looking for the tree they must have overnighted in hoping to catch some of them before they flew off, but no luck. The farm here has a good grove which blocks most winds from the north and west, so the yard is fairly calm. Once we walked around the end of the grove to search for them the wind hit us. It was that typical prairie wind blowing about 20 mph, and after searching the west side of the grove we figured the butterflies had taken shelter in the trees inside the grove. As the morning warmed up they started heading south, through the yard, around (never over) the shop building and out over the pasture. We got a couple decent photos of them, but they're hard to capture in focus when they're flittering about. There are at least 6 in this shot...

Prairiewind caught this one in flight, and shot the majority of the photos.

30 years ago I was fortunate enough to live on a farm where the Monarchs stopped each fall on their migration to Mexico. There were often thousands of them hanging on the west side of the grove overnight, and in the early morning they would start to warm up and prepare for the continuation of their trip. They hung motionless with their wings folded, and were very difficult to see even though there were so many of them, they blended in with the leaves extremely well. One would flip it's wings open, and it would set off a chain reaction, first one, then a dozen, then hundreds and soon thousands of butterflies would be hanging on the trees and fluttering their wings, and it looked like the trees were alive. Eventually they would start to fly off, just a few at first, then in mass numbers, swirling about in the yard before lifting upward and heading south. These days I consider myself very lucky if I see a few hundred of them in the fall.

There have been some geese and ducks making their way south as well and stopping over at the pond for the night, like this small flock of Blue Winged Teal.

The morning of September 9th started out with dense fog. The barn swallows started coming out of the granary where they sleep, and circling around the yard. I figure somewhere around 300 are born in the granary and the other outbuildings here each summer. I leave all the buildings open so they can get in to nest, and they have an amply food supply between the pasture and the pond. Swallows are one of my favorite birds. They are such accomplished and graceful fliers, zooming through the yard and doing aerial acrobatics, skimming over the pond, and eating mosquitos and other bugs by the billions.

The old saying around here is "One swallow doesn't make a Spring, but too many make a Fall." Sure enough, this was the last day the swallows were here, by the time the fog burned off they were gone. We had frost that night. There were smaller groups of migrants that would show up around 4:30 in the afternoon, swooping around the yard and pond eating, and feeding again in the morning before heading on. The transients never go into the buildings though, and they sit on the wire that goes out over the pasture, never on the ones in the yard. I haven't seen any swallows at all now for over a week.

I've been doing pretty well on the "cleanout" projects around here. I've sold the washer and dryer, and one of the old "barn-bike" parts motorcycles. I've hauled an antique wardrobe to my older daughter's, and she's also getting the floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall book shelves as soon as I get all my books off them and boxed up. I've nearly filled the huge dumpster, but luckily it looks like most of the junk from the shop is out now. I may have to rent a smaller one next year for the last of the stuff that's being thrown away as I go through things again. I've also burned 8 or 10 trailer loads of stuff.

I reconnected with some friends that I've known for 30 years who are currently raising their 6 (!) grandchildren, so I had them come over and see if they could use anything I'm trying to get rid of. So far they've gotten a horse trailer full along with 2 truck loads.  Everything from the on-demand hot water heater out of the house, an antique metal bed frame, a wooden desk, a 60,000 BTU hanging propane barn heater, hog pens, feed pans and buckets, all my chicken equipment, a bunch of dog crates to use as duck and goose nests, automotive stuff, household cleaners, weed spray and bug spray and plant food (you can't put any "hazardous waste" in the dumpster), insulation and weatherproofing supplies (they have a 130 year old farm house), a wood stove that I think he's going to put in his shop, a couple kerosene heaters and TONS of misc stuff. She keeps asking how much I want for it, and I keep saying I'm just glad it's out of here and someone can use it!

The only problem is, the first time I stopped at their farm the first thing I saw was an old travel trailer sitting by the hog barn. I said "I want the trailer!" She said I could have it, they had been using it as a chicken house. He said he planned to make a car hauler out of it. Some discussion followed, along with them getting all the "stuff" from my place, and now I'm the proud (and crazy) owner of a 1968 Holiday Rambler Trav'ler trailer. At least it actually has a title, which is more than I can say for the Caboose or the Shasta. The only leak is where the a/c is mounted, and he's had it covered so hopefully there's not a lot of water damage in the walls. He bought it from the company he worked for who had basically gutted it and used it as a mobile office so all the appliances are gone. The bathroom is still there, sort of. 
I will definitely have to do something about the paint on the rear though.  LOL