Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brief US Government Debt update

I find the federal government amusing at times. We recently discussed the woeful state of their finances, which means our finances. They have really gotten themselves into a pickle. So anyway, enough voters have discovered this long term ridiculous misbehavior and are asking hard questions about when the government is going to get a backbone and stop giving money to everybody that wants some.

So, they finally decided they have to "take action" so they at least have the appearance of fixing something. Here's an article about their "plan" which is suspiciously vague:

Orszag warns about debt...

Of course, this is like the house burglar warning the homeowner, at gunpoint, about the risks of not locking your house at night. Here's a particular quote I like:

"Reining in the deficit, which was $1.4 trillion in 2009, would "require significant changes in policy that build on what we have done," Orszag said."

Translation: We spent a trainload of money that we didn't have, in fact more than anybody has ever spent in the history of the universe, so, ummm, now we're going to have to do something different.

I would argue that his phrase "build on" really means, "diametrically opposite to" what we have done in the recent past.

If this wasn't so tragically bad for our nation and the world, really, it would be funny.

Finest regards,


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gardening, food and the freedom to choose.

Back in high school, I espoused left-leaning politics. I was so married to environmental issues, that was pretty much your only choice back then. Eventually, I fell out of love with the democrats when I realized they weren't going to accomplish much of anything in the way of true energy or environmental change.

Then I became a republican, back when "small government republican" actually meant something. Guess how that dream turned out? Right, while the republicans talk the good talk about limited government, they don't walk the walk, and they haven't for decades. Finally, I got smart enough to go read some history and look at some actual facts about what the political machine in Washington has actually produced for decades and decades. YUCK!

What I discovered is that the government was big, and expensive and intrusive and unresponsive to the needs of real people, and generally ineffective at promoting the public good. While this is a slight exaggeration, we may sum up the net product of the federal government for most of the last 40 years in the following way: everything they touch turns to crap. And costs more.

This is all an extended introduction to the future of food in your life and mine. After my sequential disillusionment with the two major political parties, I finally realized that I am a flaming and unapologetic Libertarian. If the government would stop trying to "help" me, and stop taking half of all my money to "help" me, I would be ecstatic.

I like freedom. I like liberty. I believe in personal responsibility. If you, or I, do a stupid thing, we are going to suffer a consequence. Experiencing this consequence will teach us something. That's how we as a culture and we as a species improve. The government seems determined to protect everybody from everything, thus depriving most of society from important and meaningful consequences. Along the way, their most generous donors and lobbiests seem to be making money by the trainload.

Take food for example. It is really, really against the law for me to have a cow, and sell you a gallon of raw milk. Big penalties, big fines, potential jail time, etc etc etc. Now, if raw milk really was that bad ( and maybe it is, and maybe it isn't) we as a culture would recognize that from bad consequences, and we would only buy milk from people who boiled their milk, aka Pasteurization.

The problems is, let's call them the big industrial milk people, they want to legally kill off your choice to buy milk from anybody you want. People who boil, people who don't, people who pump their cows full of growth hormones, and people who don't. Hey, if you want to buy milk from an industry that produces unnaturally large cows with lifetime chronic feet problems (because they're so damn big), when the long term consequences of consuming said milk is not well studied, be my guest. But don't try to make it illegal for me to buy nicer, gentler, unhormonized milk from the farmer just down the road from me, from cows that I have met.

As another example, it is very nearly illegal for me to have a few chickens, and kill one once in while and sell it to you, my neighbor. Commercial (ie, money changed hands) chicken processing has to be done under certified, inspected, USDA approved conditions and facilities. There's still a few loopholes, and some folks just tell the USDA (which should be pronounced the U S Duhhh) to go jump in a lake and quietly break the law.

But there are stirrings. Forces and pressures are building up. Information is flowing with ever greater ease and rapidity. The cost to reach millions of people with real information has dropped to almost nothing. My oh my does the government hate the internet. Sorry, whole other story.

So there is a fight about to happen. The opening skirmishes have already happened. Here are the two sides:

1. Government approved, government endorsed big agriculture. For a long time, the mega-ag companies like ConAgra, Monsanto, Tyson and their cousins have had their way with our federal government. The net result of all this very expensive lobbying is an overall policy that makes it very difficult for the small family farm, down to the two or ten acre micro farm to compete. It's not that the economics don't favor the little guy, they can hold their own just fine if they can deal directly with the consumer. That's what the big guys are trying to kill off. They want you to have only one choice. THEM!

2. The small producer, and the end users, which is people who eat. That's you and me.

What the new influx of internet information has produced is educated end users. Eaters. A significant minority of people have seen enough films like Dirt, or the foodie horror flick, Food, Inc. to make a big intellectual discovery. There is something very wrong with the way food is currently produced in North America, AND, there is a better way to do it. That better way just happens to be, drumroll, the small local producer, from the small family farm, to the small organic veggie grower, to the small grass fed beef producer, to the neighbor who supplies his 20 best friends with FREAKING AMAZING tasting chickens.

There is a piece of legislation, available for viewing here:

H.R. 875

This is touted as a "food safety" bill. It's not. It's the agribusiness people trying very hard to shut down CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, AKA, all those small, local, thoughtful, ecologically minded producers.


Feel free to grab your federal congress clown by the proverbial lapels and shout at him to stop trying to kill small eco-friendly agriculture.

There are now many fine examples of small scale, very successful farmers out there. Here's one if you want some inspiration. He is the guy who coined the term U S Duhhhh for the nice folks at the Dept. of Agriculture.

Joel Salatin

So as to not ignore those looking for actual news about what is actually happening at Maple Leaf Gardens, I planted 120 onions, most of which will end up dehydrated for future use. I am also halfway through with the big garden experiment set up. Half of the garden will be no-till/industrial mulch and the other half will be traditional tilled and weeded the regular way, sort of. We'll get to that later.

Finest regards,


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Things are Springing

It is a crazy early spring we're having this year, isn't it!? Bad news: it's time to cut the grass already. :(

Good news: it's just plain exciting to look around at everything else popping up. I mean I know all these things are supposed to survive the winter and come back even though they look so dead. But still, when it happens, it's like a miracle.

Leaves on the bittersweet and trumpet vines. Peony popping up--I even caught them soon enough that I transplanted three clumps from the woods (where they love to taunt me) into my gardens. The tulips, dafs and hyacinths are done already, but the allium and lilies are coming up already!

Troy's garden is a lot more work than mine has been. I looked out the window and saw this the other day:
It looked like a garbage crew had visited the west garden. (Picking up or dropping off, I wasn't sure!) Then I realized it was his bags of shredded paper. He was getting ready to blend it into the soil with the Rototiller.

A few days later, the job was nearly done:

On another part of the garden, Troy's been trying a different method of weed control. He's been putting down cardboard boxes and covering them with the mulch we still have from the maple trees taken down in 2007:
When it's time to plant, he'll just stab a hole through the cardboard and plant into the soil. It's a lot of work, but he's hoping it will pretty much eliminate weeding. Plus the cardboard will add to the pathetic soil.

His seedlings in the dining room are doing well under his lavish attention:
He's got hot peppers, cabbage, Russian tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber, and watermelon started.

The fruit trees are greening up. Only one dead peach tree which the supplier will be replacing this spring. Tom, you'll be happy to hear that the two peach trees we got from you are looking the best of all!

This morning before church, I picked what I thought was the first lonely sprig of asparagus. Then coming in from the car after church, I saw that my other plant had two already.
So I heated them with butter in the microwave and had them with lunch. Very tasty.

And finally, Troy has been diligently weeding the strawberry patch and tells me we may have fruit before May!
Can you even imagine? Strawberries in April! That will be one to remember.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Major Victory

or, Me and the Bees (again).

So the weather's been warming, and my thoughts have naturally been turning to...painting (again) (...more). I've been drawn to the sad state of the upper windows and eaves on the east side.
Here's how the east side looked when we bought the place.

Besides just badly needing to be painted, I figured this was an area I could do in short bits and pieces without needing a ladder or scaffolding. (It's also the face of the house you see when you drive up, so I'll get a lot of bang for the buck!)

The weather being so opportune, I went out to evaluate and start scraping on Thursday. Things were going alright and paint was flying off everywhere, and then I noticed there seemed to be an ever-increasing number of wasps/bees/yellowjackets (this was the small yellow and black version, not the big black version we have) flying around.

I took a closer look and realized there were quite a number of nests being tended and built right under the eaves, very close to my head. I don't claim to be fluent in wasp-speak but they did look rather threatened, or at least disturbed, by the big creature running a large metal tool close to their homes (me). Of course, they had a right to feel threatened since my primary intention is to scrap down and destroy their homes. But it is my house.

I made a hasty retreat right at that moment though, being rather outnumbered.

I returned, however, with a can of whoop-ass (aka wasp & hornet killer) and gave them all a good dose. For good measure I climbed onto the south porch roof and sprayed a few nests there too. I'd be very happy, truth be told, if we had a lot less wasp/hornet nests around here!

After spraying the whoop-ass, I made an even hastier retreat through the open window and gave myself a rather large scrape on my back. When Troy saw it and heard the whole story, he decided me and the wasps were tied at one point each.

Since I saw no wasp activity and was able to get rid of all the nests (east and south), when I went back out to the porch roof this afternoon, I'd have to argue that I won this round.

So, yes, I was able to get some work done. Scraped everything I could reach:
The windows were especially bad. Is there some reason work like this either has to be above your head or below your knees? I'm not sure my neck can take this!!

I can't quite reach the far corner in the top left of the picture, but I'm hoping Troy might be able to reach it. That would save a tricky ladder/scaffolding solution.

Not to rest on my laurels, after I recouped from the scraping, I did an hour of priming too. Most of this painting will be white coats on top of white base coats, so I'll try to limit the number of postings...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sun and Siding

They talked of rain today and I worried we wouldn't be able to put up more siding. (Ok, really I was kind of hoping for an excuse to knit, but I'm not sure I really have to admit that!)

In any case, it was nice and the radar was clear by the time we got home at 2:00, so we set to work. First thing was to measure and organize what we had. We moved all the 12 foot pieces to the shop so we could work on the north wall whenever we wanted, and then laid out all the long pieces in the yard.
Fortunately it was all pretty straight forward and we were reassured that we have the right pieces and they will cover the walls.

Then it was time to start putting the sheets up. It was measure, cut, carry, raise, screw and repeat. Instead of scaffolding (which wouldn't be nearly tall enough) we worked with a ladder--in fact, two ladders.
Troy took care of the top from the big ladder, and I used the little ladder to work underneath him.

For all our work, we only got four pieces up--one short of half way. :-(
Yes, it would have psychologically been nice to get half way, but I think if you include all the organizing time, we are well over half way done the work for the west wall. (That's what I'll tell myself anyway.)

Things went very smoothly with the large pieces. Troy said he was originally going to do this wall with two pieces, thinking they would be more manageable for two little amateurs like us. The guy who sold him the siding convinced him to go with single long pieces instead, and he's happy he took the advice.

We then cleaned up all the siding off of the lawn and stacked them in the garage again. But now they're in the exact order that we'll need them. Nice, right?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Siding

Easter is being celebrated at Maple Leaf Gardens. Tulips, bunnies and felted eggs abound. We had a wonderful church service this morning; a bit of a work day as Troy was on sound and I had to do the PowerPoint but it's hard not to have a good time with full organ, a good orchestra and "Alleluia"s all over the place.

But with no other obligations and good weather beaming down on us, Troy and I decided to tackle the siding again this afternoon.

Last time I mentioned the siding we had stopped just short of finishing the south wall. We picked it back up again on the 18th, the week that Isaac was here and Troy took a couple days off. So on my day off, Troy and I did some siding as Isaac was splitting more wood.

We did put up the last piece of the south wall:
Doesn't it look so impressive now that it is done?!

We moved onto the north wall then because there were more 12-foot sheets on top of the pile. We figured we'd at least put them up and then go from there. (In case you haven't figured this out, we don't exactly work off a strict plan.)

Of course, the north side is not nearly as accessible. Troy had already backfilled it with dirt and leveled it out, but we really didn't think we were going to be able to get the scaffolding back there. Giving it another look, we realized there was enough room, if we could just get it back there.

So Troy gave me a break while he got the tractor out and knocked out a few hillocks that were blocking us on the northwest corner. This did the trick. We got the scaffolding back there with no more trouble.

Meanwhile, I was not just sitting on the couch...I decided to see if there were any issues with starting the north wall using the half piece of siding we cut off when finishing the south wall. The only thing I had to take into account was the one window on the north wall. After some figuring and having Troy double check things, we figured out that using that partial sheet would make the window fall in the very middle of a piece of siding. Well, that won't work! So we put the half sheet aside and started with a full sheet.

After only a couple sheets, I got too hungry to continue and we all packed it in and headed to the burger bar down the road. (mmm)

The north wall has been waiting for us ever since. Today Troy and I were roaring along until we ran out of 12-foot sheets. So the north wall is done this far:
We started to evaluate what was next in the pile: short ones for the east wall. We set out to measure for the first piece, but Troy noticed the flashing wasn't done yet! Ok, so we'll do the west wall. We put aside the short pieces and get to the really long ones.
West wall and Isaac & Troy's great landscaping

Troy gets the ladder out, climbs up and actually measures for the first one. As we're gathering equipment to cut the sheet to shape, the ladder is blown down. We stop and consider. The wind is pretty strong and gusty. The sheets are up to 18 feet long. Troy makes the call: no more siding today. (And as I am now writing this, raindrops are making splash marks on the window as big as my fist!)

So we are waiting for a calmer day. The first thing to do will be to lay out all the siding we have left and sort it by size. This is a case where it would be good to have a plan.

In other news, Troy has started wiring the shop. He had to flip the breaker box over to make the wiring simpler and more elegant and has supplied the biodiesel station with some outlets. It's definitely a start!

Happy Easter to you all. Hope you are rejoicing in the new life Christ bought for you!

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