Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Troy Hurt His Back on the Weekend

So this is what he did today.

I came home expecting to have to clean debris off the kitchen floor from last week's demolition and instead found that Troy had not only done that, but had removed all the upper cupboards as well. He also was stuck with taking a lot of crap off the walls, like a shelf over the stove, towel rack, mandolin, etc. that I hadn't got to. (It turns out it was rather handy to have tools stored in the living room. I find myself reaching for them quite often. When I remember they're in the shop, more often than not the job doesn't get done!)

The counter's loose too so we can haul that off whenever we're ready.
When I questioned him about his back, he said it must be his youthful healing abilities. I think it might have been the use of the nice drugs I had left over from when my back was injured in February. Or maybe it was the prayers of our small group last night.

In any case, work continues.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A little update on the homestead and why the US is short on jobs.

Things have been busy and a little hectic, but that's not news I guess.  We successfully got through my fiftieth birthday, so that was fun.  But I am glad to be past all the extra hubbub and get on with the business of making, improving and running the homestead.

I got the basics up for our grape arbor.  It's not much, just some galvanized cable strung between several steel fence posts, but the grapes are much happier since they are no longer laying around on the ground.  The four peach trees and four apple trees that we planted last year have done well and gained a good bit of height and girth.  The electric fence has kept the deer from eating them down to nothingness. 

Most of the trees and bushes we planted this spring have done well.  One of the pear trees died, and one of the paw paw trees died above the graft.  So the root stock took over and is now doing well.  More than likely, the root stock will not make fruit as tasty and large as the named variety that was grafted on top.  But we could get lucky and get a sport that's even better.  We lost a couple fall red rasberry bushes.  All the blueberry bushes came through nicely.  The hazelnut tree/bushes are all doing well.  Someday, we'll be able to almost feed ourselves.

The garden got away from me again this year, and the weeds have really taken over.  Grasses in particular are tough to break their reproductive cycle.  Despite that, we have plenty of tomatoes, the corn is doing splendidly, we have picked several watermelons (none quite ripe yet, but still tasty and refreshing), plenty of beets, carrots and beans that we're not keeping up with.  The cucumbers have pretty much given up, after being swallowed up by the watermelon vines that are attempting to take over the earth.  But Christina did get quite a few jars pickled.  The Yukon Gold potatoes are wonderfully delicious and produced a good yield.

We cut, split and stacked another year's worth of firewood, and we always stay a year ahead so it's nice and dry and seasoned when we burn it.  Isaac worked like a champ at splitting and stacking.  We broke the log splitter a couple of times, but nothing serious.  30 minutes work with the ancient Lincoln arc welder made it better than new.  I don't know how people can get along in life without a welder.

The shop still wants some finishing work, which I anticipate will get done this winter as I have time.

The big push is get the kitchen renovated, especially the exposed/exterior walls.  They desperately need insulating, so the pipes don't freeze, again.  And the people too.   As you can see from the pictures a few posts back, we have deconstructed a bunch of the kitchen already.  Wow is that tedious.  Tearing drywall and paneling off goes well enough, but then you have to digest the wreckage into garbage bags, suitable for the garbage removal service.  Cheap wood paneling is a pox on humanity.

The kitchen had 4 or 5 layers of stuff on the walls.  From oldest to newest, plaster/lathe, drywall, paneling, more paneling, and drywall again.  There was a token/pretend amount of fiberglass insulation in about 1/3 of the walls.  What were  these people thinking?  I work best under deadline.  Winter is coming.

Now, to change gears completely and talk about the job situation.  About a decade ago, my blinders fell off, and I suddenly became very interested in economic theory and practice. I became aware of some disturbing trends in how the government manipulates our currency and "manages" the Federal Deficit.

Back when we were worried that South and Central America would become politically unstable, and the USSR would fill the political vacuum with communism, I started to watch a certain number or metric if you will.  This number was highly predictive of when any given dictatorship was about to be overthrown, or have a coup, or something equally bad.  This metric was the ratio of government debt to GDP, or gross domestic product.

With rare exception, we could predict with pretty good accuracy,  something BAD was going to happen if this ratio went much above 1.00.  That is to say, if you're a dictator, and the entire economy of your country produces a million dollars worth of goods and services in one year, and if you, the government/dictator owed, in total, much over a million dollars, that was a very bad sign.  If you were smart, you would pack your bags and move to Switzerland before some commie funded fanatic whipped the public up into a frenzy and you get shot in your bed.

The alarming thing is, we are now them.  We as a nation have become enslaved by our debtors, and by the debt itself.  Of course, there is no definite magic line that, once crossed, things blow up politically.  But the bigger the number, the higher the risk.

Japan is one of those rare exceptions, with a debt to GDP ratio of almost 2.  The reason it "works" for them is the government owes most of the money to the Japanese ordinary citizenry.  No currency exchange rates to cause problems.  And, so long as they like to keep the money tied up in savings long term, the government can slowly chip away at it.  I put "works" in quotes because the Japanese economy has experienced trivial to zero growth in the last decade, primarily due to the debt.  This is not something we should strive to attain.

So, as a general rule, we don't like it to be over 1.  Below 1 is much better.  In the US, during WW 2, we piled up historically high levels of debt.

We got away with it then, because the war in europe destroyed a large percentage of the manufacturing base/infrastructure.  The whole world pretty much had to buy manufactured goods from us (mild oversimplification) because we were the only ones left standing.  And US citizens made heroic sacrifices to push the war effort along, like no new cars or hair dryers for the duration of the war to allow this huge surge of resources to flow into the war effort.  All the pent up demand after the war drove manufacturing in the US to unprecedented levels.

For many years after the war, every president/congress reduced the debt/GDP ratio, until we hit Ronald Reagan.  Every administration since then has made it worse.  If you ignore the funny accounting methods, it appears that Bill Clinton reduced the actual deficit, which is technically true.  But if you count all the "off budget" items, he doesn't fare so well after all.

The debt/GDP ratio peaked at about 1.2 during the war, and bottomed out at about 0.35 under Nixon, Ford and Carter.  Here's a nice graph for those visual thinkers:

Debt to GDP ratio over time

Unfortunately, our fearless leaders have borrowed their way into a much larger hole (in absolute terms) and as a percentage of GDP, nearly as bad as during the height of the war.  There are key differences this time around.  We didn't recently bomb europe to pieces, so their manufacturing base is just fine thank you.  And for the last two decades, we have been steadily losing manufacturing jobs and infrastructure to asia.  I also feel that the current crop of citizens in the U.S. will be unlikely to make big sacrifices gracefully.

Depending on who you talk to, our current debt/GDP ratio is now pretty much exactly 1.0.    I can assure you, our economy is not going to perk up in the next 5-10 years.

How are we going to dig ourselves out of the hole this time?  The government's current solution is to raise taxes, which will throw the brakes on the economy.  This will truly be THE jobless "recovery".  Here's a nice article describing the problem facing the small business person (who supplies 2/3 of ALL the jobs in the US):

This is why there are no jobs...

So, whatever your station in life, you should plan on not getting a raise, getting your hours cut, losing more benefits all the time (like health insurance) or losing your job altogether, and your government getting more and more voracious in their appetite for tax revenue, user fees, speeding tickets and other creative ways to squeeze money out of the citizenry.  If this turns out not to be so in your personal case, I am exceedingly happy for you.  Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  Get out of debt, reduce risk.

Good luck and may the force be with you.

Oh yeah, and fire all of your incumbent congressmen and senators this fall.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Moving Day

Yes, I know, you thought all the moving was done. We moved into the shop a few weeks ago. (Thanks again, David and Wendy.) We enjoyed all the space in the living room and an empty dining room, entertained some guests in them, and now are filling them up again. :sigh: That's how it goes.

So this moving "day" (because it'll take more than one) refers to moving the kitchen into the dining room. I moved the "food shelf" the other day. Then I dissembled the shelf and set it up in sections under our makeshift counter:
  Doesn't that look handy?

Today I got a good portion of the cupboards empty. Troy is threatening to move them into the shop any day now. I'm going to miss them, crappy as they may be.
The water to the sink was disconnected last night. That is what I'm going to miss the most. Goodbye handy double sink. Goodbye tall faucet that can fill pots. Goodbye separation of bathroom and food prep/cleanup.

Troy discovered that the supply line to the sink has been dripping for a long time, presumably since before we moved here. There's a lot of water damage in the floor and the walls, and in fact there's a nice line of algae on the concrete steps outside too. In short, there's been steady water flow over a long time. It's a good thing we're fixing it up; it really needs it. (Part of me thinks it's a good thing Troy didn't discover this sooner or I might have lost my sink sooner!)

Meanwhile, a lot of the stuff from the cupboards got moved to the closet in the dining room:
I spent a good deal of time and energy moving a bunch of stuff from the closet into Isaac's room. (Remember all that extra room I made in the Great Cleanup of 2010? All being put to use again now.) It was also a chance to get rid of a couple boxes full of VHS tapes.

Other stuff from the cupboards is going to be boxed up and stored. Like, for instance, baking supplies. I don't do much of that normally, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing even less now. Plus, I'm not even sure I'll have a stove. So that seemed like a no-brainer.

The counter we have set up in the dining room is a few 2x10s on sawhorses. (What else?) It is, of course, sturdy enough to walk on. Isn't that the first criteria for any counter?
Anyway, I did say I would prefer a nicer surface so that I could actually wipe it down and have some hope of it seeming clean. (These boards were used as forms for the shop's foundation, after all. And then they were stored outside for three years. Would you have a problem with that??)

Troy brought home a piece of melamine shelving. He's using it for a desk upstairs and we thought I may work for a counter.
But it's nice and smooth and it meets my criteria: it can be wiped down.

Now that I see how little of my "counter" it covers, however, I'm going to also get a piece of cheery vinyl to cover the whole mess. It will make me feel better.

My plan right now--as soon as we have electricity in the dining room--is to line up all the small appliances along the back of the counter. It's way too wide to use the whole thing, and I think that will use the space nicely.

Even though I don't like change, and am really going to miss having a kitchen sink (or any water close to my counter/work area) I realize that this is a pretty sweet setup for people who are redoing their kitchen. Certainly, a lot of people don't have anywhere to go with their kitchen stuff and end up setting up on the front porch, or the camper.

What does seem a little crazy is that we are, apparently, still trying to can this season. I'm going to run a batch of tomatoes tomorrow before I lose the counter and stove. (I just can't imagine two burners on a hot plate would do it.)

Tonight I washed all the tomatoes and laid them out to dry:
The most logical place seemed to be on the bathroom floor. I told myself that couldn't be right because food doesn't belong on a bathroom floor, but that's all I could come up with. I mean, they were being washed in the sink in the bathroom. It's not a big leap to letting them dry there. But that doesn't make it any more right.

Remember that feeling you got while watching Seinfield and you heard Kramer say, "I prepared all the food for this dinner in the shower."? That's about the feeling I have about my tomatoes in the bathroom. But I will carry on. For as long as I can.

And I'll keep in mind that a good run in the pressure cooker will kill all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Beginning of the Kitchen Saga (I Assume)

Well, the kitchen is started. And I think I can safely assume it's going to be a saga. Whose kitchen isn't a saga?

Troy and Isaac dismantled the main support beam the other day. There used to be an exterior wall there. At some point, someone took out the wall and bumped out the kitchen onto a porch. I am assuming that's when they put this support beam in.
We don't know when someone nailed on some extra boards to the side to "help" the beam do its job. But the boards didn't span the length, and in fact the interior one turned out to be two shorter pieces nailed to the beam. In short, they did not help the beam but just added more weight to it.

I don't know if you can see in the picture, but it sags quite badly in the middle. And then, as if there needed to be more, the north end (far end in the picture) was not supported by anything. It's hanging off the second floor. That's not how it supposed to work. So there will be some structural improvements to the kitchen.

And we are now thinking we are going to have a beam as part of the look of the ceiling. We don't want to bring the entire ceiling down low enough to hide the beam, so we'll cover it with some nice looking wood and make it a feature. The ceiling to the west of it, over the porch, will probably be a little lower and drywall. The ceiling to the east will be a little higher and suspended.

Then yesterday, more "real" work began. I came home to this:
You can see they are taking apart the exterior wall. That will be the first concern. But the cabinets are next. They'll be moving to the shop to be filled with soap-making supplies, I believe.

When I came home and walked upstairs to say hi to Isaac, he apologized for the mess in the kitchen. They tore out so much he wasn't able to clean it all up by the end of his "work day." When I walked back into the kitchen I noticed this:
...for the first time! When I walked through it on my way upstairs, I didn't even see it. I was focused on the walls and work being done. And I'm pretty good with SEP fields. (That's Someone Else's Problem--read Douglas Adams.) And Isaac apparently thought a mess in the kitchen was a much bigger deal (and more uncommon) than I did. (Bless his heart.)

So who knows how long the kitchen will be out of commission. I'm scared to guess because I know it's always at least twice as long as you think. Meanwhile we'll be setting up in the dining room. We ate our first meal there last night:
And Troy noted that it was the first time ever, actually, that we ate in our dining room. (We had spaghetti in case that's significant.)

We'll be setting up some shelves for the food and dishes that are in the kitchen. The dishwasher and fridge are already in a different room (where they've always been); we have a microwave; a sink in the bathroom off the kitchen; and Troy just bought a hot plate to replace the stove. (Plus there's the barbecue and crockpot for other meals.) We're going to try leaving the stove in for as long as possible, though. It's not on an outside wall so it may not be too much in the way, and it's sitting where the fridge will go so no cabinets need to be installed there. We'll see.

And that's life at Maple Leaf Gardens. Grab your crowbars, boys; we're going in!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Birthday Party Report

We had a wonderful weekend of celebrating Troy's 50th birthday. There was dinner with cake:

There was catching up with family. This is my mom with all her male grandchildren that were present:

Here we are with some of Troy's family: his mom, stepdad, uncle, aunt and great-aunt.

Back at the house, I had set up the "Museum of Troy" for display during the open house:
Items on the table were:
Penny Bike:
            Made from straight pins, razor blades, gears from a dead Timex, wire from a spiral notebook spine and some scrap wire for the “chain” (c 1974)

House in Castleton, Ontario:
            Built entire house with some help on concrete foundation and brick work. The house was so well insulated it did not need a furnace. (built 1986 – 1990)

Kaleidoscope / teleoscope:
            Made from PVC pipe, scrap window glass and a scrap mirror (c 1993)
            (Can be used as a traditional kaleidoscope or as a teleoscope if you take off the cap. With the cap off, try looking at your fingers or the bar of sparkly bits.)

Plumb bob:
            Made from a piece of scrap steel from a junkyard, shaped with a metal lathe, for an art project while attending Calvin (c 1993)

Sterling engine:
            Runs on any fuel that can make heat, even hot water or solar power.  Made from scrap aluminum, Delrin plastic, acrylic sheet, Styrofoam; the bearings were recycled from a computer hard drive. (c 2004)

Troy picks up used fryer oil from restaurants, usually soybean oil.  This is treated with methanol and lye, which changes the vegetable oil into biodiesel.  Biodiesel is chemically very similar to petroleum diesel and can be burned directly in most vehicles with diesel engines.   It produces less pollution and is renewable.  He burns it in the Volkswagon Jetta, the Dodge pickup, the oil stove in the kitchen and the diesel generator. (since 2004)

Birthday card:
            Made from 1/8” cold rolled steel plate cut with a plasma cutter (2005)

Functional cannon:
Made from scrap wood and a leftover piece of EMT, Electrical Metal Tubing, aka conduit.  Isaac was the co-creator on this one.  It is fired using a firecracker for propellant and shoots short sections of wooden dowels. (c 2005)

The best hand-made facial soap in the world:
Troy enjoys making traditional soap using lard, coconut oil, olive oil and other premium ingredients.  Since he is bored and not busy enough, he is in the process of launching a website to turn this into a small business. (since 2005)

Skinning knife:
Surgically sharp, please handle with EXTREME CARE.  This is not like most knives and will easily shave the hair from one’s arm.  This type of knife is for skinning/dressing game like deer.  Made from a worn out circular saw blade.  The handle is made from a piece of maple firewood rescued from the woodstove.  The rivets are 12 gauge copper house wire. (2009)

My favourite is the bicycle:
I love that little thing!

Throughout the afternoon there was more catching up with family and general sitting around:
My mom with my aunt

Me with friends from church

Sisters, aunts, uncles...

Troy took the kiddies and their attending parents on a wagon ride

And Joel showed the girls around our garden because he was determined they would know what vegetables look like in their natural state:

Apparently they found a mutant potato:

It was a lovely weekend. Thanks to all those who showed up and celebrated with us. A big thanks to those who helped me get ready, serve food, clean up, etc etc.

Let's do it again in another 50 years!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What I Get for Complaining

Just a little thing, but I was bemoaning to my sister that I had absolutely nothing blooming when we had company this weekend.

The lilies were done; the glads finished blooming only days before; the sunflowers weren't out yet; the maximilians hadn't even started producing buds; the morning glories were merely vines; never mind the trumpet vines and bittersweet that look like they won't put out any blossoms at all.

And then the day after the fun is done, I come home from work and find that my hibiscus is blooming!!

Wow! What a treat.

Both plants came through their first winter and have grown to about 2 - 3 feet tall.

This is the first bloom but I see buds for half a dozen more.

Thanks again, Tom, for passing on your hibiscus "babies" last summer! Are these the same colour as your plant?

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