2008 Year in Review.

I suppose this is what people do this time of year, they do a year in
review. It’s been a pretty good year. We’ve had a much more ‘normal’
year than 06, or 07, but 2008 has had a few firsts and other exciting
Sold our first Condo.
Watching the Celtics win banner 17.
Became a Godfather again.
T completed her first 1/2 marathon.
Our first animals on the farm, the chickens.
Completed my first century and first double metric on the same ride.
Built our chicken coop with my dad.
Supported our local farmers market, and farmers.
Planted our first garden.
Participating in the road rally.Seeing our friends get married.
Tasha finished her first Olympic distance tri.The first alpacas arrived at the farm.
Austin city limits
The chickens laid their first eggs.
Found a project bike.
A turkey trot at Dana point.
Survived our first major power outage; the ice storm of 08.
First tank crash.

All in all, 2008 just flew by. We have many great plans for 09, and we wish everyone a safe and happy new year.

Winter herbs

I love fresh herbs. Over our first summer here, we did manage to keep a fair number of herbs growing in our garden, in spite of the thunderstorms and fencing project (which for those who don’t know, meant the removal of the raised boxes – to be relocated next spring). But, by August or so most of the herbs had bolted (a fancy way of saying they started making seeds). So we were left with no more our own, and the prospect of a long New England winter before we could get more. I began looking into ways to grow herbs indoors. Somewhere in the back of my noggin I’d heard about Aerogardens and that was one of the possible solutions I looked into. Most of the reviews seemed positive.
A short time later, my parents gave us a gift and I used it to get the Aerogarden Pro 100. The Aerogarden is a small hydroponic system with pre-designed kits for herbs, veggies, or plants. It comes with a power compact growing light, nutrient tablets, and needs some water.
With the amount of cooking we do ourselves, fresh herbs can make a big difference. However, when we buy them, at least half goes to waste and the idea of being able to just take what we needed, when we needed it was very appealing. I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out, if it was more gimmick than reality, but we were willing to give it a try.
We got our Aerogarden set up around October 11th. The Pro comes with an herb kit for growing Thyme, two types of Basil, Mint, Chives, Parsley, and Dill. There are many kits available on the Aerogrow site, and the reviews available on them will help me decide future kits to try. Anyway, we got it all set up within a few minutes, and the next few days were spent peering eagerly to try and see any hint of a seed coming up. In just two or three days, all of the seed pods had started growing, and it became a wait until the plants were established enough for some light use.
By early November, we had good plants established and were able to do some careful harvesting of a small amount. We even had to raise the lamp up (there is an adjustable arm). We’ve since had prolific growth with regular harvests and no sign of it letting up.
Oh, and the power loss which meant no light or flowing water on the roots for 3 days did wipe out both basil plants, but the Italian (green) basil is amazingly sending up new leaves. I am pretty sure in no time we’ll be harvesting it again. The routine upkeep is minimal and foolproof. While it was designed for people with apartments and no space to garden, for our winter needs it is doing a great job!
The only negative comments are two: one, the light is very bright. Even in our kitchen it lights up all the way to the bedroom. But it is in the best place to be convenient for cooking. Also, I’m also sure it’s not a cost savings between the kit price and electric, however I don’t have to go anywhere for herbs and don’t waste any, so maybe it balances somehow…
All in all I’d give the Aerogarden a 4.5 out of 5!
Here is our Aerogarden as of a few days ago; it’s been running for a few months and I’m expecting to get to March with these herbs.

A mini-blog

Just a few quick thoughts for this evening…
1. Why do cats after falling or some other clumsy moment invariably look like they were trying all along to do something else (like scratch or clean themselves, or rub your legs etc)? Today our bright kitty went sailing off the bathroom countertop. Of course she then proceeded to try and make me think it was fully intentional. Too funny! She does this a lot though, so I was only mildly amused by it.
2. I think our alpacas have learned how to turn on the barn lights. We have a weatherized outlet missing its top and the light switch is exposed. This is the second time “someone” has mysteriously turned on the lights!
3. I picked up a 23 lb fresh local turkey today, for a big feast sometime in the next few days. We weren’t able to get one for Thanksgiving since we were out of the area, but I ordered one for this season instead. YUM!
4. There is nothing prettier than driving around snowy rolling New England backroads just at nightfall. People have their barn cupolas illuminated and it’s just beautiful with the lights of the season glinting all around. We have a cupola too and it really is lovely when I turn on the light. Too bad no one can see ours (well, maybe the neighbors can). I think all barns should have one. I think I may go on a cupola photography binge.
5. Our fish have gone back in the tank and seem MUCH happier. We’re hoping for it to stabilize and introducing some cleaner crew in about a week.
6. The egg count is being restarted. The storms of the last two weeks threw it all out of whack. We think we’ve gotten 48 eggs in that time though. The storms may have disrupted us, but not so much the hens!
7. Last, but not least, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone reading! Enjoy the time with your loved ones!
We’ll be back with more soon!

The kindness of strangers…

Tonight I saw something which is probably (hopefully) once in a lifetime event. I hadn’t been to my health club since last week’s power outages and this week’s snow storms. I had gone up to Milford to get some supplies at the Blue Seal feed store. For those who know Milford, it’s kinda on the far side of town. As I drove by the PSNH office, I couldn’t help but notice it was bustling with activity. Made sense, I thought, there are still a lot of people without power in this area. After I finished up my errands, I drove over to the fitness center. The part of the lot I usually park in was marked off, and signs stated “Reserved for PSNH crews after 7 pm.” As I came in, a man stopped at the front desk and said “Thanks for what you are doing,” but it still didn’t sink in.
Since I was early for my spin class, I wandered down the track which overlooks the basketball court, pool, and racquetball courts. Then it sunk in. All the racquetball courts were closed, and in each one, single mattresses with sheets, duffel bags, electric cords. Probably 20 in each court. It turns out that the gym is housing National Guardsmen and utility crews from all over – a warm place to sleep, hot food, showers, and even a way to relax (they can use the center itself) while they have to do their work. I was amazed.
And on my way out of spin class, they were rolling in. HMMVs and utility bucket trucks by the dozen. From MA, NH, NY, and probably other places too.
I’ve never seen anything like it. And I can’t believe how AWESOME my gym is for doing this.
I had a quick conversation with a lineman on my way out of the lot; he was walking to the building. Something like this:
Me: Thank you guys!
Him: You’re welcome!
Me: How are you holding up?
Him: Great, it’s going well.
Me: Are people being a pain?
Him: Not at all, they’re bringing out soup, everyone’s been real nice.
Me: Good – well, thanks, you’re doing a tremendous job, enjoy the evening.
Him: Will do!
There are real people taking care of each other in this mess, and it’s humbling to see. Too often we hear just the bad.
Picture of some of the parked vehicles (many more driving in) via my cell phone:

Frozen Berry Yogurt dessert

This is something a little sweet I tried out, but all together pretty good for you. Tasha really likes it too.

1/4 – 1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup frozen mixed berries
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar
A few squirts of lemon juice
A dollop of whipped cream

Start with a small glass. Add a few tablespoons of yogurt. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the berries. Sprinkle on some sugar. Add another layer of yogurt and berries. This time add a few drops of lemon juice, then more sugar.

One more layer, and top with a bit of whipped cream and turbinado for appearance. Serve within a few minutes for best flavor.

(photos by Tygab)

Sharing my 2 cents on DRM, Hulu, amazon mp3.

I’ve just recently been told I don’t write enough on my / our blog. When I tried to protest, and explain I didn’t really have much to say, I was very quickly informed I have an opinion on most topics. They also did not hesitate to inform me that I’m very liberal with that opinion around the office. So as to share this opinion with the world, I will _try_ to post more often. This is not going to be anything worthy of news print, so don’t expect much.

First off, lets discuss DRM. It’s as hot button an issue for me, as politics, religion, or sports are for a majority of America. As my brother will attest, I’m not a big fan of DRM. Not for the standard anti establishment reasons, while I will admit that’s where my dislike started, but lately its’ just makes most of the things I’d want to to, too much of a pain in the butt. I’m glad iTunes existed without it, we wouldn’t have some of the advances we have. I’m very happy that I can now buy a lot of music online, for a reasonable price. However, when buying a legal copy, and using that copy becomes more difficult that finding it via some non legal means, Its very frustrating. Tasha enjoys the simplicity of iTunes for buying music. I agree, there is nothing simpler than clicking buy an itunes album, and having that music automatically synced to your pod for the drive home. 

That’s where the simplicity ends unfortunately. Unlike if we purchased a CD, I can’t just play any of the music she bought.  Why? because my computer is authorized for my own iTunes account. We can’t listen to it on our stereo, because our media player, isn’t blessed by apple. This is only one example of DRM making things a much worse user experience, there are so many more. If I were in the media business, I’d be out there pushing to make my products listened to everywhere, on every device, not trying to keep the from the buying public. You’d think the RIAA and MPAA were censors with all the restrictions they want to put on their products, the limitations of where and on what I can watch their content. While a bit out of context, I think this biblical quote applies ‘Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.’ Musicians put your music up on a stand, for easy access, the people who buy your music will thank you.

With that said, I am quite glad with some of the developments this year (I think they happened this year) in digital media. Amazon’s mp3 service kicks ass. It’s digital music in a format I can buy and play anywhere, for a reasonable price. What’s not to love? No program telling I’ve got the mp3 on too many ipods, or too many laptops, or one to many file servers. They have decent pricing, and even offer regular discount albums. They even tell me what’s on sale via twitter. I’m beginning to sound like an advert for Amazon. For the record, they aren’t paying me to say this, but I just received an email today saying since I spend more than 25 this month on music, they are giving me $5 more dollars to spend.

Hulu, this is another thumbs up, but also includes a slight head tilt. I love being able to watch the shows my Tivo missed. I wish all tv shows were available via hulu. And by all shows I do mean, _all_ shows, not the selection that keeps getting crappier and crappier. They need some real work on their retention policy. There are some series that started this year, that I missed the first few episodes of. By the time I heard about them, the first half of the season had rolled off hulu. I think it’s crazy to clip a first run series off. What they could gain in viewership if they get people hooked, has to far surpass what they’ll get from first year dvd sales.

Next up is boxee / apple tv / streaming netflix. While I just ranted about drm, and limited selection. What boxee is doing for the apple tv is great. It’s blowing the doors off what the apple tv can do. While, I am not currently an apple tv owner,  a user of netflix, or boxee, but I love the idea. Netflix stream sounds like a great idea, _BUT_ I’ve been told they have a very limited selection.  When I get off my duff and sign up, I’ll let you know. Why is it that people can’t get this right, out of the box? People want it easy, and they want a good selection. To wrap this up, down with DRM, up with people who make more media accessible, at an affordable price, without making me feel like a criminal.

My thoughts from during and after the outage.

These were written at or around the same time Tasha was writing her thoughts, Saturday night. My spirits got significantly lower on Sunday am, when the toilet was frozen, and it was 32 in the bedroom.

As we approach hour 40 without power, I’ve been reflecting on the experience so far, and I have to say it hasn’t been terrible.
Yes, it is currently colder than 40 degrees in my bedroom, and yes, I am suffering from internet withdrawal. I am not however going hungry, dying of boredom, or even all that cold. We’ve managed quite well, despite the lack of alternate power, or heat. We’ve gotten by with extra layers, extra blankets, cat warmers, and disposable hand warmers. Not to mention the kindness of family and friends. We’ve spend significant amount of time at my brothers, showering, and getting connected (power and internet). We’ve even dropped our fish off there yesterday. They seem to be doing ok, last we checked today. We’ve also been lucky enough to have numerous offers of help from our friends, and even borrowed some dry firewood. Everything I could acquire locally at this time is not really worth burning, it’s so green and wet.
While it is getting old fast, and it is sapping our spirit a bit, since there doesn’t seem to be much progress on getting power pack, I am sure we can endure a little hardship, and bare another night without power. I don’t think however our heating via fireplace will keep the house warm enough for us to stay another night after tonight. 39 is pretty damn cold.
I am getting a bit worried about the pipes too, supposedly it takes a few cold days to freeze pipes, we’ve had 1 and a half, one more cold night could do it. I’ll be running the water tonight, hopefully, I’ll wake up either sweating from the furnace kicking on, or to the bright ball of fire in the sky and a 50 degree day.

While I was not very verbose, I was confident we were fine the night, but not much beyond that. By mid morning on Sunday we had given up, we had called around to find a shelter or kennel for the cats, and had made plans to stay the night at my brothers. We were done!

Even a few days out we are still ‘recovering’, and all in all we weren’t hit that hard. We didn’t have any damage to the house, very little in the way of tree damage to our fences, or out buildings. The two impacts were to the fridge / freezer, and the fish tank. I would estimate I will be throwing out about 50-100 worth of food. Thank god our chest freezer stayed frozen solid, otherwise the tally could have reached 1k if we didn’t find a home for our meat.

The fish tank on the other hand is nearly a total loss. We were wise enough to move the fish on Friday, they are still in a bucket today. The rest of the tank, the large open brain, corals, snails, crabs, even the bristle worms are all dead. The water is murky, I have been working hard on performing water changes, and changing filters to get the water and live rock back into a livable state. It’s so bad, I haven’t even tested the water. I need to work somewhat fast because the fish cannot live in that bucket indefinitely. I hope to do another large water change today, perhaps 20 gallons, I did about 15 yesterday. I will also try to remove any dead stuff from the tank, I haven’t yet because I wanted to give it all a change to bounce back, if it was alive, but I don’t see that happening two days out.

The local fish store is helping us out with water, and livestock, so, perhaps by the end of this weekend we can have the tank back on its feet. 

However as the saying is, live an learn. I think I’ve learned a bit from this experience. We are buying a generator. :)

Ice house and barn poopers

Tonight, I came home to fin pd that I cannot get into the chickens’ run. The metal swing gate is covered in ice and I couldn’t work the latch. No problem, I thought, I’d go through the barn to the other side. I did, stopping to get the boys some fresh hay and water. On a tip from another pac farm, I am putting just a little water in the heated bucket, and I have another 5 gallon (their summer buckets) inside it. I can just lift out the interior bucket, empty/fill it, and put it back in the heated one. This saves a lot of effort and I don’t have to move the heated bucket at all. Anyway, once they were happily munching away, I went to go try and take care of the chickens.
As I approached the coop, I noticed the birdnet was drooping down from the weight of the ice particles. It has pulled away from the upper wood slats and there are several gapped areas now. From a distance, it looks like a sheet of bubble wrap because of the ice. I thought I’ll just get in there and knock some of it off to release the tension. Naturally the clasps on the run door are frozen shut too. So, at this moment I have no way to get into the run. Hopefully, Aaron will have some ideas on how to get us in there when he gets home soon. But it is nerve wracking feeling like I can’t get in to check them and get them more food, yet the top is barely hanging on. Clearly, we’re going to be doing some repair work this weekend. At least tomorrow Aaron will be here and can keep an eye on them.
Back to the pacs, the boys were soaked when I was feeding them. Yesterday (it was raining hard much of the day) they had pooped in the left stall, so I’d opened the right stall and put fresh hay in it. Now, pooping in the barn is not that unusual for animals, and it is after all a barn. But alpacas aren’t barn poopers by nature, they just don’t like pooping outside when it’s unpleasant weather. I can’t say I blame them. Well, I still was hoping “mine would be different.” Nope – yesterday their weather bar was crossed, and pooping in the stalls it was. So, last night I’d closed the door to the poopy stall (so I could clean it later), but with the ice sleet horrible rain I opened it back up today…
I don’t think pooping with ice pellets flying at you is something even a paca should have to do… I’m a softie I guess.
The funny thing is horses poop in their stalls all the time. And they poop a lot. I used to muck stalls when I was younger.
Horse people have a lot of patience!

The End of Food, part 1

[I posted a bit before I meant, alas I’ve corrected my dangling thoughts at the end!]
I have finished reading “The End of Food” by Paul Roberts, an accomplishment since I rarely have the patience to read a book start to finish these days (or at least the time). I even finished before it’s due back to the library this weekend. Roberts is also the author of “The End of Oil” in which he discusses the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and while I haven’t read it yet, I think the tone of his newer book on food is probably quite similar.
Truth be told, the book is not unlike others we have read in terms of stating the damage to the world that current food practices are causing. However, he did weave the narratives together quite artfully, with some new perspectives thrown in. It is definitely worth reading, and while I’ll touch on some of the topics, the book goes into great detail on all these topics.
What I will do is summarize some themes that may interest you; most of these are put into a context of a specific story or personal recollection. In addition, the examples are from recent years, so the book feels very current to the state of our food production.
Here is an excerpt of topics.
-Large scale monoculture crop farms versus diverse, small scale polyculture agriculture
-Till vs no-till practices
-The availability of high calorie, low quality foods in wealthy and developing areas/nations
-The unavailability of high quality, appropriate calorie foods in poor areas
-How much energy is redirected into transporting food and water, because it is cheaper to buy it and more expensive to sell it, on the world market versus locally.
-Engineering of animals and plants in hopes of faster, cheaper food (even if it is not as good for you)
-The rapid spread of disease through food supply (meats and veggies)
-Animal borne disease that can jump to humans and kill both
-and perhaps most directly, should the world attempt to support life for 6 to 9 billion humans (almost 7 today, expected if growth continues to be 9 by mid century).
What the book isn’t long on are suggestions that make sense for a broad scale approach. While it’s going to be a whole list of solutions, I am left wondering as an individual reader how I can better my food footprint on top of what we can afford and reasonably do as modern Americans, given this worldwide crisis. Even he acknowledges there isn’t a lot of how to make it better from his research, and that a highly aware consumer who is willing to bear the extra cost or effort, sometimes both, for well sourced food may be stuck until it is just so dire we have a forced upheaval of the social and food system.
When I get discouraged this way, I remember what we have done, and I would love to hear from anyone else on what other priorities we need to set in our domestic and world agendas.
I know I’ve rambled about it but as a recap of what we personally do:
we have our grass beef from a farmer in town
our pasture raised chicken from another farm
our produce from the in town farmers market every summer weekend (and it is about time to dig into the fruit we saved over the summer).
organic milk and yogurt (recognizing organic is not a panacea label)
our own eggs from our hens
our own herbs and a few veggies from this summer
limited use of bottled water (we get it for our fish, and sometimes house guests)
we are increasingly vigilant on ingredients such as HFCS, sulfides (common dried fruits), and complex sounding ingredients.
Part II of this entry later this weekend will recap some of the interesting figures mentioned in the book.