"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Getting Started

It's a couple of days late, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, but I finally got going with the garden seeds.  I've tried different things such as peat pots, old egg cartons, and so on, but I've had the best success with the pellet/flat/clear cover combo available fairly inexpensively almost everywhere, so I invested in refills, and that's all I'm using this year.  This is a case where spending money actually saves money; last year I lost a lot of seedlings trying to work with cheaper materials. So far it's just the peppers and tomatoes; other seeds are scheduled for a little later in the spring. The plant labels are made of slats from an old mini blind, and I soaked the seeds over night prior to planting.  Each label has the name of the seed, as well as the year the seed was packed.  I put several seeds in each pellet, and once they're up I'll thin them to the strongest seedling.  Now it's just the wait and see game!

Cutting labels from a miniblind.

First flat done!

It's finally cooled off some; still above normal but the weathermen have issued a "freeze warning" for tonight.  I just came in from throwing a cover on my poor silly tulips and daffodils that thought spring was here, and I wish all of you could see what I saw.  If I had a tripod for my camera, I would try to capture it.  The golden, crescent moon is laying just above the western horizon, pale company for brilliant Venus and shining Jupiter.  The air is gentle, still carrying the warmth of the day, and the sky is deeply dark and black, lit with a stunning array of stars.  Orion is standing tall, guarding the southwest sky and already much higher over the horizon than he was in January.  The whole night is alive with heavenly light, and one can only stand and gaze in wonder at what the Creator has wrought.  I feel bad for those who live in cities, blinded by man-made light and unable to see the glory overhead, and I know I'm blessed to have my peaceful spot, where I can relax on my patio swing with an unobstructed view of God's handiwork.

Until next time, God bless you and take care, my friends.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Customer Service.....Not

I consider myself a relatively even-keel sort of person, able to deal with certain things like a broken-down truck, or water in the basement, without losing my cool.  But today I met my limit!

I do a lot of work with my computer and printer; writing letters, making greeting cards, printing resumes, and the like, so it's a pretty vital piece of equipment.  Last week my Epson printer ran out of ink and even though I purchased the expensive "recommended high quality Epson ink" - twice - the printer flatly refused to print.  Anything.  At all.  I contacted Epson technical support and explained all the trouble-shooting steps I had taken, according to the printer manual.  The email I received in replay simply told me to do all the trouble shooting I had already done.  One thing led to another and I found myself on the phone speaking (or trying to) with a person from somewhere very far away where they don't speak English.  The printer is less than a year old, but the best they could do would be to send me a refurbished one, with no guarantee.  They wanted my debit card number, phone number, home address, and full name before they were willing to do anything.  And, of course, they refuse to use the regular mail, despite the fact that Fed Ex can't find my house.  Arrgh!  After an hour or so on the phone they finally agreed they didn't need my debit card, but only if I would ship back the defective printer first and trust them to send a replacement. Which of course, will take at least two weeks, since they don't have my card number....and so it goes.  I'm afraid to say by the time I got off the phone I was no longer the polite, even-tempered woman I think I am.   To top it off, the instruction email that they sent to tell me how to return the printer demanded that I send it Fed Ex.  I have never seen a Fed Ex office anywhere in my area!

Not being able to go that long without a printer, I went to the store and purchased a new Canon.  For just a little over what I spent on the Epson ink cartridges, I have a brand new printer, that if it's anything like the previous Canon printer I had, will last for quite a few trouble-free years.

Moral of the story?  Don't buy an Epson NX-420 printer, it's junk, and Epson customer service will only give you the runaround.   If the refurbished printer ever arrives, I won't even open the box, and just list it for sale on eBay.  And - companies that continue to outsource their service and support branches overseas will continue to lose customers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


From Merriam-Webster.com: 
hedged   hedg·ing
Definition of HEDGE
transitive verb
1: to enclose or protect with or as if with a hedge : encircle
2: to hem in or obstruct with or as if with a barrier : hinder
3: to protect oneself from losing or failing by a counterbalancing action <hedge a bet>
intransitive verb
1: to plant, form, or trim a hedge
2: to evade the risk of commitment especially by leaving open a way of retreat : trim
3: to protect oneself financially: as a : to buy or sell commodity futures as a protection against loss due to price fluctuation b : to minimize the risk of a bet 

It's seventy five degrees here today.  In Michigan, in the middle of March.  That's at least thirty degrees above normal.  My snowdrops and crocuses are out; my daffodils are about three inches high, and my tulips have sprung out of the ground just overnight.  But I am not so trusting as my flowers.  Is there not a saying, "beware the ides of March"?  The forecasters say it will be this warm for at least another week but  I don't think I trust them, either.  As delightful as the day has been, with warmth, breezes, and abundant sunshine, I can't seem to shake a sense of foreboding; perhaps thinking there will be some sort of cost for this fair weather.  Maybe a blizzard will come next month, and freeze my poor flowers, maybe another round of thunderstorms and tornadoes will blow up, or maybe this is the start of a miserable summer of drought and heat?  Who knows.  Maybe I'm just still cranky because of the annoying time change.  (Whoever thought it was a good idea to mess with the clocks twice a year needs a good thump on the head.)

I made good use of the day, though, making one of my semi-annual trips to the dump to get rid of the few barrels of stuff we can't recycle, burn, compost, or re-purpose.  Always interesting to see what folks throw away.  One year I saw eight sheets of perfectly good drywall in the dumpster.  This time it was ten foot long metal housings from shop lights.  If I had been able to fish them out it would have been a nice addition to my next scrap yard trip.  Once I got back I spent some time cleaning and raking the yard, as well as hanging out a half dozen loads of laundry.  It's so warm and breezy that the linens are basically dry by the time I finish pinning them to the line.  It's been wonderful to have fresh air pouring into the house, and especially great to have the propane-sucking furnace turned off!  The silly ol' dawg was enjoying herself too, flat on her back in the grass, paws and tail flung out in all directions, fur gleaming in the sun and her tongue hanging out as she grunted and woofed and wriggled all over.  Looked like it felt good!

But as I said, I'm not quite buying into this mid-March summer day.  I'm hedging my bets, as it were, or leaving open my line of retreat.  I took the plastic off the south windows and opened them to the breeze, but left it on the east and north windows.  I used my little lawn tractor to haul stuff around the yard, but left the chains on the back tires.  I cleaned out the back of my truck, but left the snow shovel and weights in place.  I cleaned out the fireplace but laid in a fresh bit of kindling and logs.  I refilled our pantry stash of drinking water jugs, and put new batteries in the flashlights and the weather radio.

So I guess Daughter and I are as ready as we can be for whatever may come - be it a spring storm or more sunshine.  It helps knowing that no matter what, God is in control.  In the meantime there's always something to do.  The window quilts are started, and coming together pretty well so far.  The ginger ale wasn't so good; the flowery aroma of the ginger root became overpowering after fermentation; almost medicinal or chemical-perfumey in nature.  The level of 'fizziness' was good, and the flavor was somewhat like Canada Dry brand ginger ale, but the scent was just too much, leaving a bitter sort of aftertaste.  I may try again some day, with much less ginger root and no lemon juice.

And for those who have a clear view to the west, there's a wonderful light show with Venus and Jupiter visible just after sunset.

The beauty I see around me often makes me think of Psalm 19:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

Until next time, God bless and take care, my friends.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My New Toy

Scavenging for firewood is a way of life, I'm always checking craiglist, ladies line, and the like, or mooching off family members that have some property where we can cut trees.  A few months ago I was able to bring home a small trailerload of wood, but due to time constraints it wasn't cut to firewood length but rather in six or seven foot lengths that fit in the trailer.  Being mostly dead popple wood the long pieces aren't too heavy, but obviously they have to be bucked up before they're useful.

I've mentioned before my struggles with pull starts, so I wasn't too keen to get out the big chainsaw and deal with the whole gas/oil mix, pull start/argue with it thing, so the load of wood just sort of sat in the backyard.  Then I came across a nifty little idea when surfing eBay:

Ok, it sort of looks like a toy.  It kind of feels like a toy, too.  But it was just the perfect tool for this job!  With Daughter holding the logs steady on an old sawhorse, it was easy work to buck them up into fireplace lengths.  Quick, easy, quiet, and very lightweight, the new saw had plenty of power for the chore and didn't give me a backache or get me cussin' like the gas saw does.  It obviously isn't designed for felling trees in the woods, but I think it's going to get a lot of use for general yard chores like pruning or cutting back the fencerow.  Having the cord trailing along is a bit of a nuisance, but no worse than any other power tool.  The only negative comment on it came from Daughter, who thought it let me get waaay too ambitious about chores on a Sunday afternoon.  She's more used to having some free time after church, but we just had to do outside stuff, it was sunny and 60!   In the space of just three hours or so we got all this wood cut and stacked.

Lots of redwing blackbirds around, and some have reported robins in their yards though I haven't seen any yet.  Spring is just around the corner.......which here means there just might be another blizzard yet, so I'll make use of the 'chore' weather while I can!

By the way, the ginger ale bottle was rock hard with pressure today, so it's in the fridge getting cold.  There's lots of floaty bits of ginger in it, so we'll probably strain it and try it out later tonight.

Until next time, God bless you and keep you my friends.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sunshine and Ginger Ale

It's that time of year when it is 20 degrees and snowing one day, and 50 degrees and sunny the next.  Confusing!  I can settle in to mittens and boots; frosty laughs and coming in to sit by the fire, or I can run around washing windows and raking the yard.  But this going back and forth day by day gets exhausting, and it's one of the reasons I'm not overly fond of early Spring.

There are some great days, though, like yesterday when the stiff northwest breeze was a hound, swiftly herding the clouds before it.  The clouds tumbled forward, gray-blue edged with gold as they passed the sun, and snowflakes spun and danced in the sunlight, catching in the pines and melting on the grass.  The birdfeeders were wildly spinning about but a stubborn woodpecker steadily worked away at one of the suet blocks, probably enjoying the lack of annoying sparrows.

Decided to try something new today:  making home-made ginger ale.  This being Michigan, we of course have that wonderful Vernors Ginger Ale in every store but I still wanted to give this a try.  I found the directions at: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/cheese/ginger_ale_ag0.htm  He has a lot of good information and gets into a little of the science behind the carbonation process.

Basically it calls for an empty 2 liter bottle, 1 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp. of grated ginger, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. of yeast.  Using a funnel, pour the sugar into the bottle and follow with the yeast.  Mix the grated ginger with the lemon juice, and pour that into the bottle and follow with enough cold water to flush out the funnel. Put the cap on the bottle and shake well to mix the ingredients, then fill with cold water.

Set the bottle in a warm location for 24-48 hours.  The yeast/sugar combination will set up a fermentation process and carbonate the ginger ale.  The bottle will pressurize, so once it doesn't give under a firm squeeze, put it in the fridge.  Leaving it out where it is warm could allow too much pressure to build, causing the bottle to rupture and make a real mess.

I had never used ginger root before and had trouble grating it so I had coarsely grated ginger instead of finely grated.  The root has a wonderful fresh lemony scent that I really enjoyed!  I didn't have any fresh lemons, so I added just a bit of bottled lemon juice.  A fairly cheap and simple experiment, and I guess in a few days I'll know if we have drinkable ginger ale.  Next we'll try the home made root beer!

Making Ginger Ale

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Just Strange

That's all I can say about it. Here we are in just in the beginning of March, and yet the heartland of our nation is reeling from a record outbreak of savage weather. The tales of destruction, loss, tragedy, courage, and survival are just heartbreaking. It's one of those times I wish I had the resources to do more than simply pray.

While Michigan was spared the worst of the weather, we have had some minor flooding and wind damage. Friday evening the large thunderstorms came through with an incredible lightning show even as the heavy rains morphed into snow. The winds were strong and gusty, taking down tree branches and powerlines, and driving snow in around the doorjamb. We were without power for about seven hours or so, not bad, considering.

As hard as one might try to prepare, it's the little things that can be a 'gotchya'. The power here went out about four am Saturday, and when I called in the outage the little electronic woman who lives in the phone said we wouldn't have power restored until sometime Tuesday. Ah well, no big deal, I'm prepared – the generator is ready. I had made sure it started easily, had fresh gas and oil, and had put the stabilizer in the gas before putting it away earlier in the winter. I also had a can or two of gas on hand to keep it going. So I snuggled back down in the blankets to try to get some sleep before daylight. Once it was light enough to see, I got out my little generator and started to hook it up to the house. I use a heavy cable to connect the generator output into my home system, and got it all uncoiled and fed through only to discover that the plug on the end did not fit! Apparently when a family member had borrowed the generator, the cable end didn't fit what he was working on, so he replaced it. Without. Telling. Me. And of course, when the generator and cable were returned, I never thought to try plugging it in, so.....mid-morning Saturday found me on my way to town for a replacement part, without a shower, without my tea, and with a house growing rapidly colder and a sump pump that wasn't working. (Did I mention we had heavy rains?)

As per my usual luck, the hardware store had sold out of the type of plug I needed. Now this is a small town hardware, so the owner was trying to help the half-awake, scruffy looking gal he found aimlessly wandering the electrical aisle. He asked what I needed it for, and seemed surprised that I had lost power. I was explaining how far out of town I lived, and that we seemed to lose power every time the wind sneezed, when a fellow poked his head around the corner and said “me too”! It was some good comic relief, and his level of scruffiness let me know I wasn't alone in my predicament. The owner's best advice was to send me down the street to the lumberyard. So off I went to the lumberyard where I plunked down fourteen dollars and came away with the right plug. Of course, with some sort of grand comedic timing, the power came back on as I pulled into the driveway.  Not that I'm complaining, that's better than Tuesday!

The high winds continued on through Sunday morning, and the temperature dropped some more even as the stormy skies gave way to sunshine. I had not been into the spare bedroom for a couple of days, but this evening the sunset shone through and I noticed that the shades had not been closed. So I stepped into the room and began lowering the shade when all of a sudden there was a great commotion of panicked movement and fluttering-thumping-crying going on against the windowpane. I almost jerked the shade off the roller in my fright until I realized I was seeing wings and feathers. I stopped and stared and there, caught between the window and the plastic sheet I put up for winter, was a mourning dove. I realized then that there was a hole right in the middle of the plastic. The poor thing must have been tossed against the house during the windstorm, gone through the plastic, fallen to the windowsill, and been trapped. Fortunately my windows are double hung, so I was able to carefully pull down the top sash, reach through, and tear away the plastic until the bird was free. He quickly flew off to the pines in the fence row, making that characteristic whirring noise as he went, so I hope he's ok. The wind also took the plastic off two of the other windows, first time I've lost any during the winter. It's too late to attempt replacing it now so I'll just let it go, and continue thinking of ways to install storm windows for next winter.

It truly has been strange around here lately. I hope and pray these awful weather patterns change up, and we'll not see anymore killer tornadoes.

Until next time, may God bless you and keep you, my friends.

Help! I've fallen and I can't get out!