Saturday, November 27, 2010

Two Wheels along Vineyard Sound

I keep tabs on a number of blogs in which the topic, when distilled to it's essence, is about the joy of riding a bike, and today that's what this blog is about. It is with some regret that my bike has gathered more dust this year then at any time in the last ten years, so the opportunity to ride around for a while is reason enough for me to make mention of it. Building a house is an all consuming project, and time on my bike has fallen by the wayside.

It is our great fortune to spend many holidays and vacations here on Cape Cod at Nancy's family's place and this is often when I take advantage of the warm temperatures and flat terrain for some cycling adventures. Yesterday I noodled around Woods Hole and Falmouth as the sun was starting to set.

It felt great.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Extracting Honey

Our stack of honey supers (the boxes are called "supers") which each hold 9 or 10 frames of honey

The extractor

Uncapping a frame of honeycomb

Two different (mostly) uncapped honey. Most likely the light one is from earlier in the summer and the darker one from the fall

Filtering the golden take

Nancy and I spent a lot of time the last two nights extracting honey from all of the honey supers we've been storing in our basement since the summer. We gathered most of this honey in early September but haven't had a chance to do the extracting until now.

The process requires having an extractor, which is a barrel on legs with a rack inside that holds all of the frames of honey. There is a crank that spins the rack, creating centrifical force that slings the honey out of the comb and against the inside walls of the extractor, a lot like the way a washing machine on spin mode gets a lot of the water out of wet clothes.

Before putting the frames of honey into the extractor you have to cut off the wax cappings that the bees put there to contain the honey in the comb. Uncapping is done with a electrically heated knife that melts and cuts as you work down the honeycomb.

After you've put a load of uncapped frames into the extractor and then spun the whole thing, the honey that got flung out slowly slides down the walls of the extractor and gathers at the bottom where there is a spigot to drain out the honey. It helps to be doing all this while its warm in order to keep the honey flowing.

We run our honey through two filters to separate out the various bits of wax and bees and other debris that would otherwise end up in the honey.

Although we didn't get as much as we thought we might, it looks like we ended up with somewhere around eight gallons of honey. With that much we'll probably sell some, give some away as gifts and have plenty for ourselves.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mt. Pollux

I spent a night visiting my friends Bill and Sam and their son August. They live in on the Amherst side of the Holyoke Range in western Massachusetts. We had a great visit that included a couple of hikes, some good food and some nice time hanging out.

On my way out of town I stopped for a few moments to walk up Mt. Pollux, located in South Amherst. In fact it is really a hill at all of 331 ft. high, but it's breadth and view lends it a majesty that is unsuspected until one arrives at the crest of the hill. I lived in this area for many years and it was only late in my tenure there that I discovered this special place. When describing it to Nancy this evening I told her I can go there and somehow sense being alive a hundred or more years ago. For me there is something profound about this spot. Had Nancy and I chosen to live in western Mass, I would have advocated for our wedding to have happened here.

I don't think I'm the only one who feels this. Tim Eriksen, an amazing musician who is deeply tapped into traditional American music has chosen this spot to record assorted videos of himself singing and playing.

This photo came with the description "Amherst, 1920's". I fancy that maybe this was set on Mt. Pollux. Even if it wasn't, it evokes a similar mood and feeling to what I experience there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Less is More: Five days of fun at Yestermorrow

Today I finished up co-teaching a class called "Less is More: Designing the Smaller Home" at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. Despite some apprehension about teaching in a new area (design) leading up to the start of the class, I had great time. My teaching partner was Andreas Stavropoulos who I really enjoyed working with and getting to know. Andreas is a landscape architect based in Berkeley, California. He's a smart and ambitious guy who has done a variety of interesting and inspiring projects and it was fun to hear about his ups and downs along the way. Likewise, it was a pleasure to work with the seven students who, in some cases, came great distances to take this class. They all worked hard and did excellent work.

Over the course of the week we went on a couple of house tours of some small homes ranging is size from around 500 sq. ft to up around 1,800 sq. ft. that included an old sugar house made into a home, our yurt, a modular house, and other variations on small footprint living. We also did some exercises to get students thinking conceptually about their project and then steadily worked towards more and more concrete presentations. Its always amazing how things seem to accelerate as the week goes on.

Among the design projects the students worked on were a couple of mobile dwellings, a Catskills get-away, a spec house for down-sized retirees, and a variety of ski-house active outdoors-living homes. It will be so fun to see if and where any of these projects emerge from dream to reality. With time, I think there is a high likelihood this could happen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tonight's view

When I stepped out of the house this evening, this is what I saw. I love the moon and her monthly return.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sailing on Lake Champlain

My best friend Parker was visiting last week and after a few days of hard work we took the afternoon on Saturday to go sailing on Lake Champlain, sailing from the town launch in Shelburne.

Near the shore the wind is reasonably calm as there are a number of islands and points that buffet the breeze, but once out in the more open thoroughfare of the lake it got pretty breezy, and consequently kinda wet too, but mostly just fun. In my mind I think of the lake as this sort of calm body of water, but this day there were swells, waves and small whitecaps, making for a splashy ride up and a surf-y sort of ride back down the wind, riding the swells like you might on a surfboard or a kayak.

At the beginning of the summer I declared that this year I really wanted to make a point of sailing a bunch, but as it goes the house project has been very demanding and and this was the first (and I suspect) last sail of the season.

I'm so glad we got to go.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ketchup Time

The recipe

Boiling down (the lumps are bags of spice)

We've made ketchup for the last few years and are hooked on our version of this venerable condiment. Our stuff is way more rich and flavorful than your standard issue. Our tomato plants continue to provide us some great tomatoes, so we've been drying them and decided to use some up for our year's worth of ketchup.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anatomy of a Staycation

Our friend Mary from Portland is here visiting for a week. Nancy is taking some time off and this is the framework of their week.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Slaughter

Last week I took part in helping slaughter the chickens we collectively raise with various family members up at my aunt and uncles' house. Our friend Adam was here and helped out as well.

We've been doing this for a number of years but until now I've never been in on the actual process of gathering the chickens and handing them over to be killed. This year I had my chance. A couple named Ralph and Cindy Persons from Hardwick come with a mobile slaughtering trailer that has everything needed to take a chicken from live bird to ready for the freezer.

I've always been a bit iffy about eating meat, but I've always maintained that if we're gonna eat meat, well, we ought to be up for doing what it takes to get that meat, so in that sense I was glad to be a part of this work.

The first task is catching the chickens. You grab them by the leg and hold them upside down. Within a few moments, the chickens settle down and you grab another. Cindy said she wanted three at a time, because that the number of be-heading cones they have on their trailer.

So Adam and I brought up rotations of three chickens at a time and handed them to Cindy who placed them in the cones and with a swift action with the knife, took the chicken's heads off and tossed the heads in a bucket. Its true that that chickens continue to convulse and move for a minute or so after loosing their heads.

From the killing cone the chickens are then taken by Ralph and scalded in a pot of hot water to loosen up the feathers. From there they go into the de-feathering drum that has a series of rubber nubs that pull the feathers out in short order while the chicken bodies whirl around and around. Once the feathers are out, Ralph and Cindy gut the birds and from there they go into a barrel of ice water to cool.

After cooling for a bit, Adam and I then took the processed chickens from the ice water and transferred them to our own barrels of ice water to continue cooling. At the end of the morning's work we'd caught and killed 39 chickens that will be divvied up between three families. This year we lost a handful of birds so we won't have quite as much as previous years.

This is the closest I've ever been to deliberate killing of anything. It wasn't exactly pleasant, but it wasn't all that hard to deal with either. I guess what I was aware of was both my own sensations around the experience, but also a bit of a fixation on the the actual moment of be-heading. Every time we went to get another round of chickens I had this awareness that I was grabbing a living being and taking it to its death. That didn't feel good, but it didn't overly trouble me either.

When we eat meat, we are asking someone to do this work, whether we see it or not. I am glad to have had the opportunity to be this close to the process.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Garlic Harvest

Lydia, Ella, Nate and Nancy

Last week we harvested our garlic with the help of two nieces and a nephew. Its now hanging in our sugar shack to dry.

Over the years we've slowly honed in how much we need to plant for a years worth of garlic plus enough to plant next years crop. We've been replanting from our own stock for 6 or 7 years now. I can't remember the last time we actually bought garlic.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Migratory Beekeepers

The hives loaded up in Jeremy's truck ready to make the trip through town to their new spot at Kingsbury Farm

The hives at their new home

Nance watching the bees

First the good news:

We were invited by our pal Aaron at Kingsbury Farm to move some of our bees down to the farm to help with pollination. I said yes right off the bat because on some level this just feels exciting to me; we've been keeping bees for roughly 5 years now and having hives in more then one location feels like an interesting step. I'll be curious to see if a different location affects the honey catch at all. I also like the idea of having a couple of hives at a semi-public location where there might be opportunities for workshops and that sort of thing. Its fun to share our enthusiasm for beekeeping with others.

We brought two hives down to the farm early Sunday morning and decided to change the location a bit from what we had agreed with Aaron a day or two before. The spot we picked seemed to still be out of the way but was better because it wasn't under the barn roof overhang and it got better morning light. I called Aaron after we got home to mention the new spot in case it was problematic for him.

The hiccup:

The new spot is not good for a few reasons, so we are going to have to move the hives to a new spot. This might not seem like a big deal, but you can't just move a hive from one spot to another unless the new location is at least 2 miles away. If you move the hive a short distance the bees will all go back to where the hive was before being moved.

We have to meet with Aaron again and work out a new spot. That shouldn't be too hard, but the challenge will be how do we move the bees. My thought it to bring two new hives from our place down and bring the hives currently at the farm back home. Nance is in favor of doing the incremental move where you move the hive very small distances each day until the hive is in its new location. We'll have to resolve this quandary soon.

Despite this initial hiccup, I'm really excited about branching out from our beekeeping status quo. I have hopes that one day we'll produce enough honey that we could start selling it locally. I think that would be really fun.


Turns out we'll be able to keep the bees where they are for the rest of the season and then we'll relocate them to a better position next year when we bring them back again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Velo et Vin

The cupboard of a friend's grandmother's house is lined inside the doors with countless wine labels going back to the 1940's, presumably commemorating many an enjoyable evening of food, wine and friends.

Inspired by her cupboard I decided that I'd start a version of this myself but with a twist. Being --as you know-- a fan of bicycles, I thought I'd make a point of collecting wine labels with bicycle imagery. I'm not sure, but it seems that bicycle-themed wine labels have been a bit of a trend in the last few years, but the truth is I have no idea. I think its one of those things where when you start looking for something you start seeing all over the place.

Nancy and I had Cycles Gladiator as one of the wines served at our wedding. As someone said, what could be better then flying naked redheads and bicycles? In fact it was on our honeymoon in Quebec that I acquired the Nicolas Laloux label, while I first saw but did not acquire the Penny Farthing bottle up in Sherbrooke while out for dinner. I wanted to ask the waiter if they could grab it from the recycling but shied away from doing so. Not too long after I found it again.

So, if you come across a bike related wine (or beer for that matter) let me know about it, I'd love to add to my collection. What's out there that I've missed?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wedding Fun

Michael and Joanne got married last weekend at #10 Pond in Calais and it was a wonderful time. Nancy and I each had fun roles to contribute; Nancy called a really great dance that Crowfoot played, and I had the distinct privilege of rowing Joanne to the wedding where er brother Paul was at the shore, ready to escort her to the ceremony. It was spectacular weather and a very moving event.

Among the many acquaintances we made were Emma and Larry from Edinburgh, Scotland. As it turned out, they came and spent a night here in the yurt and the following morning we all rode down to town for breakfast. They are both keen cyclists and typically ride a tandem at home. While here they rented one and covered some miles in central Vermont. It was fun to spend time with interesting, kindred souls.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Yurt Class

This weekend I had the pleasure of co-leading a yurt building class with Bruce Sargent at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. Our mission was to build a lightweight yurt in two days.

With an enthusiastic group of 12 students we met Friday evening for introductions, a slide show from me about our yurt building experience and a film via Bruce that shows how the Mongolians build their yurt with little more then an ax.

Saturday we got to work and were able to build the lattice wall parts by lunchtime. In the afternoon we shaped the rafters, built the ring into which the rafters meet, and the doorway.

Today we built the supports for the ring and assembled the yurt structure. Once it was standing we regrouped and formed the fabric roof and walls. With only minor hiccups we had everything together and standing by 4:30.

Bruce was a pleasure to work with and the students were all really keen on the project. It occurred to me a couple of times that "Hey, this is a bunch of fun, AND I'm getting paid to be here". Bruce has an interest in traditional style yurts whereas my focus is a little more on a contemporary version built for Vermont winters, but no matter what, the elements of a yurt are the same and we successfully covered the process in a jam-packed couple of days.

Something tells me this is going to happen again in the not-so-distant future.