Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's been quite a year for us and we hope next year will be the same. I read the following on a message board and hope to remember it through the coming year.

None of us have enough power to change a world. Each of us has the
power to change our own lives. Walk the talk. Every day. Help
someone who has less than you do. Look to building community within
your apartment building, office, wherever you are right this minute.

We each have only the moment we are in. We lose that if we spend it
in fear and confusion regarding the future. Go hug someone. Turn
the compost pile. Give blood. Commit to one young person to help
them find joy. Sing. Stop worrying about the future, you know you
have no control over that. Concentrate on today.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Java Jive
I love java, sweet and hot
Whoops Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot
Shoot the pot and I'll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

Sunday is coffee roasting day.
Rick has been roasting our coffee for 3 or 4 years and has it down to a science. As you'll see further down, he uses a souped up hot air corn popper as a roaster.
The picture above shows the green beans weighed out in 3 oz portions. These are Nicaraguan beans purchased online from Marlton Coffee.

This is the outdoor kitchen he built to have a good space to roast. It's quite a pungent process and roasting beans smell nothing like those ready to brew.

The beans are stirred almost continuously in the beginning because they are too heavy to be agitated by the hot air.

The beans just starting to turn. This is when you start to smell the roasting-something like burnt toast.

The white flakes seen outside the can is chaff-it flies around before first crack.

Then comes first crack....

and then second crack with the smoke rolling. We like a dark roast, somewhere between Vienna and Light French.

The finished product in the cooling pan. Now it smells good.

See the beautiful oiliness of the beans?
The roasted coffee then needs to sit for 4-12 hours in an open container to vent CO2. Then it's stored in an airtight ceramic canister on the counter-NOT in the fridge or freezer.

We grind the beans right before brewing. We brew by pouring hot water over the coffee in a cone filter (Melitta-type) which sits over a thermal carafe. We've had the same carafe set-up for about 12 years-it makes great coffee.

As I sit here typing I can smell the freshly roasted beans-
Mm-mmm good!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Nothing new with the house this week
. We've had some Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs stuff which needed attending and has caused us to stand back, take some time and evaluate our lives at this point.

And as the guys at HitchItch have said:

Sometimes we need to get knocked down, so when we get up, we have a better understanding of life around us.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

B-r-r-r-r-r-r-it's winter!

Forty-six degrees when we got up this morning. Yes, I know, that's not really cold but it is for us baked desert dwellers.

Rick even lit the stove on Friday night but we did need to open the windows as it quickly got very warm in here. We had never lit the stove before so it was a shakedown. It performs perfectly, has a beautiful flame and will provide more than enough heat for this house.

Yesterday we repaired the damage created by that ferocious storm we had during monsoon season. It didn't take long, probably 5-6 hours of actual plastering. Rick also put in about that much time earlier in the week, digging up the clay (we created our own clay mine with what we had leftover) and sifting. And I enjoy doing it so it's not really a chore. Here is a comparison of the surface before and after:

From this:

Amazing what a little clay, sand, water and fiber can do.

Me and the trusty companion, Gen.

The finished wall...

We're going to try some soy resin on the wall to stabilize it a bit more. Even though this is not a huge job, it's something I wouldn't want to repeat too often.

These pictures also show the patio. It's done with 8x16 concrete pavers placed in a random pattern with 3/4 minus river rock between. The curb is 3.5" poured concrete. About 3/4 of the pavers we got at the salvage yard, the rest from CABCO block company. I plan to stain the pavers and the curb a light brown so they won't be such a glaring gray. So far we like it but it does make it difficult to place chairs as they tend to sink in the gravel.

And one last picture of some of our landscaping as it matures. The hummers love these Orange Bells.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Things I'm Thankful For:
  1. Two great sons and the fact that we still enjoy each other's company.
  2. It's 2007 and OCD is no longer seen as being possessed.
  3. Friends and family who are there when you need them.
  4. Being raised in Southern Ohio.
  5. Moving from Southern Ohio.
  6. The house is finished...(well almost).
Hope your day was a good one.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ahhhhhhhh.... We went camping this past weekend. Even though it was only 20 minutes from our house it was like being in a very different place. When was the last time you had 2 days with nothing you HAD to do? Think about it.

One problem with camping so close to a metropolitan area is that many people there aren't campers, but partiers. And being so close to a large university only adds to that. But all in all, it was worth it. Just whet my appetite for more.

This is the life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

North to A Wall-Raising

We traveled to northern Arizona to raise walls for friends. It was beautiful, we had to wear long pants and flannel in the morning, met some great people and had fantastic food. What more can you ask for?

The site is between Williams AZ and the Canyon (uh, that would be the GRAND Canyon) with a view of the San Francisco Peaks.
View Larger Map

Carole and Mike are much closer to realizing their dream of a strawbale cabin. Still a lot of work to do but for anyone who does the Canyon Rim-to-Rim this should be a walk in the park.

We then spent some time in Williams
and visited the Arboretum in Flagstaff-a great weekend!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

October 20, 1978-who are those kids?
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 06, 2007

There's a nip in the air!

65 degrees this morning, not quite frost on the pumpkin but we'll take it.

photo by raelb

Not much house news lately. Now that it's 97% finished there's just not a lot to report. The landscaping is coming along and I have some pictures to post later. I also need to block off some Saturdays for exterior plaster finish and repair.

Here's a blog post I wanted to share from Trent at The Simple Dollar. There's a lot of wisdom in those few paragraphs.

Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Santa Cruz County Fair

We went to the fair Saturday night. Santa Cruz is our neighboring county and the fairgrounds are located in Sonoita. We have friends who purchased property there several years ago and are now planning their "Escape from New York". They were in Sonoita this week planning and wanted us to meet them at the fair and then have dinner later at the Steak Out. Other friends who live just north of Bisbee were also going to be there. Sonoita, bale-head friends, steak-who could resist?

This is a REAL county fair-livestock, 4-H and food. No midway rides. We wandered around the exhibits and watched the team-roping for awhile. Then it was across the road to the Steak Out for great food and conversation.

It's a beautiful drive to Sonoita, all rolling grassland. If shown a picture of the area most people would never believe it's Arizona. The movie version of "Oklahoma!" was filmed in the area. Of course, I forgot my camera! There was a beautiful moon on the way home.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor's gift.
- Maya Angelou

As I work at getting my financial house in order I read as much as I can. As I noted in the previous post I follow many personal finance blogs and have found that charity is often an item in the spending plan or budget of many authors. The general feeling being that giving can help you prosper in all areas of your life.

Now this ties in with another blog I've followed for quite some time: Hell's Half Acre, a roving, unschooling family, who have spent quite some time in Mexico and even put down some roots there. Due to the recent hurricane season, they've needed to move around a bit, and in so doing have seen, up close and personal, the devastation left in the path of these storms. Now, they could have seen the plight of these people and, as many tend to do, thought "Too bad for them but I have my own problems." Instead MamaHops and the clan decided to do something to help. Through donations they have been able to provide necessities directly to the people. I like this giving at the grassroots level. No administrative costs, no middlemen, no building overhead, just HELP. As she explains, they pay for their own gas and lodging while delivering the staples and provide a full accounting of donations and expenses on the blog.

About now you're probably thinking INTERNET SCAM! Could be but I really don't think so. As I said I've followed this blog for probably 2 years and I found it through MamaHops' parent's blog, Life on the Road. (My other blog addiction is fulltime RVers.) And I'm not advocating that you give, just have a look and see what it means when regular people help regular people just because we all inhabit the same planet.
Photo by permission Mamahops

And some say the blogosphere is just a bunch of self-centered narcissists.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Quest for FIRE

It's been a busy month, looking for a new job. Nothing really wrong with the old one except I decided it wasn't a "good fit", I thought we were supposed to actually show up for work and, well, work. Apparently I was wrong. I had been contemplating taking a per diem position to increase income but when looking at things like my PTO accrual with going to FT at my current place of employment it was a no brainer. So I've changed departments and will be working full time, something I haven't done since Sam was born. It will be a transition.

This is all part of my continuing quest for FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). My original goal had been 45-whoops, missed that one! Now it's 55; I think I can make that one. But I'm adding a fudge factor of 2 years. My early retirement dreams started about 15 years ago when I first read a tattered copy of
Cashing in on the American Dream found in a thrift store. We were already quite frugal in those days as a way to finance my working only per diem in order to stay home with the boys. Little did I know that this book would change my life and was something of a bible for a whole subculture of people moving toward early retirement. Back then it was difficult to find resources, now a Google search reveals over 3 million! Now with this opportunity of working FT, doing something which will be an interesting challenge, and making more money than we've ever before made in our married lives our goals seem closer than ever. While building the house we veered a bit from our spending plan, so now is the time to tighten things up a bit and restate goals.
  1. Retire in 7 years
  2. Pay off house in 7 years.
  3. Revamp spending plan based on new job.
  4. Incur no new debt (right now we have none, other than the house).
  5. Continue to fund 403(b) at 15% pre-tax income.
  6. Fully fund IRAs.
  7. Maintain and increase my Couch Potato Portfolio.
  8. Add future wage increases directly to savings through automatic deposit.
All very doable but we would never have gotten to this point without the help of several books and websites on the subject of frugality, personal finance, and early retirement. My favorites, in no particular order: It seems that many of the books on early retirement are authored by men making 6 figures. The following 2 books took away my "but I don't make enough money" excuse:

And then there are those people who share their successes, failures, mistakes and spreadsheets through their blogs. Below are 2 I like to read regularly: And what you might ask, will we do with all that free time once retired? Travel!! But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What do You Do with Eggplant?

I went to a Farmer's Market (yes, people do grow things other than cacti in Tucson) with my friend Michelle last weekend and as she was choosing eggplant, that was my question. Her answer: Ratatouille. Now, I have bought and been given eggplant in the past and it always ends forgotten in the crisper drawer looking wrinkly and vaguely pornographic. I'm from southern Ohio and I don't think anyone there ate or grew eggplant Of course, we were surrounded by soy beans and I had no idea until I left Ohio what those were used for.
photo courtesy of TinyBanquet

Not that I was totally unaware, just that no one in West Portsmouth, Ohio used soy at that time. We didn't have a "Chinese" restaurant until the mid 70s. And way! When she said ratatouille I wasn't too sure, it sounded French and difficult. But guess what? Not! Definitely French but easy and delicious. I used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated except I didn't do anything in the oven. I browned the vegetables in my cast iron dutch oven and finished the dish up in that. We will definitely have it again. Thanks, Michelle!

The monsoon is bringing out all kinds of critters.
This is a tarantula, somewhat camouflaged by the rocks. After a rain, a drive down a somewhat protected road, such as Saguaro National Park, will allow you to see many, many tarantulas. They get flushed from their burrows. This one happened to be right in front of the back door.

On the project front, the wall is finished. Dave and Chris came back and installed the gates. We had by that time, finished filling with the river rock. With all the rain and humidity we've had, the steel is already beginning to rust and the rocks lost much of the grayish gravel dust they had accumulated. We've received lots of positive feedback from neighbors.

I mentioned the rain we've been getting and on last Saturday we got 1.5 inches in 45 minutes. The annual average rainfall for Tucson is 11 inches, with most of that coming in the summer and then a bit more in the winter (February). I wasn't home but Rick said it came sideways. Living in a house with earthen plaster on the outside means that sideways rain will likely cause some damage. It did. But, we knew that was a likely occurrence. We just didn't know how much or where. The greatest damage was on the south wall and luckily much of it is protected by the garage. Now we know where the most vulnerable areas are and can repair and protect. We had planned to put a ramada on the south side anyway-now we know we need to do it before monsoon season next year.

In these two photos, you can see the before storm/after storm difference. The faint lines on the left of the photo to the right is where the bamboo was. But the rain has washed away the damage we had from oil that was sprayed when a piece of heavy equipment malfunctioned and has left a beautiful surface for keying in the next coat of plaster. Everyone chant: Ommmmmmmm...

If you have a minute, check out the Stonehouse Strawhouse blog, as they finish up their plaster. I remember those days!

Until next time...

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's Monsoon-y!

(monsoony-dew point at 55 or above, muggy, sticky, it's gotta rain weather)

But then the clouds build up, lightning, thunder, wind and the driving rain comes. The temperature drops 20 degrees in 20 minutes-ahhhhhh...

It was a great storm-our neighbors recorded one inch of rain.

Our wall/fence (maybe it should be called a wence or a fall) is almost complete. We're slowly adding rocks from the lot but will have some delivered tomorrow. I can't believe I'm buying rocks! Dave and his crew are working on the gates.

Again, we have stumbled onto wonderful people to work with, and work they did in the 105 degree pre-monsoon heat. Dave's real job is making custom bikes at Bohemian Bicycles.

The mesh will rust (or patina) with time and really complement the other colors and textures of the house.

The beginning of the monsoon also means mesquite beans are ready to harvest. This is a mesquite with some mature pods (the yellow clusters). When dried, the beans can be milled into a flour which is a good source of protein and can assist in regulation of blood sugar. The flour has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. As a toddler, Sam, our oldest son loved to pick them up off the ground and eat the whole bean .

Right now mesquite are laden with pods that need to be harvested before the rains knock them from the trees. They can then be further dried and kept from moisture and bugs until milling time in the fall.

I dried and slightly toasted my beans in the solar oven. What an amazing aroma, reminiscent of baking bread with cinnamon and maple. I can only imagine what a treat these beans must have been for native people.

A five gallon bucket of pods will make approximately 2 lbs of flour so I have so more gathering to do. So many seeds, so little time.

More mesquite information here and here.

Also milling dates for Tucson area can be found here at the Desert Harvesters site..

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What does Independence mean to you?
Freedom from, for, to, of...
Listen to this short talk by William McDonough on
Cradle to Cradle Design
Now that's independence!

With thanks to Ottmar Liebert, I find the most interesting things in his blog.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Front Porch on a Hot Afternoon

This is the beautiful slate we bought and have moved various times. It is now set in sand as our front porch but can be taken out and used as something else if the mood strikes. It's a great spot to watch the birds and butterflies but is just too hot right now. We're looking forward to watching thunderstorms from this vantage point.

Friday, June 29, 2007

It's HOT!

104 today (but it's a dry heat).

This is Gen, the other member of the family trying to get cool. He gets as many parts as possible on the cool concrete.

In our attempt to get cool we trekked up to Mt. Lemmon again to camp for a night. Getting away for even one night is relaxing. I finished one book and started another. It had been so long since I had actually read a book I was worried that I might no longer be able to sustain my concentration for long periods. Glad to know that's not the case.

No Touch Monkey by Ayun Halliday was the book I finished-a very funny account of her travels as a "dirty backpacker". If you can while away hours reading Lonely Planet guides and have traveled in that mode or wish you had, check this book out. (She'd probably rather you bought it) It is, as they say, laugh out loud funny.

I had pictures of our new tile front porch but somehow managed to lose them in my picture files. I'll take more but it's too hot right now-maybe in the morning when it's only 71!