Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Winter Weather

                It’s cold.

                Every few years, weather patterns shift and cold air rushes into the valley, reminding us that we are pretty darn far north. The sky clears so that we can see just how low the sun is in the sky; at this time of year, it barely clears my neighbor’s two story house.  Without the blanket of cloud cover, all of our heat rushes away.

                The light is beautiful. One morning, I walked to work in early rose-gold sun that danced off of the ponderosa pines which line the baseball field and lit up the dusting of snow on the hills around town. Evergreens and snow at dawn—it doesn’t get much better. The next morning, snow swirled around our houses, covering everything, including the Christmas lights, with a dusting of white frost. When the sun came out in the afternoon, it was blinding.

                We’ve had to do some serious snugging down against the cold. I covered all of the garden beds with plastic sheeting and wrapped a spare piece around the wheelbarrow of strawberry plants. In the greenhouse, we pulled all of the plants close together on the ground and covered them with remay cloth. I wrapped the beehive in two layers of frost protection blanketing, leaving just a small opening for them to come in and out.  We also emptied the larder, which vents to the outside, into the basement so that the onions and squashes would not freeze.  Finally, we plugged the fireplace again, although we will take it out for Twelfth Night on Friday.

                When it is this cold (below 20 degrees), the chickens are not happy outside overnight. After dark, we pull on boots and wool hats and march out to the coop. Mark reaches in and captures one chicken, I pick up the other, and we settle their wings close to their bodies under our arms. Mark heads for the house first. I stand outside for another moment, holding the warm and sleepy chicken close, and glance up to the sky. High about, Orion carves his way across the sky and a quarter moon lights the yard. Once inside, we settle them on a log perch, over newspaper, and shut off the lights. They will spend the night down there, protected from the deep cold, until morning, when I release them into the back yard to cluck and shake their wings free once more. It is good to know that we are all settled into our little homestead on these bitter nights.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Year Ends Goals

Every year, we set goals on Solstice evening—and then evaluate what we learned and accomplished this year.  Some years are more impressive than others. This was a good year; I had achievable, practical goals, and I wrote them in the front of my notebook so that I remembered what they were through the year.  What a concept!

Goal One: Common Good Knitting. AKA working my way through the backlog of yarn in the closet. I figured that if I knit twelve projects from the big green bag, it would shrink significantly. It did. I made two sweater vests, which took up the bulk of the yarn, as well as hats, mittens, socks, and several potholders.  I also sorted out about ten skeins that I was never going to use and sent them onto other homes. The bag is not empty, but it is much smaller.

Goal Two: Track the solar panels and the garden weekly. I also accomplished this one. Mark created a little spreadsheet to track production and usage every week and we posted it as well. I had no idea, really, what an impact a cloudy day can have on your year’s production! However, we should just break even in March, when the solar cycle begins again. We are now neutral in electrical use.  The garden records are a little more spotty because I lost track of the week of the year several times.  It was still better than last year.

Goal Three:  No big projects.  We were very successful here. No projects beyond rebuilding three garden beds in March happened this year. This means we still do not have solid benches for the picnic table.

Goal Four: Greens this winter. I am getting there. There’s a pizza’s worth of arugula and a few kale leaves out there right now, along with some solid old collards which we will eat with Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day. There are also a couple of small cabbages which show some serious frost damage.  There’s still a lot of work to do on this goal, like getting the January King cabbages planted earlier so that they have some heft going into the fall. Next year.

Next year’s goals?
1.       Work life balance—I’ve got a busy year ahead.
2.       Cabbage at Candlemas, 2018.
3.       Deal with: couch, woodstove, benches, windows, and greenhouse.
4.       Continue working with the season extenders, like my beautiful hoops.
And, yes, they are written in the front of my notebook.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Yule preperations

                The world called a snow day for us today, although, really, in the Willamette Valley it’s more like an ice and sleet day. Not much accumulation, but really bad roads. Not what you want a bunch of sixteen year olds driving on at seven thirty in the morning. When school is cancelled, Mark stays home, too. He was not raised in the lands of ice and snow and cannot drive in it.  We are taking the day to prepare for Yule, that pause in our lives that happens between the beginning of Winter Break and Twelfth Night.

                First, we cleaned the house and washed mountains of laundry, some of which went through the driers down the road at the Laundromat. Clean sheets. We even got the blankets aired before the sleet started.  I vacuumed dust bunnies from the cozy room while Mark purged the fridge. We set up the platform for the tree, brought down the boxes, and arranged the mantelpiece. I fixed the outdoor lights.  Mark chopped up some wood. We even bought the tree in full daylight, carried it home, and put it in the basement to melt and dry. Mark packed and shipped the presents to have to travel to Tennessee. Cards are in the mail. We need to make a cake, some cookies, and some stolen, but those are later, more pleasing, projects. The work is done.

                Tomorrow, when school is done, Yule begins. We will take long walks in the woods every day. Being outside, even in our dim northern light, makes a huge difference in our health and mood. We will have fires at night, English muffins for tea, and hearty soups for dinner. We will sleep until the sun comes up around eight, buried in piles of blankets, with Lucy stretched out beside me, head on my pillow. We will read, write, stare into space. Mark will work probability problems, his latest obsession. The world will pause. Nothing is growing—there is no light. Deep down in the dark, though, roots dig deep. In space, the planet shifts and turns towards the sun. When Yule is over, the light will be coming back.

Pumpkin Scones
2c of flour
1 c oats
1 T of sugar
1 T BP
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t ginger

6 T butter

3/4 c mashed pumpkin
2  T milk
1 egg

Mix dry. Crumble butter in. Add wet. Knead lightly. Roll into a circle and cut into wedges. Bake in 400 degree oven until done. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Winter Days

Cold rain falls, almost sleet, almost snow. Bare branches trace the sky.  The clouds have settled over the hills; the valley is enclosed in winter.  Across the street, in early morning, one house glows from one string of Christmas bulbs along the roofline. A bicyclist hunches against the damp and pedals quickly down the street.  Inside, beans reach for the light against the glass panes, spider plants tumble off of the light shelf, strings of white fairy lights brighten the seats near the chilly windows.  The Christmas cactus blooms. Art covers the walls. Students make tea, clutch the warm mugs in their hands.  We gather together to read, to write, to think, to share ideas.

It’s been a busy week. I’ve been to three meetings related to the coming council season, done some CEA work, sent a few emails about the political scene. At the same time, every time I fall behind on sleep, the cold that settled in my sinuses a month ago sends my head spinning;  I spent half of the freezing rain day on the couch, knitting my final stash- reducing project for the year, trying to steady my inner ears.  This time of year is all about looking both ways, trying to embrace the change of season, the moving into the dark times, while not just hiding out for two months.

On Saturday, the sun came out for the morning. I rose at six thirty to roll out the Lucia Day buns while Mark made quarts of cocoa. We gathered oranges, a sheet of still warm rolls, and our heavy sweater to head out to Bald Hill. Light sparkled on the twigs and the grass as we walked towards the open framed barn. For once, the candle remained lit, a tiny light against the dawn. We hug mugs of cocoa, munch Lucia Day buns, watch the dog chase a stick, talk quietly. After an hour, we wander towards the woods, climb the hills, bask in the sun at the top. We can see the entire valley below. So lovely. A few people peel oranges, bright in the morning sun. The sun will come back again.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Twenty One Days of Action

                On Halloween, I pulled a Tarot card to see what the next six weeks would bring: The World, reversed. It is usually a joyous card and, even reversed, the worst translation of it is “stagnation.”  A few days later, the election hit, Mark’s cold lodged in my sinuses, and I stagnated.  The weather did not help; it has been a remarkably dark and wet autumn. All I wanted to do was go to work (it is easier, as a teacher, to power through work rather than dealing with the repercussions), come home, nap, and sit by a fire with a cat. Stagnate.

                About a week ago, I woke up and looked around. It was still raining, but I went for a walk. I can’t stagnate forever, I told myself. I have council trainings to attend, people to talk with, cookies to bake, backyards to clean up….and an election to react to. The next day, Jill Stein announced a recount effort.  I know it will not change the outcome, but action makes us all feel better. To paraphrase T.H. White in The Once and Future King the best thing to do when you are feeling sad is to learn something—or do something. There are about 21 days to the Solstice, when the world tips towards the light once more, I thought. I will take some small political action every day for 21 days.

                What counts? Clearly, any day I have council training or meeting I have met the requirement. Small donations count. Thank you letters count (we love our national Representative, Peter Defazio), emails of concern about political appointments count. Even a serious conversation with someone I do not usually talk politics with could count. What does not count? Signing an on-line petition. Ranting on social media. Talking with Mark.  Anything I would do any day.

                Action so far:
·         Donated to the recount
·         Emailed the president about Standing Rock—and the governor of North Dakota
·         Council training on legal issues
·         Thank you note to Defazio
·         CEA work at school
·         Pre- council meeting
·         Email Oregon senators about the proposed Secretary of Education

I will say, it is still rainy and cold outside. The fire and a cat still look tempting. I am still massaging my forehead to move the stagnated fluids along. But I am moving. Taking small actions every day has made me feel better about the future. And then, there is Corvallis—where women will be the majority on city council for the first time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Candles in Dark Times

                When I was little, the best part of the Christmas decorations, even better than the tree, were the window candles. My mother placed one in every window (with the cords adjusted to fit to every outlet) and one of my jobs was to wander the house as the darkness came down, turning them on. I loved looking out through the frosty glass at the cold dark yard right before I tightened the yellow-orange bulb and cast a warm glow on the window and throughout the room. I paused after each, thinking about light and dark, before moving on. At night, the golden light was comforting; I believed my mother when she told me that Santa Claus was checking on the neatness of my bedroom and spent hours huddled under the blankets so he could not see me.  The candles helped.

                When I left home, I bought my own window candles. I changed out the bulbs to a more sophisticated white, but still wandered through my small apartments, turning the candles on in December. The lights were especially beautiful in the houses that lacked good heat because of the frost on the window panes.  I loved driving through small New England towns where all of the houses which lined the commons were window lit with candles. Square, proud Federal houses with white lights against the snow is a haunting image. Home, they said. We have been home for hundreds of years. You are safe here.  Years later, I lived with a Jewish roommate. We celebrated Hanukkah and lit his menorah every evening, then placed it in the front window, where it’s light shone into the darkness. Candle light in the window grew in significance in my mind. 

The Pacific Northwest does not use the window candles and our tiny house only has to front windows, one of which will hold the tree when Yule begins.  But, as nights grow darker, I am drawn to lighting a candle in the evening, before I begin dinner. Like washing my hands, it creates a line between times of day. When the candle is lit, it is time to draw inward, chop an onion, turn off the news, and make dinner, creating, every night, home. Sometimes I leave the candle on the table, but I often move it to the bench by the front window, where the light reaches out to our dark and busy street.

                I have read that the window candles signified a Catholic house in Ireland, a signal to the priests forced underground that a family was seeking his blessing, and that the Irish brought the idea to the United States. That would explain the geographic distribution of the decoration.  I have also read that they were a beacon for travelers on Christmas Eve, that there was a meal and warm fire within. And I like that idea. As we move into dark times, small gestures, like a window candle, become more significant. Ours says that our house is a safe place—that if you are in trouble, you can knock on the door.  I like to imagine streets, like the old Commons on New England, where there are candles in every window.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Technology Shabbat

I first wrote this several years ago, but I think it is worth remembering. Many people are struggling with social media and the election process-- and we do have choices here.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about technology Shabbat—the idea that we would all be better off if we just turned off our electronic devises for a day every week. At the time, it was a theoretical posting. Our computer resided in the cold basement and took ten minutes to warm up and access the Internet. Turning on technology took a serious effort. It was not hard to avoid for several days, especially if the weather was warm and the book compelling.

            This changed last winter. Two things happened. One, we had two huge snowstorms. Unlike New England, all of the Pacific Northwest shuts down for days on end when there is snow and ice. It’s rare. We don’t have snowplows. It’s cheaper just to close up shop and stay home. Stuck in the house, I turned to technology for entertainment. The other thing that changed was our technology. We acquired a mobile electronic device that allowed us access to the internet in seconds while sitting on the couch and produced a cheerful little chirp when someone contacted you. I was hooked. I spent hours looking at people’s photos of snow—people who lived a mile away, so it was, really, the same snow. We compared depths. We considered whether or not there would be school the next day. We liked each other’s snow. After two days, the cheery little chirp created a pavlovian response. I HAD to check Facebook, or email, to see what was happening. And what was happening was more photos of snow.

            When the snow melted and school was open once again, I had a newfound appreciation for my students' obsession with their phones. I understood, for the first time, why they could not just ignore that vibration during class. Something had changed in their mental wiring; I swear the cheery chirp stimulated the pleasure center of our brains. I also realized that I used my work email as a Prime Stalling Technique, checking for something interesting rather than engaging in grading papers. Even the chirp at work perked me up, although I knew it was often just the daily announcements.  I had to turn off the computer at the end of the day in order to work my way through the stack of papers on my desk. Something was not right here.

            So, last spring, I began the Technology Shabbat in earnest. Every Friday afternoon, when I come home, I check email, Facebook, my blog, and NOAA weather. By sundown, I turn off the device and place it on my desk in the cozy room, out of sight, out of mind.  And it stays off, often until Sunday afternoon.  I quickly came to like the peace of mind turning it off brought to me. And then I realized that—no offence to anyone—was not missing anything huge. Photos of cute puppies and good dinners, organizing emails, library reminders could all wait until the next day for my attention.  A day off is a good thing.

            So, if you want to contact us on Saturday, you’ll need to use old fashioned technology to do so. We still have our landline. Give us a call. If no one answers, come on over. We’re probably reading in the back yard.