Monday, October 31, 2022

Our personal fireworks show

We are blessed to have two oak trees (and a honey locust) in our yard. This means – drum roll, please – fall color!

Living in the Inland Northwest means living with conifers. These are beautiful and stately trees, but they're, well, evergreen. The exception is the tamaracks (larches), which turn yellow and drop their needles in the fall.

But when I was a child, I lived in western New York State and never forgot the fall fireworks that happened every year from the deciduous trees.

So imagine my joy in having two gorgeous oaks in our yard. Even better, these oaks go through absolutely rapturous colors every fall, giving us our own personal fireworks display.

Interestingly, I documented the colors last year, and the leaves fell much earlier. They were pretty much done by the end of October. I think it had something to do with the heat and drought we had that first summer we lived in our current home.

This year, the leaves are still on the trees and still sporting glorious color. Moreover, leaves on trees all over the region are still peaking. We had such a wet spring that I'm sure the fall foliage is reflecting that.

Anyway, I've been watching the colors turn. By late September – weeks behind last year's schedule – just one branch had turned.

By October 10, more branches were sporting color.

What is it about colored leaves that just rivets me?

The honey locust doesn't make flamboyant colors like the oaks, but it turns yellow and adds to the overall cheer of the yard.

In fact, it's the fallen locust leaves that carpet the path with such picturesque beauty.

But it's the oaks that steal the show. Kapow! Boom! Bang! Look at those fireworks.

During the evening "golden hour" a couple days ago, I took photos of one of the oak trees from the south side, where the colors are brighter (since it faces the sun).

The colors were so glorious, they almost looked fake.

Even Mr. Darcy seems to enjoy the show.

Soon enough I'll be raking up the dropped leaves and adding them to the compost pile. And then soon enough after that, we'll have snow. I'll enjoy the fireworks display while I can.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Am I the only one who thinks this is misguided?

Some time ago, I came across an article entitled "Former Military Bunkers Are Home for Hundreds of Survival-Minded People."

It seems a development group called Vivos (which develops survival properties in various places around the world) has purchased a huge property containing 575 former military bunkers near the Black Hills of South Dakota. "The 7,000-acre development sits on the former Black Hills Army Base, built in 1942 by the Army Corps of Engineers to store bombs and other munitions during World War II," says the article. "The Army retired the base in 1967 and sold the property and all 575 bunkers to the city of Edgemont, which, in turn, sold it to local cattle ranchers."

The massive concrete structures are being turned into bunkers for survivalists.

There's certainly something to be said for these structures. The location is geographically isolated and seismically stable. The bunkers themselves are spacious (2,200 square feet) and the thick concrete walls are constructed to withstand both internal and external blasts, such as that of a nuclear bomb. Each unit can be custom outfitted in luxury, with the primary disadvantage being the lack of natural light.

According to the website, "Each bunker provides enough floor area, with attic potential, to comfortably accommodate 10 to 24 people and their needed supplies, for a year or more, of autonomous shelterization without needing to emerge outside."

These bunkers are made to last. "Each bunker includes a massive existing concrete and steel blast door, that seals to stop any water, air or gas permeation; air and exhaust ventilation shafts, and a secondary emergency exit. ... This elliptical shape mitigates a surface blast wave, as well as radioactive fallout due to the thickness of the overburden of soil and concrete."

I got curious about this development and did a little research. I've come to the conclusion the whole project is, well, stupid. Well, maybe not stupid so much as misguided.

Why? Because as I see it, literally the only advantages of these bunkers is their ability to withstand the types of explosions and blasts for which they were constructed. But as prepper shelters, they have less appeal – unless, literally, your only concern about the future is nuclear warfare (which, to be fair, is a legitimate concern considering the situation in Europe).

There are, in my opinion, a number of strikes against these bunkers:

• Customers pay a lot, but not for ownership. According to the article, "It costs $45,000 to purchase a 99-year lease for each bunker and about $150,000 to $200,000 to convert it to living quarters." The website clarifies, "There is a one-time upfront payment of $45,000, plus an ongoing annual ground rent of $1,091 per bunker. Bunkers are provided in their as-is condition, without interior improvements, equipment or furnishings, ready for your outfitting." That's a lot of money for an unfinished rental.

• Alternately, customers can pay $15,000 to secure a space in a shared bunker. These are "completely furnished, outfitted, stocked with 1 year of food and supplies, dishware, linens, fuel, water, and bedding, with a deluxe private bunk with keyed access. Perfect for singles, couples and small families to share with others."

• The facilities are still dependent on outside power sources (fuels for generators, etc.). According to the FAQs, "The entire bunker network is off grid, without power supply from the local utilities. Each bunker needs to install a diesel generator with 55-gallon drum fuel storage tanks for the primary ongoing power requirements." With the unfolding energy crisis on both the national and international stage, this strikes me as an enormous vulnerability.

• There is no private water source. According to the FAQs, "Vivos distributes water from our 4,200-foot-deep aquifer well up to a 250,000+/- gallon underground cistern located on a hill within the complex. Water is then gravity fed to each bunker. The initial water line hookup to each bunker is just $3,000. Thereafter, you may freely use as much water as you like, for inside shelterization purposes, at no extra charge, provided you are not wasting the water." However presumably it requires fuel to lift the water from a depth of 4,200 feet. What happens when the fuel runs out?

• Property "per bunker" is limited to 30 feet from the structure.  This limits the amount of space to build any structures such as barns or other livestock facilities – much less have grazing room for animals. Some customers have planted gardens on top of their bunkers, which is probably the very best location for a garden; but additional self-sufficiency options (such as room to house and graze cattle) are limited.

• The USDA Hardiness Zone is 4B, same as most of Alaska. This means gardening is challenging. The hardy people who already live in this region have years of experience in dealing with the climate and have a thorough understanding of what plants will grow and what won't. How long will it take newcomers to the area to acquire that same knowledge? More than one growing season, I suspect.

• Essentially these bunkers are like self-imposed prison cells. Someone could literally trap you inside by bulldozing a huge load of dirt or rocks in front of the bunker doors. Alternately, you could be forced out by Bad Guys cutting your water and/or power lines.

In short, it strikes me that these bunkers appeal mostly to the "Gee this is cool!" school of thinking, rather than the hard reality of what it takes to survive a bleep-hit-the-fan scenario ... unless, of course, the "bleep" is a nuclear holocaust.

And even then, these bunkers have a limited attraction (to me, at least) in the event of a nuclear war. Sure, they'll do a splendid job of protecting you for as long as you stay within their thick concrete walls. But what then?

Let's put it this way: If outside conditions are so dire that you must literally hole up for an entire year, then things will be positively apocalyptic when you finally emerge from your concrete cocoon. Let's say nuclear Armageddon happens and you've survived, thanks to the remarkable bunkers. A year has passed, and you emerge, blinking in the bleary sunshine, and realize you have no fuel for generators or water pumps. Presumably by then your food will be eaten up as well. What's your next step? Ordering something from Amazon?

If people who can afford these bunkers simply want the novelty of living inside a concrete shell, then what the heck, go for it. But they must recognize they are, in many ways, just as susceptible to societal disruptions of goods and services (notably fuel to power generators and well pumps) as anyone else.

Or am I the misguided one here? Am I missing something? Are these bunkers the best thing since sliced bread? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Our semi-annual epic journey

Last week, Older Daughter and I made our semi-annual epic journey to our old wood distributor in Hayden (Idaho) to pick up lumber for the woodcraft business. We pulled along the little 4x8 trailer since we anticipated a large purchase.

Older Daughter has been saving her money for just such a purchase. It's her business now, and she needed wood. She set herself a generous budget.

What a beautiful selection they had! She spent two hours deciding, considering, and otherwise choosing her inventory with utmost professionalism. She weighed price against availability, considered what woods she already had, and gauged the boards for cracks and knots that might impact the final product. (I'm so proud, sniff.)

Naturally, the day we chose for the trip was rainy. In fact, it rained from start to finish. In anticipation of this, we brought two stout tarps and a bunch of rope. Before loading the wood in the trailer, I laid out first some rope, then the tarps, and then finally the wood.

The end result was a big wooden burrito.

The "shorts" were loaded into the back of the car.

It made for a ponderous load on the drive back, but the car was a trouper and chugged along beautifully. I'm guessing all that wood was somewhere in the range of 1,000+ pounds, so it was no light load.

Older Daughter now has enough wood to last her through multiple production runs. With luck we won't have to get more until late next spring or early next summer.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Welcome, Betty

When we first moved into our new (to us) home nearly two years ago, the one frustrating thing was all the modern appliances we had to deal with. I'm pretty sure the entire suite of appliances that came with the house (washer, dryer, dishwasher, range, refrigerator) were a "Costco special," since they all have the same modern steel appearance.

But just because they looked shiny and modern didn't mean they worked better than the mishmash of basic appliances we'd left behind at our old place. The refrigerator had a water and ice dispenser that promptly started leaking, so we disconnected it. The dishwasher (which I've never used) also leaked (as we recently discovered), so we removed it. The range works fine, but since it has an electronic ignition, it means only the stove top (not the oven) can be used during a power outage.

But the washing machine – a massive and modern Maytag – was just plain annoying. As I wrote about 18 months ago, "The washing machine works great ... until it doesn't. Loads of laundry can take up to two hours (!!) to wash. And I've never seen a washer that gives so many error messages. Whenever there's an error, it holds the laundry hostage (because the door locks), which then requires a frantic scrambling through the user's manual (which usually reveals nothing), then a massive pushing and shoving to get the washer far enough away from the wall to unplug it (to reset it), and then we have to jiggle the controls again until the washer deigns to unlock itself (usually by running it on spin cycle or something). I did a load of whites last week that, I kid you not, took a total of about twelve hours to get finished."

The usual heavy-duty cold cycle I used on this machine took 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete, and frankly I was never convinced it did a good job cleaning the clothes. Why? Because it uses so little water that sometimes I would remove socks or other garments that were bone dry. Grrr.

As for the dryer – also a massive and modern Maytag – I've literally never used it (I use clothes racks to dry our laundry). Now that Older Daughter is living with us, she uses it once a week.

We've come to an uneasy truce with the washing machine, but we planned to replace it (and the dryer) at the earliest opportunity. In fact, so many of you dear readers recommended a Speed Queen as a replacement washing machine that we've kept an eye out ever since. Nothing came up.

Until Monday. 

Don keeps casual tabs on the local Facebook buy-and-sell marketplace. Late on Monday evening, he saw an ad for someone selling a Speed Queen washer/dryer set for the incredible price of $175 (for both!). The sellers had upgraded to a stackable unit to save space, and didn't need the stand-alones any longer.

Don instantly messaged them to express our interest. We heard back right away and made arrangements to go look at them on Tuesday, when we had to be in town for errands anyway. When we saw them, we were thrilled – they were in perfect condition. We paid immediately and promised to come back the next day with the trailer to pick them up. The sellers mentioned how fortunate we were to jump on them when we did, since he'd had four other inquiries after we'd paid for them.

We picked up the appliances the following day during a rainstorm, so we tarped and strapped them in the trailer. Then we drove home, chortling with glee. Speed Queen!

Using the hand truck, we pulled the appliances onto the back porch.

We moved the ponderous and very heavy Maytags out of the washroom, leaving behind the usual debris. I took the opportunity to sweep and mop.

We'll clean the Maytags up, then sell them to someone who prefers massive and modern appliances rather than simple ones. Hey, it takes all kinds.

We moved the (much less heavy) Speed Queen appliances indoors and hooked them up. Look at the controls on the washer! Nice and simple!

Immediately I did a celebratory load of laundry.

The entire wash cycle (heavy-duty cold) took a dazzling thirty minutes (compared to nearly two hours for the Maytag), and the clothes emerged squeaky clean.

"I like you," Don said with a big grin, patting the washing machine with affection. "I'm going to name you ... Betty."

Betty it is. Welcome, Betty.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Planting garlic

When we first moved into our current home, it was late December of 2020. I had brought with me some garlic from our last home as a sentimental tribute. I'd cultivated that garlic for ten years, and it always yielded amazing harvests. My goal was to plant the garlic in our new place and carry on the line.

Alas, I had no proper place to plant it, and it was already getting late in the season anyway. Finally, in January 2021, I settled on planting it in a water tank left behind by the previous owners. The tank was filled with dirt and topped with bark ... or so I thought.

The yields the following year were disappointing, but I gamely replanted in the tank in hopes of simply propagating the garlic until I had proper garden beds. This year, the "harvest" was so bad I knew I couldn't continue that process.

Turns out the water tank wasn't filled with dirt and topped with bark. Rather, it was all bark. How did I not notice this? No wonder the garlic couldn't grow. Either way, my original garlic was ruined. Time to order some fresh stock.

After a bit of searching – a surprising number of places were sold out of the German porcelain-neck variety I prefer – I found a place called Mad River Garlic Growers in Ohio. I placed an order for one pound of German white hardneck garlic. This arrived on Oct 19. One pound turned out to be eight large heads, a generous amount.

I wasted no time getting it planted. However – of course – I didn't make the mistake of replanting it in the water tank. Instead, I distributed it among the strawberries, since those are the only two raised beds we have so far. I did some hasty research in advance to make sure garlic and strawberries aren't incompatible. (They're not best buddies, doncha know, but they'll do okay together).

I separated and peeled the cloves...

...then divided them into two piles, since I have two beds.

Each pile was then divided in half again, and I ranged the cloves along the bottom of each side of each strawberry bed, to space them while planting.

It took no time to actually plant them, spacing the cloves roughly evenly throughout the beds.

I also harvested the last of the season's strawberries. The weather has turned, and I seriously doubt any remaining green strawberries will ripen.

Let's hope this new garlic proves to be as incredibly abundant as the garlic in our last garden.