Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So Who is Ensuring Our Banks Now?

Woke up this morning to hear that the FDIC is broke... the news report was only 15 seconds long - isn't this bigger news?

For 50 years now the FDIC has been toted as the big "solution" the US Government put in place to prevent another Great Depression from ever happening again. Pres. Obama also increased the insurance limit to $250K on accounts, to boister public confidence that our $ is safe in our banks.

Now, after 9 months, the FDIC is out of money, and looking for someone to ensure them! Maybe they can get AIG to back them up?

Here's what they said today: "It's cost the FDIC $14 billion to shut down 50 banks in the last three months... This situation is turning out to be much more expensive in terms of disposing of failed banks than I think anybody had anticipated... Some suggest the FDIC borrow money from healthy banks. Black says it's time for the U.S. Treasury to bail out an FDIC that's flat broke. "

Wow - things are getting bad FAST. Faster than anyone could have expected, right? Are we still expecting the worst to be over in this 'recovery'?

Here's the link - (http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/09/29/am-fdic/)

Maybe we should withdraw and keep some cash in the mattress. That is what saved many during the last Great Depression... but then I'd be called an 'alarmist'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Video - An Old Bear Video from Hunting in 2004

Just for a diversion - we were watching old home video from 2004, and came across this video I shot while bear hunting in BC, Canada. It was a great hunt, and this video was unusual.

We were driving to our area, and came across a BIG bear sow and her 3 cubs that had just crossed the road. "why did the bear cross the road?" you ask... "to get to his younger brother" we reply.

One of the cubs had just been hit by a car and was dead. The Momma was nervous and wanted to leave, but one of the cubs couldn't stand to be away from his (or her) sibling, and wanted to stay there with it. It was chowing down on the roadkill.

Hope you like it...

The Great Fall Tradition - Grape Pie!

Last year I made a Grape Pie when we canned Grape Juice, and the kids have been pining for it ever since. It is now officially a fall tradition for the family, that Dad makes a Grape Pie when the juice is made.

Its alot of work, but WELL worth it!

First, simply 'pop' the skins off each grape. Its easy to do by pinching them, but just takes a long time. Save the skins!

Next, bring the 'guts' to a boil for 2 minutes.

This will make straining out the seeds easy and helps the sugar and tapioca to mix in well.

After the boil, strain out the seeds and 'stuff' from the guts.

Now, mix the skins back into the gut gew. It smells AWESOME!

You might consider blending up the skins first - to chop them into very small, fine pieces. I like the larger, original skin size, but it is a good option to consider.

Now we mix in the sugar, Tapioca (or flour will do too...), and Lemon Juice. Mix it all in well, and let it setup. I like to add extra Tapioca to thicken it up nicely.

Oh yeah - the recipe! Here is what you'll need for a single pie:
4.5 Cups of Grapes
2 Cups of Sugar (1 Cup is enough for us usually...)
2 tsp of Lemon Juice
2 tbsp of Tapioca (I usually double this, at least...)

Another tip - leave the pie crust to the women! My wife has a fantastic pie crust... so good in fact that I CAN'T share it on the web... !

I will show you pictures of it, though!

Some other tips - 1 or 1.5 Cups of sugar is MORE THAN ENOUGH for this pie... even though the original recipe called for 2 cups. These grapes are so sweet - 1 Cup was enough and still may set your teeth on edge!

Another tip - add a small layer of CREAM CHEESE to the pie crust before putting the filling in - it is AWESOME!!!

Now, bake until brown.
Are you hungry yet? Well, here's a piece for you! Quick - the kids are coming!
Hurry! Oh no... too late. The kids have come and gone, and now you'll have to wait until next year!
You have to be quick around here!

Boiling Head Bones

With all the hot water leftover from canning grape juice, we decided to FINALLY clean up the deer skull we got back in 2007.

It still has some hair and meat on the skull, and boiling it for 20 minutes or so really helps take it all off and clean it up.

Its a nice mule deer we got out in Wyoming.

Here you can see we simply submerge it and let it stew...

Don't boil skulls with teeth in them - it will loosen the teeth and they will fall out.

I like the "European" style of cutting off horns - through the skull to leave the top of it on with the horns. Hopefully this fall we have some nice examples to show how to do it!

Life Hands Us Grapes - for Grape Juice!

Picking and canning grape juice is definitely one of our favorite fall events. After months of coddling the vines and their precious nuggets - they are ready!

The fruit is ready weeks ahead of last year, and on average, the grapes are larger and sweeter too. The hot sunny weather all summer really paid off. We have at least 35% more grapes this year, too - because of the pruning we did. It worked!

Picking the grapes early in the AM is best - before school and the hornets come out!

Hornets were a real problem this year - you can see some of these clumps were drained by the yellow pests. The hornets were thick.

Here are the grapes from our first vine. The vine is 3 years old now and doing great - very vigorous growth and alot of production!

We only picked 2 of the 6 vines this weekend - and had more grapes than all of last year! Picking is the fun part - canning is alot of work....

...at least for Mom and Dad - the grape robbers started circling early and often!

Our grape juice recipe is fantastic - WAY better than steaming the grapes.

Simply put 1/2 cup sugar and 1.5 cups grapes into clean jars... then fill the jars with boiling water. Thats it!

Oh yeah - water bath the jars for 20 minutes in boiling water so you don't make wine!

Again, the propane double-burner we have paid off in spades - all the heat outside and the water boils fast.

Here is the final product - alot of juice! To drink, simply strain out the grapes from the liquid, and add another quart of water. You can add more sugar if you wish.
This year we got 101 quarts canned from the 2 vines we picked. Last year our 4 vines only produced 82 quarts! Wow.
The juice is best after sitting for 3-4 weeks for the sugar to disolve.

The other vines are still loaded heavy. You can see the leaves are starting to turn yellow - very pretty.
The vines left with fruit are even more loaded than the ones we picked, but the fruit is alittle smaller.
Friends and family have been asking, so we'll let them all come pick the rest.

Remember the hornets we mentioned? Later in the day they were out and at it - here is one in action.
See how deep he dives into the grape! There will be nothing left but skin and seeds when he is done with this one.

Here's a close-up shot. Hopefully there aren't too many of these in the juice!
JK - we picked all the bugs out...

Can't wait to drink it up.

Fall has Begun

The weather is still sunny and clear, but it now has a definite nip to it. It is getting cold at night, and all the kids have colds! Fall is here!

The meat chickens are growing FAST. They get frantic when they run out of feed... we need to modify the feeder to keep them from squeezing in while digging for more food! The biggest ones are over 4lbs now and gaining quickly.

The grape clippings in the windowsill have started to get ready for winter- drying up and dropping leaves. It always looks like they are dead.

Trust us, though - when spring comes around they will light up!

Canning isn't done yet - Mom made a batch of 'Zesty Peach Salsa' this week - it has a real kick to it! Love it!

With the cow gone, we have to find other means to dispose of the garden by-product. Our growing rabbit herd LOVES brocolli...

'keep it coming!' they chant.

here is some video of the meat chickens - they are gorged with food (notice their extended gullets on their chests) and chasing eachother for more tidbits.

The Last of the Cow

Its been a busy week. Nice to finally finish with the cow - the last of the butchering is the most fun... hamburger grinding!

With a big, heavy duty grinder it is fun and straightforward. The one we use is a 1HP.

The other secret to easy grinding is to have the meat already in strips - just feed them in. The first year we had big chunks of meat that we had to cut up at grinding time.

We first do a 'coarse' grind, and then put all the meat back through the 'fine' grind.

Careful, son - no fingers in the hamburger!

Hamburger is where the freezer-bags really save time. Just stuff and seal. The double-zipper bags also are valuable - to make sure they seal and don't pop open in the freezer.

Most of this is ground steak. It is FANTASTIC! We got about 250-300 lbs of burger this year.

The cow is DONE.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is it too early for ROADKILL?

Seems like the kids are CONSTANTLY asking "can we pick up roadkill yet?"... I'm sure everyone has this problem, too.

Out for a nice Saturday evening bike ride, our 10 year old started asking the same old question as we passed a fresh squirrel kill.

Oh well... why not!

It was a decent squirrel - good size and pretty fur. He was excited. At least squirrels are small and easy to skin!

Good practice for him to learn on.

With all the work this week on the Cow, though, the knife work is getting alittle old.

Oh well - the kid was happy.

Here the pelt is off the animal. Now we just strip the tail.

The final pelt is in pretty good shape - still thin because of the warm weather, but only one small bald spot.

Here is the final hide he tacked out and salted. Alot of salt is key with the warm weather - bacteria and rot will cause the fur to slip and come out of the hide.

Speaking of tanning hides - its time to check the rattlesnake skin that has been on the shelf for a month or so...

Helping the Community - Our Son's Eagle Project

This weekend our son performed his Boy Scout Eagle Project. About time! Our requirement was that he had to get his Eagle done before getting his driver's license... and it worked!

His Eagle Project was a community clothing drive for several homeless and Women's shelters in the county and Portland.

We canvassed the area a few nights ago with flyers, and then on Saturday we went out knocking doors.

Most of the boys in the scout troop helped out, and ALOT of the community gave alot of cloths!

Here the boys are sorting out the cloths.

Thanks to everyone for the help and donations! The strength of our nation is the people's generosity and willingness to help others - especially those in need. It was a good lesson for the boys to see how eager to help everyone was.

We collected more than 1300 lbs of clothing! Now, off to the shelters to put the goods to work.

He is glad its done, and feeling good about the success.

Everyone felt good (especially when Pizza showed up) about what they had done - some of the other boys are motivated now to get after their projects, too!

Good job, Josh!

A Diversion into Mischief

Ever notice how there are PILEs of old keyboards around? Every new computer comes with a new keyboard... but noone ever throws the old ones away!

They are always around work... discarded in various sideways... and it gets us thinking - what can we do with them?

How about annoy friends, family, and strangers!

Here is a keyboard we found with a small 8-bit microcontroller. This controller is quite powerful, and we can program it to do our bidding... all for only $2!

This controller can easily be embedded inside the keyboard to run off the keyboard's power and do our will.

You can see how small they are - the larger one has solder pins on it, and the smaller one (same microcontroller) is even more compact.

This is the danger of our society - cheap (or even free) technology that is not only powerful but even dangerous - all in the hands of bored teenagers and persons of questionable intent.

Instead of having this controller record all keystrokes that it then emails to us automatically, we will instead make a prank keyboard. The microcontroller will wait patiently inside the keyboard for a random amount of time, and then, out of the blue, type its own random (and extremely annoying) message to the user!

No one ever suspects the hardware - they always assume they have a virus or other threat.

Opening up the keyboard, you can see the simple circuit board. The cable comes in from the right side. Black wires are ground (and shield), red = power (+5V), green = data, and white = the clock line for the PS/2 Keyboard.

After the software is working, we will simply glue our controller to an empty space on the circuitboard, and wire our pins to connect to the cable pins

The software is simple - we select a random number between 1 and 65535, and tell the chip to sleep for that many seconds. When the chip wakes up, it will simply use the data and clock signals to talk "keyboard talk" to the users computer and send our own silly message. The great thing about the old PS/2 keyboard protocals is that they are simple, and when our chip takes control, the keyboard itself will wait patiently until we are done. The PC thinks it is the keyboard and will receive all of it just as patiently.

Here we are testing the software on a hardware platform. The software is working great!

We are barely using any code resources on the chip. For $2 we can utilize more computing power than NASA used to land a man on the moon - and it runs off a single AA battery if we wanted it to!

Our message can be anything we want it to be. And what do we chose to send? Something silly, of course.

Now, we simply put our 'modified' keyboard back in the pile, and wait for a surplus scrapper to give the keyboard to some public school or 3rd world country to use.

Of course, we are only doing this for an academic exercise and would never inflict this on an innocent... we are just making the point that we should all be careful out there - especially with 'free' hardware!

Kind of fun thinking of other mischief to do... isn't it!

Eating the Profits - Beef... its what we had for Dinner!

A new thing we tried this weekend is canning STEW. It worked (and tastes) FANTASTIC! The trick is to NOT overcook the potatoes and carrots - so they stay firm after canning.

It is sure nice having bottles of this on the shelf - fast food!

While we are talking about meat... the meat chickens are growing FAST! One of the big males (now at 6-7 weeks) put on more than a pound this week. He measured 3lbs and 3oz.

This one has mastered the trick of eating in bed! He seems very content to sit there and eat himself silly.

We had fresh steak that night, and potatoes with onion gravy. Yum! Fresh califlower and carrots from the garden - all topped with the peppery pear salsa.

The mint-pears also turned out great - just the perfect hint of mint.

Good livin'

Butchering the Beef - Another Fall Festival!

The meat has hung for a week now, and so its time to turn the quarters into steaks, roasts, and burger! WARNING: This is another long post, and it will show RAW meat!

It doesn't take much to butcher an animal - just a clean workspace, sharp knives, a cooler (for burger meat), and a bucket for trimmings. The cutting board saves the table, and the metal trays are for shuttleing meat into the house where the women bag it for freezing. We've been using freezer bags for years instead of wrapping paper - much faster and better for the meat, too! Not very expensive when you watch for a sale at Wal-Mart...
So... everything is clean and sharp - lets get going!
The main work is trimming all the meat for hamburger. A little time here saves ALOT of time during grinding. Cut the meat strips thin enough to feed easily into your grinder.
Here you can see stripping the meat from the ribs. Not much wasted here!
The best knives for butchering are sharp fillet knives - they bone the meat easily and quickly.
Here is a flank of the animal - the rib and side meat have been stripped off, and half of the loin removed. The loin will be cut into steaks. Yum!

We like to cut our steaks about 1" thick.
Makes you hungry just looking at it, doesn't it!

Here is a loin strip cut into steaks.

Besides steaks, we also take the nicer, larger pieces of meat off the shoulders as roasts.
We typically get about 40-50 roasts of a Beef... depending on how big we make the roasts. We cut them large enough to feed 6-7 people at a time. They are big roasts!

The ribs on the front of the animal make the best BBQ ribs - here is where the sawz-all comes in handy!
It works best when you cut the meat on both sides first, so the sawz-all is only cutting bone. Fast and easy!
Also, now is a good time to emphasize the importance of CLEANING all the equipment frequently with bleach! Keep it all clean!

And the cleaner and more careful we are, the easier it is to butcher. As we cut up the animal, we carefully inspect and trim off dirty or "old" looking meat from the carcass, to toss into the trimmings bucket. Suiet and fat also get trimmed.
We did well keeping this one clean - look how little trimmings we ended up with. Most of it is fat and suiet. Nice!

The majority of the meat is stripped and goes into hamburger. Ground Chuck is more like it - the burger is FANTASTIC!
This year we have about 400 lbs of burger meat to grind. The jugs are clean and frozen to keep the meat cold in the cooler.

Here are all the roasts and steaks in the freezer. This is ALOT of meat to put in all at once! We monitor and keep tabs on the freezer - sometimes the heavy workload can trip a breaker, so keep an eye on things!
This year we have over 350 lbs of steaks and roasts. 43 roasts total.

And here is whats left of the crazy cow. You can see the bones are picked pretty clean.
This 1200 lbs steer yielded at least 750 lbs of meat - 70% is typical for an animal over 18 months, and this one was a big Angus.
I was worried about him not being fat enough, but he had been eating well while in the wild! Some of the best beef we've had to-date!
The butchering process took about 5.5 hours this year. The kids weren't around to help as much, but we are getting faster at it. This is our 3rd cow, and there have been many deer and elk before these. We figure it saves us about $5-600 in slaughter and cut/wrap fees.
Plus it is fun and always interesting.