Category Archives: Lifestyle

My productivity system

I do not differentiate tasks for work from tasks home.  It’s all just stuff that needs to get done.  When a new task arrives, I apply the 4Ds rule to it:

  • Do It.  Quick tasks or high priorities.  Just get them out of the way.
  • Delegate.  Is it even my job to do?  Can I get someone else to do it?
  • Defer.  Put it on the calender, schedule it, etc.
  • Delete it.  Some things just don’t need to get done.  If I can’t find a reason to apply one of the first 3 Ds, it has no business on my list.

The Do It List:
Now, I do keep a list of things that I need to do today.  Where do I store this list?  Some fancy AJAX enabled Wiki web system on the InterTubes?  Nope. I have a 3×5 notebook and Index Cards.  I buy them at department stores in multi packs for dirt cheap.  I use the notebook to capture notes that I want to save.  My car’s mileage, the 6 months I spent hasseling my health insurance company to get them to cover some expenses.  When the books are full, I save the books.

The Index cards are for ToDo lists, grocery lists, etc.  ToDo lists get their own card, so do grocery lists.  I go as far as one card per kind of list, grocery, healty food, hardware store.  Oh, yeah, I have a “honey do” list of projects also…  Index cards are easier to hold and when the list is done, into the recycling they go.

I use Lotus Notes (our e-mail system) as my corporate calendar AND I use Google’s Calendar.  Why 2 calendars?  I need to use Lotus Notes, so people at work can see my schedule, but I really like Google’s Calendar, especially for the gadget that I can put on my homepage showing my schedule.  Google Sync for Blackberry will sync my Google Calendar to my Blackberry and my Blackberry syncs to Lotus Notes.

Really, the secret is: the notebook + binder clips + index cards and classifying the data, ToDo or Capture and remembering to PURGE useless items.

Now for the supporting documents.  I’ve used my method for a lot of years.  My calendar used to be a “Month-At-A-Glance” paper type, + the notebook and  I haven’t always used index cards.  Sometimes I just use the pages of the notebook and tear them out, but I’ve always classified my stuff and PURGED for more years than I can remember.

I know this reads like it’s from 10,000 productivity books / websites, but that’s because I’ve been reading a bunch of them.

Leo, at ZenHabits.NET uses a similar system.  You can read about here.  He also talks about David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done).  David is all the rage these days, but I think David puts more work into organizing his work than he needs to.  Leo agrees.

Gardening, plant babies and weed control

2009 is starting off as a great year for the garden. As you can see here, the plant babies are growing strong. We started the plants in the green house, rather than using plant lights, and you can see by comparing these photos, just how well they are doing.

plant babies a week later
plant babies

My two youngest, inspired by the “Little House” books, decided to plant wheat. We had a section of yard where a tent was left out a little too long, killing off the grass. They cleared out the dead grass and had a perfect place to grow wheat.

Rather than purchase wheat seed, they used some un-ground wheat berries we already had. The wheat sprouted and is growing fantastically. The patch is just the right size for us to learn the entire process, from growing to harvesting, without being overwhelmed with work.

I’m sure that fresh ground, home grown wheat will make totally awesome sourdough bread.

a small patch of wheat

Last year, after reading that roto-tilling is a no-no, we started looking for alternative ways to control weeds. In last years garden, we pulled the weeds and used them around the plants as green manure. While this worked, it was quite a bit of effort.

This year, we are trying some different methods. In one area, where we have bindweed, we planted buckwheat. It’s very competitive and should smother out the bindweed.

In other areas, we have straw from the chicken barn, PVO (Peas/Vetch/Oats) and black plastic.  The chicken barn straw has chicken manure in it and works quite well, but the chickens only produce so much.  

PVO is a ground cover mix from Fedco seeds.  It’s planted in the middle section in the photo below.  Later, when we are ready to plant our actual food crop, the PVO will be turned into the soil.  

The last section has black plastic.  The plastic blocks out the light and works well, but it’s not very sustainable.  It also does not allow water to reach the soil and hard to keep in place.  We had high hopes for this method, but it was looking like it would not meet our expectations. However, as you can see by the bottom photo, there were relatively few weeds. Also, turning the spoil was much easier than if we had not used the plastic. There were many worms and bugs, indicating that the soil was still alive.

3 types of weed control
3 types of weed control
Results of black plastic
Results of black plastic

I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year turns out.

Sourdough Bread

Photo by hannes2002, from
Photo by hannes2002, from

My son made the most fabulous loaf of sourdough bread.  So fabulous, that I didn’t get a chance to photograph it. I had to hunt Flickr for this photo.

Sourdough bread is made without yeast, or at least not commercial yeast. Instead, it’s made from a wild yeast starter.

To make the starter, my son used 1 cup flour and 1 cup of water in a 1 quart, wide mouth Mason® jar.  This made 1 and 1/2 cups of starter.  He stirred it and waited…  When the starter started to bubble (about a day later), he added another cup of flour and cup of water and covered it with a washcloth.  Once it was bubbling again (another day) he used it to make bread.

How much to add to the recipe?  That’s the easy part. 1 cup flour and 1 cup of water were used to make 1 and 1/2 cups of starter, so he used 1 and 1/2 cups of starter and counted it as 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of liquid.

The first loaf made from this starter did not work, but the second did. To make the project easier, he choose to make an over night-bread, similar to this “no knead” bread recipe from the NY Times. His actual recipe came from The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it. has some great tips on making your own starter.  They suggest that you keep feeding your starter, taking some out and feeding again for a week or more before using, to build a healthy starter.  Our experience confirms this.  The first loaves he made, did not rise. It wasn’t until after some starter was taken out and it was feed again that it really took off.

A sharp chainsaw in the springtime…

Once the snow melted and the ground dried, it was time to replenish our supply of wood.  I really enjoy cutting wood at this time of the year.  It is nice to get out before the air gets hot and the bugs come out.

A freshly sharpened chainsaw makes cutting wood so much easier.  I can cut twice as much wood with the same amount of gas.

I know that my chainsaw is getting dull if it is sending out dust rather than wood chips, or if I am working too hard. A sharp saw will feed itself.  A dull saw will have to be pushed into the wood.  I always sharpen it before a full day of cutting, or about every 3 to 4 tanks of fuel.

To do the job, I purchased a sharpening kit.  It was less than the price of a new chain and since I’ve used it 8 times already, it has more than paid for it’s self.

The kit included 2 round files for the chain, a flat file for the depth guides, sharpening guide and complete instructions.  Some items not in the kit that make the job easier:  Red Sharpie® marker & leather gloves. Other color markers could be used, but the red is very easy to see. The gloves are NOT OPTIONAL!

I use the Sharpie® to mark one of the cutters, so I know where I started.  

It’s a good idea to sharpen all the cutters about the same number of strokes, otherwise they may not cut to the same depth.

When cutting wood, not only do the cutters become dull, but their corners and edges wear down, curving the cutting edge.  So while sharpening, I’m not only sharpening the blade, but giving it a straight edge.

I find that it helps to work in a well lighted area, so I can see my progress.  A desk lamp or flashlight helps, if you don’t have proper lighting.  I like to inspect each cutter, to make sure it is straight, sharp and undamaged.

Be sure to follow the instructions that were included with your sharpening kit.

For more information, see this great article in Mother Earth News, Keeping your Chainsaw Sharp.

Headphones not working in Linux

I’ve tried to run Linux off and on over the years. It’s a kind of geek merit badge, you aren’t a true geek until you can do all of your work in Linux. During my most current trial, I was having trouble with the sound. It worked until I plugged in my headphones and the headphones worked when the machine booted Windows.

screenshot-volume-control-hda-intel-alsa-mixerNow, the Ubuntu forums have a Comprehensive Sound Problem Solutions Guide and this Google search shows that it’s a fairly common problem.

I tried all the solutions, including bringing up a terminal and typing all kinds of sudo vodo, but to no avail.

The solution was so simple. Double clicking on the speaker icon, the one near the clock brought up a volume control panel. There is a separate volume control for headphones. They were muted by default.

Little House in the Big Woods

katbaro on has this photo of Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s birthplace and says:

“In case you are wondering, its not the real house but a reproduction on the actual land. Since she didn’t write the books until she was in her 60’s I’m sure the original cabin was long gone before she was popular. You can find Ingalls & Wilder graves in the local cemeteries too. “

My wife and daughter have been reading the Little House books.  The books give great insight into how people lived, without running water or electricity.  It’s nice to be reminded that they are not just stories, but real people, who knew how to live.

Water colors as wood stain

For a recent project, I wanted a nice dark wood stain.  Everything I found in the stores contained V.O.C.s.  Convinced it just didn’t have to be so, my wife suggested that I use water color paints, followed by a coat of oil finish.  It works fabulously.  This photo shows oak and pine boards, the pine has been stained with water colors and a shelf that was water colored and oiled.

Cherry mead update

Plastic pail fermenter (actually taller than carboy)
Glass carboy (not to scale, actually smaller than pail)

This weekend, I racked (transferred) the cherry mead from the fermenting bucket into a glass carboy, to get it off the fruit and start clarifying.  I started with a bucket because it has more room top for bubbles while fermenting and it is easier to get all 12 pounds of cherries in and out.


With all brewing projects, it is important that everything be clean and sanitized.  I start by filling the carboy with sanitizer.  After the carboy was sanitized, I transfer the sanitizer to a 5 gallon bucket.  I’ve learned is that you don’t dump out the sanitizer until you are done, even if it means that you need an extra bucket.

Once everything was sanitized, I started with a standard siphon.  This is a great time to collect a sample for tasting, and I had a cup handy. While siphoning, it is possible to lift the racking cane up, off the bottom, allowing clear mead from the middle of the bucket to flow.  It was a very nice pink, nice aroma and tasted great.  It was just on the dry side, with some tartness and some fruit flavor.

When I had all I could siphon (and taste), I put the strainer in the really large metal bowl and began dumping from the bucket into the strainer.  The bowl was filling so I stopped and dumped the liquid into the carboy and then continued until the bucket was empty.

After emptying the really large metal bowl into the carboy, I used the smaller bowl to squeeze the cherries and collect any remaining juice.  This worked really well and netted about 1/2 gallon of liquid.

This process stirs up the mead quite a bit, which is not a good thing.  I didn’t want to stir in oxygen or bacteria, so I worked as gently as I could.  After everything was in the carboy I stopped it up with an airlock and moved it to the basement.  The yeast and sediment that was stirred up is already beginning to settle.

The next part is the hardest, even though it requires the least amount of work from me, waiting until it’s ready to bottle.