Monthly Archives: January 2011

Make your own Soda At Home.

DH and I have been on a DIY kick for a number of years. We grew our own chickens for meat and eggs, grew most of our own vegetables, brewed our own beer and wine. All of these adventures were quite successful, after a fashion. Yes, we had wine turn to vinegar, but then that is still useful, so I consider that successful. We also had a beer keg explode all over our living room rug; that was less wonderful overall, but most of the beer that he has made has been tasty and well received by our family and friends.

When I was young, I remember my parents making homemade soda pop. They would mix the root beer and put it in glass jars and store the jars under their bed. They would not allow us to get anywhere near the rootbeer jars until it was poured into glasses, but I don’t remember many jars actually making it out of the bedroom. I do remember my mother renting a carpet cleaner and vowing never to let my father follow through with his hare-brained schemes again.

Of course, when I decided to make homemade rootbeer, I didn’t tell DH those stories. We bought the Old Fashioned Root Beer Extract in the cute little brown and yellow bottles that I remembered from my youth. We used baker’s yeast, as that was what we had on hand and fermented it just as the directions suggested. Now, the directions do say that there is a minute amount of alcohol in the root beer when you make it that way. However, I don’t consider 5% to be minute. We ended up with alcoholic rootbeer, which was quite popular with the adults at the party we had, but not appreciated by the parents who had small children.

We decided the next time to actually pay for special yeast and went to the local home brew store (LHBS), where we bought champagne yeast. This worked better, with only a small amount of alcohol in the rootbeer and the appropriate amount of fizz. However, I did not drink the rootbeer quickly enough, and after a week, the rootbeer had developed a decided aftertaste which was not pleasant. In fact, you could say it was not unlike the taste of library glue.

The more amusing part of the story is what happens when you forget about your glue flavored rootbeer and leave the closed 2 liter sitting on the counter in the kitchen. One night, several weeks later, DH and I were sitting in the living room watching tv. We heard what sounded like a shot coming from the kitchen. We ran back there to find that the plastic two liter had exploded, spraying rootbeer all over the ceiling, cabinets, countertops and floor. After I got done laughing, I had to promise DH that we would not do that again and would find a better way.

However, by this time I had discovered that you could buy all sorts of wonderful syrups for soda at your LHBS and I didn’t want to go back to buying soda from the store. If your LHBS doesn’t do soda, or isn’t exactly “local”, you can buy wonderful syrups online at Northern Brewer or Prairie Moon Beverages . I was dying to try homemade Sprecher rootbeer, as that is one of my very favorite rootbeers and it is “spendy.” Unfortunately, as I discovered, you can’t make Sprecher rootbeer with the low-tech yeast carbonation system. Apparently, there is some sort of preservative in the syrup which prevents the yeast from multiplying and doing their job.

My dreams of good and cheap homemade soda were put on the back burner for a time. I thought about breaking out the champagne yeast now and again, but I still hadn’t gotten the library paste taste out of my taste buds. This weekend, however, DH and I were walking through the outlet mall, killing time. We wandered into the kitchen outlet store, wondering if they had some sort of new and exciting gadget when our eyes lit upon the SodaStream device. What a neat little device! Carbonates your water and you can make your own soda at will! No need for that nasty yeast aftertaste, no worries about exploding bottles, no unruly pile of plastic bottles to return or recycle.

We had of course heard of homebrewers who would carbonate with CO2 tanks. They would carbonate both beer and soda, but I was turned off by the huge CO2 canisters and the need for regulators. Sure, it might be cheaper than the SodaStream device, but it can’t beat the SodaStream for ease, functionality and countertop beauty. Check out the Penguin if you don’t believe me.

We settled on the cheapest of the devices and bought some of their propietary syrups. They were pretty good, so now I am just awaiting the opportunity at home to make some delicious homemade Sprecher rootbeer!

You don’t have to put on your red light…

First off, this is not a story about ladies of the night, but a story about my own personal harem.
(Cue the song by the Police: Roxanne…you don’t have to put on the red light; those days are over you don’t have to sell your body to the night)
Yes, I have chickens. 14 laying hens to be precise. I really enjoy having laying hens, they give me true “farm fresh eggs.” If you are able, I would strongly encourage you to keep hens. Many cities are allowing chickens now, assuming that your neighbors approve. Madison Wisconsin is one local town that allows hens. I hear that even New York City allows people to keep hens, although I have no real knowledge to back this assertion.

This am I went out to feed my ladies their warm gruel. When it’s -20F, like it has been here the last few days, they really appreciate a warm breakfast. My husband grumbled as I went outside with my steaming pot, “those birds eat better than me!” to which I flippantly replied, “yes well they give me a nice little treat almost every day.”

Unfortunately, when I got out to the barn, I found that one of my little ladies had frozen to death over night. The red heat lamp which hangs in their coop had burnt out overnight, and all the chickens were huddled together for warmth in a corner of the coop. The poor Buff Orpington which was against the outside wall was frozen. I gave the warm gruel to the rest of the hens, who were quite grateful, and removed the poor little Buff.

This calls for a trip to Blain’s Farm and Fleet! My favorite place! When we moved out to Rural Wisconsin, I was a bit concerned about the lack of stores in the immediate vicinity. When we lived in Milwaukee, one of the largest malls in the state was just down the road. Not that we went there very often, mind you, but it was reassuring to have it near by. When we moved here, there was a mall, which had one tiny little department store and the Farm and Fleet. The department store shall remain nameless, as it is pitiful, but the Farm and Fleet! My husband said, well if you can’t get it at Farm and Fleet, you don’t need it! Right you are!

I found the heat lamps there, and there were two varieties in 250Watts: the clear glass and the red glass. The clear glass bulb cost $3.99 but the red glass bulb cost $7! Goodness! Considering that I have to replace these bulbs about once a month in winter, it makes sense to find out why I wanted to have the red glass bulb. My father used to tell me when I was a kid that the red glass allowed the chickens to rest during the winter, since it would provide heat, but not induce the chickens to lay eggs when it wasn’t natural for them. Of course I believed him then, but my Buffs and Araucanas still produce eggs, even though I have been faithfully giving them red light all winter. Does it really make a difference if you provide red light or white light to your chickens? I needed to find out!

The guy at the farm store told me to buy a red heat light for the chicks. He said the white lamps caused the chicks to see spots on the other chicks which they would peck trying to see if it was food. The red lamps apparently don’t do that. Sounds plausible, as the baby chicks seem to peck at anything that looks like it might be a bug. Why a white light would cause the other chicks to have spots, I can’t explain.

I’ve had other people tell me that the white light on 24/7, as we have it on in the dead of winter, causes the chickens to go a little batty, but that the red light doesn’t cause the same problems. It’s possible.

I’d really like to have some sound scientific evidence. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

Update: I have bought Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry and have found some more information here about lighting and chickens. I highly encourage you to consider this book if you have interest in raising your own chickens. It has practically everything you need in order to have your own flock of healthy birds.

There are three things to consider with light: wavelength, intensity and duration. Wavelength is the color. Chickens see better at 580 nm, which is the red end of visible light. intensity varies depending on the age of the bird and the ultimate purpose. I won’t bore you with details of this. Duration is more important, or better understood, especially as how it relates to egg production.

During the first 4 days, assuming you’ve bought day old chicks, you’ll want to leave on the light for 22 hours. This is to allow the babies to learn where to find the heat, water and food. After that, you want to be careful about day length. If you artificially give the birds light and expose young immature females to increasing day length, then they will mature sexually at too young an age, giving you smaller and fewer eggs. If you expose mature laying hens to a decreasing day length, they will produce fewer eggs. One might argue that the laying hens need that break from egg production in the winter, but we’ll save that for another time. The book has a good explanation of how to light your coop if your interested in that sort of thing.

The light stimulates the pituitary gland through the eye, which in turn stimulates the ovary through hormones to produce eggs. If you want eggs in winter (or any time the day length is less than 15 to 16 hours) you’ll need to provide supplemental light. This light can be a compact fluorescent or incandescent, up to 60w.

My attempts at renewable heating bought a new house this last year. It’s a moderate sized ranch, built in the 50’s. It’s not well insulated, but the previous owners have tried to improve it. The windows leak, but not much. It’s better when we cover the windows with plastic.

The most annoying thing to me however, is the oil furnace. The thought of heating with hydrocarbons hurts me in my little Eco-heart. In an ideal world, we’d have passive solar heating with a geothermal backup. Some day, when we have the funds, we’ll improve the passive solar heating.

Since that’s a long way off, heating with a more renewable resource is our best bet. We bought a wood-burning fireplace insert, manufactured by Hearthstone, called the Clydesdale. We have two fireplaces in the house, but were afraid to use them because they are so inefficient. Some places even said that we would require MORE fuel to heat the house.

Well, we’ve reached the end of another long winter! Hooray! It was a long and cold winter indeed for us in the midwest. I don’t have the specifics of degree days at this time, but as a quick comparison, last year in March, it got to 80 degrees near the end of the month. Now that is unusual for Wisconsin. This year it snowed on April 15th. Rather fitting, I thought. The point is that this heating season has been colder than last season, based on my nonscientific memory. Last year, without the woodburning fireplace, we went through 4 tanks of oil to heat the house. This year, using the fireplace insert almost every night that we were in town, and not changing the thermostat settings, we only used 2 tanks of oil. That means at the current cost of oil, the Clysdale will pay for itself in 2.5 years. A good investment and a step towards energy self sufficiency.

IPad he’ll!

I bought an iPad last month in a moment of weakness. Many years ago I had a Mac, so when my lap top died, I thought, well an iPad might be a good idea. It didn’t hurt that work would pay for 500 dollars of it.

I use my laptop at home mostly for searching the Internet, some games, and some word processing. I haven’t used an apple product in years and after using the iPad, it will be many more years before I buy another one.

Why do I dislike the iPad? Let me count the ways.

First and foremost, there is the auto-incorrect. Please check out the website It is the most amusing 30 minutes you will ever spend if you, like me, hate this nifty little feature. Yes, I am aware that you can turn it off.

Secondly, the keypad jumps while web pages are loading. If you are impatient, like me, you start typing in your email password before the webpage is completely loaded. Now on my old laptop, which was windows based, I could do that horrendously impatient thing. I could get my email address and password entered before the site was loaded, therefore saving myself that crucial 2 seconds. However, with this freaking iPad, the keyboard jumps up, then hides multiple times,thus driving me mad! I am learning patience.

Thirdly. Where is the flash player!?$&@? Not being a tech geek, I was blissfully unaware of Steve Jobs’ irrational and stubborn insistence that no flash player could be loaded on his precious machines. I have a weakness for a game called chicktionary on If you are a tech geek, you will recognize ClubBing as a Microsoft web site. Microsoft and Apple do not play well together. You can not play chicktionary or any other flash based videos or games on the iPad.

Fourthly. I enjoy certain websites, such as, among others. I’ll write about these in the future. Suffice to say in the meantime that I need to upload pictures to the Internet to sites other than Facebook. If you have an iPad, you can upload all sorts of pictures to Facebook, but you can’t upload pictures onto other sites. Why? I don’t know! If you are a tech geek or know a tech geek who can explain this to me, I would appreciate it!

Next number! Say you have a series of numbers you want to cut and paste somewhere. If you had a keyboard, you could just hit control-x and control-v. Done. But with the stinking iPad, you have to hover over the numbers, try and get the dots to line up perfectly, adjust their position and then hope the little black box which says cut/copy/paste shows up. Oh wait! I forgot! If you’re dealing with a set of numbers with no other characters, you DON’T get the cut copy box. No, you get the “save to contacts” box only. It’s just too bad for you if it’s not a phone number, that’s your only option.
I am certain there are many more reasons why I don’t like the iPad, but this is a good start for now.

Tomorrow I am going to go look at windows based laptops. If anyone is interested in a (slightly) used iPad, let me know!

Please Bill Gates, forgive me! I’m coming back to you!

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