Making wine

When we were in Italy last summer we stayed at a little resort at the south end of Cinque Terre. At the top of the hill was a little bar that specialized in anchovies. But they had lots of other seafood and drinks. Above our table was this trellis with grape vines hanging from it.  They also had a private white wine that we drank that was really good. We couldn’t buy it to send home but we enjoyed it while we were there.


This inspired me to plant a grape vine that would climb our deck. And then I thought why not plant a few more? So I bought some posts and planted 6 more between the two retaining walls on the SW side of our lot. As I got thinking about it, it would take 3 or 4 years before I had any grapes. And when I did, I didn’t want to practice wine making with my first harvest. So I started researching wine making.

Not to labor you with details, but I found that 1 gallon batches were probably a good place to start considering the size of our kitchen. I also found that you could make wine from 100% Welchs Grape juice. So I bought some jugs and accessories and started making wine.

It’s been about 8 months now and I’ve made quite a bit of wine. I tried a number of batches of Welchs using about every flavor I could find. The concord tastes like table grapes, the red and white can make a pretty good tasting wine, especially if you let them go 90 days. The cherry and peach are okay but you can tell that the juice is grape based which detracts from it. This is often called inmate wine. I tend to agree that it can taste pretty cheap.

I have also tried using frozen fruit. And while I don’t have a completed batch yet, the ones that I have in progress seem to be coming around real well. From what I understand they work well because they are picked and packed when the fruit is pretty ripe and then frozen so you get pretty good results.

I have also tried two fresh produce wines. Rhubarb is coming along but I’m not sure about the taste yet.

I also tried plums from the store but they were just not good. They weren’t as ripe as they should have been. I don’t know if I let them set on the counter to ripen some more if that would have helped or not. I generally think that I just need to wait for local in season fruit if I’m going to try fresh. I ended up dumping the plum wine. It just smelled skanky.

So my summary is I think the white and red Welchs can make an okay wine. And I’m pretty pleased with the frozen fruit. Otherwise, I’m just going to wait for summer and try to get some in season fresh fruit to work with.

I’ve learned lots and am glad that I didn’t wait to try it out for the first time with my own grapes in 3 years.





Article I, A case for a Convention of the States

It was in 1980 that I started to become aware of politics. I had just joined the Navy and was seeing the transition from the Carter to the Reagan administration. Of course Reagan was for a strong military and that made being in the Navy an exciting place to be. I believe that was the beginning of my conservative philosophy. Strong military and limited government became my mantra.

Over the next 30 some years I would hear politicians talk about term limits for career politicians and balanced budget amendments. They promised that , if elected, they would put forward the bills and propose amendments to get our government back on course. Of course, as you know none of this was done. And now I understand that the problem is so much bigger than just entrenched career politicians and an unbalanced budget.

At the core of the issue is a government that has allowed the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution to become perverted. They have ruled to political preference (the Supreme Court) or delegated their legislative powers (Congress) or ruled as a king (the president) in ways that fit their political aspirations or commitments to their financial contributors and political action groups. They do this at the detriment of the foundational principles of the Constitution. Of limited government. Of government of the people and by the people. The principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we have often complained but seldom seen correction.

Over the course of our nations history there have been states that have understood the overreach of our Federal government and have chose to combat it in a couple of different ways.

The Southern States tried seceding from the union in an event that became known as the Civil War. Of course there has been much discussion about whether the primary issue was states rights or slavery. Each side often differs on what the war was about but it often falls to the victors to declare what is written in the history books. Since then there have been several states that have threatened to succeed. I believe that it is well understood that there is a violent end to this path and it is not a very effective solution to curbing federal overreach.

Some say that nullification is the answer. States should simply site the Constitution and specifically the 10th amendment to declare laws passed down from the federal government as unconstitutional and not follow them. This to me is just nonsense. Let’s say you have a highway bill that is tied to what the state considers unconstitutional requirements in order to receive the funding that is being offered. So the state nullifies the law and does not comply. But there are 49 other states that are more than happy to comply and thus receive the funding. So the citizens of the first state are now upset because their state did not receive the funding and there really has been little effect on the federal government as far as limiting their power. Now consider the tens of thousands of laws and regulations that are coming from the federal government and it can quickly be understood that this method of controlling the federal government is rather ineffective.

The other option is for the state legislatures to submit amendments to the Constitution for ratification. This is the only solution of the three that is part of the Constitution itself. It was added to the constitution by the founders specifically to reign in an out of control federal government. The founders understood that there would be a time when the government would not be able to manage themselves and the states would need a mechanism to bring them back in control. This is laid out for us in Article V of the Constitution.

Over the years there have been many applications submitted for these amendments but because there has not been a cooperation of two thirds of the states on any one topic they have gone no where. Today however there is progress being made. An organization called the Convention of States Project is organizing the states to call a convention specifically for limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. This project is gaining momentum and needs our support.

Currently seven states have submitted their application for a convention and 30 other states have active organizations working to get the application passed in their legislatures. This is a legitimate path to reigning in the out of control federal government.

I believe I have laid out a reasonable explanation of the different paths we can take in putting our government back on the right path. Electing the right people to be our representatives is important but I believe it is no longer effective. Secession is an exit strategy not a means to put the government right. Nullification is simply ineffective.

A Convention of States is the only reasonable solution to our problem. It is the only solution that is part of the Constitution itself. It is the only solution that was given to us by the founding fathers specifically for the problem that we are facing.

It is now our responsibility as citizens to do our part and exercise the power that is given to us as citizens and states to reign in the out of control federal government. Please call and write your state representatives and tell them that they need to support an application for a convention of the states to reign in the federal government.

Steve Jacobsen


First Summer project completed

The sidewalk project continues… Here I have it all excavated. I set stakes along both sides with a string to mark the level for the top of the bricks. I dug it out to 8″ below that line. 4″ for the base, 2″ for the sand and 2″ for the brick. I used the inside curve as my guide. I had a drop of about 10″ and I tried to measure the drop at each stake but found in the end it was just as easy to set it by sight.

Then I set the line on the other side using a 2×4 with 8″ stakes nailed to the end as a guide. I used a level and made the other side 1/2 a bubble lower than the inside curve. Using the stakes as my guide worked okay but knowing what I know now. I should have set used 1×2’s as a form. I could have set them 6″ wider than what the sidewalk was going to be and filled it with sand. I think I would have ended up with a more uniform slope. I also should have done the sand all at once rather than working in sections.

As you can see, I used a herringbone pattern to lay the bricks and set soldiers along the edge. The bricks in the middle were red/black mix and the soldiers were all red. I’m really pleased with the way that turned out. Coming around the first turn I had quite a time keeping the lines straight on my herringbone pattern. After the 3rd try, I set some lines to keep me going the right direction.

The project is all done now. Not too bad for a first time effort. Next time I think I’ll practice on the neighbors walk and then do mine after I have the kinks worked out.

Sidewalk project continues

The project continues. Once I broke the sidewalk by trying to lift it, I decided that I would go ahead and tear it out. I rented a jack hammer and invited the son-in-law over. He was a great help! He told me that he was excited to run the jack hammer but by the time he was half way done he thought it had had is fill.

As we tore it out we found the rebar that was laid to reinforce the side walk. Three big bars and hog wire. That was all expected. I also determined that the upper level of the walk way was poured in such a way that it had it’s own foundation at the step but also was held down by the next level. This was one of the reasons I could not lift it with the jacks.

The other thing I found was that there were three 3/4″ pipes that were used in pouring the steps. These came out of the steps and were used as another set of re-bar for the walk coming in perpendicular. That was the second reason I couldn’t lift it with the jacks. I suspect that we would have never lifted it with mudjacking either.

I also found a large cavity under the porch where it had settled. Interestingly enough the porch and steps had not moved even though the steps were hanging in the air. But the walk next to it had. So I took some of the busted up cement and shoved it under the steps and stomped it in with my feet. I still have some tamping to do and probably some more filling but it will be much better.

So we got it all busted up and made 5 trips to the ditch. I picked up everything that was baseball size or larger. Then I dug out the first 8 or so feet of the sidewalk to the depth that I would need for the paver base, sand and bricks. Then I took the smaller broken cement and used it as my first layer of paver base in that section.

Now, I’m in the lower part of the walk digging it out to the depth that I need for the base. I’ve used my tiller to break up the soil. It has a lot of clay in it so it’s a little tough to dig. I have scooped up 6 wheel barrows of dirt and piled it up to use as needed around the sidewalk when I’m done and then I’ll find places around the yard to fill in with the rest when I’m done.

Yesterday I went to Menards and ordered the bricks, base and sand. They delivered it today so now I’m working on getting the depth of the walkway right and lay out the stakes for making sure I get all of the depths/heights right. I’ll put that in the next post.


A Long Overdue Project

 Our front sidewalk has been sunken ever since we bought this house. I have often thought about how I might get it lifted. There’s a process called mud jacking but I’ve haven’t wanted to have someone else do this project for me.

I’ve also been looking at lifting it with jacks. I read an article where a guy dug around the slabs and used large C-clamps to attach the slab to a large 4×4 post and car jacks to lift it up.

I thought I would try that but wanted to test the feasibility of it first. So tonight I dug out two spots around the walk and pushed my floor jack under it. It’s a 2 1/2 ton jack so I thought it would lift it easily. No such luck. I put a lot of pressure under it in two places and it only came up 1/2 an inch. Then I put some real pressure under one side and went to the other side with a large wrecking bar.

I only managed to bust a corner off of one of the slabs. Definitely not what I wanted to do. But it made me consider that there was something binding on these slabs causing them not to lift like they should and that they may not be strong enough to lift. As well as the fact that I already broke it so there wasn’t much sense in going further.

So now I’m left with having to bust up the concrete and pour a new walk. I’m not sure if I’m going to do it or if I’ll hire it out. I’m pretty cheap but I’m getting to old for this heavy stuff.


Playing Bass

My instrument of choice for many years has been the acoustic guitar. I’m not all that good at it but I’ve led youth group worship and played in a worship team years ago. In recent years, I pretty much gave it up due to the health issues I was having. But since I went through the pain program and have been on the road of recovery for 6 months. I picked it up again.
I had been working on “Via Dolorosa” for a last supper re-enactment at another local church and decided that I would do a practice run at my church one Sunday. Afterwards the worship leader asked why I wasn’t playing with them on Sunday, so I told her I would. After I considered it for a while I decided that they already had an acoustic guitar player but what they really needed was a bass.
I had never played one before but my son-in-law had one that he let me borrow and the next week I was playing my first songs with the praise team.
Since starting with them I have found that I love playing the bass. So far, I’m just playing the roots or inversions of the chords and kind of feeling my way around. I did have trouble with the music that the team uses is written in one key but played capo’d. Which is easy for the guitar and the electric piano. For me however, I would have to translate on the fly and that was a bit much for me.
So I found all of the songs that they do in the chordpro format and downloaded a piece of software called Songbook. I can use it on my laptop or Ipad and it allows me to quickly transpose the music when they want to change keys.
I play along on a lot of the songs with youtube versions of the songs and I pick out the bass parts if I to figure out what they do. At some point I hope to learn scales (which I never did on the acoustic) and work on being able to improvise a bit. Later on I’ll update you on how I’m progressing.

Our Kitchen Project

Denise and I are getting ready to do a kitchen makeover. We have agreed on a plan to paint our custom wood cabinets red (that took some talking to get me to agree to that), install a new granite countertop with new sink, replace the linoleum with tile and outfit with new hardware on the cabinets.

But to start this project we realized that the window above the sink needed to go. It’s one of those that has the cranks and two panes that swing out from the middle. It has always been drafty and just looks old. So this weekend we decided that we would replace it first to get us started on the rest of the project.

I had taken some measurements before I started and thought the window was 36″ x 36″. A pretty standard size that we could find at the big box stores. So I started taking it out. Of course this type of window is all self contained. the frame and panes all have to come out. Once I was able to get the trim off the inside and outside, the window slid out of the rough opening. I found that the hole that it left was more like 41″ X 43″.

So I thought, Okay, a 40″ X 40″ window shouldn’t be that hard to find. Not so much. We went to the two nearest stores and were fruitless in our endeavor. I ended up ordering the window that will be here in 3 weeks. So after buying some plywood and covering the hole, I was off to start the next project; Man Cave II.

In a few weeks, I’ll tell you how this one turned out and I should have some updates on our kitchen project.


Man Cave II

I really enjoy my basement man cave. We have a nice sized TV with a home theater system and a couple of places for Denise and I to sit as we’re watching our ‘shows’. Denise has an area where she does her crafts and sewing and I have a corner for my guitars and amp. All in all a nice place to spend the evenings.

But now the weather is getting nicer and I’ve found myself on the deck more and more. While I’m out there I like to listen to music so I have dragged an old set of computer speakers and my phone out there or the little boom box from the garage. Neither of these provide an audio experience so I started looking for a reasonably priced improvement on my outdoor auditory enjoyment.

What I found was a system based on the  300 Watt Pyle Receiver and these 500 watt Pyle speakers. I had searched all over the Internet to find some good reviews, examples from other people etc. I was really surprised at the lack of detail that I could find. Many of the options were composed of fake rocks and toad stools for the speakers. But I really couldn’t any recommendations for receivers or amplifiers.

I had considered that I’d just get a stereo amplifier and hook up a radio, cell phone, mp3 player as needed. But I wanted to have something that was more permanent and could be used more easily by others. So that’s how I ended up with an AM/FM receiver with options for an Ipod, USB port and typical amplifier auxiliary connection.

So I ordered from Amazon and was expecting the receiver on Saturday and the speakers on the following Tuesday. I was surprised to have them show up on Saturday. I had committed myself to replacing a kitchen window but after removing it and finding that I was going to have to get a custom window ordered, I had some time to work on Man Cave II.

The installation was pretty straight forward. I mounted the speakers high on each side of the deck, ran the speaker wires across the top of our pergola, attaching them to the wood with little wire clips. Then I drilled a hole through the cement block to run them into the garage where I put the receiver. Which as a side note, has A/B speakers so I can listen to some tunes while I change the oil in the truck! Those will have to be a later purchase though. 

Another option to this receiver is a separate output and control for a subwoofer. I think this would help the bass quite a bit but for what I’m using it for I don’t think I’ll go to that expense. My searches on the Internet didn’t reveal a similarly priced subwoofer so I’ll have to look into that some more if I decide to get one later.

I also bought a set of cable management trays to hide the speaker wires where they come down the side of the house. I still need to get that installed. The other thing I found was that the receiver has a remote control but since it is infrared I can’t use it from the deck. So I’ll be looking for an extender to get that hooked up.

So the big question is what do I think of my new system? I like it very well. The receiver a top of the line unit but it works very well for what I’m using it for. The speakers, I like even better. Between the two the provide very good sound. If I run the bass all the way to one side it sounds crappy but if I keep it moderately in the middle or just adjust it slightly to the left or right it provides all the adjustment I need. I can turn the speakers toward the back yard and crank it up and it sounds very good as I’m back in the garden.

So for less than $170 dollars I am overall very pleased with the equipment, the way it sounds and the options. I accept that I can’t crank the bass and volume but I don’t think I like that much bass anyway. 


Fire Fighter Training – Great Lakes 1980

There were several groups of us that would go through an exercise where a team of 4 or 5 guys would go into a cement block building to fight a fire. Inside was a raised steel grate floor with burning fuel below and jets of burning fuel being sprayed in various directions. We were given an Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (OBA) to use as we went in. These devises would provide up to 60 minutes of air but the timer was set to 45 minutes to provide a buffer.

The interesting thing was that all of the groups would use the same OBA’s . So the first team had no worries. The last team would wonder if the tank was going to run out on them while they were fighting the fire.

So there I was, in the last group, lined up with our backs against the exterior wall waiting to go into the building with flames coming out the door and my timer was going off. About the same time the instructor told us to get going, so in we went. I was the third man on the fire hose and we went in sweeping the fire and beating it back. We were well inside the building when I ran out of air. I removed the mask and tapped the should of the guy ahead of me so I could move up in position.

I remembered that they had said you could get some air off the hose if you were the nossleman. So I moved up until I was running the hose. Sweeping the hose back and forth I started feeling pretty good, until I heard some laughing. I could see the instructors in the background and figured it was them laughing but I really didn’t know why until I looked back on my hose. No one was there. My whole team had left me. Evidently, their OBA’s had ran out of air as well and they left me to fight the fire myself.

Once the trainers knew the gig was up they shut down the fire and let me out of there. It actually felt pretty good to know I didn’t freak out in there.

I had just been thinking tonight that I was glad that boot camp had prepared me for some extraordinary events that I might experience in the Navy career. Luckily I never had to fight a fire on a ship but those kind of experiences give you some perspective on what to get excited about and what you are able to handle when you prepare for it.