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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Alaskan Sourdough (Revisited)

After a couple of adjustments (failures) since my last sourdough post, I think I’ve finally found a reliable and consistent way to make and bake bread in a wood stove. Here’s some things I’ve learned:
1.   It’s not as easy as some internet sites claim. Making a loaf of sourdough bread is not hard, but it’s not easy either. Expect to fail…many times.
2.   Don’t be afraid to experiment. Eventually you’ll find the right amount of ingredients.
3.   The starter is on its own schedule. When “its” ready, that’s when you bake…not the other way around.
4.   Kneading is not required. Just mix the ingredients, cover and let it rise.
5.   Place the dough in the oven and leave it alone! Find something to do and forget about the bread until it’s done. Don’t be tempted to peek. Every time the wood stove is opened, precious heat is lost. Unless another fire is started, you just lessened the chances of a successful loaf.
6.   Baking bread is really frustrating. Make sure the starter is active, the brand of flour is the “good stuff”, keep the proper wood stove temperature (450F), acquire some knowledge of the starter (when to feed, rise times, when to bake), have a patient spouse (you’ll waste a lot of flour).

As I write this post, I’m eating the best bread I have ever tasted. Isn’t that worth the frustration? You bet it is…yummmmm.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We're up and running!!

"Most" of the calibrations are completed. The imaging train is robust and reliable. CCD Inspector shows that collimation is required, but almost no tilt exists in the imaging train. The Edge optics are providing a nice flat field. Seeing has not been very good and trying to lower FWHM has proven to be a challenge. I believe after collimation the numbers will improve. However, that will have to wait as the dome gets very cold at night this time of year. 

I have been imaging Caldwell C30 for a couple of nights. The darks, bias, and flats have been integrated in PixInsight. Stay tuned for a first image along with a description of the target.

I’m having some trouble with getting LUM flats that aren’t distorted. I’m using a light box and the RGB flats are acceptable. The QSI CCD requires flats that are approximately 35700 ADU’s. I’ll need to get this worked out before I can move forward with the processing.

Sorry for all the technical jargon, but every once in a while I’ll throw in a post like this to interest the astrophotographers reading the blog. Believe it or not, there are quite a few of them lurking out there. Your comments are always welcomed!            George

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fun Weekend

We enjoyed having guests stay at our home over the weekend. It was a pleasure to have the house filled with laughter and conversation. I want to thank everyone for coming!

Two boys experienced riding a tandem for the first time. The tandem was quite a spectacle in this village. Tandems are very rare in Japan. I was exhausted after two laps around Tsukahara.

Pizza for the dinner...10 pizzas to be exact. The girls are learning how to roll pizza dough.

Everyone had a chance to toss pizza dough and add toppings to their pizzas.

Playing darts was a big hit with the kids. They put plenty of new holes in the wall!!

Mr. Ito, a successful business owner, enjoyed making crepes. He's really good at it! We also had waffles and real maple syrup.

The kids tried to beat Lucky at playing soccer. The youngest, Daichi, played better than all of the senior high school kids.

Only Lucky was supposed to hitch a ride, but the "city" kids were tired of walking. The adults ended up walking with Kiley around Tsukahara.

Chi-chan helped Erika with preparing breakfast early in the morning. Thank you Chi-chan! 
Note: Erika did the editing of the photos.

The boys ate a lot.

It was a great time! The kids experienced an overnight stay with us and we hope it was memorable. Hopefully, everyone learned something!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Six years to make a loaf of bread?

The title of the blog sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. My hygienist in Washington gave me some sour dough starter as a going away present. Debbie, my hygienist, knew that I wanted to make sour dough bread in Japan. She gave me some of her own starter that was handed down from generation to generation. The starter came from Alaska. Alaska starter is well known to be flavorful and hearty.

I have been taking care of the starter for the past six years. Every few weeks I discard half of the mix and add more flour and water. I then stir the starter and keep it refrigerated.

I was hoping to have an oven by now, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I decided to try baking a loaf in the wood stove. I have discovered that baking in a wood stove is fun, but controlling the temperature is tricky.

Baking sour dough requires an oven that is around 200C (400F). The temperature needs to remain constant for about an hour. That sounds easy enough, but I soon learned with my first loaf that bread turns into charcoal quickly…oops!

The second loaf was better and the flavor and texture were wonderful. I didn't get the rise I was hoping for. No problem! I love eating my rejects!! The starter needs another week of feeding and it should be ready to go. I also need to be more patient with the oven temperature.

I'm looking forward to baking more bread and incorporating the sour dough into pizza crust. Stay tuned...                               George

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Oven Baked Pizza

Erika did some research and discovered a great idea…baking pizza in the wood stove. We decided to give it a try. She ordered the stand and pan on the internet.

 We have been baking bread for almost a year and the bread maker does an excellent job making pizza dough. 

The flour we are using is from Hokkaido. I find that Hokkaido flour rises a lot more than the other brands I have been using. After the dough was finished in the bread maker, Erika let the dough rise. Then she tossed the dough like a pizza chef (She wouldn’t let me take a picture) and added all the toppings. 

I placed the stand in the oven along with the pizza. 

A few minutes later…pizza!! 

I’ll be trying to bake sourdough bread in the near future. Stay tuned.    George

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Let's get on with it!

Today marks our fifth year in Japan. That’s saying a lot considering how many people had doubts that we were making the right decision to move here. Rather than write a long and drawn out summary of my past five years in Japan, I’ve decided to keep it brief. I love it here!

Okay, maybe not that brief, but really it has been the greatest experience of my life…so far. We often have visitors come to Home Sweet Home. Many of them express the same feeling I have, “It’s like living a dream here.” What they don’t realize is all the hard work that has been done to reach this point. The devoted readers of this blog have a pretty good idea of what has been going on behind the scenes. This post is dedicated to you. Thank you for hanging in there. I have not revealed why this blog is called “Home Sweet Home” other than for the obvious reason, Japan is our home. Next year (hopefully), the main reason will become apparent.

In the near future, I will be exploring some of my hobbies that I haven’t had time for because of the remodel. Stained glass and intarsia will be required to give our home that personal touch it needs. Stay tuned for that. I’ll also be exploring astrophotography and sharing some of the images I’ve taken with the observatory. I’m really excited to get Tsukahara Observatory up and running. The weather has been nothing but one typhoon after another. I need three clear nights to finish calibrating the telescope, dome, and mount. The stars aren’t going anywhere, so I can be patient.

I feel that the next five years will be as satisfying (if not more) than the previous years. However, deep inside I know that all good things must come to an end. The dogs probably won’t be around (you never know) and some of my very old friends will not be either. A great wall of sadness is slowly approaching and all I can do is accept the fact. Sorry for the brief moment of depression. Okay…enough of that. Let’s get on with it, shall we?    George

Monday, September 19, 2016

Flowers Are Red

In celebration of our upcoming 5th year anniversary in Japan, our “Home Sweet Home” received a splash of color. Inspired by our friends, Michael and Rose, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to make a color statement in our own home. Rose had painted one of the walls in her home a brilliant red. The color made a lasting impression on me. I thought I would never have the courage to make such a bold statement in our home. Besides, every house that we ever owned was purchased with the intention of reselling it. One of the rules for reselling a house is to keep the colors neutral. However, in the back of my mind, I wanted to have a red wall that would symbolize that I was finally home and I had no intention of selling or leaving.

The late singer/ songwriter, Harry Chapin, expressed my feelings towards colors in a song "Flowers Are Red". If you haven't heard the song, please click the link and have a listen.

The outside of our home does not reflect the colors that are inside. The basic beige, black, and brown are conservative colors. In other words, BORING.

 However, the blue front door gives a hint of what is inside. 

The color palette I chose generally looks like this: Blue in the bedrooms, Green in the living areas, Yellow upstairs and in the closets, and Red in the kitchen and highlight areas. Ideally, I wanted colors that were vibrant and alive.

 KPaint, the brand name we chose for our home, absorbs moisture in the air and helps control mold and mildew. Unfortunately, KPaint colors are somewhat limited. I compromised vibrant color for warm and rich colors. I found out later that Microsoft uses similiar colors in their logo. Well, if it's good enough for them...'s good enough for me. OMG! George has lost his mind! He painted his house all of these wacky colors. Before jumping to any conclusions, please wait until the finished product is revealed. I have a gazillion pieces of trim that need to be installed which will tie all of the colors together. 

So far, the younger generation thinks the colors are really cool. The older generation...well, in Japan people are too polite to say what they really feel. Hah!!
We love it! 

Stay tuned, I promise to have a few more surprises. 

BTW, the floor is brown, beige and white so I'm not completely crazy.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Passing Time Till Autumn

It’s been a very hot and humid summer this year. The good news is that autumn will be here soon. Autumn weather is great for finishing up outside projects. In the meantime, I’m finishing up inside projects. This means painting, paneling, wall papering, and …sleeping.  

Under the bar counter, I installed some paneling to blend with the existing logs. 

After finishing the paneling, it was time for an afternoon nap. 

The utility room required some prep work before painting. Pictures will be posted later. The upper log (dark brown) used to be on the outside of the house before the remodel. I built a box around the log to conceal it. Next, I wallpapered the upper portion of the room. Everything was primed in preparation for paint. The ceiling was stained and clear coated. The lower half of the wall will be tiled. The utility room will take some time to complete. An entire post with pictures will be added later.

 Lucky continued with his nap while I worked in the living room. 

The living room is ready for some color which will be discussed in a future post.               George

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Things have slowed down

 Summer is in full swing in Kyushu. The temperature has been hovering around 30C+ everyday. The 70% humidity makes it darn right hot. 

With the heat, things have slowed down around Home Sweet Home. I’ve finished tiling the living room and entry area. 

I have been experimenting with wallpaper installation. It was not that hard to do. 

I prepared the walls the same way as if I were going to paint it. Actually, I am going to paint it! I learned the hard way about taping the walls in Japan. It looks great until an earthquake occurs. Many of the drywall seams cracked where I had applied tape. None of the walls cracked that had wallpaper. That’s when I decided to wallpaper everything first and paint later.

The wallpaper has an adhesive back. Cut to size, match up the seams, work out the bubbles and wrinkles, and that’s it. DIY wallpaper is economical, easy to install, and it looks great. It will look even better with a coat of paint.

I have been making progress towards an automated observatory. The mount has been calibrated, but more work is needed. I'll be creating another TPoint model to get my polar alignment below 10 arc/sec...sorry for the technical jargon. This stuff takes time and patience. Once I'm happy with the polar alignment, then I can concentrate on pointing. Pointing is good as the image appears on the CCD wherever the scope is pointing, but it's not exactly centered. Once pointing accuracy has improved, I can move on to tracking. I'm way behind schedule (weather gremlins), but things are improving. I did my first autofocus with FocusMax 4 and that went very well. Plate solving with Image Link has been a challenge, but I think I have some of the bugs worked out...I think (wish).