Friday, January 29, 2021

Urban Farm, Homestead, or Farmstead? Wonderful Tiny Farm (WTF)

We have such a great opportunity to start our little farm from scratch and build it out just how we want - but what do we want? I'm really thinking a lot about garden design, irrigation, greenhouses, soil health (no till and cover crops) and lastly - how can I leverage technology to assist and scale those solutions within my community. I work for Microsoft and I'm particularly interested in how I leverage Azure and AI technologies to my advantage? 

There's plenty of corporations pledged to reduce carbon footprint and they are doing an amazing job. I see it everyday at Microsoft and also the customers I work with. I can't help think about the little guy? What about you and me? How can each one of us contribute in our own way? What can we do to reduce our carbon footprint?

wonderful tiny farm, urban farm, homestead, farmstead

Let's define some terms shall we? 

Homestead: The term used to reference a free government land program but today it means a home that is self sufficient.

Urban Farm: Farm or garden within a city or urban setting.

Farmstead: Usually refers to a farm (making a living at growing food) and it's buildings.

I mean .... any one of these terms could refer to our plans for our little part of the world and you will probably see or hear me do that.

We finally agreed on a name for our farm - Wonderful Tiny Farm or WTF. Pretty catchy yea?

So what does a farm of the future look like that you can do at a small scale? We have 10 acres on our little homestead which is more than your average land size. Can you make money doing this? What is the business model that works? Do you sell meat like chickens, goats, cows, etc? Can I eat an animal I grew? What about eggs, market garden vegetables and microgreens?

This is our next adventure and new journey with my awesome husband of 25 years, Burke - to answer these questions. Then to share with you our lessons learned and findings. Burke and I inevitably will disagree on most everything but at the end of the day, we made this decision to do this together AND with a little effort, we'll come out on top. 

We've talked about YouTube and video recording our journeys and what that might look like, so we will take a stab at that as well - so look forward to more content.

I'm looking forward to this content, excited about the journey, expecting a lot of disagreements from my husband, failing and hopefully - ultimately succeeding.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

DIY kids animal face masks

Every year for Christmas my Mom comes to visit and together we make something for the kids in our family - both Burke's and mine. This year was no different, although there was a lot different about this year - but we still wanted to do something for the kids. I traveled down and picked Mom who lives in Dayton and we got busy. 

I started thinking about Christmas masks - maybe a Santa face or reindeer, but settled on fun animal masks that the kids could continue to wear after Christmas.

Walking around outside as winter is nearing in Michigan, I noticed how nice my mask actually helped to keep my face warm, so I prototyped a couple different mask fabric and settled on a fleece front with a cotton back. Nice winter - heading to the car from the house type of mask, not good for all day use.

I looked at what some other's were doing with regards to mask construction and really settled on a 3D Mask because it gave me a flat service to put the embroidered animal face on it.

I'm not going to focus on the pattern and construction, you can find all that here with Red Poppy - How to sew a 3D mask. She did an amazing job and the instructions and pattern were easy to follow.

This post will focus on the embroidery. I've included the embroidery files here for you to download - free of choice. I have a Brother embroidery machine - so the file format is .pes.

The masks consist of a 5x7 rectangle that fit my stabilizer, cotton cut with the pattern, 12" pieces of elastic, couple of adjustable beads, cotton lining for the carbon and a nose piece.

I got the hoop and file loaded ready to go. The first stitching outline has occurred.

Now time to add the tongue. I cut the tongue out of pink felt in this shape and folded it with an overlap. Hopefully you see it - it's pretty much a pleat.

I pinned it here but that was only for the demonstration.

You could pin it to the outline stitch, but I just used a little dab of tape to hold it in place.

While the second outline is stitched.

Because I put the tape back further, you can't see it.

I took out the hoop and cut it down to the stitching line.

And then ran the finishing satin stitches.

This one is the cute little doggy face.

I positioned the pattern over the doggy face and cut. I found it helpful to fold the pattern in half so I could better position it over the embroidery.

Then I constructed the mask according to Red Poppy.

I think they turned out pretty cute and I hope the kids really enjoy wearing them - keeping their little faces warm and safe.

As promised here are the pes files that I created.

Piggie face

Dog face (freckles)

Kitty face (whiskers)

Snowman face

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Would I recommend Josh Doyle Homes?

 So the real question is at the end of the day, would I recommend Josh Doyle Homes out of WhiteHead, Ohio? Not in a million years. And here's why:

Let's back up a moment and talk about the whole process from beginning to end. We made an appointment with sales and by the time we walked through the gorgeous model home, we were hooked. We had built a home before and the builder had completed it within 5 months - it was such a smooth process, so what could go wrong? Our existing home search had turned up empty with every single home having something not quite right about it.

Building again it was! The time was June, 2019 and the big question I had was, "will we be in our new home for our 25th wedding anniversary?" Absolutely! was the resounding answer - you'll be in WAY before then! Although ..... the verbal agreement was spoken, nothing was in writing. My very first mistake.

The sales process went smoothly and our estimator Jill worked closely with us to estimate everything our hearts desired and we thought we had a pretty decent budget with lots of fluff to be comfortable. Afterwards was the production meeting with our field coordinator, Scott - where we went through the prints and identified where the utilities would go and house print items. Nothing eventful.

I had already written our how our timeline had been devastated with our driveway permit and the removal of some strategic black walnut trees. It was January 13, 2020 before one hole was dug.

It was a unusually warm winter and things were cruising away until March when everything again screeched to a halt. COVID-19 had hit. They had just moved in the drywall supplies when everything stopped.

Our lease had run out on our apartment and we found ourselves moving into a temporary location closer to our new home. We spent the days driving to the house and wiring it for home network and coax cables.

After the ban for construction was lifted, progress was slow - very slow. There were times the house sat for over a week without anyone doing anything to it. Subcontractors were in no hurry to return to work, especially when they were driving from Ohio.

Our rental agreement had expired and the house still wasn't done. The landlord had given us an additional month but he had found a full year rental and was anxious to have her move in. We were homeless. At least we had options, we move into a hotel for almost 2 weeks while we wanted for our house to finally be done.

Time was ticking away and no one seemed to care that we were living day to day in an hotel which was not cheap. The guys building our barn said someone would show up for a couple hours and then leave. The amount of waste was staggering and time was passing by. In the meantime, installations were done incorrectly and had to be redone. Questions were left unanswered and cries for help went unnoticed.

And then the bills started coming in. 1 week before move in suddenly we were short almost $10,000. I had budgeted everything down to pennies and now .... our budget was shot, our timeline was past, and we were on the verge of being homeless. And no one cared.

We lived some time in our cars outside our beautiful home until we finally got our certificate of occupancy. No one seemed to know the entire process of anything - it was fill out an application, wait. Have someone review it and tell you that something else is needed, and wait. Do that, and find another issue. I really thought I would lose my mind.

We finally moved in officially, August 19, 2020, after 14 months with 2 temporary moves, a lot of frustration and a pandemic.

So, would I recommend Josh Doyle Homes? Nope - not in a million years. I could never get them to disclose any costs to me. I made multiple attempts to reconcile costs with the account coordinator to figure out exactly how I would land at closing. My expectations were clear and I tried very hard to get costs defined. I had costs to cover for the outside of the home and we had a very tight budget. There was ALOT of sleepless worried nights. They were constantly blowing smoke up my ass and they really didn't care one way or another.  

I managed everything outside the home. The septic, gas, electric, driveway, and water. Not only did I do that - but I managed most issues with selections. We finally moved in and my house was STILL ISN'T DONE!! I moved in with finishing that still needed to be done. 

The basement bathroom was fun. It was framed wrong and they found out when they came to install the shower. So they ended up ripping out the bathroom framing and redoing it. And this happened, I shot this video on September 2, 2020.

They did figure out they could replace the toilet instead of an oval to a round one and the door just clears it. But not even a year after the build, the seal on the toilet has come apart and it leaks.

Not only would I not recommend Josh Doyle Homes, I would never build again. Take my advice, if you do want to build make sure:

  • You get in writing some deadline or consequence of missing their deadline. Josh Doyle Homes missed every verbal date given - nothing was in writing and they really didn't have any consequence. I was the only one suffered. Talk to your builder about due dates. Now granted, we built a house during a pandemic - but there was no sense of urgency nor did they care one bit about it.
  • Also, make sure the money is disclosed. I asked over and over for a breakdown of costs and I got nothing. Not only that, but they ended up taking an additional monies for their mistakes and waste which had been budgeted for other areas.

Not a happy camper at all. Of course, it doesn't help to build a house during a pandemic and believe it or not, I'm giving them leeway for that - but there were so many problems, unanswered questions, missed verbal deadlines and at the end of the day, I'm left holding the bill. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

New Construction - the nightmare begins.


We pick up the story from the previous post, filled with hope and looking forward to building our dream home. Josh Doyle Homes had become our builder and we had even met the infamous Josh Doyle - which was not a good move on the sales agent's part.

We had sold our house in Saline and made a very nice profit, so we were ahead and things were looking good. The agreement was made to be out of the house by the end of July so we got busy packing.

This big thing happened - Holly graduated high school with honors. Burke and I were so proud of all her hard work, she made honor roll all 4 years of high school. We pulled off graduation and a graduation party, while packing and cleaning. I was also into my second month of recovery from hip replacement, so things were moving slowly.

We made a quick decision to move into Orion Mainstreet, Luxury apartments in Ann Arbor next to the football stadium. We signed a 9 month agreement at an exorbitant price and starting moving right around the fourth of July. We would come to laugh every time we saw Luxury apartments, cause - well that was a joke. More about them later - and there greed during a pandemic.

The verbal timeline was roughly April time frame to be in our new home - so we settled on the 9 month lease and waited. The sales agent assured us we would be in before our 25th wedding anniversary. "Oh no problem - you'll be in WAY before May!" We wanted to have a party in our new house and barn for our anniversary. And thus, it all began.

I should have turned around and ran when we had our meeting with Josh Doyle. It was late in the evening and we had drove an hour one way to meet him. He was less than enthusiastic and even offered up that this was the last place he would rather be. He was condescending and quite full of himself. It was as if he was doing us a favor by allowing us to buy one of his plans and having him build the home. At one point I even asked him how we could make his life easier during this process? (**Sigh)

The plans were lovely and we were able to find one that suited us. A few changes and we were good. Working with the coordinator on estimating and pricing was fairly straight forward and painless. We added lots of fluff to the contract to accommodate changes and allow us some wiggle room.

We closed on the house and the construction loan and started the permit process. This was July and so far we were behind $50,000 in realtor and mortgage fees. We would spend the next 6 MONTHs getting permits, address assignment and such. The biggest obstacle was our driveway permit. This involved an application, and securing someone to cut down some trees. All of this was the homeowners responsibility. I really felt that we were left in the dark here, stumbling to find our way out. Once the loan was secured and the contract was signed - it was as if we didn't exist. No one checked on our progress, no one held out a helping hand to see where we were at, no one offered assistance. So know this going in - you need to become an expert in permits and site work.

We did not anticipate this and then it was January 2020. Six of our 9 months had already gone by and we hadn't even broken ground. We amused ourselves by laying out stakes and figuring out where the house and barn would be.

Our dream home had started down the path of a full blown nightmare.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Becoming an urban farmer - a new adventure!

 Harwood Farms had it's annual HOA meeting and Burke and I as responsible owners in the neighborhood attended. What we heard was bickering and complaining about how tacky the bird feeders were in the berm. Seriously? At that moment I was really glad I didn't live near the berm - because I'm not sure how bird feeders can be considered "tacky". I left feeling very disappointed and sad.

And when we were planting our flower and vegetable gardens and left our our wheelbarrow overnight to be met with a notice that a fee would incur if not put away, it was the last straw. We have divorced ourselves from the HOA and the neighborhood.

My daughter was graduating high school and I had been selling the idea of moving out to the country - getting 10 acres or so with room to breathe to my husband, Burke. Turns out after all that - the sell wasn't hard. Saline has great schools and along with that came great amounts of property taxes. Plus since we were about to become empty nesters - the great school district was no longer the priority.

We called my niece Amanda who put the house on the market. It sold in 12 days (yea I loved that part).

The search began for the new homestead and we combed all the nearby areas. The requirements were:

  1. Fast internet - I work from home and that was imperative.
  2. Paved road - Somehow driving down dirt roads and never having a clean car again was not very appealing to me.
  3. Natural gas - I often see the white fat belly pigs as I called them and having lived in the country with propane, I wanted to avoid that as well.
  4. 10 acres - Somehow we fixated on 10, not 5 or 6 - but 10.
We started looking for an existing home but always found something we didn't like about it. It was too old, wrong layout - and often slow internet. The hunt took a few months and we came up empty.

We had built our house in Saline and our builder was amazing and within 5 months we were in a new home. They took care of everything and the cost was reasonable - little or no effort. Should we build again?

Browsing through Facebook one day, I came across a builder name in which my niece had "liked" and now it appears in my feed. Josh Doyle Homes - I contacted them. I also contacted my nephew but learned the news that they would be moving to Montana so he wouldn't be available. I really wish the timing could have been better as I would find out in the days ahead with my new builder - things were about be become dire. More about that later.

We had chosen Josh Doyle homes for our next build and set out to find some vacant land. We looked in nearby townships and counties and often found our #1 priority to fall short. Slow or no internet. There has to be something I'm missing.

I sat down at the computer and did some search for rural internet options (cellular or satellite) and found the options were not appealing with data caps or slow speeds. You can't do video conferencing with cellular - or rather you could for about a week, then data caps would apply.

Finally I came across a township that recently approved a mileage to fund a high speed internet infrastructure. Fiber optic usually runs along the street, and cable companies consider it not cost effective to run the cable to the homes - rural = sparse customers. So with the mileage, crews brought the fiber up to the houses - and viola! High speed internet! Lyndon Township in Michigan - here we come! We found one of the few 10 acre parcels that met all the requirements, fast internet, paved road, and natural gas.

Look how happy we are! In June of 2019, we bought the land from Maryann Noah, which had been in her family since Andrew Jackson. She had the original deed from the homestead from Mr. Jackson himself. Kind of love that story.

Anyways - my blog will be about our journey for room to grow, becoming urban farmers, using technology to enhance our lives, and beginning the next chapter of our lives.

And on this day - we were so optimistic about the future and excited to get going.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Misty and Azure

In June of 2018, I purchased Misty from Misty Robotics as a part of a Kickstarter. I'm backer #277 and got the t-shirt to prove it.

I got my Misty on December 4, 2019 and it was like Christmas. It was truly like being a kid again with a shiny reflective toy. I was so excited, I skipped everywhere I went. 

Unfortunately, being a grown up - I had to put her on the back burner with minimal play time until the holiday break.

During the holiday break, Misty and I spent all my free time together - trying things out and getting a feel for each other. I really like her - but I think the jury is still out on whether she likes me. :)

My dog has been getting up there in age. Butters turned 12 last September and lately he's been showing his age. He has more grey now, sleeps more, goes through coughing spells, and his stomach has become very sensitive.

Misty has several QUALCOMM processors and one of them is using Windows IoT. As a Azure Dev, naturally I wanted to experiment.

Isn't he so stinking cute!?
Since I'm spending more time worried about Butters, I would like Misty to look after my dog while I'm away for more than a few hours. Here are my ultimate first goals:
  1. Have Misty roam the house looking for butters.
  2. Upon recognition, take picture.
  3. Text to me.
  4. Sigh of relief that he's okay.
Here's what I've got so far. I went off the beaten path just a tad - but making my way around again.
  1. Misty recognizes me, my daughter and my grandson through her built in facial recognition.
  2. I purposely did not train her to know my husband to test stranger identification.
  3. Upon recognition, she sends a http request with a message (i.e., Hi Tammy) param to an Azure Function using a HTTP trigger.
  4. The Azure function calls to Text to Speech api service with the message where it's converted to speech.
  5. The response is stored in Azure storage container as a blob with content-type 'audio/x-wav'.
  6. Misty calls the storage api where the blob is stored.
  7. She downloads the wav file and plays it.
So really, there is very minimal processing going on in Misty - everything is done in the cloud.

What happens if she doesn't recognize you? Well .... she displays an angry face, growls and says "Stranger Danger!".

Just in case you're lost and would like to be more lost - here is a list of the SDK's/Extensions that I used.
  1. Azure Storage SDK
  2. Azure Tools Extension
  3. NodeJS
  4. Azure Function App - HTTP Trigger
  5. Text to Speech APIs
  6. Visual Studio Code/Azure Functions for VSC - great for debugging issues.
Once I got this working, I tried to train Misty to learn my dog's face using her pre-built facial recognition software. But alias, she can only recognize humans through her existing facial recognition software. 

So .... this will be one of the next problems to solve. I'll need to use Azure Cognitive Services computer vision to take a picture of him and send for recognition and analysis.

I also just started playing with the her built in navigation capabilities, so she can travel around my apartment in the search of Butters.

Here's a video of her recognizing me (cause I'm sitting in front of her), responding visually and saying my name. Kind of lame in itself, unless you understand what's behind it.

But ... baby steps. Here's some code sources to get you started.

I started with this great tutorial written by Chris Meyer. Chris goes on to do some computer vision stuff which is next for me. He also does a great job in the actual walk through of setting the Azure Function up.

And here's mine so far. Here you'll find all the files you need for Misty and Azure. Most of what I changed was using the BlobService to store the speech files instead of converting to base64 string and streaming back.

I'm really thinking maybe Misty needs a tutu or something. I feel a fashion design coming in her near future.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

It's been almost 2 years of sabbatical from my blob and I figured it was time to start it back up again.

There's been lots of changes during that time personally and professionally. So, if you don't mind, I thought I would walk a little down memory lane.

I started 2017 out with a new job as Director of Software Development for Dynics Corp. The job was a dream job for me. Dynics began a software startup within the company and I got to lead. So much to do .... building a team, processes and customer relationships. I had 2 really great bosses, Ed Gatts and Jeffrey.Smith who believed in me and helped me to grow. I got to do amazing things which included mentoring.

They are a great family owned business and have some pretty great hardware and software solutions. You can check Dynics out here.

In October, 2018 I lost my Dad suddenly and my daughter Jacqueline got married to her soulmate, Jade. All within 2 days of each other. It was an extremely difficult time in my life and I wouldn't wish the struggle on anyone.

May of 2019, I underwent a total hip replacement in my right hip. I had been suffering for years with osteoarthritis pain and it finally got to a breaking point. The surgery was a relief and it's been a good recovery.

We sold our home and starting the journey of building a new home on 10 acres. I'm very excited for this and can't wait to finally move out of this apartment.

Our youngest daughter went off to University and is beginning her new journey as well. Burke and I .... have a empty nest.

June of the same year brought an opportunistic knock at the door. Microsoft was at the door and I opened it. With that came amazing pay and benefits. Finally my pay was corrected and I was making what the male counterparts were.

It's been an amazing career start with the culture shift of Diversity and Inclusion at Microsoft and the daily conversations about understanding our differences - not just cultural or gender, but thought process and that we all process information differently. I feel like I'm not invisible anymore and I know that IF I feel that I'm being perceived as invisible - that it's OK to lean in and be me.

Not only am I adjusting to the cultural shift, but learning new technology. Out of the gate, I studied for and received my AZ-203 - Developer certification for Azure. I'm very proud of that badge - it took a lot of hard work to go from on-premise technology to cloud, and I'm very excited about it all. Next is the AZ-400 - DevOps.

I love working with new technology and my new customers, participating in learning events and providing learning opportunities for customers. I'm going to my first "Ready" conference in February and I'm looking forward to it. I have a great boss and teammates, every one is ready to offer a hand and a smile.

I'll sum up my first article of 2020 with the addition of Misty to our family. I ordered Misty as a part of a kick-starter back in June, 2018 and I finally received her December, 2019. 

You can read more about Misty here. So the journey begins with Misty. Over the next few blogs, I'll be writing about this technology and playing with AI and Cognitive Services with Azure.

I'm looking forward to 2020 and what it brings. Excited and hopeful for the New Year - a little apprehensive for our country, but looking forward to life with my friends and family.

Happy New Years! Hope everyone achieves their goals and gets to live their best lives.