Thursday, December 29, 2016

Earl's party

Another winter day. Crept out into the snow and fed and watered the chickens.

One of our four remaining little guineas had disappeared yesterday. Well, there she was on the porch this morning. Little fool spent the night out alone in the cold. I was so pleased to see her! Earl let me catch her (he wanted really badly to help but controlled himself) and I popped her back into the chicken house. I don't know if a cat scared her off, or if the other birds were picking on her.

Speaking of Earl, he had company over Christmas. Arnold came up and they had a fabulous time rampaging and play-snarling.

Arnold is Emma's former foster puppy from a litter of dachshund mixes. Dachshund, my ass. We think he's greyhound and kangaroo.

I made a malformed loaf of bread (didn't latch the door on the bread machine, apparently). Ate lots of deviled eggs.

Finally got the rabbit-room floor cleaned up and turned Crystal loose. Rue can join her in a day or two. Mother and daughter usually get along well, as long as Crystal claims the space first. Then Fondu can move out of the cage in our bathroom and into the condo.

C. has been wondering why she can't get a good night's sleep lately. It's hard to sleep with a 20-pound Peke on your head!

One mouse caught.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Small progress

Got the rabbit-room walls patched and a couple of non-functional pipes removed today. As soon as the floor is cleaned up, Crys can have the run of the room again.

C. brushed Fondu. He's ready to go back to the rabbitat, too. Smokey doesn't like him – yesterday Smokey lunged at Fondu during a brushing session, and C. ended with a big bruise from a bite. Brats.

I made deviled eggs with advice from C., who made fabulous ones on Christmas. Mine aren't as good, but are still damn tasty. Made rolls. Found a couple of houses listed online for Em to consider. Brought a load of wood in.

No mice caught today.

Christmas with babies

Liam and Ciri dressed up for their first Christmas. That's Ciri's papa there.

I call this one Kung Fu Lawyer. Very serious boy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A better mouse trap

We have mice. I think every country place does.

I don't like to kill things. I'll kill to eat (vegetables and fish) and to protect my people (including my pets), and maybe to protect innocent children and strangers. Not sure about that last one.

But I can't live with flies or mice. Period. So I kill them.

Now, C. is a Buddhist, and not killing things is practically a religion with her. (snort) She'll swat flies, but mice must be captured and released.

We could get a cat, but then we'd have a blind dachshund (or a dead cat). And I wonder about the ethics of keeping a cat to do my killing.

We use the live traps, and while it mostly works, there is an occasional wise mouse that learns to get out of the trap, and teaches all the other mice. Then you have to wait for a generation or two and start again. Or sometimes I forget to take the trapped mouse away and release it, or feed and water it, so it dies a horrible death. That's not my intention.

Sometimes when we get overrun with the damn creatures, digging dirt out of the houseplant pots, eating wiring in the stereo, crapping in the silverware drawer, C. will cave and let me set real traps.

We've used the snap traps, but sometimes they just maim the poor guy, and C. is horrified. Once she set a snap trap, and came back to find the trap triggered, but no mouse. Just a little eyeball.

I imagine a crowd of our crippled mice – eyepatches, crutches, missing limbs...

So when my friend Terry mentioned the new electronic traps that instantly electrocute the mouse, I was interested. If they won't stay outside, they have to be terminated – and a quick, humane method is what I want. No maiming, please.

So I read a bunch of online reviews of the Victor electronic mousetrap, and plunked down $20 for it at the local BiMart. It takes four AA batteries (not included), and it is excellent.

You smear a tiny amount of peanut butter on the back wall, close it, flip the switch, wait for the green light, then place it along some mouse highway. When the red light blinks, you have a dead mouse. Lift the lid (you don't even have to look), dump the mouse out in the snow for the owls (or down the toilet), swab the metal plates with a Q-tip and alcohol if they look dirty, and reset. I've caught and killed – cleanly and quickly – four mice in 24 hours.

C. is uncomfortable, but as long as I do the trapping and disposal and don't talk about it, she'll live with it.

Way too much snow

Ugh. We just made a quick run up the hill to get milk and eggs... only it took about two hours. Got stuck at the lower gate, high-centered on the plowed berm. Dug and shoveled and pushed...

There must be a foot and a half of snow out there.

I think we'll just stay home until spring.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The day after

Boy, I'm toasty.

As usual, we weren't ready (in fact most of my presents are still on a mail truck in Iowa) but the kids appeared, babies in tow, and we chatted and ate and dandled for hours. Christmas is a whole lot more fun with little kids.

The babes were decked out in formal attire. The deviled eggs were tasty. KC talked about his trip to L.A. There was much chocolate and cheer.

I'm determined to do nothing – not a damn thing! – today. C. is zipping around like (an older) maniac, but I shall not be moved from my recliner. I'll poke at her with my cane if she attempts to coerce me into action.

The fire is warm (C. went up on the roof and cleaned the chimney topper this morning) and we have pie, chocolate and various goodies.

I have some Frank Herbert books to read. And some new red velvet tea. Don't bother me.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wishing you all a merry one


I found Plum Bob dead in his cage. 

Was it the vacuum/saw noise from our crazed pipe repairs? Flood trauma? A hairball? Sheer cussedness? We don't know.

But Bob is gone.

He would have been 3 next month. He didn't like other rabbits, but was patient with people and put up with brushing and plucking. He had a beautiful coat, thick and soft and all shades of cream-to-peach-to-grey. I named him Plum because he was golden and purple-grey, like a Stanley prune plum. And I thought he was a girl (my rabbit-sexing skills have since improved). The Bob part was tacked on when we figured that out.

From left: Bob, Marty and Crystal, their mom, eating C.'s homemade leaf hay.

We're bummed.

Looking blasé. This is just before he became aggressive and had to be separated from the colony.

He was a beautiful baby. From left, that's Rue, Bob, Fondu and Marty.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Forensic photographer

C. made the expedition into the crawlspace, and came back with excellent photos. I think she has a future in the business. (Is there a business in crawl-space plumbing photography?)

That little spoot there is keeping the kitchen hot-water volume way down and the dishwasher from doing a decent job. You can see the pipe is soldered three-quarter-inch copper and the leak is in the valve.

Below, what the trendy forensic photographer is wearing these days: 200-lumen headlamp, dust mask for ultra-fine dirt and asbestos, doo rag to keep spidey out of hair, and copious fine dirt from wallowing around down there.

Pre-Christmas errands

Earl and I zipped over to Deer Park for chicken food in the light snow/heavy snow/rain/light snow today. Yes, I know, I should be home plumbing and making presents and baking, but chickens gotta eat! Returned home knackered, with parts to fix the kitchen plumbing and ingredients for pepper-flake cheese straws and marbled brownies. And chicken food.

Our big present for everyone this year, including us, is working hot and cold water. Em's big present for everyone this year is a $900 enema for her dog, Bono, who ate a spatula. We'll gather, eat good stuff, act silly and be warm. And admire our two awesome babies. No complaints here.

Oh, man – Part two

OK, I thought the water supply pipe came up from the crawl space over here. But nooooo. It comes up somewhere inside the long wall behind the ridiculous trough urinal.

Being a former girl, I'd never seen a trough urinal before. I suppose they might have been standard equipment in schools in the 1930s, when this place was built. Anyway, some past owner of the place decided to preserve it in this purple sponge-painted bathroom, maybe as a bonding thing with his son. (It could happen. I don't know.) I've never been a boy, but I have been a school janitor, and I think any kind of urinal is a stupid idea. Give the fellas a little privacy here! And maybe they'd hit the target a little more often.... Or here's an idea: sit the hell down and pee! It works for the rest of us.

Anyway, I've got to find the supply line and cap it. Ever the optimist, I hack a hole in the sheetrock on the far side of the urinal. No luck. The damn thing is somewhere behind five feet of wall-mounted cast-iron urinal. We can either go in through the other side of the wall (plaster and lath, and stacks of of loose lumber) or we can remove this porcelain behemoth.

I unscrew the sprayer pipe and the drain pipe, and try to lift up on the 300-pound? thing. It budges ever so slightly. OK. We can do this. I call in the other little old lady, and we manage to heave it up off the hangers and onto big cans, one end at a time. Bloody hell!

It is, of course, getting colder, and the pump has been turned off all day. If we don't get this done soon, we run the risk of more pipes freezing.

So I hack another hole in the wall, and find the supply line right off. Cut it. Cap it. Turn the heater on. C. vacuumed up all the water on the floor. We empty the wet-vac into a floor drain. C. takes a break to warm up. I look at the huge useless cast-iron thing in the middle of my rabbit room and get pissed off. Wheel the big Bobby Bilt beach wagon (half-ton capacity, 2013 yard sale find, $50) into the room, tip the big stupid aboard, and weasel it out the door.

Later, C. turns the pump back on and the repair holds. We have water pressure in the house. The rabbits can have their room back as soon as I fix the four gaping holes in the wall. Maybe tomorrow.

I might have forgotten to mention my excessive crankiness during periods of this event. Like when C. swore she'd turned the breaker off, yet water kept pouring and pouring out of the broken pipe...we bailed with a bucket and eventually it quit. Or when I realized I'd repaired the wrong pipe. Or a dozen other times during the crisis.

Tomorrow, we tackle the poor hot-water pressure in the kitchen. Let's not think about it now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Oh, man – Part one

So the weather warmed up, and the frozen pipe in the bunny room thawed. Good news? No.

I was greeted Wednesday morning by two inches of water on the floor of the room. Fortunately, I'd moved the two caged rabbits to their new high-rise quarters the night before.

The smart loose bunny, Crystal, had jumped to safety on top of the tub. (I should explain that the rabbits live in what used to be the boys' bathroom, still complete with clawfoot tub, 5-foot-long trough urinal, sink, and toilet. None of that stuff works except the sink, but the tub, with boards on top, is a handy spot for them to hang out.) The loose dumb bunny, Fondu, was on the floor with his luxurious peach butt-fuzz wafting in the current. I could see water pouring out of the wall, above the baseboard. Shit.

I called for reinforcements. C. turned off the breaker for the pump house and carried Fondu off to dry in a cage in our bathroom. She helped me move the big heavy bunny condo away from the wall, started up the wet-vac, and I set to acting like a plumber. Basically, I started destroying things. (Ever hire a plumber? Then you know what I'm talking about.) I took a utility knife and cut a big square in the sheetrock over the leaky baseboard, then smashed it out with a hammer. I found wet yellow insulation but no pipe. Extended the hole a foot upward, and hit a split plastic pipe. I needed healthy pipe, though, so made another hole on the other side of the stud. Bingo – good solid pipe (and three holes in the wall).

I found the right CPVC cap in our stockpile of plumbing stuff, but all the pipe cement was dried up or  frozen, and no good. So we buzzed up to Miller's to buy more. It took three tries to cowboy the Subaru through the snow berm at the top of the road. (Yahoo! As a bad-ass pioneer, I love that shit. Except when we get stuck.)

Home again, I cut the pipe and glued on the cap. I stole the electric heater out of our bathroom to help the cement cure quickly.

I'm feeling pretty pioneer-cool, as if I had killed a rabid bear with a slingshot, saving my plump little hens. (“Oh, Su!” they purr. “Bock bock brave bock! We only have eggs for you.”

C. turns on the pump, and viola! water comes gushing out of the broken side of the pipe.

I'd capped the wrong side. And it doesn't turn off for a really long time.*

*We pause our story to cry a little, and have a drink. Maybe two.*

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Today went where?

Got up at a decent hour. Must be 10 inches of new snow. I stomped all the way to the chicken yard to pack a trail for them. Sunny, 35 degrees out. Perfect for making a snowman. (No, I didn't. I'm too old for that foolishness. But in a few years, the grandkids could do it for me. Liam, I want a snow goat! With carrots for horns.)

Did a little work on the rabbit condo. I used the dremel with a cut-off wheel to chop up a piece of metal dog kennel for the doors. Made lovely sparks. Still not done, though. I was always a slow carpenter; now I'm a slow, crippled carpenter. Still, who is in a hurry?

The washer has healed itself (once again, procrastination pays off!). The kitchen hot water is still pathetic. C. is going to the crawl space tomorrow morning to take a photo so we can figure out how to fix it. Apparently there's a small leak in the hot water line near the shut-off valve. It's copper pipe there (the building has three kinds of pipe) and we might be able to chop out the bad spot and patch it with a sharkbite fitting. I love those things. My handy friend Tom introduced me to them – they push right on to copper, PEX and PVC pipe, and you can take them off and reuse them. No soldering, screw fittings or pipe cement. Best modern plumbing invention. Pricey at about $12 each, but worth it. I was always the family plumber, but can't negotiate the crawl space so C. has to do it. I'm the consultant, and if it's complicated, I call Tom. Tom is kind, smart, funny and capable. (I would look up to him, but he's a short guy. So I put him on a pedestal. Works out.)

The eldest daughter dropped in with presents: chocolate and a cool goat calendar. Had a pleasant chat.

Made hot fudge pudding cake.

Day gone.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Working in the rabbit room

Worked on the rabbit condo some. Maybe they can move in tomorrow!

It's got two units, each with a full lower floor for the second-messiest activities – eating and drinking, which lead to the first-messiest, peeing and pooping. Rabbits like to do those four all the same time. (Well, maybe not eating and drinking.) Half the floor is wire, half wood (I'll put linoleum over the wood for easy cleanup). They'll each have a litter box there, too, because I'm an optimist. And I'll make a couple of hanging hay feeders – maybe half-buckets.

There are upper floors, too, with ramps. And places to hide. Oh, I need to find some big plastic pipe so they can have silly tunnels around the room.

Nothing was bought new for the project, so it's a bit funky, but that's how I roll.

C. is vacuuming. I wish she'd wait to do that until I was dead.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Warming up

We survived the cold spell.

The rabbit-room water is still frozen, either in the wall or the crawlspace. And the hot water in the house is acting weird – low volume and only warm. Not sure what the deal is. Possibly related is the refusal of the washer to agitate or drain. It'll warm up and we'll figure it out. Like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about it tomorrow.

Our handsome grandson is back from California, just in time for the cold spell. He's come down with bronchitis from the flight. It's good to have him home. I wonder what dorky grandma-made thing he's getting for Christmas. Hmmm.

C. is out chopping wood. I am inside, keeping the fire going, sitting on my butt. Who is smarter?

I've got the usual blues station playing Sonny Landreth (those are two words I would say to Eric Clapton). I always turn it up for Congo Square. He uses all 10 fingers and a slide on his guitar, has a forever-young voice and a Zydeco-soaked approach to the blues. Like nothing I've ever heard. Also crank it up when Leslie West's Stormy Monday comes on. And Rita's Gone, by Delbert McClintock, which is an absolutely perfect, mournful, Marty Robbins-type song, funny as hell. And Angel from Montgomery, by Bonnie Raitt (I am an old woman, named after my mother... I really am.)

OK, I'm off to do something. Wonder what?

Saturday, December 17, 2016


It's 1 degree out. The low was -14 last night, and -3 the night before. So it's been bloody cold.

When you live in the toolies and it's that cold, you spend most of your time keeping the wood box full, the stove stoked and animals watered. And the pipes warmed and faucets dripping.

I always find time to read by the fire, and cook and/or eat warming food. But there is no energy to expend on projects, even Christmas projects. Work has stalled on the rabbit condos and window replacement. I'm just waiting for the warmup. C., being a maniac of Irish extraction, will go out and split wood or dig sun chokes or collect guinea feathers for short periods. But not with her usual dogged enthusiasm.

I have an idea for a cool present for C., but need to go to the gym and find parts, and it's too damn cold to even start.

We've got the felt-pack Sorel boots out, and the fleece jammie pants. It's too cold to look for the long johns or the rest of the gloves and hats. Isn't that sad? I'm a loser in any preparedness contest.

The water line to the rabbit room froze last night, thanks to a crap GFCI outlet where I had plugged in the heater and heat cable. I ran an extension cord over from the gym, through the wall and up onto the partially completed condo (to keep buttheaded rabbits from chewing the cords) and hooked everything back up. I'm hoping the sink is thawed and working, and the pipes haven't burst. If they've burst, I'll fix them; but not until it warms up. Same for the outlet.

Just got two gallons of milk and four dozen eggs from Rose, up the hill. Tapioca pudding is in the works.

Fire good.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Today was a balmy 21 degrees, so C. got out there with the chainsaw and zipped some of the log pile into stove lengths. I pitched them up near the porch for hauling in tomorrow.

We ordered some Christmas presents (no, I'm not telling) online, and I worked on that last graphic design project. C. is knitting something for Liam.

It's 5 degrees out now. We're expecting a high of 11 tomorrow, and -10 Friday night. We leave the faucets dripping when it gets that cold. And there's a heater in the pump house, the pantry and the rabbit room. We send the brave little heaters warm thoughts. Then it's supposed to warm up to 30 on Monday.

If the weather guys are right.

Sauce of many cheeses on spuds and peas for dinner tonight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


In a week, the days will start getting longer!

That's what I tell myself as I creep around twice a day hauling warm water to the animals.

Hazelnut, Annie the Wiener and Walter.

We've got eight dogs for a bit. The kids are staying with Em, and we're keeping Walter the Jackass and now Hazelnut, the pretty little red-haired dog. She's a good girl.

We are finally with phone and internet after a clusterf*ck with Century Link. I spent five hours over two days shivering over my cell phone in the unheated car up at the Church of the Cell Phone Signal, talking to robots, idiots, and finally, two smart guys who got it fixed. I'm still a little pissed.

C. cut and split wood and I hauled in onto the porch and inside. I searched for the crown I lost while waiting for a dentist appointment. Worked on the last project from my real job. Drove over to the barn and loosed four bales of hay for the big animals; there was no spitting. We had pasta slathered with a sauce of many cheeses for dinner.

Now to cram the stove with big logs for the night.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


We must have 4-5 inches out there. It's been warmer, though, so I'm pleased.

We've been trying to get C.'s studio ready for the kids to move in. There are three little 220 electric wall heaters, obviously not enough to heat the very large room. We have two used electric furnaces, a propane heater and several wood stoves. And Tom, our super handyman. We get started with...

Plan A: Let's have a propane tank installed outside, and the heater inside. But it's $479 for the tank rental and fill, and they run the lines to the house, not into the house. So getting the stove set up and hooked up is extra. And we'll be buying propane forever. Conclusion: Too damn much money. On to...

Plan B: Hire Tom to install Hire ductwork and one of the 220 electric furnaces, in place of one of the wall heaters. But the kids really want to move in now, and Tom doesn't have much free time. Ducts are slow. Plan B1: OK, we could go without the ductwork, and put the furnace on a stand, blowing warm air in all directions along the floor. Let's do that. But the furnace requires 6-gauge wire, and the small heaters use 10-gauge. Plan B2: Well, Tom says, we could repurpose the 220 line from the range in the other, unused kitchen. But there is no circuit for a stove there; there's not even a spot for a stove in the room (what the hell did those other people cook on?). Plan B3: So we'll have to buy new wiring ($2 a foot, for at least 75 feet) and run a new line into the room. C. says forget it, I want wood heat in there. OK. Well, it would have been nice to know that before. On to...

Plan C: Hire Tom to install an 8-inch metal chimney and hook up that gorgeous blue enamel Vermont Casting wood stove we picked up on Craig's List. It's small for the room, but the little heaters could give it a boost on the coldest nights. We already have probably half the chimney pipe we'll need. Let's do it. Tom calls from the home-improvement place – the other half of the stovepipe will cost $450. Shit. On to...

Plan D: Have Tom get the three little heaters going, and plastic off the doorways. Wait and see how warm it gets in there. He comes out to do this. The power goes off. It comes on after an hour or so, one of the heaters is dead so Tom swaps in another from the kitchen. Plan D complete.

I'm tired from all this decision-making.

And the kids have decided to stay at Emma's.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Baby, it's freakin' cold outside

We're in the middle of a winter weather advisory. Nothing major – just winter. Snow, cold, wind. The high today was 20; the low, 19. Wind chill takes it down to 6 or so.

Yesterday I hitched up the (station)wagon and Earl and I hit town for supplies. It was cold. I bought stuff furiously. I went to Costco, something I never do. Why not? Because I came home with cheesecake, a massive chunk of stilton cheese, some smoked salmon, cheese danishes, artichoke hearts. C. gave me crap for succumbing to Costco-itis. In my defense, I also got organic sugar and short-grain brown rice. And the biggest container of baking powder I've ever seen – 3.75 pounds. I needed that baking powder.

Liam rode in my electric scooter cart, and Emma, an old Costco hand, acted as guide. When Liam got cranky, I drove serpentine and lulled him to sleep. Hit WinCo after, and limped home very tired... find Savvy the sheep had a piece of binder twine wrapped around one leg. And it's cold. And dark. And I'm very tired.

So C. and I suit up in layers and gloves and hats and drive over to the barn, parking with the headlights aimed at the building. We have grain, so everyone comes over. C. takes the bucket of oats and leads the iguanas (code for alpacas) and goats away from the barn gate. I'm inside the barn gate, shaking my grain sack to seduce the sheep. Everyone mills around and Savvy comes in. I close the gate, only to see C., surrounded by goats and iguanas, trip and nearly fall, then overbalance and nearly fall the other way.... She finally goes down face-first, grain dumping all over. Appalling, the big alpaca, rushes over and acts like he is going to kick her, but she's up quickly, swinging the bucket at him. He backs off. Sheesh.

Night maneuvers at Old School Acres. Note Chel's hideous, treasured 1970s down coat.

She comes into the barn area and grabs the sheep. Savvy drags her for a few yards, but C. hangs on. (C. is a tiny, stubborn person famous for grabbing sheep and holding on.) She rolls the sheep over, exposing four waving legs, one with bright blue twine around it. I gimp over, cut it free, and Savannah gets up and goes back to the grain. The twine has left marks in the wool but not in the flesh. We are successful, and it's still damn cold.

We drive home and huddle around this. C. tells me of her earlier attempt to cut the twine off the sheep. Apparently Appalling took seriously this attempt to restrain a member of his herd, and lunged over, spitting furiously. We're pleased that he will defend the sheep, but not that he is so damn aggressive toward us. Alpaca spit is hard to get off eyeglasses.

She lectures me – again – about picking up the twine from hay bales. 

And all this time I thought "barn hygiene" was scraping chicken shit off my boots before I came inside.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winter Wednesday

It's freakin' cold out. Gah. Sunny and tolerable during the middle of the day, but with a cold bite increasing from about 3 in the afternoon. Supposed to get down to 9 tonight. I'm glad the pump-house heater is on, as well as the pantry and rabbit-room heaters.

Em, Richard and Liam came out to get wood. Well, Liam came out to get grandma time, but the other two went in pursuit of firewood. Their truck battery petered out after a couple of hours so Earl and I drove out the rutted track to give them a jump. Took forever with my little Subie battery. We returned to home and warmth.

Liam is getting big. We can't decide on his hair color – it looks brown in front, reddish on the sides, and blond in back. He has the Sibley ears, like his grandma. They are a big responsibility.

The little guineas are still out in the chicken house, in a high-tech insulated room (the Styro Mahal, below). They've become very confidant, venturing into the chicken yard and beyond. Maybe too far beyond.

I think one is missing – I found one wandering out by the car, making the panic noise, and herded it inside. Three more were huddled under the chicken nest box, and the light rope (the Styro Mahal heat source) had come unplugged. I restored power then poked them all inside. We searched the chicken roosts and the area for the missing keet and found nothing. I hope he found a little warm spot, and not a hungry cat.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Out, damn spots!

We brought the little guineas back in for a couple of nights, but as of this morning they are out in the chicken house for good. I stuck my head in the box yesterday to grab and refill the water, and damn near keeled over from the aroma. Big birds, tiny space. Gah.

So they are installed in their box on the straw over a rope-light heater, with screen top and front so the other birds can come to accept them. Our tiny awkward kitchen, sans birds, seems big now. It smells nicer, too.

The little family was up working on C.'s studio today, moving her fabric and fiber into storage in the stairs room (the northeast classroom named for the two sets of stairs mysteriously left in there). Mikey, our honorary grandson and a big strong fellow, came along to help. The room is nearly empty and looks huge. I'm waiting on a remodeling friend's estimate on installing one of our electric furnaces in there. Their pug dog, Walter the Jackass, who has been staying with us, is ecstatic. Soon he will be living with his people and eating at our house. What a wonderful world.

I'm toasty from the estate sale. Looking forward to some quiet days. Quiet cold days, as the forecast is calling for a low of -4 Thursday.

Put another log on the fire.

Friday, December 2, 2016


So mushroom slime killed our printer. Stupid, right? Leaving a plastic bag of 'shrooms on the printer while we tried (and failed) to identify them? Yep.

It was a good printer, a Brother black-and-white laser I picked up at an estate sale for $20. C. is going to try to fix it, but it seems pretty dead.

So today, in an eerie reenactment of my working career, we arose at 7 and drove sleepily into town on wet roads. Not to go to work, but to buy another printer. Now, normal people would probably go to Best Buy or Staples or Target. But that's not how we roll. We went to another estate sale, where we bought two. Probably paid $5 each for them. There are, of course, certain risks in buying used computer gear. No warranty. Might not get all the cables. The pretty printer box might just be full of seashells, or Avon bottles. The printer might not be Mac-compatible. The ink cartridges could be empty (and new ones cost $10 or more each).

The last time we bought a new printer we paid $35 (OK, it was crappy), and we ran it until the ink was gone. Then I couldn't stand to put $50 in new cartridges into a crap printer. I'm cheap like that.

But we lucked out today and one of them, an HP PSC1410v, is Mac-compatible, full of ink, and equipped with all required cables. I just printed a perfect Paypal label.

The other printer? Well... we came away without the power cable. Maybe we'll find one at the next sale. Don't laugh – we'll probably be awash in HP printer parts at the next three sales.

We also got a beautiful camera tripod, some pipe, 200 blank DVD-Rs, a cool phone, rechargeable batteries, book lights, a spiffy postal scale, a bunch of drill bits, a couple of hideous Hawai'ian shirts... and scads of other stuff.

It was fun, too. About 80 times more fun than Best Buy.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My 59th December

Yesterday was payday. We celebrated in the usual way: buying groceries. I hit town, stopped eight times at seven places, and came home with a carload of chicken food, beer and provisions. Took four hours, and I was knackered. C. unloaded the car, bless her heart.

Today we went to Rose's and stocked up on fresh milk (two gallons) and eggs (four dozen). I got three eggs today from our birds, two blues and a green. Looks like one of the gold hens is over her molt.

I'm slurping warm tapioca pudding now. Yes, it's bland, but very pleasant.

It's a mighty good feeling to have a full larder as winter closes in.

We moved the little birds outside, into a little heated kennel in the chicken house. The plan is to turn them loose in there in a day or so, after the big guineas have gotten used to them. Poor unlucky little winter babies.

7 weeks old – big enough to move outside

Big stinky birds

Here they are 7 weeks ago.

I pitched a bunch of firewood from the tarped pile to the porch, and stacked it there.

It's warm inside. I wonder what's for dinner.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The rabbit problem

C. is off somewhere, so I'm finishing the last of the apple pie. Heh heh.

She's planning to crawl under the building today and turn the outside water off. And hike down to the pump house and turn the heater on. Then I suppose we should gather up hoses and garden stuff and put it all away for the season.

I've been on rabbit-colony duty for some months now. C. does a better job of cleaning it, but she's got plenty of other things to do. (I don't mention that they are her rabbits – and you talked her into getting them, Emma Rose!) Not that I'm bitter. I'm really not. I like the rabbits.

Being hippie idealists, we've worked to keep them in a utopian colony, despite bunny squabbles. You know – everyone getting along, sharing common spaces, frolicking together. We had a great bunny colony years ago. But this one has not been successful. Monty Python was right about rabbits – they can be vicious little bastards. I'm serious.

We started out with a colony of six: Smokey and Crystal, and their four offspring, Rue, Marty, Fondu and Plum Bob. They have known each other all their lives; the four males are neutered. The basis for a stable, happy community, right?

Over time, Bob got aggressive and had to be moved to a cage. Marty, the pushy little runt, has had his face ripped up twice. Rue and Crystal (the girls) have gone after each other. Fondu the Magician is pretty mellow, but will not put up with being hassled. Rue hassled him, got her face all cut up, and now Rue is in a cage. Crystal seems to get along with Fondu, so they have the run of the colony (the old boys' bathroom) and Smokey, who is a sweet-natured housebroken guy who gets along with everybody, is installed in our bathroom. Marty is in there now, too, though he is not housebroken.

So, basically, a maximum of two of our rabbits can be housed together. The utopian colony is a bust.

Since I have to separate them, I'm working on building some "rabbit condos," which are large cages with multiple levels that encourage jumping, climbing and play.

Lola's bunny condo, from
The plan is to build a condo for everybody (in pairs, if possible) and let them take turns running loose in the room, and in the bunny yard in summer. Rabbits are trendy house pets these days, and there are a bunch of groups promoting humane housing and treatment for them. You can find lots of info online abut house rabbits – but watch out for meat-rabbit sites. Our bunnies are fiber animals first and pets second, but not dinner. We don't need to see graphic photos of rabbit "processing," thank you very much.

So, yeah, working on the rabbit problem. In the usual slo-mo. With pie.

Pie and chocolate

 We don't celebrate Thanksgiving. We like our holidays less touched by genocide.

But K. and S. came up to visit, with our charming new grandbaby. She's a month old, about the size of a loaf of bread, and very snuggly. Here she is, sleeping on her papa.

We had homemade (from our giant Jarradale squash) pumpkin pie and chocolate bars. It was good.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Keet feet, and more rain

That's how they sleep, all flopped over like rubber chickens. And there is the second most recent innovation, a stick for a perch, so they can practice roosting like the big birds. Sometimes they actually use it.

Today I put a brick in there, so they could climb up closer to the heat lamp. Teeny was looking a little cold, and she has trouble gripping the perch with her tiny feet. The brick would hold the heat, and is just about exactly Teeny-sized.

They all went apeshit. The big scary brick was in one corner, and they huddled in another, making pathetic cricket cries of distress and trying to climb up each other to safety. Their mother warned them about big scary bricks. Wait – their mother never warned them about anything, just left them to freeze to death on their first day out of the eggs. Sheesh. I guess they are a little nervous. The freaking goes on for an hour. So I cover the brick with loose straw. OMG! Big scary brick! Big scary straw! 

I offered them hard-boiled egg, all mashed and yellow and delicious, in the dish in another corner. They all climbed on top of the egg in the food dish and hid from the brick. 

Now I know I should let them settle down (if they ever will), but this is going to be so great, right? In goes a second brick, in another corner under the water bottle. OMG! They are flapping  and flailing like crazy birds. I was hoping the increased height would keep them from pooping in the water dish. But now the water bottle is tippy. So out with the old, in with a new water bottle. OMG! They are down to one safe corner. Every other place is fraught with peril.

I give up. Finally.

In other news, it's still raining. C. made apple pie yesterday.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Lazy Saturday

I wake every few hours all night long (I guess that's common with MS), so I'm not up until 10 or later. No ball of fire, me. On top of that, today feels like a lazy day. C. doesn't recognize those, so she was out digging sunchokes, hauling wood in, cleaning the chimney topper.... 

I'm in my chair, glasses off, jammies on, outlook puckered. Meh. Wonder what's for supper.

I did booble out and feed the chickens. 

The goats appeared as Earl and I were hauling the bucket of chicken food from the car. They were all fresh and curly from the rain – it's back to monsoon season now, with snow just around the corner. They pushed their way to the bucket. Since I'd made sure to clip the lid on tightly, we weren't worried. Put the bucket down, opened the gate, and Earl herded them right in. Good boy.

One egg today – one of the hairdos, Dovey's pullets, is laying lovely little blue eggs. Nobody else is contributing, so we've been buying eggs from our milk lady.

A younger hairdo, from summertime.

The hairdos, with their helmet hair.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The wood pile grows

The daughters were up the other day. S. brought bags of duck bedding for garden mulch and composting, and helped C. on the roof.

Em and Richard got two loads of wood while we watched Liam. Bella the weiner granddog came along to guard the wood stove and beg for spaghetti.

C. and Liam discussed something at length. Walter stood guard. I stuffed the handsome boy full of food and did diaper duty.

Bella is pretty funny. Her former person (Richard's mom) taught her to sit up and beg, which she does with gusto, pawing the air and mooing. 

C. cooked up some really tasty spaghetti sauce with our canned tomatoes and frozen pesto, and Em brought unmeatballs. Delicious.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mushroom business

We went mushrooming again today, and found some beauties.

And I found a great website for identifying boletes (mushrooms with spongy pores instead of gills). You pop in your region, cap color, stem color and a few more variables, and it pulls up your possibilities. Then you cross-check with other sites and photos, and cook up and sample a tablespoonful (just in case you have some sort of sensitivity to a particular shroom).

This according to

 No boletes are known to be deadly; however a few that can make you very sick. In Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard, Nicholas Money opines that Boletus satanus, understandably known as Satan’s Bolete, “can make people shit themselves senseless.” Caution in bolete ingestion is thus in order.

These are suillus caerulenscens, or the blue-staining suillus. It's an orangey-brown boletus with yellow pores that turn brown with age or bruising. Slice it in half and you'll see yellow flesh in cap and stem, and a blue stain at the base of the stem that quickly fades to pinkish. Edibility: good.

C is cleaning them for the drier – these may be more trouble that they are worth, she says. The slimy coat on the caps needs to be removed, as well as the pores on older specimens. Our boletes measure about 3 inches across the cap, and that's a lot of fussing with a small fragile mushroom. We'll see what's left of them.

Now if they were king boletes (boletus edulis), I could see it. Those puppies can be 14 inches across and weigh 6 pounds.

The king

OK, it's my turn to wash mushrooms.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ides of Nov


Rainy Monday. I woke early to a new tap... tap... tap noise. I've learned to never ignore that sound. We have a brand new leak in the hall. Positioned a couple of buckets and went back to sleep.

Now C. is up on the rooftop with a bucket of black roof goo. It's probably a tiny hole where a nail has worked its way loose up through three layers of tarpaper.

I've been on mushroom-washing duty. I'm on the third grocery bag of the big white funnels, the really dirty ones. I wash 'em, C. slices them, we rotate them through the driers and into jars.

Earl and I were out decanting chicken food from a sack in the car into a bucket this morning. (I keep the 40-pound sacks in the car, or in the hallway in a lidded garbage can – the better to repel goats, mice and Earl.) Filled the bucket, closed the car hatch, boobled toward the chicken house. And then we saw the goats. They had escaped their pasture and were loitering near the chicken yard. "Shit," I believe I said. Earl wagged in agreement. 

The bucket had no lid. The goats weigh about 80 pounds each. I tend to fall over. We continued on. 

I brandished my cane, a heavy black one, in a preemptive way, and made rude eye contact. "Move, you bastards," I believe I said. They came ahead; I tried to ward them off with the cane; they came on over and under the cane simultaneously and planted their big horned heads in the bucket and pushed; I hit the ground just after the bucket. Bastards. I haul myself back up. My robot jammie pants (yes, I am retired) are all muddy at the knees. My hands are covered in mud and chicken shit. The horned bastards are hoovering layer crumbles from the ground. I briefly consider gimping into the house and asking C. to help me put these damn goats back in the pasture, just like a big baby. 

Hell, no. I grab the bucket and again make for the chicken house. The goats leave the pile of grain on the ground and go for the bucket, shoving their heads inside. I reef on someone's horns, spin around and go down again. More mud on the robo-jams. I climb back up. This time I fetch the big goat a smart rap on his nose with the cane. He seems surprised, and backs away. Little goat brother makes an end run around Earl and the cane and goes back to chowing on chicken grain. I fetch him a smack on the nose, too. I call Earl over and we push the goats back toward the pasture gate. I get the gate open, and we get one in, but the other escapes. We start over. Noses are smacked. One is in, the other hesitates... "Get 'em, Earl!" I cry, and he does. Gate closed.

Chicken breakfast was served in a big pile on the patio.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mushroom mustaches

Friday Emma and Liam came up, and Liam stayed with me while Em and C. went mushroom hunting. I think all of us had a good time.

Liam and I worked on our animal noises (he enjoys the sheep), and had a little nap.

Em and C. came home lugging bags of heavy mushrooms. Fall, a few frosts, lots of rain and the forested north side of the mountain mean a pretty good haul.

C. and I sliced some up and loaded the driers. They picked the same varieties we found last time: giant funnels, saffron milk caps and red-gill corts. And a few others, of course, but we haven't identified those yet.  Below, some funnels, all mustache-shaped in the drier.

The wool C. dyed with the first batch of red-gilled corts came out a lovely soft pink-to-cream. She's frozen the leftover dye in case she wants a lighter pink at some point. I think she's planning a darker batch (more mushrooms, less wool) next.

Remember to wash your mushrooms. And leave some for the slugs!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Stocking up

I got to missing my work buddies, so a few of us met at the local pastry place for very fudgy brownies and conversation. Most satisfactory.

Then down to business: big-time grocery shopping. Like the pioneers did it – staples for a month or so. Well, OK, not really like the pioneers. I didn't harness Buck and Nelly to the buckboard. But I did brave the huge WinCo warehouse and obtain sacks of oats, rice, flour and sugar. That's a whole new mindset for me – planning ahead and shopping just once or twice a month, instead of often and on impulse at lunch or after work. Any little thing I forget now means making a special trip the 25 miles to town. Or doing without.

Beer and chocolate are first on any list. Staples, you know.

The little keets are doing well. The big brown one was being weird yesterday,  bobbing her head and wiggling her neck around in an uncomfortable way. We'd just discovered that they go nuts for skinny little strips of cabbage. A brave one would rush up and grab the cabbage "worm" at one end and gulp it down like a pelican with a big fish, while everyone else tried to steal it. That was really fun to watch, so we gave them more and more cabbage. We figured the poor little guy had a great wad of cabbage in her crop (she found it impactful). We gave her a few drops of olive oil and that seemed to solve the problem. Little pigs. They can polish off an entire mashed-up hard-boiled egg in about 15 minutes.

Off to bed. That pioneer shopping really wears you out.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Beekeeping e-book giveaway!

I'm a regular reader of "5 Acres & A Dream," the homesteading blog written by Leigh Tate. She tells stories of the Tate mini farm – their animals, gardens, building projects – with lots of detail and lots of photos. She's not only an ambitious, hardworking homesteader, she's a writer with several books to her credit.

And she's willing to share them with us.

Here's the deal: this first giveaway is for her e-book, "Honeybee Tales & Postscript." It's part of her "Critter Tales" series. (Later we'll give away her "Chicken Tales" e-book.) I get a copy of the e-book for holding the giveaway, and one lucky reader will win a copy as well.

Critter Tales Vol. 9, Honeybee Tales, focuses on the author's choices and selection of natural beekeeping and the top bar beehive. Explains the Warré philosophy of beekeeping and introduces the reader to the Warré beehive. Discusses the use of essential oils to attract bees and repel Varroa mites, nadiring to expand the hive, and planting a bee garden. 

Leave a comment on this blog post and you'll be entered in the contest. The deadline is Nov. 12. I'll put everybody's name in a hat and draw the winner. Leigh will send the winner a link to download his/her preferred format of the e-book.

So leave me a comment!

Here's her bio:

Leigh Tate has always loved living close to the land. From the back-to-the-land movement to the modern homesteading movement, the agrarian lifestyle is the one she says feels like home. She and her husband currently homestead five acres in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians. Their vision is to become as self-sustaining as possible by stewarding their land, animals, and resources. Leigh's homesteading activities include gardening, food preservation, foraging, raising goats, chickens, and guinea fowl, herbs, cheese making, permaculture landscaping, spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, quilting, natural dying, soapmaking, wood cookstove cookery, and renovating their old 1920s farmhouse.

Her paperback book "5 Acres & A Dream" is available from Amazon.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bathing the babies

Living on dirt in a cardboard box has left the little birds kinda scroungy. C. suggested we do a bit of bathing as I moved them into a clean new box. Not full-immersion baths – they would probably get chilled – but more sponge baths. Like when your grandma scrubs your face with beer on a kleenex. 

We got the Q-tips out, and a bowl of warm water, and stroked them gently. They loved it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mushroom identification

Gathering these guys is the fun part. We've been at the computer for hours with a plate of half-mushrooms, narrowing down the possibilities.

Though there is so much info on the web, I haven't found a single site that answers all my questions. So I skip around. I usually start with a website like Northern Bushcraft. That often will give me enough info to try an image search for, say, yellow russula, and narrow things down from there.  Here is a pretty awesome list  of mushroom links. And this PNW key site can be useful. I just looked under "gilled" and through the photos, found Hygrocybe flavescent, a waxy yellow mushroom with yellow gills, and googled the latin name, looking at images and descriptions. I think that's what the yellow ones are, but will try a spore print and look at some of our other specimens. (We try to get young and older mushrooms when we pick – it helps with the identification.) Sometimes I just google "yellow mushroom yellow gills." 

I've just downloaded the MatchMaker freeware program for mushroom identification in the Pacific Northwest here. We'll see how it works.

The results

No. 1 is the saffron milk cap, Lactarius deliciosusa good-sized orange 'shroom that bruises green. Edible. This one is going to be dinner.

No. 2 is the red gill, Cortinaria neosanguineas. It's not edible, but can be used to dye wool and silk shades of red, orange and purple. C. is excited to try it, especially since most natural dyes impart a poopy gold or brown color. And there are lots more of these mushrooms out there. The deep russet-red gills are the key to identifying this guy; all parts of it are rich with color. Apparently the older caps give  the richest reds; young caps and stems give an orange color.

Here's the Old World version of this mushroom, from an old natural history.

C. has the dye pot simmering.

The rest of them are still unidentified. We'll keep at it.

It's pretty nice out – think I'll go work on cleaning up the garden.