Sunday, December 25, 2011

The year in review

Ok, this isn't actually a year in review. Most of the year was boring, and I don't care to review much of it. But there are a few things I've learned or accomplished that I figure are worth bringing up.

  • I've learned there are places where I fit in better than others. I knew this already, of course, but in many ways we fit in here better than anywhere else we've lived. Here there are people who do some of the weird things we've been doing a while. They deliver their babies at home, and feel strongly about doing so. They also school their children at home, and have similarly strong feelings about it. They know how not to lose their heads if the power goes out, and realize that sometimes life has harsh realities it's better to face than to avoid.

  • I've learned there really is something about land — about real, living earth, or even a neglected patch of dirt — that can be enchanting. It's kinda like Robert Service's "The Spell of the Yukon" only you don't even need the Yukon's snow and valleys. When we first moved in, people asked if we planned to "do anything with the land", since we bought 20 acres of farm land along with the house. Although they asked it innocently enough, the question always had a probing, intense undercurrent to it, and the relief the questioner felt when we answered that we planned to learn to farm it was tangible. It was more, though, than just relief; there was a feeling of respect we gained with that answer. I cannot possibly fault our neighbors for wondering if the the strangers moving from the city into the big white house would come in wanting everyone to change things; we wouldn't have been the first. We still have a chance, of course, to end up in that unenviable category, but I think we've done pretty well so far.

  • I've taken lives, both for food and in defense of my land or animals. That's a common enough occurrence here, but wasn't part of my urban upbringing. Neither is much fun, but I'm glad to know I can, if necessary. Such things are one of the "harsh realities" of life I can't help but think will improve the person that learns to deal with them.

  • I've learned about philosophy. That seem a bit incongruous, but was a natural-enough byproduct of learning to handle life's more difficult, dark corners. As I've probably said here before, a neighbor told me once that "people here know what it's like to be stuck, so they help others when they're stuck." One of the philosophies that helps a great deal when living here is that "you help those around you when you can, even at some inconvenience to yourself." In short, these are the people you want around you in the event of a zombie apocalypse, because they're already used to taking care of themselves and those around them.

  • These are liberty-loving people. Another common philosophy, locally, is that liberty and freedom are important principles. They love their independence, even while realizing that being independent removes certain safety nets that soften life's hard edges. So they're willing to give up proposed safety nets and comfortable padding of daily life in the short term in order to maintain liberty in the long term.

  • I've learned to be grateful for those times Dad insisted I accompany him to some dark corner of the house to fix an obscure but critical part of the structure, and those many weekends we spent helping some family member build or renovate a house (or renovating our own). I've got plenty of my own fixing and renovating ahead, and I'm glad to be confident I can handle them.

  • I've learned to appreciate amateurs, people that do what needs to be done even if they really don't know how. These are the people that make life work, because they have the confidence they can deal with problems, and are willing to plow ahead without waiting for the "licensed professional". There are times, of course, when they learn they should have waited; they make mistakes and get bruised, bumped, and burned. Many are missing a finger or toe. But they get things done, and make life work. And given a properly-oriented student, and willing to share their experience.

There's probably more, but this is too long already, has no pictures, is waxing awfully rhapsodic, and ... the kids are yelling. Merry Christmas.

More eagles

Today I saw two bald eagles, majestically perched in adjacent elm trees, overseeing the management of their frozen alfalfa field.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Today I saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree. It flew away when I approached. It was neat. Message ends.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving updates

We hosted several visitors for Thanksgiving dinner and associated festivities last week, and the events seemed worthy of a few notes. First, thanks to those visitors, our wood pile is bigger (still nowhere near enough to see out the winter) and the hard part of running some new wiring is all done. The puppy proved himself fairly well-behaved around people he didn't know, and no mice showed up (as far as we know) to scare away our less mice-accustomed guests.

Dinner featured a dish that was new to all of us, namely locally-raised rooster. When we ordered our chickens in July, we didn't specify the gender (chickens can most easily be shipped when only a day old, because they don't yet need to eat, but it's not always possible to determine gender efficiently on chicks that old, for some varieties) and we ended up with more than half of them males. Pro-tip: it pays to cough up the extra dough for chicks of known gender. Anyway, our roosters old enough to start crowing now, which means big enough to consider eating, and there's little point in trying to support eight or ten roosters all through winter. So we began culling the flock with two Thanksgiving roosters. All told they were very tasty, but more rubbery than we're used to in chicken. Eventually we'll probably learn better how to ... erm ... take them from coop to oven efficiently, but suffice it to say roosters' heads aren't necessarily firmly attached. We also need to learn about removing feathers, 'cuz roosters come with lots of them. Coming up, fresh guinea fowl -- some of our lavender and white guineas are mean.

Recently a scrap metal collector came by. We've quite the pile of stuff out in the field I anticipated letting him cart off for us, but after his visit and with helpful input from neighbors, I reconsidered. One suggested I should be conservative in what assets I sell as scrap, or later on I might be "kicking myself in the asset." So when he showed up prepared to run off most of the pile, we had to spend a while working out details. In the end, in exchange for various items, the collector and his machinery cleared off the major bits from a section of land where we hope to put fruit trees next spring, which I consider a fair trade. Sometime I need to hit eBay et al. to rid myself of some of the non-scrap pieces. Anyone interested in a set of corn planters? Perhaps an old manure spreader? Let's talk deal!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I thought pizza was a fruit...

Apparently, pizza is a vegetable. Also apparently, the overall congressional grasp of the finer points of botanical science rivals in its obvious incompetence the federal understanding of what makes for safe air travel and what "shall not be infringed" means. We're told this pearl of governmental wisdom came about so schools, whose menus must fit within fairly stringent regulatory constraints, can provide foods that are theoretically nutritious but sufficiently tasty that the kids will actually eat them. Arguments for and against congressional involvement of any sort in school lunch are a valid topic for a longer discussion, but in the meantime, here's one pro tip: if you have to make stupid rules for "regulatory" reasons, it's not a sign you're working nicely within the system. It's a sign you have stupid regulations.

If you see any pizza seeds at the nursery next spring, please let me know. I'll gladly turn over some of the wheat field for a patch of Extra Large 10-Topping.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I'd like to get back to the point that I'm regularly using tools to accomplish something directly useful, rather than using tools to fix other tools. The handle on our ax recently broke, and eventually I replaced it. The new handle lasted about 20 strokes before it too broke. Now I'm back to sanding a second replacement handle to get it to fit. Meantime we replenish the wood pile with wedges and a sledgehammer. The wheel barrow was, in fact, successfully resurrected and put to useful purpose (hauling firewood) so there, at least, we've made progress.

I'm grateful for sharpening stones, oils in their various forms, and most of all today, a Day of Rest.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nota Bene

Our new house is teaching us that insulated floors and/or basements are a blessing. The floor gets noticeably colder right where the modern basement ends and the "here there be dragons" crawl space begins. Where the old basement takes over from the crawl space, the floor reaches new depths of iciness. We'll be using lots of socks this winter.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The other day an old friend of mine told me that my life (as seen via Facebook, this blog, etc.) seems "idyllic". Which got me thinking -- what's so idyllic about it?

Well, it's beautiful in the morning. And the evening. And there are some awfully nice places to sit and read a book (if you don't mind a few four-legged visitors wanting to be petted). Our front yard, pictured above and copied from an older post because I couldn't be bothered to take a new picture, is sorely in need of a tire swing, but is really quite lovely and, generally, quiet. The neighbors, if you can find any, are wonderful, and the local wildlife is often fascinating.

The major portion of the local wildlife, however, is insect in nature, and housefly in particular. The swallow population in our immediate area numbers in the hundreds or thousands, and easily (at least outside the winter months) finds sufficient insect life to keep full stomachs while still leaving plenty to bother us. Our new windows and their intact screens notwithstanding, we get plenty of flies around here. We think we've learned how to deal with earwigs that used to invade the living room and hallway each night, but the moths are coming on strong. In the realm of larger wildlife, we found yesterday the dead mouse that had lent its smell to the living room, and have had several sightings of a new stray cat that might be our chickens' latest threat. We've seen a few deer in the back yard already, and will surely see more as winter approaches, and the chickens have had to learn to hide whenever a hawk glances their way (every 10 minutes).

The plumbing is sometimes strange, the electrical system could use some work, and the DSL is uninspiring to say the least. The "scary basement" is scary as ever, the floor still sags noticeably toward the west end of the place, and there's a new noise that's started sometimes that I can't identify. But I finished digging the irrigation ditch, we have a big pile of firewood for winter (neither cut to length nor split -- I'm working on that), the dead mouse is no longer in the living room, and our attempts at making cheese are improving. The chickens are big enough to look like real chickens, the grass isn't wholly dead where their coop used to be, and they're happily preparing a potential garden plot for us now. Every few days we meet neighbors who can show us how to do things we've always wanted to learn, and at the end of the rare day when we actually get to sit down and read a book somewhere, we can feel like we've earned it.

So maybe it is idyllic...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


From The Back Twenty

After some discussion with helpful locals, we've decided we're probably going to try to grow wheat next year. The original plan was alfalfa, but that's somewhat more of an investment, and longer term, and seemed a bit daunting. In any case, the first thing we need whatever we grow is water, and although we have irrigation shares, until yesterday we didn't have a decent ditch for the water to go through. But thanks to a neighbor with an excavator, that's been remedied. He spent four hours or so clearing out the existing ditch and digging out places that needed it.

There are a few things left to finish, not including the sidewalk bridge in the image above, which probably won't collapse as quickly as it looks like it wants to. First, there's the culvert under our parking pad:

From The Back Twenty

From The Back Twenty

The first image is the inlet side, and the second is the outlet. On the intake, because the culvert isn't particularly large, we need to build essentially a concrete funnel around the opening, which will encourage a siphon effect and allow the culvert to carry the most water possible. I also want to shore up the ditch around both the inlet and outlet to prevent too much erosion. Finally, we had to remove a fair bit of concrete to expose the outlet, meaning that side of the parking pad isn't well supported, so I need to fill the holes and support it again.

From The Back Twenty

Then, there's some hand digging left to do, where the ditch goes over a power line. In the enlarged version of the image above, it's just possible to see an orange line about 1/3 of the way down from the top of the picture. The excavator removed a little of the soil here, but the only safe way to go (and the way that follows the rules) is to have the Blue Stakes people locate and mark the line, and then dig by hand anywhere within twelve inches of their markings. Fortunately all indicators say our line is buried deep enough -- though we'll still dig very carefully -- that the ditch can be plenty deep here.

From The Back Twenty

Finally, we need to put in headgates to control the water. At the place our ditch branches off the main, shown above, there are concrete pieces already to anchor the gates, but no actual gates. Our ditch is on the left, flowing toward the top of the image; the headgate for the main ditch is barely visible in the weeds to the center-right. We'll need several more dams of some sort throughout the length of the ditch, but I don't yet know if they're full, stationary headgates like these, or something more mobile. Lots to learn...

Monday, September 19, 2011


Late this afternoon we heard from down the road some noises that sounded suspiciously like gunfire. Shortly thereafter a neighbor of ours came driving along the road in his ATV, with his son and daughter (approx. 12 and 14 years old, maybe) seated beside him. The daughter was holding a shotgun. I love it that stuff like that is totally normal here. She kept it safely pointed at all times, and maintained proper trigger discipline. That kid was raised right.

Turns out in celebration of the son passing his hunter's education class, they'd gone dove hunting. September is dove season here, and there are plenty to go around. I was somewhat surprised when they offered to give us the four birds they'd gotten. But after a brief lesson in cleaning doves, we found ourselves with the makings of a dove dinner, shown here in glorious multicolor as portrayed by my Poverty Phone's alleged camera. The dove breasts are the blobby brown things sitting on top of the blobby green things. They tasted much better than the picture suggests.

It's difficult to eat much more than just the breasts on a dove, so the cats and dog gladly took care of the leftovers. Eeny here wasn't too keen to share, but eventually allowed her remaining siblings to nose their way in.

Attn: Neighbors

Some of our neighbors put a great deal of effort into training herding dogs, and when it turns out a dog just doesn't have the knack, it's a fairly substantial loss of money, time, etc. In fact, Saturday we witnessed the fun that ensues when a (small) flock of sheep escapes and runs around town. The ram and his three or four young ewe companions had quite a time of it while various locals on ATVs, dirt bikes, and whatever else they had at hand tried to corral them again. One neighbor tells me he'd rather drive 10 miles to fetch a sheep dog than try rounding up a flock on foot. That said, I wonder idly if this is a suitable alternative... and how it would fare against the somewhat more scrubby terrain some of the local ranchers have to deal with.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tips from the Inspection -- Electrical

From The Back Twenty

I suspect this will end up being several posts, because the electrical system was a big deal when we did our home inspection. My purpose in writing this post is to record the process, so if I, or the one other person reading this, ever wants to look over a building, we'll have a place to start. The second part of the introduction is this: we' don't hate our house. No, really. In fact, we love it. I'm about to write about a long list of electrical problems, but it's not a complaint. We knew about (most of) them when we bought the place. Again, the idea behind this post is to record the process we went through, and demonstrate the system our inspector used when looking it all over.

The picture at the top shows where our electrical system starts -- in a transformer at the road. This one transformer supplies only our home, in contrast to a city system where one transformer might supply several homes at once. The pole carries four major lines -- three different phases at 14,400 volts, and one neutral. Don't touch 'em. This transformer is the new one -- lightning destroyed the original the day after we moved in.

From The Back Twenty

Step two is the meter. We have three of them -- one for an RV pad, this one for our well and three (dead) outside lights, and a third for the actual house. Each consists of one big breaker feeding a panel full of little circuit breakers. And here's where the problems start. First, our house is fed by a 125 amp breaker -- meaning if our house tries to pull more than 125 amps at once, all the power goes out. We have an electric furnace ... and three electric water heaters. At least according to the inspector, 125 amps isn't big enough. There's another problem: none of the circuits is labeled, so if you have to turn one off, you can't easily tell which switch to flip. Third problem: the wires inside the box are supposed to be nicely organized. These are more like ... rats' nests. In fact, inside some there are what appear to be actual rats' nests.

At this point it's worth noting that the beautiful duct tape job on the window screen is gone now because... WE GOT NEW WINDOWS! Yay!

Moving right along, we find that our house has several subpanels -- smaller breaker boxes feeding off of the main one. Since our home was built in several sections, that's not entirely surprising. This one is the most disconcerting:

From The Back Twenty

Yes, those are live wires coming unprotected from the top of it, leading into an open hole into the attic. One of the wires is modern (indoor-grade) romex; the others are cotton/asphalt insulation that has decayed noticeably. I plan to install a conduit and replace all those. Sometime.

For the next part of the Electrical series, we'll explore the inside of the house and the wonders found therein...

Paging Alfred Hitchcock

We've been advised to encourage the local community of swallows, because they eat the mosquitoes, and in fact we haven't even knocked down the two mud nests on our front porch (despite dire warnings from various skeptics about the consequences and persistent nature of the swallows). I'd noted that we'd had seen very few mosquitoes flying around; in a big rainstorm we had the other day, the swallows all perched on the power lines in our backyard, and I realized what the mosquitoes are up against.

My aging cell phone camera probably doesn't do it justice, but there are swallows perched at regular intervals all along each of the four visible power lines, and may more in the air looking for a dry and/or warm place to roost.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

They come and they go

Yes, we've used this picture before. Deal with it.

We've thought ever since we moved here that we ought to have a dog. Dogs can fight off the hawks and owls and foxes and things that come to assault the chickens. Dogs can herd animals. Dogs can play. Dogs are neat. The other day a neighbor texted me to ask if we still wanted a dog. It turns out the latest in his long series of Blue Heelers had proven himself a miserable cattle dog, and needed a home where cattle management would no longer be part of his duties. Thus we adopted Blue (ok, so the name isn't all that creative -- we didn't have much time to prepare for this dog).

When he arrived, Blue was exhausted after about 20 miles of running around after cows, and for the first couple days he mostly sat around listlessly. He wouldn't eat, he didn't do much... but eventually he got his strength back and warmed up to us. Since then he's been a very nice dog. Energetic, playful, quiet. And the other day he found for us the stray cat that promised to terrorize the chickens when winter set in. Blue isn't much of a fan of cats. Including the ones whose territory he moved into -- our Eeny, Meeny, Miney, and Moe.

We rid ourselves of the stray cat (Blue isn't much for shotguns either, as it turns out), and were grateful for Blue's services. But the next day, Blue got into the chicken coop. He'd done it before, several times, and thoroughly frightened the poultry, but after strengthening the door and adding stakes to the chicken wire, we thought we were safe. This time, Blue used his formidable strength simply to break through the door, and caught and killed one chicken and one guinea. So we had to keep him tied up until we figured out what to do.

This morning, Blue helped us make that decision. We've been keeping him tied whenever we weren't around to watch him, and training him to ignore the chickens and cats, but to little avail. During one off-leash session, he managed to push his way into the chicken coop again. No dead chickens this time, but he had to be dragged out by the collar after ignoring all our commands. So Blue has to go. He's always been great with the kids -- like most heelers, he nips at people occasionally, but hasn't ever actually bitten or hurt anyone. He's an energetic dog, and a strong one, which some of our more timid children have found intimidating, but once they've learned to assert themselves he's been gentle and relatively obedient. He's probably fairly cowardly -- early one morning when we were tracking down a noisy coyote in the brush, he would follow me willingly, but always hid behind my legs. He understands some basic commands, and barks only when strangers appear (and even then, very little). But, although he never caused a problem his original owner's cats or chickens, he's been a terror to ours, and needs a home where that won't be a problem. Although I will if I need to, I don't particularly want to put him down; after the cat and two chickens, I'm already tired of burying animals. So anyone want a dog?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What we look like now... 8/21/2011

Tips from the Inspection -- Water

Realtors talk about buyers doing "due diligence", which really just means they look over the place with a critical eye (or more typically, hire someone to do it for them). When we bought our condo, we arranged for an inspector to drop by, and we met him afterward for a few minutes so he could tell us the dishwasher didn't work and we needed to replace the insulation on the air conditioner coolant pipes (incidentally, although we replaced the dishwasher shortly after moving in, we never did re-insulate the air conditioner). But our meeting with the inspector before buying this place was much more detailed, and one of my favorite parts of the purchase process.

Sometimes I'm surprised by what a little systematic thought can do for a problem. Sometimes that surprise comes tinged with disgust ("You mean I can take an entire 3 credit hours in Underwater Basketweaving?"), and sometimes I'm terribly impressed and wonder why I didn't think of whatever it is already -- except, of course, that 1) it never occurred to me to think about it, and 2) there's often substantially more work involved than a first impression would suggest. The home inspection was this latter variety, and for the sake of blog fodder, I'm planning to include bits of our inspection results in occasional posts.

We started off with the outside of the home, and in particular, with the roof. Our has problems, on one side, as I've mentioned before. Shingles cracking and blown off, missing rain gutters, bad drip edges. Turns out a fair bit of a home inspection is figuring out where water is going to want to go, and making sure it's ok for it to go there. Our inspector (see the website for a free PDF copy of his home maintenance guide) gave us lists of places where water was going to mess with our house, and gave us ways to abate the problem:

  • Have rain gutters. They let you collect rain water into once place, and deal with it.

  • Water flows downhill. Angle your rain gutters accordingly.

  • Rain gutters lead to down spouts, and those down spouts lead to the ground. They should extend several feet away from the foundation before emptying the water.

  • Rain flows down roofs, not up it. Pipes and vents coming out of the roof have flanges on them to keep water out; the shingles should be on top of the flanges on the uphill side of the roof, and under them on the downhill side, to keep rain out.

  • Clearing vegetation (grass and weeds) away from the foundation keeps the foundation dry (and, we later learned, helps control earwigs and other bugs that like to come inside at night).

  • Don't spray the house. Sprinklers are like rain on steroids, and can cause water damage just like the rain can.

Inside the home, we turned on pretty much every faucet, tap, and fixture in order to ensure we had both hot and cold water everywhere we were supposed to. I say "pretty much", because we didn't test the toilet in the old end of the house. The little valve on the supply line coming from the floor was turned off. The inspector suggested I could turn it on, "if you're feeling daring", but I declined (after we moved in, we discovered it leaked a little bit, and the tank wasn't well matched with the toilet base, but otherwise it functioned). Not only did this process ensure (most) everything worked, it also proved we could run lots of water down the drains and the septic tank wouldn't back up into the shower. This is a useful thing to know.

Finally we discovered the home has three (yes, three) water heaters. Connected, that is, and three more disconnected, standing forlornly in the various basements. Since the home consists of an original portion and two additions, apparently each section has its own essentially separate plumbing. One day I'll allocate a dead water heater or two to some project or other and go to the trouble of packing them up the stairs and out of the basement, but today is not that day. Any guesses as to what has killed off the water heaters such that there are so many dead ones?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hold your Horses

It's been interesting getting to know our neighbors. We've found whole categories of interests, hobbies, and philosophies that don't show up much in city life. Several of our neighbors, for instance, spend a fair bit of time and effort doing things "the old fashioned way", sometimes because "the modern way" requires infrastructure they're not sure they'll always have, sometimes just to prove they can, and sometimes because it's simply more fun that way. One neighbor in particular keeps a team of beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses. They're a small draft horse breed, gentle and strong and always some shade of tan. His are called Bob and Ike (as I recall, Bob's on my left in this picture), and I drove them the other day.

This neighbor also keeps milk cows, and cows require bedding -- in this case, straw. You spread the straw all over the stable floor and the cows live there. When one layer gets ... um ... messy, you spread some more on top. Periodically, especially as part of spring cleaning, you take out all the matted layers of composting straw and whatever the cows have mixed into it, and pile it up to compost some more, after which it becomes excellent fertilizer. One of my favorite books on the subject of this "old fashioned" lifestyle nearly waxes rhapsodic on the joy of mucking out the cow shed, and the satisfaction that comes from a well-stacked manure pile. In any case, this neighbor needed straw for cow bedding, and had arranged with another neighbor to haul off some of the smaller bales of straw remaining after the wheat harvest. My job was to drive the horses to the field, and throw the bales onto the wagon.

As it turns out, at least with well trained horses pulling a light load (the wagon was empty when I drove it) over a good road, there's not much to it. You yank on the reins on one side or the other when you want to turn, or on both to stop, and shake them a bit to go faster. It helps a bunch if someone whose voice the horses recognize is watching over your shoulder and can repeat the voice commands the horses ignore when coming from you. Even better if he takes over to drive the horses and their several hundred pounds of straw back up the hill and home.

There's a great deal of trust that comes from working with animals, as I'm learning even with our cats and poultry. On the rare occasion the birds get out of their enclosure, for instance, they generally want to get back in as much as we want them to, so all we have to do is get out of the way and let them do it. With the horses, they'll drive straight into the ditch or the irrigation lines if you tell them to, and it's perfectly clear standing next to Bob and Ike that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted if they chose to disregard you. But when you and the animal understand each other, stuff gets done remarkably well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

51 babies in our front yard! "The Birds" Part 1

This part of our journey started in the middle of July when we placed an order for baby guineas (keets) and baby chickens (chicks). Shortly after we decided we wanted a milk cow we decided we wanted chicken. However, we didn't know about guineas until a freind from here was sharing that they have them around their house for insect control. "Insect conytoll?" We need insect control! So guineas we got.

After searchng through a few different sites I decided on this site because they offered a combinztion of good prices, selection, and quality. Having never owned any birds of anykind in my past I chose our birds based on what the site had to say about them. There wasn't much information on the guineas so I just got 5 each of the four kinds. As for the chickens I choose to get 8 americaunas, because they looked like they are decent layers, get to be a decent size for meat and, the biggest reason, the hens lay blue, green, olive, and turquoise colored eggs, and 20 barred plymouth rock. We chose these to be our main chicken since they are suppose to be a wonderful dual purpose bird, meaning they are great meat chickens and some of the best "backyard" layers. Why so many, because it sounded nice/fun. Is it too many, I have no idea, we have never had chickens before :).

I thought I would share the process of mail ordering chicks (birds). Some people might know how this goes, but some might not (I had no idea until I did it). After you decide what you want and place your order, you wait. You will recieve and e-mail about a week before the chicks hatch (their hatching schedule is fairly predictable once they are fertilized) letting you know to expect them. They are shipped off the day/day after they hatch as this is when they can withstand not having any food or water for 24-48 hours any older and they would die. They get to your post office the day or day after they leave their hatchery. Once there the post office will give you a call letting you know to come pick them up. To be polite you should get there as soon after the phone call as possible.

How did this process work for us. Pretty well. Our guineas came a week before our chicks since that is just how the hatching schedule happened. We only recieved a two day notice that the guineas were coming due to a minor over site. As we knew they would come in this general time we were expecting them and this didn't cause much problem. We knew they were shipping on Wednesday the 20th and would get here either Thursday or Friday. Thursday came, we built our outdoor brooder and fenced it in with chicken wire, and Thursday went. However, early Friday morning our post office gets their mail delivery, and at 8am Sara, from the post office, called to let us know we had some baby birds in the office ready for pick up. Yay!!!!!!!

Josh, Andrew, and little Josh head into town to pick up our newest addition:

I busily finish getting the final touches done for the brooder, i.e. filling the food, and water dishes, turning on the heat light (they are suppose to have a steady 95 degrees for the first week), and I am sure a few other things that I just don't remember right now.

I got an honorary phone call from Josh on the way home so I could hear just how noisey these tiny birds can be, and for Josh to share how cute they are. A short time later they arive home much to Lily and my excitement. We take them, inside their box, to their new enclosure and start unloading them. Much to our surprise these noisey darling little things were small enough and skittish enough they could slip right through the chicken wire! AAH! A quick game of catch the keet(fortunately they weren't nearly as fast then as they are now) and we had them back in their box. Being the (cheap) resourceful couple we are we grabbed a few small pieces of wood that was lying around and some tent stakes and a large cardboard box, and made a very functional temporary wall. This wall ended up being a very good thing as we needed a better wind break and that is exactly what this provided.

Here are some picture to give you an idea of what we started out with.

Now the adventer is only begun so stay tuned to hear about sleepless nights, baby chicks, and 51 near death experiences.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Herding chickens

We'll doubtless have more to say about the chickens in another post, but after all the time I spent trying to get this video to upload over our DSL connection, I can't help but post it. In recent days, our boys have gotten chicken herding down to a science, but the first time we had to chase them back into their coop, it took a bit of effort. My favorites are the guineas, which behave like skittish schools of fish, running away en masse every time one of them flinches.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Highlights of the week

Somehow this week I'm feeling particularly productive. The toilet still leaks, there's still plenty of painting to do, I haven't started redoing the electrical systems (which I have to do soon so we can insulate before winter starts), and I found another wasps nest. But this week we built a chicken coop...

...and a nice gated enclosure to go around it (complete with makeshift irritating string all over the top as security theater against hawks)...

...and I patched the bit of the roof over the master bathroom where the shingles had torn off.

It's not pretty, but I think it will last one winter, after which we're thinking of redoing the roof anyway, or at least this part of it. I used tar paper nails (left) instead of roofing nails (right), ...

...and hip/ridge shingles rather than normal ones, but again, it only has to last one winter (or maybe two), and now I've learned from that mistake before we redo the whole thing. We've been considering metal roofing, but realized only the south-facing portion of the roof needs to be redone anyway, so we may just replace the south shingles, and leave the rest alone. When that hits the top of the priority list.

So I feel good about this week. Now to figure out how to move the chickens and their crazy heavy new home, so their manure fertilizes the lawn instead of killing it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I've been thinking a bit about why I wanted to move here in the first place. One reason is "luxury". The typical definition of luxury includes such beauties as a 50" television, a boat for the weekend, and a big truck to pull it. Or perhaps leather furniture, deep carpet, and granite counter tops. At the typical grocery store, all the bacon is smoked in apple wood, because someone decided a while back that that's what tastes the best, all the milk is homogenized and pasteurized, and all the cheese is atomic yellow, because that's what everyone thinks they want.

The luxury I want is to be able to watch the sunrise, without a building getting in the way (and sunrise here is amazing). A 50" TV might be nice, but not as nice as looking at few hundred feet of newly cleared irrigation ditch and knowing I've just accomplished something. It was nice living in a place where flies, ants, and spiders weren't much of a problem, but I appreciate times like that much more now that I've spent an evening vacuuming earwigs out of the living room carpet.

Wanna know why the cheese gets dyed yellow? Because better milk produces yellower butter and cheese, and people used to judge the quality of their food on traits like that. I want the luxury of starting with better milk.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How we bought the farm

Warning: long boring post ahead

Many of the people we've met since we moved in have asked how we found this place, and were surprised somehow to learn that we just saw it online. was a favorite site of ours from the time we began thinking about moving until we finalized this deal, and it lists more than just the typical (sub)urban residential dwelling. Anything available on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in Utah should be available there, which basically means everything that's not for sale by owner (for those, there are other sites). Our realtor set something up to email us once a week all the new or revised listings that met our criteria ("within our price range" and "more than one acre"), and then we'd periodically look through the web site for things that seemed interesting.

Kanosh sounded attractive from the beginning, but probably only because there were a few properties in the area that we liked, and nothing obviously distasteful about the area. In particular, living here would shorten our occasional trips to California by over two hours of driving time -- by itself not sufficient reason to move, but one reason we didn't look too closely at eastern Utah, where lots of properties otherwise met our criteria. When we first noticed this place, it was at the very top of our price range, and we both thought it could be really cool... but wouldn't ever happen. We stopped by to look, while visiting another interesting property in the area, but still thought it wasn't possible. But prices come down as properties sit on the market (our condo's price definitely did!), and eventually that hurdle disappeared.

The fact that our home is in on the outer fringes of nowhere really only affected the transaction in two ways: the inspection, and the financing. The former is the subject of an upcoming post; our mortgage broker (my uncle) warned us from the beginning that the latter could be difficult. Investors apparently don't like investing in weird properties, and ours was definitely "weird" (lots of land, in a very rural area, with very few comparable sales close by to work off of).

The first financing hurdle was the appraisal. Our land is actually four different legal parcels, and lenders won't lend on more than two simultaneously, and generally not more than one. So we had to get a loan on the parcel with the home on it, and hoped it would cover our total purchase price. Which meant the appraisal was important. That's where someone looks at the home, finds comparable sales (ideally within a mile or so, and in the past six months, but you don't often get that in rural area). We ordered the appraisal, waited, and waited some more, and finally word came back on my birthday: the "purchase price is supported", meaning the home and the one parcel of land was sufficiently valuable that an investor could recoup his money after foreclosing on us, should it come to that. In other words, it was worth about as much as we'd offered. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever. Well, perhaps not ever, but it was exciting nonetheless.

So it was irritating when, later on, the mortgage broker said the lender wanted another appraisal, to "comfirm" the first one. This after the first potential lender had said, "Um, sorry, it's just too weird for us." Appraisals run $350 or so -- which is small potatoes compared to the purchase price, but is still irritating. That appraisal eventually came out in our favor, as well, and after that, it was just a matter of signing our life away some papers.

...which included more papers than usual, because it involved water rights, extra parcels, etc. But that all blurs together after the first 6-inch paper pile you sign your way through at the title company. And since the title people provided cookies, it wasn't a big deal.

Anyway, that's how it came about. I hope the story was at least as boring as the process... *grin*

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Way to go, Moe

Moe brought home his first mouse a couple days ago (no pictures, both to spare the squeamish and, frankly, because I didn't take any). To all those who said these kittens would never learn to catch mice without the help of their mother, I have this to say:

nanny nanny poo poo.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why won't my arms move?

Why won't my arms move? Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? Where is Buttercup?

I'm getting to a point where I have lots of questions. For instance:

  • We want a cow one day. What do I have to do to get ready for one?

  • What kind of fences should I use? Where do I get the materials and tools? How do I use them?

  • Will the newly patched shed roof withstand the wind load?

  • How do we keep the kittens from eating the chickens we have coming in a couple weeks?

  • How do I build a coop for the chickens, anyway, and with what?

  • Just how wacky is our electrical system, and how bad a sign is it that the lights dim whenever the dishwasher starts up?

  • I'd like to raise a pig or three, but I don't see pigs around here. Does anyone keep them? If not, why not?

  • The electrical box I meant to put a light in yesterday has six different cables coming into it. What for? What do they connect to?

  • When should we plant our fruit trees?

  • How do I go about actually using our irrigation water?

  • There are three big flood lights in our field that buzz, but don't turn on. What's the deal?

  • Can I convince someone to come plow a few acres for us?

... and so on. I realize my neighbors have those answers. What's more, the neighbors have been unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and helpful. I will, eventually, get answers to these and other questions from them -- but I'm hesitant simply to interrogate random neighbors outright until I burn through their last vestiges of benevolence, That said, I want the answers now! I'll console myself with the thought that even with the answers, I'd still not have the time to do anything useful with most of them.

As an aside, if you happen to drop a ladder on your toe after patching a shed roof, this is a really good idea. I prefer the melting method, but I don't own a jeweler's drill.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Our roof has some issues. Our shed's roof has some more serious issues. I should probably buy shingles and nail them on, and that's doubtless what I'll do to the house's roof. But for the shed, I'm seriously tempted to try thatching it. We've got 20 acres of tall rye grass, after all. Anyone have a scythe?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe...

Our next adventure came in the form of a road trip. I had reserved four little kittens two weeks back when I knew we would definitely be moving. Four kittens, how come so many? Why to catch the mice of course!! We picked them up from a family in Nephi. They were kittens of a stray that had adopted this family. We thought about taking the mother, but decided against it since she showed signs of wanting to ditch the kittens.

We load the kittens up in a box and head the hour trip back home. We had been talking about what we want to call these cats for quite a while and never came up with anything we liked. After we got home, unloaded the kittens and introduced them to their new home it came to me. Four kittens make Eeny, Meeny, Miney, and Moe!

Here are the twins, Eeny, and Meeny. (Meeny is just slightly lighter grey on her head than Eeny. Miney is the lighter on in the front.)

Here is sister Miney. She is mostly white faced with a little white tip on the end of her tail.

Here is the man of the family, brother Moe.

The kids, and mommy and daddy, just LOVE the darling little cats! Being as we have never brought an animal home to live with use we weren't quite sure how to keep these little guys around since they are strictly outside cats. In fact we thought we had lost them for a few hours Saturday night since we couldn't see them anywhere.

Andrew was very worried and decided to take matters into his own hands and informed me that he said a prayer asking that the kittens would be safe and want to stay with us. About an hour later...

We found that they had discovered a hole in our foundation that would provide refuge from the commotion of four small children (especially the super lovey two year old who runs up yelling, "My kitty, my kitty!"). Thanks, Andrew!

We were told that Moe, the brother, is the calmest and most cuddly and that is proving to be true for us as well. When sisters are off playing Moe is usually relaxing in the shade. In fact Andrew and Daddy have taken to Moe. Before the end of the day yesterday Andrew had Moe walking up to him.

Day two is proving to be a good sign. This morning Andrew comes up and asks how much food he is suppose to give the kittens so he can feed them (this was slightly before 6 am). All the other kids also made it a priority to play with the kittens as soon as they were awake. Fortunately the kittens seem to be liking it here and have been playing back. Yay!!

Hopefully they will continue to stick around and be safe from any predators in the area and we will have a long time to tend and appreciate the cute cats.

An "organized" move

Not our house

A couple times during our move, people mentioned that things seemed particularly well organized. I'm not sure why it felt that way, exactly, but since we put specific effort into being organized, I thought I'd comment on a few things that we did.

I helped a couple people move in the weeks before our move, and noticed a pattern I wanted particularly to avoid. In each instance, there were three classes of objects to be moved:

  • Big, unboxable furniture
  • Boxes
  • Little miscellanea, mostly unboxable

Big furniture is easy enough, provided you have people to help move. We even managed to get the organ and piano out ourselves (I dismantled the organ somewhat in advance, so it would be easier; the piano movers I called couldn't come the day of our move, but while I had them on the phone I asked them for hints for moving it ourselves, and they recommended a piano skid board, which Diamond Rental provided, and which saved us). Particularly useful here is to have several oxen in human form on hand; some of my relatives could probably dead-lift the U-Haul.

Boxes are also fairly easy. They involve lots of trips up and down the stairs, unless you're willing, as we were, to throw some off the balcony to a foolish trusting catcher, and the two missionaries that serendipitously arrived just as I started loading the truck played that role well. Probably half our boxes went the quick way down the stairs, which saved several peoples' legs, backs, and sanity. Given some selectivity about what got dropped and what got carried, we even managed not to break anything.

The random little junk is the killer in all this. You can't box most of it, and it takes up all kinds of space. You can't carry much of it at once, so it requires lots of trips up and down the stairs. Inevitably it gets left for last, and it's at about this stage that most help gives up and goes home, because they figure you can carry all the rest of this stuff yourself. That's true, but it takes a week.

Our plan of attack for this last category had several prongs. First, we were fortunate to have millions of boxes (in fact, we left some behind for our condo's new owners to deal with) thanks to begging them from all kinds of people. So we managed to box a fair bit of stuff that wouldn't normally be boxed. Second, we lived a pretty spartan lifestyle just before moving, so we could put everything possible in boxes. Nothing's more depressing to otherwise willing helpers than piles of unboxed stuff and no idea whether it needs to go out or not, so we boxed everything and lived a disposable lifestyle for a few days. Third, we put up signs telling people what stayed and what went. We left tools, instructions, and little baggies taped to all the furniture that needed disassembly, and Karlyn religiously labeled each box with its contents and destination using color-coded sticky labels.

Finally, I'm not sure how much difference this made, but I decided we ought to move the little unboxed stuff first, instead of last. The truck came with a "Mom's attic" above the cab:

Not our truck

Most people use this space for boxes, but it's perfect for all the random stuff. It's not tall enough that you have to worry about stacking lots of odd-shaped articles on top of each other, it's out of the way of everything else, and it's easy to tie it off or stack boxes in front of it to keep things from falling out. So by the time the main body of helpers arrived, we'd loaded the attic with our miscellaneous stuff, and there were only boxes and furniture left. Which is good, because we still couldn't fit it all in the truck...

Thanks to Flickr user JoeInSouthernCA

We did it!!!


Well, we did it! What did we do exactly? That is a good question and one I hope I can answer.

A week ago Saturday we loaded all of our belongings onto a 26' Uhaul. Okay, not quite all our belongings. You can really accumulate stuff, even when you have six people in a two bedroom condo. Fortunately we have some wonderful family and, on Monday the 4th, were able to get everything that didn't quite fit into the Uhaul on Saturday either in our car, or mostly into a "favorite" Aunt's car. Down we headed to Kanosh, just over two hours south of Salt Lake.

We got to the house about 2ish and started unloading the cars. Josh got there with the Uhaul about 30 minutes later. Another wonderful family member and his family showed up to spend the fourth with us at our new house. Between Josh, "favorite" Aunt, Uncle and his family, and various towns people that just showed up to say hi, one being the former owner's son, Kyle, the truck was completely unloaded by 5pm. Now that was a very pleasant surprise as we were expecting to finish the unloading on Tuesday when the bulk of the people were going to come and help. Wahoo!!!

The adventure begins....

We have been having frequent afternoon/evening thunder storms. Nothing very big, just a little bit here and a little bit there. Well, on Tuesday evening a lightning bolt decided to give us a closer look and struck our transformer (the kids response to the noise was, "Whoaaa!"). Our roast in the oven stopped cooking, our lights went out (which wasn't too bad since it was only 4pm), and our well pump stopped working. Yes, if you don't have a well pump you don't have water.

We weren't so sure if it was just us without power or if the other 3 houses on our mile long road were without as well. So, we went for a walk (the sky was clear by then). The house closest to us had its sprinklers on and the door bell rang (okay, answered that question). The next question. Out in the middle of no where, what do you do when you don't have power? We called Kyle and asked him that exact question. He helpfully pointed us to the electric company that supplies this house.

A call was placed to Flowell Electric and a crew was dispatched immediately to replace our blown-up transformer. Without any hastle and a nice conversation the power was back on by 9pm. Yay, electric guys!!! Now time to put kids to bed. Wait, the water doesn't work?! But the power is back on. Well, we might as well wait 'till tomorrow morning and to figure out what might be wrong with the water.

The morning comes and after another phone call to Kyle and various other people, several hours, and hundreds of dollars later we have water!! Now, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Kyle's wife, Stacy heard of our "troubles" on Wednesday morning and brought over two loaves of home made bread, two cases of bottled water, one gallon of water for washing hands, a huge bag of sweedish fish, a box of Capri Sun, and strawberry freezer jam. Yeah, hard times, right?

Well, keep watching because there are lots more adventures to come. Here is just a snip-it of our to do list: Replace all the windows, remove the grass from around the foundation, replace the electrical wire in the old part of the house, spray the basement with bleach so we can clean up the 50 lbs of rat droppings and fill the basement for storage, connect the three separate plumbing jobs to convert to one water heater (instead of 3) and add a water softener. That doesn't even get the the 20 acres of land! Fun times!!

Here are some pictures of our property.

Front Yard with the BIG tree.

Out door fire place (can you say future bread oven!)

Looking back from kitchen door. If you look really close you can see a brown wood fence just right of the middle of the picture. Follow that back as far as it goes and that is basically our property line.

View looking west from kitchen door. (Oh yeah, we have like 6 outside doors.) If you can see past the smudge on the lens everything that is brown is ours.

Looking west from the front of the house.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I hate moving

Phase I of the move is nearly complete. The truck is as full as it can possibly get, there's a bit of stuff left over, and the plan is to clean our old place out and drive south tomorrow. After yesterday's marathon box-and-stuff-moving session, my fingers wouldn't move this morning.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In my inbox...

I'm planning a post describing the process we've been through to purchase our little house of dreams, but refuse to write it until we have the keys in-hand. In the meantime, there's this:

From: Friendly Uncle and Mortgage Guy
To: Us
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2011 13:27:47 -0600
Subject: Great News

I just saved 15% on my car insurance....

And your loan is fully approved and we are ready to close!

What day and time works best for the two of you to sign papers?

Uncle and Mortgage Guy
The Mortgage Company
123-456-7890 ext. 123
123-456-7891 fax

Monday, June 13, 2011


A number of people have wondered what has possessed us to want to move off to our own little corner of nowhere and grow stuff. I had an epiphany on the subject today while chatting with a like-minded family member (who, incidentally, introduced me to this very interesting-looking website): When I wake up in the morning, I'm dependent on the guy who made my sheets. And the one that built my windows, my roof, and my shower. I'm dependent on the guy who makes razors (on the relatively rare occasion I choose to use one), the folks that produce soap, and the ones that power my refrigerator.

I don't like that

It's not that I want to have to do all those things for myself. I'm not terribly interested in sleeping regularly on homespun sheets, keeping my milk in an ice house (and spending the winter cutting ice from ponds to stock it), or replacing thatch. But I want to know that I can do it. Does that make it sound less crazy?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Oh, hi there...

It looks like we're moving. To the middle of nowhere. With 20 acres. Reactions our plan to abandon the city life we know for the rural life we don't are mixed; most of those older generation folks who grew up on (generally small) farms love the idea, most of those young folks who grew up on farms of any size think we're crazy, and (sub)urbanites are all over the map. But from the enthusiastic supporters of the idea (and there are some) have come several suggestions to blog about it. So here goes. For now, there's not much to see here, but eventually we'll probably forget all about this blog thing and get back to work put some pictures up, talk about this project or that, or complain about how the dogs trampled the flower beds again. Enjoy!