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.