Saturday, December 28, 2013

1935 Motor Vehicle License Application

Found this in the stacks of paper. No idea why any of these old documents were kept, but it is interesting to see the progression of vehicles over the years.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Photo--Dead People

I don't understand the large number of photos of dead family members in caskets amongst the photo files. I know I would rather remember the departed while they were still alive, not during their final moments exposed to the air.

This first, of what I can presume will be a series, shows my great grandmother, Hattie, in 1967.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Photo--My Grandmother

Had to take this one out of the dirty and busted frame to scan. It is in nice condition for its age. Photo is of my grandmother and her twin brother in 1910. AuntI seems to think she is the one on the right. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Photo--Behind Grandma's House

Never new there were goats out here until these photos from the 1950s turned up. Looks like Unc with the goat. Yes, that outhouse is still there, though a bit harder to see because of the trees blocking it from this angle. You can also see the clothesline. That metal bar holding it up was there until recently. The ladder to the roof of the porch area is still there, though I wouldn't dare get on the roof anymore. Neat to see all the fencing in the garden area too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Photo--Outside Grandma's House

Not sure who took these two photos, the upper one of Oxnix, the lower of Unc. Could it be that Hattie was proud of her two grandsons growing up on the place, or was their uncle a shutterbug?

The fence behind them is still in place, overrun with a bushy yellow rose. The gate is still there too, though it no longer swings or has the fence on the left to be attached to. It's swing shut mechanism is still in place too. The A frame building is gone, on the upper left. The floor was eroding and it's structural integrity was gone. It was a treasure trove of old junk, including countless Prince Albert tobacco cans. The garage still stands today, though the roof is pretty well gone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Photo--AuntI and Unc

Photo is from about 1968. Unc would become a Staff Sergeant in Vietnam. AuntI stayed home (and is still here right now). The couch on the right was finally place downstairs the other day. You can still see the 4x8 pattern in the ceiling and the walls are still red. AuntI's graduation picture was finally taken down a year or so ago and the shelf is now full of plants. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Photo--Lower Yard Area

Probably an early 1950's view, showing the grain bin in the center, still standing in pretty good condition today. The wooden fence seen above the garden on the left is down to only the second board up, the rest having more than likely rotted off. The pipe crossing through the center of the picture is part of the gravity irrigation system, with the pumphouse for it being the wooden building on the right. A tank next to the windmill was filled either by the pump or the windmill, and then fed by pipes all over the place to irrigate. 

The blacksmith shop is the second building from the right. The chicken coop is the building on the left. It is nearly fallen in and will probably be the next building that we remove, to keep it from falling into the driveway.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013 State of the Ranch Report

As of today, we’ve been living here for one year. How time flies! And what have we accomplished in that fast-flying time?
Our precious Tootles
We demolished four buildings – five if you divide the wood shed into wood and coal. And “demolished” really only means giving the final push that nature was waiting on to reclaim the ancient structures.
We began construction on the round pen, though it was abandoned due to the election season.
We filled six metal-recycling bins with junk metal lying around everywhere. And there’s still so much more to go.
We felled Clarence the Elm Tree, and started removing willow snags.
We added internet, which involved more land displacement and rock removal than we expected.
Kitten Horde and Clarence
We moved AuntI back into private quarters, and eventually reclaimed a family life in the public spaces.
We “redecorated” the basement – the on-site storage unit – twice.
We lost several pets (Pepe, Spike, and Tootles included), gave away two (the llama trouble-makers), and gained far too many (the kitten horde and Sam the Siamese). The fluctuation of chicken numbers was far too much to keep track of, and the ducklings never made it. Nor did the geese.
We chased down and recaptured the llamas far too many times.
We cut down and dug up most of the ancient irrigation system, including the part that was laid within the foundation walls of the house.
Mostly clean yards
We killed one rattlesnake and one bull snake, that last one due to misidentification.
We lost far too many plants, mostly due to the llamas, but we did have a small garden survive and produce a little food.
We cleaned up the various yards and planted grass. We’ll see if it comes up next year.
We removed numerous old vehicles, and burned up three then-current ones.
We removed old home d├ęcor like ancient radios, badly-built and overused furniture, giant webby spider mansions and poorly-made plastic canvas wall-hangings. We then replaced them with living plants, bulletin boards and to-do lists, and the annotated clock from the old house.
We swept and dusted, and dusted and swept, and swept and dusted again.
Vehicle challenges
We (I) hand-scrubbed every tile in the public areas, twice in the kitchen. Not sure I’m convinced it’s really clean yet.
We brought in Dish TV’s Hopper System, just for peace between vastly differing viewing interests and time schedules. Amazing how much conflict we can still have over three viewing options.
We documented nearly every wildflower and most grasses and shrubs on the entire ranch. We established how many of them are medicinally or culinarily useful.
We fought the continual onslaught of kochia, thistle and wild rye. And mice and ticks and snakes. And ravens and coyotes.
The annotated clock
We developed strong connections with the area farmers and neighbors and businesspeople. We’ve discovered my family roots here aside from Dude’s heritage, and how little this community r
eally is.
We emptied boxes of paper gathered from everywhere out here, and salvaged pieces of history that we still need to decipher.
We (Dude) re-fenced more fencelines than we can count. And the llamas and coyotes still walked through them.
We introduced AuntI to wii, conservative news, a varied array of musical styles, internet information searches, space-sharing, and a level of activity she’s never seen.
We used our backhoe in numerous new ways, including in food preservation – a feat we’d never imagined.
Family fun
We broke the mammoth tusk.
We (Munchkin) had multiple sleepovers, each getting progressively more fun as the space improved in cleanliness and comfort.
We rebuilt an irrigation system under pressure of potential wildland fires.
We rebuilt the roof of the cellar, in the snow, no less.
We ripped the muffler system off the farm truck, but had fun in it anyway.
Rural beauty
We fought snow and ice, and heat and sweat. We found favorite hollows and bluffs. We bonded over visits to muddy ponds, hidden wells, distant meadows and rutted roads. We cleaned and fixed and redesigned and learned. We laughed and cried over all the struggles we didn’t expect, and then laughed and cried again over all the surprises God granted us. We celebrated our adventure with friends and family.
We moved in and took dominion. And we can’t wait to get on with our second year!

Document--Property Swap?

This letter causes us to wonder if D.O. traded his place near Olympia for Albion's homestead. The deeds we have helped lead to this idea.

Yes, the names are covered over.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


As we’ve mentioned many times before, there’s always “this much still to do.” No matter how hard we work or how much progress we make, there’s still a lifetime of projects before us, taunting us from their places of neglect. But we are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of moving out here, and even more quickly approaching the five-year anniversary of inheriting this giant effort. So we figured it was about time to do the housewarming thing and invite everyone out – even though the house doesn’t really accommodate large numbers of people.

Hence was born the Open-Ranch Party. Yes, it’s November. Yes, it’s only 40 degrees outside. Yes, we would be cold in the blowing wind. But no, it couldn’t wait for next spring. We planned three tours, each focusing on a different aspect of the domain. We set up a gun range. We prepared for a bonfire. We arranged for hay rides. We intended music and laughter.

We got the laughter, and that’s all we really hoped for.

Appropriately attached...
Munchkin led the first tour. Her friends had stayed overnight for her birthday, and her cousins joined them for a teen look at all those little interest points she’d found among the hills and valleys. Their faces were flushed and their breath was gone by the time they returned to the kitchen for the cupcake bar and presents.

Dude led the second tour, after Mr. Anonymous helped him with the proper location for the “extraneous” wire amongst the spark plugs in our truck. Two big farm trucks, loaded with hay bales and giggling children and guests not quite prepared for the cold, headed to the north end. They stopped to see the Big Spring, the ancient horse-drawn combine, and a few other notable points. I took a third truck out to meet them, loaded with late-comers, but found them just as they were turning back to home.

I led the third tour, giving the history of the homestead and buildings. Filled mostly with a generation older than me, the conversation was speckled with “I remember that” and “my folks had one of those” and “yes, this is for…” We then moved inside the current house, stopping to see the mammoth tusk on our way to discussing the planned remodels to our living space.

Through all of this, the gun range was expected to be a big draw but the wind was too strong. Instead, guests wandered amongst all the junk, and history, and treasures that make up our daily experience. A gaggle of women discussed food allergies in the kitchen, while making sure the cupcakes weren’t raided by roaming children. Sister She (who also discovered that scented fragrance beads look like non-pareilles) and Chevy Mama added “appointments” to my calendar. Blondie took sorted ranch items off our hands – thankfully. Others watched the digital picture frame for shots of Hillbilly and other family members they once knew, while marveling at the changes from those early photos. AuntI even had a visit from a mutual friend, though she had isolated herself in her room for the day. Beautiful flowers from our lease-holders graced the table, alongside one of my precious 3-wick candles. So many people were passing through the house that the heat built up, something I wish we could duplicate daily.

As dusk fell, Dude and Mr. Anonymous started the bonfire. The resident great-horned owl graced the party, arguing with Munchkin (as always) as the kids ran to the table of food. Guests ladled up fresh-made apple cider and traveled the solar-light path to the garden, where a blaze of Clarence the Tree really prevented rather than helped the dinner effort. Maestro shoveled a pile of coals to a smaller location, and hot dogs and smores were then devoured. An old bench from the cellar was pulled in front of the fire, and periodically moved as the heat waved over us. No singing happened, but the conversation was good, graced by the song of coyotes and geese. While gazing at a beautiful, shining Venus low on the horizon, we witnessed the flash in the thin clouds of a blown transformer the next town over – exciting and strange!

The evening ended with ChevyMama and Red, with teens in tow, visiting and wii’ing around a now-empty living room. We brought in the fire-sticks and doused the bonfire, and after sending the last of our guests off with big hugs, literally fell into bed exhausted.

I have so many delightful memories. The line of cars that extended clear up the road, more than this place has ever seen. The shadows of many mini-conversations backlit by the fire as I approached along the solar-light trail. The farm trucks loaded with friends and bouncing along the northern fields. Friends I’ve known for years meeting for the first time, while former friends – lost to name changes and job transfers -- reunited again in my kitchen. The young boys establishing the “Sandhill Fort along the Barbed-Wire Road,” and the young girls cooing over cats and dogs and horses and llamas and ducks and chickens. The sweet and thoughtful gifts brought by our friends that we didn’t expect.

The biggest gift, though, was the warmth our friends brought to our cold, tired home. We were blessed by the presence of friends of all ages from all our various associations over every phase of our lives. So many were unable to come, but we felt their love too. We will cherish all this, and as we’ve said before, our door is always open to our friends, cold weather or warm.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Photo--1975 Family Photo

Photo circa 1975 in the front yard of the current house. Of note is the nice lawn and upright outbuildings.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Photo--1950 Construction Photo

Here we have the current house under construction. More than likely the Hillbilly and his youngest brother, Fattie, at work. Neat to see the fenced area right below the house, and the red shack in the background, just to the left of the current house. Some of those rocks are still there, though there was a garden spot just behind it years later. Part of this gate and more wooden fencing, added later, were still standing when I was out here as a kid, though its all gone now. You can see part of the roof of Grandma's house behind the "crane" on the right.

The red shack was the first stick built house out here. It still stands, though the roof is fast disappearing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Photo--1950 Construction Photo

This photo proves the current house is the newest on the place. Most of the other buildings are still extant, though some are in severe states of disrepair. Note the horse-drawn wagon in the middle. Though not there now, there are still plenty to see nearby.

There seems to be a bit of a double image going on here as well.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photo--Family Visit To Dry Falls

Taken in about 1954 or 55, this shows Oxnix on the left and Unc on the right. Still hard for me to believe they got out of the homestead to visit places. Background of this photo is nearly unchanged today.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Photo--The Garage

We have a garage out here, long ago built into the hillside. Its sports a rock wall in the back, and an attached shop. Unfortunately, it was built near the dawn of time, because it does not look as good as this 1980 photo.
The roof is nearly gone and the walls are sagging. Part of the rock wall in back collapsed years ago into the shop, leaving rocks and tools intermingled even now. AuntI's Plymouth Fury III, on the right, is long gone, as is the 1977 Ford F150 belonging to Oxnix.
An interesting story comes to mind with that Ford. One year the lake at the nearby state park froze over. The ice was so thick I recall seeing this truck being driven on the ice next to the boat launch. The date could have been around this same time.
By the way, the tire on the left hand side of the photo is still there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Photo--The Clothesline

This photo, snapped behind Grandma's House, was part of a number of photos stored poorly. They were crinkled and had stuff on them, as you can see from the scan.

The view here dates from about 1980 and shows the small pasture area. Looking closely you can see the clothespins hanging on the clothesline. Said line is a heavy metal wire of unknown origin. Its seen service for countless decades, including our use of it this last summer. Up until 1972, the clothesline was the only way to dry clothing out here, with an indoor clothesline in the basement for winter time use.
Note the rest of the junk in the photo from 1980. Most was cleaned up in 2013, 33 years later.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photo--The Homesteaders

This photo shows D.O. and Hattie at an unknown location. He is looking pretty old and tired, so it has to be near 1953 when he passed away.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo--Farmall H

These 3 photos show the first tractor owned by the Hillbilly, a Farmall H. The Farmall H, produced from 1939 to 1954, became the number two selling tractor model of all time in North America with 420,011 sold. No doubt it was purchased to relieve the need for feed and care for numerous horses. 

The lack of a plow on this tractor suggests it was using its bulk to "plow" through a very snowy winter, perhaps in 1954 or 1955, as other photos with these three would suggest. The tractor was traded in on a brand new International 300 in 1956.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Snow 2013

How many times do I have to say it? I hate snow. It's cold and wet and makes travel and chores difficult. Because I detest it so much, I happen to be a near-expert on it. (Munchkin: "Since when? Who asked you?" See where my lovely sense of sarcasm gets me in this family?)

I've been saying for months that I just had a sense this winter would be a long, hard one. If this early snowfall is any indication, the first part of that may have just been confirmed. It's weeks before Thanksgiving, the typical first showing of the white stuff in these parts. Most of the region woke up to a dusting, just enough to make itself known, but not near enough to cause travel problems. Out here, though, I was beginning to look like we were in for the long haul.

The first text came from Dude, at work half an hour away, at 4am. "Snowing hard here." Sleeping here, in blissful ignorance, was my thought. The space heater was running, so I was happy.

The second text came from the Accompanist around 6:30am from their home an hour away. "Have the kid get up and look at the snow." My response: "When we all wake up." Meaning, I'm not awake, and snow is not a good motivator to get me out of bed. "Better hurry. It'll all be gone," she replied. "Lots here. It'll be here," I texted. By now, I'd seen that the general reflection of the approaching dawn sneaking out from behind the curtains was far too bright to be just a dusting.

Sure enough, by the time I got up two hours later, we had around half an inch. Over the next two hours, it flurried, then fluffed, then blizzarded, then flurried again. All told, we had nearly an inch. Every surface was covered and piled high, except where the animals traveled through it, some seeing snow for the first time ever.

I was about to spend yet another day at the courthouse, observing the ballot counting process. Not a warm building either, I figured multiple layers would serve me well no matter the environment. I donned long johns and a long-sleeve shirt under jeans and a sweater. Forgetting my gloves, I went out to the car, finding there was no ice under the snowy blanket. Thank goodness! And so, off I drove, expecting a white journey.

Amazingly -- or maybe not so -- only the ranch was buried. By the time I reached the main road, there was very little snow. It could be seen on the hills, and between the dry sagebrush, some on the houses and trees, but nowhere near what the ranch had. Even the courthouse lawn was clear by the time I reached it. The only sign of my morning "present" was the patches of it still clinging to my windshield.

It was still there that night, though half of the original dose. And by morning, only tiny patches were still there on driveway rocks and cattle trails in the fields.

More is coming, though. And I'm not looking forward to it. Unless, of course, we have enough to do Calvin and Hobbes creatures along the driveway...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meat Wrap-Up

When last I posted, I shared with you the new technologies involved in butchering here on the ranch. With the meat now packaged in the freezer, I can now give you the results of this experiment.

The meat in the basement -- 1/3 of the half beef we purchased -- ultimately rotted. That corner, though secluded by a concrete surround and an interior door, is still on the southeast side of the house. It just wasn't cold enough. I should have known this -- basic passive solar says the heat of the day will be stored by the concrete and then released into the space overnight, thus minimizing temperature extremes. The very cold exterior temperatures were, in essence, being balanced by the warm interior temps and the sun through the window and doors. We got to it about five days too late. Tough lesson to learn, but one that will see us more fully prepared for next year's efforts.

The meat in the cellar fared very well, being ready after about ten days. After the chaos of getting it in there, Dude found an easier way to get it out. I was busy with politics at the elections office and unable to help, a situation I still have yet to categorize as either detrimental or beneficial. But necessity is the mother of invention, right? Dude managed to get a wheelbarrow into the cellar and offload the meat into it. He then picked it up at the cellar door with the backhoe and carried it to the front door of the house. The wheelbarrow again then carried the load from there into the kitchen, where Munchkin helped load it onto the counter.

Dude spent a good six to seven hours cutting the meat into steaks and roasts and ribs. He set aside doggy treats and rendering fat for soap-making. He started a bowl for making hamburger. When I arrived home, the two had already loaded most of it into the freezer, but there was still plenty to do. Generally, we double-bagged 3-servings' worth in freezer-style ziplocks, but unfortunately didn't label them. We'll see how that turns out come time to cook them!

Dude finished up the next day, cutting the larger segments with the sawzall. (I love power tools!) He used the same 2"-thick giant wood cutting board that his grandparents and great-grandparents had used years ago. Along with the nicks and gouges from the meat saws of their day, it now bears deeper wounds from the sawzall. Our meat grinder, recently returned after Red and ChevyMama finished with their deer, made quick work of the hamburger. We're a little concerned that we may not have enough burger for the year, but again, this is all a grand experiment this time.

When we have a moment, maybe Dude and I will go back through, label the packages, and tally what we have for reference next year, when we'll better know how much meat we'll need. And other supplies as well... What if we don't have access to plastic bags for some reason? What would we use? Hmm... I see more research in my future.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Three Brothers

This photo shows the Hillbilly, center, with Buster on his right, and Casto on his left. This photo was taken at Casto's house "up on the hill.".
All the land that Casto farmed up there has since been sold off, and the house leveled and turned back into farmland. The only thing marking this spot today are a few trees and the windmill tower over the well house.

Those who follow this blog should note that the Hillbilly always wore a tan shirt with a t shirt underneath, bluejeans, and boots.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Photo--Down At The Barn

Found this photo of the Hillbilly down at the barn with a horse. Said beast is named Debbie.

I'm sure there were many horses used over the years out here. The variety of sizes of horse shoes in the blacksmith shop suggests their use, besides having all the horse drawn implements parked here and there.

The windmill is still there, though the mechanism is disconnected. The name on the vane is still legible. The watering trough was repoured in 2000, so looks better today. The fencing is nearly all down, as is the barn in the background. The grain bin has a better roof then.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cold Meat

Modern butchering tools
Fall equals cold. Cold weather. Head colds. Cold water. Cold cuts. Okay, maybe I'm stretching a bit. But only a bit.

Munchkin and I caught a horrible head cold. We've been moping about with our kleenex and Airborne and salt water. We finally broke down and cancelled all social engagements, for the benefit of all our friends who don't need a week of moping. So I should have been an hour away when Dude showed up with our half a beef. Really... it's only half a beef... how much help would he really need?

Removing fat weight
I'm glad I was home. Well, I'm glad for him that I was home. And maybe for our food source too.

Ribs and steaks and ....
Turns out we ended up with a prime beef this year. Of course... isn't all the beef grown on our land prime? Duh. The kill team had it skinned and gutted by the time he got there, and they estimated from the other half that ours ended up at about 400 lbs total. A little more than we expected, but still covered by the pasture rent he and his bovine compatriots racked up for us.
Moving it to the cellar

Dude pulled in with an eight-foot chunk of meet encased in black garbage bag. He immediately coaxed us out of our head-splitting apathy to protect our next year's dinners from the cats and dogs. Dressed in our jammies, we headed out to man the backhoe (me) and distract the animals (Munchkin).
Smaller cuts this time

Within 20 minutes, not only had we done those jobs, but more as well. We lifted the meat up with the bucket of the hoe, and hung the carcass from the hooks. Dude spent quite a while determining the cuts he wanted to make. To our benefit, not only does he cook meat well, but he also worked as a butcher for a few years and knows what he wants to cook. He cut the carcass in half with a sawzall, letting half fall back into the bed of the pickup. Running a little test of his strength, he determined the backhoe would carry the rest of the original piece to the milk cellar -- the underground storage room the family used in the dairy days -- and he would lug it from there with my help to the nails he had placed in the overhead beams.
Puppy and kitty treats

With He-Bessie covered in black plastic, I maneuvered the neck into the cellar while Dude struggled under the rest of its weight. We dropped him four times in the 20 feet from the backhoe to the inner cellar. The plastic began to split wherever it met cut bone. Stuff stored in the cellar kept getting in the way. Even the handtruck caused more problems than it was worth. After about 20 minutes, we finally drug it to a spot under its final hanging location. But two failed attempts at hooking it onto the nails left us all exhausted, covered in beef grease, and frustrated.

We eventually settled on a workable plan. Rocking the carcass back and forth, we built a milk-crate wall below the meat, thus increasing the starting height to a point about three feet below the nails. Once Munchkin took over propping up the neck, my longer arms finally got the hook up to and over the nails. Poor Dude was left to repeatedly lift the 200-lb monster until we sick girls got our act together.
Monster meat in the cellar...

Once hung properly, we all took breaks. Drinks of water, washing up, energy drinks, more kleenex, shooing cats from the other quarter beef, more water, breaking up the fights between the dogs and cats over the beef fat...

...and mini ones in the basement.
Smarter now, Dude set about cutting the other quarter into smaller pieces, three to be exact. We put the largest one in the cellar with the first piece, then delivered the smaller ones to the basement entry room where the family used to hang the pigs. Of course, we first had to move out quite a bit of stuff that still has no home. The meat now hangs in the coldest room in the house, surrounded by decorative baskets and my childhood science trophies.

So now we're back inside, more mopey than before, hugging our kleenex and hard lemonades. Dude can barely lift my little 3-lb tablet.
Somewhere in the cellar are my favorite sunglasses. Little Dog is defending the beef fat he buried because he ate his fill before the cats could get a bite in edgewise. The beef will hang and drain for two weeks. Hopefully by then, we'll be healthy again.  Either way, I have to embrace the cold so the meat doesn't sour. Brrr.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sudden Lack of Chlorophyl and Vitamin D

Fall came early this year. Or rather, fall came on time for the first time in ages. Either way, frost killed most of my garden last week. The lemon basil was saved and is happy next to the cabinet heater in the living room. The root veggies are still happy in the soil, and the squash are still on the vine, but very little else produced much -- outside of the chard, which is still coming out of our ears. Very disappointing. (The yield, not the chard...)

Chevrolet Mama and Red are in full canning mode. Their whole house smells like relish and veggie soup and tomatoes. I'm so jealous. Us girls sat in front of the fireplace last night, sipping hot spiked coffee and hearty beef soup, browsing through canning and crafts books. Delightful. Then we had to come home. Not so delightful. Today, I huddled on the couch in my quilt with Dude nearby, feeling a definite warm draft from the heater in the cold living room, sipping hard lemonade and chewing on wilted chard. Not quite the same. Playing with the horses when the vet showed up didn't quite make up for it either, due to the chilly wind.

But I can't change the weather. So I'm going to try to embrace the 40-degree, very-sudden drop in temperature. I'm going to pull out the winter clothes, turn on the space heaters and keep the teapot on the stove. And fuzzy socks... I can't forget the fuzzy socks. Maybe there is a bright spot in all this after all.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Living in a Box

Front of the house
So let's address the house as a unit. It's roughly 1200 SF each, for a finished (but run-down) main floor and an unfinished (and yet still broken down as well) daylight basement. Rectangular in shape, it has a concrete slab and wall construction below, with a tin hip roof. There are three bedrooms and one bath upstairs (all in tiny 1940s dimensions) with a long, narrow living room and a tiny kitchen. Downstairs is a canning room (essentially a very large pantry), a library (was once a bedroom), a workbench (going outside eventually) and lots of open space except for the concrete entryway (the one exception to the rectangle shape, but abandoned as a cutout when the main floor was added). The upper walls are tongue-in-groove inside and out, with minimal insulation inside and none in the attic. While the concrete contractor at the time mixed everything wrong for the slab (no aggregate) and left us with a powdering mess to redo, the rest of the building is sturdy (if not strangely put together -- "duct tape and baling wire," as we call it).
Basement walkout

We'll tackle each room as we get it done, but the exterior is its own issue. The upper story is covered in green wood shingles that are thinning from age (some you can see through, and some are no longer green). One one end, the original concrete entry stairs have been covered and walled in; right now it serves as storage, but hopefully a mud-room of some kind eventually. The windows are all single-pane with decomposing sashes, and they let in a large amount of spiders.

Back of the house
When redoing the windows and bedrooms, we decided that taking down the interior tongue-in-groove to replace the insulation packages was too time-consuming and might compromise the structural integrity of the house. A consultant gave me the idea of adding insulation to the exterior when we redo the siding (an important project, since the insurance company won't insure the house until we do). We'd strip 1x6s into 1x3s and attach them to the wall on the width, giving a 3" space for insulation board. The hope is to use Hardie siding in an adobe color. The side benefit is that I'm able to push the windows out a bit and have larger sills inside.

"mud room" and old heating oil tank
The front porch was added only twenty years ago, and is already falling down from wood rot. I've been working for months on porch/deck designs (hence felling Clarence to make room for one) but no amount of drawing is fixing some of my design problems. Do I want a walk-out from the living room or my bedroom? Do I want a wrap-around deck? Do we just want a grand porch? What about a more prominent entry? So many questions that bring up so many problems -- what happens to the dead area under the porch (rattlesnakes and mice come to mind)? what about enlarging the basement windows to make emergency exits and what does that do to the porch idea? what would that do to the overall "street appeal" (gravel and dirt appeal maybe) of the house? Can we incorporate an accessible ramp into that?
Beginning exterior sketches

I have a long winter ahead of me to design and redesign. Unfortunately, all the landscaping and much of the basement remodel is dependent on answering these questions. And I'm desperate to get those done. I need my canning room for next year's harvest, and I need a place to put all the flowers and plants my neighbors are offering me!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tough Love

With the second and last batch of ducklings this spring came some sad realities. Not only were the crows eating them, but something else was wringing their necks and leaving them for dead. We knew we couldn't save them, so we tried to watch from windows and around corners to discover the culprit.

While clearing for the round pen, I saw Little Dog running with a duckling in his mouth, Lucki chasing him while leaving her last little one behind. This is very unusual; Little Dog has been with us for ten years and never killed a bird in his very active life. I really doubted he had actually killed the baby, assuming the poor thing was already dead and he just took advantage of the situation at an inopportune moment. I scolded at him, swatted him several times, and buried the duckling in the round pen.

A while later, I was standing on the porch watching the kittens and trying to muster the motivation to get back to the task at hand, when the oldest and most aggressive of the kittens came bounding up the hill to the porch. I quickly grabbed the pellet gun and took aim at his scrawny little tush. He had no idea what hit him! He dropped the duckling and jumped back in horror at the vicious little beast he had been carrying in his mouth just moments before.

After a few moments of cocked head and a few licks to his rump, he tentatively reached out to touch the little body, completely disbelieving what he had just experienced. I shot him again. He tore off around the end of the house, thinking the dead creature was about to attack him again.

I was chuckling. Not at hurting him, mind you, but at the notion that he should be more reticent about attacking baby birds from here out. Just then, he came slinking back up the hill, giving the carcass a very wide berth.

Minutes later, I caught him inching toward Lucki, clearly not intending to attack her, but more out of curiosity as to what she would do to him. She lunged, and he backed away.

Haven't seen any neck-wrung birds the rest of the summer. Lesson learned.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Llama Roundup Rodeo

We participated in an early-season rodeo this year. There were some high points, some low points, some real danger-ridden moments. For the most part, I'm glad we did it, although my body is permanently broken because of it.

The herd pre-rodeo
Remember the four lazy llamas we'd tried to give you? The ones that kissed Daring's ring and allowed him to murder our flock of geese? This spring, we had finally had enough of feeding these wuss-y camelids, while losing our egg and meat supply to their submission to the Coyote Mafia. So we called in Animal Control -- a.k.a., the wool-spinning lady in the next town.

Animal Control (A.C.) came out and helped us wrangle the traitors. Between phone issues, scheduling conflicts and disbelief over the instructions to find us, the three of us had one of them wrangled by the time AC and hubby arrived. Of course, it was the friendliest llama, because we couldn't possibly have been that effective and tied up the wildest one. Friendly Llama was being rather passive-aggressive, snuggling with Munchkin as if they were best friends (news to Munchkin), hoping she'd let her loose. Wild One was in the furthest corner of a two-acre pen snarling at us; Nearly Friendly was wandering around confused that they weren't travelling in a pack, and Nearly Wild was upset that we had tied his sister to the windmill and was stomping around her, handing off cuff keys and bobby pins.

Begging for amnesty
We tied lead lines together, and positioned team members at points along them, and then pressed in like a fire line, trying to surround them and slip an end over a neck. Usually, they outsmarted us, using their giant mountain-goat-like bodies to blast past us, sometimes up and nearly over six-foot fences. Sometimes they just burst through the line, burning skin with the lines and breaking knuckles with the clasps. I still have rings I can't get off my fingers months later! Eventually, though, we'd capture one, hook up a sort of halter and lead it to the trailer.

This was very reminiscent of the time we picked them up. They were raised in a herd of five or six by an elderly couple three hours away, as a sort of shared retirement project. When the hubby died and the wife fell ill, the llamas were left to be abused by the crazy neighbor lady who thought they should be screamed at from a raging 4-wheeler and driven to exhaustion. Between another rancher friend and us, we saved the animals, bringing ours here about two years before moving. They were essentially wild, which worked out fine since we could only be out here one or two days a week, but we hoped we could tame them and rely on them for animal protection. You know the rest of the story.

Passive-aggressive negotiations with AC
Wild One was the first to be loaded. She was the youngest, and seemed to be the one most likely to thumb (claw?) her nose at us and hop the fence. She was untouchable and generally angry. She didn't like being caught. Now, when llamas are brought under submission, they "cush" or lay down. This isn't submission -- it's passive-aggressive wait-em-out behavior. We managed to get her close to the trailer before she cushed, and then no amount of pushing, prodding or hair-pulling could get her to move. Really -- we were pulling out her very overgrown and matted fur (as would happen with brushing, if we could have touched her) in the hopes of annoying her enough to move. She just laid there, unmoving, and then starting up quickly whenever she felt we weren't paying attention. Nearly got trampled once. Eventually, we got her into the trailer and quickly locked her in. We were exhausted and still had one more to load.

We had decided to keep Friendly and Nearly Friendly, in the hope that a smaller pack -- a pair, really -- would be more effective at coyote control and easier to tame. So we broke up the spotted twosome and took the male Appaloosa twin, Nearly Wild. He wasn't happy either. He tried the cushing thing unsuccessfully because now we were smart to his ways. He tried to sleep on the ramp into the trailer. He ignored our hair-pulling. He snorted and spit. But finally, he made his way into the trailer beside Wild One, mostly by our force, not his.

Probably the last time we were allowed to pet her
AC lost a ring somewhere in the pasture. I lost a couple knuckles. We all lost a few pounds. Wild One and Nearly Wild lost some very valuable wool. And the ranch lost two llamas.

Next time, on Let Loose Llamas Lie, we'll cover the rest of the story...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Clarence is Dead

Wind-felled willow snag
The trees are ancient souls, watching over more than a century of history in this dry, barren land...

Okay, no documentary voice tonight. Down to brass tacks, wooden nails, or whatever seems appropriate in this situation.

George, Clarence and Arnold
The original trees here are common willows, each over 150 years old and 8-feet or more in diameter. A stand of younger willows neighbors the big ones, and I'm tempted to remove a few looking at how big they get, especially after losing one of them in a recent storm. They're the first sign of any kind of civilization as you drop into the valley, bright orange in all seasons but summer. One grove surrounds an ancient, hand-dug well, while the other sits below the current house, dropping debris on the Red Shack, one of the early family buildings. The Homesteader spent his first summers on the land in a hammock under these very trees back in the 1880s. Both groves have major snags -- trees themselves, really -- crushing everything below them (the well included), and need severe maintenance.

Bunyan in the top of the tree
So do all the other trees. Hillbilly put three Russian Elms in the front yard when he built the current house. They're now about 6 feet in diameter, and taking up most of what would be the yard. I've spent days designing and redesigning porches and ramps (accessibility continues to be an issue for AuntI) that will fit in the 8' from front door to front tree; the idea to remove the tree came when I could no longer foresee any workable option. If we just take out the middle one, it would open things up for a new porch (badly needed, both for safety and for "sense of place") and the other two would still provide shade in the midday heat.
Only twin towers left

AuntI wasn't sure about the change. Her chair faces that direction and she was worried about too much sun streaming through the windows in the morning. This amuses me, since the giant-screen TV covers most of that particular window and she couldn't see the tree from there anyway. But she did pass on an interesting tidbit: as children, Dude and his sister hounded AuntI about the names of the trees (why, no one knows), so she designated them Arnold, Clarence and George -- names she hated, so she would remember them. Apparently, Clarence was the one we had scheduled for execution.

And Clarence falls...
But how to do this? At least 100' tall, Clarence was far more than we could handle alone (like we have any experience anyway) and it leaned over the corner of the house, making even The Arborist nervous. He'd drive out, stare up into the tree while pacing around the yard, say he needed to think about it some more, and then drive away. Eventually I got tired of not being able to put my potager in, and pressed the issue. He decided there was nothing he needed to prove, so handed it off to a younger specialist. Bunyan happened to be in the area the next week and we quickly set up a felling for Sunday after church.
Heavy-duty work

Bunyan wisely brought out several other people, and the crew set to taking down Clarence. He was definitely skilled, fast and competent, but halfway through, he was growing quite irritated that The Arborist hadn't called for a bucket truck. But ultimately, Clarence fell without taking out the house and Bunyan and crew left for another job. We were left with a giant tree in the yard, cut into chunks and branches and a few giant pieces. Over two days, we sorted most of it -- logs to the old pig-butchering location, branches to the big garden for later disposal, and bigger branches for further cutting left in the yard. We were covered in scratches and I dropped a large stump on my right foot when it missed the bucket of the backhoe. But I taught Munchkin to use a hand saw (something I learned at about her age), and we discovered that a sawzall works well for cutting smaller logs. The backhoe again proved its worth, easily moving large logs out of the mess.
60-some rings

Great reception from the stump
A few weeks later, we're still not done clearing the yard. The sun through the front door window makes morning Internet somewhat difficult. The giant stump (which The Arborist will eventually grind down) provides a nice phone location. And we're looking forward to autumn weenie roasts over the burning remnants of Clarence.

Clarence is dead. Long live Arnold and George.