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.