Food Faces

I’m not sure why, but Liz and the Kids keep seeing faces in our food.  Just for fun, I’ve decided to share a few that they’ve taken pictures of…

IMG_7711Happy hens make happy eggs apparently.  I don’t honestly know if these eggs were from our flock of backyard chickens or if they were from one of the last dozen or so we purchased at the local meat market before our buzzards started laying.   I think this is just before we started getting our own eggs.  The ones we’ve been getting have yolks so orange it would look unnatural if you weren’t used to seeing eggs from free-range chickens.

IMG_7245Say hello to pickle guy(so dubbed by our kids)…  Last fall we got invited to help glean a pickling cucumber field in the local area and came home with a 5-gallon bucket worth of cucumbers.  This was the first time I’d made pickles in about ten years, and they turned out great.  Along the way, we noticed one jar that had a little more personality than the others.

How’s that for a useless and trivial post?

Free Cats are Hard to Keep

IMG_7797Ever since we moved in here I’ve been saying we needed to get a barn cat to help keep the mice in check.  Even before the house was built, I was certain we would have problems because as I was clearing the land and cutting the brush and undergrowth the path in front of my tractor would almost look like the ground was boiling with all the mice and other vermin scattering in fear of death by power shredder.  Since I cleared off most of their cover and food supplies I wasn’t all that surprised when they moved into the garage to gorge on the chicken feed and anything else not securely enclosed in metal containers.

Not being all that partial to cats I tried trapping.  At first it looked like success because I was averaging half a dozen mice a day and didn’t think they could last much longer at that pace.  However, I was wrong.  The mice turds kept piling up, and the mice who had survived had apparently figured out how to avoid the traps.  The final straw was finding a rattlesnake in the garage.

Now, the environmentalists will tell you that you shouldn’t kill rattlesnakes because they are highly effective at keeping rodent populations under control.  While that may be true in a strict sense of the word, it seems to me to be about as accurate as saying that burning down the house is an effective strategy to prevent it from being burglarized.  If I have a choice between venomous serpents and disgusting rodents, the furry critters win.  Luckily, snakes aren’t the only things that eat mice, and some of the alternatives are a whole lot cuddlier and less poisonous.

One thing we’ve found out here in the country is that there isn’t a shortage of free cats.  A friend of ours connected us with a lady nearby who had been feeding a large collection of feral cats out of pity, and wouldn’t mind getting rid of a few of them.  A couple of them had even been “fixed” so we wouldn’t need to worry about any more little kitties floating around.  Sounded like a deal to me, so we went over to check things out.

Round one:  We only managed to lay hands on one of them, because as soon as we got one, the rest caught wind of what we were doing and took off.  That was okay, one was a start, so we took him home.  Within 24 hours, it had taken off to who knows where.  Apparently it didn’t like our dog, or kids, or food, or whatever.

Round two:  Thinking it might have gone “home” just a few miles from our house, we went back to the cat lady a few days later to see if he’d shown up.  Nope.  “That’s okay,” she told us, “there are plenty more where that one came from,” and this time she had a plan for catching more than just one and was convinced they would stay better if there were two to keep each other company.  A few minutes later we had two more friendly and cuddly demonstrated mouse killers in the truck.  Thinking it may take a day or so to acclimate, we kept these two in a crate for a day to help them get the idea.  As soon as we opened the door, they were gone.  I saw one cross the road from one field to another the next morning, but he never came back.

Round three:  We gave up on the cat lady’s cats.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her we lost two more.  However, one of Liz’s  friends volunteers as a “friend” of the local animal control, and had two lovely cats who were looking for a home.   As I sat here originally drafting this post, it had been a couple days, one cat was perched behind me taking a nap, and the other was running around with the dog playing.  These ones looked like they planed on staying and didn’t seem to mind the aggressive three year old too much, or the dog that thinks they are a self-mobile chew toy.

In the time it’s taken me to take a picture and download it, one of the two new cats (named Jane Eyre) has wandered off.  It kept trying to come inside and seems to have gotten miffed when it didn’t get to follow the dog inside.  All we are left with is Mr Rochester shown in the picture above.  After two days of waiting Jane hasn’t come back.  Maybe she’s just trying to play out the story of Jane and Mr Rochester and will come back after his crazy wife burns down the house, kills herself, and leaves Mr Rochester blind.   Wouldn’t that be dreadful?

Hopefully the one remaining is good at killing mice.

As a side note, any and all cats we happen to feed are OUTSIDE cats.  I hate litter boxes almost as much as I hate snakes.

How to Talk Yourself Into Buying a New Car

UPDATE:  Apparently someone who loves us read this and assumed the accident happened the day I posted the story.  For clarification purposes, and to avoid any more panicked phone calls, this is the accident we were in back in early November 2013.  I know I’m bad about telling y’all about stuff that happens, but you can be sure that if I end up riding in an ambulance again, you won’t hear about it first through a blog I keep mostly to please myself and write things in a format not dictated by my employer.

Liz and I don’t really care for owing people (or institutions for that matter) money.  When we purchased our van several years ago we almost choked on the loan, so it was a great relief when we paid off it and all the other debt we had a few years ago.  For the first time in our married life, we outright owned two cars that were mechanically sound and were likely to remain that way for several years more.

Attempting to be prudent, and get ahead of the certain future need to replace one of the cars, we went through the budget to figure out how much we could save, and when we would have enough to pay for a new car with cash.  Estimating how much longer our car would last based on our experience with previous clunkers and looking hard at the budget, we figured we could save enough in about 4 years and have a few years to spare in case something unexpected happened.   That was a Friday night.

Saturday we left Sydney at home to watch the boys and went out to eat at a decent place in a small town about an hour outside the city.  Dinner was tasty, the companionship wonderful, and the evening generally pleasant.  Since we normally are at least 15 minutes from any grocery store, we opted to make a short detour to the grocery store a few blocks down the road before heading home.

That delay and detour turned out to have significant implications.   As we were headed back home from the store, and right as we were approaching the restaurant we had eaten at earlier in the day, a black pickup turned across traffic headed for the restaurant parking lot.  He didn’t slow down or look.  I had about half a second to react, just enough time to get some lateral momentum going  before we hit nearly head-on.   The sideways motion probably saved us, because I was doing about 55 when we hit, and rather than completely crushing us, the two cars connected, spun round and slid sideways, bleeding off some of the momentum and softening the impact.

We discovered a few things in all this fun.

1. There were shin-airbags in the van behind plastic panels.  Those panels hurt when they get blown out at your shins.

2. Riding to a hospital 45 minutes away on a backboard sucks.

3. Ambulance companies charge mileage for every passenger, even if they are riding in the same ambulance.

4. There is no dignity in an emergency room trauma unit.

5. Syd is amazingly collected when things get stupid.  I had just enough battery in my cell phone to call friends to pick the kids up and to tell Syd that Mom and I were on our way to the emergency room and someone would come get them.  I was immensely proud of the way she handled things.

6. We are blessed to have amazing friends who we can trust with our kids in an emergency and are willing to drive 30 minutes in the middle of the night/early morning to come get us from the ER.

It turns out (and I knew it before we got there) that all the drama was just precautionary.  Liz got out of it with bruised ribs (from the airbag) and a stiff back, and I only had to deal with a pretty ugly contusion where the seatbelt got me on the shoulder.

On the down-side, the car we had just discussed driving for another 5-7 years was a total loss.  Turns out that hitting a truck at 55 mph isn’t a scenario where the vehicle is likely to be fixable.  Wrecked_van

The truck that hit us didn’t fare any better.  It was less than a year old when the owner decided to use it to wreck my romantic evening and hot date.wrecked_truck

Oh, and that money we had planned to put away for a new car… it just covers the loan on the car we bought to replace the busted-up van.  The Lord has a sense of humor.

Hiking With the Boys

Since we took a rather long break posting updates, I’ve decided to go back over old pictures and pull a few out to share.  A little over a year ago, I took the two boys and went hiking in a large natural area not far from where we were living at the time.  Michael, being two at the time, wasn’t much of a hiker, but had fun when we stopped and he could get down and play around.  DSCF0173 DSCF0183 DSCF0189 DSCF0184

Sydney’s Go-Kart Fun

Dad, Isaac, & Michael 

Good things come in threes, so I’ve been told.  So when we had spent a few days dealing with Michael getting hives and being up all night itching and Isaac cutting his finger bad enough that I had to glue him back together with Derma-Bond, Liz and I were holding our breath for something else.  It didn’t take long.

We were invited over to a friend’s 150 acre homestead for an easter-egg hunt, BBQ and bonfire.  The combination of food, fun, and fellowship is hard to resist, so I took the kids and off we went.  It was great fun with 2-seat go-kart rides, a hard-core egg-hunt, hot-dogs, hamburgers, and the best of friends.  As we were making our way to the clearing for the bonfire, one of our friend’s kids walked out of the woods bleeding from a cut on her nose and explaining that the others were much worse off.

Syd and her friends

I knew Syd had been hanging around this particular friend all night, and my fears were almost instantly confirmed that Syd was in the Kart and had suffered the worst of the injuries.  Apparently, the friend was driving for the first time and locked-up negotiating a curve, pegging the accelerator instead of the brake and running them head-long into a tree at top speed.  When I got there, Syd was on the ground with her leg elevated, holding pressure on a wounded shin.

The younger brother of the driver, a boy scout and object of Syd’s first and current crush, had found them and was already rendering first aid.  More on this in a bit…

All three who had been riding in the Kart needed help.  The driver had a cut on her nose and a fat lip, her little brother (who had been wedged in the middle) lacerated his knee all the way across but not particularly deeply and had a deep puncture wound in his calf, and Sydney was on the ground with who knows how bad of a cut on her shin.  In the end, the other two were stitched up on-site by the owner (a dentist with lots of practice stitching up faces and appendages on scouts).

You would think that in a group of scouts, scout masters, and generally well prepared people, we’d have a pair of scissors or a pocket knife.  However, you’d be wrong.  This was one of the VERY few times that I had nothing on me to cut with so I could cut away her pants and get a good look at the injury.  I feel so ashamed…  In the end though, it didn’t make much difference.  I could see bone and muscle through the hole in the pants, and that was enough to tell me we weren’t going to fix her up there.

We ended up in the emergency room, at night, on a holiday weekend, in the biggest trauma hospital in a large city.  If you ever believed the fast-paced world of the TV drama “ER,” you’ve obviously never been in a real hospital.  Nothing happens quickly, and unless you are dying, you get bumped further back in the queue every time a helicopter drops off another unlucky drunk driver or unresponsive bar-fight looser.  To complicate matters, as a teaching hospital, every interaction is repeated at least three times as the junior nursing student or resident does their thing, the senior nursing student or resident does theirs, and the attending physician or head nurse comes in to check the work of the others.  In our case, each level of review resulted in things being ratcheted up.

At first, the triage nurse (student) thought Syd would be sewn up in a matter of minutes and sent home.  That gradually progressed over the course of ten hours to admitting her for surgery, a course of antibiotics (because of the exposed bone), and 24 hours of post-surgery observation after the on-call orthopedic surgeon overruled the attending physician and orthopedic residents.

I should have known we were in trouble when every nurse and doctor in the ER had to come in and look at the injury to believe what they had been told.  Given that this is THE trauma center for over 100 miles in any direction, that says a lot.

Now…  back to the boy scout rescuer.  The funny thing about coming out of general anesthesia and being under the influence of narcotics is that people (and Syd in particular) are willing to tell you almost anything, and will likely volunteer things you never expected to hear.  We’ve known Syd has had a crush on this fine young man for quite a while (she admits it to us at least), so I didn’t see any point in pressing the matter while she was waking up.  However, she felt the need to share.

She was explaining to me how the young man found her and helped her elevate her leg and put direct pressure on it to control the bleeding.  All of which was quite pedestrian.  Then she offered up this tidbit between exclamations about how good the ice chips were:  As she was laying on the ground waiting for help and hoping she wouldn’t black out, she saw him come up to her and thought that this was going to be just like in the movies where the knight in shining armor comes to your rescue, you stay awake just long enough to see their face, then black out until waking up in the hospital after it’s all over.  Too bad it doesn’t work like in the movies.  Besides, even if it did, they’re both too young to follow the movies all the way to that celebrated kiss after the crisis is over.

Syd survived surgery where they fixed a torn tendon, torn muscle, cleaned up the wound, and closed it up.  Liz came to the hospital Sunday evening to spell me off after a marathon 4 days with a total of less than 6 hours of sleep (another long story), and I went home to get some sleep.  Unfortunately, sleep came too late for me.  My immune system must have been compromised, because I picked up a raging case of Montezuma’s revenge in the ER that has been haunting me for over 5 days now.

At this point, Syd’s home and learning to function in a knee immobilizer, Liz is back to her normal routine, and I’m still dealing with fallout from my time in the ER.

The fun never stops… does it?

For those of you who don’t mind gore,  here’s a link to a picture of the wound:  It ain’t pretty, so if you don’t want to see it, stop now.

Syd’s Leg

A Rattlesnake in the Garage

I went out to the garage the other day to look for a tool I had thrown on the pile that has been building since we moved in.  As I lifted an old blanket I saw a small snake coiled up just below my hand.  As afraid of snakes as I am, I surprised myself by not jumping, starting, or even elevating my heart-rate.  Looking at it, it wasn’t totally clear what kind of snake it was, but I decided to pick up a shovel and take care of it either way.

The funny thing about snakes is that when they’re balled up in a tight coil, it’s hard to get to the neck.  When I stabbed it with the blade of the shovel, I missed the neck and caught it right in the middle.  It didn’t like that at all!  It’s reaction left me with little doubt as to what kind of snake it was.  It’s tail (with two small buttons for a rattle) started vibrating furiously, and it’s head started striking repeatedly at the shovel.  Looking at it after I managed to cut the head off, it was obviously a diamond back rattlesnake hatched this spring.

Without thinking about it, I chucked the dead snake over the fence into the chicken yard, and they promptly demolished the carcass, so I don’t have any pictures, but if you grew up where I did, you can use your memory and a little imagination to visualize what it must have looked like.

If you are wondering why on earth a rattlesnake would take up residence in my garage, it might help to know that we had a serious problem with mice in the garage this winter.  It would seem the snake decided to come in to help us thin the herd.  The day after this encounter, we started our adventures looking for a barn cat to keep the mice at bay.  I don’t really like cats, but if it comes down to snakes or cats I’ll take a cat any day, but that doesn’t really say much.

The only other aspect of this tale that is somewhat worrying is Michael’s love for Uncle Mike’s corn snake.  Michael loves to hold and pet Slinkey every time we go over to Uncle Mike’s, and as a result doesn’t seem to have any natural fear of snakes.  We’ve had to reinforce that Uncle Mike’s pet snake is the only good snake, and that he shouldn’t mess with any he finds closer to home.  I hope he understands.  It’d suck to have him learn the hard way that not all snakes like people.  There is more than one breed of poisonous serpent in the area, and I don’t want him to molest any of them.

The Chicken Coop



I had thought I had taken pictures of the chicken coop while I was building it.  True to form, I got busy and forgot.  So… I guess you get to settle with a picture of Michael doin’ what he spends a lot of time doing: Playing with chickens.

Liz decided she wanted a lot of fresh eggs, which translated into an order of 40 chicks (straight run, so about half would end up in the stew pot as young roosters).  The only problem is that you can’t use a standard back-yard chicken coop for those kinds of numbers.  To make things worse, Liz and the kids have grand plans to get even more chicks and sell eggs since babysitting gigs are hard to come by when there aren’t many neighbors.   I settled on a 8X12 shed framed on 24″ centers with a simple corrugated steel roof.  My thought at the time was that if the chickens didn’t work out, I’d still have a usable shed.

Liz originally had grand plans of moving the chicken coop around the yard to spread the manure and lighten the wear and tear on the “lawn,”  so I built it on “skids” with the hope I could drag it around with the tractor.  The only problem I had with that plan, is that the completed coop weighed so much it acted like a road-grater as I pulled it to it’s final resting spot.  In the end I decided we would just have a “chicken yard” for the birds, and leave the coop where it was.

I made the roosts by cutting the corners off of 5 2×2 firring strips with the table saw blade set for 45 degree angle and setting them into 2 2x4x8s notched about every 18 inches, essentially making an 8 foot wide ladder and leaning it up against the wall at about a 45 degree angle.

In one corner of the coop I built a 2’x6′ “isolation room” that we could use as a brooder, and in another I built a bank of 12 1 cubic-foot nest boxes.  Given the way the birds willingly cram onto the roosts, and the internet-derived recommendations for nest boxes and roosts, we should be able to support up to about 45 layers.

The last thing we did was run power out to the coop so we could plug heat-lamps in when it got cold or when we had chicks in the brooder.  That turned out to be almost as expensive as building the coop, but well worth it in the end.

One thing I learned a long time ago is that if you are going to dig a trench and put in conduit, cram as much into the trench as you can afford so you don’t have to dig it again.  Since I had to run pipe as it was, I decided to run 2-20A circuits (one for the coop, and one for a future small barn/animal shed) and pull water out to the corner of the chicken yard so we wouldn’t have to drag buckets from the house when it was below freezing outside.  IMG_7681It’s turned out to be a real blessing to have the freeze-proof hydrant in the chicken yard, and we’ve already used the heat-lamps since Liz and a friend decided to split an order of cornish-rock meat chickens and we had to have a place to put them.   The water and electricity will come in handy when we get the barn built too.

My Experience with Lumber Liquidators Tongling Strand-Woven Bamboo

This is a stub for me to write about my (bad) experience with the Tongling Strand Woven Bamboo flooring we installed in our house.  The quick and dirty version is simple.  It scratches very easily, and scratches are highly visible against the dark color.  It shrunk enough to separate the joints in the middle of the room and leave a 1/2 inch gap in spite of following their recommended maximum span, acclimation time and procedure, and floor preparation, and is terribly difficult to keep clean.   If you are a little old lady who never goes outside, wears felt-soled slippers all day, and doesn’t have pets, this is a lovely floor, but I can’t recommend it to anyone else.  At this point, I’m trying to figure out how I can overcome the pricetag to tear out the NEW floor and lay tile or carpet.