Sunday, February 18, 2018

Relearning Winter

I've never been a big fan of winter.  Not that I hate it and, truth be told, I've missed it when I've lived in places that that didn't have a real, Midwestern, winter.  I just enjoy the other seasons more.

This winter is no exception.  A few weeks ago I was ready to be done with winter.  I don't get a vote, of course, but still I was ready to be done with single digit temperatures, treacherous 40 mile commutes to the day job, clearing vehicles before you can drive them, bundling up to go out and do anything, and wading through snow to do the chores.

Last week we got a bunch of the white stuff early.  I don't always get the tractor out to clear the driveway with new snow since De and I both drive AWD vehicles, but this time there was enough I had to.  My little tractor can only push so much and if we had gotten more I'd have been in trouble.


Then we had a day or two of warmer weather where much, but not all of it, melted.  Then colder weather guaranteeing what was left would stay for the weekend.  This weekend, the kids and grandkids were up for the one year birthday of the youngest one, and the announcement there is another on the way.  With snow on the ground and an open hill in front of the house there was bound to be sledding.  De and I have five or six sleds from when our kids were young we keep for just such an opportunity.   With an inch or so of new snow Saturday night, it was clear there would be more after Church on Sunday.

Saturday was the birthday party, and after the traditional festivities Papa took the four girls, the two grands and the two adopted grands from my last post, out to play in the snow.  Between Saturday and Sunday there was:

A lot of sledding,



Snow angels,

Snow "reindeer",

"Bears" in the snow,
And lots of smiles and laughter.

Through it all, Papa 'relearned' winter.  Where I had seen mostly inconvenience, the grandkids saw a wonderland of imagination, endless possibilities, and pure joy.  For the price a few days of achy joints and sore muscles, I got to share in it all and see winter anew in the laughter of the children I love.  The days where I can do that will someday, perhaps someday soon, come to a close so I'm cherishing the opportunities I have.  It was worth every minute I'll spend with the heating pad, every ibuprofen I'll need in the next day or two to get through the workday, and every bit of muscle cream I'll use before bed.  This day, I am truly blessed!

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark










Sunday, February 4, 2018

What it's all about

Yep.  We got it.  De and I, both.  Not sure who was first, but in the end it didn't matter.  I'm taking about the flu of course, which has been burning through this part of the country.  I don't know specifically which variety because when I called the doc he said, via his nurse, "Don't bother to come in to be tested, it's the flu."  Since I was already on Tamiflu as a preventative (due to my unrepentantly, unabashedly, underperforming immune system) they called in an Rx of the same stuff for De.

It was too late.  By the time De got home from work it was clear she had it, too.  A woman who has essentially become a third daughter picked up De's prescription for her and we both settled in for the siege.   Being on Tamiflu did seem to help because neither of us got seriously ill.  The fact that I didn't get seriously ill, even being on Tamiflu, is a simply a testament to God's grace.  There have been over 136 flu deaths in Indiana so far and many of those are folks who had compromised immune systems.  Like me.  I was expecting real trouble and got no more than healthy people get.  Once again, we are so blessed.

So - Down to the 'What it's all about part'.  We got a few inches of fresh snow last night and after church (which De and I sat out this week) the same adopted daughter who picked De's meds stopped by with her two daughters (Adopted granddaughters!! Woot! Woot!).  They wisely didn't come in, but the three of them brushed the snow off both our vehicles, cleared the snow from our patio, took our trash down to the trash cans, and the girls each made a little snowman to sit on the benches outside the front door.




Their family has been a joy to us for the past few years and even more in the past few months.  We were so honored and humbled by their kindness.  I'm going to be smiling all week, everytime I think about it.  Kindness, community, family, Christianity - Yep!  That IS what it's all about.

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sorry, Girls!!

There were bad vibes, accusations of disloyalty,  a little bit of name calling (Slackers!), and even some occasional talk of summary executions.  But, before you wipe me completely out of your cyberspace, hear me out.

Just before it got cold this winter - I mean the first stretch that was real, single digit and not all of them positive cold - the eggs pretty much dried up and almost the whole flock went into a molt.  The timing was exquisite and couldn't have been worse.  Feathers were everywhere, eggs were nowhere, for more than a month they rarely left the coop and on the coldest days we left it closed up.  It was a pitiful sight to see.

Everyone gets a pass on egg laying during a molt.  They pretty much get a pass when its really cold or miserably hot.  For the molt we stocked up on "Feather Fixer" and let it run its course.  And, as you all knew would come, first there were pin feathers then there were full feathers then there were warmer temps and chickens out happily scratching in the run.   And still no eggs.

That's when it started.  For a week we talked about how we would replace the lot of them.  The following week we got more irked everytime we went to the laying boxes.  We were getting one or two eggs every other day, and were not pleased.  Being chickens and all, they were all pretty much oblivious to our frustration with their shoddy performance, which which did nothing to enhance their position.  They had just about sealed their grizzly (but nonetheless tasty) fate when, on a lark, De checked the little 'nursery' annex we added to the coop.


Oops...  Sorry, girls...  Nevermind all that talk about you getting up close and personal in the crock pot with sweet onions and baby carrots...

For now...

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Fresh Start!

It's cold here in NE Indiana.  Again.  With the exception of one anomalous 50F day last week, we've had single digit positives and negatives or low teens in both directions for several weeks now.  After a while it starts to kind of sink into your bones, which makes those occasional warm days even more of a blessing.  This morning was no exception.  Depending on whose thermometer you were looking at it was somewhere between -4F and 9F at first light.  Brrrrr!

There was one difference between this morning (Sunday - January 14) and the way most of our bone-chilling mornings have been.  The sun was out.  One of the reasons the morning was so cold is that the clouds cleared off during the night and the open sky just sucked what heat there was right out of the air.  (The physics behind that phenomena is really cool - no pun intended - but most folks know that clear skies=cold nights and are justifiably not really interested in the mathy specifics of how God designed it all to work.  Still...)

I suppose it works this way in most places but, here at least, sunny skies after a clear, cold, cold night makes for a simply glorious morning!  We had a light, soft snow whisper in early last evening with no breeze, so when the sun came up every twig in every tree and every standing stalk of roadside grass was painted with a frosty, glowing blaze of sunlight.  It was clear and crisp and wonderfully perfect.  Adding to that, while I was doing the Church Security team thing and watching for other things, I got to watch a dozen or so deer pick their way across an open field between wooded areas near the church building.  Glorious!!

And to make life even better, the garden seed and tree catalogs have started to arrive.  De and I have always enjoyed planning the garden in the months before we can actually work it, and the seed catalogs always provide fuel for that fire.  For us, when the planning begins, it's much like the dawning of a new day like we had today.  It's like a fresh start!  Never mind we couldn't do all we wanted to do last year, or the year before.  Never mind there is still a bit of clean-up to do before we can really get things started in the spring.  Never mind the 'new health realities' mean focusing on less labor intensive methods of doing things.  It's a blank garden canvas that we can paint however we choose.  Once again, simply glorious!!

Speaking of wonderful things, last post I promised a picture of the grand kids, so here it is.  The family did PJ pics for family Christmas this year, and this is ours with the grands.  (The oldest never gives you a natural smile unless you catch her off guard!)  As many of you know, grand kids are such a blessing, and De and I are loving being grandparents.  We don't get to see them nearly often enough, so when we do its always a wonderful (and exhausting!) time.  We are so looking forward to having them come to the homestead in the spring.



While we were down at their place a few weeks ago the oldest one, as kids often do, was asking her dad for something that was not going to be in the family spend plan.  Dad was telling her if she wanted something like that she would need to get a job and, since she did not have a job, that item was not going to be forthcoming.  Her reply just made my heart sing.  "Yes I do!! Helping Papa in the garden!!"  Papa resisted the urge to whip out his wallet and buy whatever it was she wanted, but it sure made my day!   It assured Grammy De and I that we are making an impact and a difference in the life of those children!  And that is truly glorious.

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark




Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ummmm... I'm not dead yet!

Hi Folks,

I've actually got a t-shirt that says that. "I'm not dead yet!"   Daughter #1 got it for me several years ago when she was studying in England where she saw "Spamalot" live, but that's another story.  I wear it when I'm in the hospital because the nurses get a kick out of it. The fact that I know that, I suppose, needs to be part of this one.

So first things things first, I am still alive and more or less OK.   That being said, it's been a year of changes.  Where do I start?

First the good stuff.  We have a grandson!  Born February first, he's an amazing gift from God for both this parents and us.  His name is Maverick.  He lives, with his sisters and parents of course, about 2 1/2 hours away - which is pretty hard on Grammy De.  Pics to come.

The homestead is pretty much the same.  We sent about 10 chickens to freezer camp and bought a few more.  We have seven now, and just as it turned cold they started a molt.  We'll be glad to get everyone past that.  We'll grow up a few more in the spring.

The garden actually shrunk this year, but it was still respectable.  We had high hopes, but energy was an issue.  There were still 130+ pints of green beans, only 30+ of tomato products.  There were cabbages, beats, sweet potatoes, egg plant, onions, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, a couple different kinds of peppers.  Not a bad year, and we have high hopes for next year.

And the nitty gritty:  It's called CVID - Common Variable Immunodeficiency.  You've almost certainly never hear of it: Statistically there should be only about 6200 of us in the whole USA.  That means about 132 in the whole state of Indiana and 3 in the rural 4-county NE corner where I live.  I don't know the real numbers.  I've never personally met another CVID patient, but know of several from blogs and other web pages.  Google it if you're interested but the short story is that I don't manufacture certain classes of antibodies, and have a pretty constant string of small infections interspersed with the occasional major one.  There is a a short list of weird stuff that comes along for the ride.  I was diagnosed in 2012, but this year it 'bit' harder than most.  Fatigue is the real problem, which is why, sometimes, things just don't get done.

There were a few little health things going on that become bigger things when you throw CVID in the mix.  I had two surgeries this year: One planned - an inguinal hernia fix, and one unplanned - a 7mm kidney stone they had to go fetch ten days after the hernia surgery.  And a prostate cancer scare (I'm clear for now - recheck in a couple of months.)  And a 17mm spleenic aneurysm that seems to be stable for now.  And acute bronchitis - again.  (I'm mostly past that for now.)  And I've stopped manufacturing sufficient vitamin D (that's a CVID related thing) which is part of the whole fatigue thing.  You get the picture.

So with all that, things have slowed down across the board.  At home, pretty much everything takes longer to do and some things just don't get done.  At the day job, I've had to step out of what was a central role in major programs, into more of a support role.  Having to do that stung a little bit, but the folks at work were and are great about it, and it's for the best.  God only knows for certain, but the slower pace is likely a permanent thing.

I think I promised, a year ago, to spill the beans on the day job.  I'm a physicist (BS only, not PhD) at a mid-sized defense company and I am, or was anyway, the chief system test engineer for many of the USA's weather satellite primary sensors (think: "camera", but about the size of a mid-sized garden tractor.)  You likely have not heard of my company and, as much as I like it, I'm not going to name it.  If you've seen weather satellite pictures (think hurricanes this year) on TV or the internet, you've seen a bit of my handiwork.  Ok, promise kept - 'nuf about that.

Just so no one is tempted to think otherwise - I am STILL blessed.  Wildly.  Immensely.  God is still in control.  I have a wonderfully supportive family.  I can still hold a job, and work for a company that is willing to let me.  I can do almost anything I want on the homestead, just not as much of it.  I have a team of about 6 really good doctors that keep me going.  Life on the Hoosier Country Homestead is still really, really good.

I will try and post a more frequently.  And I will get back to reading your blogs.  I seem to be on the upswing, and have collected a handful of post-worthy stories about the homestead, family, and life with CVID.

Do take care all and, as always, Col. 1:9-12.

Mark

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Catching Up #1

It's time to get started on these catch-up posts.  I'm going to do them by topic, so the first one is going to cover the saga of 'The birds'.  (With apologies to Alfred H.)

This year we added to, and later subtracted from, our chicken flock.  It all started when our one reliably broody hen went broody once again.  We were hoping it would happen and was glad when it did.  We carefully selected the eggs we wanted to her sit on and sit she did!

In the mean time, since she was sitting in a nest box some 18" off the floor of the coop, we set about building a nursery annex to the coop.  We ended up with a "nursery annex" box off the west side of the coop a little more then twice, in each dimension, the size of a nest box.  It could be opened to the coop or blocked off.  It had a separate pop door to an isolated yard space set up for chicks.  We still need to paint it, but we didn't want to paint and then drop the hen in, so we left it unpainted until next spring.
The "Nursery Annex" all ready to go.
When the nursery was done we moved our broody hen there and waited for the chicks to hatch.  18, 19, 20, 21 (OK, so maybe we counted wrong), 22, 23 (Umm - This isn't good), 24, 25.  A little candling action showed no chicks.  Not one.  In any egg.  From any hen.  It seems Ivan Crossbeak the Rooster had worse issues than just a crossbeak. 26, 27, 28.  So what's a flock owner (and a broody, expectant hen) to do?

The answer is, "We did what we could and, by the grace of God, got away with it."  We went to our favorite local farm store and bought 6 chicks.  Then, late in the evening but well before dark, we picked up the hen, pulled out the eggs, put in the chicks and hoped for the best.  Two of the chicks ran straight under the hen.  The other 4 essential mobbed her.  She immediately accepted them all. Whew!!  5 of the 6 survived and we had our replacements for some of our aging hens.
Six little ones: 3 ISA Browns and 3 Rhode Island Reds
Jumping forward to fall, production from our 11 older laying hens had dwindled to two or three eggs a day.  Most of the eggs were coming from the 4 Easter eggers.  The 4 Red Stars were generating a few eggs a weeks, and the 5 Buff Orpingtons were done.  A little internet work and a few phone calls later and we had located a place to process our birds.  We considered doing them ourselves, but decided we weren't going to butcher often enough to invest in the things we needed to do it right.  Ivan went too, and a couple of weeks later we had 10 whole "slow cooker" chickens in the freezer.

Just today, we got eggs from every one of the new additions.  We lost of the one of the Easter eggers to an accident and one to predators, so we now have a flock of seven hens.  We're considering added a few more in the spring.  We're also considering adding a rooster back into the flock.  One of my good friends from the 'day job' has one we could buy now if we decide we want one.

So that's the story on the birds!  All in all, we're in a pretty good place today with our flock.  Once again we blessed.

Col.1:9-12,

Mark





Sunday, December 18, 2016

Back in the saddle? I hope so!!

First post in 6 months!!  So I suppose I owe some answers.  Let me see if I can shed some light.

First up, I'd guess, is "So how are you doing?  Last we heard you were mostly confined to your recliner recovering from something or other."  In general, I'm doing pretty well, but there some things about 'the new me' I'm still coming to terms with.  Pretty much everything about eating and drinking has changed.  I essentially lost part of my stomach as part of a massive hernia repair surgery I had in May, and the valve that was supposed to be working away at the bottom of my esophagus was 'refurbed' to be a simple, snug little restriction.  That makes it harder to get things down, and means I'm now eating small, frequent meals with a set of restrictions on what I can eat to boot.  That being said, not having stomach acid constantly spritzing my esophagus, voice box, and bronchial piping has been a wonderful thing, and I haven't felt this good at this time of year in a number of years.  I'm getting some of my energy back - I will likely never get it all back - and (knock on wood) seem to be on track to avoid my annual pneumonia hospital stay.  All things considered, I'm coming out on top!

Perhaps next is, "Ok, so you haven't done ANYTHING useful or interesting in the last six months?"  Au contraire, my friends!! We had lots going on!  I'm planning on doing a (mercifully short) series of "What I did with my summer and fall" posts.  I took pictures of most of the interesting stuff, so it's not going to be 'essay only'.  The highlight reel goes something like:
  • We got most of want we wanted in the garden out before the surgery.  I couldn't do any weeding early in the year and not all that much in late summer, so we lost some of it.  But all in all we had a decent garden year.
  • I got none of the orchard, berry or grapes in.  They're on the docket for this year.
  • We did get a temporary fence around the garden later in the summer.  Hey!  Did you all know you end up with a LOT more tomatoes and green beans that way?
  • It was not, however, done as early as I would have liked.  We learned that chickens are fond enough of beets they will pull them out of the ground, quickly devour all the root part, and move on to the next one.  All this without an ounce of shame!  Tsk!  Tsk!
  • We built a nursery 'annex' on the coop and run, hoping one of the girls would go broody.
  • We found the same hen who went broody last year went broody this year. Yay!
  • We discovered Ivan Crossbeak the rooster is apparently infertile.  Our one broody hen came up with zilcho from the clutch of eggs (from several hens) she sat on.  Boo!
  • We discovered our one broody hen either has a big 'mama chicken' heart or a small chicken brain (or both) because when we clumsily replaced the eggs she was sitting on with six chicks from Rural King she rolled her chicken eyes, puffed up her chicken feathers, took them all in, and did a great job raising them.
  • We learned that the predictions on how long a chicken's productive laying life is pretty accurate.  By fall our flock of 10 old hens, one molting middle aged hen, 5 pullets (too young to lay) and one infertile rooster with a bad attitude were cranking out a grand sum of 2 eggs a day.  
  • After only a little hand ringing, we now have 1 old hen (the one that goes broody), 1 middle age hen, 5 pullets just about ready to lay, and no rooster (fertile or infertile).  
  • We also have a fair number of whole chickens in the freezer.  It was an interesting process I'll tell you all about later.
  • There were memories made with the granddaughters, the discovery of a grandson coming in February, and a bunch of other really good family times.
  • The latest is trying to help a (married) couple of really good friends from the 'day job' as they are starting their own journey with homesteading.  They moved out of the city onto about 5 acres and have a desire to live the whole homesteading life.  With that description, naturally the first thing I did was point them to Leigh's "Five Acres and Dream" blog, and recommend her books.
So what's coming in 2017? (Besides the promised string of catch-up posts).  Let's see - God willing: the aforementioned orchard, a half-dozen more chicks when it gets warm, some better fencing, a workbench in the barn, FINALLY getting my tower up, ...  Well that's probably enough.  I've also decided I'm going to spill at least some of the beans on what the 'day job' is I keep referring to, and what I do for a living when I'm not pulling weeds or pitching the chicken coop.

All in all, we're doing OK.  All the things we have been blessed with are still there and getting better.  I seem to be set for my health to continue to improve, and we have another grandchild on the way!  We are blessed!! 

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark