Sunday, April 27, 2014

Maybe it's just me....

So one my local volunteer activities is with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.  In addition to a fairly wide variety communications support activities for local hospitals, Emergency Management, the Red Cross, the National Weather Service and the like, we help with a handful of  public service events.  

An event that ran this weekend is called the Indiana Trail 100.  The IT100 is sizable and requires a large contingent of hams, EMS, park rangers and other volunteers because it runs for 30 hours.  Straight.  ‘Run’ is the operative word here.  The IT100 is an "ultra-marathon". 200 - 300 persons of all ages (and perhaps of questionable judgment) converge from around the country on the Chain-O-Lakes state park and choose to run either 50 or 100 miles straight through the night making laps around the park trails.   Rain, snow, cold, mud, bugs and hidden tree roots are all part of the 'fun’.  There are things at an ultra-marathon this farm-boy just never sees anywhere else, and are simply priceless.

  • The look on the face of the strapping 20 something athlete clearly struggling for each step late in the day as a 90 pound, 70+ year old women zips around him, happily humming to herself as she floats along.
  • Runners out on the trails sporting top-of-line running gear tooling along next to someone who looks like they are 25 years tardy for their high school gym class.  
  •  Runners who are wet, covered with mud, and obviously cold, and telling the other runners at an aid station how great it is “out there” as they suck down hot soup while wrapped in something akin to an aluminum coated garbage bag trying to stave off hypothermia.
  • Tutus.  Yep - tutus.  Really!  Tutus!   I’m sure why tutus are ‘the thing’ for runners, but they’re not really uncommon.  Now I’ll have to admit that once you get your head past the dissonance of seeing a tutu in the woods, they do kinda start to grow on you.  It does, however, put an extra twist in your head when you see a purple, sparkly one hobble by caked in mud, sopping wet, and drooping down on one side.  On a guy.  The 20 something who is eating Grandmas dust.  I certainly hope there was nothing less than a TRIPLE-dog-dare involved in that one.  Next year I’m gettin’ a picture.

They are actually all very nice folks, and are universally quick to thank you for your help.  One has to wonder though, what would motivate folks that outwardly seem otherwise quite normal to do such a thing.  While wearing a sparkly, purple tutu.  I don’t get it, but maybe It’s just me....

Monday, April 21, 2014

What a weekend!

What a weekend!  After a week of working the 'regular' job I got a weekend to get back to reality, and get back I did.  Where to start?  Let's start with projects.

Back in Business!!
My little tractor has tires again!  It turns out new tractor tires like that are harder to come by than one (or at least I) would expect.  After a week or so on order they came in.  I got both real wheels off and loaded them up in the truck to have one of our local tire places mount them up.  I don't put fluid in my rear tires, so I can just handle them by myself.  As I was putting them on I learned two important things: 1) On one side the pin that goes though the hub and the axle to keep the hub from drifting around was missing allowing my hub to 'free float' in and out.  Only the grace of God prevented that wheel from coming off entirely.  2) Keeping your "eye on the ball" works for tire changes as well as baseball.  Unfortunately, I let my eye drift for a little to long.  At my age I'm a bit too old to show off my 'boo boo',  but the tire didn't stay balanced upright as I thought it would, and when it fell over it one of the cleats 'barked' my left shin.  After sitting for awhile I was able to get back at it, but I'm going to be sore for awhile.  You know it can't be good when your 5 year old future granddaughter tells you "Papa, your leg is all swolled!"  In the end I got everything set up safely and tires on the tractor.   One job done!

Papa was feeling a little brave that day
 The next thing I did was 'turn to' on the chicken coop.  By this time the future granddaughters were up, fed, and ready to help Papa.  The two of them are 3 and 5, and they are very busy girls.  At that point I was cleaning up some lumber I had used for concrete forms, and needed to get the old nails out.  My help kicked in and "came to my rescue".  We got the nails pounded back through where we could get the claws on them pull them out, and between the three of us managed to get our lumber clean.  What a joy it was working with the little ones again!  My 'baby' turns 21 this weekend, so it has been
"One, two, three, PULL!"
awhile since I've gotten to work with that kind of "help".  I think the math works out this way:  With this level of skilled help it takes about three times longer to get the work done.  At the same time you have four times more fun doing it, so in the end you come out ahead.  Success is more than just getting the work done.  At one point I was scratching my head on how I wanted to frame up the nesting boxing.  The older one asked me if I still working and I told her "Yes, Honey.  Building things requires a lot of thinking."  Her reply was to get those hands on her hips and tell me, 'Well, let's get thinking then!"  Did I mention they like to stay busy?

Frame for the nesting boxes
Seriously though, they grow up SO fast and the opportunity to do things like this with them don't come near often enough.  These are times to be cherished!  In the end I did get a decent start on getting the boxed framed up.  I'll be taking a good look at the pics over at "5 Acres & a Dream".  Dan and Leigh over there are a good bit ahead of me.  I've already gotten some ideas for a roost when the time comes and will be checking out their laying boxed when I'm done here.  I think they will go quickly from here.  I am noticing I'm going to have to either find a way to set the date on my camera or turn it off.

Papa gives in and off we go!
There was one other thing the youngest of the two talked me into.  She wanted a ride on tractor! The older of the two takes a while to warm up to new things, but the younger is always up for something new.  Of course, Papa was happy to oblige and off we went!


 The girls did get to see the chicks that will eventually inhabit this project this weekend.  Here are couple of pics of my niece showing the girls how to carefully handle a chick.  The girls and my future son-in-law live in a what is essentially a suburb of Indianapolis so this is the first time they've been able to do this. They were very impressed!  They also got to color eggs with their Mamaw, but I don't have pics of that.  

Sunday I attended our Sunrise Resurrection Day services we are able to hold in the walled pavilion at the local high school farm.  We all attended Worship and Sunday School (we call the adult version 'Adult Bible Fellowship' but it amounts to the same thing), and afterwords  joined the extended family for a family Easter celebration dinner.  We were down several due to illness or travel to other locations and 'only' had 28 of us there.  What a blessing to celebrate our Savior's resurrection with four generations of extended family!

I do hope your Easter weekend time was as blessed as ours was.  It's easy to remember and be thankful for His sacrifice when we are showered with so many blessings.

Col. 1:9-12


Monday, April 14, 2014

Not 'Regular'?

Today was my first day back at my 'regular' job after a week of vacation, but it didn't seem 'regular'.  I remember, especially during those first hours on the job the whole thing felt foreign.  The hallways, offices and labs seemed so artificial as compared to the reality of my last week; The land, the home, and the family.   The time spent in meetings, answering a sizable stack of back-email, dealing with the whole 'big business' environment of departments, training, budgets, schedules, and the whole 'high tech' mindset seemed oddly foreign and unnatural.   Even though I've "been there and done that" for the better part of 30 years and have been blessed with a good living doing it, over the last few years every time I take a week off it seems I'm more struck with the dichotomies between my 'professional life' and my 'home life'.  Perhaps this is God's way of preparing me for retirement in the next 5-6 years.  
The feeling died down a bit as the day wore on, but I kinda hope it never goes away.  I want to always remember that tangible feeling that there is more to life than those things 'at work' and it's right outside my own front door.  (And the back door, too!)  Having read some other bloggers thoughts on the same sort of thing (see my 'Blog List') I don't think I'm alone in this.

I'm reminded of the earthly verses eternal citizenship that Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians.  This world may not be my home, but my homestead, family, church, community existence seem far closer to my eternal home and more on the right path than my work world.  Perhaps its simply closer to the way God intended us to live.
Take care all, Col. 1:9-12,

Friday, April 11, 2014

Excellent Day!

I took a day off from the coop today to catch up on some of the other work around the place and to spend
some time with Daughter #1.  She had most of the day free today and drove up to shop with De yesterday, spend the night, and spend some time on the shooting range with me today.  It was a most excellent time!  We had beautiful clear, blue skies and something like 70 degrees. We took along a couple of my handguns (.22 and .45 auto) and my scoped .22 rifle.  We talked and shot for a couple of wonderful, relaxing hours. The whole time I was thinking how blessed I was to have a daughter who shares a common past-time and who still enjoys spending time with her parents,  how blessed to have a safe place to shoot and the resources to do so, how blessed to have a perfect, beautiful day on which to do it.  Time spent with family is a blessing we should count whether it comes daily, weekly, monthly, or rarely.

I did get some scrub trees cut down, some of the out-of-control landscaping pruned back, as well as some email responses caught up.  We also took time to visit our chicks.  They are getting big, fast!  All the more motivation to get back at the coop and get it done.  Here's a few of the 15 chicks my niece and family are raising up for us.  Another blessing of family!

A little on that topic:  As I've mentioned before we live on a couple acres of the family farm.  My mom still lives on the farm, although at 85 the farming is done by neighbors. My Dad went to be with the Lord some 4 years ago. Both brothers have land bordering the property as well as 2 cousins and an uncle.  Add to that extended 'Church family' and our family gatherings with kids, grand kids, adopted family, etc, often top 30 people.  That is a lot of turkey, although with that many folks we usual don't get too hung up mealtime formalities.  After a prayer with everyone holding hands in a circle, we usually end up spreading out to eat.  No 30 person dining tables in any of our homes!  All that just to emphasize what a blessing our big, extended family has been over the years.  When I see others who have essentially abandoned the extended family, either by choice or by distance, I'm all the more reminded of the blessings we receive by living our lives as God intended us to live: Surrounded by family and friends.  We have much for which to be thankful.

Take care all, Col. 1:9-12,


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Starting to to look a little coop-like!

More work on the coop today, which is day 4 of the "vacation".  I managed to get the floor done, a shelf
framework in for storage, a side wall framed up, and the holes cut where the laying boxes will go.  All that doesn't sound like much for a day's work, but there were "complications".  It turns out between what we'll call "apparent dimensional miscalculations" during the original construction and whatever 'warpage' occurred when The Boy and I added a set of skids to what was then called the "bus house", chainsawed off the legs just under the newly installed skids, and dragged the structure some 100 feet to its new location, the structure is now geometrically challenged.  Every one pretty much understands we live (at least at the macro-level) in three physical dimensions and at least notionally can describe them.  I have discovered what I believe to be three new physical dimensions involved in my coop construction.: They are: 1) "Oops!"  2) "Wow! - It doesn't LOOK that whopperjawed." and 3)  "How can it possible be that far out of whack and still be standing?!?".  Sadly, there are far more "Type 3 dimensional anomalies" than I thought could exist in one location without a black hole forming and pulling the whole thing in.  As a result each measurement became a new puzzle and each piece of the structure is absolutely unique to its location in the coop-to-be.  (I suppose that's no different than you and I, but you kind of expect something different when you're dealing with a 2x4.)  All that being said, it was a good day, and I wouldn't trade it for another. I think tomorrow will go some faster, but I'm taking part of the day off to do some target shooting with Daughter #1. I'm looking forward to it and will tell you all how it goes.

Take care all - Col. 1:9-12,


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lots of things done and a few lessons learned today.  I did say in my first post there will be plenty of mistakes along the way:  Today I'll 'fess up' to a couple!

First the good news - Nice progress on the chicken coop today.  The first construction step in this particular project was 'de-construction'.  I took it a little further than I originally intended but when I got into it, and was reminded that my skills as a builder are a large part of why I make my living doing other things,  it was clear I needed a bit more of a clean slate.  I managed to get the whole front side off, leaving me a good place to start for the 're-construction' phase.  Here's a pic of where I ended up. The whole thing is about 8 feet wide and the current floor as you see it is 4 feet deep.  I'll be bringing that out another 3 feet or so.  I believe that will make the coop big enough for the 15 birds I plan to keep. You'll find a 'before' pic in my first post if you're interested enough to see what the 'bus house' looked like before I got busy with the hammer and pry bars.  There are not so many posts yet that I feel TOO bad about making you go back and find it.  :-)  [Someday I'll have to figure out how to do emoticons so you get a real smiley face.]

This brings me to the first 'lessons learned' bit of the day.  You'll notice the window in the picture to the left my window has a seven hazy, dirty panes and one lovely, pristine pane.  If you look even more closely you'll see that lovely, pristine pane doesn't have even the tiniest streak or speck of dirt.  You'll also note it doesn't have even a hint of a reflection!  ("Hey!!  That's not right!")  You are correct, my highly observative readers - my lovely, pristine pane is, in fact, an open pane where I knocked out the glass as I yanked out a piece of lumber.  The upside to this unfortunate consequence of my demolition ineptitude is that Mark gets to relearn another skill from his distant youth in replacing and reglazing a glass window pane. (Whoopee!!!)

I figure in the interest 'full disclosure' I ought to show you the other side of the coop where all the extracted pieces-parts went.  Most of them will be still be good for finishing this and other projects.  I also have a pick-up truck with a handful of 2x4s, four sheets of plywood, and a 4x4 for use in getting this job done.  In the background off to the left you see my poor little tractor waiting for new rear tires to come in.

So what else did I learn today?  I learned from the good folks at Murray McMurray hatchery (They really are wonderful folks to work with!) that if you have your chicks vaccinated you should NOT be feeding them a medicated chick starter.  Turns out that negates the vaccine. ( I suspect I'm late to the party with this bit of avian intelligence, and that most of you already knew this.)  The
wonderful niece who has been brooding my chicks noticed the feed I purchased was medicated, knew I had the chicks vaccinated before delivery and was worried it might be too much for their little systems to deal with.  So I called to ask and got my education in chick feed pharmacology 101.  Part of my new found knowledge is that once you've had them on the medicated feed and effectively negated the vaccine, they need to stay on the medicated feed.  At least the feed I have is still good.....  She also sent me some motivation to keep me moving on the coop work.  The chicks, even this early on, are starting to get feathers!  It has been so long since we had chicks on the farm I grew up on I had forgotten how quickly they change.  Please indulge a proud new chicken papa as he shows off another pic of something most of you have likely seen a hundred times!

Finally, I'm learning a lesson about blogging, or maybe about myself.  I'm a fairly prolific writer at work, but mostly in the form of emails, that generally don't required rigorous grammar and proofreading, and technical memos that do require both but are peer reviewed to help catch that sort of thing.  I find myself going back and tweaking previous posts for typos and grammatical mistakes.  Is that normal?  Or do I just need to get over it and leave them alone?  I'd be interested in hearing what other bloggers do.

Take care all - II Cor. 13:14


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

So my "vacation" is officially underway.  Day 1 (Monday) was 'date' day with De (my wife).  We spent the day going through antique stores and had dinner at 'Das Essenhaus', a local Mennonite run retreat/restaurant that serves wonderful "family style" meals.  The folks and the food are always great.

Day 2 (Tuesday) was a work day.  But during breakfast, De and I were treated to a little show I'll call "The Staredown".  Abby the cat decided park herself under one of the bird feeders.  Her presence did NOT go unnoticed by one of the finches that visit the bird feeder.  The staredown lasted long enough for me to get the camera and get a pic.  I made a little collage to make it easier to see the participants in this little contest of wills.  On the ground we have the cat:  Generally a bit ill-tempered except when she feels its time to be fed, and regularly leaves 'gifts' of partially devoured odd critters on the patio.  They are left there not because she is leaving an offering of gratitude, but because she knows she can't bring them inside where her food bowl and personal staff (De and I) reside.  On the feeder we have the bird:  Not fooled by Abby's attempt to blend in with the still gray and brown grass, not ready to ignore her, but not willing to abandon breakfast.  I'm not sure who blinked, but there was no finch breakfast for Abby the cat.  I think we have to count that as a win for the bird.

The big job for me today was to clean out the fieldstone terraced beds next to our house. Over the last couple of years we allowed the oregano to complete take over four of the six beds.  This year it was time to "take back the terraces".  I didn't get a before pic, but here's a couple of work-in-process pics.  They show parts of two of the four walls.  I built up these walls some 23 years ago shortly after we finished building the house.  The stone is all from various stone piles from around the farm.  That means I had to go to the various stone piles, dig up stones I had personally put into those piles as a teen (something like 20 years before), haul them to our homestead, and fit them into the wall.  When I was building them I told myself that if I had know at the time I would want those stones later, I would have put them where I would be using them when I picked them off the field!   We have enjoyed the walls and will enjoy them more when we have the terraces ready to become De's herb garden.

Finally, I'll leave with a picture of hope.  Even after the long, very cold, and very hard winter, God provides us with reminders that all is well and He is still in control.  De and I both love those first crocuses that push their way up through that spot in the yard.  They are encouraging in a dozen ways and, to us, are a reminder that God's plan still goes forward.

God Bless and Take Care,


Sunday, April 6, 2014

So here we go!  First post and it goes like:  
It was a long, hard winter and there  is plenty of early spring work to be done to clean up after it.  There are things that need to be fixed, there are new things to build, and there is the garden to be readied and planted.  After being cooped up indoors due to near all-time-record snows combined with some unnaturally cold temps its exciting to be able to get out and at it!  

First on the list of stuff that needs to fixed is the tractor.  During the last big snow of the winter I popped a rear tire of the rim and because I wasn't paying very close attention ("Why is the blade digging in funny, why won't this thing push, and why am I listing to port?" -  The last, I suppose, should have been a dead give-away.) I promptly trashed it. Now, truth be told, I've been wanting to change those lawn tires for 'Ag' tires, but I kinda wanted to do it in my own time.  Anyway,  that's first on the list.

Next is the bus-house-come-chicken coop.  The next step in our homesteading journey is raising chickens!  I've got a wonderful niece who agreed to brood our chicks.  They just arrived at the post office today, so I picked them up and they are now happily in their "chicken childhood home".  While they are growing, I need to be working on their 'permanent' home.  (As permanent as it gets for a chicken.)

When the kids were young, I built them a little bus house so they could wait for the bus out of the elements.  Since the kids are grown and (nearly) gone, We've decided to refurb it into to a chicken coop.  The son and I got it moved last fall, and now its time for re-construction to begin.  I'm on vacation this week, so work starts in the next day or two!  Look for pics as work progresses.  So much to do!

Then there's the garden.  You see it in my blog header along with the coop and shed.  Twenty three (or so) raised beds and two large open plots, with raspberries off to one side. Lots to plan and lots to do there, too.

Finally there's the orchard.  You see it (or would if were actually planted) in the pic to the left.  I suppose to be accurate, that's where my wife and I agreed to put the orchard. The most astute among you will note the 'orchard' currently consists of a small handful of scrub trees, some non-fruit bearing mostly-ornamental trees, and yard.  The true geniuses among you will by now have surmised that the aforementioned shed has a chainsaw in it, and that Mark had better start using it if he wants apple crisp from his own trees anytime in the next decade. Yep!  That's on the list, too.  

So there it is!  Like any homestead, there's more work to do than there are hours in a day.  Again, I'm inviting you all come along and join us as we steward the land God has granted us, and see where our journey leads.  We pray that all the work and whatever produce it generates be done to His glory.  Take care, looks for pics as things progress, and remember to spend some time with your Heavenly Father every day as make our way Home.