Saturday, February 21, 2015

Well it Worked, Anyway.

Those of you that regularly follow the blog know that this is our first year with chickens, and thus our first experience in wintering over our flock.  The fact that I grew up with chickens on the family farm didn't really provide much in the way of "how to" that applies now.  On the farm, the chicken's free range included a large barn full of all the hay required to get thirty some head of polled Hereford beef cattle through the winter.  There was lots of room for a chicken to move around, a gazillion places to nest, a little heat generated by the cattle, and plenty of cattle manure to pick through as well as cattle feed grain to mooch along their own chicken feed.  Not bad winter arrangements for a chicken.

For the last month or so, we've had 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground most of the time.  It's drifted higher in some places and there's less than that in others. In addition, we've had night time temperatures as low as -10F with most nights being right around the 0F mark, warming up to from 5F to 15F during the day. 
Taken a few days ago.  Looks the same today.  At least in NE Indiana that clear blue sky usually means a cooooold night!
On our homestead, our 14 chickens have a roughly 8' x 8' coop.  Their 25' x 25' run has about 6" of snow in it, just like the rest of the homestead, and they don't like it. The birds have largely stayed in the coop and done pretty well, but it seems sub-optimal. We open the pop hole in the morning and few brave hens wander the veranda, but don't venture into the snow.  The regular trips to the coop to feed, water, gather eggs, and check on the birds tamp down the snow in front of the coop, and the birds do venture out there some.

That area the girls are inspecting is essentially ice.  Not too much of an issue if you have clawed toes.

The astute among you, which I assume to be pretty much everyone, will know that when all that snow get tamped down it does not remain as simple "tamped down snow".  No, no, no - It becomes ice.  This means we now have our very own gently sloping ice shelf about 8 foot wide and 6 feet out from the coop, reaching around to the front of the nest boxes.  This is bad news, especially for De who handles most of the chicken chores during the week.  It was time for me to do something.

My first 'something' involved taking the brute force approach with the pick-axe.  It quickly became clear I'm not that much of a brute and that my goal of chipping my way down to the ground was not going to be realized.  The best I could do before exhausting myself was to generate some divots in the ice and rough up the surface at bit.  I didn't really need the workout (I probably shouldn't have been doing it in the first place) so we'll call that attempt an abject failure. Lessons learned: 1) Mark at 54 is a far, far cry from the lean, mean brute-force machine he was as a 21 year old USMC Sergeant. (I can still hear the words of Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Schultz from Boot Camp "You privates may not be smart, but you're gonna be strong!")   2) In light of lesson #1, I need to be using my noggin far more than my back in solving this kind of problem. 

After pondering other options like ice melt (gotta be bad for the birds), kitty litter (ditto, in spades), sand (didn't have any), I landed on something I did have - hay.  I broke out part of a bale of hay and scattered it several inches deep around all the icy spots and, just for good measure, in front of the chicken veranda in the run.

Hey! (or Hay!) That works pretty well!
Oddly enough, this worked out far better than I expected.  It covered the slippery shelf in way that makes it safe and easy to get to the coop and nest boxes: Mission accomplished there.  As a huge added bonus, the chickens loved it.  As soon as I got it down they were all out scratching and finding lots of things to eat out of the hay.  With the addition of a few cups of black oil sunflower seed thrown in so they have something else to find as they scratch we had some very happy chickens.

I have to ask myself,  "Is that really the best use a partial bale of hay?"  I dunno.  Maybe not, but I didn't have better use for it.  A more excellent solution may come to me some time in the future, but this is one I'm going to remember.  Safe and happy wife, happy chickens, happy Mark.  Best use or not, I'm good with it.

Col. 1: 9-12,


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson

Isaac’s Storm:  A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson, Vintage Books, 1999.  

While Isaac’s Storm has been out for a while, 16 years as of this review, I only received a copy last month when my sister and her husband ran across one in a used book store.  In my mind any time one gets an opportunity to explore one of those treasure-troves it is well worth the effort and certainly time well spent.  For those of you who like the digital conveniences, a quick check indicated the book is available on Kindle for $9.73.  More than a used book price, but still worth the cost.

Isaac’s Storm is Larson’s well researched and very well told account of the September 8, 1900 monster hurricane that destroyed the city of Galveston, Texas and killed over 6000 people.  The story is told largely from the perspective of Isaac Cline, Galveston’s resident meteorologist for U.S. Weather Bureau.  At the turn of that century the bureau was in its infancy and struggling to achieve some measure of credibility.   

Weather prediction at that time was largely done via the careful collection of temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, rainfall rates and amounts, cloud observations, etc. at specific locations and times around the country which were then relayed via telegraph to a central office near the nation’s capital.  The individual reports were used to create hand-drawn weather maps.  The resultant maps were used to generate regional and local predictions which were sent back by telegraph to stations around the country, continent and world.  Often these predictions were considered by the public to be no more reliable than one’s daily horoscope and the two were often printed together.  The science of weather, especially large magnitude events like hurricanes, was a poorly understood and struggling effort.

As in any government bureaucracy today, there were strong and unimaginably arrogant personalities at the top of the young Weather Bureau who were far more focused on personal gain, organizational reputation, individual vendettas and following procedures ‘to the letter’ than they were about the best interests of the served public.  Larson does an excellent job of researching various archives to piece together a tapestry of arrogance and indifference that is, at the same time, fascinating and horrific.
Finally, as with any well considered account of real persons experiencing a disaster, there are the individual stories of miraculous survival and devastating loss.  Larson was able to piece together personal timelines for Isaac, his family, several prominent residents of the city, and most interestingly, a number of common poor and struggling residents.  He tracks each from an early enough time to allow the reader to develop an affinity for those he follows, and carries their individual stories into and for a fortunate few, through the horrific events.

What makes Larson’s account of this event so riveting is his success in weaving together the stories of science, politics, and humanity in such a way that the reader is constantly engaged and eager to see where and how the various story lines intersect.  Larson does a masterful job of bringing it all together as the hurricane blasts into the city, moving quickly from scene to scene to paint a thrilling picture of horrible loss, unimaginable devastation, and individual courage.  To complete the work he follows those that survive through their attempts to cope with the magnitude of personal and societal loss.

There is a lot of depth to Larson’s account and it makes for an engaging read.  The book alternately provokes anger at the personal and bureaucratic arrogance that contributed to the magnitude of the loss, sorrow at the horrific losses experienced by real persons in a real event, and finally a sense of satisfaction in the victories, both large and small, of those who survived.  I personally found it to be a good reminder that even in the light of a 100 years of scientific progress, disasters “can happen here” and it is largely the strength of character and unyielding spirit of those involved that are remembered by those that come after.  At 273 pages (paperback version) it is a fairly quick and rewarding read.  I would recommend ‘Isaac’s Storm’ to all enjoy real stories about real people in a real crises.

Col. 1:9-12,


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Made it through Day 1!

Just a quick post to let everyone know I made through my first day back at work.  I was kind of leaving three tracks in the sand by the time I left, but I got my "short" 8 hour day in plus 1/2 hour.  It was definitely good to retreat back into my recliner!

Thanks to all for your prayers and well-wishes!

Col. 1:9-12


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review - If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn

If God is Good - Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, by Randy Alcorn

I started into "If God is Good" as the primary text of a small group Bible study.  It seemed a fitting topic for our times, and one with which every Christian needs to come to terms.   Normally our primary Bible study text is, of course, the Bible, but we occasionally venture off into "topical studies".  We had done a previous Alcorn study on Heaven, so we had some experience with his approach and writing style.  My copy of the book is 494 pages plus indexes, so it is a sizable bit of material to cover.

As a group, we dropped the study within a couple of months and moved on to the Gospel of John.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  1)  This is a challenging study and we could see that dwelling on suffering and evil for the months required to really cover the topic in a group setting was beginning to rob the joy from our time together.   2)  The book is not an easy read.  It is thorough, it is reasonably well organized, it is well indexed and end noted, but it is... choppy.  I suspect the intent was develop the concepts in bite-size pieces, but unless one is really immersed it comes off as fragmented and something of a chore in coherence.

I chose to finish the book on my own because I do believe that every Christian should be able respond to critics of the Faith when they use examples of the suffering that goes on around us as arguments against God's very existence, or at least in Him being a God that takes an interest in our daily lives.  Alcorn systematically develops his arguments in way that, I believe, is consistent with the scriptures.  His arguments, by necessity, build on themselves and eventually close out well.  

I believe I was rewarded for my efforts.  Alcorn is a careful and thorough researcher, and the personal testimonies are relevant and helpful.   The question posed in the title, "If God is Good" is likely one of the most challenging in Christendom and more than a little credit should be given to anyone, Alcorn included, who is willing to take it on with the goal of delivering more than simple platitudes and pithy sayings.  There is 'real meat' on these bones.  There are real answers to be found in the scriptures.  Alcorn gets to them and teaches them in a convincing fashion.

For the person who is really seeking Biblical answers to the questions of evil and suffering, this is a solid text.  But the reader should beware that this is not a simple topic, and Alcorn did not write a simple book. The reader must come in up front knowing they'll be some real effort required to get the end, and some careful thinking is required to achieve the deeper understanding Alcorn develops.  I recommend the book to anyone who is willing to make that commitment to this topic.

Musings from the Recliner - Day 3

Good morning, Everyone!  (Good morning, Great Uncle Mark!)
It's so good to see you all again!  And how is everyone today?  (Very well, thank you.)

How is school going?  Did you learn anything exciting yesterday?  (Yep!  Sure did! Food before meds, food before meds, food before meds.  <These kids are home schooled and are allowed to learn useful things.>)

Um..  Uh.. Yep..  Yep, that's , um, absolutely right.  Food before meds.  And why do we have some breakfast before we take our meds?  (I know!  I know!  So you ain't flopped out in your recliner drooling down your shirt before 10AM!)

Uh... yeah...  'Aren't flopped' by the way, and there was no drool.  (OK 'aren't'.  And that's not what Uncle D said.)

Uncle D said 'ain't'?  (Uncle D said there was drool.  Lots of it!  All down the front!)

Uh huh.  Well, Uncle D wasn't here so he doesn't know.  No drool.  (Ok,  If you say so...)

Sounds like I need to have a talk with Uncle D.  (And Grampa, too!)

Yeah, I already figured that one out.  (You didn't say it.  Besides, they told us to ask you.  We had to.)

I don't suppose Great Uncle T was also in on this?  (Yep!  And Gramma and Great Aunt M, too!)

Hmm...  Sounds like Great Uncle T needs to be buried in the sand up to his waist again.  (He's 51 years old!  That's too big!  Great Aunt M said he was only 3 the last time.)

That is gonna make it harder.  I'll tell Uncle D he has to help to make up for lying about the drool.   (He'll like that.  And are you sure he was lying?  God knows when you're lying, you know.)

I do know, and no drool.  (<long silence>  OK...... If you say so.)

It turns out that 'food before meds' does make a huge difference.  I rolled out at a somewhat less slug-like 6:30 this morning feeling pretty good.  As long as I'm downing all the meds the cough is almost non-existent.  Amazing, really - Given the last couple of months.  My voice is still not very strong, but the rest of me is doing MUCH better.  I will be ready to return to work tomorrow on a short (8 hour) workday instead of my usual 9 - 10.  I really am looking forward to it.

That being said, my best path to my normal work routine runs through a very leisurely day today and I'm going to stick with that plan.  I have a couple of book reviews I want to post, and will get on the company email to get some feel as to what I need to do tomorrow. Probably not a lot more than that.

Thanks to everyone for all the prayers, well wishes, fun texts and emails, visits, and phone calls.  Never underestimate the healing abilities of a warm, supportive community!  I'll let all the blog folks how the day goes tomorrow.  Most of the rest of you (getting the email version) will see me at work!

Col. 1:9-12,


Monday, February 9, 2015

Musings from the Recliner - Day 2

Hi all.  It's time to get today's posting out so I can get on with the rest of my day, although I'm not sure what that will entail yet.

In the past I've alluded to that fact this is not my first rodeo on being off work for an illness, and have a daily routine already in place from 2012 that I'm just picking up on.  Per my routine this should have gone out before lunch, but I relearned something today that slowed me down a bit.   I'll get to that soon.

I'm generally an early riser, something like 4AM.   By getting up that early I can get ready for work, drink a cup of coffee, have a nice, meaningful  morning quiet time, and then head off to work.  It's to the point now where I just wake up at 4:00 before the alarm, shut it off and start my day.  Today I woke up, rolled over, saw the clock glaring 5AM at me, and was quietly castigating myself for being such a slug.  As part of the counter-argument (I was at least coherent enough to mount one) I had to concede there really wasn't a driving reason for me to get up that early today, and that it was soooo easy to sleep in my own bed, and....  The next time I opened my eyes it almost 8:30.  I am a slug.

Again, having done this before, I know there are two things medical you don't want to get behind on: Pain meds (none of those for me this time) and cough meds.  I have no less than 10 different perscriptions to weave into my day, and needed to sit down and make out a schedule of when they all had to be taken.  Fortunately the 10 tail off to 4 in a couple weeks.  So as not to get behind, I got my cough meds in first so they are doing their thing while I figure out the rest.  I sat down and made out my schedule, and was getting up to get the morning ones in when I relived a childhood memory.

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time not so many years ago that most folks did not consider children to be china teacups that must be protected from any harm at all costs.  It was back in the days when playgrounds had teeter-totters, monkey bars, and merry-go-rounds.  In fact, there was a time when it was thought that (gasp!) bruises, a few scars, and maybe a broken bone or two were actually a valuable part of a child's path to learning how the world works and integral to the formation of a good character.

Back in those days, the 60s for me, there used to be fun-houses that would come around as part of the local street fairs each fall.   These things were a hoot!  As you strolled through you found the walls moved, any handrails shifted, and the floors shifted and tilted.  By now you know where I'm going with this.

As I wandered into the kitchen to get my meds in the floor tilted - just a little.  Interesting!  I made my morning coffee and decided I would help De out by emptying the dishwasher before I sat down.  And the floor rolled a bit to the other side, this time somewhat more dramatically.  I decided maybe handing dishes should wait unit the floor tamed down a bit.  I thought I would make myself some breakfast when the counters went left and the 'fridge went right.  Maybe best not to run the stove.  Maybe I should just sit and start writing.  Maybe I should just sit and read.  Maybe I should just sit.  Maybe...

I didn't want a nap at 9:45 AM.  Arguably, I didn't need a nap at 9:45 AM.  However, as I relearned, when you take your hydrocodone and somethin' cough medicine without a drop of anything else in your stomach at 9:15 or so, you've kind of limited your options.  I think it was around 12:30 when I starting climbing out of the fog, grousing to myself about being a complete and total idiot.  At 2:00 and after a full cup of coffee I'm still foggy enough I think I'll pass on operating heavy machinery (although if given the chance...), making any major financial decisions, taking up trick shooting, calling up any government official over the local level, or running my chainsaw.  At least 'til 3:00...

The plan is for me to be back to work on Wednesday.  I'm actually looking forward to it.  I just have to remember:  Just as 'F' comes way before 'M' in the alphabet - Food needs to come way before meds.  Food before meds, Food before meds, Food before meds....

Col. 1:9-12


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Musings from the Recliner - Day 1

Out! Sprung! Paroled! Free and Clear!  The docs decided to let me go today, and by late afternoon I’d made it home.  I drove myself there and, with no narcotics in my system at the time, I could also drive myself home.  The trip home was not without a little drama, mind you, but I got home safe and sound none-the-less. 

I’m tired, but doing better.  There are vestiges of the offending cough left, but it’s not a constant thing anymore as long as I'm mostly quiet.  Some of the meds have temporary weakened my voice and I’ve got a kind a sing-song whisper-thing going on.  That will likely be with me for a few weeks.  I’ve got bruises at my IV site, bruises at my “lab draw” site on the other arm, and bruises on my belly where the blood thinner stuff went in.  “Blood thinner stuff” – Lovenox, I think.  Normally I try to be a knowledgeable patient and know every last little thing I’m getting by medical name, along with what it does.  I’m sure I heard them all, but I was on a LOT of stuff.  The nurses and aids were quite efficient and when ‘service’ time came it was kind of like the NASCAR pit crew coming over the wall: BP, temp, O2 level, inject, more IV bags, pills, “Squeeze my fingers”, “Take deep breaths now”, “Can I get you anything?”, ”Get some rest!” (See my Friday “View from the Hospital Bed” for the straight skinny on rest in the hospital.) They did take so good care of me.

I’m looking forward to a night without vitals, labs, injections, therapies, and an IV power-filling me up and urging me into an IV tree ‘skip to my loo’ waltz (I know, I know, “Skip to my Loo” is not a waltz, but I’m trying to be a little genteel here. Just go with the mental the picture.) every 90 minutes.  I think that will go a long ways towards catching me up on sleep.

Normally, it would have been a 30 minute drive home plus the time at the pharmacy to get my meds.  Alas, it was far harder than it needed to be.  I could tell when I got back to the pharmacy counter the folks were having a bad day, it was very busy, they were a more that a bit surly with a current customer, and I’m one more schmuck with a big stack of scripts that need to be filled before I leave the store.  One Rx – naturally, it was the one for the narcotic – was not written quite correctly. Close, very, very close, but not perfect.  Not their fault, but they weren’t in a mood to help me get it worked out.  “You’ll have to take this one back to the hospital.”  I’m getting a bit worn down, but I did. 

The nurses were appalled I get sent back but filled in a little more info, and apologizing for the error, sent me on my way. At the pharmacy the same crew, still savoring their ‘mood’, looked over the paper.  Still not right, “Take it back!” This time I got an accompanying rant from the pharmacist himself about how the DEA was going to put all our butts in jail if he even tried to do anything with this.  So I did. 

Time out for a mother-in-law story: Hang in there, it fits. When one of the family wasn’t feeling so well the comment from Mom was, “You look like you’re not feeling very well.”  All fine and appropriate.  If it was obvious you were feeling really rough it was, “You look you’ve been dragged through a sick cow backwards!”  Now if you really weren’t all that bad off before, listening to that little description alone was enough to get you there.  (End of detour.)

By this time I was starting to look like, well, I’d been ‘dragged through a sick cow backwards’ and the nurses at the hospital got fired up.  One of them picked up the phone to the pharmacy and by the time she was done I started to feel a little bad for the ranting pharmacist. She made a small change to the script and I was on my way, hoping the third time was the charm.

When I got there the first surly pharmacy tech was quietly working away on someone else’s order, the pharmacist came over as soon as I walked up to look things over and, with his blessing, the paper was whisked off to the front of the cue.  10 minutes later I’m finally on my way home.

So here I sit, comfortable in my recliner, very glad to be home.  I thank God for modern medicine, caring nurses, and even surly pharmacists.  It’s good to be home and I feel blessed to be here. 

Col. 1:9-12,