Thursday, June 28, 2012

Survival Strategies

It is so hot here.  Yesterday, according to channel 13 news, the high reached 111 degrees.  We made it through without air conditioning.  Maybe we are a little tough, but mostly we are cheap.  We have begun our survival strategies.  We begin with our morning coffee.  Coffee is brewed and then poured into an insulated carafe and the coffee maker is turned off.  One load of clothes per day, which is washed in the early hours, when the house is still cool or the washer is turned on just as we go to bed.  Then the clothes go out on the clothes line.  Same with the dish washer.  It is only used when full and it is turned on as we go to bed.

We open the windows at night when it is cool and close them up about eleven in the morning.  The only exception is the upstairs western window that has a fan placed to blow warm air to the outdoors.  Now to confess... we knuckled under today.  We put in the window air conditioner in our bedroom.   I wish that I had awnings over the western windows, but I don't.  So to help the air conditioner not work so hard we put aluminum foil in the upper portions of the windows.  Shiny side out to reflect the sun and heat from the house.  It looks terribly trashy but it works great.

We don't cook in the house if it can be avoided.  We now have an outlet in what will be the outdoor kitchen so we can move a crock pot out doors or the small counter top oven.  We grill a lot.  Even veg and breads.  The pre-made pizza crusts drizzled with olive oil and topped with italian seasonings and a little mozzarella cheese makes you forget that you are living with austerity measures.

Yesterday, while at the doctor's, Mac and I had a conversation.  One we should have had sooner.  With this latest set back, the heart attack and the flare up of the GVH, he is convinced that he will not survive until retirement.  He doesn't think he will survive another five years.  Not sure what to do.  I know that I need a survival strategy that I am not yet equipped with.  I think it will take more then aluminum foil and pizza crusts.  I guess we will play it by ear.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I haven't had a panic attack about money for several months, so apparently, I was due.  This morning at 4:41 I awoke with a great deal of acid reflux and a cold sweat and wondering how in the hell would I find $1200.00 by the end of September.  I still don't know how I will make that work, but things seem less frightening by the light of day.  Other things take precedence.  Weeding.  Feeding.  Facing down the heat wave we are in right now.  Making sure the chooks have enough water.  I'm worried about one of the broiler hens.  She has stopped walking.  This is an inherent problem with broilers.  They have been bred to grow so fast that their skeletons don't always maintain enough strength to hold up the weight.  I don't know if I should let her go for a bit or if going ahead and butchering her would be the greatest kindness.

My mind can't stay on any one worry for too long.  There are just too many of them crowding around, pushing for attention.  Sometimes I feel as if I am in a game of checkers with God.  I think I am moving along well.  I think I will make it to the end and be able to get my piece kinged.  I will acquire what I need to navigate the board more easily, the strength to overcome my obstacles.  But it doesn't happen that way.

I don't want to think about it.  It is far too depressing.

Tomorrow Mac goes to see the transplant oncologist in Iowa City.  He is being kept on a monthly schedule for now.  It is horrible.  Stressful.  Makes me wake up in the night.  Makes me angry.  I thought I had finally gotten past the rage.  It seems that it is just under the surface.  I did a fair amount of cussing today.  As always we will go to Iowa City and then crash for two days afterward.  Then I will shove myself back into my life.  Get back to worrying about weeding and feeding, and occasionally, I will wake up at 4:41  in the morning and wonder how in the hell am I going to make it all work?


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy,

There is a movie called "Four Weddings and a Funeral".  I relate to that degree of busyness, but I cannot come up with such a good title.  I could manage, "A Doctor Visit, a Funeral, a Wedding, a Weekend with Evelyn, a Birthday and now Another Damn Doctor Visit Coming Up".  Does not have a ring to it at all though it does capture the essence.

In between these events, I have done some laundry, washed some dishes, did precious little house cleaning, mowed the lawn, fed chickens, horses and the dog and the cat.  Even managed to get food into the husband though that really wasn't done with the same enthusiasm.  I have also gotten a larger chicken tractor built and gotten the chickens moved.  I continue to believe that chickens grow the minute you move them into a larger facility.  Then instantly, the facility is no longer large enough.

The new chicken tractor seemed nice and roomy.  I had made some improvements on the design.  It was easier to manage the chickens into it.  It is easier to  grab feed and water containers out of it.  And, strangely enough the day after putting the chickens into it, they grew.  Over night, they grew!  They were bigger, had more feathers.  Their voices had deepened.  They have big scary feet like a hawk or something.  I figure by next week they will have gone gangsta' and be wearing bling.

At which point, they must die.

Though to be fair, the broiler crosses which have been fairly boring as far as chickens go, did something funny and a bit endearing since going into the bigger chicken tractor.  I tie a rope to the handle of the tractor and then tie that to the lawn mower and pull it onto fresh grass everyday.  They have been afraid of the sound of the mower and  have been running into the coop portion when I fire it up.  Now they have become more familiar.  When the mower starts they stand around.  As the tractor moves forward, they wait until the door of the coop moves to them.  Then they step on, like commuters stepping onto an escalator.

I have new plans for the ULTIMATE chicken tractor.  Somehow I will fit it in.  In between the laundry, the dishes, the meals and my critters... and the doctor visits.  I was even thinking that perhaps it was time to start thinking about a bridge.  I've been wanting a bridge.  I could use a bridge.  Today a chicken tractor....TOMORROW THE WORLD!  or possibly a bridge.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicken Coops, Pictures and Other Experiments

My chicken coop made of old pallets was one of my great experiments this spring.  Parts of the process was easy and obvious, other parts were maddening.  There was no plan.  There was just the need that it used materials on hand.  Could not exceed the dimensions of the materials and hopefully, not turn out butt ugly.

Another experiment was the chicken tractor.  Again, there was no plan.  Possibly an insinuation, but no plan.  It had to be made of materials left over from the coop.  It was done to get the little buff orpingtons safely away from the broilers.  It also was to serve the purpose of getting me more comfortable, once again, of building farm stuff.  We always need farm stuff and the better I get at kicking it out, the smoother the little farm will run.

Today's experiment is posting pictures.  Finally!  the long promised pictures.  I told you that I had been taking them.  I'm sure no one believed me any longer, but at long last the day has arrived.  Cross your fingers and we will see how this goes.  With luck, this will be a progression of photos, showing the building the coop.

I did not do this in any sensible order.  I started with the sides because they were my first bit of inspiration.  Then I had to back track a bit and build the base.  The base size was mandated by the  size of the already built sides.  The hardest bit was the roof.  I would urge anyone who tries this to not do as I did.  First timers especially, please do not try to do the center weird angles and rafters with bird's beaks to catch the sides.  The coop is small enough that a plan and template for rafter trusses should be drawn out on an oversized cardboard box.  Make your project as easy as possible!  It is an easy thing to attach already built trusses.  It was lucky that I had an old sheet of plywood that I could cut for the floor and the roof sheeting. Sometimes buying the cheap plywood is the way to go.  Sometimes your time is worth more then money.

The first side

The base with foam remnants for insulation

Two sides on!!!

That pesky roof!

This end will get wheels.

The chicks arrive!
So, here we go.... hopefully these will post and I will be sooo happy!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Something Accomplished

It's been a busy day. I've gotten what little hay that I have, sold. There will be a check in the mail for $150.00 soon. It isn't much but it is something. The least little money usually sets my mind reeling with what could be done. Seed, fencing supplies. Various small gadgets that would hopefully make things run more smoothly around here. But it's just not enough money!! Or maybe my list is too long. I finally found some time to get a little cleaning done in the kitchen. It seems that when things become busy it is the kitchen the suffers the most. I don't like cooking in a messy kitchen but recently, we have again fallen into crisis management. The chicken tractor was finally finished. Done late in the day. It is so small but the buff orpingtons seemed well pleased with it. I have handled the chicks a good deal. They are used to being picked up and they respond when they hear me talk to them. I was afraid it would be an issue getting them moved over to the new housing. Only one flutter of wings. Then they settled into the coop section. They ate a little. Then stood in the small doorway reached out and pecked some grass. The braver ones hopped out, ate a little grass then quickly jumped back into the coop. After awhile, I began to think that they would not take to the small yard and that I might as well close them up for the night. But by dusk they were out and refusing to go back in. They were put in to the coop under force, like children being called in for baths and bedtime. I'm anxious to put them out in the morning and see if they remember all of tonight's lessons. Tomorrow, I will take a day off. I am tired. I need to re-prioritize my goals. What next? It is late and I can't even begin to organize my thoughts..... we will see what tomorrow brings. Louie

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chicken Tractor

It has been a frustration to me that I start a project and it takes FOREVER to get it done. The little chicken coop that should have taken several days took at least ten, not counting days where I simply couldn't get any work done on it at all. Now I am working on the chicken tractor. I had spent a great deal of time trying to make a decision on the size and style. Researched the internet. Read articles. Got really, really confused. Finally I became aware that I was just psyching myself out. I made the decision to down scale and make the project less intimidating. I am hoping to finish up tomorrow. That is, finish up on the worlds smallest chicken tractor. It measures just 32 inches across. 50 inches long and just 28 inches tall. It will be home to the buff orpingtons. No doubt they will outgrow it in a week or so. One of these days I will have to figure out a method for building something the exact size that I need. I have no idea how I will do that. The chickens have been fairly forgiving to my inadequacies. My shortsightedness. My inexperience. I am thankful. When I get them in the tractor and they get to feel real grass under their feet, I think they will be thankful as well. The little chicken tractor is built on an A-frame design. Looking at internet pictures, it seemed the simplest, most effective use of my materials. Then, came the harsh reality that to build to my diminutive scale, I would be cutting some weird angles. Some were weird angles with notches. It was a complete and massive pain in the ass. I finally did the smart thing and gave up... that is gave up on all the measuring and trying to use the speed square and all that crap. I finally just drew a picture of what the end piece should look like. Made a connecting line for the hypotenuse of my triangle, then got out a piece of cardboard and made a template. Since it was made of corrugated cardboard, the template was a bit weebly-wobbly, but it worked. Tomorrow with great luck, we will get the roof on then attach the chicken wire. Then make a door so I can reach into the yard portion of the tractor. Then I will just have to add the chickens. It will be a great moment. No doubt similar to walking the red carpet at the academy awards. Then I will have to figure out what to do next. Considering that chickens seem to be like certain species of fish and grow to the size of their enclosure, or so it seems, I will need to start on another chicken tractor right away.. something LARGER! I have not given up on a small hay barn. It will soon need to be started. I am working my way up to such an intimidating project, but first I have to finish my tiny little chicken tractor. There is a natural progression to these things. Like wading into a cold lake. You just can't rush these things. Louie

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chickens and Morality

Yesterday was the voting day for primary elections. A big day in Wisconsin as it was also the recall election for Scott Walker. I did not vote. For our area, most candidates were running uncontested in their parties. No reason to vote until we get to the general election this November. Despite this primary being such a non-event (except for Wisconsin) there is a great deal of talking in the press about party lines, extreme factions and strangely enough.... morality. I tend to get in arguments with republicans. I should admit that right from the start. I don't try to... they pretty much make me. I was talking to a republican a couple of years ago ( the name with held to keep my husband from getting mad at me) This person informed me that she was a christian and that her morals would not allow her to be a democrat. I don't care who you are... that's a gauntlet throwing moment, if ever I saw one. So, I asked her just which morals was she referring to. This pissed her off and she stormed away. But, I really wish she would have answered me. To this day I have no clue what the hell she was talking about. This event actually caused me to have a bit of a quest. When I come across a person who has a strong political ideology, I tend to ask them why. A lot of them do say it is their morals. Of the ones I talk to, the republicans moral argument tends to be about abortion but quickly turns into them not believing it is moral for them to have to give up their hard earned money to any cause that might support someone who isn't worthy of their money. That argument then falls down to , it isn't moral for other people to get their money..... period. I love moderates, democrats, independents, conservation voters, liberals. They have great gobs of morals. Morals that they are more then happy to discuss in detail. They cover the great realms of deficit, social responsibility, environment, political history, cause and effect, education and the role of the wealthy in our society. And that is just a start. My politics are also my moralities. I have chicken morals. It is my intention to eat the eggs of those chickens. It is my intention to someday take their lives to feed my family. My morals tell me that I need to treat them the best I can while they are still in my care. My morals tell me that I should be thankful for the lives I'm taking. My morals tell me that I should care for the least of these. Green grass, freedom and all the bugs they choose to eat. They do not seem to want much to make their happiness... what does it cost me? It baffles me why people can't treat other people as well as I want to treat my chickens. That's just immoral. It will be interesting to see what morality shows up in November. Louie

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dark Earth

I tend to be pretty self secure, especially in my little world that I am creating. But, like anyone, when I venture out, out there, amongst the heathens, I fear looking a little stupid. Maybe stupid is the wrong word. I don't mind being different.... I thrive on that. But I try really hard to be fairly well informed on topics that I talk about. So, I was somewhat uncomfortable today when I sent an e-mail to the department head of organic agriculture at Iowa State University, concerning dark earth. I had been reading everything I could find on the internet about this mystery soil of the amazon, but after two days I just kept running into the same articles over and over. Reading was no longer going to cut the mustard and creating dark earth is something I really want to try. It's nothing short of miraculous stuff. I can't afford the project. I am doing some quick calculating and I think I could take the project start to finish for around $2500.-$3000. For many people in agriculture that is a trifling amount of money. For me, well, it's practically a king's ransom. Hold on! I'm getting ahead of myself. I should explain dark earth to you a little bit. It is found in the amazon rain forest. The amazon, known for it's lousy soil. Everything there just grows on the fallen remains of trees, debris, composting humus. But there are areas where ancient indians of the area created pockets of exceptionally rich soil. Soil that remains fertile after more then 1500 years of continuous cultivation and rainforest downpours that leach every vital nutrient out of any other native soil. Scientists have been studying the dark earth, but they aren't totally sure how the indians pulled this off. The most significant ingredient seems to be charcoal. There is other stuff in there, too. The scientists can't decide if the dark earth area was also used as a bit of a dump or if the combinations of ingredients were specific and on purpose. Some say that there are pottery shards thrown in with the charcoal. That is where the dump theory comes from, but other scientists think the pottery shards are too small to just be garbage and it must be created intentionally. They even go so far as to say the shards act as a method of keeping the soil loose, like vermiculite or perlite would now. There are also some bones and fish remains found in the mix. When it is done, you have created perpetual, organic fertilizer. The queen mother of nutrient dense soil. There seems to be two ways of doing this. Some areas of dark earth are big planting patches. Another method is the trench method. Because of our hills, the trench method would make the most sense. My plan is to have a back hoe come in and dig a trench about three feet deep and about three hundred feet long. It doesn't have to be straight or pretty or exact. Then the trench needs to be lined with wood. I have plenty of trash trees on the property, but I think that I need to buy hardwood also. Hardwood is suppose to make better charcoal. Then the very long bonfire has to be lit. When it has gotten well under way, the fire is covered with green matter. This smothers the fire somewhat. After the green plant material has been added, then I want to add lime, composted manures, either fish emulsion or fish. Bone meal would be good as well if it is affordable. Once everything is added then the soil is pushed back over the trench. The reason the trench appeals to me so much is because of our hills. We have a problem with rain water rushing down the hills and picking up speed and creating wash outs. Sometimes they develop into some pretty huge ravines. But if I place the trench about two thirds of the way up the hill, the rain water should drop into the trench instead of galloping down the hill wrecking havoc. Once in the trench it should have the opportunity to percolate through the charcoal and other ingredients, feeding the field below the trench. It would work like a very long french drain. It would also allow more moisture to deeply water the area.. I am curious if it would also help to get non contaminated water back into aquifers. Would it act like a charcoal filter? I don't think they know that yet. One thing that some scientists are theorizing about is whether this charcoal would sequester carbon emissions and help reduce greenhouse gases. If it does work in that way, it would be one of the most effective ways of combating the greenhouse effect that is currently known of. So, let me sum up...fertilization, incredibly effective, yet organic. Different sources have said that the crop production shows anywhere from 400% to 800% greater productivity. Imagine that! 400% productivity jump with out any input from Monsanto! Cheap erosion control that doesn't require costly tiling. Deep watering without expensive irrigation methods and best of all, the possibility of a method to clean the air at very little cost. What I did today, which more then likely made me look stupid, was to contact Iowa State University and asked them to point me in the direction of a grant for around $2500-$3000. to install a trench in the hope of creating dark earth. We just won't know until we try. I'm willing to try. I just wish I had the money for the project on my own. No one to muck up the process or poke their nose in where I don't want it. But I have no money.... so fingers crossed and hoping for the best. If it works, then I don't mind looking stupid at all. Louie

Monday, June 4, 2012

Such a Week!!!!

It has been one of those weeks where it is probably just best to put your blinders on and get through it. Like the cops in the old black and white movies...."Keep movin'. Keep movin". Nothin' to see here." The week should have started out with that feeling of excitement that comes from knowing you are almost out of school. A whole summer stretching out like a promise. Slow mornings over cups of coffee. Bonfires. Fresh tomatoes from the garden and the firm knowledge that you really don't have to do anything you don't want to.... within reason, of course. Instead, Mac stressed out about getting his sign out tasks done and turned into the office. The following day was a trip to Iowa City to see the oncologist/ transplant specialist. While sitting in the waiting room, we found out via e-mail that my uncle had died. He died of cancer. The weight of the visit intensified. The doctor's appointment went without a hitch, but Mac has a new medicine. He has had so much muscle wastage that they are trying another immunosuppressant and will try to get him off the prednisone as quick as they can. Getting new drugs instead of getting them taken away is always a bit depressing. It doesn't help that he is back to monthly visits. That idea alone has been tiring. Then there was my uncle's memorial service. One of life's little reminders that I really don't always understand other people. I kept having flash backs to my aunt's funeral, which was probably only a little over a year ago. I kept seeing her, in my mind, laying in the coffin, with a small ceramic lighthouse sitting on her chest. I did not know if she had started collecting lighthouses or if it was a spiritual metaphor. I never understood why it sat on her chest. My uncle, likewise, had knick knacks, but all were able to fit on the rim of the coffin. It makes me wonder if we are revisiting the thought processes of ancient Egypt. Maybe some folks think you can take it with you. Maybe my family just really likes knick knacks. I don't know.... I will stick to my own brand of weirdness. Then we came home. And this place, as always, provided me with a little miraculous healing. We sat and watched the birds outside the window. We took deep breaths. Then a really *BIG* thing happened. Mac said, "You know, I think I'm kind of feeling better. I think I want to start working on some projects outside this summer." I tried to hide my shock as he got some paper and pencil and began a list of projects he wanted to undertake. Yesterday we started on that list. We mowed. We weeded. We planted. We fed creatures. We picked up and sorted stuff around the house. We hauled debris to a bonfire pile. We cleansed ourselves with labor. We made more plans. This week is going to be so much better. It's just spreading out ahead of us... full of promise. Louie