Saturday Night On and Off of the Homestead

Jennifer’s employer hosted a Christmas party a couple of Saturday nights ago, right after the storm dumped a lot of ice and snow on us. As usual, Jennifer and I didn’t know we were going until about 30 seconds before the party started.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. We decided about 45 minutes before it started. We spent 10 minutes feeding and watering animals, and stoking the fire. Then we spent 10 minutes or so walking up to the Jeep. The Jeep was at the top of the hill due to the treacherous, snow covered hill leading down to the homestead. We were thankful that it was at the top of the hill because we probably wouldn’t have been able to drive it out otherwise – we were barely able to walk up it.

We headed into town at a slow pace, much slower than Jennifer would have liked. I kept scolding her for driving over 45 mph on the water/ice covered highway.

We arrived fashionably late. According to the program, we missed the opening prayer. We ran into some friends who invited us to sit with them. We found our seats, dropped off our coats, and stood in line for our dinner.

Dinner was turkey, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, green beans, salad, and rolls. Of course, when it was our turn, we asked them to skip the turkey. I asked what was in the green beans. That they had meat in them was no surprise, and we passed on them as well. We skipped the gravy. We doubled up on the salad, which turned out to be surprisingly good, even if a little sweet. But hey, if there was meat in the green beans, why not expect sugar in the salad? The sweet tea was good, but I didn’t care for the coffee.

The desserts were exceptionally good. The dinner was institutionalized fare. We’ve all eaten it before at school or hospital cafeterias. However, the desserts were homemade. There was a dessert contest. Party goers made desserts and entered them in the contest. After the judging was over, the desserts were made available to the other guests. Some were great, others were good, and none were bad.

I can’t say the same about the talent show. None were great, some were good, and others were just bad. It probably had less to do with personal abilities and more to do with my taste for the participant’s choice of material to perform. I just don’t like religious singing.

Our dinner companions, however, were excellent company. As a disclaimer, at that point I had not been off of the homestead in two weeks, so my judgment may have been a little skewed. The conversation was pleasant, as we have many shared interests.

Jennifer won a sizable monetary door prize. The money has been tentatively earmarked for one or possibly two much needed new tires for the truck. That alone made the trip into town worth the hassle, conversing with friends was lagniappe.

We went to Taco Bell to use some Wi-Fi. We ended up eating a burrito since our dinner wasn’t very filling. Afterwards, we stopped by McDonald’s for a caramel mocha latte for the trip home. Who knew that McDonald’s doesn’t always sell coffee drinks? I would have never guessed that they didn’t sell them as long as they were open. As that was the only “vegetarian” option on the menu, save soft drinks, we left without making a purchase. I guess our $7 or $8 dollar potential purchase didn’t really matter to McDonald’s.

So, we headed home without coffee. With each passing mile, we dreaded the walk down the hill more and more. By the time we turned off the highway, I had talked myself into driving down the hill instead of walking.

It was about midnight. The sun had been down for about 7 hours. The temperature had been below freezing about the same length of time. I figured that the road would be completely frozen, which – ironically – would actually make our descent easier. Daytime traffic on the road created ruts and tracks that, once frozen, would give us traction.

I tried my theory out on the first hill. We had no problem. The little hill by the creek wasn’t a problem either. Therefore, I was determined to drive down the big hill.

Off we went. It was a little scary, but not as bad as I feared. We made it down, but we weren’t sure that we would make it back up the hill the next morning.

It took about an hour for us to take the dogs out and to get a fire going. Jennifer went to bed. I stayed up well into Sunday morning reading. Jennifer downloaded a free e-book that hooked me: Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart. It is a collection of letters from a woman homesteader. She wrote the letters to a friend around from 1909-1911. The letters chronicle her attempt at homesteading in Utah during the earliest part of the 20th century. I won’t give any more of it away in case you want to read it. You can download a free copy here.


Don’t Bother Our Goats

A couple of nights ago I was reading by the fire. I heard a noise that I have never heard before. At the risk of sounding like a wimp, I will readily admit that the sound alone unnerved me.

However, it also unnerved the dogs. They all sat up and perked up their ears. None of the five dogs made a sound. I immediately picked up my Maglite and shined it at the goat pen. The sound came from that direction. Both goats were inside their house, but were standing with their heads outside of it. They were both looking behind their house. I guess we all heard the same thing.

I texted Jennifer and asked her to download some .mp3s of screech owls, bobcats, and cougars. I was pretty sure that I knew what sound a screech owl makes, but I wanted to be sure. I really have no idea about bobcats or cougars, except that sound that a mountain lion always makes in the movies. This wasn’t that sound.

Jennifer was nice enough to download those sounds for me before coming home.

I woke up this morning at 4 am, unable to sleep. I managed to work a little on my book. I also listened to the .mp3s that Jennifer downloaded for me. The results make me not want to leave the goats alone anymore. I ended up waking her up after I listened to them all. I’m not quite sure that she appreciated my enthusiasm at 5:30 in the morning.

She downloaded screech owl, bobcat and cougar sounds. I listened to them all, starting with screech owl, then bobcat, and then cougar. When I heard the “cougar in heat” sound, I immediately recognized it as the sound the dogs, the goats, and I had heard that night in question.

Jennifer said she had no problem believing that it was a cougar. She said she saw a bobcat on the way to work Friday night. After notifying our neighbor, he said that he had seen some strange tracks.

As Jennifer put it, goats are breakfast for cougars, mountain lions, or whatever you want to call them. Athena and Tigh may have serious problems with a big cat living in the neighborhood.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently acknowledged that cougars are living in Arkansas. They really didn’t have a choice, since one was caught on video by a State Trooper’s dash cam and part of one was caught on a trail cam. However, they state that the cougars are merely migratory and that there is not a breeding population here. It seems to me that with the recent sightings, and my recent hearing, there is evidence that they are more than migratory. I believe that they may be here to stay.

That’s fine with us, as long as they don’t bother the goats. Or the chickens. Or the dogs. Or us.

.22 Ammo Review

I am a fan of .22 shorts. I am also a fan of .22 CB longs. I have my reasons.

Both are relatively quiet. Both are somewhat accurate. Neither cycle in my Ruger 10/22, but both send that first bullet toward the target – and that’s what’s important to me.

I field tested the CB shorts against some Federal .22 hollow points a couple of days ago. I’ll post the results if anyone cares.

The Iceman Cometh and Goeth

Although we were struck by the ice storm one week ago, we are still suffering from its effects.

We had our firewood squared away under plastic. We stored up some water for the animals. We had food stored up for us, with a plan for Jennifer to resupply our food as well as the food for the animals.

When the ice storm started, we were as ready as we knew how to be. Last year when the weather turned really bad, we bugged out to my mom’s house and waited it out. Not this year. We put together a plan and implemented it.

Well, like all good plans, the ice storm plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy.

Actually, the plan held up rather well, and longer than we thought it would. Knowing that Jennifer was ready to resupply me after the storm hit really was a life saver. Without knowing that she would eventually be here, I would have probably gone stir crazy. I was able to relay our needs to her and she loaded up.

Some of the things we needed were new boots and new gloves. The first day of the storm trashed my non-waterproof boots and gloves. Wet feet and hands don’t mix well with subfreezing temperatures. I also asked for chocolate, which wasn’t on the original grocery list.

Wild bird seed was another item that I thought we needed. There were about 100 birds holed up under the cabin waiting out the storm. Watching them peck around on top of the snow and frozen tree limbs made me feel sorry for them. I justified the request as ensuring that the birds would make it through to the spring to eat insects that would otherwise devour our garden.

On the day that Jennifer was due to arrive, she messaged me from town. I knew it would take her longer than normal to make the trip. I started working outside, thinking that I would be better able to hear her if she had trouble getting in. I was right and wrong. We have some FRS radios, but she hadn’t taken one with her. FRS is the most reliable way for us to communicate with one another here in our little part of the valley where cell signal is hit or miss at best, and almost non-existent when one is on the move.

Therefore, we agreed that she would pick up another set while in town. That way she could call me if she needed help getting in. If she didn’t need to call me, I figure that she could return the unopened radios or we could use them to back up our communications system.

Unfortunately, Jennifer forgot to get the radios. The first hint I had that she was having trouble is when I heard her hollering for me. It seemed like she was straight up in the air from me, but in actuality she was at about a 45 degree angle and a couple of hundred yards away. The Jeep wouldn’t make it up one of the hills on the road, so she had tried an alternate route. She almost made it through that way, but the Jeep just couldn’t get enough traction. I had a backpack, a shovel, and an axe together by the time she was close enough to tell me that the Jeep was stuck. I met her a little way up the hill and off we went.

A half mile hike straight up a slick mountain will take the wind out of a person, or at least it took the wind out of this person. By the time we made it to the Jeep, Jennifer had to break out some of the snacks she stocked up on to give me a burst of energy. I did lots of digging and we drove the Jeep on out.

Then we almost died. That may be an overstatement, but I don’t think so. As we started down the big hill, the Jeep just nosed off of the road and headed off the side of the mountain. Ok, so it is more like a hill than a mountain, but it is almost a sheer drop of at least 50 feet. Luckily enough snow piled up in front of the turned front wheels to stop our descent.

It took at least an hour to get the Jeep backed out of that predicament and into a suitable parking spot. We loaded up what we needed into my backpack and into a couple of 5 gallon buckets. Then we headed down the hill.

We made that trip a couple of times until Jennifer had to go back to work. I drove her as far as the last steep hill out of the valley without any problems – the Jeep handled the slick slopes very well where snow had piled up on top of the ice. I left it to her to drive the rest of the way out since there were no other steep inclines. This shortened my walk back home considerably. She took one of the FRS radios with her this time and radioed me when she had made it up onto the highway.

Now I’m back on my own for a few days. Jen will be staying at my mom’s while she’s working just because it’s easier than trying to drive here on the ice.

The boots and gloves Jennifer bought me are performing flawlessly – no wet feet or hands. I may write a review on the boots. I spent the last two days cutting wood and trying to get it back to the cabin. The solid sheet of ice covering the road made it necessary for me to dig a path of 100 or so feet. The truck just couldn’t get enough traction on the ice. The Husqvarna didn’t have any problem cutting in the cold. I shot some hokey video of a cold start if anyone is interested. Here it is. I’m happy with the Husqvarna.

The F350 is hard to start in the cold weather. I killed the batteries trying to start it when the temp was in the low 20’s. Luckily, the batteries had enough juice left to start the generator. That gave us the ability to charge some things up, including the truck batteries. Once the temps warmed up a little, the truck started right up. I’m going to have to figure some way to get the truck started even in cold weather since we depend on it to recharge our batteries.

Here’s a panorama of our driveway during the ice storm. I promise that the driveway is in there somewhere.

Our cabin after the storm passed. Jennifer harvested the icicles. We melted them on the stove to water the animals. There was a solid 2 inch thick sheet of ice on the roof which was covered with many inches of snow. The sheet kept creeping down the metal roof, making it necessary for me to knock it off piece by piece as the sheet threatened to break off and destroy our stove pipe.

This is the entrance to our driveway. It looks pretty and romantic even with the clear sky and all. Notice all of the footprints. Also notice the lack of tire tracks. It may look romantic, but it sure is a long walk.

Rain, sleet, and/or snow are all forecasted for tonight and tomorrow morning (12/13/2013). I have a lot of wood ready to go. Hopefully we will get rain instead of the freezing stuff. Regular rain would help to get rid of this ice. We are ready for it to be gone.

Review: Peerless Shower Head

We bought this hand held shower head back in the spring. It worked well and we really liked it. We have a low water pressure system and this still worked perfectly.

I recently got in the shower only to find that it had broken. I don’t know exactly when it broke because it happened in between showers.

It broke right where the hose attaches to the shower head. The threaded ring that connects the two is made out of plastic. Perhaps it didn’t like the temperature in the cabin. That’s the only thing I can think of that would have caused it to break.

It didn’t cause any damage because the shower head isn’t under pressure except when someone is taking a shower, so it is just an inconvenience.

We will be taking it back to Walmart to exchange it for another.

Tags: shower head, hand held, peerless, A112, review, walmart, low pressure, plastic thread, homestead, off grid, sustainable

Feeding Goats

090613171732-1Jennifer and I went to Marshall Milling in Marshall to buy some goat feed.  Jennifer had been doing some research, and she wanted to look at the labels on the different types of goat feed.

One reason she wanted to look at the labels is because the sweet feed we bought last time says that the feed is fine for female goats, but not for male goats.  We couldn’t figure out why.  Therefore, we wanted to read the different labels to decide which to buy.

We asked to just see the feed.  The woman at the counter took us to someone in the warehouse.  He took us to the goat feed.  He put two bags side by side so that we could see the labels.

We explained why we were looking.  When we asked him what the difference was between the two types of feed, he said that the one with copper shouldn’t be fed to male goats.  We asked why.  His answer was deadly and funny: “Well, I’m not sure, but I think that it will kill them.”

Whoa!  That’s pretty serious in our book; something that we should be sure of.  Jennifer and I thanked him for his help and decided to do some more research before taking a chance on killing Tigh.

Ice Storm 2013

As promised, the ice has arrived.  We are alternately receiving sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  I believe that the majority of the precipitation is falling as freezing rain.  Luckily, the ground is still warm enough that ice is not accumulating – on the ground.  Most everything above the ground is covered in ice already.

The dogs had to go out.  They thought they were ready.  Apollo ran straight outside.  He’s never seen ice like this before, so I guess he shouldn’t have had any reason not to go out.  If you have nothing else to do, you can watch a video of him running down a snow covered hill here.  Everybody else bottlenecked at the door.  Toby finally went out of his own accord.  Boomer started turning in circles because he needed to go out but didn’t want to go out into the cold and rain.  Little Girl – who my mom named not realizing how ridiculous the name would sound when posted in a blog – ran back into her crate.

As I write this, the sleet has turned to rain.  I can see it hit the truck and splash up, instantly freezing into little bits of ice as it does.  Nice.  The temperature is still descending.

I fed the dogs under the house so that they wouldn’t be in the rain.  Then I had to go back inside and pull Little Girl – or LG as we sometimes call her – out of the crate.  I had to carry her outside.  It only took about 10 minutes for the dogs to take care of their needs.  They all came back in without incident.

Speaking of incidents, we had a casualty last night while making final preparations for the impending storm.  I was carrying in wood for the stove when I hooked one of my boots on a stick of firewood or a large rock.  I went down hard, landing on one knee.  Unfortunately, my knee landed on a large rock that was very unforgiving.  At least it was fairly flat.  I hit so hard that it jarred my whole body.  My hip and teeth hurt about as much as my knee.

I was on the ground for a minute or so.  Surely, I looked like Peter Griffin when he has an accident and then wiggles around sucking wind through his teeth and moaning.  Those scenes make me laugh because they intentionally drag them out much longer than necessary.  I was not laughing last night nor was I drawing out the scene any longer than necessary.  When I stood up, my knee didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

Our neighbor came down to check on us.  He told us to come on over if we get cold.  I told him that we would.

I decided, for some reason, to do more work today than normal.  I scavenged some pvc pipe for water line, did some dusting, started moving some shelves, and made it so the cats could sleep in the cabin and still have access to their enclosure on the front porch.  They will be much warmer and probably drier, but the rest of us will be a little colder.  I guess it’s better for us to be a little less comfortable if they can be much more comfortable.  They are all sitting in their new “inside enclosure” as I write.

So, here we all sit around the cozy fire.  The Ice Storm of 2013 may have thrown the first punch, but I bet we have more stamina.  In the end, I think we will come out of this ok.