Off Grid Baby

It’s official! We’re having a baby. We heard the heartbeat Tuesday, so I guess that makes it about as official as it can get. Click on the heart if you want to listen.

Hearing the heartbeat made it real. Up until that point, parenthood seemed like a concept. Now, it seems a whole lot less than a concept and a whole lot more like we are actually parents.

Jen and I talked about it on the way home from Marshall yesterday. We are both excited and anxious. We are excited for obvious reasons. We are anxious for less obvious reasons. Maybe I can explain without getting on a soap box.

Jennifer and I worked all of our adult lives. I have actually worked in some shape, form, or fashion, at least part-time since I was 13. True enough, I only worked during the summers of my early teen years, but still, while others were enjoying their summers doing whatever, I was working.

During high school, I routinely worked more than 25 hours a week. Many times I worked 40 hours or more. After high school, I started working 40 hour weeks while attending college. I spent 8 years doing both, but something had to give. I eventually gave up on chasing the college degree. I recently determined that I need maybe 3 classes to get that BS.

Since that time I have had a number of jobs. I was a stockboy and an assistant manager in a couple of grocery stores. I sold building materials at a discount lumber yard. I worked as an in home day care monitor. I was a direct care worker at a residential facility for juvenile offenders. I worked as a security officer for one of the largest hospitals in the New Orleans area. I made my way up the ladder at the largest off price retailers in the US as an internal investigator.

Jennifer also worked all of her adult life. It was just what we did.

A couple of years ago, we started thinking about living a simpler life. We had a plan, and we implemented it. We ended up here on our homestead. Jennifer would work at the local hospital and I would take care of the homestead.

I believe it was December 21st when Jennifer told me that we were going to be parents. That’s when the excitement began. I believe it was December 23rd when Jennifer was fired from the hospital for not taking a flu shot. That’s when the anxiety began.

Due to a delay from her former employer, Jennifer’s unemployment claim is still being investigated. She is also looking into other actions. I’m not sure how it will turn out even though the law seems to be on her side.

Things are looking up now. I went for an interview today and got the job, presuming I can pass the screening process. Those of you who know me will get a kick out of that. For those of you who don’t, I’m kind of a geeky nerdy guy who has never been in any trouble or done anything harder than the occasional bottle of Evan Williams.

So, we are excited and a little less anxious. And we are hoping for the best.

Restlessness

Saturday night wasn’t very restful for me. I knew that regardless of the mild temperatures, a cold snap was on the way. That meant I had a lot to do. That anxiousness had a lot to do with my restlessness.

There were other things that interfered with my sleep. The biggest problem was probably the fact that my Droid played .mp3s all night. I thought I had set it only to play one audio book. Instead, it just kept playing file after file.

One of the .mp3s, a podcast about flu vaccinations, caused me to have a dream. I dreamed I was in a college classroom, and the people in the podcast were the instructors. At one point I remember thinking that I had a class after the one I was in, but I couldn’t remember what or where it was. That caused anxiety in my dream, probably mimicking the anxiety I was feeling in real life.

Another weird thing about that dream is that the podcaster said the word “tincture”. But in my dream, I heard it as “t-shirt”. T-shirt made no sense at all. When I woke up and realized that the dream and the podcast were related, I played the podcast back to find out why he would have said “t-shirt”. “Tincture” made much more sense. I was relieved.

I didn’t replay the podcast right away. It was 5:15 when I woke up. I’m sure another of the reasons that I woke up was because our roosters start crowing at 5:15. Rooster was crowing away. He’s quite loud. Both of them are.

Another problem was that the moon, although it was maybe just a quarter moon, was bright and shining right into my eyes. When I woke up I thought someone was shining a light into my eyes.

And yet another problem was that one of the cats was crying. I recognized the cry as Kira. Kira doesn’t normally cry unless she can see me. I lay there for some time listening. I was afraid something was wrong, so I went over to check on her. She was fine, as were two of the other cats. But the fourth wasn’t there.

Ladybug is Kira’s sister, as best we can tell. They were both feral. Jennifer rescued Kira from the colony when she was just a little kitten. Ladybug was much older, but came from the same colony. They look just alike, except Ladybug is black and Kira is blue. Anyway, the point in all of that is that they sound alike, only Ladybug doesn’t normally cry.

I had to go out onto the porch to see Ladybug. She was in the enclosure. One look and I knew why she was crying. She had a big fat mouse in her mouth. She was calling for the other cats to come out. I’m not sure if she wanted to share or show off. This is the second one she has caught this winter. I can’t believe that the mice are so stupid as to go into the enclosure – but hey, we don’t have a mouse problem this winter.

Anyway, I stoked the fire and went back to sleep. The fire hadn’t been stoked in about 7 hours or so, but still had lots of coals. It lit right up. I was surprised that the temperature was in the 40s, or so my thermometer said. I’m having doubts about its accuracy lately. It’s been giving some weird readings.

So now it’s time to try to sleep again. I’ve had a long day. I did a little digging, and I took care of the animals. I spent most of the day working on our inside water pipes. I managed to get them all plumbed together, and plumbed into a small tankless water heater on loan from the best neighbor in the world. Everything worked out well. I took a hot shower (the first hot shower that I’ve had in the cabin since fall), had some rice and eggs (thanks Henley, the eggs were eggcellent), and finished off the night writing this while enjoying an oversized glass of muscadine wine from a bucket in the floor.

Oh, I also listened to Free Talk Live on the radio. But the hosts spent most of the night talking about Bitcoin. How crazy! I don’t have any real coin, and they are talking about cryptocurrency.

Whatever – I’m going to bed.

Long Cold Day 1-24-2012

Today was a rather long day. Actually, I suppose that it wasn’t any longer than any other, but it sure seemed long. I have an idea why.

The good news is that our little wood stove can heat the inside of the cabin to 55 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. The bad news is that it made it down to almost 0 outside.

For those of you who live around here, I can’t help but think that you noticed how cold the temperature was last night. For those of you who don’t, our digital thermometer went down to 1 degree Fahrenheit this morning before it started going up. And that was on top of a high that didn’t even break freezing yesterday.

Since weknew it was going to get downright cold, we did a little preparing earlier in the week. Jennifer had stored up 10 gallons of water for the birds, goats, and dogs and we stored the water inside the cabin. We are only heating half of the cabin due to our small stove and the fact that the other half of the cabin isn’t completely insulated.

We also stocked up the wood pile earlier in the week, so wood wasn’t a problem last night. It was well seasoned, and dry. However, when we go to bed, I always turn the stove down to slow down its consumption of wood. That way we can go about 4 hours without putting more wood in. Turning it down last night was the wrong thing to do.

I have alarms set to wake me up about every 3 hours at night so that we can put wood in the stove. I didn’t need any of the alarms last night. It was so cold in bed that I didn’t really sleep well. The first time that I put wood in the fire last night (that was actually this morning), the inside temp was 51. That was around 2 am or so. There were lots of coals in the stove, but since I had turned it all the way down, they were all ashed over and not putting out a lot of heat. Once I stirred them up, things heated up. I threw in a couple of sticks of wood and headed back to bed.

Then I just had to let them burn down so that I room to put more wood in.

I tossed and turned after that. I knew it was cold and that it was only getting colder. It was something like 11 degrees at that point. I started thinking about all of the things that could freeze – cats, goats, chickens, truck, Jeep, etc. Water pipes are the only thing that I wasn’t worried about. Oh, sure, they are going to freeze, but they aren’t going to burst. Then I remembered all of the eggs that were on the unheated side of the cabin. No way could I sleep after that.

And there was the fact that Jennifer was headed out early to catch a ride to Jonesboro with my mom. I was a little anxious about that as well. Jennifer had no qualms about jumping in the 24 year old Jeep and taking off in the cold. I’ve tried explaining how hot and cold affects vehicles, but I don’t think she really cares. All she knows is that she has some place to be. Women.

So, I gave up at about 3:30 or so and just got up. I started working on the fire. I need the coals to burn down so that I could remove some ashes. I made some hot tea for Jen and some cappuccino for me, but that was after 6. I started soaking some black beans for supper. Then I scrambled some of our eggs. Jennifer put the dogs in the pen and headed out.

After the temp reached about 20 degrees, Apollo and I ventured out. The first thing I had to do was break a large icicle off of the stove pipe. It was about 3 feet long. The weather is dry. The icicle was formed because there is steam in the wood stove exhaust. It condenses on its way up the pipe. Then it drips out. It just kinda grows from there.

Next, I had to feed and water everything.

After that, I wanted to pick up some of the firewood that I cut earlier in the week. I grabbed my garden wagon and we headed up the driveway. I made quite the haul. I didn’t realize that I had cut so much. Anyway, I split it up after getting it to the wood pile. It looks like we have more than enough wood for this cold snap and the next one.

The most awesome thing about this wagon of wood is that it was all more or less scraps. I have no idea how old some of it is. I would venture to say decades. It was old, but solid. Old solid wood burns very well. Luckily, there are lots more where this came from.

After cutting and splitting the wood, I did some writing. Then it was time to feed everything. Donna Henley and Big Momma both had eggs waiting for me this time around. I kinda thought that Big Momma would have one, since I heard her hollering earlier.

I guess I could tell you that we have 5 birds, but only three names. Donna Henley is our only female chicken. Then there is Rooster. There are actually two Roosters. I just call them both Rooster. There are two female ducks, and they are both called Big Momma.

After everything was fed and watered again, I brought the dogs in and ate my supper – black beans with crushed tomatoes and corn, and two boiled eggs. And half a bottle of our homemade blackberry wine.

And that’s it. It shouldn’t be as cold tonight. I sure hope it isn’t. Unfortunately, it is much windier than last night. I could really use a good night’s sleep.

How to Not Get What You Want

I go out of my way to be nice to people. Jennifer sometimes gets angry with the level of friendliness that I sometimes show towards others. Yesterday wasn’t one of those times.

Jennifer had an appointment in Marshall yesterday afternoon. I rode in with her. She dropped me off at McDonald’s for some free Wi-Fi. The one table with a power outlet was empty, so I headed toward it and plugged the laptop into one of the two receptacles.

So I start in with checking my email, email a potential sponsor or two, download some podcasts, etc. Next thing I know, it’s 4:00 pm and Jennifer is walking through the door. Not long after, a group of girls comes in and one of them plugs her iPhone into the other receptacle. An hour later and we are about finished.

It was about this time that a man – maybe about my age but looking a lot older – enters with a girl of about 8 or so. The girl is carrying a laptop. She first sits at a table in the middle of the place. Then the guy, presumably her father, and she move to the table across from us. The little girl takes the power cord for her laptop and attempts to plug it in. She sees that there are no free receptacles.

“There’s no room,” she tells the guy.

He said something to her in reply, but I didn’t really pay attention because I had already put some words into motion.

“We’ll be finished in just a little bit,” is what poured out of my mouth. I started to move the cursor over to the battery indicator to check the status and had already moved to start the unplugging process. I looked over at where the phone had been plugged in, but where now only the charger was plugged into the wall sans iPhone. I started to point out the fact that the girl in the table next to him was probably already finished with the receptacle when the guy opened his mouth and found out how to not get what he wants from me.

He takes his seat while looking directly at me, and the guy says, “They’ve probably been here all day.”

Now I don’t know if he meant to speak so loudly, or if in his family things are so loud that he doesn’t realize that the rest of us have normal hearing. I don’t know if he thought he was far enough away that I couldn’t hear him.

It is possible that he meant for me to hear him and just thought that his words would shame me or urge me to finish faster.

Instead, I looked him right in the eye and held that contact when I responded, “Or maybe I’ll just stay here the rest of the night.”

In fact, I had been there for 4 or 5 hours at that time. I see nothing wrong with that. It was too cold to do anything at home and Jennifer had to drive into town anyway. McDonald’s has free internet, and I like their coffee. They don’t make a lot of money on me, but at least I’m not a complete mooch.

The look on his face said that he was shocked that I had spoken to him that way. He broke eye contact and just sat there for a moment. Then he got up and walked around the corner. I assumed that it was to speak to someone who worked there. I still don’t know what he did while he was up, but after he sat back down, a female McDonald’s employee without a uniform came over and started talking to him and the girl. I assume she was the mother of the child and possibly the guy’s significant other.

It dawned on me that I had seen them there some months before as a family sitting at that same table looking at car parts or something on the laptop. Then it occurred to me that maybe he spoke to me that way because maybe she had made some remarks about people who use the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s. Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe he is just a hateful kind of person.

He didn’t say anything else to me – didn’t even look at me, actually. I was upset. Here I was, trying to be nice to the guy and then he goes and mouths off to me. I was also upset because the little girl seemed a little sad that she couldn’t plug the laptop in. Surely she shouldn’t have to suffer just because her presumed father is so ill-mannered.

I finally caved after 5 minutes or so of watching the little girl. I didn’t want the guy to think he had won (I do have a little pride left), so I walked over to the iPhone girl and asked her if she was finished with the receptacle. I told her that if she was, the little girl would like to use it. The iPhone girl hopped right up and unplugged the charger and the little girl looked at me questioningly.

I pointed at the receptacle and said, “Go ahead.” Not that it was up to me whether or not she used it. I just wanted to let her know that I didn’t have a problem with her.

We ended up staying until after they left. I guess it was a prideful thing to do, but I felt better by doing it.

I would like to know more about this guy. He didn’t seem very likable, but of course, that may be due to the fact that he was making offhanded remarks about me before even introducing himself. I wonder if he is likable enough to have any real friends. Then I find myself wondering what he does for a living. I can’t imagine that he has a job that requires a lot of people person type skills. I also wonder how he came to be so hateful. Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), would probably say that he had some type of problem in childhood, most probably with the way that his parents treated him.

Anyway, his behavior upset me. Actually, his behavior elicited a response from me that had all but disappeared since moving onto the homestead. I can remember the last time I became that upset with a total stranger. That had to be at least a year ago. I thought I was mellowing out. Instead, I found myself facing the same adrenalin rush that always accompanied a shoplifter apprehension, or a dishonest employee interview, or a defense attorney. I can’t say that I don’t like that rush. Since I’m looking for a job anyway, maybe I should look for one that would allow me to experience that rush a little more often.

Or maybe not. Maybe I shouldn’t want that rush. That crap was crazy. That crap was stressful.

But that crap was fun.

H.R. Williams – An Author with Ties to Arkansas

Jennifer’s mother sent me some books for Christmas. They were written by H.R. Williams. According to the jackets of the books, Williams grew up on Crowley’s Ridge in Northeast Arkansas. What a coincidence! That’s where I grew up. Well, actually I grew up a couple of hundred yards from the Ridge. Technically, I lived in the flatlands, I suppose.

Physically, the books aren’t exactly like those that you will find on the shelves at Walmart or Barnes and Noble. They aren’t as thick, and the covers are different. I was a little skeptical of the books at first just because of the way they look.

However, I jumped right in. I read Harris: Return of the Gunfighter first. I would call it short – short in length, but not in plot. Harris is set somewhere in Northeast Arkansas shortly after the Civil War. The main character, Harris, is an ex-gunfighter who is compelled to action to help the Sheriff of a small town. The story climaxes as do most western movies – a shootout between the good guys and the bad guys. Notice, I did not give a spoiler alert. I don’t think predictable stories require a spoiler.

Even though the plot was somewhat predictable, the story was still a good one. The characters were about as developed as one could expect in a short story. They were likeable, at least the likeable ones. The despicable were despicable. And there were a few in between – they were appropriately in between.

I believe this to be the first western fiction that I have ever read. I don’t have anything against westerns; I just never felt the need to read one. However, I’m glad I read this one. I have often said that a good science fiction book is about the characters and their behaviors, not about the science. I quickly forgot that Harris was a western. Shortly into the book, it became more about the characters and less about the setting.

Williams told a good story with Harris. It was a short read, leaving me anxious to read another of his books. Lucky for me, I have two more.

The Calm Before the Storm

Having lived in Florida for several years, I have lived through a couple of hurricanes. With each one came “a calm” before the storm. When the eye passed over us, there was a calm period before the second part of the storm passed over us.

Today is the calm before the next “storm”. This approaching storm, although as deadly as any hurricane, is quite different. We will be faced with deadly temperatures instead of deadly wind and lightning. No precipitation is expected, but the cold will be enough to qualify as a storm.

The forecast predicts a low of about 15 tonight, followed by a low of 2 tomorrow night. These are actual temperatures, not wind chills. We’re talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Did I mention that the high today should hit 60 or so?

I’m enjoying a cup of coffee as I write this, just waiting for the sun and with it the temp, to get a little higher before heading outside to prepare for the storm. Living off grid has its perks, but it also presents us with some unique challenges.

Our first concern is with water for the animals. They have all proven that they can take temperatures near 0 degrees for days at a time. However, they all need water. In case you don’t know, water freezes when the temperature drops to 32 degrees, which is problematic for us. We get water for the animals from a combination of wet weather springs, water catchment, and our storage tanks.

The storage tanks become useless to us in freezing temperatures. The line that connects them to the cabin is exposed. It freezes solid at 32 degrees. Water catchment lasts a little longer than the water line, so we use it as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, the wet weather springs last the longest. I presume that it’s because the water is coming out of the ground, which means it is somewhat insulated from temperature changes.

But eventually, even the springs freeze over. At that point, all we have for the animals is what we have brought inside the cabin. Luckily, they don’t use much. 10 gallons will get us through 3 days or so. We have our own water supply for washing and cleaning. We can literally dip into it for the animals if we need to.

Water is just one of our problems. Heating the cabin is another. But I have plenty of wood ready for this cold snap. Kindling is very important, especially when I oversleep and let the fire burn down dangerously low. Those are the times that it gets pretty cold in here. I have learned how to operate the stove well enough that I can raise the temperature in here by 10 degrees in about 30 minutes, but it doesn’t happen without good, dry kindling.

I also have to add hay to the chicken coop and to the goat pen. The cats are fine because they have access to the inside of the cabin, even if it is a very small area. Before dark tonight, I’ll have to start the truck and charge the batteries, or we may not have enough electricity to last through the cold weather. The truck is a diesel and it doesn’t like extremely cold weather.

Guess I need to get to it. If you don’t hear from us in the next couple of days, then you’ll know we didn’t make it.

Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to listen to Free Talk Live – just click on the link or on the pic on the left. It’s a call in show. Give it a listen. It isn’t your normal talk radio show. It’s live from 6-9 Central Time, but you can listen to it anytime. Just go to their site and find a listening option that works for you. You can even listen through your phone if you have an unlimited voice plan with free long distance!

Musical Memories

I have a fond appreciation for the music of the 80’s. In some of the places I have lived, there are radio stations that play nothing but 80s music. Unfortunately, most of those stations play only the most popular songs of that decade. Where I live now, there is only one way to get my fix of musical memories on the radio.

96.1 out of Harrison, AR, broadcasts Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 – The 80s every Saturday from 12-4. Each week they play what seems to be a random week out of the decade of the 80s. If you live too far away from Harrison to get it on your radio, you can listen online at: tunein.com/radio/KCWD-961-s32208/

It’s great to listen to Casey Kasem. I took him and AT 40 for granted growing up. I really enjoy listening to him now – even his corny song dedications. AT 40 really brings back some memories.

This week is an all-star lineup from January 26, 1985. If you are a fan of Madonna, REO Speedwagon, Phil Collins, Glenn Frey, Bruce Springsteen, or Prince, you should tune in. Here’s a list of all of the songs on the countdown and their ranking:

http://americantop40.wikia.com/wiki/January_26,_1985

So put on your parachute pants, leg warmers, or whatever we were wearing back then and tune in. You still have over 3 hours of 80s left!