Holding On (By the Skin of My Teeth)

Last Thursday, July 21, Connie had her heel and Achilles Tendon operated on. She will not be able to put weight on that leg for three months. That would be approximately 13 weeks, or 91 days. If you really want to know exactly what your partner does around the old place, put them off line for about a week.

Yeah, all that stuff.

So this last week I have worked 40 plus hours, put at least one real meal a day on the table, tried to make certain Connie was comfortable, did the minimums to keep the critters alive, had an occasional talk with the Lord God and slept. That would be about it. Had Katherine not enlisted to take care of her mother some of the time, I might not have been able to do that. On top of that, I am just not pleased when people start cutting on the love of my life. Makes me kinda want to punch them, but that does not seem appropriate in this case.

So the first week is about over. We have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow, and Connie is beginning to get around a little better. After waking up early this morning to finish cutting my knee high lawn, and fighting back the rag weed and various poisonous prehistoric plants that are taking over my dog lot, I fell out for a nap. I woke up to find the dishes I had washed after dinner last night put up, the new dishes on there way to clean and a plate of French Toast and bacon courtesy of Connie and Katherine waiting for me. Thank you both.

Speaking about the lawn. Let me continue a little about things I would have done differently when I started this little experiment in Green Acres-ism. No matter how tough and resilient you might think you are, if you have an acre yard (plus or minus) you do need a riding lawn mower and a gas powered weed eater.

At least, if you are in your later years and have any intentions of doing things other than cut your lawn. If not a riding mower, I would suggest goats. That does not mean you need a high dollar rider. I bought mine used from a friend for $250.00. The gas trimmer I got at Lowes for about seventy bucks. (Lowes has a 10 percent discount for military veterans; bless their hearts.)

I set out on this adventure with my 5 HP push mower and an electric weed eater. From the closest outlet, which is just inside the front door, to the farthest point of my front yard is about 175 or so feet. I needed the gas weed eater. And I really got tired of taking two plus days to mow the lawn. Also, this next year I am planning to get a wagon I can pull behind the mower, to do some chores around the place.

Another answer that is a work in progress, is just getting rid of the lawn entirely. We are working on planting it in an edible garden, but that is Connie’s project and she is in no shape to work on it right now..

The bees are going like gang busters. We have harvest a gallon of honey from each hive and they are still full to overflowing. I am going to have to get at least one more super or rob them again this next week. Maybe both.

As I said, I am involved in a project to cut down and kill a very intimidating forest of weeds that are growing, well…. I guess like weeds. To supplement the physical labor of cutting down these monsters I wanted something that would kill the beggars while not poisoning my dogs, chickens, bees or land for a couple more generations.

I had heard of something and looked it up. This is the basic recipe that I am following.

Take one gallon of cheap old white vinegar, pour it in a bucket. Add one cup of table salt and stir it up well. To that add one tablespoon of dish washing liquid to make the stuff stick better and stir that in. Put your product in a closed, marked container and put some it in a spray bottle and spray your plants.

I cannot endorse this recipe yet and it is indiscriminate, it kills the good stuff with the bad if it works as advertised. Connie or I will report back to you on it, when we know how it works.

I will close this rambling post. I hope something in it is interesting and helpful in your walk. Any prayers for my lovely wife will be appreciated. Also, I will put all you folks on my prayer list. Don’t worry, I don’t mind if you don’t believe in God, He believes in you.

The night before they took my love in for the operation, I slept very little. At the hospital in Chilicothe, Mo. Just before the operation, Connie, Katherine and I joined hands and prayed. When I looked up the nursing staff and the Doctor were in prayer with us.

Next, after we had to go out, Kat and I went for breakfast in the cafeteria. At our table we joined hands and blessed our food. I have an old soldier’s awareness of what is around me, so I knew that the tables next to ours and the people walking by stopped while we prayed.

I love the country.

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An Interesting Week

Last week, we were feeling a little bit of a financial pinch, and I really didn’t want to spend anything more than I absolutely had to. Well, we ran out of dish soap, and were on our way to being out of laundry soap. I didn’t want to use what little cash I had for that, in case we needed something really important, like feminine hygiene products or toilet paper. I draw the line at DIY’ing either of those!

I had, however, made laundry soap before with limited success, so I googled a recipe for that  and one for dish soap. I had everything I needed in one form or another, except for washing soda. I did have baking soda though, and I knew I had read somewhere that you could change one to the other, so I went back to Google.

Once I found what I needed, I decided to sneak in a chemistry lesson, so I told Kat to look up the difference between baking and washing soda, as well as how to change one to the other. Surprisingly, she did it without complaining.

Making washing soda is easy. You can learn how here. Basically, all you do is bake baking soda in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. There is a slight change in color and a definite change in texture.

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Fresh baked washing soda

Then we used the newly formed washing soda in the recipes we found for laundry and dish soap. The dish soap recipe that I used did not work out well for me, so I will keep experimenting in that department and let you know what I find out.

The laundry soap, on the other hand, turned out great, and seems to work pretty well. I have not used it on Ed’s uniforms yet, but it did fine with the rest of the laundry. You can find the recipe here.  You grate soap (I used Ivory), and then mix it with Borax and washing soda, and put in the food processor until its a fine powder. I used about 2 tablespoons per load. It’s a lot easier and a lot less mess than trying to make liquid laundry soap.

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grated soap

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Before processing

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After. Notice the layer of dust. We let that settle for awhile before we opened it. Don’t need to breath soap dust.

Over the weekend, the dogs decided they would start playing “find the hole under the fence” again, giving Ed fits for about three days. Since they haven’t got out since Tuesday, I think he solved the problem.  He is still working on new living arrangements for the chickens, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

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Hanging out in the house while Ed fixes the fence . Notice the cats on the table above. Bookworm is annoyed, but think Captain is asleep

During all that, I discovered what I thought might be a spider bite on my back between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t see it with out mirror and I certainly couldn’t reach it. I enlisted Ed and Kat’s help for a few days, but finally gave in an went to the doctor on Monday. It’s an abscess..We don’t know how, and we don’t know why. She gave me a shot in the rear, put me on antibiotics, and told me to come back Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ed planned to check the bee hives. He hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at them in about ten days, so he was kind of anxious to  check on them. When he went out just to look, the saw this.

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A ball of bees under the pallet the hive sits on. The usually don’t do that.

Then he came back in and called our friends at Crooked Hill. Tammie told him he needed to see what was going on inside the hive, which is what he already planned to do. So he donned his bee suit,  started his smoker and went to visit the bees. As I usually do, I went too, staying on the far side of the fence. From there, I can usually get pretty good pictures and stay off the bee’s radar. I said usually.

Since the Sparta hive had the strange activity, he started there first. All I can say is wow! The hive is crammed full of bees, brood, and honey!

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One frame from Sparta hive

Even with the smoke, they seemed especially agitated, and when I realized I was starting to get some attention, I walked away. When I got back to the chicken pens, they left me. A few minutes later, Ed walked over to the fence and asked me to bring him the camera. Big mistake. Suddenly I had a lot of bee attention. As I started moving away again I felt the first sting on my face, and knew I might be in trouble.  There is a an old metal washtub sitting out there near the black berries, and it was half full of rain water. I had noticed it earlier and decided that might be my best chance of freeing myself from the bees. I hit the ground and dunked my head in the tub, using my hands to splash water up on myself. Once I was pretty sure, was free of them, I went to the house and told Kat to get the plantain oil we made last fall. I know I had at least five stings. One on my face, two on my head and two (maybe three) on my arm. Ed came in a few minutes later to check on me. He got stung three times through the bee suit, but he doesn’t have the reaction I do to things like that. The plantain oil did it’s job, but I took some allergy medicine just in case.

The stings on my face and head swelled a little, but were nearly gone in a few hours. The ones on my head hurt the worst, but I think that was because they were right underneath where my glasses rest. The area on my arm got red and hot. You should have seen my doctor’s face when I went back to see her about the abscess and she saw my arm. Poor woman. She offered to give me a shot for that too, but I told her I thought I was ok. The abscess is nearly  gone.

Today, I had my pre-op appointment for my foot surgery next week. It will be an outpatient procedure so I’ll get to come home the same day. Ed’s kind of stressing about how he’s going to get me out of the car and into the house, but I think it will be fine. We went ahead and rented the knee scooter, so I could practice with it. I think I’ll be ok.

I told you it was an interesting week.

Things have calmed down a little now, although Ed is making plans for harvesting some honey. I’m sure he’ll be posting all about that next week.

Connie

 

To Bee or Not To Bee

Apiculture: Raising bees for the purpose of gathering honey and/or pollinating plants; put simply: beekeeping. I did not know what the big fancy five buck word for beekeeping was until I started to write this, but I knew that such a word would exist. It is the way we are. We need a big word, preferably in a dead language, before we feel like something we are doing is important.

Two weeks ago, we went over south of Chillicothe, Missouri, to Crooked Hill Beekeeping to talk to Bill about starting our bees in mid April to early May. I know that is two months away and yes, I already feel rushed.

First, what I actually know about beekeeping could be written on the back of a match book, with a dull carpenter’s pencil. I know essentially three things, none of which are very helpful at this time.

1. Grandpa raised bees in his apple trees. The honey was marvelous and the man, well if he raised bees the whole world should.
2. As a boy I was entranced and amazed by the bees, their rituals, patterns and practices, as well as the art of caring for them and harvesting honey. I recall spending time behind the bee hives, quietly, with my ear up against the back of the hives, listening to the constant hum as the bees worked and kept the hive cool.
3. Bees are not a luxury in our environment; they are a necessity. Probably much more of a necessity than you and I.

Let’s get down to some of the practical parts of what Connie and I have done in order to become bee-keepers. The first and best thing we did was make connections. We found out, quite by accident, that a new Beekeeping Club was forming in Braymer and we have attended two meetings so far.

It is an eclectic group, consisting of everything from professionals through homesteaders to Mennonites. By the way, those guys have the coolest hats. The first meeting we attended was in October, and was largely organizational. Because of the holidays, we did not do another meeting until the end of January, where we got a presentation on preparing the hives for spring.

The information is important of course, but the connections with other people who are doing what we propose to do, is equally important. Both give you a chance to pick people’s brains, learn what worked for them and what didn’t, and to hear the jargon of beekeeping.

The difference between a Super and a Deep are simple things, but are the beginning of a confusion that just grows as words with which you are perfectly familiar, come out of people’s mouths in orders and contexts that make absolutely no sense. The February presentation of our yet un-named beekeeping club is going to be about the jargon of beekeeping. I am looking forward it with great interest.

The next part, in my opinion, would be the same whether your interest is beekeeping or Alligator wrestling. If you are going to learn from somebody, learn from somebody who really knows; and if you are going to do business with somebody, do business with somebody you can trust.

The Good Lord, being certain I need all the help I can get, led me to Bill and his wife Tammy at Crooked Hill Beekeeping. Here, I will admit a bias. Both Bill and I are retired military, and Bill is also a Law Enforcement Officer, which I was for a number of years. So we start out with a lot of shared interest and attitudes. As we have mentioned, Connie is also a military veteran so, again, that established a level of trust going in. Also both Bill and his wife are sensitive to the fact we are starting a little downhill from the bottom so, while we are not idiots, it is best not to take any chances.

After talking to Bill for a couple hours, one hour on bees and one hour of old soldier war stories, Connie and I made arrangements to buy two hives of bees complete. This included:

Two Nucs of Russian Bees. You can buy bees in packages, which are just the bees, or Nucs which are an already established hive with five frames (what the bees make honey and put their eggs in). We decided to go with the Nucs to start with, so that we have a greater chance of an initial success.

Two full hives unassembled. I bought them unassembled not just because they were a tad cheaper, though they were. I bought them that way so I can see how they go together so that in the future I can possibly build my own if that seems more economical. A full hive consists of:

1. A bottom board with a reducer
2. Two deeps (the place where the bees live, breed and make their honey to be stored for winter)
3. 20 Deep frames and foundation (What the bees make comb and brood on)
4. A super (the smaller box you put on top where, hopefully, the bees will make your honey)
5. 10 Medium frames and foundation (For your supers where you will someday find your honey if all goes well).
6. An inner cover, which controls air flow
7. An outer telescoping cover, which is the top of your hive.

If you are like me you need a picture:

langstrothHiveIllus

A diagram of a bee hive found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Beyond all this we bought some other items necessary to assemble these products into bee hives and a copy of a book (books are good, I like them in paper with pages, I can write on and bend over) called First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane. I picked the book up in his shop and Bill told me that this was the book he started with. That was a good enough endorsement for me.

After I have assembled my two hives and before the Nucs arrive, I will make another visit to buy a bee suit, smoker and other equipment along those lines. I am waiting, so I will be sure of what I need.

Now I have to assemble, paint, and set up two hives, before I have two already established bee colonies arriving for me to tend to. The cats have a hard enough time with dogs in the house; I doubt that they or Connie are going to be pleased if I try to raise bees in my den. No pressure.

As I do the work in my own bumbling way, I will get Connie to make pictures and we will post them for your edification and amusement.

God Bless,

Ed

Don’t Fence Me In

No matter your good intentions, with no regard to the detailed nature of your planning, in spite of the skill and care with which you execute said plan and in the face of all of your hopes and dreams, you did not consider one possibility. That one possibility will occur and leave you dumbfounded.

Ed’s version of the Law of Unintended Consequences

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This is the point of Meeko’s attack. I estimate this fence is probably, oh, about my age. That corner post is rotted and it all needs to be replaced.

So here was the problem. When I fenced in Libby and Tweedle Dumber (AKA Meeko), I used three sides of the already standing fence. The north side is the oldest fence on the place, but at the time, seemed adequate with the addition of two electric fence wires.

The first unintended consequence was when Meeko, who sometimes seems to channel Houdini, figured out that electricity wasn’t so bad after all, especially when you manage to short out the box by shoving the electric wire into the metal fencing. Did I say Houdini? Let’s make that Einstein.

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A little wider view, to accomplish what I need to I am going to have take out all of the fence from the Corner post to another corner post about 105 feet west of this.

That was still manageable until Meeko pushed on the old fence to where he could simply climb over what once was a four foot fence and a strand of barbed wire. Yes, I suppose it did hurt. At least once he left about an inch and half long cut on a very sensitive part of his lower anatomy. (All males please murmur OUCH!)

So the problem was that the old fence along the north side needed to be replaced, which is going to take some time. I am going to have to cut several small and one very large tree out of the fence line for starters. Answer? I, along with James, put up a four foot fence about twenty feet back from the old one. So that is a hundred feet of four foot field fencing, ten poles and a bag of wire links to attach fence to poles, at a total cost of about a hundred and fifty bucks.

Oddly enough, a hundred feet came up short. Why was that? A hundred worked the first time and it was within a foot or so the same length. Had I been cheated? No. I had not considered the fifteen foot gate installed in the south fence. That problem was solved, I thought, by cutting the standing East fence in the part I planned to replace anyway and stretching it back to attach to the new fence.

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This was my answer, I cut off about a third of their run and put up a four foot high fence. From this angle you cannot appreciate three days worth of adjustments to the original.

The next morning Connie stepped outside to be met by both dogs. Libby is the under-dog: she goes under. Meeko prefers the high flying route, though he will follow Libby under in a pinch. This time they both excelled. Libby dug out at a low point and Meeko just mashed the old fence down and climbed over. This I rectified with an old piece of fencing that we had brought from the old house.

Yes Connie, you were right, we did need it and we really should have brought it with us.

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This is the completion of step one. With poles stapled in and all egress under the wire stopped. At least there.

That started the same routine as always. They got out and I fixed the problem. Then they moved on and found a new one. At first it was all pushing and scraping under the fence. The first time I found only Meeko out I knew I had fixed the underside. Somehow he had gone over. I looked the fence line and found what I considered to be the problem.

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If you look up past my fixes you will see a dark log, I suspect this is where he tried to go over the fence and got hurt.

The next day, I had business in Cameron and made a stop at the farm store to buy four more fence posts. It was a simple enough problem to solve. I would just put in more fence posts. I tossed the post off the truck and went to work. I would do it on Saturday before I was, again, off to work.

That night I got a text message from Kat that said, “Meeko is hurt bad.” I called home, it appeared the old boy had hurt his back left leg. It was not my best night at work. Connie had coaxed and helped him into the lot with Libby and set up a temporary dog house for him. The next time Connie checked Meeko was half way across the lot, the time after that he was at “their” dog house with Libby.

When I got home it was after eleven PM, I got Connie and we went out to the dog house. He was lying there and his whining on seeing me was absolutely pitiful. When I sat down on the ground beside him Meeko placed his front paw in my hand and looked at me like to break your heart. It was as if he was certain I could fix it. Thankfully, that trusting soul did not know how many times in my life I have not been able to fix several different “its”.

We think that Meeko climbed the fence and got his foot stuck in one of the  4 x 2 inch blocks then fell forward over the fence. The result was, we found out the next day, a dislocated left hip.

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At that point all we could really do was console him. In the morning we tried our new Vet’s home and cell and he was not available. As I understand it now he probably was out of state and it was Saturday. Connie called our old vet in Independence and we took Meeko on a seventy mile road trip so he could be seen.

The vet examined him, and thought the problem was likely a dislocated hip, but they would have to sedate and x-ray him to be certain. That meant two nights at the vet’s office. They reset his hip and placed it in a sling. As an alumni of several different orthopedic torture devises myself, this one looks particularly uncomfortable.

I was concerned with how, exactly, we would keep him from chewing off his sling before the necessary two weeks wearing the contraption. When I saw him I realized that the problem was easily solved. Someone appeared to have shoved a lampshade on his poor head, backwards. It works, and it makes a nifty device with which to knee cap Master and Mistress, not to mention sticking it in the girl’s face as she is riding home with you in the back seat of the car.

That was last Saturday. Five days have passed with daily visitations with Libby, trips outside to do his business. Business that is hindered by the fact Meeko habitually lifts his right leg to pee, and he has no operable left leg to hold himself. As an old man who has a bum left shoulder which hurts when he puts his jacket on left arm first, but still puts his jacket on left arm first because “that’s the way I do it”, I sympathize with his plight, but cannot help much.

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True love cannot be thwarted. I suspect Libby really only came for the warm house and the goodies.

 

All told though, Meeko is not having too hard a time. It is mildly interesting that they gave him the same pain medication which the doctor prescribes for my intermittent pains. I am still pondering what, if anything, that says about me. Looking on the bright side I will have at least another week and half to get that COTTON PICKING fence fixed.

When you visit with the Lord, if you remember, lift Meeko up to Him. The vet has said that if this doesn’t work, he will need major surgery to put pins in his hip. That would be bad for him and, frankly, we have no idea how we could pay for that at present, although God always finds a way to provide what we need. I just hate to see the Knot Head hurt anymore.

Ed

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This is a picture taken when Connie came back in from seeing to Meeko’s need for some out door time. I add this picture because it is just slamin’ cute. Also, it is amazing how, with just the right moment, you can see how someone you love very much looked like when they were three.

 

Happy Veteran’s Day

First of all, Ed and I want to wish all our brothers and sisters a happy Veteran’s Day. For those who have served in the past and for those who are serving now: Thank you. Ed and I have often discussed the fact that when a soldier takes his oath, it is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Additionally, neither of us has ever met a veteran who felt that the oath was no longer binding, simply because he or she was no longer on active duty.

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Connie’s Basic Training photo 1981

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Ed in the 1970s

On Monday, Ed and I, along with three other veterans were presented with beautiful quilts hand made by the local quilting club. From what I understand, they present about 20 quilts a year. That is a lot of quilting. Thank you ladies for your support of all our veterans.

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Connie’s quilt

Ed's quilt

Ed’s quilt

Sorry I haven’t been around much lately. My oldest son needed to move back in with us, and the house has been in a state of upheaval while we make room for another person…and another dog. Once again, I am clearing out the room that started out of Kyle’s room, and then became my office and craft room. I’ve written about Loki before. He is a husky/dachshund mix…who though that was a good idea? He’s a little neurotic. He loves Ed as long as Ed is sitting down. He likes him lying down even better. Standing up is another thing altogether! Then he growls, barks, and runs after him. If Ed turns toward him, he runs and hides behind, Katherine, James or I. Hopefully, he will eventually realize that the upright Ed wont hurt him any more than the reclining Ed will. Needless to say, the cats are less than impressed with having a dog in the house.

It has been a blustery day today with hints of severe weather. We were under a tornado watch for awhile this afternoon. Very unusual weather for Missouri in the fall. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are common place in the spring, but not this time of year.  We did manage to  get the fall onions planted, but haven’t mulched them yet. Ed didn’t think raking leaves today would be very productive. The cold frame is essentially finished, but I haven’t got anything in it yet. I found some “barn paint” in the paint left by the previous owner. It wasn’t in the best shape, but it was enough to cover the cold frame.

Hopefully, I’ll be back with more news in a few days.

Connie

Writing 101: When I’m Not Writing

This was the Day 11 assignment from Writing 101:

What do you do when you’re not writing? How do you reset and return to this dashboard, refreshed? What do you need in your day-to-day life to maintain balance: Running? Yoga? Gardening? Painting? Cooking?

Today, publish your post in any form you wish, as long as you focus on one or all of these questions.”

What do I do when I’m not writing? Every thing else!

The most important thing I do is spend time with the Lord. I talk to Him. I read my Bible, and sometimes some other devotional material. I write down scriptures from my reading that speak to me that particular day, and sometimes I write down prayers, and other thoughts. The earlier in the day I can do that, the better.

Then, of course, is the work of the homestead: Cooking, cleaning and caring for critters. There is gardening and foraging. Look at this beautiful Goldenrod. I recently found out that tea made from the flowers can help with kidney trouble.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

Today, after we ran to town for groceries, Ed, Kat and I worked on expanding the chicken coop. Although Moonrise is much smaller than Sunrise; we’re pretty sure he is a rooster too. So, we will have to find some hens soon.

Sunrise and Moonrise

Sunrise and Moonrise

The almost done, expanded coop

The almost done, expanded coop

Then there is the homeschooling. I really like Charlotte Mason’s methods, but coordinating it all takes a lot of time and a lot of reading. The upside to that is that my daughter is getting a great education, and I’m improving on mine.

When I don’t have any of that to do, then I work on repurposing projects, practice piano and guitar, and try to learn new things for myself.

I try to check in with facebook at least once a day. I have a lot of family spread out across the country and that is the easiest way for us to stay in touch.

I really like Pinterest, but I could really waste a lot of time in there, and I can’t afford to do that right now.

At the end of the day, I try to come back and write it down to share with you. Sometimes I’m better off sleeping on it first.

Oh, and here are some pictures of a few other projects I’ve been working on.

My first refrigerator pickles. They were awesome!

Refrigerator Pickles

Refrigerator Pickles

Straining the mullein and plantain oil that I started in July. Now I can make plantain salve. I put some of the mullein oil in a recycled brown bottle with an eye dropper. That way, it will be ready should one of us have an ear ache.

plantain in oil

plantain in oil

straining the plantain

straining the plantain

mullein oil

mullein oil

Remember the day I was going to take pictures and it rained? Well, as promised here are some pictures of my painted junk. I’m thinking of planting clematis around the bike, and turning the baskets into fairy gardens. There are some rather sickly cone flowers (echinacea) between the pots.

painted junk

painted junk

Here is some of my not painted junk as well as some nice mums I bought at the flower shop here in town. You can see my tin man and some other stuff in the back ground.

Not painted junk and mums

Not painted junk and mums

This is my latest project. I got the idea from something I saw on Pinterest. Those are olive oil bottles that I coated on the inside with acrylic paint. You just pour some paint in and swish it around until it coats the bottle. I want to do my kitchen and dining room in these colors…someday.

painted bottle candle holders

painted bottle candle holders

Anyway, that is just some of what I do when I am not writing.

Connie

No Plan Survives Reality

A quick update: The rain has abated and the breakneck growth of everything bad, accompanied by the stunting of everything good seems to be tapering off. The corn is taller than me, which is no great feat for corn, but is an improvement. The rag weed has stopped growing just in time; the trees around it were beginning to show discernible signs of embarrassment.

I have been out and about on the place; doing this, that, and the other, which we can talk about later. I left you hanging on the last post concerning the piece of major equipment I bought. If you have not read my last post in Old Folks at Home Stead you can find it here.

I have never owned a “Lawn Tractor”. Every time I think about one, I picture a fat guy in checkered Bermuda shorts and a Grateful Dead Tee Shirt, wearing a hat with two Bud Lights in holders and straws leading down to his mouth. I know that is an unfair generalization, but you only have to see that sight once to scar you for life.

I always used a push mower. Anything more seemed to be just showing off to me. Then I bought The Homestead. Our yard is plus or minus an acre; I would guess plus. It is not an easy mow. We moved in last August and I think I mowed it four or five times before the end of the season.

I hate lawns. It is unnatural, unless chickens and goats are eating on it. That is from an Appalachian Mountain background. Bottom land was garden or pasture, side hill was pasture or orchard and the top of the mountain was woods. Lawns were for rich people and “flat land fereners.” Also I have a lazy bone but that is another post.

Be that as it may, because of the size of the yard and the age of the man, it was time to get some kind of lawn tractor. Not long after this decision, one Sunday after church I was discussing this with a friend who, as it turns out has a son-in-law who had just bought a new lawn mower. It was one of those 360 degree things, with a five feet cut and some such other stuff as is beyond my ken, and he had an old one for sale.

Sight unseen, I said I would take it. It was a little over a week until I could go see the lawn tractor. It was an older one, but I have no idea of the year model. It was a Bolen which actually is a brand name; research has shown me that the engine was made by Troy Bilt.

The machine had two problems, which Jeremy was quick to point out to me. One was an issue with the battery, which will not hold a charge. No real problem there as long as the engine kept charging. The other problem was that, from time to time, when you engaged the parking brake you have to reach back by the rear axle and release it. Neither of these were deal breakers.

We brought my new toy home, and that day I mowed with it the first time. It worked great! There is a learning curve involved in how to operate it, but I had downloaded the manual from the net and, seeing as I could drive an M1 Tank, an M113 Tracked Vehicle, and any normal road vehicle, up to a five ton truck, I did not think a riding lawn mower was going to buffalo me.

On my third time mowing the lawn I was really gaining some skill on the little beast when, coming around the northwest corner, I heard a pop and a thump then we stopped moving. I don’t know about all riding mowers, but it seems a lot of them run on a belt drive system. For instance, mine has three belts; one comes from the engine to the wheels, another from the engine to the mowing attachment, and the third from that one to the blades.

The short belt from the engine to the wheels had broken. I knew it was a broken belt because I found the mangled piece of it behind the mower. It is a good thing that lawn tractors are not heavy. I pushed it to my house garage and stored it there. Then I took the mangled belt with me to Jerry’s Automotive and Hardware on Main Street in Braymer. Total distance to drive one way: about 3/10 of a mile. I love small towns.

Coming in the door of Jerry’s establishment, I looked at him, held up the belt and ask, “Jerry, do you have a belt like this?”

He examined the belt I was holding up and said, “I hope not.” Did I mention the belt was pretty beat up? As it turned out Jerry did not have the belt for my mower in his place. On further inquiry, no one in Caldwell, or adjoining counties, had this particular belt. So I placed a call back to Jerry’s so he could order one for me. No more mowing for three days.

On the second day, I picked up the belt. I planned to fix my mower on the third day, so that I could mow on my day off. One thing you need to know: I had no idea how to replace this belt. So, being a modern kind of hillbilly, I looked it up first on Google, and then on YouTube. I firmly believe that if one wanted to build a time traveling 1947 Jeepster there would be a YouTube video about how to do it.

I know to a certainty, there is one on how to remove and replace the drive belt on a Bolen’s Lawn Tractor of my model. It is about 8 minutes long. I watched it twice and set about to do the job. Since the removing part had already been completed, all I really needed to do to put my new belt on was take off one big nut and slide this big pulley, beneath the nut, up so I can get the belt on it.

Since the guy in the video had used an adjustable wrench to loosen this nut so did I. A word to the wise, at least wiser than me: the guy in the video had loosened the nut before he made the video. He had also removed springs so that some things went easier. I was determined that I was going to loosen that nut with an adjustable wrench.

A little voice in my head asked, “Think you need to be wearing your buffalo hide work gloves Ed?” I ignored that voice and, hand deep in the bowels of a Bolen’s Lawn Tractor, I gave one more long, steady, hard, pull. Something gave, and my hand slipped all the way around, with my fingers striking a hard object out of my sight.

I pulled the offended hand out to examine it. It was beginning to smart a little, I tell you that. My middle finger of my right hand was bleeding a little from a scraped knuckle and I saw a line on my ring finger of my right hand. Probably a scrape; no big deal. Then I made a fist.

Have you ever seen one of your knuckles? No I do not mean all that skin that lies on top of it. I mean having that skin roll back and show you the whole bony joint? I went upstairs and Connie put yarrow on it. OUCH! Then we put a bandage over it and I called our Doctor (who was twenty-five miles away in Hamilton, that day), to get three stitches and a work excuse for two days.

This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

The next day, with the right tools, a stiff finger and invaluable help from Connie, we got the job done and the day after that I mowed the lawn with my newly fixed lawn tractor and that same stiff finger. Today, they took the stitches out of my hand. I will have a pretty spectacular scar to add to an already impressive collection. The doctor suggested I tell people I was bitten by a shark.

But if this story has any lesson beyond don’t use an adjustable wrench because they slip, and learn to listen to good advice; even if it’s from you, it would be no plan ever works out like we want it to. Those who appear so competent at anything only have practiced it so much they have learned to recover, before we even see the mistake.

Lord Knows Everything Grows (Whether You Want It To or Not)

“I don’t really need the money, but the people I owe it to need it a lot.” That was something Hank Williams used to proclaim in the late 1940’s, on his Health and Happiness radio show, when he was selling his own records over the air. If you would like to hear some of that, you might look here.

Hank had a way of speaking for the common man. I really care nothing for money. A horse can’t eat it. Too bad my creditors do not agree with me. So I have to work, because robbing banks in Missouri has already been done to death.

Now I am settled into my new job, I can take a few moments and write to you about what is going on around the old Homestead. I have not been idle on that front, it is just that, between working, working around the place, eating, and sleeping, I have had very little time for much else.

So here are some random topics, things I have worked on, mistakes, and successes we have had over the last few weeks. As I told Connie not too long ago, “We do not fail; we either succeed, or learn how to succeed next time.” Unfortunately, quite often the tuition at the University of Hard Knocks can be high.

The Rag Weed that ate my fence row.

The Rag Weed that ate my fence row.

This is my forth summer of attempting to do some small farming, and wrest some small piece of property back from the clutches of flora so diverse and aggressive, it staggers the imagination. This year I have learned about the effects of an over abundance of rain on plants in the state of Missouri:

It appears that over watering kills, stunts, and/or messes up the growth cycle on everything you want to grow. Causing such behavior as cauliflowers that go straight from “tomorrow I will grow out and make a nice head of cauliflower” to, “on second thought I will just go to seed, see ya.” Not to mention that grass likes rain water much more than tomatoes, who “don’t like to get their feet wet” or corn which tassels while less than waist high.

The grass that ate what we were going to eat.  You can stand there and watch it grow.

The grass that ate what we were going to eat.
You can stand there and watch it grow.

On the other hand, everything you really would rather NOT grow, when allowed to take every other day showers, grow like Jack’s Beanstalk. Connie has learned to name near every invasive plant, common weed, tree, shrub, or fern on the place; whether useful, neutral or dangerous. We used to walk across the pasture and she would point down at her feet, name the plant, and tell its lineage, whether it is good or ill, and what we should do with it. She still does that, but now she has to point up over her head.

As I stand in the dog lot, I recall having cut out all the standing hemlock with a machete and some other light hand tools. I was counting on my ability to find the stuff as it grew back and destroy it quickly. That worked for a couple of weeks. I would see the little plants and knock them down with a hoe or even my foot. As I stare up at the seven feet Rag Weeds I ignored, I think, “Use the chain saw.”

This is Rag Weed, the picture was taken by a 5 foot tall most beautiful woman in the world. But it makes the perspective interesting. The plants are between 7 and 8 feet tall.

This is Rag Weed, the picture was taken by a 5 foot tall most beautiful woman in the world.
But it makes the perspective interesting. The plants are between 7 and 8 feet tall.

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In spring none of these sapling were over knee high and bigger around than your finger.

Let’s talk about the fence rows. All winter long, I would look out my door and see the sprouts caught up in the fence rows and think to myself, “When it warms up a bit, I will cut those out.” Let me save you some trouble. Don’t ever do that! Barring weather so extremely bad that the risk of death or serious injury is imminent, cut them things out right now. My fence rows look like a scene from one of those dinosaur movies.

Put shortly The Homestead is suffering from serious case of Underbrush Overgrowth.

I have never been a real fan of lawns. They always seemed to me to be such a useless waste of time and resources, unless you had chickens running loose on them. Then there is mowing the things weekly, and the constant obsession with only having the right grass. Crab Grass need not apply, and God forbid is that a Dandelion? Who cares and why?

So why did we end up buying a place with a BOY? (Big ole yard).

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This is the front yard, it is not as big as some but try mowing it and the other half with a push mower.

Because the BOY surrounded the house we wanted and was surrounded by the land we wanted, on which sat a cool barn with two horses pained on the front. Who could resist that, and why should you? So I have a large yard in which grows plants of all shapes and sizes, a lot of which Connie assures me makes good salad.

After having mowed our largish yard four or five times last year and again this year about the same, I spoke to Connie saying words to the affect of, “Hon, as soon as we get a chance we need to buy a riding mower.” Something I had largely disdained. She tells me that I misinterpreted her look, but I would swear she looked at me as if to add “wimpy boy” to her smiling statement, “We’ll have to see dear.”

The next week, she offered herself and Katherine to be stand in mowers. switching off the lawn mowing every time around. After a few rounds we finished and, back in the house, Connie smiled at me and said. “Dear we need a riding lawn mower.” Ah, the joys of shared experience.

So now we have one; a riding lawn mower I mean. Next week, I will tell you how that is turning out. By then I should probably have the stitches out.

May God Bless,

Ed

What Month Is It?

July in Missouri is hot. Sometimes it’s hot and wet, and other times it’s hot and dry, but it’s always hot.

Your garden may drown or it may bake, but it will not be chilled. Until now.

Normal overnight lows for July are 70’s and 80’s. Day time temperatures often climb into the triple digits. As I write this, it is about 9:30 in the evening, and the temperature is 59 degrees. I think the high today was 60. For the second time in a week, the temperatures have been way below normal. According to my mother (who just called) the news said that the July temperatures haven’t been this low since sometime in the 1800’s. On top of that, there has been a slow drizzle all day.

Personally, I love the cooler temperatures. Well, maybe my knees aren’t that crazy about it, but the rest of me loves it. However, I don’t think my garden is very happy. It is already struggling from too much rain, as well as some good old fashioned neglect from Ed and I, but that’s another blog post.

Tonight, being Wednesday, I went to the ladies Bible study at my church. Entering the house afterward, I heard Katherine holler,

“Mom, be careful!”

“Why?” I asked, expecting to hear something about a wet floor or broken glass.

“Meeko is in here. I saw him out in the front yard, so I brought him in the house. I didn’t put him back because I don’t know how he got out.” About that time, our seventy pound canine Houdini bounded out of the kitchen to greet me.

Lovely. Ed will be so thrilled. “Ok”, I told her, “Let me go try to see where he got out”. I trudged (yes, trudged…think tall, wet, hay/grass) out to the dog’s enclosure. I had a second of panic when I didn’t see Libby right away, thinking she might be out too, but she was still there.

I went in with her and walked the fence line. I found what I thought was probably where he had gone over, and noticed the strand of barbed wire was down. I put it back, went back to the house, grabbed two dog biscuits and Meeko (he just followed me), put him back, gave both dogs the treat, and headed back to the house.

“Squish, squish, squish!” Oh the wonderful sound of sopping wet tennis shoes. Actually, I was soaked to the knees. Yes, I love cool weather; I do not, however, love cool, wet, weather!

Meeko: Back inside for now.

Meeko: Back inside for now.

Connie

Busy, Busy, Busy!

It was a busy week on the homestead.

We are pretty sure that our property sits on some kind of underground spring, and that, in combination with all the rainfall from the last few months, has left our basement very wet. The water seems to be coming straight in through the cinder block walls. Not good, and not something we can afford to fix right now. Of course there is also the nasty mildew that comes from al lthe water

Now isnt' that just lovely?

Now isnt’ that just lovely?

Most everything we had down there was in some stage of wetness; from slightly damp to soaked through. A few weeks ago, in total frustration, I just started pulling everything out of the basement, except for the washer, dryer and freezer, which are all set up on blocks. It wasn’t all that difficult, because we actually have a basement-garage. The original driveway came from the street up to the garage door which opens to the basement. The main house is upstairs. I simply opened the garage door and started putting everything out in the driveway. Once it was all out, I used a squeegee to push the water into the drains or out the door. Then I hooked up a small fan to circulate the air. A dehumidifier has been added to the list of things we need to get when we have a little more money.

Ok, now that it’s all out, what do I do with it? I can’t just put it back in and I don’t have anything to put it up on to keep it out of whatever new water might come in. While I was pondering this, the rain came back; so we covered what we could with tarps and let it sit.

In the meanwhile, Ed thought we should clean out the other garage; the one that sits behind the house.

It is still stacked with things that were dropped there when we moved in almost a year ago. Since he wanted to move a lot of that to the lean-to attached to the barn, the lean-to would need to be cleaned first.

It had the same problem. When we moved (especially after I got hurt), things were brought in and dropped. Additionally, there were things left from the previous owner(s). I was thinking, “Ok, we can clean this out, move stuff from the garage in here, and then bring the stuff from the basement too.

Because of the weather and other obligations, we took two days cleaning out the lean-to. Then we moved some stuff from the garage. At some point, we decided to use the stalls in the barn as a temporary holding place for scrap and all my recyclables. We are still working on cleaning the garage, and moving things from the basement driveway.

piles  of stuff

piles of stuff

Ed checking his scrap

Ed checking his scrap

Oh, to make matters even more challenging, the doors on the back yard garage do not work. After some discussion, we decided to see if we could use parts from both doors, to make one work. We had some success. It’s not great, but the door will open and close.

We did find a few interesting “what is it?” type things. Ed’s going to ask some of his farmer friends if he knows what they are. We also found to old cuckoo clock weights  Ed says “You want these, don’t you?” Well, of course!

What is it?

What is it?

what is it 2?

what is it 2?

cast iron clock weights

cast iron clock weights

In the meanwhile, we knew my oldest son was coming in from South Dakota for a few days, and I needed to make a place for him to sleep. Additionally, we had friends coming out from where we used to live for an evening of food, fellowship and music. You know what happens when you have guests coming? Well, I know what happens, when I have guests coming. I go into high gear housecleaning. Then there was the cooking.

Did I mention that my son brought his puppy? Kat loved it, but the cats were less than impressed, and Meeko wanted to come play with his new friend. That meant Ed spent three days trying to keep Meeko from climbing the fence, but I”ll let him tell you about that.

Kat and Loki

Kat and Loki

In the middle of all the excitement, Ed had a job interview and started a new job at a truck stop about 30 miles from home. It’s less money, but less travel time and less stress too. I can deal with that.

Our friends came out, and the evening went beautifully. We had a nice visit with my son, but by Sunday afternoon, I was ready to sleep for a week!

Now, its time to regroup and get back to the business(?) of homesteading.

Connie