Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rain, Backyard Chickens, and Sustainability

Rain, rain, and more rain.

It's all my fault.

I went out to work in The Garden Saturday morning, and a rogue thought came to me - "Oh, I don't want to water the garden.  Maybe it will rain and I won't have to."

And it did later that day.  And every day since.


The front yard is flooded, and still it rains.

I got out this morning and ran.  At least it didn't start raining until after the house was nearly in view at the end of my run.  It rained last time I ran, too. I'm tired of trying to run around thunderstorms.

I'm just tired of rain.

But a low pressure system has been sitting over the midwest for a week.  The forecast is gloomy.  No end in sight for now.

So I lost myself on the Internet looking up information on Backyard Chickens.

Yes, Backyard Chickens.  And Urban Chickens.  And Pet Chickens.  And Chicken Coops.  A garden and backyard chickens would go together so well!

Then I found that we can't have chickens inside the city limits.  Curses, foiled!!!

Believe it or not, there is sort of a chicken...movement.  A groundswell.  People in Indianapolis are putting up chicken coops in their backyards, at schools and workplaces!  There's even a Tour de Coop bicycle ride/tour of several urban chicken coops in the fall.  Crazy!  But oddly compelling.

My great uncle Earnest (yes, spelled with an "a") lived in Orange County, California - NOT in the country, and he and my great aunt Edith had chickens and a garden, and fruit trees.  I clearly remember the chickens, and  "picking eggs" for Aunt Edith.

Maybe I just want to relive my childhood.

Or maybe I want to pretend I live on a farm..

Or maybe I'll give it a politcally correct label - an Experiment in Sustainability.

Yeah, that's it - Sustainability.

Maybe next I'll look up goats.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

King of the 2-Cycle Engine

Eureka! - Archimedes

In the previous post, I ranted on about trying to start a garden - taking apart the compost heap, digging dirt, digging out bricks (done mainly by That Man and The Boy), then digging some more, and then trying to get the little Mantis tiller running (FAIL).

That Man worked and worked on that tiller.  He drained the old gas from the tank (yes, there was 22-year-old gasoline in there, I'm embarrassed to admit), yanked on the cord a few hundred times, took the carburetor off, shot Gum Out into every crevice, cleaned the fuel filter, took the carburetor apart, put it back on, adjusted the idle and high screws, and frankly, spent most of the day fighting with the infernal machine.  He could get it to start (with starter fluid), but it just would not continue to run.  Stubborn.

We decided to give it a rest, put the tiller in the garage, and think about it for a while.

I did some research on the Web, and some people said it's basically a "disposable tiller" and that the best thing to do is to junk it and buy something better.  Oooooooooh, that just rubs me the wrong way!  When it was working, it was wonderful!  The tilling width is only about 8 inches wide, it weighs less than 20 pounds, and it did a great job of tilling, weeding, and digging holes.  Brand new, the tiller cost only about $150.00, and a new one now costs about $300.00. So, where's the break even point?  A carburetor rebuild kit costs about $12.00.  A pack of six air filters costs about $10.00.  A new fuel filter costs about $5.00.  Plus about $5.00 shipping.  I think $32.00 is getting off pretty easy!

So I ordered the parts from Mantis, and they should arrive this week.

In the meantime, I did my Santa Claus impression and hoe-hoe-hoed to break up the worst of the clods, spread the compost around and get everything relatively level.  FUN.

I bought some tomato plants and put them in the ground.

I bought some garden seeds.

I dusted my plants with Dipel.

Just biding my time, waiting for parts to be delivered.

Until TODAY.

That Man got a wild hair and decided to work on the Mantis some more.  He yanked the cord.  He choked it.  He yanked some more.  Over and over.  He rubbed a spot raw on a finger pulling the cord.  It started and ALMOST ran a little.  He played with the set screws on the carburetor.  He came in and asked me which screw was which.  I read to him from the manual.  He went back outside and messed around some more.  He fiddled and fiddled with those screws quite a bit, and finally, he pulled the cord, the tiller started, and IT DID NOT STOP!


He also works magic on my boat's outboard motor every year.  After it sits over the winter, it needs some encouragement to start, but once it starts, it goes.  Then I have to make sure to run it once a week so that it continues to cooperate.  It usually takes just one or two pulls to start.  Unless I neglect it a couple of weeks - but that's another story!

This year, however, he noticed gas leaking from the motor.  He popped off the cover and found gas dripping, but from where?  He poked and prodded and squinted and stared.  Finally, he narrowed it down and sent me off to buy some fuel line.  He replaced it (all one and a half inches of it!), I started the motor, and, voila!  No more leaks!

It took two and a half hours of concentrated troubleshooting to accomplish.  He's more stubborn than the machines!

Anyway, I've decided to crown him King of the 2-Cycle Engine.  Or Wizard. Or Wizard King!

Now, the only 2-cycle motor left is the chain saw.

Oh my!

P.S. - After writing this, the parts arrived later the same day - of course!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Garden - My Latest Attempt

The last time we had a real garden was 22 years ago.  It had been a large garden, and we planted all sorts of things.  We had the usual tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, and lettuce.  We had carrots, beets, blackeyed peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and canteloupe.  We had kidney beans, red beans, pinto beans, and navy pea beans.  We had a compost heap and a little Mantis tiller.  I froze and canned our produce.

It was a serious garden.

The summer after The Girl was born was our last garden. She was such a demanding baby that the garden was neglected and huge weeds took over.  We raised the white flag and surrendered.  No more garden for us.

Two summers ago, I bought a couple of beefsteak tomato plants and planted four hills of zucchini.  It just so happened to be a summer when nobody got much out their gardens.  We harvested four undersized tomatoes, and three zucchini.  

Pitiful.  Demoralizing.

I decided to finally take the old compost heap apart and make a garden out of it and some extra ground next to it.

So, I dismantled the compost pile frame Saturday and pulled two 30-gal trash bags full of weeds.  I started early Sunday to dig up the new space for the extended garden plot. Suddenly I hit something really hard - concrete?  No, bricks! 

I got That Man and The Boy out there and we dug up a huge pile of bricks!  Bricks neatly laid out like a small patio, about four inches below grade. All level and laid straight with a careful limestone border.  No more!  All piled up, ready to be hauled away.

So I finished digging the area, and That Man got out the Mantis Tiller, and it all came to screeching halt. 

He worked on the tiller all afternoon and couldn't get it to run. It would start, but not run. Ugh. I guess I'll have to either break it all up by hand with a hoe, or borrow Dad's monster of a Troy-Bilt for this little 10' x 10' garden. 

What possessed me?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Emergency! Got Prepped?

I've recently gotten interested in emergency preparedness.  I've always been interested in being self-sufficient - vegetable gardening, sewing, knitting - you know, doing things for yourself, and not relying totally on the supply infrastructure.  But I read a couple of books (The Prepper's Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for a Disaster, and Prepper's Instruction Manual: 50 Steps to Prepare for Any Disaster), and they've made me think.

I think about tornados, and ice storms, and local flooding.  I remember being without power for a week in January.  But everybody thinks about natural disasters.  What if your income dries up?  Or there's a medical emergency?  Or your house burns?  Or grocery stores can't get deliveries?  So many "what ifs!"

Here’s an interesting note – one of the first things I read in the emergency preparedness book was to DECLUTTER YOUR HOUSE!  Because when your house is decluttered, you will be able to get to your emergency exits (fire, etc.) and your emergency supplies (first aid kit, food, candles, generator, batteries, flashlights, etc.).  One more excellent reason to get rid of the STUFF!

Anyway, I bought a NOAA weather radio (at the grocery store, of all places!) and set it up.  That was pretty fast!  The most time-consuming part was editing which alerts for it to actually announce.  I didn’t think hurricanes or tropical storms or avalanche watches/warnings would be of much interest here in Indiana.  

The bigger (and more long-term) project was making sure there is enough food in the house to feed us all for a month.  The first step is to KNOW what you DO have.  Oh dear. 

Because our house was originally built in the mid-1950s, the kitchen is a decent size, but there is a lot of wasted space, and really, not much cabinet space, so I had put a metal shelf unit and some rolling wire basket carts in our utility room, elegantly renaming this hellhole our “pantry!” 

The shelf unit sat perpendicular to the wall, alongside the furnace.  The carts were lined up along the wall.  That was so “everything would be accessible.”  Well, that was the original thinking, but it really WASN’T.  Stuff got shoved to the back of the shelf unit, and lost in the baskets.  And I never knew how much I had.  Another place we store food is in a corner carousel cabinet in the kitchen – a dark, scary place where things also get shoved farther and farther back until they languish and expire.  UGH.

So, I started Friday evening.  I rolled all the wire basket carts into the kitchen.  Two are small with fixed baskets.  One is a little larger, with pull-out drawer-type baskets.  One is much larger, with pull-out drawer-type baskets.  Most of them were less than half full!

I took everything off the metal shelves and piled it on the kitchen counters.  I dusted and washed the shelves.  I moved the unit out and cleaned the floor where everything had been sitting.  I put the unit back, but this time along the wall.  Amazing.  I can get at everything on the shelves without reaching way back and knocking things off behind!

I went through all the stuff from the shelf unit and threw out everything beyond its expiration date.  I threw out heaps of stuff, which left LOTS of empty space!  I filled up a couple of trash bags by the time I was done.  I took a marker, found the expiration date for everything and wrote it in an OBVIOUS location on each item.  I sorted the items by what they were, and then sorted them by the expiration dates.  I pulled all the canned goods out of the carousel cabinet and did the same to  them.

I’ve been collecting 12-pack soft drink can packages for this project.  I cut a hole on the top on the package at the back for loading them, and put a label on the front of each one.  Then I loaded the date-labeled canned goods into the packages, oldest first.  I lined them up on the shelves.  Now I have can dispensers!  I can see what’s supposed to be in that location, and how many there are.  A 12-pack holds six 15-oz cans of veggeis, etc.  It would probably hold 12 of condensed soup cans.  It won’t hold the larger soup cans (they’re too tall).  So I have a package of diced tomatoes, one of corn, one of cream style corn, one of stewed tomatoes, etc.   All very organized and neat.  I put all the unopened cereal boxes on the top shelf.  I put other boxed stuff on the second and third shelves.  All the canned stuff is on the bottom 3 shelves. 

I really didn’t get to the wire basket cart things.  (That Man and That Girl came home early from his drag race – he lost first round – RATS!)

But I was fixing dinner, and got something out of the one other (wall) cabinet in the kitchen where I keep some food.  I pulled another item out, looked at the expiration date, and pitched it.  Um, about ¾ of the stuff in that cabinet got the heave-ho.  It’s looking pretty empty!  That wasn’t even part of the plan yet – it just happened.

I didn’t get to the bottom shelf of the carousel cabinet, but oh my!  What an improvement!  The stuff I organized, I can SEE – ALL OF IT.  And it will all get used – first in, first out!  I’m going to put things in there that I only keep one or two of – syrup, cooking oil, olives, Tabasco – that kind of stuff.

The next step will be to empty those wire basket carts and either put them to use somewhere else, or GET RID OF THEM!  I’m going to keep the big one.  It fits along the wall next to the shelf unit perfectly, so nothing will be blocked.  Everything will be truly accessible. 

Then I will seriously tackle the CHEST FREEZER.  Oh my.  The Black Hole of Calcutta.  Not good.

Pray for me!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Still Guilty, but Not as Much, Perhaps?

Okay, it's been 2 1/2 months since my last post.  How can it be May already?

I've been set free to some extent - church choir practices are done for the summer, and Dad has been WALKING for about 2 months, and DRIVING (God help us!) for a couple of weeks.  So he's not as dependent on Daughter Number Three (yours truly) as he was.  Oh, I'm still writing his checks, but only because I can do it faster.  He still tells me to whom and how much and he signs them.  I'm just the stenographer/bookkeeper!

So how's the running, you may (or may not) ask.

Confession time.

After spending 4 1/2 months training diligently for the 500 Festival Mini Marathon, I just stopped.  No good reason.  In fact, a stupid, very BAD reason.  UGH.

We had some good weather.

"Now wait a minute!  Back up!" you say.  "What does that mean?"

Well, we had all that snow, and I was running on the treadmill instead of going outside.  Then the snow was gone, but it was still cold.  Then, about 6 weeks ago, there was a break.

I ran OUTSIDE.  In SHORTS!  I wasn't cold!  It was g-l-o-r-i-o-u-s!

For about three days.

Back to COLD and RAIN.

And more rain.

And yet MORE rain.

And floods.

And STILL more rain.

The time last I ran was three weeks ago.  On the treadmill.  For two miles.

Long story short - I ran the first two miles of the Mini.  I got a crease in my sock.  I stopped and fixed it.  I got a hot spot.  I got a monster blister.  I stopped and fixed it.  I finished the entire half marathon.  Period.

That, quite frankly, was all I was asking for.

The past few years, I've trained for half marathons, then either had my training or the race itself sidelined by family crises, mostly involving hospitals and/or funerals.  UGH.

So, by gosh, I was NOT going to let this one get by me.

And here's the proof!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Guilty as Charged

It's always something. - Gilda Radner

Guilty, guilty, guilty.  Yes, I admit it - I'm guilty!

I feel guilty just logging on and writing this post!  I'm overwhelmed with GUILT.

Forgive me, friends, for I have sinned.  It has been 5 1/2 months since my last blog post.

What can I say?  Life happens.

Just a couple of weeks after my last post, my dad had a car accident and shattered his right femur.  The Sister and I spent a week at the hospital, hunted down the wrecker service that towed his big ol' Caddy away from the scene, emptied the car of its contents (please consider the fact that the parental unit is a terrible pack rat, and the Coupe DeVille is a boat of a car, and it was FULL of STUFF), took care of medical and auto insurance issues, and arranged for his transfer to the physical rehab facility where he lives.

That was just the first week.

Needless to say, my training for the Monumental Half Marathon, which had been going GREAT, fell completely to pieces.  I'd decided to try anyway, but the morning of the race, it rained, and I decided it was A Sign From God to stay home, so I did.

While he was in rehab, I visited often, checked his mail, wrote checks for his bills, deposited his checks, brought his whatever he wanted from his apartment, and attended his doctor appointments and care conferences with him.

When the rehab people started making noises that it was time he move back into his apartment, The Sister and I went into overdrive.  We tackled the piles of mail and magazines Dad had stacked on every flat surface.  We moved Mom's old bed out of the second bedroom in the apartment and had The Husbands take it back to Dad's house.  We moved some of the remaining furniture around to give him room to maneuver with a wheelchair, and made the second bedroom into an office/music room.  It's amazing how much room we gained by just getting the bed out of there.

Two days before Christmas, we moved him back into his apartment.  We had to tweak the furniture arrangement a bit to suit him, but thankfully, he mostly approved of what we had done.  After the surgeon approved his transition to a power chair, he was a much happier camper, since he was more mobile.  But he wanted to GO places, DO things, and SEE people!  So I researched public transportation options for him so he could attend church and his Masonic stuff.

We had sort of achieved a "new normal," so I started training for the 500 Festival Mini Marathon.  So, of course, I got good and sick for nearly a month.

I'm finally back to training, and doing okay with it, but I've been staying inside on the treadmill.  Can you say "BORING?"  I knew you could.  The TV and DVD player are my new bestest running buds.

Dad's actually doing VERY well, and he's doing a lot of the things he like to do, but he's getting antsy, and wants to DRIVE.  He wanted us to bring the other car down to the apartment "just in case" the surgeon says he can drive after his next appointment in a couple of weeks.  There has been significant bone growth since the accident and surgery, but he's still not allowed to put any weight on that leg.  I doubt the surgeon will allow him to drive before he can do weight bearing exercises, but I guess we'll see what we see when we see it!