Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hard learning, hard water

Scheeesh. I'm wondering if there is anything about living out in the country that I do not have to learn from the ground up, the hard way.

Take water. I've always taken water for granted. Even when living in ever-thirsty California, thinking about water just meant not wasting it, not how to manage it. And hard water or soft water? Honestly, I never really understood what that was all about.

Do now.

I should say, we have a well. When we first moved in two years ago, the house had been vacant for a month and the water smelled like rotten eggs. Uh oh, I thought. No no, all the neighbors said, don't worry, once you get the water moving again, it'll be fine. And it was. They even showed me how to fill the water softener in the cellar with the big 40 lb bags of salt from the grocery store. It was fine. Mysterious, but fine. If you forget to refill it, I was told, the water will start to turn your sinks red, from all the iron, but there's a cleaner for that, so it's fine. And it was. Fine.

Then the derecho last summer hit our pasture and run-in shelter and the trees came down on the ponies' heads and the power went out and the well stopped pumping and I said, I need a real barn. So I hired a guy to build a barn and we decided it would go nicely right where the dog run was, so the dogs would have to run somewhere else, which was fine. I pulled up the temporary t-posts in the dogs' yard and pounded them in elsewhere. Actually, it was better. The new area was by the backdoor, so the dogs could just scoot out whenever they wanted. It was fine.

The first clue that it was not fine, had I been paying attention, was the showerhead in the bathroom. It started spraying No big deal, I said to myself, old showers do that.

Then sometime later, the sprayer on the kitchen sink stopped working. Blamed that on the 12-year-old. Stuff happens. Oh well.

Meanwhile, the white porcelain sink in the bathroom was getting rust stains, because, well, the dog fence was now between me and the cellar, where the water softener is. Turned out, the extra effort required to carry the 40 lb bags of salt the long way around the yard and house was just enough extra to make me avoid it. What? I need to take some salt to the cellar? Oh no, I need to mow the lawn. Shower starting to look a little orange? I think we're out of chicken food, better run to the feed store. 

The next clue should have been the plates. They'd come out of the dishwasher with a hard white scum that just wouldn't come off. Distant bells in my head did sound and a voice did tell me, hard water does this, fill the water softener, dumbo. I will, I will, I told the voice, but always there'd be a different 40 lb bag in need of carrying somewhere else for someone else and that sucked up all the effort available until there was no energy or will left to carry the bags of salt the long way around the house to get to the cellar to fill up the water softener.

Then the dishwasher stopped cleaning. One bad cycle is a fluke, but two or three bad cycles and the same dirty cup that just won't rinse clean and even I start to wonder if there's a problem with the dishwasher. Seemed the top rack wouldn't wash, though the bottom was ok. Hmmm, the brain's still only firing on one cylinder, so I blame it on the 12-year-old. The child's a little rough after all. Must have broken the water connection to the top rack. Add it to the list of jobs for the plumber. Fine. Whatever. I've got other things to worry about.

Until the last straw finally came to rest on the camel's back. The coffee maker stopped making coffee. One minute it was fine. The next it was not. Water going in. Nothing coming out. Now, I can live with a broken dishwasher and a crooked showerhead, and who really truly needs the sprayer thing on the sink anyway? Surely that's a luxury I can manage without. But a broken coffee maker? The threat of a lingering, indefinite caffeine embargo finally got the old brain to step up and take some responsibility.

In the end it took a couple of days for the puzzle to come together, to reach the top of my learning curve, to finally learn my lesson.

Hard water does more than stain your sink.

Hard water does more than leave a film on the outside of glasses.

Hard water will also leave deposits on the inside of every pipe, drain, and water-carrying apparatus it touches -- deposits that build up...and up...and up.

Hard water will destroy every water-using appliance you have if you let it.

I tested this theory by soaking the head of the sink sprayer in a mug of vinegar. Bingo, we have a fully functioning sprayer again.

How do I get vinegar to the water supply on the top rack of the dishwasher?

I don't know. Maybe I'm not at the top of my learning curve quite yet, but I did fill the d*#^ water softener.

And I apologized, in my head at least, to the 12-year-old.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Up to their ears

It's true that our sheep and goats look alike to the casual observer. Fluffy, four-legged, floppy-eared, about yay-high. But that's where the similarities end.

I had a few minutes to spare this morning, so I thought I'd try for some sheep shots. I went out in the paddock with the sheep and goats and sat down. Clem and Blue, the sheep, came up to visit. 

While I was distracted by the sheep, the goats shoved open the now-unlatched door and high-tailed it into the open barn for chicken feed and further adventures. See Amelia as she scoots past us?

Amelia's high tail, right under Clem's nose. 
So that's one difference. Our sheep are sociable. Our goats, bless their sneaky little hearts, are wild children, every one of them. 

It's not as though the sheep don't enjoy their food. They do. They certainly do. See? Here's everyone eating. Nom nom.

That's another difference, though. The sheep are the ones up to their ears in hay. The sheep bury their faces to eat. Their world shrinks to nothing but the food. The goats, on the other hand, keep their eyes clear and their ears free at all times, food notwithstanding. 

The better to take advantage of unsuspecting goatkeepers obviously.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Yesterday, the 12-year-old pointed out that the new rooster has turned his attentions away from the older hens and is now starting to ... um ... attend to the pullets. Apparently I had speculated a while back that he ignored the pullets because they were not yet mature; when they matured to the egg-laying point, we'd know because the rooster would know. (What can I say? As a parent, sometimes you gotta think on your feet and just hope the stuff that comes out of your mouth isn't too too crazy.) Anyway, sure enough the pullets are just turning 4 months old this week. Eggs should be coming.

The 12-year-old: So don't they need nest boxes?

Me: Yes. I have a plan for that.

Twelve-year-old: What's the plan?

Me: We're going to reuse the old nest boxes from the garage.

Twelve-year-old: Eewww, those are gross.

Me: They are not. They're vintage. They're charming. They're a hundred and fifty years old, handmade with iron-forged square nails, and solid as a house. They'd go for millions on Ebay. 

Twelve-year-old: They're filled with old chicken crap.

Me: I cleaned them out. 

Twelve-year-old: (Coming around now.) Ok, they're vintage, handmade, and charming. What are we going to do with them? 

Me: Give them to the chickens to crap in. 

Before in the old garage shed

Cleaned up

Dovetail details

Square nail

Solid wood planks

Square nails

Monday, August 12, 2013


One of the entertaining things about taking up farm life late, after a lifetime of speaking English, is the newfound insight into so many common turns of phrase. I marvel that I lived decades on this earth, fluently conversing in my native tongue, without ever truly appreciating the thrust of so many common farm metaphors.

Tonight's lesson?


Here are Blue (our 5-month-old ram lamb) and Clementine enjoying their evening grain in the barn aisle, as seen from the new cat loft. Note the hay cart behind Blue.

I turned away for just a moment, to play with the cats. 

When I look back?

Blue has recently learned how to turn the cart over to dump the hay. With his head. He is a ram. He rams it. He goes on a rampage for hay. 

Love. It.

Hope this well never runs dry. ;-)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The other big thing

As I was saying, it's been a busy, hectic, exhausting summer.

When we bought our little farmlet two years ago, I was motivated primarily by the desire to escape the crazy Stepford suburb I'd inadvertently landed us in when we first arrived in the Midwest. (Seriously, we had neighbors who pruned our rosebushes when we weren't home, that's the kind of suburb it was.)  The idea of actual barns and livestock and farming was only a fantasy that professionals like me didn't speak aloud. Maybe a pony. That would be acceptable. For the child of course. ;)

The full-blown farmness of this place sorta snuck up on us. Once here, of course we had room for another pony, and another, and chickens, and why not goats? And as long as we've got goats, how about some sheep? Sheep - talk about a long held secret fantasy. Um, in a good way of course. Somewhere around here is a box that's survived, hmmm, let me count....18 19, well, 20-ish moves across two countries and four states since college. It's filled with bucolic sheep postcards. :)  But, I digress.

We're bursting at the seams now. Two years ago the problem of where to put a larger flock of goats or sheep would have been far-fetched. Now I really worry about it. Alot. Round and round in my head, but our place is realistically too small for a bigger flock.

Enter a sign. In both senses. One sense came in the mail. The other was posted in our neighbor's front yard. The one in the mail was a four-leaf clover from thecrazysheeplady. Luck was headed my way. That was last Saturday. Before the sun had set that day, a for sale sign went up next door. A for sale sign in the yard of the neighbor with the beautiful fenced pasture in the back. Two pastures actually. And a round pen. And a big, pole barn, perfect for storing an entire winter's worth of hay.

It took another twelve hours for the listing to show up online. Sunday I spoke to a realtor I've worked with before. Monday she took me to check out the house, just so there were no surprises. Tuesday morning, I made a formal offer. Tuesday night it was accepted. By Wednesday morning the papers were signed and I'm now officially in contract to buy the place next door. Thursday and Friday were devoted to prepping loan documents. Next comes a round of inspections, and so on. We close at the end of September.

When that happens, we will double the size of Tyche's Run. I haven't a clue how this will ultimately change my plans, except to say that it makes much more possible. It will be tight financially, at least for a few years, but in the long run, it should be fantastic. I could not be more excited. It really has been a whirlwind of a summer.

The kitchen sink

I'm too far behind to ever realistically catch up with my intended blog posts. So I am going to do one big catch-all post and call it good.

Summer is winding down. The twelve-year-old goes back to school in 10 days and my work load cranks up to full speed a day or two after that. Whatever farm goals have been accomplished by the day school starts will pretty much have to hold us til next spring. Not much time left, but we have been cranking through the tasks.

exterior of patched wall of barn
The guys who came to tear down the lean-to on the old barn finished in less than two days. Since my goal was only to stabilize the building until some future date, all they had to do was cover up the hole left by the shed. They used the old roofing from the shed itself, plus some clear roofing panels left over from the new barn, to patch the wall. It looks better than I expected and will hold the barn until I am ready to renovate some year down the line. I'm thinking studio space at the moment...

interior of mow looking out the clear panel patches

date discovered inside mow 

Once I realized the barn repair crew could build or fix pretty much anything, I turned them loose on  a couple of other jobs. The biggest was a loft for the new barn. Earlier this summer I got a quote from a builder in the city who churns out suburban decks. A loft is basically a deck right? Yeah. He wanted nearly $10,000 to build a loft. I decided I'd wait. Then these guys came along. They did decent work and they were fast. It took them two days to build the loft. Cost a fraction of what the deck guy wanted. A small fraction. I'm looking forward to moving most of the house cats out to the barn now. They will live in the new loft. We will get our house back. Yay. 
the new loft in the new barn
While we waited for the lumberyard to deliver the loft materials, the guys painted the upstairs bedrooms in the house. What a relief. I had promised the 12-year-old new paint last winter, but hadn't found the time or energy to do it. Nobody should have to live with bubblegum pink. Really. The other choice upstairs was dark green. Now they are white and honey-yellow respectively. Thank you barn guys.

I myself finished the patio. I had planned a more detailed post on this labor of sweat and tears love, but here's the summary. We needed a place to set out a bench and chairs for the summer. We didn't have one. I decided to take advantage of all the surplus building materials laying around the place and build one myself. For free. No cost. Old antique bricks, check. Limestone screenings, check. Unskilled labor, check. I spent hours and hours and hours moving bricks from piles across the property, digging up bricks from unused walkways, and hauling wheelbarrows of screenings to my chosen corner of the house. I scraped off the topsoil and grass. I spread out several inches of screenings left over from the barn, and then I arranged every single brick recovered from the property into a pattern that exactly fit the space without a brick to spare. I filled the gaps with screenings and built a flower bed across the edge of the patio next to the drive. I abandoned my plan for roses once I finally bothered to time the sun one afternoon -- too much shade. I'm going to plant some rhododendrons in the fall instead. In the meantime, I filled it with cut price annuals. They were the only thing I spent money on. I'm pleased with that.

The patio itself is bumpy and lumpy and the screenings are in need of some nice fine sand on top. But, in general I'm ok with how it turned out. The old bricks are lovely and the patio does look a bit like it's always been there.


 No good deed goes unpunished though. While I waited on myself to get the patio done, I moved our garden bench out to a patch of grass between the house and barn so we'd have a place to sit. It's on a little knoll under a maple tree in the island of the circular drive. The ground falls off to the street and views of the horse farm across the way peak through the trees. Turns out this spot is pretty much ground zero for the barnyard. When I feel the need to sit down outside, I go there first. Would have been a lovely spot for a patio.
Never even crossed my mind.  Sigh, guess I shoulda tried out spots with the bench BEFORE I decided where to put the patio.

View from new patio across the grass with the garden bench where the patio should have gone. Even with all the construction debris laying around its a better spot for sitting than the actual patio! 

And finally, the concrete guys came and put a floor in the cleaned out shed in the hay/garage barn. The concrete floor is surprisingly fetching. :)  My barn guys also installed three clear panels in the roof, like skylights. It just needs walls now to be ready to go. Funny thing though, some other stuff happened and now I'm not sure what to do with this space, so it's on hold. It's late now, so I'll have to save the other stuff for tomorrow.