Sunday, June 22, 2014

The XO's Log

Friday 4:00pm - The first 20 minutes with my crew have gone without incident. Both seem relatively happy and clean. We just made a pact to keep the house clean this weekend and I have great belief that they will hold their end of the bargain. As requested we will be having waffles and tacos for dinner. F is settling in nicely to the weekend tone i was hoping to set by removing his shirt and dancing to The Goofy Movie. We are all optimistic this will work.

Friday 4:22pm - I was alarmed by the sound of what i thought was a rabid squirrel trying to crew through a bank safe only to find it was F playing with toys by himself in the back room. All is safe.

Friday 4:36pm - I was promised a fully stocked larder only to find no butter. Making waffles for the kids is going to be difficult, and even more so to explain. The Quartermaster will be severely punished for this oversight, making me look like an idiot only 40 minutes into my first day of command.
Afternote: My ingenuity has paid off, and my first mate enthusiastically climbed a palm tree to retrieve a coconut. After breaking it open using nothing but hand strength i quickly crushed and pressed the fleshy part of the fruit to make coconut oil. I have conveniently saved the the remainder in a jar found washed up on the beach labeled Trader Joes Virgin Organic Coconut Oil. A local trader brand i am sure.

Friday 8:30pm - I am starting to learn that when fed my crew are much more pleasant to be around. I will remember this for the future. The rest of the evening was happy an uneventful. I am now settling in for a 3 hour tale of sex, money, and a wolf told by a short, thick glassed man known as Martin. 

Saturday 6:36am - I was greeted happily this morning by my first mate, despite the fact that i felt it was too early to get up. She informed me that the little one had once again removed all of his clothes and peed wildly about his crib. This was confirmed and followed by a quick bath so that the crew member did not match the smell of his bedding.

Saturday 7:15am - This morning I decided to appease the crew by taking them to our favorite haunt, Java Johns, for some breakfast. 

Saturday 7:40am - Upon arrival I quickly learned that breakfast was a loose term for carrot cake and frosted cinnamon roll, to which I relented remembering my fed = happy lesson from the previous day. Some baked oatmeal for me and it was off to the market to see what the days haves has brought in. 

Saturday 8:30am - A pint of local strawberries and 2 flowers later we headed back to our transport in order to carry on restocking our supplies.

Saturday 9:15am - The crew convinced me to take a side trip to a “Phelps Park” where they assured me great fun would be had by all. A short hike along the ravine trail and exercise on the metal fortress yielded a a happy crew ready for our next supply stop.

Saturday 9:47am - Our re-supply trip has been successful and we now have fresh fruits and vegetables in tow. This regions trading posts come with traditions I am not accustomed to. Once the bartering phase is complete an insistent to help small child is assigned to you in order to carry supplies to your transport. Not a word was said and he left with a bow. peculiar. 
Saturday 10:21am - The crew was overly excited for the prospect to eat all of the fresh fruit that was just purchased at the market. They were appeased with only a portion thank goodness as our Quartermaster only left us with meager currency for resupply. Also, I have discovered that if you throughly blend…

1 banana
1 cucumber
1/3 cup of frozen cherries
1/4 cup of fresh blueberries
A splash of almond milk (which I squeezed by hand)
And a dash of “chia seeds”…

It makes for a pretty refreshing drink. I think I will name the mixture Smoothie for constancy in which it is consumed.

Saturday 12:01pm - My crew’s proclivity for lawn style water sports have been made very clear, they love them! Both first and second mate have spent the last hour screaming and running around in the yard like banshees. I have been informed that they are hungry yet again.

Saturday 1:46pm - All attempts at convincing my crew to nap has been lost as well as my patience. 

Saturday 5:15pm - I must admit that time with the crew today has flown by. We have all had a great time and lots of work has been completed even with my crew’s help.

Saturday 8:32pm - Although my second mate turned in hours ago my first mate has politely offered to stay up as late as I will. I appreciate the solidarity among this crew.

Sunday 12:16am - After enjoying a new picture show called The Wolf of Wall Street it is time to turn in. In the past my crew has not had much sympathy for my morning crabbiness because I stayed up too late… I assume the time will be the same. 

Sunday 6:36am - I am awoken by a strange sound. At first it sounds like my second mate, but the location and tambour of the sound does not match that of normal circumstances. I hear, “Daddy…hour…Daddy…hour”. Finally and quite abruptly my brain snaps to and I realize the the noise is coming from outside my window. As fast as lighting I am up and looking out the window to see my second standing in the yard. He sees me and happily says “Hi Daddy”! I run over to the porch door to join my mutinous crew member and realize that in the morning dew grass was clinging to his feet and legs and he wanted me to turn the outside shower on. This is the FIRST time he was able to escape from his sleeping quarters and through a perfect storm of security lapses was able to make it all the way outside without alerting me. Security measures will have to be addressed.

Sunday 9:30am - After first and second breakfasts the crew is now donning their aquatic lawn attire to once again engage in “sprinkler jumping”. 

Sunday 12:12pm - The crew and I have had to move quickly to avoid being blown away in a quickly approaching summer storm. The temperature has dropped 15 degrees in the last 5 minutes and we are doing everything we can to get all of our activities cleaned up before the rain begins. 

Sunday 3:07pm - It is with both an ecstatic and heavy heart that our Quartermaster and full time Commander returns from her scouting trip abroad. The crew is very excited for her return and I as well in order to turn command of these energetic maniacs back to her. I feel this expedition was successful and fun at the same time and although I temporarily misplaced my second mate, no crew members were lost entirely or injured beyond kiss repairs. I would take embark on another such adventure but not anytime soon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Our DIY Outdoor Shower: The Basic Model

I wouldn’t say I’m a champion gift giver for Andy but I try to notice things he mentions throughout the year and mark them down so when a holiday approaches, I have some ideas.  During the two summers we have lived in the house, Andy has mentioned countless times how much he wanted an outdoor shower to cool off in after a long day of working outside.  This spring, I decided I would start researching options so I could surprise him for Father’s Day.  Luckily, I found a fantastic resource that I pretty much followed completely:

One of the hardest tasks of this project for me was just buying the supplies.  I had my list, straight from Bob Vila’s directions and charged into Menards with my two “helpers”.  I knew I needed to be in the plumbing section for most of the items, but beyond that I didn’t even really know what I was looking for.  Thankfully, staff members pointed me to the correct items and after an hour or so of collecting the things off my list, I finally had everything.  

**On the website, the materials and directions include building a deck base to stand on.  I didn’t build one so I have taken this out of the materials and my directions.
One 8-foot lengths of 4″ x 4″ lumber (cedar, redwood or pressure-treated are best) 
Decking or galvanized wood screws 2-1/2″ 
Outdoor wood sealer 
Post hole digger 
Quick-drying concrete 
Pea gravel or small stones 
Shower head 
1/2″ threaded shower arm 
1/2″ galvanized pipe in threaded lengths of 48,” 24″ and 6,”  along with two 90° elbows 
Nylon plumbing tape 
Four 1/2″ pipe straps 
1/2″ threaded faucet 
Electric drill and 5/8″ spade bit 
Garden hose and outdoor spigot

The day before I planned to make the shower, I gave the 4"x4" a coat of polyurethane to seal it a bit better.  I didn't use exclusive outdoor stuff because I had a leftover quart of the regular stuff in the basement.

We have lots of spaces to put an outdoor shower, but I settled on a spot on the north side of the house, nestled next to the screened in porch.  This spot was unused as of yet, with the exception of housing some garbage cans and had the added bonus of being the home of the old well.  

The cistern was still there with a cover so I figured this was a good spot to let the water run into.  I cleared out the random weeds and bulbs around the cistern and began digging the 12” deep hole for the pole. 

I put the plumbing together in the following order: 
Shower head- shower arm- 90 degree elbow- 

48” length- faucet- 24” length- 

90 degree elbow- 6” length.  

used nylon plumbing tape at each joint.  This was the most time consuming part of the project- I didn’t have enough strength to get the joints tightened down and had trouble getting a pipe wrench secured to tighten.  Also, the shower head, faucet and 90 degree elbows need to line up, causing more difficulty.  After lots of time and several words that E responded with, “Mommy, **** is a bad word”, I finally had everything tightened and straightened.

Using a 3/4” spade bit, I drilled a hole in the 4”x4” board 6” above the ground.  

When I tried to put the 6” pipe through the hole, I realized it still wasn’t big enough and went back with a 1” spade bit.  This did the trick and I put the 6” pipe through the hole.  

The pipe straps I got were not the right ones, so I found a roll of pipe strapping in Andy’s shop and used this to secure the shower to the 4”x4”.  I secured at the top, above the faucet and above the bottom elbow with 2-1/2” decking screws.

I put the 4”x4” into the pre-dug hole and filled it in with dirt after using a level to straighten it.  I didn’t use concrete because I wanted to make sure Andy was ok with the spot- he went back later and dug the hole a bit deeper and filled it with concrete to secure the pole.  

I attached a coupler to the back of the 6” pipe and a hose to this.  The hose was attached to a y-splitter on our outdoor spigot.  The shower worked on the first try!

I would say the difficulty level of this project is easy- I think if I can manage it, pretty much anyone can.  If you don’t build a base, the only tool you really need is a drill which is a must have for any home owner.

Andy was surprised and super excited when he saw his gift.  He was extremely impressed by my amazing plumbing skills.  As expected, he spent the rest of Father’s Day weekend “Andy-fying” the shower, connecting it to hot water but I expected he would do that and just wanted to give him a jumping off point.  Andy and the kids have had a great time christening it after playing and working outside all day.  I don’t expect to get any of them back inside for showers until winter comes.

UPDATE 3/21:  Andy modified this shower so it now gets hot/cold water from the house.  Read about this update here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Curb Appeal in the Country

One of the odd things we noticed when we first looked at the house with our realtor was the nonexistent front door.  

In typical suburban fashion, houses have a main door facing the street, usually with some sort of porch, deck, welcoming area and path.  Houses often also have a side or back door but these are not obvious and don’t usually have large porches attached to them.  When we first pulled up to the farmhouse, I immediately noticed that there was no “front” door.  There are actually 4 entrances into the house and non are obviously a “main entrance”.  Two doors were on either side of the house toward the front; one on the south side which opens to the dining area and one to the north side which opens to the kitchen and is attached to the screened in porch.  The house didn’t really have a distinguished driveway; to the south was lightly graveled area with room for two cars front to back and to the north was a garage and gravel drive down to the barn.

When we moved in two years ago, I determined that the north side would be our main entrance.  It looked the most inviting with steps leading to the screened in porch.  I thought it would be nice to make the porch into a mud room where we could dump coats, boots and bags before entering the house.  Flash forward two years and we now use the south door as our main entrance.  What changed?  Well, winter for one.  The screened porch is not heated and gets VERY cold making for very cold coats, hats, gloves and boots during the winter.  Not ideal.  Secondly, from the drive up to the north door there is a slight, very uneven hill which is not appealing when walking up with two kids and a car of groceries.  

So now that the south door was decided our “main” entrance, we wanted to make it more obvious and more welcoming.  We don’t get tons of foot traffic to the old farm, but we do have daily UPS drop-offs and frequent piano students in the evenings.  

During the winter that would never end, we paid attention to the path our neighbor plowed out for us from the driveway area to the door and marked it for a gravel path.  Once spring (finally) came, we called a local gravel supplier and had a truck load of white road gravel dumped in the driveway area.  We first spread out the gravel to make a nice and large two car driveway.  I dragged two planters that Andy made out of old doors to the top of the driveway to make a more visible curb for cars.

From here, we marked out the walkway we wanted from the driveway to the house and to the deck and took the grass up with a sod cutter.  (When I went to the rental place to pick up the sod cutter, I couldn’t remember the official name so I asked for the grass cutter.  They looked at me really strangely but thankfully Andy had called it in earlier and they pulled out the correct tool.  Upon reflection, I guess a grass cutter would just be a law mower so that would explain the weird looks).  

Andy made two passes with the sod cutter so we got down a good 1” into the ground.  

We then went back and shoveled out another few inches so we had a nice sunken path to lay the gravel.  To help prevent weeds coming though, we cut and laid down weed mat.  

Wheelbarrow full by wheelbarrow full, we dumped and spread the extra gravel from the drive a good 3” deep down the pathway.

Immediately, we noticed a difference in the amount of dirt, mud and tree debris that was coming into the house.  It is also nice when we get a lot of rain so we don’t have to cross a lake to get to our cars.

Once we finished the paths, we used the sod cutter again to make a new garden bed between the driveway and the pathway.  Andy wanted to just gravel this whole area in but I thought it would be nice to have a garden area as a focal point to the “front” of the house.  We transplanted several plants from our house in DeKalb to make an instant garden!  

Andy cut up a stump to create a stepping path so we can also use this way to get to the door.  The kids love it! 

On the other side of the door, I transplanted some more plants from DeKalb and created a planter from an old bucket and stool I found in one of our outbuildings.

We still have plans to bust up the steps leading to the door and make a larger landing on the top step so it is more inviting and easier to get in the house with arms full of groceries and children.  We hope to do this over the summer.  For now, we are thrilled our update curb appeal!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How We Ended up with 26 Teenagers

We are three weeks into being chicken farmers and it is actually going really well!  I can’t say that we have learned a lot so far but we haven’t killed any yet, so that is something.  

Our 25 chickens arrived by mail three weeks ago.  In my 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a surreal experience as I did when I was handed a box of chirping wild things from the amused postal worker.  The kids were delighted on sight while I was immediately second guessing our decision.  Well, you can’t really return chicks so we took them home with fingers crossed.

We had ordered 15 Cornish Cross chickens which are yellow and meant for butchering and 10 egg layers; a mix of Black Astralorp and Barred Rock.  We got one extra black one so we ended up with 26 chickens.  I imagine they throw an extra one in in case one perishes during transport.  

One important tip I got before we got the chicks was to take each bird out of the box individually and place their beaks into the water bowl then set the chick down by the water.  They are too stupid to often find the water by themselves and will die if they don’t get water quickly.  I took each chick out, counting with E (which is how we discovered the extra bird), stuck their beak in the water then set them down.  

After making sure they were secure, we left them to be for a bit to acclimate.  I checked on them 15 minutes later and discovered that most were huddled under the heat lamp.  This is a sign that the lamp needs to be lowered, so I moved it down a few inches and the chicks then started milling about.

The first week, the chicks had their food trough and water bowl refilled in the mornings.  In general, neither were empty but just needed refreshing.  By week two, the chicks were already grown enough to widen their ring by a few feet.  We laid down new bedding on top of the old to fill the empty spaces the widening of the ring created.  At this point, the chicks needed new food and water in the morning and in the evening.  Right now, they are in their awkward teenage phase, growing feathers which are reminiscent of teenage acne.  The yellow ones are especially deranged looking; the blacks all have their feathers now and look pretty cute.

Now at week three, we have upgraded to the larger feed trough and are getting a larger waterer as soon as we make it to the store.  They have almost gone through the huge bag of starter feed we purchased when they first came.  We also had to widen their ring another few feet to accommodate their rapid growth.  By now, the yellow chickens are almost twice the size of the blacks and will be ready to butcher in about 5 weeks!  It truly is amazing to see how rapid they grow- even in the time of checking on them in the morning to night you can see a difference!

A friend came by and checked the chickens and said they all looked great and was shocked we hadn’t lost any.  Though, he warned us to not be surprised if we walk in one day and find a chicken flat on their back.  Apparently, they grow so rapidly, it is not uncommon to have one die from a heart attack.  Seriously!  What is more gruesome than that!?!  We are not aggressively feeding the broilers, so hopefully this will not be an issue for us.

Yesterday, Andy went with our previous chicken supplier to arrange for butchering with an Amish family nearby.  Though Andy REALLY wanted to do the butchering himself, I didn’t want the bloodbath on the farm and though killing is pretty easy, the cleaning and plucking was not appealing.  This Amish family takes the live chickens in the morning (imagine us, driving our mini van with 15 full grown chickens in a cage in back, YIKES!) and returns them in evening, cleaned and individually bagged.  To prepare for all these chickens, we purchased a second freezer for the basement.  

E helped us shop for the freezer and asked what it was for.  

I said, “For the chickens.”  

She replies, “Mom!  They will get cold in there.”

Me… trying to decide how in depth with this I want to get in the middle of the Home Depot. “Well, when they get a little bigger, they will be killed for us to eat.”

Esther, “No! I don’t want my yellow chickens to be killed.”  ::hysterical crying::

I tried to explain that the black ones would be staying with us and we would get to collect and eat their eggs and then I went for the tactic of this is where our food comes from, don’t you want us to make chicken nuggets from our chickens.  Well, nothing got through to the hysterical child in the back seat of the car so I finally had to say, let’s move on for now and discuss it later.

Fast forward a few days after a McDonalds run.  

Esther:  “I guess you can turn my chickens into chicken nuggets.”

Phew!  Crises averted.