Day 499: The chickens have voted.

I was mousing around yesterday and came across a longevity calculator. Answer forty questions (food, meds, history,…) and find out how much longer the insurance boys bet you’re going to live. Apparently for me, 500 more days – give or take.

porch1We have a modest little farmhouse on six acres of wooded New Hampshire mountainside that we maintain for the benefit of two dogs, three cats, four Mallards, five Pekins, six hens a layin’, seven sugar gliders, and a partridge in a pear (and apple and cherry and peach) tree.

When we first moved in five years ago the electric service in the barn looked like little Tommy Edison’s first show and tell project – rusty knife switches, bare wires screwed to the wall, ancient fuse holders. Indoor plumbing wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye when the house was built. We had a two-seater built over buckets that were hauled down the hill when they got full.

graniteWe heat with wood from our own property. While splitting cordwood yesterday I wondered what to do with those final 500 days. That’s a long time for some things but not so much for others. The good news is I’m at my best when I have a deadline.

Gathering eggs this morning I had a thought. Maybe I could keep an online diary – shedding the corporate yoke, living small, things I like, some I don’t. I asked the hens what they thought. I could tell from the way some tilted their heads they approved.

The chickens have voted and I always trust the collective wisdom of the clueless – it’s the American way. I raced back to my computer and made my first entry – cordwood, calculator, eggs, voting. Easy peasy. I’ll be done in no time.

snow-deckCLICK HERE to start at the beginning and work your way forward in time. (The postings below are most recent date first.)

I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment at the end of anything that tickles your fancy or raises your hackles.

Enjoy.

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Day 498: Who wants a cookie?

It’s the middle of the night, we have a foot of snow around the house, and it’s 7° outside. Delphine is in Albuquerque for her mom’s funeral and I’m lying in bed, au naturel, trying to sleep. That’s not normally how to start a good story, but it gets better.

Delphine, my partner, tends to take the lead with our critters. I help out, of course, but she’s the pack leader, the one most comfortable with feeding and cleaning and such. Keeping track of two dogs, three cats, a hen house full of chickens, five sugar gliders, and a six foot tank of fish is no mean feat for an amateur like me. Who gets what vitamins when, how much of this, how little of that, scooping poop – all I really have down pat are evenings in front of the wood stove with everyone snuggling on the sofa and an occasional admonition to doggie Kendal when he tries to hump a cat.

dolce-face-fur-300Late yesterday I’m letting the dogs out for their final pee of the evening. Suddenly Dolce, our old Maine Coon cat, darts out past my feet. In the warmer months she’s an outdoor cat responsible for the mouse and chipmunk carcasses on our driveway. In the winter we keep her indoors at night lest she freeze solid. Of course she thinks we’re punishing her and makes a prison break every chance she gets. She has a thick gray coat, but it’s twenty-five degrees below freezing out there and sometimes the rules make sense.

I do my best to lure Dolce back into the house. No success. I ask myself what Delphine would do. I try, “Who wants a cookie?” until I’m sure any neighbors within earshot think it’s time to institutionalize me. Nothing works. Around midnight I give up and go to bed.

I can’t sleep. An hour later I get up, go downstairs to the kitchen, and shout out the door “Who wants a cookie?” No results. Back to bed. I repeat the exercise at 2:00 with no effect other than freezing my private parts in the icy air.

I finally drift off only to be awakened 3:00 by a faint whimper from somewhere outside. Dolce usually likes to huddle under the generator shed where the “Cookie?” call can be heard. But it occurs to me that she might be around the back deck waiting for the workshop door to open. I really don’t want to leave my warm bed but a second whimper gets me moving.

I put on my slippers, go downstairs to the kitchen, get the dogs all excited with one more “Who wants a cookie?” (We do! We do!) out the kitchen door, and head for the workshop. Door open, more icy air on private parts, “Cookie? Cookie?”, and no Dolce. On my way back to bed a wave of guilt makes me turn around and repeat everything one last time. Still no Dolce.

Freezing, I head back upstairs to bed where it occurs to me that Dolce might be waiting at the back cellar door. It’s been a long day and I need sleep. There’s no way I’m going to walk down and up two flights of stairs and drag myself twice the length of the house in my birthday suit to let her in through the cellar. She’ll just have to tough it out.

So a few minutes later I open the back cellar door and offer cookies to a different set of neighbors. I see a black blur dash past my feet. Oh no! Not only is Dolce spending the night in the deep freeze, but now Eowyn, one of our young indoor cats, is on the lam.

eowynEowyn has only been outside three or four times in her whole life. She’s a tiny, black and white, short-haired embodiment of mischief that we rescued from a shelter. She doesn’t have a chance in weather like this. Delphine, hurry home!

Fortunately I’m wearing slippers. Unfortunately, that’s all I’m wearing. I head out into the snowy backyard chanting “Cookie! Cookie!” hoping that no one happens to be looking out a window. At least it’s a dark night and I’m running around in shadows – until the motion detector sees me and two spotlights turn on.

I see Eowyn under the deck. She sees me and darts up under the workshop. “Cookie! Cookie!”

It’s 7° and I’m leaping around naked in the snow shouting “Cookie!” to two cats who want nothing to do with me. Dolce might survive the night, but Eowyn isn’t wearing enough fur. This is my responsibility and I’m blowing it. I try to think about what I’m going to tell Delphine when I pick her up from the airport in a few days. No thought comes.

Defeated, I head back into the cellar, brush snow from my shoulders, lock the door behind me, open it twice more for a feeble “Cookie!” call, and finally go upstairs to the kitchen.

By now doggies Kendal and Chase are confused. They sit, twirl, and otherwise do their tricks waiting for the promised cookies to show up. I send them out the kitchen door with “Go find Eowyn and I’ll give you a cookie!” which they almost certainly hear as “Blah blah blah blah blah cookie!”  They look back at me through the kitchen door with expressions that say, “Hey – it’s cold out here. And where are the cookies?”

As I let the dogs back in I see Eowyn dart across the bottom of the porch steps. She’s made it all the way from the cellar door, under the deck, under the workshop, under the kitchen porch, and out the gap in the lattice the dogs use to get to their run. “Cookie! Cookie!” She’s on an adventure and wants no part of me. I step out on to the kitchen porch to entertain a different set of neighbors with my frozen private parts. Eowyn is nowhere to be found.

Back in the kitchen. What to do? Nothing to do. Even fully clothed in good weather there’d be no way I could catch either Dolce or Eowyn in the open if they didn’t want to be caught. I have visions of discovering them as the snow blower shoots frozen cat bits into the air. This is calamity. Where are you Delphine?

I turn off the kitchen light and secure the kiddie gate that keeps the dogs from roaming the house when I see Eowyn outside peeking around the corner at the bottom of the porch steps. Enough with the cookie promises. I need a real cookie and I need it now.

I open the refrigerator and grab the first thing I see – a slice of pepperoni. Out on the porch I hold it out to Eowyn. “Cookie! Cookie! Yummy. Pepperoni.”

She’s undecided, starts to run away and then looks back at the pepperoni. Pepperoni, freedom; freedom, pepperoni. She takes a step in my direction – and then another. Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! I’m holding the pepperoni out and backing up into the house. She’s following. She’s in! I slam the door shut.

The dogs are watching this with great interest. I flip the pepperoni to Eowyn. Kendal and Chase look at me with “Where’s mine?” expressions. I flip them each a pepperoni slice and head to bed.

6:30 I’m up. I head down to the kitchen and look out on the porch. There sits Dolce proudly displaying a stiff little mouse by her side as a trophy for the night’s hunt, waiting to come in for breakfast. I cook up a big pot of oatmeal, fill five bowls for the cats and dogs, and save a little for myself. I’ve earned it.

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Day 382: Shopping spree.

If I thought I’d save a bunch of money on gasoline with my Prius C, it’s nothing compared to what I’ll save on lumber. I can’t fit a single 2×4 into my pretty new ride.

I assumed I’d get a roof rack for the Prius and still be able haul a few of a homestead’s necessities (plywood, a section of stockade fence,…). No such luck. It turns out there are air-bags mounted all along the sides of the roof that won’t take kindly to having a bolt pushed through them.

I moused around and asked around and it looks as if my choice comes down to a clip-on affair that catches the edge of the door opening. Etrailer.com was the only place I found that claimed to actually have mounting clips designed specifically for the Prius C. Somewhere between here and Missouri there is now a UPS driver making his way to Greenville to support my 2×4 habit. Home Depot and Lowes are providing armed escorts for the UPS truck to make sure it arrives safely.

In the meantime we have Jean showing up tomorrow to help with some of the more demanding chores (like ones where you have to close your fingers all the way without screaming from arthritic joints!). It would be nice if we had some of the material we needed actually on site when he showed up.

Delphine and I rose early this morning and hopped into her brand spanking new Prius C and got 68 MPG (68!) on our way to Home Depot to be first in line to rent their truck (they have only one). On the way I called the local Shelter Logic dealer to see what his hours were. Voice mail. No hint of whether or not the store would be open while we had the truck. I had checked their web site earlier and it also had no hours posted so I left a message expressing my disappointment.

Two sheets of plywood, sixteen 2x3s, fifteen 40-pound bags of wood pellets, a 50-pound bale of wood shavings, three remarkably heavy twelve-foot 2x12s, four eight-foot pressure treated 4x4s, screws, nails, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, we decided to skip the partridge for now because our pear trees are just getting buds.)

As we stood in line to pay for all the things that wouldn’t fit into my Prius (did I mention 68 MPG?) I got a call on my cell phone. It was the Shelter guy. He wasn’t usually open on weekends but he’d be happy to meet me at his store in an hour.

Delphine went back to Greenville to get Jean started and I drove to the Shelter dealer in a truck overflowing with big things. One 10 x 16 shelter with extra duty canvas please. The dealer muscled four large cartons on to the growing mountain in back of the truck.

Jean and I unloaded the truck and I started him in on using the 4x4s to create a level base for the shelter. With all of the land we have, finding a relatively flat surface big enough to hold a 10 by 16 structure is surprisingly difficult. We decided on a space six feet in back of the barn. One row of 4x4s would be dug into the ground and the other would float eight inches in the air (on rocks) to compensate for the slope.

I brought the truck back to Home Depot (8 MPG) and Delphine took us back to Greenville (58 MPG). I know. You’re wondering why we got 68 MPG going to Home Depot and only 58 MPG coming home. It took me a little while to figure that one out myself. Turns out Greenville is about 1100 feet higher in elevation than Nashua. Going is always more efficient than coming.

Back to the shelter. I laid out a piece of plywood on two sawhorses and we began pulling parts out of boxes. Gray steel tubes by the dozens, bags and bags of bolts and nuts, strap tighteners, heavy plastic coated canvas, mean looking augers – and an instruction booklet.

The basic idea is that you’re building a metal frame over which you’ll stretch a waterproof canvas using nylon strapping and ratchets. There are so many similar-looking parts that following the directions is critical. It might be even more critical if the instructions were accurate.

The first few pages show drawings of a four piece rounded arch of pipe. For no particular reason, after that the instructions show drawings of a five piece arch – as if we forgot to insert a section of pipe at the top. Unfortunately, the phantom piece shows up after you’ve screwed together the whole structure so that you get to spend fifteen minutes with this sick feeling that you’ll have to take it all down and start over. A small amount of encouragement comes from searching the boxes for the missing sections and not finding them. Either the manual is wrong or we’re missing parts. We won’t know until we put on the canvas.

I suspect the sick feeling from the imaginary missing part was engineered into the instruction booklet to prepare you for the fact that you will indeed have to take apart most of what you assembled because the instructions fail to mention that an overhead ridge pipe (not shown in the first several pages but definitely in the boxes) has to be added to the top (remove the top bolt and replace it with a longer one to hold the ridge pipe) and all those crossbars you installed on the sides (ten of them) have to be removed one at a time and threaded through a pocket in the canvas.

At this point I divided the labor with Jean: he took apart the crossbars to thread them through the canvas and I sat on a plastic chair and watched him do it – telling him what a good job he was doing from time to time to make the wasted effort seem not so disheartening. (It’s tough being a good manager.)

We got the frame up and one side of the canvas before we decided to call it a day. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be as nice as it was today. We’ll see.

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Day 389: Just looking.

For the last couple of years, on and off, I’ve been thinking about replacing my faithful old 2005 Caravan. $800 for brakes, a few sets of tie-rods, tires – it adds up. Now the car has been a real trooper and has hauled tons of wood stoves, and lumber, bags of gravel, and fencing over the years – but at some point the cost of repairs exceeds the resale value of the car. The guy who did my last inspection told me I’d need a new water pump and it looked as if my engine seal would eventually need replacement. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but the dollar signs lighting up in his eyes as he gave me his verdict were a little disconcerting. 130,000 miles is 130,000 miles. The car has aged better than I have but it really is time to think about retiring it. Maybe I can show it how to start a blog.

The question was what to replace it with. Used or new, new or used. Besides the cost, the idea that a used car might have me breaking down in the woods on a five degree evening on my 26 mile commute back from my consulting gig was unappealing. I had learned to interpret the groans and clicks from my Caravan – but a new used car meant learning a whole new set of signals.

Small or large, large or small. I was spending $60 a week on gas with my Caravan making the trip to H6. And that was at $3.60 a gallon. $4, $5, $6 a gallon and I might as well stay home. So small. Definitely small and efficient. Except when I needed to haul supplies. Then big and roomy sounded great. Small and large – maybe some kind of inflatable car.

We needed to load up on supplies from Costco. Delphine and I took my Caravan into Nashua and did our usual pass through buying things that were just too good to pass up. On our way back I suggested we stop at a Suzuki dealer near Costco to take a look at their cars. I’d seen some nice looking little Suzukis on the road and thought they might be worth considering.

We pulled into the car dealer with the Suzuki sign out front and were greeted by a salesman who informed us they were out of business. No, not just that dealer – no more new Suzukis were being sold. But he’d be happy to show us a Hyundai.

I wanted to see a Suzuki. Hyundais might be fine cars but I felt disappointed. We left. Delphine said there was a Scion dealer next door. She bought a Scion when she first moved to New Hampshire and she loved it. But with 140-thousand miles on it maybe she should be looking for a replacement too.

We drove into the Scion dealership. Six salesmen stood in the parking lot waiting for prey. A kid, twenty three tops, pointed to where I should park and followed us across the lot. We got out. He asked how he might help us. We’re just looking, just trying to get educated. We want to see what you have in the way of Scions. We’re not ready to buy anything. No sir – empty wallets. Just window shopping.

He didn’t look terribly pleased. He thought it was over there. We walked half the length of a long parking lot before we found the one and only Scion that dealer had. Apparently they were more like an un-dealer for Scion. The model they had wasn’t for us so we started back to our car. The salesman started his pitch. Turns out the Scion was positioned at the far end of the lot to give him several hundred feet to talk with us before we reached our own car.

Had we seen the Prius C? I said the hybrid prices were ridiculous. He said he had one for under twenty. Under twenty? Right here. I looked at the sticker. 52-MPG, $19,050. Hmm.

Can we drive one? Sure. Ten minutes later we’re exiting the parking lot in this virginal vehicle. No sound. It’s being propelled by magic. Some guy with a glowing wand is under the hood making it go forward. We take it on the highway and it does just fine. My days of laying rubber are long gone. The engine (or guy with the wand) fits my driving style perfectly.

I pull off the road and suggest that Delphine give it a try. She refuses. It’s as if the car is too nice. She’s worried that she’ll step on the accelerator and the thing will lift into the air. I insist. She takes the wheel. She’s giddy. She says, “I want one too!”

carsWe go back to kid-dealer. Yes, we liked it. We have a good sized downpayment but everything depends on the financing rate for the balance. We’re not going to pay 13%. By the by, we’ll take two if the rate is right. Delphine is bubbling. So is the salesman. This is his second week on the job and no one said anything in salesman’s class about selling two at a time.

He asks us to meet his finance manager. 1.99%. Sounds like a deal. The gas savings alone covers half the monthly payments.

We wait. And wait. And wait some more. The salesman finally shows up with a stack of forms to sign. One of them has me swear I am who I say I am. (And if I’m not???)

The salesman drives my brand new Prius C around front and parks it next to my Caravan. Will our Costco harvest fit in the new car? Just barely.

I put my key in the ignition and turn it. Nothing. It’s a brand new car and already it’s broken! Wait. I shift into reverse and it backs out of the space. Oh – electric motor at low speeds. No sound. This is going to take some getting used to.

We head home pressing this button and that trying to figure out what the various charts and graphs mean. 36-MPG, 52-MPG, 64-MPG – wheee! We get home and decide to take the car out for a spin up Barrett Hill to see what kind of mileage we get. How much does the battery charge when we coast downhill? Who cares where we’re going? 74-MPG! If I wait for a stiff wind from behind and open my doors…

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Day 417: Happiest creatures on Earth.

It was time. The ducks’ feathers were starting to come in and, frankly, we just couldn’t wait any longer. It was like having a great Christmas present for the kids and having to hold off for a few more weeks until the 25th.

I filled a plastic kiddie pool with a few inches of water and surrounded it with a coil of white picket fence. Delphine carried the Pekins one at a time from the brooder to the pool. It was the first time they had seen water anywhere outside their water dispenser. Here’s what happened.

If you don’t happen to speak Pekin, what the’re saying is, “YES!”

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Day 396: It’s back.

Yesterday evening, with four-hundred cable channels and not a single thing we wanted to watch, Delphine and I passed time thumbing through a book about keeping ducks and geese. We talked about the garden and moving our strawberry plants up on to a platform so we could pick fruit without getting on our hands and knees. Spring was on its way and visions of growing plants and critters danced in our heads. We stayed up until 3:00am chatting about the possibilities.

april-snowI woke at 6:30 this morning and looked out my bedroom window. Wrong color. Where yesterday there was a mat of flattened grasses getting ready for springtime resurrection, this morning there was snow. It’s April 13th – time to file taxes, time to buy seeds, time to plan where the cabbages will go. Snow!

Okay. It’s not much snow. I know I’m being a big baby about it. We probably won’t even have to shovel it. But it’s still white and cold and not at all what I was hoping to see when I looked out my window.

The featureless white sky reminded me of a trip we made in 1975 – thirty-eight years ago. I had just been hired by Digital Equipment as a senior group manager and we were moving from Datapoint in San Antonio up to Massachusetts. A few days earlier I had flown up to Boston with six-month old Vincent and left him with Felice’s sister to avoid the complications of changing diapers and warming formula on our trip. I flew back to San Antonio and helped Felice finish packing the car. Felice, two-year old Joseph, our toy fox terrier Augie, and myself squeezed into a Volvo station wagon packed to the roof with items we didn’t want to trust to movers on a grueling three-day trek.

I got my first (and only) speeding ticket about an hour outside of San Antonio. The tarp we used to cover luggage on the roof ripped and, after stopping in the breakdown lane to fix it, I watched helplessly as a flatbed truck carrying an extra wide house trailer swerved at the last second to miss our car (still holding Joseph and Felice) by inches. It hadn’t been a fun trip so far.

After three days on the road we were finally in Massachusetts. Little Joseph was napping in the back seat and Felice was at the wheel. The sky was the same color as the one I now see outside my bedroom window – gloomy white. Without warning a snow squall came up and enveloped the car. Visibility was reduced to a few feet and Felice slowed from seventy to about ten miles an hour.

I turned to see little Joseph in the back seat wake from the change in speed. When he was less than a year old we had moved from Manhattan to San Antonio. At nearly three-years old, this was his first snow.

He looked, rubbed his eyes, and looked again as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A huge smile filled his face. He knew what this was. He looked at me with the kind of pure delight only the face of a young child can fully express. Pointing out the window with both hands he said, “ICE CREAM!”

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Day 398: Have a cigar.

I was in our aviary last evening letting our sugar gliders inspect my ear canals for hidden treats and seeing how far up my pant legs they could climb before I talked them out. Usually everyone enjoys a good romp on the old gray-haired giant, but after doing a head count I realized Thyst, one of our females, was hanging back in the communal nesting bag.

joey5Peeling the sides of the bag down to see into the bottom, I discovered two sets of eyeballs looking back at me. I’m a grandpa (again). I reached in and gently lifted out of the bag Thyst and the teeny joey clinging to her back.

Thyst transferred her latest creation to me and leaped off my hand to see what was being served in the plastic dining room. The little newcomer, now clinging to my fingertips, decided he or she (we don’t know which one yet) preferred mommy to the hairless hand and started in on a squeaky version of the glider crabbing sound.

Fortunately, before returning the joey to the nest bag I had the presence of mind to whip out my iPhone and snap a picture for the baby book. Unfortunately, the camera decided to auto-focus on something it found more interesting than our new arrival and the picture came out a little fuzzy. I tried a second shot but must have accidentally touched some part of the screen I wasn’t supposed to. Apparently the camera thought I wanted to record a video and saved ten seconds of expletives over a closeup of my nose hairs as I tried to turn the thing back into a camera.

In the moment, the iPhone camera screen is too dark to read, icons like HDR Off are not helpful (what’s an HDR?), the indicator that switches between video and single shot is at the bottom of the screen while the other buttons are at the top so you have to be cross eyed to see both at once, the icon that looks as if the camera is doing the Twist isn’t helpful, there are too many places on the phone that a brush of the finger will unexpectedly start a cup of coffee brewing or invite Judy Collins to sing Bring in the Clowns while a picture of her album cover fills the screen – and like that.

Hey! I’m a techie. I helped create some of the technology that now tortures me. What’s going on? I guess these devices have become so feature rich that if you don’t use them every day (or at least once a week) you’re in a constant state of stumbling discovery (What happens if I turn HDR on? Why aren’t the same buttons on my screen today that I saw yesterday? Do they take Wednesdays off?)

In any case, Delphine and I are grandparents one more time. This is the third joey our gliders have produced and from the looks of the little bump in Grace’s pouch we may have another grandkid on the way. Frankly, we’re confused. We’ve lectured both Grace and Thyst about abstinence until we’re blue in the face. Just say no. Save yourself for the right man. Stay away from alcohol. Still the joeys come.

I’ve personally warned Harley about STDs. I told him he’s not just having sex with Thyst and Grace but with everyone they’ve had sex with. He says they were only joeys when they all moved into the aviary. I told him he’s responsible for supporting what he sires but he just seems to stare off into space and smile.

So we decided to put some of our little joeys up for adoption. Delphine pulled together a web page at JourneyGliders.com and we stuck an ad in CraigsList. It’ll be sad to see the little fellas go, but we don’t see much hope in keeping Harley on the straight and narrow as long as he’s sharing a nest with the gals every night. And besides, it gives politicians a new demographic to target. We hear they’re already looking for a mid-term candidate who speaks native glider.

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