Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Can


I Can.  Obviously that word carries a myriad of meanings, suggestions and allusions.  I can because I can.  I can take care of myself even when I'm sick for months on end because we thought ahead and prepared.  I can have decent, even decadent food to eat even when I don't feel like going to the store or out to eat.  We can have healthy snacks and side dishes any time with minimal effort.  I only wish I had felt better during the summer so I could have put up even more fresh food from our garden, but I did pretty good as it was.  This is just a portion of what I canned this past summer.  Lots of fresh fruit, jams, soup base, pickles, beans, peas and salsa!  Not to mention some frozen and cruciferous foods I have harvested from the garden during the winter or have in cold storage now.  I believe we'll have enough veggies and fruits to make it until fresh stuff starts coming in from the garden this spring.


I don't cook many desserts but a warm fruit cobbler on a cold winter's day is really nice and really easy too when you already have your own canned fruit ready.  I think I gave ya'll this recipe for Peach Cobbler with Blueberry Muffin Crust??  Holy Smokes, it is good!  I eeked out enough rhubarb that I think we'll soon have a Rhubarb/ Strawberry pie or cobbler. 


Maybe tonight even!  We got a fair snowfall today although I have seen much heavier.  Days like today make me VERY thankful that I can.  No trying to get to the store in this or having to remember to go way before it hits.  Or, as was the case this time, not going to the store ahead of time at all because they really didn't call for much of anything in our area.  Instead, we played in the snow a bit while a big pot of soup made from pantry goodies simmered in the crock pot! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Shaking The Tree



 When I first started building the house I was very selective, reluctant even, to take out any more trees than just absolutely necessary.   That's good in one respect because you have time to think about which ones you want to cut and don't end up with a giant bare lot.  However, it helps to make the decision within a reasonable amount of time because it sure is easier the smaller the tree.  Thinning out large trees can be a pain and they grow much faster than I think we realize.  So, Jack and I decided that this winter would be a good time to finally get rid of a few of these trees closest the house, before they got any more awkward to fell.  Now, I know some people are gonna squeak and fuss about cutting trees but sometimes you just have to.  Two of these are damaged anyway and one of those leans slightly towards the house.  The other two are sweet gums, which, if you are not familiar, are what we call "trash trees".  The wood is not good for much, they crowd out nice trees because they grow much faster and they put off these hard, spiny balls that are a pain, literally, if you step on one.  And lastly, having these trees removed will make backing a concrete truck up in that area much easier.  I still have those planter walls to pour in front of that concrete block you see.  I know it's taking forever but I will get to that one day!


 This large tulip poplar is pretty but it's the one that leans slightly towards the house and we really need to take it out first to be able to drop the ones over by the house.  Also, there is a maple just to the right of it that I really want to keep and the poplar is stunting it.  With the poplar gone the maple will get quite large and they are very pretty.  Jack has the ladder up there to hand saw off the lower limbs so that they would not hit the maple on it's way down.  He also attached a good strong rope to the poplar so I could pull and help it go in the direction we wanted.  Jack is pretty good at aiming a tree but it never hurts to help it along, especially when there are structures nearby you want to stay in one piece.  And yes, I made sure my rope was longer than the tree was tall!


Poplar is not the best firewood but it does work and it's a fairly clean burning wood.  Doesn't gum up the chimney like pine.  We'll, mix a stick in with oak or hickory to help those woods get hot fast.  Jack had the tree sectioned up in short order and I felt well enough to help drag some limbs out of the drive.  This tree was also one I had a bird feeder hanging in for years, so we had to relocate it.  I have one large pine on the front of the house that I am going to keep, so we moved it there and I think the birds really like that location better.  Maybe because an evergreen offers more coverage for them, they feel more secure?  Jack also hung it so that I can watch the birds from the bedroom when I wake up in the mornings and you can also see it from the couch in the living room, so that's nice. 



I know the photo is really crappy but i was shooting through a window with a screen on it.  You can see (maybe) one little woodpecker up on the suet block and several little sparrows (?) on the feeder.  Other regulars are cardinals, nuthatches, tufted titmouse and possibly a couple of goldfinch. 


And of course, the opportunistic, greedy chickens are never far behind.  They patrol under the tree like hungry sharks, just waiting for the occasional seeds the birds drop.  Anybody coming up would think we never feed these girls. 


I also forgot to close my cold frame the other day when I let the girls into the garden for winter clean up.  They quickly discovered my mistake and proceeded to dig to China.  I think they might have found a few bugs but mainly they thought it was the best place to dust bathe ever!  At one point, there were so many of them crammed in there they really couldn't even move around very well.  There was only a few remaining dregs of lettuce still planted, so it didn't really matter.  I let them have their fun for a few days but ran them out yesterday so I could plant a new batch of loose leaf.

So, our tree cutting is on hold for now.  The wind has really been horrendous these past couple of days and would make something like that potentially very dangerous.  I'm sure Jack doesn't mind the break anyway.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Big Iron



     Aha!!  I bet by now, you all had even forgotten about the "word" posts that I was supposed to be doing!  Uh-huh.  Well, that's okay.  I'll let it slide this time.  I can't blame you because I have been a terrible slacker.  But, I keep the list on my desk so I will get to them all at some point.  Well, anyway....the next word on the list is podger!!  And I would imagine that most of you, like myself, are like, Huh??  What the hell is that?  Leave it up to some smarty pants construction people to come up with something like that...heehee.  The tool of course, I knew, just not by that name.  Down here, we call this a spud wrench.  Podgers, or spud wrenches, are generally carried by ironworkers and used to help erect "red iron".  This is the term we use for the structural steel framework of a building that is usually coated with a red primer, although many times they will use grey.  Red iron just sounds better.  Red iron is welded in places but initially they bolt it together as the crane lifts each piece into place.  As you might can imagine, a 30 foot I-beam swinging from a crane is not incredibly easy to control by a person standing only on an 8 inch wide beam 60 feet in the air.  Suspended in such a manner, the beam actually swings quite easily, but getting the bolt holes to line up just right is time consuming and a good way to mash your fingers off (literally), thus the pointed end on this tool.  It's easy to ram that end through the misaligned holes, as long as they are somewhat together, and as the pointed end is pushed through, it draws the holes in line.  The bolts can then be placed in the other, now aligned holes, the podger removed and that hole bolted.  It's also a great pry bar.  A coordinated ironworker can move pretty fast with one of these.  This particular spud wrench is fairly large (for me) at about 20 inches and it has, as you can see, a fixed open end.  Many spud wrenches are adjustable just like a large Cresent wrench.  I honestly have no idea where I got this one and have rarely used it.  Tools like this were usually supplied to us on the job and as I was not a full-fledged, regular ironworker I did not keep my own.  Allen has an adjustable one that we use more often, as you might imagine.  So, there is your lesson for the day.  Haha!


     I haven't told ya'll a funny work story in some time so I thought this one kinda went with the post.  I don't think I've told this one but if I have just pretend you've never heard it.  In my construction career, I actually worked more as a carpenter probably but did do a fair amount of steel work on our jobs and the last job I did was solely as a welder.  I did hang a little "red iron" but mostly I was there to weld up the structural steel that held pre-cast concrete and stone panels.  As you might also imagine, this is some pretty hefty steel to be able to hold that much
weight.  The steel is also not bolted up but welded directly to steel plates embedded in the underside and edges of the concrete floor slabs.  The vertical pieces were only about 3-4 feet long, and I could handle those myself but the horizontals were very heavy and they would set those for me with a machine.  Well, this was a crap job.  I was supposed to have another welder helping me but that boy never could get his act together and ending up leaving because of an off the job injury.  Even with another welder there was no way I could hang all that steel by myself (also the elevators, handrails and much other misc.) in the time frame they wanted.  I was somewhat flattered in their confidence, or whatever, but no way, no how.  So, they ended up hiring a steel subcontractor to come in and help.  I had the pre-cast on the back of the building and this group of 5 men had the steel on the front.  To be fair, they did have more to hang than me. ha!  Now, for near 20 years, through chance or design, I had worked a great deal by myself.  When I truly needed help I could get it; I never moved a piece a steel that was too much, but if I could handle it myself I preferred it that way.  And, when you work by yourself (whether you're a man or woman), you learn how to move things and hold stuff the smart way because it's not physically possible to manhandle it.  The high art of wedging, cantilevering, prying and clamping come in handy.  So.  I was chugging along the back, hanging my steel like all get out.  I would put a heavy board across the handrails of my lift bucket and then wedge the vertical piece of steel between that board and the embed it welded to.  I had my layout marked on the embeds already so I just tapped the steel with a hammer to get it on spot and to plumb it up.  Magnetic levels are very handy too!  I'd tack that off and then move back, clamp the diagonal brace off to my first piece and just hold the other end until I tacked it.  Easy Peasy.  Double check my plumb and then hard weld everything.  I only needed help after I got all my vertical/ diagonals hung and one of the guys would hold the 30 foot or so horizontal angle up to them with a Lull.  I'd tack weld it on grade, he leave and then I'd finish.  Piece of cake.  So, the new steel crew came out and started on the front.  And this was no rookie crew.  You could tell by looking at them they were seasoned ironworkers.  Well, their first day I came through the building for lunch and I noticed that 3 of those men were crammed into the basket of one man-lift.  Now, that is highly illegal in OSHA's book and our foreman over the steel had a fit when he saw them.  "What in the world are ya'll doing??  Why do you need 3 men in that one spot??"  They stomped and fussed.  "Well, what do you expect??  Got to have one to hold, one to plumb it and one to weld!!!"  Now, Nick, one of our younger foreman at the time, usually goes into a battle of wits unarmed, but the construction gods were kind to him on that day.  An evil, joyous smile quickly spread over his face.   "Well, I'll tell ya'll what..." Nick drawled, barely able to control his glee but trying to feign a serious air. "I got a woman welder around back that's hanging all her steel by herself....I'll go get her to show ya'll how to do it."  Nick said a look of sheer horror came over that steel foreman.  "Hell no! No, no, no!!  Naw, we can figure it out!!  Nick insisted it would be no trouble, that I was a very nice lady and don'tcha know she won't mind a bit but they would have none of it.  Haha!  Imagine that.  I was in the trailer eating lunch with the other guys when Nick came running in to relay the story.  He was laughing so hard we almost couldn't understand him but eventually we all got a huge kick out of that.  He told me later that day he saw two of the welders peeking around the corner of the building to see just how I was doing it on my own.  Of course, every time I passed them after that I made sure to smile big and wave.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Strange Changes

     Well, I would really like to post that my health issues are clearing up and everything is getting back to normal with many posts about future projects and work coming up.  However, that sadly is not the case and I feel bad about continuing to come here writing about the same old stuff.  But then, I feel that maybe I should just make myself write about anything to keep from falling into a state of apathy.  I have ideas, stories, pictures..but when I sit down I find myself just staring blankly at the screen.  Nothing seems relevant.  The incredible brain fog I was having has lifted to a fair extent but that reprieve has only been replaced by more pain, coughing and nausea.  I can stand a fair amount of pain but nausea is something I just can't stomach.  Ha!!  At least I can still make corny jokes.  Thank God for that and Zofran.
     I had read in the past and heard from others that extended illnesses can make the person feel extremely isolated and I would have to agree.  People just don't like being around sick people and in a way you can't blame them.  I suppose that is one reason I insist on continuing this connection.  It affords me some contact with others and lets me give Jack some relief. 
     There is also some benefit to this situation in that it gives me lots and lots of time to think about stuff I want to do without my normal headlong rush into things before I've fully thought it out.  Of course, I'm sure I'll still screw up plenty when I do get back to working but I have put lots of thought, scribblings and sketches into various projects that I think will be very successful when I'm done with them.  I normally work quite a lot on the trial and error method; I don't always know exactly how something is going to be when I start working, so I think this extended planning time will be beneficial.  Or that's what I'm going to tell myself anyway. 
     We survived the hideous cold without much ado and the past couple of days have been gorgeous, near 60 F.  They are forcasting a little snow in a couple of days though.  Such is the South.  I putter around the garden and clean house.  I managed to erect a little screen around my brussel sprouts and so have let the chickens into the garden.  They appreciate the last remaining greenery and new areas to search for bugs but they are still not above begging for treats whenever I go out.  Numerous seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and I really need to go through my inventory and see what needs restocking.  I suspect many of my seeds are really out of date and need to do a good culling also.  Maybe that would be a good project for tomorrow.  It's supposed to be rainy again.  We had a wonderful, prolonged thunderstorm roll through in the wee hours a couple of days ago, or so Jack said.  Anti-nausea med caused me to sleep completely through it unfortunately.  I know many who do not enjoy storms but I have always loved those stormy pre-dawn hours.  It is pure bliss to lie in a warm bed watching the lightning accompanied by the swells of rain on a metal roof.  I suppose my perverted pleasure comes from all those cold, stormy mornings I had to get up and drive to a muddy jobsite in the dark, only to be told a couple hours later we were rained out.  Oh, on really bad days we could just stay home but if you opted to go in you at least got "driving time" and sometimes they could come up with enough inside stuff that you could make a day.  Having once been a job clerk I could often work on those days helping the boss with paperwork.  Ha! I guess that was another reason to like stormy mornings; easy work for carpenter pay. 
     Welp, guess that's all for now.  Oh, the doctor from UAB/ Kirklin is still trying to help me figure this thing out.  Cool, huh?  I suppose if anybody can it'd be those people.  I'm not even going to try anymore to make any guesses about what's going on.  I think he has an idea though and I will probably go in for another test or two before long but that's all I got to say about that.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Big Freeze


I guess the big news on many blogs, especially those of a homesteading or gardening nature, is the recent COLD!  Now, I know many of my readers live in such places as North Dakota, Minnesota, Maine and heck, even Russia, so ya'll don't be laughing at me.  7 F. (-13 C.) is COLD to us down here in the south.  I don't wanna even think about what it's like up in those previously mentioned places.  Even though those are lovely places I'm sure, I couldn't live there for love nor money.
At any rate, it's warming up now to a balmy 24 F. (-4 C.) tonight but we did dip way into the single digits the past 2 nights.  In fact, we've stayed below freezing, even in the day, since Sunday night.  It is fairly unusual for us to get this cold but certainly not unheard of.  I remember times of single digit temps all through my life even.  I just wish we got the snow; at least it'd be pretty.  But, for us to get this cold it usually takes no cloud cover, so, no precipitation.
We did a little more winterizing on a few things but for the most part we were already prepared for the cold coming.  The main thing we had to work on was keeping water for the animals.  We don't have heated waterers for the birds so we just had to change out their water a few times a day.  We keep one big tub of water out in the yard for all the animals; Chigger, the cat and the chickens but it was useless.  You can see one big chunk of ice from that I'm holding in the photo above.  We have extra waterers for the hens so we just kept some in the basement warming and when the outside ones came close to freezing we would just switch.  We also ran a little heat from an oil-filled heater in the hen house.  Those type heaters are pretty safe because the surface just doesn't get that hot but it keeps the hen house just above freezing.  I know a lot of people say don't give chickens any additional heat but ours are just not used to cold like that and many of them have combs that can get frostbite.  Besides, the coop only stays at about 33-34 F. so that's really not that warm.  In fact, one day, even with the little heater running, we could not keep the house above freezing for them.  Of course, it's harder to do with the little door open but they didn't seem to mind, they were more interested in being outside as you can see.  I had pulled virtually everything from the garden, except for the brussel sprouts, in advance of the cold so it was okay to let them in to see what they could find.  The sprouts are under the blue tarp there and I just closed the lid on the cold frame etc. to keep them from eating anything we wanted.  You can see there is still some greenery in the garden, some grasses and such that they really enjoy.  It was frozen on this day but they pecked at it anyway.  Wasn't much scratching going on because the ground was way too hard but they found plenty to forage on and they will continue to distribute some mulch and compost piles for me.


Watching them walk around on that frozen ground with their little ol' bare feet just makes me hurt though!  And of course, if I sat down near them Susie and PeePee would run to get in my lap.  Those two are not dumb.  They know they can warm their feets in short order sitting on me.  I don't mind it either because they warm me in return.
We have a dog door on the basement so Chigger and the cat can come and go as they please when they want to warm up etc.  I figured Chigger would be in there by the fire constantly, like the cat was, but she insisted on staying out with the chickens.  I told Jack I might have to break down and get her a sweater because she was sitting out there just a-shivering, doing her guard dogging.  She will go into the basement when we do but she usually won't stay when we leave.  She does however, sleep there at night after the chickens are put up.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

In A Nutshell

 A few days ago I was actually feeling well enough to do a little hiking/ walking so Chigger and I set out for the trail that leads to the top of the ridge behind the house.  We didn't make it to the top mind you, but that wasn't really what I had in mind anyway.  It goes up on one end of my property and about halfway up you can take the deer trails over to the west and come down right behind the house.  One of these days I'll actually make some clear, formalized trails but for now you kinda just follow intuition.  Anyways, I remembered that there were 3, big, hardwood trees not too far off the main trail we cleared that had been downed by a storm and I wanted to see just how much trouble it would be to get to them.  The fate of the trees is a bit of a mystery.  They are large, healthy hardwoods, well, except for one that was completely hollow, but they were all just snapped right over about 15 feet above the ground and they all fall in the same direction.  It was obviously a storm that did it but the type of storm is what gets me to wondering.  See, the trees grow on the side of a small mountain that is very, very rocky, so, high winds just normally blow the trees over, roots and all.  And, they almost always fall in the opposite direction that these fell.  It was a fairly recent event also (within a year) as the trees still bear dead leaves.  I took Jack up to the trees later and he agreed that it would be a reasonable effort to cut as much of it as we can for firewood.  Our old John Deere mower, now just a bitty tractor, can make it up the hill on our trail, even pulling it's wagon, so we would just have to carry the wood a little ways.  I came on back to the house to rest a bit while Jack started cutting some of the limbs and not too much later he came down the hill with yet another mystery....  Amongst the leaves and limbs of the trees he found this:



Now, that side of my property does connect to a subdivision but that thing is a ways down a pretty steep hill.  I suppose some crazy dog could have toted this coconut way up there and dropped it but it had no chew or teeth marks in it.  So, how did an intact coconut get way out in the middle of nowhere on the side of a ridge??  You may remember back in 2010? when we had those really bad tornadoes that tore up many places.  We found probably 2 pickup loads worth of debris scattered across my land, some of which is still way up on the higher elevations because it is just so hard to get down.  I found numerous items from Tuscaloosa and areas over 100 miles from here.  Maybe there were flying coconuts that night too??  Who knows?? 

Well, in other news, we have harvested just about everything but the brussel sprouts out of the garden and I am slowly feeding the spent plants to the girls.  They really go nuts over the stuff!  They stripped one of the cabbage plants so fast it looked like feathered piranha going after it!  The greens really add some good vitamins to their winter diet though and it really doesn't cost us anything.  Before too long I will be able to screen my brussel sprouts off and just let them into the garden to forage, dig and poop to their hearts content.  They do a great job of cleaning and preparing the garden for spring.


And we can tell the days are starting to get just a tad longer again...We are getting more eggs!  I was excited to see we got all of the colors today.  The browns, white, aquas and olive.  It's funny, the olive colored egg is laid by Marilyn, our all white Ameraucana.  I really thought she might lay a pale pink or blue egg.  Oh well, shows you what I know.