Country Living Series

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hittin' the Big Apple

Here's Older Daughter and her dear friend GG, who finally connected in the Big Apple. It was Older Daughter's first excursion into the city.

Older Daughter's difficulties in being so far away from home are greatly eased by the closeness of GG. They're only a couple hours apart by train. These two girls have practically grown up together and their friendship is a treasured thing.

Incidentally Older Daughter said people could tell in a moment they were not "native" to New York City. I blame their country clothes and country manners -- and believe me, that's not a criticism!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tea and snow

During last summer's long hot days, we often longed for snow and looked forward to the first snow fall. Today we got it.

Yesterday Don split a good-sized stack of firewood, which he and Younger Daughter stacked on the porch.

A flock of quail took over the driveway.

Today it's snowed lightly since before dawn. Not much by way of accumulation, but very pretty.

I kept the camera handy when I let the chickens out of the coop early this morning. This is because it's always funny to watch the birdies with their first snowfall. Most of our flock was born in June so they've never seen the white stuff.

The treated the snow with the deepest of suspicion and refused to venture forth.

An hour later, one or two brave ones tiptoed outside...

...but most stayed huddled under their coop awning, bewildered by what all this white stuff was.

I caught this young calf just ... staring, fascinated. He's never seen snow either.

Patient Matilda, upon being released from the barn, simply stood and looked. Another winter, she's doubtless thinking.

A small flock of turkeys minced by. Be careful, guys. Thanksgiving is near.

The quail we saw yesterday left a maze of dainty complex tracks.

Younger Daughter decided to go walking, with tea. Tea and snow. No finer combination, she concluded.

The surrounding area looked very picturesque.

You can see just the very tip of our house.

Tea. Yes, a cup of tea sounds like a dandy idea for the first snowfall of the season.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Windstorm 2015

As you all know, the Inland Northwest area was hard-hit by a windstorm on Tuesday, November 17. In fact, it was hit so hard -- hurricane-force -- that news people are now calling it (in suitably ominous tones) ... WINDSTORM 2015 (insert scary music).

But in fact this windstorm was no laughing matter. Three people died. It was the magnitude that caught nearly everyone unawares. We had brief warning of the storm's imminent arrival on Monday evening, so Tuesday morning I did laundry and we went around battening down hatches. As the day progressed, the wind got stronger and stronger. We have a number of dead trees in the feedlot, unnervingly close to the barn, that ironically we had scheduled to be felled by a professional (licensed and bonded) arborist on Friday. We called and postponed the appointment, since every arborist in the region is currently slammed with work, cleaning up serious issues.

Besides the dead tree that fell conveniently across the compost pile...

...we only lost a few smaller dead trees in our woods, so it wasn't a big deal.

The same can't be said for Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, or any other community in the region. Hundreds of trees came down. Power poles -- not just lines, but poles -- snapped all over the place. Almost the entire region was left without power ranging from a few hours to even now. Avista Utilities, which supplies power to much of Spokane, is calling this the worst disaster in its 125+ year history.

The effect on many urban dwellers was nothing short of devastating. Intersections were snarled with no traffic lights. Many streets -- some of them major arterials -- were blocked by downed trees and/or downed power lines. Lots of homes got smashed by falling trees or branches. To top it off, temperatures dropped to 20F, making a lot of people very very cold.

I can't even begin to express how thankful we are for the power crews who have been working in 18-hour shifts to restore power to everyone. Crews are coming in from many other states as well as Canada. The gratitude which should be extended toward these hard-working people (as well as emergency responders) can't be underscored enough.

We lost power at 6 pm Tuesday evening. Rather to our surprise, it was restored at 4 pm Friday afternoon. I say "surprise" because we're in such a small corner that I thought we'd be just about last on the list. As of this posting there are still around 55,000 customers in Spokane without power.

Needless to say, this was an excellent test of our preps and a way to determine our strengths and weaknesses. Almost instantly, the biggest weakness manifested itself: water.

We had plenty of water for household use in storage, about 50 gallons. This gave us ample amounts for frugal dishwashing, spot baths, drinking, and flushing. It did not, however, give us any water whatever for the livestock. Remember, we now have 23 head of livestock (we have three cow/calf pairs for sale as well as several animals slated for butchering, so we're livestock-heavy at the moment). It was imperative to keep the beasties watered. Livestock water became our overriding preoccupation for the duration of the outage.

Thankfully some friends with a solar system had enough juice on sunny days to power their well pump, so we brought barrels over and filled them.

We then siphoned these into a low tank. We use the low tank instead of the high tank because otherwise the calves wouldn't be able to reach the water when the other animals drank it down too far.

To fill the tub in the barn stall where Matilda, Amy, and Hector spend the night, I used a can to dip out of a barrel to fill a bucket...

...which I then used to fill the tub.

However as I was doing this on the second day, I heard the ominous sound of water leaking out. Turns out the plastic tub had developed a crack. With water so precious, there was no time to lose -- I snatched the rubber tub normally used for outside water for the chickens, knocked the ice out, and dipped the water from the blue plastic tub into the rubber tub. That's it, no more plastic tubs for me. Next time I'm in a livestock supply store, I'm getting a selection of rubber tubs. They last FAR longer.

With nights well below freezing, we were tasked with keeping the water in the barrels from freezing. Don rustled up sufficient insulation to keep one barrel wrapped (it worked). The other barrels -- well, we brought them into the house.

In all other areas, however, we fared very well.

Our biggest gratitude was having the woodstove and firewood. In this respect, nothing whatever changed regarding our comfort level -- we continued heating the house as usual.

Our kitchen stove is propane and does not require an electric starter, so we were able to heat water and cook as normal. In this photo, I'm about to put sausage rolls and cinnamon crust (for dessert) into the oven.

(As I prepared to clean off the bread board, I noticed this little doodle in the flour by artistic Younger Daughter.)

For dishes, I heated water in the kettle and distributed the boiling water (mixed with cool water) into the dishpan and a separate rinsing bowl.

The toilet worked fine -- we followed the standard "If it's yellow, it's mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy, and kept a plastic bag handy for used toilet paper. This kept our use of water for flushing purposes at a minimum. We were also prepared to transition to a bag-lined bucket (using sawdust for "burial" purposes) as necessary.

Filling the kerosene lamps was an afternoon task. We kept three lamps for evening use, along with a hurricane lamp for the chicken coop (see below) and two extra lamps in reserve in case our neighbors needed them.

Chickens don't seem to want to go into a coop at night unless there's a light to attract them (these guys aren't too bright). So I hung a hurricane lamp from a ceiling hook in the coop at dusk. The chickens obediently went inside over a period of time.

When they were all in and settled, I blew out the lamp.

Younger Daughter has a tank with goldfish, who were soon gasping for air in the absence of their pump. So she filled two gallons jugs with water from the barrels and brought them into the house to warm to room temperature, which she then poured into the aquarium. This worked fine and the fish were comfortable.

The cold weather, while brutal for those without wood heat, proved useful in one regard...

...namely, food preservation. We simply emptied the contents of the fridge outside and lost nothing (but did give me the excuse to clean the fridge).

I never thought of it as an advantage before, but having our chest freezers on the north-facing front porch was a blessing. We simply propped open the lids at night and closed them during the day, and lost nothing from our freezers. Two of our neighbors emptied their freezers, moved the units either outside or to their garage, and repacked the units. They also lost nothing.

In the evenings, we lit the kerosene lamps and spent many hours reading.

As avid and voracious readers as we are, however, these evenings got pretty boring. In winter, it's dark by 4:30 pm, so we had four or five hours of reading time before we could justify going to bed. Thereafter, we found a lively game of Life was a great way to spend the evenings.

Another huge benefit was these little flashlights. We get three-packs for about $15 at Costco, and they're wonderful.

Normally we keep four or five hanging by the door for outside excursions at night, but now we used them frequently to locate something in the dark. We have plenty of spare batteries as well as rechargeable batteries and a solar charger.

Now that power is back on and life is back to normal, this test has given us much to think about in terms of improvements -- notably, water for the livestock. Before anyone starts to make recommendations, please note we've spent years researching options for pulling water out of our well. Since the well is 610 feet deep with a static level of 450 feet, a hand pump doesn't work at that depth. Other options (solar or windmills) are far, far beyond what we can afford. After a summer of drought, our pond is nearly dry.

Our current plans include:

  • Build a heavily-insulated annex to the barn where we can store our 1500-gallon water tank (currently empty, since it would otherwise freeze in winter). Once full, this tank can be recharged by roof runoff.

  • Continue moving forward with our plans to harvest roof runoff to recharge the pond more rapidly.
  • When we can swing it, purchase a generator and supply of fuel for the sole purpose of powering the well pump and recharging the water tank only when necessary.

If anyone knows of an affordable nonelectric hand-powered solution for pulling water from 450 feet down, we're all ears.

This entire situation heavily underscores the need to be prepared. We're grateful we fared as well as we did, thanks to the generosity of our friends who let us fill water barrels for the critters.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Power's back on + WND column

I'm pleased to report our power is back on, leaving us much to think about in terms of improving our preps. We're quite busy with assorted projects and chores today, so I'll simply use this opportunity to post my WND column for this weekend entitled Have a Selfish Thanksgiving.

More later, I promise!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

We're still here

Hello dear readers:

Just a fast note to let everyone know we're still here and fine. The wild windstorm that swept the region on Tuesday resulted in massive infrastructure problems to the electrical system, and most of Spokane (and an unknown portion of Coeur d'Alene) are still without power. Rumor has it the power poles between our nearest town and an electrical substation snapped, so it's going to take awhile before power is restored.

This was yesterday's update for the power company which supplies Coeur d'Alene:

This is a good test of all our preps, and I'm happy to report we're doing fine except in the issue of livestock water. A neighbor with solar panels is getting enough juice on sunny days to power his well pump, so those with livestock are filling barrels at his house and we're siphoning water from the barrels to the tanks.

I'm writing this from a coffee house in a town 45 minutes away (which, obviously, has power!) so I'll keep this short, but rest assured we're doing well. Please pray for those in towns and cities without power, as so many people are cold.

More later!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wild wild wind

It's been a day of insane wind.

I'm an early riser, and when I got up at 4:30 am, it was calm. But at 5:27 am -- I looked at the clock -- I heard the wind crash into the house.

We knew this wind was coming yesterday, so we tried to get all water-related things done (when we lose power, we lose water since our well pump is electric). All day long the wind gained in strength until it was positively shrieking and shaking the house.

Early this morning I caught up on all the laundry.

After daylight, I made sure to clean and stock Polly's and Matilda's pens with food and water. Moving hay across the yard during wind would have virtually impossible later in the day.

Don made sure a few days' worth of split firewood was stacked on the porch.

We went out several times throughout the day to make sure the stock tanks stayed brim-full.

You can see the wind blowing the water sideways as I filled this tub.

The chickens prudently stayed in whatever shelter they could find. The wind was so strong it literally tipped a couple of chickens over and sent them rolling while outside.

In the process of installing a window at the far end of the new barn annex, Don temporarily put up some OSB to keep the wind from shrieking through the barn (this end of the annex faces into the prevailing wind).

Let me tell you, this made things much snugger in the barn.

Concerned that the high profile of the bee hive might cause the wind to tip it over, Don and I strapped it down.

If it looks like the end of the strap is blurry, that's because it was whipping in the wind.

I filled up two pitchers of water for immediate kitchen use in case we lost power. We have about fifty gallons of stored water in the house, but it's always nice to have fresh.

We have an old refrigerator we haven't yet recycled by the old barn. Unsurprisingly, it got blown over...

...and sheared the door handle off the barn door.

Late in the afternoon, just near dusk, a smaller dead tree went crashing over the compost pile.

Fortunately no chickens were caught underneath (they were all cowering in their coop by this point), but it did freak out a couple of cows who were nearby.

The lights have been flickering all day but amazingly the power has stayed on. We have an oil lamp lit just in case (and others on standby), but so far so good.

The wind is supposed to die down around midnight, and tomorrow is forecast to be calm. Such are the vagaries of weather -- all we can do is roll with the punches.

UPDATE: The power went out at 6 pm. The Spokane news is telling people to "shelter in place." What a storm!

I'm going to shut my laptop down to save battery power. Good thing we spent the day prepping for this!