Country Living Series

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 2015 Reading Challenge

Older Daughter came across an interesting prospect: The 2015 Reading Challenge.


This is a list of 52 books (50 categories, but one of the categories is a trilogy) to be read over the next 52 weeks. Older Daughter got it in her head to accept this challenge and managed to talk the rest of us (Younger Daughter, our friend GG, and myself) into participating as well.


Here's the list:

• A book with more than 500 pages
• A classic romance
• A book that became a movie
• A book published this year
• A book with a number in the title
• A book written by someone under 30
• A book with nonhuman characters
• A funny book
• A book by a female author
• A mystery or thriller
• A book with a one-word title
• A book of short stories
• A book set in a different country
• A nonfiction book
• A popular author’s first book
• A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
• A book a friend recommended
• A Pulitzer Price-winning book
• A book based on a true story
• A book at the bottom of your to-read list
• A book your mom loves
• A book that scares you
• A book more than 100 years old
• A book based entirely on its cover
• A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
• A memoir
• A book you can finish in a day
• A book with antonyms in the title
• A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
• A book that came out the year you were born
• A book with bad reviews
• A trilogy
• A book from your childhood
• A book with a love triangle
• A book set in the future
• A book set in high school
• A book with a color in the title
• A book that made you cry
• A book with magic
• A graphic novel
• A book by an author you’ve never read before
• A book you own but have never read
• A book that takes place in your home town
• A book that was originally written in a different language
• A book set during Christmas
• A book written by an author with your same initials
• A play
• A banned book
• A book based on or turned into a TV show
• A book you started but never finished

While the "rules" for this challenge are fluid, nothing says you can't re-read a book you've read before. Here are the unofficial rules, which include:

• All books are acceptable except children's books (i.e. Run Spot Run) (young adult books are fine).
• All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.

This morning we had a lively conversation lasting several hours about which books to read. We all have different lists, of course. Although my personal list may shift through the next year, here's the books I have so far (the only one I'm missing is "A book your mom loves" -- I'm waiting to hear back from my mom):

• A book with more than 500 pages – Devil Water by Anya Seton
• A classic romance – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• A book that became a movie – Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
• A book published this year – Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry
• A book with a number in the title – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
• A book written by someone under 30 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
• A book with nonhuman characters – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


• A funny book – Dave Barry Does Japan
• A book by a female author -- Dragonwyck by Anya Seton
• A mystery or thriller – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
• A book with a one-word title -- Katherine by Anya Seton
• A book of short stories – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow etc. by Washington Irving
• A book set in a different country – Avalon by Anya Seton
• A nonfiction book – A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
• A popular author’s first book – Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
• A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
• A book a friend recommended – The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
• A Pulitzer Price-winning book – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• A book based on a true story – A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


• A book at the bottom of your to-read list – Utopia by Thomas More
• A book your mom loves – ??
• A book that scares you – The Bad Seed by William March
• A book more than 100 years old – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
• A book based entirely on its cover – Legacy by Susan Kay


• A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t – Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau
• A memoir – Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
• A book you can finish in a day – Guide to Guys by Dave Barry
• A book with antonyms in the title – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
• A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit – Born in Ice by Nora Roberts
• A book that came out the year you were born – A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
• A book with bad reviews – Not Buying It by Judith Levine
• A trilogy – All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc. by James Herriot
• A book from your childhood – The Cay by Theodore Taylor
• A book with a love triangle – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
• A book set in the future – House of Stairs by William Sleator
• A book set in high school – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
• A book with a color in the title – The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
• A book that made you cry – Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther
• A book with magic – The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
• A graphic novel – Elfquest by Wendy & Richard Pini
• A book by an author you’ve never read before – Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
• A book you own but have never read – The Bronte Story by Margaret Lane
• A book that takes place in your home town – With a Shotgun Behind the Door by ??
• A book that was originally written in a different language – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
• A book set during Christmas – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
• A book written by an author with your same initials – Hidden World of the Aztec by Peter Lourie
• A play – The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
• A banned book – Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
• A book based on or turned into a TV show – Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
• A book you started but never finished – A Year Without "Made in China" by Sara Bongiorni



It pleased me that I was able to scare up 41 of the 52 books from our own personal library of over 5000 volumes. The rest will have to come from the public library.



So -- anyone else want to participate?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book bomb day: Tools for Survival

Today is Book Bomb Day for James Rawles' latest book Tools for Survival. We received an advanced copy and I can attest how useful this volume is.


The layout is clever. Mr. Rawles takes a variety of survivalist subjects (i.e. food preservation, tools and tool making, knives, medical tools, wood tools, firearms, etc.) and examines the various tool options on the market, their merit, and the good and bad about each item.


I consider this a highly useful addition to any prepper's library...


...but as with any such addition, its greatest usefulness comes from acting upon the knowledge contained within.


Happy reading!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Garden photos for BWH Magazine

In the midst of a bitterly cold snap that just descended on us, I'm posting these photos of our garden as it appeared in August and early September. The reason is because I just submitted an article on tire gardening to Backwoods Home Magazine, and the editor needs a couple extra photos for purposes of illustration.

So without further ado, I give you a bit of summer in the middle of winter.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The log splitter

A couple of weeks ago, a reader named Jules had some questions about our log splitter. I had other posts I wanted to put up prior to explaining about this piece of equipment, but I figured now is a good time to delve a little deeper into it.

When we first moved to Idaho in 2003, we already had several years of experience using a woodstove and were confident about what it took to gather our wood supply. Granted Idaho has much colder winters than the ones we got in southwestern Oregon, but after all a maul is a maul and we were both pretty good at hand-splitting oak, maple, or madrone.

But this part of Idaho doesn't have hardwoods. We're surrounded by conifers. And soft woods, we learned, behave much much differently than do hard woods when it comes to applying a maul.

The first few attempts to split some red fir were actually pretty funny. Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons with Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner? Poor Wile E. -- every time he tried to set a trap for the Roadrunner, it backfired. In one such cartoon he tried to chop something with an axe, and the axe bounced back and sent Wiley vibrating all over the landscape.


Well that's what happened to us. Every time we tried to whack a piece of fir with a maul, the vibration from the blow reverberated up and sent us shaking like Wile E. The soft fir or tamarack absorbed the blow of the maul so much more than oak that it took many many more blows to split a piece of wood. Don and I looked at each other and knew we would never be able to split the many cords of wood we would need to keep warm over the winter.

So... enter the log splitter.

Quite simply this is an immensely powerful tool that doesn't take "no" for an answer when it comes to splitting. As I recall, it cost us about $1100 back in 2003 (we got it at Home Depot) and it's never given us a lick of trouble. Because of its durability and dependability, it's become a neighborhood resource where many of our neighbors use it as well, and it's worked beautifully for everyone.


It exerts 25 tons -- that's TONS -- of pressure, slowly but inexorably, on the log, splitting it with very little effort on our part. Try doing that with a maul.


It has a 6 horsepower engine. It runs on regular unleaded gas and regular automobile oil.


The wedge simply goes up or down as necessary...



...controlled by the lever on the right.


I'm usually the "splitter" in the family. Don cuts the logs with a chainsaw, and the girls divvy up the tasks of manhandling the rounds to me (which I split), then they use a sled or wheelbarrow to move the split pieces to the porch where the split wood is stacked.




I sit on a crate (usually padded by a boat cushion). I also wear ear protection, since the lot splitter is pretty noisy up close.



We usually keep the splitter parked next to the logs for convenience.


After we finish using it and when the motor has cooled, we cover the engine with an old tub to keep off rain or snow. Alternately, we could wheel the splitter into the barn for protection from the weather, but since it's very heavy, wheeling it around is not something to do on a lark.


This log splitter has two positions: vertical and horizontal. We only split using the vertical position, then lock it down in the horizontal position for moving it around (it has a hitch and wheels, so our neighbors usually move it to their homes with the aid of an ATV). It can split logs in a horizontal position as well, but we never bother using it this way.

We don't have experience with any other log splitter (and I'm not up on the latest models), but frankly this particular model has been sturdy, virtually maintenance-free, and highly useful.

In short, a log splitter (coupled with a chainsaw) is a phenomenal labor-saving device, and particularly useful as Don and I get older. However we also recognize it has its limitations: namely it won't operate without gas and oil. Should those resources ever become unavailable, we have a cadre of hand tools we've accumulated over the years: two-person bucksaw, axes, mauls, wedges, sledge hammers, a peevee, etc. And on our wish list we have such items as the "smart splitter" and a "leverage splitting axe" (though we haven't used these and so cannot attest to how well they work).

But for the moment, we're very happy with our log splitter.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Making merry

Sorry for the silence of the last few days -- frankly we were making merry over Christmas!

Our church had a children's program the Sunday before Christmas. Considering how young some of the kids were, they did great. (We were seated way off to one side so we didn't have the best view.)


Early Christmas Eve morning, we had our own celestial gift: snow! Up to this point we've had bare ground, so this was unexpected and most welcome. (Unfortunately we didn't get much.)



It's always funny to watch chickens in the snow.


Chicken tracks.


Quail tracks.


Vista across the fields.


On Christmas Eve morning, we put out our annual Junk Food Feast. This is a congregation of every type of nutritionally-useless culinary rubbish we never, ever buy during the rest of the year. Long story short: After Thanksgiving many years ago, Don commented about what a pity it is I work so hard and make such a nice meal for Thanksgiving, only to repeat the same work load over Christmas. Somehow one thing led to another (aided and abetted by two eager children, no doubt) and before we knew it, we had started a tradition of having nothing but junk food for three days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day) in which no one has to ask permission to eat potato chips for breakfast -- and I go on a kitchen strike. (By the end of this, everyone's begging for broccoli.)



Lydia always enjoys our clumsy moments.


I came in from doing some outside chores and found a spontaneous recital in progress.




The candlelit Christmas Eve service was beautiful and uplifting. Did you know the Christmas Truce of World War I happened 100 years ago exactly?



We open our gifts on Christmas Eve. Our friends Dallas and Susie always join us for opening gifts. These fine neighbors have been with us for every Christmas Eve since we moved to Idaho, and it wouldn't be the same without them.


Here's Don's father's Bible opened to Luke 2.


He always reads the Christmas story out loud before we open gifts.


Some of our presents. Don gave me a hand-cranked meat grinder -- wow!


I gave him a magnetic sweeper for shop and barn (picks up nails, etc. from the ground).


Younger Daughter (who's into Steampunk) received a necklace...


...some lacy scarves...


...and two patterns so she can sew some clothes.


Don made Younger Daughter a perch for her parrot Lihn -- who adores it!


Older Daughter received a hand-made choker from GG...


...an antique-styled bandbox...


...and a gift card to a clothing store of which she's fond.

Christmas morning the girls have stockings and one unwrapped present each. They each received a leather journal...


...and we gave our friend GG a beautiful copy of Shakespeare's complete works (she's nuts about the Bard).


(Not an electronic gift in the lot, you'll notice.)

An early-morning flock of turkeys wandered by.



We always feed the livestock extra well on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, because legend has it animals are granted the gift of speech at Christmas and will gossip about us. Can't have any bad news spreading to the neighbors!



The sunrise on Christmas morning was beautiful through some fog.




We visited our friends Mike and Judy in the afternoon and enjoyed a glass of wine in front of their pellet stove.


Mike just had surgery and wasn't up for moving around much. Here their little dog snuggles beside him.


In the evening we had some other friends visit us (no photos, sorry). Altogether it was a warm, wonderful, magical Christmas. God bless us every one!
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UPDATE: I just received the most delightful comment on this post as follows:

Mrs. Lewis,
I am an 18 year old girl living outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Among the gifts I received this Christmas, "The Simplicity Primer" was one of them! I have greatly enjoyed it so far, but on Christmas Day I seldom got a chance to read it because other members of my family kept stealing it to read your words of wisdom! I also love your blog, and I check it everyday. I hope you and your family have a happy New Year! - Joanna 


Thank you Joanna, and Merry Christmas.