Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The situation here

More words of wisdom from the genius of der volk:

on moving--from our neighbor who is also about to sell her house and move with her hubby and five kids to Montana: If you gotta eat an elephant, just do it one bite at a time.

on a person attempting to do a job in a ridiculous manner--from one of the people installing fence on our property: You're more messed up than a soup sandwich.

These have been swimming around in my head so that I had a nightmare in which I was a soup sandwich trying to eat an elephant. I will leave the explication of that to Dr. Freud.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Life is relatively good

Normally, it works like this:

The guy driving the tractor with the fence-post-driver goes underneath the overhead cable to the well-house, clips the cable, bends the mast on the well-house and drags the cable a bit; the cable doesn't snap and nobody is electrocuted, but the mast must be replaced. The guy driving the tractor will do it, if I go into town and get him a length of 1 1/4" metal conduit. So, at the very end of the day, I zip into town into the electrician supply shop, ask for (and receive) 10 feet of 1 1/4" conduit, bring it back to the farm, and find out a disturbing truth.

Everybody in the world, with one exception, measures pipe and conduit by outer diameter. Electricians, alone in the world, measure pipe by internal diameter.

Normally, I'd find this out at 5:30 PM on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I don't know how this happened--somebody controlling the fates perhaps took off early for the weekend--but I found out about this at 5:30 PM on Thursday, so I had a whole day to go and get the right size pipe. And now we have a nicely repaired power line to our well house.

If I learned one thing during a decade of life in Wisconsin, it's that it could always be worse.

Words of wisdom

Quoth the guy who rented us a U-haul for the schlep from our rental in town to the farm:

"Moving, eh? I'd rather eat broken glass."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Flora Friend or Foe Edition

A vetch.  Ugly name, pretty flower.

I know not what kind of vetch this is.  I used to think of all vetches as evil--exotic invasive species brought over from Europe, and displacing the lovely native flora of California.  I now know that there are lots of native vetch species, some of which are endangered.  There are at least two vetch species on our property; the one I'm not showing a picture of is probably Vicia sativa, the horrible invasive thing.  This one?  I don't know.  I suppose I could ask it...

"Are you a good vetch, or a bad vetch?"

Monday, May 21, 2012


We have goats.

I spent a frantic day last week trying to get a pen ready for them, a couple of kids raised by a woman up in northern Oregon. We were supposed to pick them up in Siletz a week later, but she offered to drive them down to Eugene, saving us four hours in the car--an offer which we could not refuse. I suppose as owners of livestock, we have to get used to the animals determining the schedule whether we are ready or not.

While I was hastily reconfiguring a decaying dog run into a goat pen, the Real Doctor drove to the all-Oregon Milchgoatstravaganza in Eugene. Things went on a bit longer than expected, which was fine since it gave me more time to wrestle with wire and staples and latches. It was nearing sundown when the Real Doctor called me from I-5 with the sound of agitated bleating of two kids in the background.

Brother E. wants to know, why goats? Why this breed? Why these particular goats? and this is a good time to address the questions. Goats are good for maintaining land that you don't want to manage as forest. They eat the two nemeses of Oregon, Himalayan Blackberry and Poison Oak, in preference to other foods. Put them together with sheep, and you have a combo that (properly managed) will keep pasture healthy and productive. You can rent goats to do the job, but they're easier to own and a lot more interesting and effective than a brush hog and mower.

But why this breed? First and foremost, Nigerian Dwarf goats are not threatening. I'm new at this whole livestock thing, and the Real Doctor knows it. There are some big, stinky, mean breeds of goat out there. These are small, friendly, and downright cute. If you want, they can be used as milch goats, and they have an excellent conversion factor (amount of brambles and poison oak in/amount of milk out)--or, you can opt not to milk them, and not be subject to the grind of twice-daily milkings. We have had some cheese made from the milk of these beasties, and it made me really, desperately want to get some goats of my own and start making cheese.

Why these particular goats? Again, the Real Doctor calls the shots here. We are (with very good reason) urged to consider all humans as having value, and we are taught to not judge a person on externalities such as appearance and earnings. However, with livestock, such niceties that make human society work are disposed of, and a harsh brand of eugenics takes control. Those that live up to certain externalities live and reproduce, those that don't are at best sterilized and may find their way to the dinner table. So, at minimum, a Nigerian Dwarf goat has to conform to certain standards of breeding, and not exceed certain dimensions. The Real Doctor, who was a 4-H'er as a youth, has always had an interest in livestock genetics, and so has spent months ruthlessly judging photos of Nigerian Dwarf goats on criteria such as squareness of build, length and depth of body, udder attachment, and so on. Like a sports buff building the ideal fantasy baseball team, she is constructing the ideal herd based on appearance, soundness, and genetic diversity (and cost and availability). So, we will have goats from Massachusetts, goats from Texas, and goats from just up the road.

Which brings us back to the goats from Siletz. They've been here now a week, and are settling in nicely. We have Joella, the smaller and more aggressively friendly one
and Painted Lady, the larger and more cautious one.
These two were born in late February, so they're about three months old and about 1/2 to 2/3 of their final size. They still get some milk daily, but we're tapering off--at this point, it's as much for psychological effect as for nutritional value. They haven't quite figured out foraging, but they'll get it soon.

Today the Real Doctor and I are both kind of groggy, and the scheduling idiosyncrasies of goats are again to blame. We had to drive up to Eugene to pick up two more goats--but they were arriving from Massachusetts by air, and their flight arrived at about 11 PM. Their accommodations were comparable to those of most air travelers--they were in a dog carrier, and had only some dry pellets to eat for the entire trip. When we got them to the kerbside, we tried to give them each a couple of cups of milk. One of them took the nipple right away and gulped it all down, while the other struggled and squirmed and fidgeted and fussed and bleated (young goats, it turns out, can make a cry exactly like a peacock). Eventually she got it, and nursed with the focus and enthusiasm characteristic of any nursing mammal.

The new kids are a bit younger, and get a bit more milk. They are still kind of hyper, and like to shove and butt and get in your face when you are trying to work with them. Names have not yet congealed around them, so we'll just call them "Goat C":
and "Goat D":

So, all of a sudden I'm a pastoralist. I'm trying to wrap my head around this. I come from a long line of horticulturalists, and I am still itching to get the garden part of this property up and running. The whole business of living with farm animals--like country life, I suppose--an immersion into a completely different culture.

Monday Musical Offense, reconsidered

A couple of weeks ago, I kvetched about the radio station chosen by one of the contractors working on our house. A new phase of the project has started (pix later); one of the guys on this has his radio set to the same station, so I've heard "Call Me Maybe" and "Sexy and I know it" several times a day for the last few days. The new guy here favors dubstep, which is a step up.

Maria M. commented that it's Dadaism in music, but I'm not entirely sure--I think it's just folk music for a modern era. I mean, folk music is supposed to reflect the everyday experiences of "the folk" (or as Arlo Guthrie has it, if folk sing it, it's folk music). In mythic days of yore, those experiences would be the cycle of the seasons in the rustic life, planting corn and slaughtering goats, and maybe a run-in with a virtuous bandit or despised agent of the empire. Now, it's waiting on hold and listening to instructions from computerized voices and programming a Tivo and sitting in traffic and twittering. So, we get the folk music and folk dance that society makes.

I sure can't say that's any better or worse than this; folk is folk. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Foreboding mystery thing...

The foreboding mystery-thing in the garage turns out to be full of cute:  27 chicks. 
They come in the mail from Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa*. We got a phone call from the PO at 5 AM, telling us to come and get them because they sound hungry.  So, after our own breakfast, we tooled over to the PO and picked up a small box full of chirp.   One never really got adjusted to being out of the egg, and died in a day.  It's been a couple of weeks now, so they're much bigger.  In a week or two they will enter their spectacularly ugly teenage years.

*Hence the saying "the chick is in the mail."

Back online

The internets, as we all know, are a series of tubes. It turns out that it's also a microwave antenna, a dish, a wire, a router...and so forth. We've been offline for a while getting it all set up, but--rejoice or mourn--we're back. Here's how it's done in the sticks:

1. Ascertain that you can see Mount Scott. Why?
2. Mount an antenna so that it has a solid, high base and a clear view of Mount Scott.

3. Dig a trench and lay in conduit so that a wire can get from the antenna to your house.
4. String the wire under your house and up through the wall into the room that has your wireless router in it (not shown--it's dark under the house!). Fill in your trench.5. Spend a couple of days dealing with confusion because the company is using new firmware and the installing technician wasn't aware of it; get back out to the roof of the shed and re-aim the antenna, because the technician was off by a few degrees.6.Cat videos!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Foreboding mystery-thing in our garage

Monday Musical Offence

Over the past few months, we've had a parade of contractors move through our house. This parade has provided its own music, from a series of beat-up radios covered in paint, varnish, plaster, the badges of each contractor's trade. Not too surprisingly, there's been a fair amount of what passes for country, and various other genres--one guy, who I thought for sure would be airing either country or rightward-leaning talk radio, surprised me with NPR. It's been mostly survivable, though I kind of despair for the state of country music since Merle Haggard's heyday.

The worst musico-contractorial experience, though, was a radio playing this weird pop station. The station had apparently disposed with DJ's. Listeners could text the radio station, and request a particular song or artist and even include a message. A computer--I assume there was no human involved beyond the programmer--would queue up the tracks, and a speech synthesizer would crudely burble the usual DJ stuff with the usual weird pronunciation and missed accents: "This GOES out, to BarBARAfrom Jessee. Number four on the charts WITH a ROCKET it is Nicki MINAJJJ."

How could this soul-sucking experience be worse? Easily--all the songs sounded pretty much the same, musically vapid, pushed by the exact same drum-machine beat. And every single goddammed song was auto-tuned, so even the humans didn't sound human. It was a robot radio station, with music by robots. The next logical step in this progression is to have robots listen to the stuff so we don't have to. It would be an improvement.

For a good long read on the human heart in music, go see Jeremy Denk.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

All it needed was some more work

I'm way behind on posting updates about the house renovation--it's not like it's finished or anything, but we are scheduled to move out there this week. So, here's some more before, during, and after for your delectation.

The attic was interesting. I've mentioned the cooling closet before, but when we bought the house you could barely see it--the attic was lit by a single light bulb near the stairway, and there was just so much stuff from the sellers:
Nonetheless, you could tell that it was a large space, which had a certain appeal. It was also possible to see the only insulation in the entire house, over the kitchen.

Fortunately, the sellers cleared all their stuff out so we didn't have to. That allowed us to get to work. The electrician paved the way, installing a bunch of outlets and some fluorescent lights.
A few of the floorboards had to be ripped up, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. The ripped-up floorboards revealed the eighty years of murine life that had transpired in the attic: eighty years of mouse nests and mouse poop and the musty smell of mouse urine. Untold generations had lived rich, long, predator-free lives and died of old age, leaving corpses that withered in the dry environment to become delicate, parchment mouse-mummies curled up in their nests or lying atop faint fat stains on exposed laths. The tableau was a memento mori, an rodentic allegory of death and the miser, over and over again. *
Sic transit, etc: we filled up the shop-vac a dozen times.

I've mentioned before the wonderful things the insulators did; they also did our ceiling--and more floorboards had to come up.
At this point, we decided that we should just get rid of all the floorboards. We eventually want to make the upstairs more finished, and that will mean installing a real floor. The floorboards that were there were very crude, splitty, and would be just about impossible to reinstall. So, out with 'em all!

It's worth noting at this point just how wonderful a thing insulation is: at this point, the house had insulated walls, windows, floor (I haven't shown that yet) and ceiling, and boy did it make a difference. Before insulation, we had to the house's electric central heat to keep the house at about 65 F during the two weeks of refinishing the floors--resulting in an electric bill of over $500. After insulation, our fireplace insert alone was enough to boost the house's temperature to nearly 70 degrees F on a cold winter morning with frost on the roof.

In the long term, we'll want to finish the attic, but in the short term (like, later this week), it's going to have to serve as a storage place for boxes and boxes of stuff while we move and settle in. So, we installed modern plywood subflooring. With help from a local youth, I lifted 24 sheets of 3/4" treated plywood into our attic, which left me sore for a few days. Then, it was another heavy day's work to wrestle them all into place and anchor them down--but it's worth it. You can jump up and down on it, you can see and plug things in, it's cold upstairs and warm downstairs, and it doesn't reek of mice.
Let's see the before again:
Aaaaaand the after:
Much better. We still have to clean out some mud wasp nest and secure the screens and patch one leak, but it's much better.

*The mouse is the leathery gray blob on the right; the painting of Death and the Miser is by Jan Provoost

Friday, May 4, 2012


A fragment of Madison seems to have rolled through town...
Click on it to blow it up, and you'll see THE WIENERMOBILE! parked outside the local grocery store. I didn't stop for a sample, just snapped this photo while driving by. It made me nostalgic for Madison, the mothership for the fleet of wienermobiles.

Friday Flora

Camas, Camassia sp. (I don't know which species, and I'm too tired to go look it up).
The way things have been around here of late, I'm pretty unmoored from the calendar. Monday, Thursday, March, April, it doesn't matter too much. There's this lengthy progression of things that needs to get done, and they all need to get done pretty much done as soon as possible. So, day and date don't matter; what matters is that today is after trim painting, but it's not yet door painting, and hinge-cleaning may be a ways off yet.

But, some calendars are impossible to ignore. Driving back and forth from rental to renovation, I pass by fields of camas all in bloom. They grab my attention more than any calendar (or calendar girl, calendar horse, calendar violin...), and remind me that it's been one botanical year since the Real Doctor and I visited Roseburg with the serious intent of moving here. We stayed at a B&B not too far from the house we're renovating, and drove to town on a road lined with camas and wild iris, all abloom.

A heck of a lot happens in a year, don't it?