Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Prep and Winter on the Homestead

We are now having our 17th Christmas as a family and like most families we have established some traditions to go along with this great holiday period. We long ago moved away from the commercialism that defines Christmas for so many people and we concentrate on meaningful gifts that dont have to cost a lot of money, we always pay cash for what we buy, and we have kept a spirit of fun in our gifts with a heavy focus on fun things in the stockings. In years past with the kids and grandkids close we made home made decorations, we made cookies with the kids and the smell of mulled cider often permeates our humble home. This is a season for thankfullness of family, it is a season of great cooking endeavors, and communing with our many friends.

Each year we vow to make sure we are ahead of the holiday rush and like every other year, we fell woefully short this year. With family on both coasts, we always strive to get things mailed in time so we dont have to pay priority mail rates and like the last 16 Christmas' we didnt get it done this year but as of yesterday everyone finally received their gifts (at great cost to us!). We have enjoyed shopping this season and I think everyone will be pleased with the gifts we chose. Yet again, I will be working this year on Christmas Eve and on Christmas (you have to do what you have to do) but we will adapt and plan on opening gifts Christmas Eve night and I will get off work early enough on Christmas to still fix a great dinner of Venison and sides. Even when I was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom during the Surge we spent Christmas together through Skype and that Christmas which could have been a sad and stressful occasion is very meaningful to us. I even found a couple Christmas ornaments hand made by Iraqi Christians that I brought back and are hanging on our tree. Our memories of Christmas' past are pleasant and full of love which may be corney but we treasure them.

This year, my beloved wife wrote a nice missive to me today but made a spelling error and Christmas came out for Christmas 2011 we will always remember the spirit of "Christas" and she will never live it down. The weather is moderate getting down into the 20s at night but in the low 40s today and expected to get into the 50s during the day for the next week with little precipitation expected. After this last year of extreme weather we are enjoying a period of mild seasonal weather and we spent the day outside checking our fence lines and property and making plans for the new year. Here are a few pictures of winter on the homestead and some of our old fashioned Christmas.

Our great state has many agencies that do a commendable job not the least of which is the Missouri Dept of Transportation. Despite severe budget cut and layoffs these guys are outstanding. Yesterday we woke to the sound of heavy equipment laying Chat in our drive to smooth out the transition from our driveway to the highway. They did it for everyone so it wasnt directed to us specifically but it was sure appreciated.

This year we put the tree in the living room where the tree and lights can be seen through the picture window. It just seems right.

While Holly wrapped, Bandit and I supervised.

It sure looks better at night but we are happy to share our Christmas (Christas?) cheer with everyone.

You cant see it here but the porch columns are wrapped in lights as well.
Just to show it was actuyally cold and frost.,

We feed the birds daily as usual and have hundreds flocking to our many feeders.

We ended up with an imersion feeder for the stock tank that fits through the drain plug. It plugs in to an outside outlet and keep the stock tank ice free and the water a little warmer for our cattle.

The oak grove behind the barn is such a peaceful spot even in winter. Maybelle still likes to hang out here under the trees.

This time of year is mudville. This section of our increasingly diverse farm roads is still awaitinf a layer of base rock and chat all the way up to the new shop.

Just a view from the back side of the main pond.

The girls like to lay in a swale in the middle pasture by the back wood lot.
And in the middle of the back wood lot is another swale that we often see Wild Turkeys, rabbits and deer hanging out in. I am thinking its depression keeps the wind off them and they feel secure there.

The back pasture/feed plot is isolated and peaceful and we walk back here almost daily.

We are amazed walking through our wood lots as it seems so open in winter. During summer this is so thick and over grown we cant get through here.

In the back corner of our back woodlot we can see to the neighbors spread and its another peaceful scene. This was taken with a telephoto lense so its not really that close but we enjoy their serenity from afar.

Just another view of the girls from the other side of the swale in a previous picture.
Next year we are going to try and see if the neighbor would be willing to sell us 2 - 4 more acres for a pasture. This is taken directly in back of our back pasture looking north and we are seeking to that far windbreak...

Out to that patch of trees and brush...

And to the south to that windbreak...

Out to about the middle of this windbreak in the picture and then across. 2- 4 more acres of pasture would really increase our ability to practise rotational grazing and we are hopeful they would be interested in selling a few acres or holding a long term lease.

We actually have plenty of pasture for our cattle now but...we could use and desire a little more.
This is a view to the north of our property so you can see we are pretty isolated...we like all of our neighbors but we all value our privacy and its nice not having anyone in eye shot or ear shot.

Next year we will put up the windmill to keep the pond aerated.

Some of our wood lots still have old fencing we need to take out. This used to fence off an old chicken house.

It was a beautiful day today, two days before Christmas.

And everywhere we went we have a following..
This is the remains of the old chicken house and we are still in the process of reclaiming the old barn tin for future use on ...a new chicken house.

No one behind the pole barn shop either...just pasture, more trees and a few cows.

If you cant tell we like seclusion and not having neighbors close by.

The falls and winters here are glorious.

Lots to do here in the spring...future site of the goat pen.
Maybelle is getting big as you can see but she doesnt understand she isnt a dog.

While Boo Boo isnt intimidated by the cattle trough or the cattle at all. We often find them nosing each other.

This is another road I am slowly improving...gotta get a blade on the back of the new tractor which will help a lot.
We never finished fencing this pasture because of the back surgery but will start after the first of the year. We are going to plant an experimental hay crop here to see if we can establish an alfalfa/clover crop.

Lots of work in the spring for the front wood lot too.

You can see the orchard in this picture but it will eventually be extended all the way down the slope.

Believe it or not this road was clear early last year but I let it go and it got over grown again. Its chainsaw and brush hog time.
The enire length in this picture still needs to be fenced...another spring project.

Peaceful ne?

The greenhouse is full of tomatoes..

And various herbs and salad fixins......winter in the Ozarks...cant beat it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some Happenings and some Projects

Its been awhile since we posted and its been an extremely busy period with holiday preparation, more work than expected, and a few projects. If you have read this blog before you probably know we are pretty happy and take things pretty easy going but even to those of us who are internally and externally happy most of the time there are things that happen that arent so pleasant.

A couple weeks ago I was toned out for a rescue call that involved the murder of a 4 year old boy who we found under the ice in a septic lagoon with his throat slit. In searching the residence we found one adult with a knife wound (who turned out to be the suspected perpetrator) and a 3 year old little girl who was scared to death but otherwise unharmed. We spent 4 hours on scene and to say it was a trying experience would be understating things considerably. My partner that day is a young man with a child about the same age as the victim and it was particularly hard on him though I can truly say that everyone on scene was profoundly affected. The details of the incident and its aftermath arent important for this blog and I only relate this because it directly relates to our quest for the "Simple Life". Life just isnt so simple sometimes and a tragedy like this really brings that home. I will say that the EMS, Sheriff's Dept, Local Police, and State Troopers were all outstanding in their first response actions, their investigation afterwards, and in the compassion showed to all involved.

My partime job with the Sheriff's Dept has also turned out to be a lot more hours than I expected and I have now expanded to prisoner transport where we move prisoners from our jail to various other jails and prisons. I am working as much as I can handle and making some money but I kind of miss the days of being fully retired. I have also had several opportunities to make money working on other farms and ranches so despite the bad economy we have found more work than we really hoo right? Actually for me personally, I have found that now having a regularly paying job has provided some focus and structure that I was somewhat lacking being retired and self employed. I think that is a real danger if you retire young, everyday is a holiday and every meal is a feast (so to speak) and its easy to get carried away. I am never bored and have tonnes of projects to keep me busy but I guess I do like to have some structure and its going well. Lots of folks are struggling financially or in finding even minimal employment so in some ways I almost feel guilty.

We got the new tractor home and its now securely in the new shop waiting for our mechanical ministrations. It purrs like a kitten and everything works on it just fine but like most motorheads who get a new piece of equipment, I feel compelled to replace all screens, all filters, all fluids, re-torque everything, and in this a lot of the existing wiring. We plan on using this tractor as a work horse so we arent going for a restoration per se', she will keep her work clothes on but we will make her look as good as she can in them. We also wired in a transfer switch to the main circuit breaker to the house so we can isolate certain circuits (refer, freezer, heat, and some outlets to run the computer and TV) and run them off the generator in case of a power outage without potentially backfeeding the current to the power lines. Now we just flip the transfer switch breakers, fire up the genny, and plug it in to the new outlet and we can live quite well during any power outage.

We bought a kit suitable for our purposes and if I remember correctly we got it on sale for $165.00. We figured out what we considered essential to run via generator, researched the draw, and then settled on our freezer, the refer, the blower and circulation pump for the outside wood boiler, the forced air blower, and the outlets in the family room to run a couple lights, a computer and the TV. We will have heat and refrigeration along with communication so we feel like we got all we need. We have a 2 burner propane stove for emergency cooking, we have gravity feed county water (we didnt want to run our two well pumps off the genny due to the initial startup current draw), and we feel we are pretty well set up.

We mounted it next to the main circuit breaker box for the house as was recommended. The metal flex conduit holds wires from the transfer switch to the appropriate circuits in the main and basically what happens is that once you flip the breakers from the transfer switch you isolate those circuits from the main breaker box so there is no danger of back feeding the current from the generator and frying a lineman (not likely but those guys deserve all the protection they can get) and almost as important for us, it keeps the generator from getting fried if the power comes back on when we are running it and forget to flip the main breaker.

The orange Romex is the feed from the outside outlet that connects to the generator to the transfer switch. To those who wonder, yes though we do not have any permits required here, no ispections and no codes, this was installed per NFPA 70 requirements. We even have a rubber insulated matt to stand on under the breaker box and transfer switch.

We tested everything and have a perfectly balanced load and in fact have an open and un-used circuit on the transfer switch.

A hammer drill was used to bore a hole through the basement wall to install the outside covered outlet.

So now we can use the heavy cord and plug from the generator to plug into the outside outlet, fire up the generator, and transfer the load from the breaker to the transfer switch and power outages are not the big deal for us they are for some. We have a ready source of water, propane cooking, heat, oil lanterns for light, refridgeration, and communication in the form of computer and TV. Next years project includes a HAM radio license.

The International Harvester is now in the shop after we spent a couple days putting it through its paces on the farm. A lot of the electrical wiring for the lights was installed using incorrect gage wire and crimp connections while I like soldered connections and shrink tubing for machinery. We will change out all the fluids, replace all the filters, rep[lace some gaskets, adjust the valves...etc.

The paint isnt too bad really but we will likely do some touch up and polishing to protect it. Farm tractors never came from the facotry all shiny and with flawless paint because they were meant to work and I confess to liking the utility look of a well used tractor...its almost a patina that they get. But if you can get them looking good enough for the 20 foot gaze they seem to function better.

Tractors of this vintage are just simple and designed to be worked on by the owner unlike the modern versions. I have all the shop manuals and most parts are readily available because Mahindra (made in India) bought the desihn and tooling from IH-Case about 20 years ago and was still making this same basic tractor up until a few years ago.

Its just a classic 60s utility tractor that was built for heavy farm use and at over 4000 lbs it definitely feels heavy.

The dash is pretty basic with a tach/speedo, water temp, rotary light switch, throttle quadrant, choke,. push button starter, kill switch and generator and oil pressure Tellites. The Tellites will get augmented with actual oil pressure and ammeter gages.

And finally, the spinout rear wheels were an expensive but useful option back in the day. You can turn the rear wheels either concave in or out and you loosed the 4 king nuts, adjust the stops, and then drive forward while dragging the brakes slightly and the wheel spacing adjusts accordingly. We have them adjusted max out on the concave side and I doubt we will ever change that since we have some hills but its nice to know we can if we need to. This just barely clears out equipment trailer side bracing. The red part of the wheel are bolt on wheel weights and we are looking for the same for the front wheels.

So that is what we have been up to. Working, getting ready for Christmas, working some more, and slipping in some projects.