Thursday, November 30, 2006

welcome to the big-top

in preparation for the big winter storm tom and i built a temporary milking tent. we used part of one of those giant tarps that toms son gets. we whipped it out in less than an hour. thanks to toms stash of plywood for the roof support. it is huge just like a big-top.
this is what the inside looks like. a giant billboard of american flags. never say we aren't patriotic.

tabitha loves her cow. there is such a special connection between them. nimue loves tabitha also.

we received four inches of rain last night. the pond is overflowing. from the track of the storm i think that pablo's lake margarette might be substantially more full also.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

beams, chard, rosie, mama

this is my tented area of red swiss chard. there are other varieties of chard but in my opinion red swiss chard is the best. we plan to keep this little patch going as long as possible. i am collecting materials` for next winters hoop house.

a photo of the beams on the barn. tomorrow we'll set the rafters, nailers and maybe the roof.

my beautiful wife and baby

rosie is very skeptical of the safety of the camera.

Monday, November 27, 2006


our next door neighbor, tom has been wonderful to our family. yesterday was a perfect example. he works construction and i have worked with him on occasion. he regularly happens across extra construction materials. tom was responsible for over half of our paint for the exterior of our house. he continually offers me some of his treasures. he supplied us with the steel for our barn. he helped dig the root cellar with his back-hoe. he helped get a huge load of creek gravel for the drainage fill around the root cellar. yesterday he gave us a bunch of wood. it would have cost me hundreds of dollars to buy. to top yesterday off he stayed and helped me set the three top beams that he just gave me.

i am sore today. i pounded so many nails that my fore-arm was cramping up last night. i'll be stiff today. luckily i'm just doing some electrical work for bob and a little consulting for larry today and tomorrow.

tom doesn't use a computer and will never see this but since this is my journal i want to additionally pay thanks in this documented way.

thank you tom, i really appreciate you.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

sally henny penny

meet sally henny penny. she was the free chicken that came with our broilers. she is amazingly friendly. in fact she has jumped into my hand several times. i encourage this. i pick her up and feed her everyday. this is especially emphasised since the other chickens are mean to her. i protect her from them whenever i am around. she sees me as her mother.
the kids love her too. imagine a chicken that they can pick up and pet. i hope she remains this friendly.

no barn work today. i had to go shopping with tabitha and kids. it seems to take the entire day just to go grocery shopping. i imagine there must be a better way? i'm going to start a fire in the stove just to take the chill off.

Friday, November 24, 2006

photo of barn progress

here is the barn as of this rest break. the three cross beams are up and one of the end joist supports for the loft. i'll append this entry at the end of the work day to contain all of my efforts.

here is what i finished as of yestereve. the loft rafters are done and i'm ready to put down the wood flooring. we plan to have a ladder from the inside going up taking up the entire right-hand bay. that will also afford room to toss down hay into nimues feed trough.

this is what the barn looked like this morning. it reminds me of some medieval movie set.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

leverage engine

no it's not a marketing/sales seminar title. it is a simple block-and-tackle. the beam weighs in excess of two hundred and fifty pounds. and i need it UP. here is my answer. i stabilized the center upright and attached my pulleys. i then lifted the light side up to a cross beam set as high as i could lift. i then pulled it up. it took most of my weight pulling on the rope to get it to lift. ideally there would be a three to one ratio using this particular block-and-tackle but i was also working against friction in the entire machine. my ropes rubbed at times and i generally used a large amount of brute force. i'm tired, i'll drill and finish setting the beam tomorrow.

my plan is to build the loft and use it as a platform to set the rafters. things must work a little differently when it's just me and raw materials must be extracted from the forest. i'm enjoying the challenge. anyone can build with lumber-yard materials and money to throw at cranes and scaffolds. this milking shed will be very cool when finished. the upper loft will house hay and kids at play. nimue will have shelter and my wife will have a pleasant place to milk.

happy thanksgiving


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


i finally made the frame for the house numbers. the table saw was instrumental in this activity. i brought home a couple scrap pieces of cedar and barely had enough to do the job. we received the house numbers from mike and nancy over a year ago. they brought them back from mexico. we have had them for so long that i'm surprised that we didn't accidentally break them.

here is my make-shift hoop-house. it is covering our swiss chard. i hope to keep it going most of the winter--fingers crossed. it is basically just a bit of plastic, some buckets filled with water(weights) and an old awning taken apart and put back together to make a couple of tent shapes. i crawled in there the other day and it was much warmer. if this works out i plan to build a boxed in bed specifically for next winter and construct a real mini hoop-house.

i'm grounded from doing much while i watch toly. i had hoped to work on the barn some more today. there is so much pressure to get the barn done but i am never really afforded any time to work on it. maybe i should let it slip to the back burner?

another cross beam

i fell the perfect tree for the next cross beam for the barn--see previous post for photos. our new friends got to see it fall--from a distance. the kids immediately ran to the tree and started climbing it. an instant monkey bar set. bouncy climbie and generally lots of fun. after i let them have some fun i shooed them away and cut it into pieces. most of the tree is firewood but two sections will be beams. the bottom thirteen feet i am cutting in half lengthwise and the top seventeen feet will be the center lower beam that supports the hay loft.

when tristan came back to see his new monkey bar set he was very dismayed that the tree was totally gone. i decided to light a bond-fire to get rid of the branches and it is endless entertainment. tristan has developed this game where he pokes a leaf from the surrounding area and roasts it like a marsh-mellow. i figure constructive monitored fire investigation is better than making it taboo and nurturing a hidden craving to play with it.

i plan to raise the center beam into place next. i need to devise a plan since the beam is very heavy, two hundred plus pounds, and i have to do it by my self. i have a plan but need to attach a rope and pulley to the top of the center upright.

Monday, November 20, 2006

milking shed photos

yesterday afternoon i set all these vertical poles to level. i then attached one of the horizontal beams. notice the rough timber. the horizontal beams will be of oak and the vertical are of cedar. the cedar is way more resistant to decay.
the chickens are naughty. they have been laying elsewhere. we'll keep them in for the early part of the next few days to get them back in the groove.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

illness waining

last weekend was a total bust and this weekend is shaping up similarly. yesterday we spent the day shopping--groceries and feed store in ozark. the distance to ozark means that it takes the better part of the day to go there and back. the only real thing i did yesterday besides normal chores was finally cover the swiss chard with a plastic tent. it froze last night pretty hard i'm sure it would have done it in.

today i am helping mike move some of his cows around. merlin will be part of the moving process. he is going to live up at mikes until slaughter* time. i was hoping to get a bunch done around here today. what was it doris day sang? que sera sera? i'll be happy to ditch the daily chore of feeding and watering merlin. he'll be happier up at mikes once he gets over missing his mom. there are other juvenile cows there for him to play with. he'll be smaller but he'll be the only one with horns so maybe he'll hold his own.

my immediate looming list of things to do is: build the milking barn and fence in the paddock to the ravine. the root cellar has taken a back seat to these tasks. thursday is a day that i'll try to get some of these things done. bob has graciously offered to bring over his tractor with brush-hog and post-hole-auger. the brush-hog and post-hole-auger will be instrumental in the fence building process. maybe i'll be ready to do that stuff in a week or so. i have to cut down all the perimeter trees so we can have access.

Friday, November 17, 2006

used solar collectors

today we are going to pick up bobs used solar system. the guy he bought it from started a solar energy business during the carter era. i must admit i really liked jimmy carter. if we'd have stayed on the course he laid out for this country we wouldn't be fighting for oil right now.

hank had ten solar collectors installed on his house with a huge cistern style storage tank. he also has a wood stove that has a water jacket. the fire in the wood stove is surrounded by water and pumped in and out heating the huge storage tank. he also had pipes poured into his concrete slab and used the system to heat hot water for household use. the neat thing about all this is, this state of the art (for it's day) system is installed just a few miles from where we live--in missouri. hank said that back when the system was operating properly he only used 2 ricks of wood for the worst of winters to heat his entire, medium sized house.

hank is trying to sell his house and the system needs a bit of work so he is just tearing it out. bob bought the whole thing for 1200. the scrap copper and aluminum from the system would cover that. so, at bobs, we are going to integrate the super efficient wood fired boiler, the solar collectors and hydronic heating system. bobs system will end up performing the similar tasks as hanks old one. except bob will be heating three times the size house, a swimming pool in the basement, a sauna, and the domestic hot water. bob will probably use more than two ricks of wood to heat all of that but for a cold winter but not more than 6 ricks of wood. bobs house is goliath even for california standards.

who would have thought that i'd be doing a project here in missouri that sunlight and power (the solar company in berkeley that i used to work for) would be proud to do. i am finally realizing a modicum of environmental fulfillment here in missouri.

we strive to live off our farmstead as much as possible. we mostly stay clear of blatant consumerism. and, i'm doing this kind of work again--for now.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

wood-fired boiler

i have the opportunity to install, at bobs, a hydronic system with a high efficiency wood fired boiler. his unit has combustion efficiency nearing 90%. the reason that this is significant is most wood stoves are at best around 70% efficient, even most gas (natural or propane) boilers are around 80% efficient. this unit uses standard cord wood that is readily available here in the ozarks.

what all this jargon and percentages really mean is. the owner of this unit loads the firebox with wood and lets the boiler do the rest. the thermostats control the heat in the house like we were using a more refined energy source. but what it really means is, for a little effort each day (loading the fire box) a person can heat a really large house all winter for the price of a couple cord of wood. the additional benefit of hot water for household use is included.

one of the best benefits for a farmstead minded sole like myself is that it complements solar water heating almost perfectly. plus i like to cut wood to heat our house. do i need one of these units? most emphatically YES. can i afford one? sadly NO. but i'll figure something out.

my dream would be to get one of these units and use it to heat the house, the hot water and a hot tub. and during the summer i'd use the solar collectors to heat the hot-water and hot-tub (i don't have a hot tub yet either) but i'm working on that too. i'm excited to get my hands on this technology i aspire to work a business solution where i'd install these units into houses on a semi regular basis. this is ahead if its time but with my experience in the hydronic industry from california it'd be a perfect fit.

enough about that.

here are what my older kids look like on pbs.

toly is really cute when he is sleeping.

tristan and kassi had a crafty day with homemade play clay. tristan made a volcano and kassi was rolling it with her rolling pin

Sunday, November 12, 2006

sickly weekend

i have been sick all weekend--some nasty cold/flu. i was so sick that i couldn't go out and cover the swiss chard before the 26 degree freeze last night. luckily it seems fine today. i heavily mulched around it a week or so ago. this morning, i was lamenting allegedly loosing the chard so much that i'll never let that happen again. tonight it is predicted to only get to 36 degrees--no need to bother. the illness has afforded me a little warcraft computer game (of which is the only game that i have played in many years).
isn't the light on tabitha lovely?

we have taken a few photos while lying around. toly is really putting on the weight. we spent quite a while cooing at each other today. he is so alert and interested. he especially perks up when either of the kids are around. i don't thing he can wait to get into the fray.

Friday, November 10, 2006

a storm is coming

all but the last of the leaves have fallen. it has been warmer than usual today. a cold front is moving in and storms are expected. i refilled the porch with wood even though it wasn't really empty. the porch helps keep the wood dry. it is windy and the leaves are swirling. i like the change of seasons. in california the only real seasons were rain or no rain. here in missouri the seasons are very distinct. there is extra work involved in the transition between each but each transition has a mini purge involved. it makes me feel more alive because the fluidity of life is ear marked buy such wonderful distinctions. fall is decidedly the most pleasant of missouri seasons.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

tabitha is milking again

until we make a decision or one is made for us, tabitha is milking again. the calf merlin, is being weaned which is nosily troublesome. the unexpected result is nimues milk is extra creamy. notice the thick layer of cream on the far right jar. it is over half cream the strata is visible just below the sharpie marked "s". anyway, i watch the baby while tabitha readies herself and milks twice per day. it usually works out fine i try to get her to tank him up with breast milk just before and i get to try to get all the burps out. mostly he likes to hop in the pocket sling and survey his vast holdings. after we achieve some undetermined level of redundancy he usually passes out.

today was an exception, he immediately needed to be changed twice in a row. then a few minutes later he had an explosive poo. the kind that human technological achievements have yet to be able to contain. i pulled him out of the sling which was the last defence that held. i cleaned him up and he felt the urge to mark some of his vast holdings which he surveyed moments before. somehow i got in between him and his target. he left me looking like i had wet myself. i changed myself and then redressed toly in clean clothes. my ability to keep him from screaming his sweet little head off hinges on him being able to ride in the pocket sling. when i went to access the damage i noticed that he was trying to send me a message or learn something about me from the Rorschach test left in the sling. i think it looks like wood moth. what do you think?

this is so awesome

this is political so if you aren't interested then i'm sorry. but i think this is totally awesome and will be back to our regular programming this afternoon.

Monday, November 06, 2006


tristan and kassi both love pomegranate. tis the season. not unlike asparagus, pomegranate has a brief seasonal window. as a kid i worked in the local grocery market. the guy in charge of the produce was openly suicidal but more importantly had excellent taste in produce. at the ripe age of sixteen i was turned on to these delicious fruit and their subtle nuances. if you have never had a good one or never had one at all. go to the closest market that will have them and find the heaviest one. the skin must seem fresh and plump. take a sharp knife and cut both ends off just cutting some of the seeds in half. then slice the skin as if to quarter it--but only slice the skin. then using both hands break it open and eat everything that is bright burgundy red as quickly as you can. tart, sweet, delicious. if it is your first time, i envy you. do something wonderful with your kids because it will make an indelible mark on your memory--and hands.

happy eating...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

overdue panorama

here is a recent and large panorama. as you can see i still haven't pulled the tomato plants. i have been busy cutting the wood for our barnafactor. the guy who traded us our barn for two cord of wood has been waiting all summer. i haven't had the opportunity or the inclination to go out in chigger and tick infested forest to cut him his remaining cord and a third of wood. i have been taking down trees from our intended shaded pasture. i leave the large trees and take down the smaller crowded trees. i also take down all the scrub. i hope to burn off and fence the area before spring. this is a good time of year to be out in the woods.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

twenty four in one day

i was never able to count the remaining chickens after the chicken massacre of 2006. their density and movement patterns made it unreasonable. i now realize there were twenty four broilers and one free-hen that made it to maturity. we will keep the hen with the layers and try to integrate her into egg production.
after morning chores i started to set up the slaughter station. i like to set it up in the front yard for several reasons. just outside the fence means that the kids can visit and see what is going on but remain contained from the real mess. having the set-up close to the kitchen makes the copious trips back and forth more reasonable. but my favorite reason is that look-ie-loos driving by can get a real eye full. i love the idea that whomever drives past during the event will likely see a flapping bloody chicken body hanging over a blood bucket.
items to be set up are:
-the scalding pot with propane heater
-the table covered with plastic and vinyl cover
-the hanging station
-the tarp to cover the general area
-the triangle shaped chicken pen
-sharpen the butchering knives
-cleaning supplies
the scalding pot likes to be set up first so that it can achieve and maintain optimum temperatures before the event begins--just below boiling. i re-purposed tabitha's cleaned birth tub liner to cover the kitchen table. and have a tablecloth sized piece of vinyl tarp to further protect the top. i put the area tarp down, drove cedar fence posts and attached a cross support to hang the flapping chickens from. the triangle shaped containment pen is a real time saver during the event. i transfer all the chickens into the pen and when it is time to catch one, during the slaughter, it is easy to single them out and trap them in one of the three triangle corners. i maintain our kitchen knives in a very sharp state but i especially demand razor sharp knives to butcher with. one of the only times we, at the pile of omelays, use bleach is when raw chicken is involved. sixteen hours later i can still smell the bleach on my hands.

tabitha opted out of the butchering process since new baby and chicken guts don't really mix. did she plan it this way? our gracious neighbor john agreed to help for a share of the bounty. when he showed up i was trying to catch and transfer the chickens to the temporary pen. after they were all caught we checked the scald water temperature and decided to start. i showed john the entire process from slitting the throat, scalding, plucking, taking out the oil gland, removing the feet and head, cutting them open removing the intestine, gizzard, crop heart liver and lungs. i didn't realize he would be as helpful as he turned out to be. he was doing half the birds as quickly as i was and even had a few suggestions that really helped. after a grueling eight hours we finished off the final batch of five chickens and it was time to rest.

twenty four chickens in one day is a personal record and couldn't have done it without john. sorry there was no real opportunity to take photos since tabitha was entertaining guests and my hands were never sans chicken guts. we now have a refrigerator full of chicken and one less chore to do twice per day.
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