Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Slip Sliding Away

Our driveway has always been an interesting topic of discussion for visitors. It is 3/4 of a mile of gravel road. Comparatively, by West Virginia standards, it is not overly narrow or curvy. Of course, not all of our visitors are from West Virginia, or regular drivers of West Virginia country roads.

Our driveway does boast a few interesting features. The first of which, you encounter almost immediately. This little knoll looks innocent enough, but driving up it puts your car at angle which prevents you from seeing where the road goes after you pass the crest.

When you finally can see the road,  your eyes are confronted with the following:

A steep downhill immediately followed by an even steeper and longer uphill which shows up better in this picture that was taken earlier in the season.

After those initial hurdles, the road settles into another couple small hills and a bit of flat driving before ending at our houses. First time visitors would relay their experience of thrill or anxiety in navigating Blackberry Lane. Those of us more seasoned to the road would merely roll our eyes, or perhaps snicker a bit. The road didn't phase us one bit unless of course, there was snow on the ground.

Then last spring the hollow between the second set (smaller set) of hills betrayed us. It began to sink. It was just a bit, but enough to make the drive just a bit more interesting.

This winter brought extra snow, freezing, and more cracks in this spot on the driveway. The first rains of spring came, and the drive slipped even more. It slipped to the point that even we stopped using it with our two wheel vehicles. Even with our all wheel drive vehicles, we had to be careful where we drove to avoid dragging the bottom. We warned visitors with low cars to not use our road.

Then it happened. Our continual and heavy rains this spring caused the driveway to slip and slide to the point that it was no longer usable.

We weren't sure what we were going to do. We do have an alternative driveway available to us, but it is not our legal right away. Our neighbor is very gracious to allow us to use it when we need to, but using it permanently is not an option. We do have equipment that could do this job, but not the knowledge as to the best way to fix the problem, or the time to do the job. Nor do we have the cash to pay someone to do the job.

At about the same time the drive had its big slip, the man we sold our bulldozer to came to pick it up. He brought a contractor with him to help with the job. The contractor was interested in some equipment my mom had and no longer needed. He asked how much she'd want for it. We asked how much he'd want to fix our driveway; both the slip and a few other places that needed attention. In the end he got the equipment he wanted and mom got a half price deal on the driveway.

He started working on it this week.

I wouldn't recommend using our drive right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

After the Pilgrims Came

Easter weekend was jammed packed with family, food, and rain. Several of my aunts and uncles came for a visit as did my brother with his kids. The aunts and uncles mostly sat around and talked (and ate.)  The kids played and played and played, rain or shine. Overall it was a good weekend.

I have to share a little story about my nephew Jude. He and Nolan are basically attached at the hip whenever they are together. Those two are all over the place. They love to play their DSs together. They love to run around outside together. They laugh and giggle and run, and act like little boys do.

One of the adventures they had this weekend, courtesy of all the rain, was playing in the mud puddles. One of these puddles was particularly deep, and the boys had a grand time in it. They were up to their knees in mud and water. We all shook our heads, and let them play.

When Jude returned home his mom was talking to him about the weekend, and asked when he and Nolan played in the puddle. His response, "Sometime after the Pilgrims came." Really, he wasn't smarting off to his mom. To his mind, we had Pilgrims at our house. Did I neglect to mention that the aunts and uncles who came to visit were Amish?

Vivian trying on a "Pilgrim" hat. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Free Range Broilers - Finally

When we got our first batch of Cornish Cross chicks to raise for meat, we figured we would raise them like all our other birds. We would brood them in the brooder pen until they were big enough to be turned out into the chicken house. Then, like the other chickens, they would eventually venture out into the wide world beyond the chicken house to feast on bugs and plants.

The brooder pen worked fine. Putting them out into the chicken house worked fine, but the Cornish Cross never would venture down the ladder to the great outdoors. They preferred to stay nice and close to the feed all day long. In fact, if they could lay down and eat, all the better.

In hind sight, it was probably best they never tried to go out from the chicken house. Our chicken house sits up high, and the ladder is long and fairly steep. This breed has a  propensity to break legs. Our ladder probably isn't a wise choice for them. So, we thought, if they won't go down the ladder, we'll just put them outside.

We have another shelter within our chicken run. It is not nearly as nice as the chicken house, but it serves the purpose. It is great to brood in when the weather is warm, or to use as an overflow pen if we have too many birds. We thought it would be perfect to use for the broilers to make free ranging work for them. They weren't impressed.

They would go out the pen door; a foot or two, but they still would not venture beyond the run into the pasture behind them where all the free range goodies are to be found. They wouldn't even venture over to the rabbit hutches, contained with in the run, to forage under the pens. All the other chickens seemed to think that spot was akin to a daily Thanksgiving feast. I gave up on getting them to go out, and brought greens and weeds to them instead.

With this batch of broilers we wanted to try something new. We talked on again, off again about building a chicken tractor for them. We weren't sure exactly what we wanted, or what would work for the number of birds we have, and the mostly sloped land we want to use.

There also was that ever pesky issue of time. Building something new takes time for planning, material gathering, and of course construction. Like most homesteads with farmers who also work away from home, time is a very precious commodity. Then it dawned on us. Why not use something we already have?

Last winter we got rid of all the rabbits in an effort to save time, and focus more on the meat animals that sell better. This left us five empty hutches just sitting there. Our first  thought was to use the hutches Tim and my Dad built. They are large. They are sturdy. They also are very heavy. That is a problem if we want to be able to move the birds into fresh grass every now and then.

The other problem is that Kellen is considering raising rabbits again. So, we may need those hutches. Our other two hutches were ones we acquired elsewhere. We really didn't like the design of either of them for rabbits, but for chickens we thought they'd work well.

They did need some slight modification. We cut the legs off them, and made some steps with scrap wood. We stapled some feed bags on the sides to cut the wind until the weather is warmer. One pen is light enough to move by myself. The other Kellen and I can move together. They are the perfect little shelters for the birds.

We set the pens up close to the house. I set up a heat lamp, just in case it gets really cold at night. At night the broilers are closed in the pens. In the morning the feed and water is moved out into the grass, and believe me, these birds follow the feed.

They are not fenced in at all currently. I think as long as we stay close to the house fencing won't be an issue. They do not roam far, and predators won't come this close during the day. If we decide to take the birds farther out, we'll need to set up fencing of some sort to keep them safe.

They seem so happy out there. They are eating clover, chasing bugs, digging through leaves, and acting more like I expect a chicken to act than any other batch of broilers we have ever had. It is good to see! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Building Bat Houses

Our county 4-H camp had a dilemma. There were bats living at the camp. On the one hand that can be a very good thing. The bats will eat thousands of bugs every night, making the camp a much more comfortable place for everyone. The problem is the bats were taking up residence in the eaves of the main building. The health department was none too pleased with the droppings said bats were leaving near areas where food is stored, prepared, and consumed. What to do?

The camp couldn't kill the bats even if they wanted to. Bat proofing the building wasn't working either. Yet, the bats had to go. Our club leader decided the solution was to give the bats a better place to live, and the building of two bat houses began.

There were hand and power tools involved,

and some caulk.

When the houses were built, it was time to stain them and make them more attractive to the bats. 

I think this was Vivian's favorite part. 

The camp caretaker will soon be mounting these houses away from the building. We are all hoping the bats find these new homes comfy and cozy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Moments to Cherish

Wednesday night the three oldest kids stayed sitting on the back deck long after the rest of us have came in to get out of the chill. They were cracking jokes, giggling, and just generally enjoying one another's company. There were dishes to do, and laundry to put away. Bed time was close at hand, but who wants to break this magic moment?

I will be looking to this post again in the future for proof that they really do love each other and can get along.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not the News We Were Hoping For

We got the result from Tim's biopsies this week. They weren't exactly what we had hoped for. There were a small amount of cancer cells in the lymph node that was removed under his arm. The good news, according to the surgeon, is that the cancer was microscopic and that Tim is young and healthy. The bad news is obvious....

This makes his melanoma a stage three. There will be another surgery at the end of the month. This time they will remove all the lymph nodes in the area under his arm. For that we will be going back to North Carolina.

There will be treatment after the surgery. Interferon treatment is the normal treatment course at stage three. Basically Tim will receive large doses of a synthetic copy of a natural protein. It boosts the immune system while making the cancer cells weak. It is not without side effects though. These treatments will be done here in Huntington. We meet with the oncologist next week, but treatment likely will be weekly.

I'm really not sure what else to say. I think I'm still in a little shock that this is really happening. I feel numb. Tim, in typical man style, is mostly worried about the things he isn't going to get done around the farm. It is likely that we will have to slow the farm down again, and put some plans for the farm on hold. The truth is we really don't know what is going to happen after this month.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Home-Ec 101 Skills for Everyday Living

I've been a long time follower of the blog, Home Ec 101, and online acquaintances of its founder Heather Solos.    Heather is knowledgeable, witty, and has great practical advice for homemakers regardless of their skill level. I was happy to hear that she was putting that advice all together in book form, and even more excited when I was asked to review the new book, Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living - Cook it, Clean it, Fix it, Wash it.

There are four sections to the book; Clean It, Wash It, Fix It, and Cook It, with added appendixes. Each chapter contains a wealth of information written in Heather's trademark witty style. In this book you can learn to make keeping a clean house a manageable task, get stains out, fix a hole in the wall, and set up your pantry.  

This book would be an excellent resource for the new bride or young adult living on their own for the first time, but there is plenty in there for those of us who have been cooking and cleaning our own homes for some time now.

F+W Media provided a copy of this book to use for this review. All the opinions are mine.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gotta Enjoy It While You Can

There was sun today, at least until about 1:00 when it started raining. So, after having all four kids into the Dr. at once for checkups (imagine four kids and one adult in an exam room) we picked up some lunch and headed to the park. 

It was a great way for them to burn off some energy before it rained (again) and we ran a gazillion errands. Sometimes you just have to catch the sunshine when you can. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Challenges and Bumps

Last night after dinner, Tim and Kellen loaded up the cattle rack to the farm truck, and I loaded the kids into the family van. We were off to look at some pigs, and hoping to bring home one to be our new poppa pig, and possibly more if we liked what we saw. We headed down the highway toward our destination. About half way there the farm truck starting spewing white smoke out the exhaust; transmission fluid.

Apparently, we have some sort of transmission curse on us. It is unbelievable how many transmission problems we've had with different vehicles since we moved here. Luckily, the whole thing didn't go out, and we were near the exit for the repair shop. We got the truck to the shop, and left it with the cattle rack parked on the street in downtown Huntington.

We decided to head onto our destination to check out the pigs. We hoped we would be able to pay for them, and the farm would hold them until we were able to pick them up.

When we got there we discovered that they only had one pig left! But it was a boar. He looked good, and the price was right. So, we paid for him. Then the guy asks, "Why don't you just back your van down? I bet he'd fit right in the hatch." And he did.

We laid some old feed bags down in the back, and the farmer hoisted up the pig in his arms, carried him out to our van. Did I mention that this is a very tame pig? And back toward home we went with six people, and a pig in the family van.

And because that just isn't enough excitement for one night. . .

We wrecked our van on the way home. More precisely, a deer wrecked our van on the way home.

We were driving up Big Seven Mile. Tim slowed down at a spot where the deer normally hang out to eat in the evening. The deer were there. There was one in the road, and Tim honked the horn while driving slowly. The one in the road jumped out of the way, but it wasn't the only one to move. The stupid deer on the side of the road started running into the road. One of them ran right into the van.

It wasn't hurt. It bounced off my van, and went running back into the woods. Quite honestly, I wish it had been hurt, and was now sitting in my freezer. If you're going to bang up my car, I'd like a little something in return. Banging out a dent, just add it to the to do list.

These are the times that are frustrating to me, and overwhelming to Tim. We are learning though that these are just part of the journey of this life. The to do lists are never ending. The likely hood of a plan going off with out a hitch is small. This is part of life. It just seems amplified when you're farming, especially when you're tired from working your paying job, and making trips out of state for medical treatments.

So, we take a deep breath. We adjust. We do what we can while addressing the most pressing items on the to do list. We realize that in the big picture very little on that list is all that important. We enjoy the process, and our family while while dealing with life's challenges and bumps. We rest in the knowledge that our life really is found in Christ, and that the challenges and bumps of life in this world don't change who we are or what we have in Him.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Our Mini Vacation to Durham & Again With the Waiting

We headed to Durham, NC last Tuesday. The main purpose of the trip was for Tim's surgery, but we took a couple of extra days for some fun family time. (A huge thank you to the Kines for farm sitting for us while we were gone.) The weather was cold and wet. The kids were all fighting colds, but we refused to be deterred. There was fun to be had.

Everything started on the right foot when we checked into our hotel. I know the hotel itself really isn't usually one of the highlights of a trip, but we loved this place. The deal I got it on it was fabulous too, and if you know me, you know how much I love a great deal. I took a chance and booked two nights of our stay using Expedia's unpublished deals. The rates here are fantastic, but the catch is you only get limited information about the hotel. You don't even know which hotel it is until you pay for the room.

It ended up that I booked Homewood Suites. The suite was bigger (and nicer) than my first apartment. A full breakfast was included, and what we didn't know until we got there was a dinner was also included. Everything was nice and clean. The staff was friendly. The only thing that would have made the stay better was an indoor pool or weather that was nice enough for us to use the outside pool. We loved staying there, and we got it for a steal. After I get the rebate back from Ebates,  I will have paid just less than $50/night for our stay there!

Photo from Kidzu. Photo credit: Jim Sink.
I hoped to visit some historical (and free) places while we were there, but the nasty weather forced us into indoor activities. The savings from dinner being provided at the hotel enabled us to spend a little more than we planned on activities. We went to the Kidzu Children's Museum. This was a little smaller than I expected, and was definitely geared toward the younger kids. For those of you who are local, it reminded me a lot of the basement of Highlands Museum. There were lots of educational play stations. Even the oldest boys, Tim and Kellen, had fun with the over sized building blocks and other construction type areas.

Photo from Museum of Life and Science
The next day was spent at the Museum of Life and Science. This was an incredible museum. There was so much to do there. We spent the entire day, and still didn't see everything. Our favorite spots there were the Butterfly House, the Dinosaur Trail,  soundSpace, and Amazing Structures. The kids were less than thrilled with the Farmyard. Gee, I wonder why? They were probably afraid someone was going to tell them to grab a feed bucket.

The next day was Tim's surgery. I can't thank Bev enough. She is a friend of a friend who gave up her day to take three of my kids and  three of her grandkids around for the day. The weather was finally nice, and the kids had a great time. This made the day so much easier for me.  Tim spent the entire day at the hospital. Kellen and I were there for the afternoon.

The surgery went well. Tim is going to have a nasty scar on his shoulder, but that really is not a big deal. The surgery really doesn't tell us anything until the lab results come back. They will be checking the removed lymph nodes and tissue surrounding the original melanoma to see if the cancer had spread. The odds are in our favor, but we'll be waiting about a week before we know what happens next.

Again, I want to thank all of you have helped us in so many ways! We have a wonderful community of support!