Saturday, April 29, 2006

Farm stories from my dad

Both my parents were born on a farm. My mother's dad worked as an electrician, then a tool maker, so my mother ended up leaving the farm life relatively early. My father, however, pretty much stayed on the farm until he graduated from high school (After that, he became a tool maker, a repair man for industrial equipment, and finally a plant manager). As a couple, they were known as "Goody Two-Shoes and the Filthy Beast."

The goody two-shoes part isn't an exaggeration, but the filthy beast part is more a product of my dad's sense of humor than anything else.

Of course, anyone who is paying attention is going to realize that I'm a cross between goody two-shoes and the filthy beast. Nobody who knows me well is surprised.

As you might imagine, Dad has quite a few stories about farm life. He also is known for his colorful sayings and expressions, but a large fraction of them won't ever make it to these pages.

My dad is the youngest of four kids. As the little brother, he had to put up with a certain amount of non-sense -- especially from his big sister (the oldest of the crew).

But in this case, it was his older brothers who are the guilty party.

Even way back in the stone age, electric fences were used to keep the livestock where they belong. To work properly, the hot lead is attached to the fence, and the ground lead is attached to a rod pounded into the ground. That rod is very important, because the current needs a complete path in order to shock the critter in question.

Dad's older brothers informed him that the problem with the fence that day was that the ground was too dry around the rod. They talked little Chucky into umm... watering it. I understand that the results were rather enlightening.

Apparently, his 'equipment' came to no permanent harm, though it may have addled the brains of his future offspring.

But that isn't the story I was planning on telling. It really just serves as an indication of where he gets his sense of humor.

One time, his cousins came for a visit. One of them was quite interested in the pigeons. In order to see the nesting birds, he stuck his head into the coop and looked up.

Now, try this experiment. Look up as high as you can. What happens to your mouth?

Yep, you guessed it. This guy pulled his head out and started hacking and spitting for all he's worth.

My father, ever so sympathetic, said "It's a good thing you had your mouth open or that bird would have pooped right in your face!"

Good horse, clueless owners

I had some of my infamous whole wheat pancakes for breakfast this morning. No guinea or duck eggs, though. Just some genuine all-natural free-range chicken butt berries. The kids all wanted fried eggs.

Actually, they wanted something else -- I know not what. I don't think they do, either. Mary will play the game of quizzing them until she finds out what tickles their fancy at the moment, but I don't play that game. Mary doesn't play it all the time, either. She says that the picky often go hungry (which is the rule at the home where she grew up)

But anyhow, after first refusal, I rephrased the question. I told Paul that I'm offering eggs. "Do you want eggs, or would you rather go hungry, bow bow bow?"

So they all had eggs.

But today's story isn't about stubborn kids (they come by it naturally) or free-range hen fruit. It's about that hay burner that's sharing our large-sized but increasingly crowded barnyard with four goats and a collection of poultry of various sizes and descriptions (but the poultry can escape at will).

One of these days, Mary is gong to succeed in riding her horse. That day was supposed to be yesterday, but no such luck.

So... Mary took her girl out of the barnyard and brought her up to the front porch (kind of a misnomer, seein's it's a good 1/10 of a mile from the road; with the entire front pasture and front forest in between).

Anyhow, while I was doing some necessary maintenance, Mary dragged the saddle and bridle out to the front porch and got her hay burner. She gave her a good brushing and put the saddle blanket on her. I put the saddle on and cinched it down. Mary kept telling me to not make it so tight, but I reminded her that we have never heard any warnings about tightening a saddle too much. Usually, the admonition is to make sure that it's tight enough so it won't slide down. Also, I have seen people seriously reef on them to get them tight enough.

So, I got it as tight as I could. Mary had purchased the longest girth strap that she could, so I tightened it until I ran out of strap.

But, when Mary put her foot in the stirrup and tried to mount her mighty mare, the saddle turned sideways. (I should point out that I did not say "I told you so" at this point.)

Sarah wasn't all that happy about the situation, and let us know about it. I tried to lift the saddle upright again, but sarah danced around and Mary got in the way and Sarah eventually got the lead rope wrapped around her front leg.

I convinced Mary to get out of the way, and to untie the lead rope. I untangled Sarah's leg, brought her in close and calmed her, then passed her back to Mary. Finally, I got the saddle back in its proper upright position.

Now, one rule to working with animals is that you have to be the top dog, alpha male, herd queen, or whatever. If you let the animal win, you have some ground to make up, and everything gets harder until you resume your position as head nut-case and erase any confusion that the animal might have about who's boss around here. This is relatively simple with dogs and goats and other animals that you can physically dominate. Horses take more work. A horse that doesn't understand that you're the boss can be a dangerous animal.

So, we had to succeed in riding her.

Before we did that, I lead her around the yard a few times. Then, I gave Mary the lead and called Paul over. I readjusted the helmet strap and stuck it on his head. Paul had no problem mounting Sarah. Mary walked him around, and everyone was happy.

Meanwhile, I wandered over to the hen house to collect eggs. While I was there, one of the guinea hens managed to corner herself. Who am I to resist such an obvious invitation? I picked her up and petted her. Contrary to what we might have learned by watching Born Free, you are supposed to handle your domestic animals. Wild animals should be left alone, but domestic animals were bred to coexist with humans, and should he handled to reinforce that.

But you have to understand something about guinea fowl.

Guineas are only partially domesticated -- despite our best efforts. They like to be picked up and handled even less than our flighty leghorns. They are the watchdogs of the farm. They pitch a fit whenever anything disturbs them.

The keets (baby guineas) are cute little snots. They are small, and have these little stripes on their heads. It goes downhill from there, though.

They are very quick to get their flight feathers, and will fly around the barn if they get out of the brooder.

When we got our first batch, they came two weeks later than the chickens. Since they start out smaller than chickens in the first place (they fit through the one inch hexagons of chicken wire), they had some catching up to do. When they were big enough to go out of the brooder, I put them into the pen with the other chickens. They got challenged by every chick, and ended up running around in a miserable little huddled mass.

I put them out every day for longer and longer periods of time, until finally they got the peck order thing all straightened out and an uneasy peace settled upon the flock (sort of).

But the day of reckoning was coming. Once they got bigger, they decided that they didn't need to put up with the chickens.

Right from a couple weeks of age, chickens do the "belly bumping" thing. They stand as tall as they can, puff out their hackles (neck feathers), and jump at each other. It looks like they are trying to spur each other, but they don't have spurs yet. It's actually quite comical.

But the guineas don't play that way.

One of the chickens did his puff-up huff and bluff routine, and the guinea bored in and gave him a good, sound peck. The chicken ran away, and the guinea followed and relieved him of a few feathers.

Soon, the guineas were universally recognized as the baddest birds in the barnyard (until the ducks came, but that's another story).

So anyhow, I was loving on this guinea girl, and she was trying her best to relieve me of a few feathers. They peck hard, by the way. They won't draw blood in one peck, but you definitely know that you've been pecked. It's not like those half-hearted little pecks that our broody white rock hens deliver.

And did I mention that they have some sharp toenails? They don't have spurs, but they can definitely inflict some good scratches with their feet. It is, without a doubt, a "handle with care" situation.

Oh yah, they make some noise, too. It's possible to calm a guinea that you're holding, but that's deceptive. What she's really doing is saving her strength and plotting her escape. If she has to hurt you in the process, that's OK.

As you can imagine, the horse and the guineas didn't start out on the best of terms when Sarah was delivered to us. The guineas squawked about that strange new animal, and the horse was upset by those flighty things. Things have settled down, though. They seem to be used to each other.

Anyhow, I had this guinea, so I walked around the garage to show her to Paul. He likes guineas. I posted a picture of him holding one a couple weeks ago.

"Hey Paul, what do I have?"

"It's a buzzard-beak!" (Said with a smile in that tone of voice that I love to hear from him.)

I knew better than to bring that squawky bird close to the horse, so I was a good fifty feet away when I came around the garage. Still, when the bird gave off a squawk, the horse startled just a bit. Not much, but it was enough to get the saddle to slide sideways just a bit and dump Paul.

Actually, Paul did a very nice emergency dismount. He's getting better at it. The first time he startled, when the neighbors discharged a high-powered rifle, he was tossed off and landed on his head. Thank God for helmets! Still, Mary checked his pupils and quizzed him and did all those things that a good nurse will do with a potential concussion case. Paul's head is a bit too hard for that, though.

It's funny how we end up hearing rifle shots most often when we are working with the horse. I don't know who's doing it, but what makes me suspicious is that the neighbor's live-in boyfriend was about to throw a rock at Sarah when she escaped a few days ago. To her great credit, Val told him to put the rock down. She's trying really hard to be a good neighbor.

But rifle shots are pretty standard fare in the country. I'm surprised that she is bothered by them. It really isn't a safe situation.

We have a nice berm separating our property from the 40 acre parcel to the north. That parcel is someone's hunting property, and backs up to the national forest.

So, I pounded a stick in the ground in front of the berm and put a tin can on the stick. Now, we have a mini rifle range. We can plink at the can from our front porch with Mary's Ruger 10/22. The first time we did that, Sarah was upset. She's used to it now, which is the whole point of this exercise. The extra target practice doesn't hurt, either. We are on our second tin can, since the first one has been reduced to shrapnel.

After the power came back on (we had a short power outage yesterday), I got onto google images and looked for some good bridle pictures.

But let me back up a bit.

Mary bought a complete bridle, but didn't want to use the solid one-piece bit because the author of the Winnie the Horse Gentler series says that the bits that are made of copper and hinged in the middle are more comfortable for the horses. She brought all this stuff home and moved the leather parts over to the better bit.

Once she told me that, I figured that we aren't even sure that the thing is put together properly. Neither of us know how to do it, and Mary isn't the type to meticulously analyze. She isn't mechanically disinclined, but she doesn't have the long experience of watching things go to go pot because you didn't watch each detail.

So, I typed "Bridle" into google images and got a few good sites. I also got the usual collection merchant sites, some historical information about "Scold's Bridles", something called "Pony Girls" that isn't about 4H girls and their horses (don't ask), and a few [ahem] other sites.

Armed with some good information and pictures (not from the "pony girls" site), I managed to disassemble the bridle and put it together correctly. I know how to properly fasten it now, too. The next step is to print out an email that I got from a friend up in Quebec who was kind enough to give me some good pointers.

I guess we need to go get a shorter girth strap, too. Trying to ride around on a horse with a loose saddle is nuts.

I really feel like I'm behind the eight-ball on this one. I don't generally go into project half-prepared like this. Generally, I get obsessed with something, read everything I can get my hands on about it, and finally start actually working with it when I get the opportunity (or money). That was the case with ham radio, scuba diving, and a number of other hobbies. I knew all about air embolisms, nitrogen narcosis, the bends, and similar hazards long before I ever took the official PADI scuba course. Alas, I was sick when we did the open water certification. I met Mary very soon after that, and somehow never got around to rescheduling that final test. Oh well... I'll go through the course again later.

But this is Mary's obsession. I'm helping where I can because Mary doesn't really have the time to do it all. Besides that, I connect with animals better than she does (probably because I had so much trouble connecting with people in the past). If I dream of riding a horse, that dream will have to be deferred, anyhow. I don't think a haflinger is going to carry my 300 pound bulk. I need a percheron or clydesdale or maybe whatever it was that the knights in shining armor rode.

I'm cheating for today's gratuitous images. I not only stole the images from my web site, I also stole the HTML code.

The above flower is a Pink Lady Slipper. It is a protected wild orchid that grows in low wooded areas. These were photographed in the central part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan - about half way between Cadillac and Grand Rapids.

I have seen them in books many times, but I saw them for the first time in the spring of 2000.

If you want to see my old "Vanity Press" web site that I haven't updated in about five years, it's here:

I have a few of my old photos there, along with some javascript applications. If you want to goof with your Jeep's gearing, make your own lye soap, or modify an engine, you can find some help there. I also have my resume' and project list posted, and am open to doing programming, technical writing, or whatever.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yucky cold

6 Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ
1 Peter 1:6-7

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

This is supposed to be a no-angst blog, so I have to do a little spin doctoring. I guess we have all been growing these past few days.

The cold isn't that big of a deal. It just steals the energy that I would use to make things better around here. The kids are less frustrated about it because they get to sit in front of the TV and watch videos all day. We don't do broadcast TV, which means that we get to pick and choose what they are exposed to. Mary has been borrowing videos from the Tustin Public Library, and the kids have definitely been getting their fifty cents worth out of the tapes.

Meanwhile, I'm running out of gratuitous images to post. I have plenty of pictures around here, but my scanners don't want to work properly. The flat bed scanner is leaving streaks in the images. Cleaning the glass helped, but I think I need to remove it and give it a serious cleaning in the shower with hot water.

But I would rather use the film scanner, anyhow. I have some negatives that need to be scanned. Unfortunately, the twain driver can't find the scanner hardware. I looked in the system setup, and I can't find the SCSI drivers (even though the flat bed scanner is working). I really want to reload the drivers. I have all the drivers and operating system stuff in a nice CD carrying case, but I can't find the thing. You know... I finally got my stuff together, but I forgot where I left it.

But things have been getting done around here. I'm mostly getting inside stuff done, like cooking and stuff. There is some yummy cheesecake out in the kitchen right now.

But what I really need to do is get to bed and rest. I'll get rid of this cold a whole lot faster if I give my body the rest it needs.

So, that's my excuse for not answering any of the replies. I'll get to it soon. I'll also scan in some pictures. Meanwhile, I have three nice shots of my old cat Jennyanydots (also called snottydots because she was such a pip). She was my pet when I was going through college.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Horses and New Patients

Things are greening up more around here. The horse actually has some grass to chew on in the front pasture. She seems to particularly enjoy the wild carrots (queen ann's lace).

Mary made the mistake of taking the goats out with her. The goats decided to run off, and the kids ignored Mary's calls for help. She tied the horse to a tree and chased the goat around the garden, worried that it would go to the neighbor's place and give them something to complain about.

Well, she got the goat, but the horse escaped and ran to the neighbor's place. The Val's boyfriend was about to throw a rock at her until Val told him to stop. I was just about to go out when all this happened. I grabbed the bucket that we use to give her grain, put a can full of sweet feed into it, and went over. Mary got the Sarah (the horse) before I got there. It's a really good thing that Sarah is so good-natured.

The boys ended up losing dessert and getting a stern lecture about doing what they are told, and how their disobedience could have caused a disaster. I wish I could believe that they took it to heart. Somehow, they think that they don't always have to listen to their mother. They get into trouble when they try to ignore me.

In other news, Mary has a new home health care patient. He is the one surviving boy that was in a carload of teens that was involved in a head-on collision. Mary has taken care of him in the hospital, but never got to meet him when he wasn't in big medical trouble. She will now be doing some routine care. Her experience with pediatric rehabilitation at the Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital will be a big help.

Gratuitous image of the day:


I'm lazy today, so I'll just post a few fillers... I mean gratuitous photos.

The critter in question here is a five-lined skink -- the only lizard that lives in Michigan (outside a zoo or someone's pet cage, anyhow.)

(yes, I have been reading too many web comics)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Gourmet pancakes?

Well... sort of.

Yesterday, I made some pancakes with duck, guinea, and chicken eggs. How's that for a gourmet mixture? To tell the truth, there really isn't any difference (though some people really like duck eggs).

I tend to make my pancakes very egg-rich because I like adding the extra protein. I use one egg for every 1/4 cup of whole-grain flour. I like to use white whole wheat because it has a milder flavor, but still has all the good stuff that you find in whole grain flour.

The real trick to making pancakes or cake or whatever this way is to add plenty of water (or milk), and to add a heaping teaspoon of baking powder for each cup of flour. Also, if you let the batter sit for a while before adding the baking powder and cooking it, the moisture will soak into the bran and germ of the wheat.

What really topped things off, though, was the home made cherry almond jelly (closer to syrup, but that's OK for pancakes). This year, we're going to go to Traverse City early and pick a few buckets of those sour cherries. We'll also get plenty of sweet black and sweet red (Queen Ann) cherries. We need to get some cherry trees planted in our orchard this year if possible. It'll take a few years to get much from them, though. I'm glad we live about an hour from Traverse City.

Now that spring is here, the animals are all doing spring things. Our pregnant goat is getting huge, and having a little difficulty getting up into the shelter. She does it when I give them grain, but she otherwise stays down in the run. That's OK because we throw hay out there every day for the horse, and there is a big 40 gallon stock watering tub that we keep filled.

Meanwhile, last year's hatch of roosters are acting obnoxious. They are essentially teen-agers (in chicken years), and don't yet know how to handle their testosterone The old hens are putting them in their place, though. It's rare to see a hen fighting a rooster, but they have been doing exactly that. Those poor little hen-pecked boys end up running away.

Also, the two top roosters had a knock-down drag-out fight a few days ago. I guess Little Red wants to take the alpha spot from Stripe.

What's even funnier, though, are the little silkie roosters, the littler banties, and the huge buff orpingtons. Those little banties chase the buff orpingtons around the yard. The guineas chase everyone but the ducks. It isn't about mating, though. It's about who gets the best food. That drake likes to chase the guineas away. Nobody messes with the ducks.

This morning, I walked out to the corner of the barn yard to toss a pitch fork full of hay over the fence. The horse came running, and a hen happened to be between me and the horse. That hen took off a squawkin', and ran and flapped for quite a few feet in front of that galloping horse. There are times when a video camera would come in really handy.

Gratuitous photo of the day:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

AI meeting

We went to the monthly autism support group this evening. It is run by the Wexford-Missaukee intermediary school district.

I have never been a big one for support groups. I have no problem with them, but I never felt the need to attend. I don't do group therapy, either, for that matter. This one does a world of good, though.

When you raise a kid with something visible like a missing limb or a twisted frame, you can expect to get a few stares, looks of pity, or whatever. When you raise a child with some kind of a special need that affects behavior, you get comments about your parenting skills. Of course, most people are polite enough to just think it. Most comments never make it to your ears. Someone who sees you struggle with a child in a wheel chair may open the door for you. Someone who sees you struggling with a child with ADHD or Asperger's will give you a look of disdain, if he engages you at all.

So it's nice to hang out with a group of people who face the same challenges. It's nice to know that you're not alone.

Of course, there are now a number of email lists that are designed to help and support parents and children. There are even a few for adults who are dealing with those issues.

The point is that so many of us are going at it alone, and we don't have to.

I could easily launch into a long discussion about the subject. I'll have to save it for later, though, because my thoughts are a bit scattered at the moment. Suffice it to say that there is a genetic component in these neurological differences. Studies have shown that when both parents are analytical types (their way of saying 'nerds'), the probability of ending up with an autistic child increases greatly.

Gratuitous picture of the day:

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Gratuitous Pictures...

Or, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I have been scraping the bottom of the barrel for gratuitous images. Most of the photos that I have been publishing came from the last two rolls of pictures that I had processed. I used them because I'm lazy. When I had them processed, I asked for the images to be scanned and put on a CD.

Today, I dug up some old pictures and scanned some of them in. I'm still being lazy. Instead of digging up the negatives and using the film scanner, I'm just sticking them on the flat bed scanner. If I want to make desktop pictures out of any of them, I'll have to go ahead and fire up the negative scanner.

First, the good:

Back when Paul (my cousin) and I did darkroom work, we would choose between 74RC color paper (for normal work), and 78RC (when more contrast is needed). Then, we would run test strips and adjust the color and exposure (brightness). After a while, we got pretty good at guessing. That saved us some paper because we needed less test strips.

Now, I just use a photo editing program to change the color, contrast, brightness, and a bunch of other things. I easily salvaged some pretty mushy (lacking in contrast) images.

Unfortunately, there are some streaks that are either on the scanner class or the picture itself. When I find the negative, I'll try scanning it in. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the pictures.

The flowers you see are called bloodroots. That's because there is a red sap in the roots that resembles blood. The stems and leaves have an orange sap.

Now, the bad:

OK, maybe you like spiders. The bugs think that this guy (or gal) is pretty bad, though.

Come to the cobweb hotel.

Finally, the ugly:

Actually, I'm the ugly one. Paul is that handsome redhead that's snapping a picture. I'm picking up the tent and shaking the dust out of it. Paul never told me if he positioned the camera to obscure the fact that I'm wearing shorts on purpose. But trust me. I'm not nekkid in that picture.

Of course, this picture has been on my web site for a few years:

He has tan shorts on. Trust me.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Long day

I hope you all had a great Easter! Ours was nice and quiet -- no road trips. We did get up early, though.

The good folks at our church served breakfast this morning. I had to be careful not to stuff myself too much to sing.

I didn't know it, but the church owns a small collection of choir robes. I haven't worn one of those in quite a few years. But, we donned them and went up to the front to practice. I felt like a poser because I had missed so many practices (Mary works nights, so I can't make any practice that happens on one of her work nights). There was one song that I hadn't even seen. I managed to pick up some of it by listening and sight-reading. I had to stay quiet on the parts I couldn't get, though.

I had actually debated about whether I should continue with the choir, or just bow out. I think I'll be sticking with it, though. All I have to do is learn some of their basic repertoire, and it'll go better. One song, Lord I Lift Your Name On High, felt really good. I already knew the song, so I wasn't at all timid about hitting it full volume. All the old habits of dropping the diaphragm, popping out the gut, and letting the stomach muscles do all the work came back. When you can pay attention to the singing, instead of just worrying about hitting the right note, things work out a lot better.

By the way, I'm convinced that choir robes were invented as a way to hide the bellies of all these singers who are sticking it out for a good tank full of air.

The rest of the day was just spent around the house. Mary cooked today. We had ham, sweet potatoes, salad, and mashed potatoes for dinner. We also had some cheese cake made with goat cheese. Don complained about the goat cheese, so I told him that he's right. It's nasty stuff, so his mom and I will just have to eat it all. He had his share. (hee hee)

I just found out that my Great Aunt Irene spent Easter with God. She had been in hospice care for a while, and passed away on Good Friday. She was well into her eighties, and had lived a good life. She will be missed.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I finished most of the pruning today. There are a couple trees on the other side of the crick, and up near the road. All the trees that we got good apples from last fall are done, though.

If those trees could feel pain, they would be screaming. I pruned some of them way too much. My favorite tree, however, is in good shape. I cut off all of the branches that go way up, but left an excessive amount of lower branches; even some that are crossed (but not rubbing). That tree will get more pruning next fall or spring, after the remaining branches have started to grow out.

Unless I managed to shock some of the trees, they should all start to grow very vigorously as soon as they leaf out. Pruning does that. The roots contain enough nutrients to start the entire tree growing, and all that sap will be going to the remaining limbs. I expect lots of water sprouts (shoots that go straight up from the top of the tree, and are generally trimmed very soon). I will let them stay there for at least this entire year because the trees will need plenty of leaves to soak up that good sunlight and make food (and apples!) for the tree.

God prunes us, too. He is divine, and we are de branches. ;-) (If this goes over your head, read John 15:5)

All joking aside, we branches have branches, and sometimes they need pruning. Pruning promotes growth, and forces the energy into the right path. When we put too much energy in things that are useless, we are wasting our lives. If we get stubborn about it, the merciful thing for God is to prune off those wayward shoots. Sure, it hurts; but it's better than the alternative. God never promised us a pain-free life, anyhow. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

If those trees in our front pasture had been taken care of over the past years, they would be in good shape now. They would not have needed the severe pruning that I dealt to them.

But, they were neglected. In fact, it appears that they have never been pruned in their entire lives.

I chose to do a severe pruning. The trees will be shocked, but they will grow vigorously. I will probably use a slower method for the other trees. I'll only cut off the most wayward limbs this year, and do the same for the next few years.

Both methods work. Do a really severe pruning once, followed by much lighter prunings, or do a relatively severe pruning three or four years in a row. There are advantages to either method.

Of course, the best method is to lightly prune every year from the beginning. If you have the tree from the time it's a sapling, you can do that. Let it go, though, and you have to severely prune. Once it's pruned, however, you can go back to using a lighter touch.

Similarly, God can care for us in many ways. Unlike my clumsy attempts, he knows exactly what to do. He gives us free will -- lets us somewhat choose our method. If we decide to turn away for a number of years, the pruning will be severe once we turn back. Or, if a Christian turns away for life, the end will be less than happy. We'll still be saved, but as through fire (1Corinthians 3:15).

So, what will it be? How much will you cringe from the loving touch of Him?

I, myself, have been pruned severely a few times. It still continues to happen, but the blessings are great. Moving my family out to the country has been a dream come true. Along the way, even in the worst of times, His comfort has been there. Just like those children's books where you know that the hero will come out alive and victorious, we know the end of the story. We don't know the details, but we know that victory is ours for the asking.

And now, this Easter, we are celebrating that victory. All that pruning is moving us toward perfection.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tree Massacre

No, I didn't kill a bunch of trees today. It looks like it, though. I employed the Chuck Drouillard "Cut 'em to bloody stubs" method of pruning our apple trees.

We have several apple trees in our front pasture. We had a bumper crop of apples last fall, but way too many of the apples ended up staying on the tree. They are just too big, and even with that apple picker I made, along with a nice step ladder that was left by the previous owners of this fine estate, we just couldn't reach them.

I'm afraid I removed too much from some of them. I intended to leave them about twelve feet tall, but I cut some a little too much. Still, they will be OK in a year or two.

I, on the other hand, need to see a chiropractor.

The trick to properly hacking the trees is to first remove the dead wood. Then, get rid of all of the limbs that cross and rub, get rid of the limbs that go too high, and get rid of the limbs that are shaded. If you are doing this to old trees that have never been pruned, you'll end up with a bunch of branches littering the ground. If you want to save your back, cut off smaller pieces so you don't end up dragging pieces of wood that weigh a couple hundred pounds. If you happen to be in your 40s, cut the macho stuff and drag something that won't kill you. [groan] (Maybe I can talk Mary into working out the kinks in my back.)

Unfortunately, I need to do more because the pole saw threw its chain, and I have to put it back in the track. Oh well...

I had never heard of a pole saw until recently. It really is a nice thing to have around. Imagine a chainsaw at the end of a stick, and you just about have it. Actually, the engine is at the end that you hold, and the cutter bar is at the other end. It's really good for cutting off limbs that are too high to reach. It is also great if you're a klutz who might hurt yourself because the cutter bar is twelve feet away from you. Even my brother, who has done interesting things like driving a nail through his knuckle, would have a hard time hurting himself.

It isn't totally foolproof, of course. You have to be aware of where the limb you're removing is likely to fall, and you have to be ready to dodge if your prediction turns out to be a little off. Ask me how I know about that one.

But I managed to get most of it done, and I have no major injuries (strained muscles don't count).

It feels good to be getting some stuff done around here. My list of spring projects is under way. I pulled the feed containers (garbage cans) out of the storage area so that we can rinse the chicken poop off of them and shovel the contents of the concrete slab into the roost area (where it will be tilled, removed, and used to fertilize the carrots and potatoes). I also planted two grape vines. We now need to get more fruit trees to put into the orchard, and make some modifications to the coop area. Things are definitely coming along.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Moooa ha ha ha!

I'll tell you about the maniacal laughter later.

Today, Mary went to Bible study once we got the kids off to school. I was here by myself for a while.

So, I went outside and took care of the animals. There wasn't a whole lot to do, though. I went into the main shelter area to check on things and Sarah (the horse) came up to see me when I went to the opening that leads to the pen. I petted her and talked to her. When I walked back to the door, she followed me. That's kind of unusual. What isn't unusual is that the goat ran up and got between me and the door. I don't know if she was looking for attention, or if she wanted to escape.

But the horse wanted more attention. I petted her some more and hugged her neck (shhhh! Don't tell anyone!). Anyhow, ever get kissed by a horse? I keep telling her that she's supposed to be Mary's horse.

But I finally escaped. I tossed the horse a pitchfork full of hay because she was pretty much down to just stems.

Now the goats... you have to understand the goats. They are real stinkers. They are intelligent -- more so than cows, anyhow. And sneaky, too.

That little one keeps squeezing through the fence into the chicken roost area and eating the laying mash (chicken feed). If the shelter area door is open, he escapes.

I told everyone that he's going to go to the meat processing business if they don't get around to teaching him to pull a cart. That's what they got him for, but now they're distracted from that by the horse. Maybe they'll believe me, and maybe not. In any case, I have been calling him meat boy because you're not supposed to name your meat animals.

He escaped again later, so I picked him up and carried him back to the pen. He isn't hard to catch because he comes to humans like he would his mother. I picked him up to carry him, and he tried to kiss me. Dumb goat! How can I take you to the butcher shop if you're going to try to lay goat kisses on me?

Later, we went to the feed mill. I bought 150 pounds of laying mash. The chickens sure have been eating way too much of that stuff lately.

I poured it into the feeder, which made the feeding trough part of it almost overflow. Then, I saw through a gap in the manger that there is a goat sticking her head through the fence. I thought I had taken care of all the places that they could use to get at the feed about a year ago!

So, I beat her about the head and shoulders with a snow shovel.

OK, that's an exaggeration. What I did was to take a plastic snow shovel and use it to make a bunch of noise and commotion so that she would back out. Within about ten seconds, she was at it again.

So, I ducked under the nest boxes and went into the roost area. Before that, though, I shut off the electric fence chargers and grabbed a length of wire.

Both wires run along the ceiling at the back of the roost area. Let's see... the most powerful charger is on the top wire. It didn't take long to hook the small length of wire I brought in from the top fence wire to the metal gate.

I went back under the nest boxes and plugged the chargers back in. The results were instant. I heard a nubian goat baaaa in surprise.

now you know what the maniacal laughter is all about. Frustrating goats...

After that, I gave Mary fair warning that I had electrified the gate. She forgot, though, and started to climb up on it. She was startled so badly that she fell backward right into the shelter area (which is in bad need of a good cleaning). I told her that she should let me know the next time she wants to try that so that I can watch. The doctors tell me that the bruising will go away in a couple months, and that I'll eventually be able to use that body part again.

(Just kidding, of course. One of the things I love about Mary is her sense of humor.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Up and coming technology

After that overly syrupy message I just wrote, it's time to use the other half of my brain and assert my nerdy side.

You would have to have been sleeping for the last fifty years to not notice that technology is running along at a break-neck pace. What are some of the next trends? What is in the research laboratories? There are a bunch of things, but I'll stick with one for now.

Has anyone heard of nanotubes? How about buckyballs? What are we going to do with them?

First, some background.

Not too long ago, someone postulated that 60 carbon atoms could be put together like a little soccer ball. It wasn't too long after that that someone actually figured out how to make them. Also, it turns out that they are often made naturally.

They are called buckyballs after R. Buckminster Fuller (Bucky Fuller), the inventor of the geodesic dome. That's because they are put together like a geodesic dome.

It stands to reason that the little C60 molecules are strong, since carbon bonds are strong, and they are put into a geodesic dome configuration.

Now, take some buckyballs, kind of unwrap them a bit, and roll them into a tube. This is called a nanotube. It is actually a tube of standard graphite.

Let's back up a bit again.

Graphite consists of a bunch of layers of carbon arrayed like chicken wire (hexagonal). If you take a strip of that and roll it up, you have a nanotube. Nanotubes come in a variety of diameters and configurations. The 'chicken wire' can be wrapped at a variety of angles.

So what's so special about this stuff?

Several things, actually. The biggest one is that it has the highest tensile strength of any substance yet discovered or invented. In fact, they want to use a ribbon of it to stretch from the equator up to and beyond geostationary orbit (some 22,300 miles up -- where you find the communication satellites). It's an old idea, but it's only recently that anyone has actually found something strong enough to pull it off.

This ribbon up into orbit is called a space elevator, or a beanstalk.

But what about earthly uses for this stuff?

The first items to be made with nanotubes will probably be things like tennis rackets and golf club handles. That's because people who are into sports are often willing to pay lots of bucks for anything that will improve their performance.

Later, we'll see things like car bodies and toys and laptop computer cases made out of nanotubes.

Actually, they will be made out of a composite of nanotubes with something else. Anywhere you see graphite composites used (fighter jets, fishing rods, etc.) will be a prime place for nanotubes. How would you like a five pound canoe? How about a bullet-proof vest that actually works and isn't all that bulky? Anything that you want to make lighter and stronger will benefit from nanotubes.

But that isn't all.

Properly doped, nanotubes act as semiconductors. In the future, electronics made from nanotubes will be small, fast, and efficient. Light emitting diodes made from nanotubes can be very efficient -- beating even fluorescent and mercury vapor lamps.

But don't buy now! There's more.

One specific configuration actually works very similar to a superconductor. It isn't a superconductor, but it's close. The resistance is independent of the length. The only energy loss is due to some coupling losses at the ends of the conductor. That means that you can put the much-touted solar power satellites up into geostationary orbit, and pipe the power down through a special beanstalk rather than using big microwave transmitters and rectenna arrays that use up a few square miles of land.

Down here, power lines can be replaced with the stuff. No more line losses. Motors can be wound with nanotube conductors for added efficiency and reduced heat. The list goes on.

By the way, another form of carbon is a three-dimensional crystalline structure. This stuff is clear and conducts heat very well. Until a few months ago, it was the hardest substance known.

Yep, I'm talking about diamonds.

Wait a minute! Used to be the strongest substance known?

Recently someone took a bunch of buckyballs, gave them the heat and pressure treatment, and made a substance harder than diamond. If they can figure out how to coat things with this stuff, we'll have some really mar-proof surfaces.

Can you think of some more uses for buckyballs, nanotubes, and the new buckyball harder-than-diamond stuff? Post away!

Getting sappy in my old age

I think I'm scheduled for a midlife crisis now. 45 Is a good age for that, isn't it?

Sorry, but I'm too busy to have a crisis now. It'll have to wait at least until I get the stuff cleaned out of the animal poop... I mean shelter area, get the garden planted, get the apple trees pruned, and plant a bunch fruit trees. (Mary found an ad in the paper -- inexpensive trees in Ludington if we buy enough. Better start digging holes in the front pasture.)

In all seriousness, we have managed to avert the whole midlife crisis issue by starting a whole new life in the country. The whole "Stuck here with my dreams drained away" feeling just doesn't form when you're busy building your dreams.

That's not to say that there aren't enough things to be depressed or anxious about. I just know that they will pass, and life will move on.

One of the best things (here on Earth) about being a Christian is the sure knowledge that all these trials have a reason, and that they end up turning out for the best in the long run -- and we Christians are set for a very long run. Eternal, to be exact.

But after going around and doing this and doing that, I ended up going in three directions at once. Hey, that's not unusual for us ADHD types.

Mary got a horse, so I now have to learn a lot about those critters. I started reading about behavior and training techniques. It's kind of a "duh" experience -- it's all common sense. Horse sense, I guess. It's a lot like the stuff I read in that book about The Farmer's Dog.

I volunteered to sing for the Easter service at church. I haven't been in any kind of a chorus or choir for over a decade. We have all too little time to get ready for this thing -- and I am unfamiliar with most of the songs. Some have some beautiful harmony that blends well and is easy to sing. Other parts are kind of strange and difficult to sight-read. I wish we had a piano so that I could plink it our and get a feel for the intervals. Oh well... I'll get the hang of it again eventually.

This blog is another project that I started. I have been talking about it for a long time, but kept putting it off and feeling unready. I think Mary was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to start. You see, this is not just a 'vanity press' type project. I'm developing my skills and trying to break into professional writing. I'm not sure where this will lead, but it won't go anywhere if I don't start.

But some of the changes aren't things that I am consciously fostering.

But let me back up a bit -- like maybe thirty years. I gave my heart to Christ on the last day of my sophomore year in high school. Before that, I had been a believer, but had later come to the conclusion that God doesn't exist. At least, I tried to convince myself of that. The reasons are complicated, but the effect is that I rejected any support that God was offering. I tried to deflect the pain of rejection (by my peers -- ADHD/Aspergers) by trying to emulate Mr. Spock. The result of that debacle was that my dominant emotions were negative.

But God started to fix that after I got saved. I even figured out what was happening, but old habits are hard to break; and remain hard to break.

But right now, I'm listening to some of the kind of music that tugs at your heart. I'm doing that on purpose and really enjoying the music. After I post this, I'll go through some web comics. The ones I like best are the ones with likable characters and situations where they develop and grow. This is quite a change from the hard science fiction that was the only fiction that I read. I still like hard SF, but I also look for more character development.

So I guess I'm getting sappy in my old age. I love it, though.

Now, if I didn't manage to gag everyone with all of this (maybe I shouldn't write when I'm tired), I'll go on to some other subjects. A little bit of hard, nerdy technology will balance things out nicely.

Just to continue with the sappy theme, today's gratuitous pictures of the day are titled "The many moods of motherhood".

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Critter update

We succeeded in affixing the saddle to the horse. She didn't mind a bit. We used the lunge line to walk her around the front pasture so she could nibble on the little bit of greenery that is there so far. She didn't react at all to the any of the kids on her back (one at a time, of course). All in all, things went well.

Sarah wasn't at all fond of the bit. We got her to take it, but removed it after just a minute or so because I'm sure that it wasn't attached correctly. That Storey Guide horse book didn't mention anything about saddles or bridles or any of that riding stuff. I guess we're going to have to shop for another book. Meanwhile, I'm going to go over the chapter about behavior and handling.

In other news, the little buckling keeps getting into the chicken area, munching on laying mash (I presume), and escaping. I had thwated him for a while, but he managed to push that piece of aluminum trailer skirting out of the way. I have it in place more securely now. We'll see what happens. Sneaky goats!

I found a bunch of duck eggs the other day. The first clue that they are duck eggs is the fact that they are laid out in the dirt, and are filthy. I swear that ducks look for a good mud puddle to lay their eggs in. I have yet to see a clean duck egg, except, of course, the ones that I have washed.

To go along with the dirty duck eggs, we have a dirty silkie hen. That girl was born to brood. She'll lay a few eggs, then go find a quiet corner to sit on them. Actually, since I always collect all the eggs, she sits on someone else's eggs. She finds a pile and parks herself there.

This time, she parked herself right next to that old trailer door that the chickens have been roosting on. That'w why she is spackeled with chicken poop.

So, I took a square bucket to the broody bouse, put some hay in it for bedding, added six duck eggs, and plopped the hen on top (carefully, so I wouldn't get poop on my hands). She settled right down, and I assume she is sitting there right now. I'll go check on her later.

Now, I have to go look up how long it takes duck eggs to hatch. I should do that, anyhow -- it's kind of optional, since I'm not contributing anything to the hatching process. It'll be nice to know when to expect six more dirty ducks.

Tomorrow, I'm going to have to put some food and water in the broody house for the expectant mother.

We have had some other hens think about going broody, but none have stuck with it. When they do, we'll give them a few eggs and set them in the broody house. Mary has declared a moratorium on hatching more guineas, so I won't be sticking any more guinea eggs under a broody hen. I'm sure that at least one of the guinea girls will succeed in hiding a nest and hatching a batch of keets, though. More um... ambiance for the harn. hee hee

Have saddle

Mary went garage saling yesterday. Be afraid. Be very afraid. She s from a long line of garage sale queens. In fact, her grandfather talked her grandmother out of buying a Cadillac by telling her that it would diminish her bargaining power at garage sales.

But anyhow, Mary had a busy day yesterday. She took the kids to school (to save time, ironically), and went off to a garage sale in Manton. There, she bought a well used but fancy leather saddle, along with the blanket that goes with it. She got some other tack, but decided to go to TSC (Tractor Supply Company) and get the type of bit that Winnie the Horse Gentler recommends because the one she got with the saddle is less comfortable for the horse. Somewhere in there, she visited one of her home care patients, and went to the transmission shop to do a little business and retrieve the drive shaft that we had accidentally left there.

I hope the information in that set of novels is accurate, because it's where Mary gets most of her information. I have joined a few horse email groups, and have been lurking. There is a lot more to keeping horses than the uninitiated (like me) might imagine.

I don't even know how to install all that tack stuff on the horse. I'll read about it soon enough. I have been lurking in the horse training list, so I know enough to me dangerous... or, more accurately, I know enough to know what I don't know. I do know that I'm not going to be climbing onto that animal because I don't know how to tell her where I want her to go. Maybe she would just tell me where to go.

So, the plan seem to be to saddle her up and lead her around by the halter. We have been doing that enough without the saddle. Then, Paul can climb on and go for a ride (while being led, of course).

Maybe this will happen, and maybe it won't. I'll tell you later, of course.

There has been some concern expressed about our facilities. I have to admit that they aren't ideal, but they are certainly sufficient.

The main horse/goat shelter area is a roofed and enclosed area behind the pole barn. It's about 9' by 18', and has a dirt floor with plenty of litter. We use the deep litter method (I'll explain later if anyone wants) to keep the smell down. Very soon, I'll be tilling up the whole area, scooping out the composted stuff, and using it in the garden. Then, a fresh layer of litter will be added.

Attached to that shelter is a roughly trapezoidal area that's fenced in with Red Brand woven wire fence with electric fencing inside and out. The electric fencing on the inside discourages leaning and rubbing, and the electric fencing on the outside keeps the predators away.

The area itself is 28' wide at the top (near the shelter), about 50' wide at the base (away from the shelter) and maybe 100' long. I really ought to measure this thing, I guess.

I just put a 40 gallon stock watering tub out in the pen, and everyone except the ducks use it. The ducks spend their time going around every source of water they can find and dipping their beaks in up to their eyeballs and washing all the mud out. That means that we have to change the water a lot.

So, everyone is happy, including our new hay burner. She'll be even happier once we can ride her around and get her more exercise.

But I have to read up on how to install all of that tack stuff.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

All that angst for nothing

Because of the severe chin wound incident, Mary got to bed kind of late this morning. She woke up just a little before 4H was supposed to start. We guys, of course, were just sitting around, and hadn't done anything in the way of preparation. Gabe (the five-year-old) had even removed his shoes and socks. Come to think of it, so had Paul. Don wasn't any better. He left his shoes somewhere (par for the course for all of our boys).

So, I sent Don out to feed the dogs, while I got things together in the house. Mary went out and gathered eggs and fed grain to the chickens and goats. Both are optional chores -- the grain is just a treat. The chickens get laying mash free-choice, and the goats get all the hay they can stuff into their furry faces.

I went out and took a pitchfork full of hay to Mary's horse. For some reason, that animal has decided that she likes me. (Don't tell anyone, but I'm kind of fond of her, too. Shhhhh!) I let Mary take grain to the horse because that's kind of a bonding thing.

But, we were half an hour late before we even started. After having to convince all the kids to do what they needed to do, do the chores, find all the shoes and socks, and cram the three boys into the mini van, we ended up rolling into the parking lot an hour late.

But the parking lot was empty. 4H meetings are on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month. This is the first Thursday. No 4H for tonight!

All that angst for nothing!

But at least the chores were done. Mary still had to lecture everyone, of course. After that, we went to Mister Pibb and had dinner.

Since Paul was the star of the show today, I'm going to make him the star of the gratuitous pictures of the day. Actually, he and a guinea hen are sharing the spotlight.

Paul cautht this guinea. Notice the firm grip he has on the bird. Guineas aren't fond of being handled, and will flap and essentially go nuts if given the chance.

Who can resist a face like that? (All of our guineas have the same name, by the way: "Buzzard-Beak")

Of scars honorably won

This morning, Paul (age seven) managed to get a cut on his chin. The bleeding stopped quickly, and we were late getting out to the bus, so I sent him off without too much investigation.

Mary, a nurse, would never do that. She would have to do an assessment on the injury, treat it with peroxide, and maybe bandage it. I would have stuck a band-aid on it if I knew where they were. The kids like to play with them. If we have any at all, it's because Mary has hidden them.

But we didn't have time to do a search. We have to walk a quarter of a mile to the bus stop. If we walk out of the house at 7:30, we have to hustle.

So, maybe ten minutes after Mary came back from work (she works the night shift at Mercy Hospital), we got a call. It sounded like she was talking to someone we know well. She said that she would be over in ten minutes.

The long and the short of it is that Paul has quite a gash in his chin. They said it would be OK, but we might want to get it stitched to avoid scarring. So off she went, without even spending quality time with her horse.

Of course, boys see scars differently from girls. To a girl, a scar is an imperfection -- something to be avoided, or at least covered up with half an inch of make-up.

Boys, on the other hand, get to say things like "You should have seen the other guy!" They can tell stories of how they fought off a dozen armed bandits with only his trust scout knife and a stick that he picked up. A visible scar can be a conversation starter. It can be used to meet girls.

He doesn't need to mention that he got it by falling and hitting his face on the toilet while getting out of the bath tub.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gratuitous picture of the day

The gratituitous picture of the day is one I took at Mary's Grandpa's tree farm several years ago. I never went back to identify the tree, but it appears to be some kind of a flowering crab apple.


We have more cats than we need. We really do. Still, losing that kitten hurt a lot.

I have never seen a cat hang on for so long and not get better. Generally, animals will get sick for a day or two, then either die or get better.

I found him laying around maybe a week ago. His litter mates and mother were outside, so I put him with them, figuring that nursing on his mother would help (even though they are pretty much weaned). A little later, Mary brought him in and washed him up. For the last several days, she has been keeping this baby clean and feeding him with a syringe. He was brought back from the brink two or three times.

This morning, it really looked like he was almost gone. Mary gave him some milk and wrapped him in a towel and set him in the box that we have for him in front of the pellet stove. The milk seemed to revive him a bit.

We took our last two fertile females to the vet to get fixed (his mother and grandmother). When we came back, he was still alive, but not looking very good. After a few hours, he was dead.

We have lost kittens before. We lost some adult cats, too, but they just kind of disappeared. They were either shot by the neighbor or eaten by coyotes.

It's different, though, when you invest so much care and emotion into helping this little thing, only to see him die. This time, I have a little furry body to bury.

When you raise animals, you see the entire life cycle. Life and death are just part of the game. I buried a small buck goat just a little over a week ago. Paul and Mary were sad about it because they had taken care of this goat, and had plans to teach him to pull a cart. I hadn't gotten close to the animal, so it didn't bother me much. It's just a part of living on a farm. Animals are born, and animals die.

I wrote an essay about it last year, and I'll post it later if anyone wants to see it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

April fool agin?

One of my favorite web comic authors likes to have an April Fools week, rather than a single day. I think that's what is happening around here right now. Yesterday, it was daylight savings time. Today, it's the weather. It rained most of yesterday and through the night, which caused that vernal crick to really run water through the culvert. The rain also tried to wash the driveway into the above mentioned culvert like it did twice last year, but my hydrological engineering job held. (I made some carefully planned cuts and ditches to route the water away).

But that isn't the real joke. In fact, I don't mind filling up the rivers, lakes, and great lakes around her. The real joke is that white stuff.

When we went into Cadillac this morning (eye appointment at Wal-Mart), the temperature was 38 degrees F. In half an hour, it dropped to 33, and that rain turned into huge snow flakes. Now, the ground is dusted.

But I don't mind too much because I know that it's the last dying effort of winter to keep its icy hold on this place. Besides, someone told me that spring can't possibly come until the robin has been dusted with snow at least once.

There is other good news, too. Wal-Mart has made good on their promise to replace the lenses in my old pair of glasses for free. They couldn't do it when they broke because my prescription was too old. Now, I'm armed with a new prescription for bi-focals. It must have something to do with turning 45 just a month ago. I decided that I would have them put single-vision reading lenses into the old frames so that I can use the computer, build model rockets and electronics with my boys, and generally work on gadgets without having to peer through that little window in the bottom of the glasses, It will especially help if I have to crawl under some vehicle (or dashboard) and look up.

Another thing we are happy about is that the chickens are laying a lot more eggs. They do that in the spring, ya know. Today, we took six dozen to the food pantry (so maybe they can be a little more generous with them), and a dozen and a half to a friend of Mary's.

This morning, when I was getting hay for the horse, some soggy and bedraggled chickens tried to get into the barn (garage, actually). They have a perfectly good coop with food and everything, but they would rather poop all over the hay and all the stuff I am storing out there. I used to toss their little feathered tails out, but now I have found that chasing them with the pitch fork is much more effective. They aren't afraid of me, but they don't like the pitch fork for some reason. (It could be worse. I know someone who uses a lunge whip.)

The gratuitous photo of the day is another spring one.

Yes, I know that barberries ripen in the fall. In this case, however, the berries hung on all winter, and are hanging there with the brand-new spring blossoms.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

This is the day that the Lord has made.

After too many years of not really wanting to go to church, I am finally in the part of my life where I look forward to it. I think it has to do with our new church home as much as anything else. We drive down to the little town of LeRoy, Michigan every week to attend, even though there are two churches within walking distance right here in Bristol.

By the way, I don't know if you can really call Bristol a town. There are two churches, a store, and the town hall/township hall within about half a mile of each other. I think the smallest parcel of land belongs to the town hall. There are a couple more that are maybe an acre, and everyone else has ten acres or more. Most have a lot more.

But anyhow, we got to church late. We blame daylight savings time, of course. We got there in time for the message, though. It was all about Joy (not happiness, which tends to be temporary). One of the greatest things about being a Christian is knowing that any trial that you face is nothing but a temporary growth experience.

After the service, we had lunch with the choir and served up a birthday cake for Gabe. He turns five today. Hey, it's not just anyone that gets "Happy Birthday" sung to them by the choir.

I have been out of the singing business for more than a decade. That doesn't mean that I never sing to the kids, or just sing with some of my favorite CDs. I haven't actually done the practice thing where you have to deal with the stop-and-go singing while the director tries to get everyone correct note. We're under the gun, too. There are only two more practices, and we are having trouble with this stuff. I'm going to have to plink the notes out on one of the kids' musical toys just to make sure that I get it right.

But it's about time I got back into it. My entire family of origin is musical, so I'm really turning my back on some of my heritage if I don't come back to the music. This seems to be the part of my life where I need to be going back.

Mary picked me up late, so I had time to play with the piano a bit and learn some of the music. I had been getting some of the notes wrong.

After that, it was time to roll on home. We decided to take a run through the National Forest instead of going straight home. That was easy enough -- we just went half a mile past the road that we live on, took a right, and was in the national forest after half a mile of dirt road.

We really should have taken the big Jeep for this one. There was still snow on some of the road, and plenty of mud at the edges where the snow is melting.

After the long winter, it was wonderful to see everything coming back to life. There were vernal ponds in a lot of the low-lying places. That isn't surprising, considering the fact that we have been hearing the spring peepers (frogs) at night for the past few days. They must have a fast life cycle, considering that they have to mate and lay eggs in time for the polliwogs to grow up and turn into frogs.

We spotted a number of low, marshy areas that may have cranberries later. Also, it looks like there are some blueberry patches for us to visit this summer.

Now, I'm goofing around on the computer. I figured out how to move some photos to my web space so that I can link to them from the blog. That means that I won't have to worry about going over any limit that blogspot may place on my freebie account. I still haven't figured out how all of this stuff works, anyhow.

I have lots of work to do, like adding links, maybe separating my drivel into several blogs, editing the template, and making a custom header. All in good time... Getting the ability to put the pictures on my own space is enough for today. Later, I'll write a program that will format my HTML for me and publish it. Maybe.

So, in honor of the fact that I'm now storing the images on my own site, I'm going to provide two gratuitous photos of the day.

Fluffy stuff... I have no idea what it is.

Hyassins from a few years ago

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Horses and berries and nerd stuff, oh my

And today's April fool's joke is called "Daylight Savings Time". We lose an hour of sleep tonight. Oh well...

When the ferrier came to trim the horse's hooves, she showed us a crack at the front of each front hoof. He said that it's thrush (a fungus), and that we need to squirt bleach into it every day until it starts to heal up. Oh joy!

Remember, this is Mary's horse. I told her to go ahead and get it if she really wants it. It wouldn't do me any good to say "no", anyhow (not that I would). I just wanted to emphasize that it's her horse.

Of course, I'm not about to let the horse go hungry or thirsty when Mary is out taking care of patients. Also, who can resist when one's honey says that she needs her big, strong guy to help her doctor up the horse's foot?

So, I held the horse's halter close while Mary lifted a foot.

Now, Mary is the nurse, so it only seems right that she should be doing the medical stuff. She pointed out to me, though, that I'm the one who saw the crack that the ferrier is talking about. She had no clue. She also forgot to bring the hoof pick (kind of like a screwdriver).

So, she held on to the horse, and I lifted this beast's leg.

Now, mind you, if the horse doesn't want her foot lifted, it's not going to be lifted by anyone of ordinary strength. Maybe a professional athlete can do it, or maybe not.

But, Squirt is a good-natured girl. She gave me a bit of guff just to show me that she can, but she let me do it. I used a stick to knock the mud and other stuff out of the crack, then used a syringe to squirt in the bleach. I even did a back hoof, but then Mary informed me that the back feet are OK.

After that, we took her out of the pen and walked her to the front pasture. She wasn't all that happy about walking at a human pace. We really need to get a saddle and all that other stuff so we can ride her. Of course, that means that we have to learn what all that other stuff is, how to choose the right size, and how to install it. It's a good thing I joined a few horse groups and bought a book about it.

Make no mistake, keeping horses is a commitment. It's not like having a car that you can just gas up, take to a mechanic when necessary, and park when you don't need it. Horses require commitment, and I think that some people who have them should be committed. Or something like that.

If I want to carry a cat or chicken around, it's easy enough. If I want to walk a dog or goat to the front pasture, it's no problem at all. When I stop, the animal stops. There is no question about it.

A horse is another story entirely. If she doesn't want to stop, I can yell "Woah!" all I want and it won't do any good. I can wrap my arms around her neck and hold on tight, and she'll just drag me around. She's a draft horse, after all -- so dragging around 300 pounds isn't even going to make her breathe hard.

But she behaved well. She had her own opinions about where she wanted to go, but she followed me well enough.

I tried to give her some rope so she could try nibbling on the tender spring grass, but that just gave her the idea that she could go wanter if she wants. We played the back and forth game a few times, then I decided to let her have all the rope and let her walk around me. I guess you're supposed to do that with a lunge line. I don't know what that's supposed to accomplish, or exactly what you're supposed to do, but I let her go around in circles, anyhow.

When we brought her back, she really didn't want to go back into the barn. I thought she was going to dig in her heels... er... hooves for a second, but she came well enough when I made it clear that that's what I wanted her to do.

I'm sure glad I'm not learning on an ornery horse. I think that would cause me to give it up really quickly -- especially since I never intended on going down this road, anyhow.

But anyhow, I got her into the barn, and she went through the door to the pen area. She took it well enough, unlike last time.

A couple days ago, we had brought her out a bit, then put her back without doing much. She was really mad about the whole thing because she had expected more attention and exercise. She ran around the pen quite a bit to express her displeasure.

But we really need to get a saddle and ride her because we don't have a big fenced pasture where she can run.

After we got done working with the hay burner, I took the plants I had gotten from Wal-Mart last night and planted them.

Actually, I just planted the blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry bushes. I still don't know where I'm going to put the grape vines. The berry plants are at the south end of the fenced garden. Once they are fruitful and multiply, I'll probably move some to other places.

Now that all that stuff is done, I am working on getting this blog into shape. I just set up the FTP program so that I can put all the images that I want to use on my personal web space. That will give me more control over the images I post. I can also post as many as I can fit on my web space without having to worry about overusing this free service.

This will probably be the last post that I make with the standard interface. I'm going to be creating them in an HTML editor, then pasting the source code into Blogspot's HTML source edit screen (if I can). This will make for nicer pages and the like.

So much stuff to do... I want to figure out how to make my own template, and I'll be putting a new header on top. It'll take a while, but I'll get this project going.

Now, time to post this and then go out and gather eggs, feed goats, and the like. If the kids participate, we'll let them have some of that goat's milk ice cream that Mary is making. Maybe.