Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Changes

Things are in an uproar around here. We're being hit from a few different directions, so it's time to hold on tight and ride it out. It's stressful (to say the least), but not necessarily a bad thing. To those of us who follow God, changes mean growth, and generally improvement. It's time to move our lives on up to the next level.

I'm sorry that I haven't updated in so long. There can really be no excuses -- I could have if I had made it a priority. Instead, I did a lot of reading and writing.

First of all, Mary's hours were cut way back. Somehow, by the grace of God, we have been pulling through without any major trouble. Also, the tap is about to be turned back on.

Meanwhile, I sent my resume' out, but not enough, apparently.

For the last several years, when I have prayed about financial challenges, the impression that I have always gotten back is that I need to write more.

So, that's what I have been doing.

I actually finished a short story that ended up turning into a novella or novelette or whatever you call it. It weighs in at just under 50,000 words, and is begging for a sequel. It's decidedly weird, but there are plenty of science fiction fans that will enjoy it if I manage to get it published.

Meanwhile, while that one is awaiting feedback (if I can find some test readers), I have started another one that doesn't even have a decent working title. This one, at least, shouldn't bother anyone's sensibilities. One of the characters is trying to turn it into a romance story, but I don't do Harlaquin or Emily Loring or any of those. It's science fiction. I'm trying hard to give it that 'sense of wonder' that you find in classic SF, while simultaneously putting in a whole bunch of character development.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... I mean farm, things are winding down for the winter. The hoses have been rolled up and put away, and other outdoor items are being put away. I have a nice five gallon can of gas sitting next to the snow blower, and have filled in the pit that the chickens dug behind it by taking dust baths all summer.

The broiler chickens have all been processed. One ended up getting processed earlier than the others because Mary caught the neighbors' dog dragging it home by the neck (broilers are really stupid and slow). She chased the dog off and brought the mortally wounded chicken into the house. It was cold and slightly snowy out, so we had to do the job in the cold. Luckily for us, the next couple weeks had nicer weather. We did in the rest a few at a time, and they now reside in our freezer (the ones that we haven't eaten yet).

Somewhat after the incident with the dog, two of the dogs came over and wanted to harass (or eat) our chickens. One looks like a pit bull, and the other is a very nice bird dog. I could have shot the bird dog, but instead just fired at a tree. The neighbor called the dogs home.

Next Sunday, when we were getting home from church, they were both over again. Mary chased the pit bull home and caught the bird dog in the barn with feathers in its mouth. We put the dog into our dog pen (empty at the time) and waited for the neighbors to come and ask about him.

They sent their youngest daughter first, and we told her that we wanted to talk to an adult. They sent the fifteen year old daughter next, who claimed that her mom couldn't walk.

I hate confrontations. I had butterflies in my stomach pretty bad by then, so I prayed for the fortitude to do this right. I really want to get along with the neighbors. To that end, I blow out their part of the driveway in the winter, we take care of their dog when they go on trips, and occasionally send a dozen eggs or some chicken over to them.

Anyhow, I explained to the kids that we had caught one dog actually mauling a chicken, and that the other was in our garage with feathers in its mouth. I also explained that if it had been anyone else's dogs, that I would have shot them. Then, I gave them back their dog.

But the boyfriend of the mom had to have his say. He came over as they were taking the dog back and started to threaten me. This is where my earlier prayer was answered, because I was able to calmly but assertively tell him the same thing that I told the kids. He kept ranting and told us that our chickens went to their property, but they never bothered them.

That was a lie, of course. Mary saw Val point a gun at a guinea, and saw the kids try to catch one with a net. All but two of our guineas had disappeared, and I don't know how many chickens were gone. I told him that -- that we can't prove anything, but we know that they have been killing our chickens.

Val was about half way across their property (apparently she can walk) ranting at us about how we're going too far when we mess with their dogs. I reiterated the point about the dogs messing with our chickens, and that it is perfectly legal for us to protect our livestock.

One more time, they decided to let their dogs run loose while we were at church. Mary came close to running the pit bull over as she came up the driveway. That was the last time we saw them running loose.

We keep praying for that family -- especially the kids. Val has actually come a long way -- going from an abuse shelter to owning the ten acres that she lives on. John (the boyfriend), I fear, is suffering from damage due to excess alcohol consumption.

On a spiritual level, Mary and I have to keep Luke 18:9-14 in mind. We have to guard against feeling superior or lofty, remembering that we are where we are by the grace of God. What would we be like if we had been raised with other values?

When I first read about the Unibomer's past, I got cold shivers. Without God's guidance, I could have ended up like him. If you are a Christian, don't ever discount your ability to change a life. My life got turned around on the last day of my sophomore year in high school when Mr. Unseld's patient counsellings finally bore fruit and I came back to Christ.

- - -

Another thing that has been happening is that the slope behind the animal shelter area has been eroding -- probably due to some interesting fluid dynamics. Enclosing the awning seems to have caused the water to go straight down from the drip edge instead of spreading out. this caused there to be quite the cliff right at the edge of the roof. That makes it a bit harder for the animals to get up into the shelter area (though it doesn't bother the goats much). The horse caused further damage at the door. The only way we are going to be able to fix it is to open the fence and get a tractor into the pen (and we don't have a tractor yet). Then, we need to add rocks or concrete to the area that's subject to erosion.

The only other thing to do is to get rid of the horse and the goats.

Truthfully, the animals have been a big blessing, but the lessons learned are done. Having them helped the kids understand a number of things that they would otherwise not have learned. Now, however, the cost (time, money, worry) has exceeded the benefit.

Also, when I was discussing the dog situation with John, he threatened to shoot the horse. At that point, we decided that we needed to love the animals enough to let someone else have them.

As it turns out, we found good homes for all of them. We called the person who sold Liberty, the Nubian goat, to us. She didn't want her back, but she had sold a goat kid to someone who's children can't tolerate cow's milk. It would take well over a year to get the kid mature enough to breed, then get her lactating. Since Liberty was ready to breed, they will have milk in five months. We gave Liberty to them, and felt good about it because she will be a big blessing to that family.

We found another family that was willing to buy the horse, and take the two toggenburgs (a doe ready to breed and a wether). They are definitely getting a lot from those animals. The blessings are passed on.

So now we have no more large mammals. That means that we have no use for those 3 1/2 round bales that are sitting in the garage, but we'll use at least some of it to keep the nest boxes lined. Egg production is way down, but maybe it'll go back up once everyone is done molting. In any case, we need to get a bunch of pullets (female chicks) next spring because it would appear that some of our hens aren't laying much. My mom tells me that spent hens make the best soup, so it looks like she'll be making soup next spring. I'll give them a chance to get off their butts... or get on their butts and give us some cackle berries, then we'll determine who's laying and who isn't.

Someone on the chicken email list sent this gem:

Roses are red
violets are blue
Hens that don't lay
are turned into stew

(That goes for mean roosters, too)

In other news, our pellet stove quit. We have it running (sort of) now, though.

Pellet stoves were designed to burn what used to be a waste product -- sawdust. The sawdust is compressed and extruded into pellets that look a whole lot like rabbit (or horse) pellets. The stove uses an auger to continually drop pellets into a burn tray. The fire has excess oxygen, so it burns cleanly. The heat output is controlled by the speed of the auger.

Ours is a Whitfield Advantage Plus that the previous owners bought some time around 1994 or so. It's nice to have, but there are times that we would like something that burns wood, and doesn't require electricity to run.

To use the stove, you simply fill the hopper, put some pellets into the burn tray, and push the start button. A heater blows a small slow jet of hot air onto the pellets (from underneath), which slowly ignites them. The controller is designed to automatically run for about fifteen minutes, then switch modes. After the fifteen minute grace period, it checks a temperature sensor on the exhaust fan. If there is no heat, the stove shuts itself down. That keeps the stove from filling the entire combustion area with pellets.

If the fire goes out for some reason, the stove runs until the temperature of the exhaust fan goes down. Then it stops. When you find it the next morning, you see a pan full of pellets. The auger continues to run just long enough to fill the pan.

But this year, when I pushed the start button, the ten LEDs lit up, then shut off. Nothing else happened. One time, it decided to work. We rejoiced because that side of the house had been getting mighty cold. When I shut it down for cleaning, however, it wouldn't start up again.

I pulled the controller and checked the wiring. Mary cleaned things out. For about a month, we didn't have heat in that half of the house, so we closed the french doors and let the kids sleep in the library.

I searched the internet for information. Someone had gotten the service manual off of the Whitfield web site, but the link that he posted was broken. It turns out that Lennox bought out Whitfield, and took down the site. I never succeeded in finding the manual on the Lennox site. Boo! Hiss! Bad customer support!

Anyhow, the thing isn't that complicated a piece of machinery. It had to either be a sensor or the controller.

My theory is that if the exhaust temperature sensor goes out, the stove should ignite properly and run for fifteen minutes, then shut itself down. That's not what it did, but I decided to short out the sensor anyhow.

Surprise!

The stove immediately started running. The self-igniter never did its thing, though. Also, I didn't have to press the start button to get it going. It just started running as soon as I short-circuited the sensor.

Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I put some pellets into the tray and lit them with a propane torch. Everything ran normally after that, until the fire went out. Then, the stove proceeded to fill the combustion area with pellets. That was predictable.

After dealing with this for a while, I decided to get the stove going, then pull the shorting wire off of the sensor. This time, when the fire went out, everything shut down after the exhaust blower cooled off.

So, that means that the sensor is OK. Instead of buying a sensor, I have to either buy or repair the control board. (Which was my first inclination, anyhow).

Anyhow, if that thing breaks down all the way, I'll probably replace it with a corn stove. A corn stove is like a pellet stove, but it burns corn. You couldn't get pellets for love nor money last year, and the price went way up during the rare times when you could find them. We ended up asking my sister to pick some up from a store in Lansing. Then, we started burning a mixture of 90-95% corn, with just enough pellets to keep it going. The stove isn't designed for corn, and Whitfield says to never burn corn, but it does work. Corn is harder to ignite and keep going, but it can be burned. Some claim that it can harm the stove, but it's either that or toss it in the junk because it's useless without the fuel.

There are some practical problems with using corn. It's not near as convenient because you have to keep the feed up to level three (out of five) until there is a layer of clinker built up in the burn tray. Then, you can turn it down to two, and finally one. Once the clinker builds up, you have to shut down, take the clinker out (it looks like a white brick), and start all over again. It's a whole lot of babysitting, but it keeps the house warm.

If we can get more pellets this year, we're going to go down to a 50% mixture. That mixture behaves much better. a 30% mixture (30% corn) behaves almost the same as pure pellets, except that it puts out more heat.

By the way, corn is now cheaper than pellets. Since we are gong to the feed mill every week or two anyhow, we just pick up a bunch of corn (keeps the farmers happy).

And all the people who worry about greenhouse gases can smile about burning biomass instead of fossil fuels.


So that's what's happening here. What's up with you?

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