Monday, March 24, 2014

A Wedge of Lime

When we had the house inspected as part of the sale transaction, we also had the well inspected and its water tested.  The report came back that our water was a little bit hard; we have some lime, but not very much and there was even a disconnected water softener under the house that we were told we could re-install if we wanted to.  We decided to give it a go without the water softener, partly because we'd heard that softened water feels weird and since the lime is not a health hazard why add stuff to what we drink and bathe in?  This does mean that we do our cleaning differently and that sometimes water shoots out of faucets at odd angles without warning.

We don't even use the sink sprayer all that often, at least I don't.  It completely clogged once without us realizing what had caused the malfunction. Luckily, I figured it out quickly and without calling a plumber.

About a month ago we finally got a steamer for the wood stove. The air can be quite dry here and this seems to help mitigate the side effects of that, such as dry eyes and sinuses.  This is what the inside looks like after about 6 refills of tap water.  It's kind of cool, like a kitchen sink science experiment.

It washes out very easily at least.  I wonder if it can be made into a Halloween prop.

We'll even find little bits of lime in a drinking glass if we let ice cubes melt in there!  Even though I didn't like doing it, this is why we decided to go back to store-bought dishwasher detergent and using the heated dry feature on the dishwasher.  All those years of hearing about water spots in commercials and now I know what that's all about!

I like vinegar just fine and at first the smell of cleaning with it just reminded me of dying Easter eggs as a kid.  It's less nostalgic now and the scent doesn't thrill me, but it's better than fake pine or whatever else most store-bought cleaners are supposed to smell like. I'm pretty sure no one involved with naming those scents has ever been to a mountain stream or a tropical beach.

All our water fixtures are cleaned with vinegar or some kind of vinegar mix.  I'm going to try to use some of the old empty bottles of my next batch of homemade clothes soap.  At least we can still use that. Guess what we use in the fabric softener dispenser... that's right, vinegar!  It keeps the static down quite a bit (another issue with the dry air) and doesn't leave a coating of super-scented mystery chemicals on our clothes, towels, and blankets.  Nothing comes out of there smelling of vinegar, either.

One part Dawn original dish washing soap and one part hot vinegar in a spray bottle makes an excellent cleaner for the showers and sinks.  The vinegar gets the lime scale and the dish soap gets the oils and soap scum. It's viscous enough to cling to the vertical surfaces, too, so I let it sit on there for 30-45 minutes.

I'm not going to put pictures of toilets here, but for those we use one part baking soda and one part vinegar, let sit for 20-40 minutes.  In all cases, if the lime has managed to get thick, a cloth soaked in vinegar and set on the surface for a time will loosen that lime right up.  Dog water dishes get cleaned with straight vinegar, too.

I should mention that the slightly hard water isn't all that big of a deal.  It still feels new and strange to buy white vinegar by the gallon and remove the residue of what I think should be "only" water from our fixtures and belongings.  At least one guest commented on how the hard water made her hair more manageable, but I gave up managing my hair so haven't noticed.  I know there are plenty of lime-busting products on the market, but I like that we are putting fewer unknown chemicals into our septic and on our things.  I also like that we get just as much cleaning power for a fraction of the price; why wash money down the drain?  We haven't done any research, but I do wonder if there is a reasonably cost-effective method of filtering the lime out rather than adding something to the water.  Anyone know about that or have a good layperson's resource?

Here's what our new steamer looks like on the outside. So CUTE, that bear smilin' like a bear with a toasty warm rump!  These things can be quite expensive, especially if they're decorative at all. I had my eye on a different form, but when this one went on sale I struck.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Touch of the Blarney

May the sun always find you on a cloudy day,
and when you want to be home may you find the way.
May you always have the courage to take a chance,
and never find frogs in your underpants.

Our bonny Irish lass, Mavis, is dressed up in her adorable outfit from last year.  If you click that link and scroll down, you won't regret it for you shall see Betty in her leprechaun costume!

"Any excuse for a costume" is one of my life mottoes.  Ramon couldn't agree more.

I figured if any random group of office and warehouse workers would recognize an Irish Elk, it would be this random group, but just in case I made the banner sign riffing on, "Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day" popularly found on t-shirts, buttons and signs at pubs & bars.

And an excuse for a special adult beverage ain't a bad thing either.  We have made a little tradition of having an Irish Car Bomb at home to celebrate St. Paddy's, because going out on St. Paddy's can be excruciating.  This might be especially the case in a college town.  Annnnywaaaaaaay, tonight we'll do the same, but I've added a twist to the tradition with Irish Car Bomb cupcakes!  I used this recipe with the Jameson ganache variation. I had planned on making these to send with Eric to work for his team, but then about a week before the holiday he got word that the Employee Crisis Assistance Program was holding another fundraiser bake sale that day.  Well, cupcakes for a good cause deserve extra decoration as far as I'm concerned which lead to a clip art search through my files, my bookshelf, and my internet.  A few downloads and some Photoshop time later and I had an Irish Elk (Megalocerus giganteus) wearing a leprechaun hat!

Original art by D Trudeau. whose work can be found here: 

A few more searches, downloads and minutes on Photoshop and I had a couple of labels; one for the flavor of cake and one tying Irish Elk into St. Paddy's Day.

Last time I contributed cupcakes (also elk-themed) to the bake sale, I didn't make a label. I thought maybe the organizer had labels and I didn't want to step on any toes.  I don't think they did and since this is boozy, I thought it a good idea to include one.

I sent Eric to work with a dozen, because that's what fits in the cupcake carrier when they have toppers and will take some to a few neighbors which will leave us with just enough to only slightly overdo it over the next few days as is only appropriate with both dessert and with St. Patrick's Day.

Here's a messy cutaway view of the Jameson Whisky ganache.  I figured that the whole Irish Elk thing was a bit much for the neighbors, so instead I added some green sugar on top for a bit of color.  I thought the Elk-y ones looked more elegant without the sprinkles.  Well, as elegant as a cupcake with an Irish Elk wearing a leprechaun hat on top of it can look.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whose Poop Is This, Anyway?

Around here the melting snow seems to bring a lot more critter activity.  We're having to take extra care when taking the dogs out, so they don't pull our arms out of the sockets, because the deer just pass by and through constantly all of a sudden.

Found this behind the greenhouse.

Apparently, what they're eating isn't agreeing with them very well. ! Ewwwwwww!  Even Delia, just turned up her nose and walked away from this heap.  At the other end of the property, near the pussy willow bearing bush she and I found these while scouting for good branches to cut.  Methinks that's what inside those bits above.  They can't be eating well to be excreting this, poor things.  We are coming upon fresh, normal-looking deer scat out there, too, at least.

Dare I say that it's a shame that this is feces, because it looks like it could be part of some kind of horrifying Halloween decoration and you know how I like horrifying Halloween decorations.

Monday, March 10, 2014

So Comes The Melt

And for the last week or so all that snow has been slowly melting. Not so slowly that there haven't been 2-day flood warnings issued every two days, but not so quickly that the snow is gone.  I missed my chance to get a photo of the deep and wide gullies washed out of the road, because a couple neighbor johnnies-on-the-spot filled them before I made my return trip.  But I did get this one. Not only does the photo not do it justice, but it's not half the size of the big 'un by any measure. And the big was one ran along the center of the road for quite a piece.

There's not much beauty left in the snow at this point, either.

For Monday the forecast was for 100% chance of rain and snow during the day and 100% of snow at night with an accumulation of 2-6 inches total.  Of course, the rest of the week is supposed to be above freezing and not snowing, so I hope the road and driveway don't revert to their slippery ways.  Here's a macro view of the driveway melt-off, note how you can see bare ground now!

As you can imagine, there's not a lot of spring blossom action going on around here, but I did notice pussy willows in the lower pasture!  So I cut a few to put in a vase in the house.  For some reason the main floor bathroom seemed the right place.

You can see where I've pulled some of the paper down already; I don't know that it actually looks any worse that way.

This is the next redecorating project, so get as  much of that wallpaper as you can stand now, because I hope it will be gone by the end of summer!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It's Finally Come to This

I'm no fan of weather complaining, either doing it or listening to it.  That's especially the case then the weather is just doing what it's supposed to for a particular place and time.  When I learned last week that our own weather was extreme for our particular time and place I finally allowed myself to start resenting it and then several days later allowed myself to start complaining.  ENOUGH WITH THE SNOW & ICE ALREADY!

If you care to see the gory details you an enlarge this by clicking on it.

Honestly, I only mind that we keep getting semi-trapped at our house.  Our Road Committee ensures that our road stays pretty well plowed and our neighbor who does the plowing does a good job, but he's running out of places to pile the snow he plows and our road is getting narrower and narrower, especially our little part of it and that makes turning into our driveway a 45 degree turn. No big deal if you don't need to have a decent head of steam going just to get up the driveway, but we do.  Our driveway has gotten pretty narrow, too, which is our own fault and a result our our being newbies.  Who knew we would have to pile 3' of snow up on either side?  We should've started waaaaaaay wider.

This was taken a week and a half ago, when the plow worked and there was a foot or so less snow on the ground.

We bought the ATV with snowplow from the former owners as part of the house sale, but neither of us are engine people. Eric has experience with ATVs, but not owning and maintaining, just driving around as a kid. I have no experience at all and have yet to learn to drive something with hand operated throttle, etc.  My poor choice to not learn earlier, but last year gave no indication that it would be especially vital that I do.  It was really nice of the last owner to go out and buy a BIG book on stuff like how to wire it and such, but it would've been waaaaaay nicer if they'd left the owner's manual instead.  Even though it was valued at several thousand dollars: it won't idle unless the choke is on, the battery won't stay charged and even though we bought a charger for it it's as though the posts were designed to make that nearly impossible, AND now it won't stay started going uphill.  It's uphill both ways around here, folks.

A week ago on a cold, clear afternoon.  Of course, there's more snow now and the driveway is less plowed.
 Bonus points to anyone who can spot the "critter" in this shot!

Eric is recovering from knee surgery, so last Monday I has spent a couple hours shoveling yards and yards (cubic, that is) of snow so Eric could make it up the driveway when he got home. I also shoveled a path to the big firewood pile so I can bring some loads up to the by-the-house pile.  Of course, they I had to clear snow from the tarp covering the pile, etc. and so on.  EVERYTHING outside takes so much longer; walking dogs, feeding birds, fetching firewood (even when it's just outside the door).  Why do I blather on with this tale of woe? Well, Monday night is when we take the trash down for early, Tuesday morning pick-up. We drive it because it's about a mile to where they pick it up and the can is heavy, the road sloped, slippery, etc.  I just didn't have it in me to take it last week and this week I couldn't because... THE ATV IS STUCK IN THE DRIVEWAY.  Sigh. At least we don't generate much trash, the smallest can we could get is 60 gallons, and it's so cold out that it's not getting ripe.

We've learned some things so we can make some changes and do some things differently next year.
1. Don't put off plowing and go wide, just in case.
2. Push the snow from the driveway well into the lower pasture and keep the road plow's build-up from blocking that opening.
3. We wanted to build a proper wood shed anyway, but now we're thinking we won't build it where the last owners kept their wood, but on the opposite side of the house and quite a bit closer to it.
4. Always take the trash down while you can.

You can see a snow-covered Khan at the bottom of the driveway and a power co-op truck parked in the road.  You can also see dog-nose art on the window... ahem.

While it turned out not to be a very big deal we did lose power early on Saturday morning (during the Blizzard Warning).  We do have heat when the power is out, because our primary heat is a wood stove, and we can heat water and food on that, too.  But the well pump is electric, so that means no running water let alone hot-out-of-the-tap water.  We have drinking water set aside, but water is not coffee.  We were lucky that one of the issues causing the outages in the area was something that caused sparks at the top of the power pole that is outside our bedroom window and Eric saw it flash 3 times at 5:15a.  He was able to call our electric co-op at 5:30 and start the process.  It was probably 9:15 or so when they showed up here and it's a good thing they were able to fix that issue with a lonnnnnng pole with a hook on it, because they said that they probably couldn't have gotten their truck up our driveway.  They were very friendly and informative and didn't act especially put-out by having to wade knee deep in snow to get to the pole.

Eric made breakfast on the woodstove: bacon and eggs in toast!  It was pretty dark in there even with our LED portable lights, but I had to take a video.  That fan is powered by the heat from the stove and on there to circulate the warm air into the rest of the house. It's awesome.  It also circulates the smell of breakfast into the rest of the house.  Also, pretty awesome.

We are very lucky that we rarely lose power and when we do it's usually back in just a few hours.  A gas-powered generator wouldn't be a bad idea, but what we really want to do is get solar panels after we get a new roof in the next couple years.  We think we have a pretty good set up for it as half our roof faces southwest and there aren't really any trees near the house to cast shade on panels.

Some things we learned from this power outage which was more serious because it was so cold (around 10F).
1. Keep some non-potable water around to flush toilets.
2. Keep stock of the potable water storage.
3. Keep some pre-ground coffee in the freezer. We can make it on the wood stove if only we have some already ground.

And now I leave you some more recent images of the snow around the place.  Don't get me wrong, I still know that it is beautiful and feel lucky that I get to see these types of nature's wonders on a daily basis and I'm not wanting it to all melt off, just stop accumulating so frequently and deeply.

This is about the maximum size of the icicles on the NE side of the house; the longest are at least a yard long and it was still kind of a shock to see them through that upstairs bathroom window.  This is why we don't have gutters. YEY, NO-GUTTERS!
On one of the few sunny days, I walked around the house to see the sun lighting up the icicles on the SW side of the house.  Another instance where it would be nice to know how to use my camera better, because it was pretty striking.

Sometimes Delia likes to gaze at the view and it's a nice reminder to stop and do the same.  This was a few storms and probably 12" before the next few photos.

That big lump is the same birdbath that is in front of Delia in the photo above; completely buried.

Picnic table and benches; you can see it's up to the top of the benches.

What I have always assumed was w wildlife highway of some sort out in the woods not far from our place. Delia likes to go to it for her midday playtime and then follow along as far as I'll go.  Since the snow started condensing it was MUCH easier to follow it than blaze a trail where it was chin high on her and often knee deep on me.

This is what last year's winter looked like: lots of BIG, deep-blue sky.  Most of these other photos were taken when it was overcast.  We're about halfway to maximum icicles here (SW side of the house) and I got a tiny sunburn while hauling firewood that day.

When the sun comes out, the critters get on the move!

We're entering a melting phase this week. That's not to say it isn't still going to snow, but it won't measurably accumulate. And it's going to rain, sometimes the freezing kind and sometimes the wintry mix kind.  Mostly this means our driveway and road will be slushy and that is deep and slippery slush that freezes in slicks and ruts overnight and sometimes stays that way in shady spots.  Also, that means that our shop has taken on water under the front doors that freezes on the floor.  That means way more shoveling and plowing over there next year!  I wonder if they built that in a depression or if it's just that years of sanding the area in front of it built up the ground?  Sigh.

Eric got the ATV out of the driveway, but the slushy snow on the driveway was too wet and heavy to plow.  We're still parking Khan at the bottom of the driveway and Bert is still staying put at the top (which means I am staying put and so is the garbage can, nearly full of garbage.