Better Than A Poke In The Eye With A Sharp Stick

It’s Thanksgiving. One of my favorite days. I’m pretty good at being thankful for stuff.

Unlike many Americans who compare themselves to what they see on TV or their rich neighbors or whatnot, I’m constantly pleased that I’m not dying of malaria in a mud hut. (I am also pleased when I flip a switch on the wall and lights go on. Trust me on this, AC lighting seems mundane until you don’t have it.)

I don’t know where I got that attitude. Most Americans aren’t sitting in a mud hut. We have lights, and flush toilets, and 50 channels of shit on big screen TVs. We can drink $4 lattes while bitching about the NSA tracking personally owned $300 Smartphones most people use to surf Facebook. ‘Aint life grand? Most folks think civilization is no big deal but I’m ecstatic. Why I’m delighted to be “average” is beyond me. Yet there it is.

We are among the most fortunate people to be in one of the most fortunate nations in one of the most fortunate times in all of mankind’s long and messy history. Yay!

Happy Thanksgiving


P.S. I didn’t explain the title. My grandmother, who was an excellent human being, fount of wisdom, and tough as nails, used to have a phrase she applied whenever I (as a young child Curmudgeon) complained about anything. “Waaahhhh, I fell off my bicycle, school sucks, the AMC Gremlin is disgusting, I hate broccoli…” She’d give me an evil smile and say “Yeah, well it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” (Not that she’d take out my eye, but somehow you got the idea her idea of a bad day made my complaints seem like a cakewalk.) She was brilliant. When you set the bar at searing pain, everything seems better; and then you shut up an leave your grandmother in peace. (Which was likely her main goal.) So I share this with you; wisdom from my grandmother to the universe. Enjoy it. And have a splendid holiday.

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Rookie Redemption

The next morning I shuffled out to check on the “heat tape of hope” on “the pipe of stupidity”. En route I found a chicken. Just sitting there in the snow. As if that made perfect sense. Dumbass!

“Where the hell were you?” I asked. The chicken didn’t respond.

Two more popped up near my truck. The rest were in the coop. I have a smallish unheated barn with three parts blocked out for chickens. At the present I only use one. The other two are “closed”… except “closed” is a relative term. A barn is not a house and it’s a bit creaky and there’s an open spot for the barn cat to gain entry.

Sometime between sunset and dawn the remaining chickens had “broken in” to the cat accessible area of the barn, threaded a damaged section of the interior fencing, and were happily picking away at a “coop” area that was theoretically off limits. One had laid an egg.

Off in the distance I heard Bowling Pin Chicken (a duck) quacking in his usual Gilbert Godfrey voice. I was tempted to check the odometer on my truck. Had they gone on a beer run while I was sleeping?

As for the pipe, I could move the lever to “closed” but there was no tell tale gurgle of water retreating to the subsurface. Yesterday I couldn’t even move the lever. It was an improvement but I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

I went back to the house and took a nap. It’s been a long week.

When I woke up I had it figured out. The iced hoses!

With a little elbow grease I got the iced hoses off. With the “air gap” restored the water gurgled down to the underworld where it’ll stay thawed. Pipes thawed; rookie mistake overcome!

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Winning The Long Game

Kids area a pain in the ass. Sure sure, they’re the light of our lives and something our heart and soul cherishes. But you can’t deny there’s a certain level of annoyance. There are hassles from the first time you find a cookie stuffed in your shoe, through the times they flush a stuffed animal into the sewer system, to the Lego in the toaster, to the moment when your car has a dent and the explanation is unbelievable; then they go to college and come out slightly older and statistically they’re likely to go from clueless to a depth and breadth of stupidity that’ll take years to outgrow. It’s a Sisyphean challenge to raise a child.

That said I love my kids and intend to either produce fine intelligent self reliant young adults or kill them working on it. Would that all parents produce young men and women instead of the balless debt monsters wallowing in the average University.

. . .

So there I was, standing in the wind, snow blowing so much as to make vision hard. Half dead from an illness. Waving a flashlight vaguely. Clutching an idiot laying hen and the sexy resistance chicken with whom she’d shacked up. Yammering about frozen pipe in the coop. The stupid was about waist deep and a new life; say living in a condominium in Miami and hiring illegal aliens do the yard maintenance was sounding better and better.

Then the sole of my shoe ripped in half. What the fuck!?!

So what I’m saying is that it wasn’t a good evening.

Just then Mrs. Curmudgeon and a teenager arrived. She, having been informed of the iced pipe, had picked up a heat tape en route home. Well done! The teenager, a species of being that is statistically more useless than chickenshit on a pump handle, sized up the situation and asked the greatest question in the world. “What do you need?”

Dear God there’s hope for us all!

I barked the vaguest of instructions, “Help mom get firewood before my balls freeze off.” Then the chicken in my arms squawked and I dropped the heat tape. I started juggling them and dropped the pipe wrench out of my pocket. I was utterly distracted and too busy to supervise. Also I have injuries (about which which I won’t elaborate at the moment but it’s nothing huge) that preclude me handling firewood. (For me, not handling firewood is concentrated misery but it’s not like I’m in a wheelchair or something.)

I’d said “get firewood” and immediately left. The die had been cast.

In the coop I performed a miracle. Frost free hydrants have pipes that go way down; probably to the earth’s core. I used a great deal of swearing and a broken rake handle to wrap that tape around the pipe precisely where it needed to be. Somehow I’d installed it in a space that would give a mouse claustrophobia. Plus I’d managed the thermostat and whatnot above ground level. Given a bad space where the work had to be done I’d made a good go of it. I plugged it in and left the pipe to the ministrations of electrons which had been excited in another time zone. (Yes, going off grid is romantic, but I never ever forget to be impressed by the awesome utility of 24/7 power.)

Then came the slog back to my house. My shoes, with the ripped soles, accumulated ice and it was like walking on a golf ball. l was exhausted. I’d left the flashlight somewhere. It had been a rough day.

What should I spy but the kid desperately grunting and pushing and shoving the pony trailer’s ball hitch. I hobbled over and either due to my massive level of experience with iced up trailer components or the fact that I was more than willing to rip my spine in half, I got the thing unhitched. Together we set the trailer down, where it would most certainly ice itself to the firmament within hours. The kid thanked me. I thanked the kid.

Then, and only then, I realized I was witnessing a miracle. He was unhitching the trailer. Which means it no longer needed to be hitched to the ATV (which was idling). Which means…

“You’ve already hauled the wood?”

“Yep, Mom and I did it. She’s starting the fire right now. I’m gonna’ park this thing and go inside. I’m beat.”

“I…” I was speechless.

“Pigs are fed too. Not so hard to get around in the pen now that it’s ice.”

“Yeah the mud sucked… You already hauled the wood?”

The kid didn’t hear me. Instead there was a revving of the ATV engine, followed by a  mechanical pirouette (just like I’ve done a thousand times; apparently the kid was watching and has mastered it). I saw a glimpse of a red taillight blasting for the garage and then it was gone.

The wood was already done! Before I could wipe the tear from my eye the ATV was parked and the kid was in the house. I sauntered over to the garage and closed the door (the kid has forgotten to close the door but otherwise done incredibly well). Then I declared the day done.

The fire was warm. Mrs. Curmudgeon was already parked by the fire and the cat (which was evil) was already trying to bite her. The kid was already off doing whatever teenagers do. Probably a video game or a manifesto about how adults are idiots or something.

There was half a face cord of wood stacked and ready. The cat was climbing on it, Mrs. Curmudgeon was burning it, I was simply beside myself with happiness at the heat.

Think about the people you know. Ponder the people you work with. If you need a laugh think about politicians and celebrities. How many of them can fire up an ATV (she’s a cold blooded model too), drive through the snow, hitch up a trailer, load the trailer, tow the load through the dark and bitter wind over icy terrain, unload the trailer, return the trailer to it’s designated spot, park the ATV, remember to turn off the fuel line…

Hell the key was even hanging on the rack where it goes.

By God the kid is going to make it! A fine young adult is forming before my very eyes. Sure, I froze the pipes and will only know if the heat tape worked sometime tomorrow and the chickens are missing and I still have nightmares about the AMC Gremlin… but a new generation is coming on line and that too was my responsibility and it means a hell of a lot more to get that right than fretting over an iced pipe. The kid’s doing well. I call that a win!


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A Mystery

While I was cursing my stupidity for icing my hydrant into a miniglacier, I fed the chickens. Our chickens are pretty good about “coming home to roost” every evening. (With the exception of Fluffy and her small band of Resistance Chickens. They stay outdoors 24/7 and clearly intend to live free or die trying. I grok that!)

I’d let the laying flock out of the coop in the morning At the time they were all accounted for. Now, at sunset, only two had showed up. Where the hell were the rest of them?

Still dragged out with an illness and thinking with only a dozen brain cells I waved a flashlight around and prowled the vicinity. I was looking for either chickens or carcasses. Amid the wind and gloom I found neither.

Eventually I bumped into Fluffy. Instead of her usual perch in a tree behind the house she was hunkered down in our decrepit barn (which was rocking and swaying in the relentless wind). If she’d been in the tree she’d probably have to cling to it for dear life. Good thinking on Fluffy’s part to relocate. I heard an angry quack and noticed Bowling Pin Chicken (a duck) was there too. So that’s where he went when his water froze? Not bad. I spied one of Fluffy’s battle hardened resistance chickens hunkered down with one of the AWOL laying hens. Fraternizing eh? Well enough of that! I scooped up both of them (leaving Fluffy and Bowling Pin). I’d toss them both into the coop and leave the rest to fate.

Where did the missing chickens go? I have no idea. Perhaps the brutal wind confused them (or blew them to the next county)? Maybe a coyote ate ’em?

It’s a mystery.

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Rookie Mistake

The butcher, soup Nazi that he is, is unwilling to butcher the last few pigs. It’s  scheduling thing and there’s nothing I can do. (I should add that the guy is really good. He’s good enough that I’m unwilling to go elsewhere. He’s a butchering rock star.)

I’m losing money on the extra feed. The good news is that there are worse problems than having pigs that are “too big”. I just have to be patient; as I’ve said before, the butcher is an important man!

In the meantime old man winter arrived and he was pissed. Sometimes winter arrives with a gentle drifting beautiful snow. Other times the season kicks in the door with a baseball bat and an attitude. This year it’s the latter. It rained, hard and steady, for a few days. Everything turned to a sea of mud. Then the temperature dropped precipitously, the wind turned into a two day long relentless gale, and it snowed (well mostly it just “iced”).

Everything froze up; including me. I was fighting some minor medical issues and spent the four day transition in zombie mode. Something nagged in the back of my head. I was forgetting a task of some import. What was it?

The pig pen turned into a sea of mud. The pigs dug craters in the soup. The craters filled with rain. The puddles turned to ice. Snow drifted over the ice. My usually pastoral scene looked like a war zone. I was forgetting something. The pigs shrugged it off. The duck glared at the ice and blamed me personally.

Two days later I stumbled over the frozen hoses. I water the pigs with hoses that go to a “fountain” that’s a lot like a giant hamster water bottle nozzle. I was forgetting something but not the hoses. I was aware they’d freeze. (They’re “scavenged” hose. If one splits I’ll consider it acceptable losses.)

The pigs had plenty of water. The hoses were toast but I wasn’t worried about that. I was too sick to scoop up the iced hoses but I’d have to do that before the snowplow chewed them up. Was that it?

At sunset my brain caught up with my forgotten task. Have you guessed it?

Hoses get water from somewhere. I’d left the “frost free hydrant” on all summer and now it was winter. Shit!

I hustled for the chicken coop and… DAMMIT! It was froze solid.

Ugh! For those of you who don’t know, a frost free hydrant works even in very cold conditions. When you open the valve there’s a pause while water comes up from way deep; below the frost line. Then, when you turn off the valve, the water drops down with an audible gurgle. This leaves the aboveground part of the pipe evacuated of freezable water.

It’s an ideal system. Unless some dickhead leaves the valve open in freezing weather.

I’d made a rookie mistake. Damn!


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Cookstove! Crossed The Finish Line

I am sipping coffee and happier than a pig in shit. Why? Because this is the inaugural run of Betsy… my newly operational cook stove / garage heat source. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a genuine EMP proof, survivalist approved, zombie apocalypse endorsed, gluten free, dolphin safe, fully depreciated, homestead experienced, multi-purpose, cooking implement that heats the garage and also makes coffee. Plus it looks spiffy.

I spent $109 in parts and expect it to last forever. Win!

I’m new to cookstoves so I’m tinkering with it like it’s a nuclear reactor. Some initial results:

  • The tiny firebox takes a while to warm up but consumes much less wood than I expected.
  • When it’s first started a tiny bit of smoke escapes from the… OK what do you call those round things you open and close to peer into the stove? Anyway they heat up in a minute or two and then there isn’t even the tiniest wisp of smoke.
  • The chimney / black pipe I assembled is rock solid and probably I fretted too much over it. It stays cooler than I expected, which is fine with me.
  • It heats the garage but does so slowly. (The building is now 30 degrees warmer than ambient and still climbing.) I’m guessing I’ll need to start a fire an hour or two before I need to use the garage; which is about what I expected.
  • Despite (or due to) the slowly warming thermal mass it’s a very pleasant heat. It’s a nice place to sit and blog on my AlphaSmart Dana.
  • It’s on blocks so the floor is still cold. I might add a small fan in the future to distribute the heat better.
  • I’m going to need a nicer chair. (I earned it!)

I didn’t plan on using the cooking surface but it impresses me and now I’m considering the opportunities. The metal gets hot much faster than I expected. Immensely faster than the stove itself. I imagine I’ll be able to make coffee faster than I can warm the garage.

As for the coffee I scrounged an old drip coffee um… coffee “pot”? (I’m not sure what it is, since it doesn’t seem to percolate but it has… parts.) It’s an aluminium camping thing; probably meant for a Coleman gas stove. I got it for free and at that price it’s a steal. The first cup of coffee came fast but was weak. I need to move the pot around the surface to keep it from getting too hot. The second cup was a lot better. I may upgrade to a cooler looking cowboy style coffee pot (mostly because I like the little glass percolator bubble thing). Of course I could just walk to the house where the automatic coffee pot is perpetually maintained and ready to go.

Looking at that big iron cooking surface instigates an uncontrollable desire to whip up some bacon and eggs on an iron skillet. It’s almost an obsession.

The oven is at 250 degrees and climbing. Hmmm… do I sense cowboy baked beans in my future? With bacon of course. The oven’s temperature doesn’t seem to fluctuate much but there’s probably a lot more heat on the top than the bottom. The thermometer in the door is (as expected) unresponsive but the junk I rescued with the stove included a “portable” thermometer that’s certainly usable.

All told it works like a charm. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, it’s not like fire is new technology. I’m relieved. Given all the ways a homestead project can go wrong… this one didn’t.

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Cookstove! Chimney

Pics or it didn’t happen:


This adapter, made by Selkirk, cost me $42.99 and is worth every penny.

The same part costs the same thing on Amazon: (6″ Chimney Pipe Adapter). Given that ill fitting parts foisted by evil box stores killed several man hours I’ll order online from now on. Lesson learned. The fact that you can climb a ladder and have it installed in 30 seconds makes the high price worthwhile.

cookstove-chimney-02This is a “Lock Bond” and it’s a clever little band that locks the adapter to the existing chimney super tight. It’s dirt simple to install but I think $8.99 is pushing the boundaries of acceptable price. I took a photo of the price tag just to complain. Then I found out it costs $9.97 on Amazon: (Selkirk Metalbestos 6T-LB 6-Inch Stainless Steel Locking Band). I guess I’ll shut my mouth. It does look very slick and install in a jiffy so maybe a ten spot is worth it mainly on the “bullshit avoided” front.

cookstove-chimney-03This is black pipe. Black pipe is dirt cheap but a drag to work with. This is an old piece from my “stash of old but usable black pipe”. As you can see I’m about to modify it with the super high tech tool called hacksaw.

cookstove-chimney-04You work up a sweat hacksawing black pipe but it works. This is old black pipe but it’s entirely serviceable. I assembled the black pipe system from the stove to the chimney out of some new stuff and some old stuff.


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