Archive for the ‘Farm Visit’ Category

On the road

This past week I have been in Nashville attending a conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort.  The conference organizers were able to host this year’s gathering at this deluxe hotel due to the bargains they were offering to keep it open following the flood.  Otherwise I might never have seen this place. 

It is beautiful, and amazing, and completely over the top.  I didn’t take a single picture worth posting so you’ll have to google it if you want a glimpse of the opulence and fabulous gardens and waterfalls.  Just imagine acres and acres of gardens and man-made rivers and waterfalls, under 9-story high greenhouse domes, every nook and cranny filled with palm trees, orchids, and other exotic plants.  I can’t even imagine the amount of energy required to maintain the tropical environment inside.  We’ve walked around with our jaws dragging on the floor all week, and though I have enjoyed all the beautiful indoor scenery the meals have been wickedly expensive and I’m quite ready to go.

My two travel companions are flying back to San Diego today; I am taking a detour over the weekend, driving up to the Farm for a quick look-see and a day or so of project time.  Wish me luck on ducking winter storms, they’re to the south and to the north this morning, but the hundred-thirty miles or so of highway I’ll be on are presently clear.


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Two farm trips have come and gone since my last post back in September, and now that I have finally regained my voice here I must say it has been a long three months filled with both tragedy and triumph, and my spirit has been tested.  During the hard parts I could only barely keep pointed in the right direction, and when the pendulum swung back to the bright side I did not have the heart to speak of just the good things happening.  A little hard to explain but that’s the best I can do for now, and must be said however cryptically so I can move on and resume this story.

Better bloggers than I could have kept the thread going throughout; I truly lost my voice and had to trust that it would come back eventually, and that the silence would be understood.   I hope it has, as I’ve missed being here.

I bought this big dually truck in September and we drove him out to the farm this time, three days on the road and mostly through Texas, returning late Wednesday night from Louisville and just missing the torrential rains here in San Diego.    We were pleasantly surprised by the 4 inches of snow on the ground when we rolled into our last fuel stop in Columbia, Kentucky last Tuesday, and despite a couple of days of freezing rains that kept us holed up and the cold temps that kept us bundled up, the week there at the farm was a great success.

Grizzly the Farm Truck is back home in Kentucky now, snug inside the barn with a trickle-charger to keep his big new batteries topped off, and a Kentucky Farm plate on his bumper instead of California’s highway robbery signs.  The year of registration in the Commonwealth will cost a third of what the Golden State would have wanted paid (due again 31 January !) and his insurance is less, too. 

It was touch-and-go on getting the title, which got lost in the CA DMV system, reissued and sent to Taylor County to coincide with our visit.  I made a half-dozen phone calls and talked to some really disgruntled DMV clerks before I realized it wasn’t where it should have been, but the rush reissue arrived (just in time) the day before we had to leave, and I walked out of the county clerk’s office with his new plate and that same huge smile you see in the picture above on my face.  It was a pretty major triumph, since timing is everything with these trips and I could not have gotten him registered without that title getting resent as quickly as it did.

Let me pause here and acknowledge the chuckles about my truck’s name.  Yes, I name every damned thing with an engine, or should I say, they name themselves.   I find it easier to call my vehicles by name, rather than saying “the tractor” or “the big truck.”  And I swear they have personalities, too, so they get names that match.  Griz named himself with his big growling diesel engine and ponderous back-end girth.  It fits, so it sticks.

Along with getting the truck out to the farm and registered in Kentucky, this trip’s major project was building the hearth pad for my little wood stove, which is still sitting out in the barn on the shipping pallet, waiting to be installed where the fireplace once was.  We had removed the fireplace a bit at a time over the past few visits, as it wasn’t exactly a simple demolition nor was it the only project going on.  But this time we finally got all the remnants of fireplace chimney out and I was able to lay the concrete backer board down and tile the corner with slate, with a raised pad for the stove to set on to make loading wood a little easier.

It was a great indoor project for a cold, blustery wintertime visit.  The stones atop the stove pedestal are remnants of the fireplace hearth “stone,” which was really faux stone concrete that I cut apart with a diamond blade saw.  It looks just like stone, so I wanted to save it and re-use it for under the stove, but it turned out to have a core filled with some kind of high-density foam.  Oh, dear, we thought – this won’t work at all.  Then Bear got the brilliant idea to chisel out the foam along the edges of the blocks and fill in with mortar to the level of the concrete parts, making a flat, durable “stone” edge with just a little of the foam core in the middle.  A little duct tape and cardboard for forming the edges and 5# of mortar worked perfectly.  It took more time than I would have liked, but the end result was worth it, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

Here is a picture I found of what the fireplace looked before.  It was pretty useless as a way to warm the house, pulling all the warm air up the chimney with the fire, so the folks never used it, as you can see by the chairs facing away.  It mostly just filled the corner and served as a shelf for knick-knacks.  Their electric bills during the winter, though, reached up past $300 in the coldest months, so I resolved to put a wood stove in for my own use, surrounded as I am by more firewood than I could possibly use in a lifetime.

You can barely see the hearthstone we once thought was four large stones mortared together.  And the “rock” on the face of the fireplace, turned out to be just concrete faux stone, too.  Heavy son-of-a-bitch, that panel was.

The wall behind the stove will be a heat shield, consisting of backer board installed atop 1″ ceramic spacers to create an air space and prevent heat transfer to the combustable wall, tiled with the same slate as the hearth.  Building a heat shield behind the stove allows you to install it closer to the wall – as close as 12″ from the stove back, instead of the 30″ clearance needed without the heat shield.   My stove will sit about 18″ away from the wall, but the heat shield is still a great precaution, especially in a mobile home.  And it will look fabulous, taking that beautiful slate all the way up to the ceiling.

You can see two sheets of backer board leaning against the wall behind the hearth in the photo – what you can’t see is that I had to remove the 1/4″ drywall behind the stove in order to add 2 x 4″ reinforcements between the studs, which weren’t adequately spaced to hang the heavy concrete board with stone tile, mortar and grout added to it.  So, this project will have a second phase, the heat shield wall installation, as well as a third phase, which will be installing a new stove-rated chimney and double-walled stovepipe, and dragging moving the 500 lb stove inside to its permanent place atop the hearth stones.  Here is a stock picture of our stove from the Woodstock Stove website:

I bought this stove two summers ago, when the folks were still living in the little house, and when we spoke about installing it they seemed to think it would be a simple thing to just toss it in the corner.  Bobby actually went out and cut some hickory firewood in anticipation of building fires.  The folks moved to Oklahoma two September’s ago, leaving that stack of hickory firewood to season nicely for my stove fires next year.   As it turns out, these things take time; projects like this don’t get finished (or even started) overnight, and here we are two years later, and I’m just getting the hearth built.  And I’m fine with that, because like I always say to myself, it sure will look good when it’s done.

Back here at Bear and Thistle West, the sun is shining, there’s post-storm cleanup to be done, and I have family coming for Christmas Eve dinner (beef stew and fresh-baked bread – y’all are welcome to drop in!).  It’s time to publish this post and get a move on. 

Merry Christmas to anyone still reading – may your holiday be filled with warmth and love and friendship, and lots of good food!

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There I go again

With the not posting!  Unfortunately, it’ll be a few more weeks now before I’m able to get back to it.  Life = whirlwind, and all that.

Mostly though it’s just that I fell out of the habit, and now it is time to do end-of-summer farm chores, my reward of sorts for working such long hours these past months.

I shall return with pictures and videos and much rambling of plans for this and that.



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Iris cristata

We got back from the Farm late last Saturday night, escaping the onslaught of rain heading up from the South that turned Derby Day into a mudfest.   Of the eight days there, four were entirely rain-free, which is as good as it gets, though we made good use of our time, rain or shine.

My primary project this trip was restoring (sanding, grinding rust, and painting) the 19 corral panels I’d hauled down from the pastures in February and stacked in the shop.   They’d been out in the weather for years, and were rusting in many spots and badly in need of a good coat of Rustoleum paint.  I regret not taking before and after pictures, as the transformation was amazing, and made me feel good about spending the time and effort to do the job right.

I didn’t get them all done, just 7 of the 19, but I’m all set up now with my grinder and sawhorses and techniques, so everytime we visit I’ll try and knock a couple out, so that when I’m finally ready to set up the round pen/handling pen, they’ll be ready too.  What a lot of work it was!  I started by washing them down with a sandpaper sponge to get as much dirt, rust and oxidized paint off as possible, then took the grinder to every last little rust spot, then applied a coat of primer to the bare metal exposed by the grinding, then a lovely green coat of Rustoleum.  Laid horizontal on sawhorses at waist level, the panels were easy to work on, but the enamel paint had to dry overnight or all day in between coats, which was the bottleneck of the whole process.

So I was grateful to get done what I did, and most of it was inside shop work while the rain came down, a very good use of time.

We had a couple of sunny days following the rain, which allowed me to finish pulling fence posts up on the pastures, removing the last of the ill-placed and unused lanes and gates that surrounded the Big Pond.  We never could figure out why the old man had set everything up so close to the pond, the ground was mucky in spots and not even close to level.  I’ll find a better place for a handling pen and loading chute as the design of things unfolds, and yes, it’ll be a lot of work to set it all back up again, but I’d rather do that than keep using a setup that makes no sense and doesn’t work well.

I spent a day fixing and cleaning house and shop gutters, right before the big deluge came, before we left.  Good work to get done before loads of rain arrived.  And we found someone to mow the grass, which is a blog post all in itself, about meeting neighbors and being embraced by the local community.

A good visit, all in all.  My camera came out only once, I regret, to take pictures of wildflowers in late-April bloom.  I think I got lazy about photojournalizing my work projects, which I’m kicking myself for, but the work got done, whether you have pictures of it or not. 

The wildflowers were astonishingly beautiful.  More photos to follow.

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We’re flying out this morning for a few days at the farm to knock out some maintenance projects that I’d rather not leave until Spring.

I know, it’s the middle of winter.  And yes, there’s a whopper snowstorm of epic and historic proportions clobbering the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic but I am hoping the worst of it will pass well north of the farm.  It’s snowing there right now, but only lightly.  Nothing like what will fall further east.  

I had a tip-off that there would be a dry spell for our location into next week which is turning out to be innaccurate, but you have to make travel plans and reservations in advance and so, this was the best I could do.  I was hoping I could do some off-season pasture maintenance.  We’ll see.  So far the 10-day forecast on weather.com predicts 30-40% chance of light snowshowers mid-week; not exactly a dry spell.  I’ll keep my expectations low and do what I can, weather and ground conditions permitting.  There’s always something that can be done.

Bear will be adding extra dead-bolt locks to house and barn doors, and we were excited about the arrival of my newest piece of work equipment, a 6X4 Diesel JD Gator, ordered from the local dealer and scheduled to be delivered on Monday, but it has been delayed.  So we’ll have to pick it up on our Spring trip. 

This little rig will be my salvation when I get there, toting me and my tools and fencing supplies etc up the hill and around the pastures like nothing else can.  I’m down with getting lots of exercise walking everywhere but the hill road is a steep quarter-mile and the pastures are flung out like a giant’s hand; I’ll appreciate a vehicle that can carry a load and go everywhere without batting an eye and with minimal impact.

So, wrapping up here at Bear and Thistle West and heading east to the Farm.  Blocks for Wall #2 are stacked and ready for my return and the three-day weekend that follows.  Good work, and I’m looking forward to all of it.  

I’ll update on Friday when we return; stay safe and warm, all.

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Buttoning up for Fall

hilltop pastures in fall

I will finish the fence-building story soon, I promise.  First though, an update from last week’s trip out to the Farm to button it up for the season ahead.

It was a very short trip:  only a day-and-a-half to transfer utilities, set up and program the inside lights, visit the bank and the Farm Bureau offices, put up some outside signage and secure all the gates, and set the alarm.  I arrived late Thursday night, and got everything done on Friday and Saturday morning except meeting with a guy to talk about mowing the grass around the house and down by the road next summer; he didn’t show at the arranged time, nor did he call, which tells me he wouldn’t have been reliable.  I’ll find someone else. 

I am pleased to report that you wouldn’t know the house is unoccupied unless you read it here.  The lights and radio come on and turn off in the morning, and again in the evening, including porch lights, and in a random enough pattern not to look like they’re on a timer.   Anyone driving by on the state road wouldn’t notice a bit of difference between now and when the folks lived there.  The place looks cared for, inhabited, and snug. 

With only a few precious hours left before I had to hit the road for Louisville to catch my return flight,  I headed up on foot Saturday morning to lock the gate at the top of the road, and check on things up top.  The trees were turning, not flamboyant this year, but colorful enough.  It was a drizzly, blustery day with grey skies, not ideal for landscape photography, so I snapped a few quick pics with my point-and-shoot Olympus and stomped on back down the hill after making sure all the equipment tarps were still secure.  Glad to have a few moments, though, to experience the changing season up on the pastures.

A flurry of last-minute details crammed my final hour at the farmhouse:  shut off water, turn heater all the way down, flip circuit breaker for water heater, turn down fridge and freezer.  Then it was out the door, set the alarm, drive out the gate and lock it for the last time, and a quick detour up the hill to touch base with my next-door-neighbor Mike, whom I’d not met yet.  Pleasant surprise, to find him watching TV with Clarence, my eastern-boundary neighbor, whom I’d not yet met either; we stood and talked a few minutes, long enough to exchange phone numbers and gain an instant friendship with both of them.  Mike will mow the grass next summer, and Clarence offered to bush-hog the pastures if I can’t get to them. 

Both men assured me they would keep an eye on the place and walk over and check things out once a week or so.  Call anytime you need anything, they both said.  We shook hands, exchanged good-bye’s and I hit the road for Louisville, grinning a little, and feeling very fortunate.

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Bobby on the zero turn

I’m not opposed to change.  I think I have by this time figured out that it’s part of life, and not always predictable.  I’ve learned to willingly adapt to change, to shift my priorities and efforts towards whatever new direction lies ahead as a result.  But doing so takes time, me being a plodder and all, and I prefer not to be interrupted by more change before I’ve finished responding to the first wave.

 So the latest news from the farm is actually a blessing, but it left me shaking my head for a couple of days, amazed how things can shift so quickly.

The folks called Friday last week, a month since they’d first dropped the bombshell about wanting to move to Norman, Oklahoma where their daughters and grandchildren live, to ask if it would be ok for them to stay put, instead.  They have changed their minds, and decided they wouldn’t be happy there.  At least for the time being.

We could have told them that, but it wasn’t our place.  They figured it out themselves, at their own pace.

All the reasons why we thought it would be unworkable for them came tumbling out as they talked over each other on the phone:  they can’t find the kind of place they are looking to buy in that area; the dogs, used to roaming the mountain, would have to live in a tiny back yard; they don’t like the kind of people there, there’s not enough open, “country” space, and Bobby would get bored not having anything to do outside; and they like their Kentucky doctors, like living in Kentucky.  Dear old Bobby must have said “I just wouldn’t be happy there” at least 10 times during the fifteen-minute call.

Well hello, McFly.  After driving 13 hours back from their Oklahoma visit, Bobby toted the luggage in the house then hopped onto the Toro mower for a couple of hours to mow the grass, which wasn’t overgrown by any means.  He just couldn’t sit still.

Precipitating this latest change, as it turns out, was the renewed possibility of their buying the little property down the road, since the property line issue that had derailed the purchase has finally been resolved and the current owner still needs to sell it to finance the new house he’s already broken ground for.  Now that the property isn’t listed, he and Bobby are discussing terms between themselves, and if he’ll let it go at the same price (he had to buy back the front yard from the state road department as a result of the survey), Bobby and Alene want to go ahead with their plans to buy the place and fix it up a bit at a time while living in the little farmhouse at Bear and Thistle.

They were worried we’d already made arrangements to have someone move in immediately, and wouldn’t be able to accomodate their request.  But we hadn’t, so it was easy to say yes of course, you’re more than welcome to stay on.  They were relieved to hear that and of course we’re relieved, too.  It’s much better to have them there.

We will go ahead with installing the alarm system and a few motion-activated security lights, and I will gate and fence the driveways and as much of the road edge as possible on our September visit.  We don’t need to make it Fort Knox, but I’ve put too much planning and resources into that initiative to turn it off at this point, and it will make the place more secure even with them there.  So they’ll not see the woodstove installed for their benefit this winter, and perhaps not the next, for having zig-zagged course and forcing me to change our working plans to adapt to the possibility of having to leave the place unoccupied. 

But they are lucky to have had the flexibility to try their idea on and, finding it not fitting, go back to the original arrangement.  And we’re fortunate they changed their minds, though I have no idea how long they’ll want to stay, or if they’ll change their minds again soon, or if their plan to buy the little house down the road will work out.  

I hope it does.

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Farm gates and fences

farm gate

The place might sit empty for awhile. 

I am in favor of this idea, because it’s my farmhouse when I’m there, several times a year, but not for leisure purposes:  I need a homebase to work hard out of, to be able to get up at the crack of dawn and be outside by 7 am, work until dark and stop to make dinner only after projects are buttoned up for the night. 

I do not want to camp out at some hotel room 12 miles away and have to wait until my late-sleeping travel partner gets rolling so we can drive to the farm, starting my workday before 10 am if I’m really lucky and with nowhere to take a break and prepare a meal to eat, while some stranger lives in our house.  Silly, impossible idea, that.  I tried the sock on several times and it never fit. 

(This is actually my mental image of how I approach the difficult task of choosing between possible scenarios like this, I see it like trying on a sock.  Pulled it on and the damned thing was too tight, and scratchy, and would have caused me unending distress.  No kidding.)

 So, a shift in project plans for the September working visit, from installing the wood stove to: 

1) Building good sturdy gates across both driveways (one to the shop, one to the house, separated by the creek).

2) Fencing the road boundary between and past the gates to prevent access to the buildings. 

3) Having a monitored alarm system installed in house and shop (I would want this when I move there by myself anyway, working up on the hill all day, out of earshot of the house by the road). 

4) Installing an inexpensive x10 lighting control system inside house, to turn lights and radio on and off, simulating occupancy. 

5) Installing solar-powered security lighting on house side of creek, and in back of shop. 

6) Putting deadbolts on all doors.

I contacted the realtor that sold us the place, who’s been working in the area for several decades and lives just a few miles down the road – wanted to know what her experience was with folks renting places out vs. leaving them buttoned up and whether there was any such thing as property management in the area.   She related a couple of horror stories about clients who ended up having to sell a secondary residence after getting tromped on by unsavory renters who trashed the place and were difficult to evict; just too few good people needing a place to live that will take care of it like you’d want them to.  

Her recommendation was to implement the above security measures and she even offered to make frequent checks on our place as she drives by there weekly, and call us if anything appeared amiss.

It’s a risk I think I’ll take.

There is a possibility that my sister in Colorado will move out to the farm and caretake the place, after the next ski season is over.  A fortuitous opportunity for her to change location and jobs and get something of a fresh start.  But nothing etched in stone yet, just a possibility.  So we’ll proceed with the security measures, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

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hilltop hayfield in june

Our ten days at the Farm in late May/early June were work-filled and blessed with mainly good, clear weather.  It is a pity I was not able to cut the pastures, as the ground was fairly dry and we had a week with no rain; it has rained regularly since we left and they may not get mowed until well into July.  But we had other things to do, and Bobby can mow when things dry out again. 

The folks took the opportunity to drive out to Oklahoma to visit family, meet a new great-grandaughter, and get away from the Farm for a bit.  With us there to look after the dogs, it was as simple as jumping in the truck and driving West.  We appreciated having the place to ourselves for the week; we enjoy their company but when we’re there to work non-stop on specific tasks, it’s nice to set our own meal times (supper usually waits until after dark, past nine) and not have to explain what we’re doing and make conversation as we fly in and out of the little house.  At least for me, that’s the benefit.  My type-A dawn-to-dusk work practices are not always easy for laid-back retired folks to understand.

I had every intention and was well-prepared to tackle two projects this visit:  building steps for the back door to replace the unsafe stack of cinderblocks that Alene had tumbled down once already, and repainting and moving to storage the rusting corral panels that once served as a stock handling pen.  The cinderblock stoop was completely inadequate and the corral, 20 panels or so, is placed too close to the Big Pond and has been weathering unnecessarily, unused since 2002.  I will set it up in a better location as a round pen for training the horses, when that time comes.

The back door steps idea morphed into a full-blown porch, a 6′ x 10′ deck with two wide steps and a sturdy railing porch building finishedcapped with 2 x 8’s, built strong and solid on four posts embedded in concrete footers with a concrete pad at the base of the steps; safe, roomy, useful, enduring.  And beautiful, I think.  It took me 9 days to finish, from digging the footer holes to putting the last coat of stain on the deck.  Halfway through the week I realized my pace was slower than I’d planned, and the corral panels would have to wait another year for their sanding and new coat of green Rustoleum paint.  But doing something well is always worth taking your time.

Derril left me alone with my carpentry project and worked on digging out culverts and drainage ditches on the road up to the hill.  He also replaced the kitchen faucet and fixed a few problems around the house.  Carpentry is not really his thing, and I will admit I work better by myself on projects like this where I am learning and figuring things out as I go.  So he worked at his pace and I at mine, and we were both pleased with what we accomplished on this trip.

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Private Property


I have always respected private property in the way a child respects a hot stove; never wishing to experience the possible negative effects of ignoring either the warning against little hands touching red-hot coils, or little feet trespassing on neighbors’ fields.

Not everyone feels the same way, alas. 

The two ponds up on our hilltop pastures are a siren call to someone in the neighborhood; some disrespectful sort of folks who’ve fished them, cut the rope to the bucket holding the windmill aerator stone, left their beer cans and trash, and now, they’ve torn down the “posted” signs.

It isn’t like the place is deserted.  Bobby goes up on the hill several times a week, drives around the pastures, picks up fallen branches, checks on the equipment stored under tarps, and mows the pastures every other month or so.  Drives him crazy that someone would brazenly stomp around up there like no one cares, like we’d never posted any signs.  He thinks it’s kids and they’re relatively harmless, but still it bothers him, as it does me.

We’ll replace the signs when we’re out there in May, and I’ll speak to the neighbor about putting a new lock on the gate that provides access from his pastures to ours.  It would probably be a good idea to file a complaint with the sheriff as well, to get the issue on record. 

I’d sure like to know who it is, maybe even bump into them while we’re there.  A good face-to-face discussion about private property rights after a friendly introduction as the owner of the farm might be all it takes.  I can feel my dander gettin’ up already.

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