Archive for May, 2014

Garden Activity

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

garden1There has been some serious garden activity in the past few days. The outside garden is planted. We mulched the garlic the other day, and the green plants coming up between the rows of varied lawn waste is a beautiful thing to behold. The different sorts of leaves and clippings that come in the bags we get from the City of Hancock make an interesting mosaic when they are emptied between the rows of plants.

The outside garden also has rows of onions and potatoes, besides the garlic. The fallow half of the outside garden is planted in buckwheat, and we’re waiting anxiously for the first shy plants to poke up.

garden2We also planted onions in the greenhouse garden. These are the sweet onions called Aisla Craigs. We’ve had good luck growing them over the years, and they also store well in our dirt-floor basement. In fact, we are still using last year’s crop of the sweet onions, which is amazing.

We also got the tomatoes planted in the greenhouse. Alice and I have a good system for getting our hand-reared tomatoes into the ground. I dig four holes with the shovel, and she follows behind me with the watering can, and fills the holes with water. I then put the plants in the hole and cover them with dirt. (Needless to say, this is a very dirty job. I get mud and dirt all over myself.) I sculpt a water-holding basin around the little plant, put a tomato cage over it, which Alice has staged just behind me, and then move on to the next hole. We planted 32 tomato plants this year.

garden3We also planted our acorn squashes. We actually planted the acorn squash seeds while we were on our motorhome trip earlier this month, which may sound a bit surprising. On a shopping stop at the Meijer’s in Charlotte, MI, I picked up some peat pots and a packet of squash seeds. I borrowed some potting soil from my Mom’s stash and planted 8 seeds in the peat pots. These we stuck in one of the basement cupboards on the motorhome, and pretty much forgot about them. When we got home we kept them watered, and by golly, 4 of them sprouted. So in our acorn squash hills, there are actually plants coming up… in May! If this works, we may start many more of our plants in peat pots earlier in the season.

$80 Pliers

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

wiresOn our motorhome trip earlier this month, we had a bit of a mishap. We’d started our trip home by leaving West Virginia mid afternoon with the intention of driving until we got tired. The trip went well, and we got past Cleveland before we stopped for the night. The Ohio Turnpike has a very good system of service plazas every 40 miles or so. In one corner of each, they’ve designated a place for RVs to park, complete with electricity and dumping facilities. So for $20, we stayed at the one just west of Cleveland.

We set the alarm for early the next morning. Since hookup would be pretty easy, we hoped to be on the road by 6:30. It was not meant to be. It seems that some bonehead (me) had hooked up the wires that run between the motorhome and the car backwards. One direction there is strain relief so that when the car turns around a corner, the wires can stretch. The other direction there is no strain relief, and that is the direction I’d chosen. At some point in the trip, I’d made a sharp turn, which mashed all the wires together, shorting out the brake lights and turn signals on both the motorhome and car. Shoot.

After I experienced the site of these useless wires at 6:00 in the morning, my mind started working. We may just have what we need to get this rig back on the road again. I brought the cable into the RV and started removing the rubber sheathing and exposing the wires. One by one, I stripped the insulators off each wire on both sides, twisted them together, and connected them with electrical tape I’d brought along. Once all that was done, I taped the whole thing back together into one big black electrical tape wad.

I then plugged everything back in, and as I expected, nothing worked. Fuses had blown on the motorhome, just as they should have, when these exposed wires touched each other somewhere back on the road. I also carry a complete set of fuses with me, so it was just a matter of finding the blown fuses and replacing them.

The engineers that design these vehicles must think we are all contortionist dwarfs that drive these things. The fuse box on the RV is on the drivers side, and the only way I could get at it was to lay on my stomach and squeeze between the engine compartment and the driver’s seat. I eventually found the two bad fuses, replaced them, and we tested the lights. Alice’s thumbs up in the driver’s side mirror was one of the nicest things I’d seen all morning.

Instead of getting on the road at 6:30, we made it at more like 8:30, but we did have working lights on both the RV and the car. Which tool did I use the most to make this magic happen? My trusty Leatherman; my $80 pliers.

Dandy

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

dandyMe: Next bottle of wine we open, let’s try the dandelion. The dandelions are starting to bloom now, and I think we should try some of last years before we make another gallon this summer.

Alice: We can try it if you want, but I think the dandelion wine was way too much work to make it again.

Later that day Alice brought up a bottle of dandelion, 2013 and asked me to open it for her. I took my customary sip (I don’t drink wine but I’m trying to understand the way it tastes.)

Me: The color is very nice, but not too much of a flavor.

Alice: Hmmm…

Alice: (After one glass,) Whoo, this is pretty strong!

Alice: (After her second glass,) I think we should make another gallon of dandelion wine this year.

The Science of Constipation

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

I’d assumed that my lack of constipation all these years had to do with the fact that I’ve been a vegetarian most of my adult life. While I’m sure that has a lot to do with it, I recently learned more about this terrible condition, which seems to afflict senior citizens for several reasons. They don’t drink enough water, get enough exercise, or eat enough roughage, especially fruit.

I exercise a lot, drink a lot of water, and get plenty of roughage, all of which keep things moving along for me. What made me think about all this takes a bit of explaining.

We recently returned from a nice trip with out motorhome. Both pets accompanied Alice and me, and we adjusted quite nicely to living a bit cramped in our little home on wheels. The first stop on our journey was Tillers International, where I took a 6-day timber framing class. On about the 4th day of the class, something bad happened… the motorhome water tank went empty. It should be a simple thing to just fill up the tank. The problem, though, is that if the drinking water tank is empty, then the sewer and grey water tanks are close to full, and needed to be emptied.

We looked around online and discovered that the fairgrounds near Kalamazoo (about a 10 mile drive) had dump facilities that were free and open to the public. So first thing Friday morning, we unhooked and drove the motorhome to the fairgrounds. With a little effort, we found the dump in the middle of an empty asphalt field where folks must camp during the fair. We had acres to ourselves that morning. With well practiced efficiency, I donned my rubber gloves, hooked up the flexible hose, and pulled the lever to release the valve on the sewer tank. It takes a few seconds for the first glug of contents to enter the hose, and when it did, I couldn’t help but feel the same relief that I do when I’m sitting in the bathroom. I kind of wondered if the motorhome also felt similarly relieved as I closed valves, hosed things off, and drove away.

Henne

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

henneHenne first came into our lives when she was rescued from an animal shelter in Raton, New Mexico. Steve was working as a backcountry guide at the Philmont Scout Ranch. Philmont’s policy was that pets were not allowed at the backcountry camps, but this policy was not enforced stringently. Steve learned she had been named “Wee One” by the owner that couldn’t keep her. Steve and crew renamed her “Genevebe” after Waite Phillips’ wife (Waite Phillips donated the property to the Scouts that comprise the ranch.) Pronounced “Henne-viva,” we quickly settled on the shortened version, Henne.

When the time came to pack up and return home for the summer, it seemed that Henne didn’t have a home to go back to as had been originally thought. Steve sprung into action by first asking us if we could take her. We already had a dog and a cat, and I, for one, did not want another pet. But you do what you can for your family, so we agreed (Alice was delighted to have another cat.)

Next came the challenge of getting her from New Mexico to the UP of Michigan. Steve had a train ticket that would take him as far as Milwaukee, where we would pick him up. The train would not take pets. It turned out the airlines transported pets under some circumstances for a large wad of money, but could not guarantee transportation if the weather was too warm. Steve did not have the luxury of being able to hang around the airport until things cooled down.

Steve put out feelers, and found out that two scouts from Philmont were driving back home to Duluth, MN (about 4 hours driving from us.) He contacted them, and they agreed to take her along. All we had to do was coordinate with their Dad and pick her up when she arrived in Duluth with the boys. Sounded simple.

The guys decided to drive home via the scenic route… through several national parks over several days. We had to meet Steve’s train on Sunday in Milwaukee. As I kept in contact with the father of these scouts, it appeared they’d be home Friday night. We told him we’d be there first thing Saturday morning to pick up the cat. I called him on Thursday to make sure the guys were on schedule, and he assured me they were.

We left home very early Saturday morning and arrived in Duluth at these people’s home around 9:00 am. When I walked up to the fellow, he looked at me as though he wasn’t expecting me. In fact, he wasn’t expecting me. When I said we’d come for the cat, he said they boys decided to send last night with their aunt in Brainerd, MN. “Where the heck is Brainerd?” we asked. We got directions and hurried back onto the road. We needed to get the cat, get home, rest a bit, get up early, and drive to Milwaukee to pick up Steve the next day.

It turned out Brainerd was several hours away. We found the place, retrieved Henne from the boys’ car. She was tiny, scared, and clung to me as I carried her into our van and into our dog’s crate. She didn’t touch her food or water all the way home. We got home after midnight, and were up early the next morning to make the drive to pick up Steve.

As time went by, our resident male cat, Ripley, did not warm up to Henne. She wanted to play, and he wanted absolutely nothing to do with this interloper. He blustered and hissed, and she continued to try to be friends. I don’t think they ever became friends, even to the end of Ripley’s life.

As the years went by, our dog Panzer and Henne got along alright. Panzer went to dog heaven, and Henne was the queen of the homestead for several years. When we brought home a German Shepherd puppy about 5 years ago, Henne reacted to him much the same way that Ripley had reacted to her all those years ago. Plenty of bluster, disgust, and hissing. Henne lived upstairs, Franco lived downstairs, and seldom the twain did meet.

Last January at Henne’s annual physical, we learned her kidney’s were failing. We put her on special food for this disorder, and bought her one of those fancy auto-feeders to ensure she’d get the regular small portions of food that were best for her. Her peeing started to get less accurate, but seemed to be getting along just fine.

In early May of this year, we decided to take a family trip in the motorhome, and to bring Henne along in addition to our seasoned traveler, Franco. Henne has never liked being in the car, so we were anticipating some difficulties. Once we figured out the cat litter situation, and cleaned up the mistakes as cheerfully as possible, we all settled into a pretty good travel routine. I took a class in Timber Framing at Tiller’s International while Alice and the pets enjoyed life on the farm in the motorhome. We moved on to Lansing for a visit with my parents, and then down to West Virginia to visit Steve and John. The trip went well as we all adjusted to a much smaller living space.

Steve had a chance to sit with Henne while we were in WV. She clearly wasn’t her usual self, but at age 16, she was what the vet called a “super-senior,” meaning she was slowing down. Henne spent a lot of contented time on Steve’s lap on this trip as they became reacquainted.

The day we left West Virginia, Henne’s personality changed. Where before she drank a lot of water to keep those kidney’s going, she barely drank at all, even when we held the water dish to her lips. Her food dish sat with food in it, which was very unusual. By the time we got all the way home on midday Tuesday, Henne was not doing well. She couldn’t jump up onto things unassisted, had trouble jumping down, and still wasn’t drinking water. She spent a lot of her time staring out into space.

We called the vet Tuesday afternoon and made an appointment for the next morning. The vet looked at her vitals, tenderly examined her, asked us questions, and then told us that there was really no hope. If we intervened aggressively, she might live on for several weeks. The toxicity resulting from her failed kidneys would continue to poison her until her system collapsed. We reluctantly decided it was time for us to say goodbye to Henne.

Everyone at the vet’s office was so understanding. They all knew Henne from her annual visits, and knew how much she meant to us. The injection went in, Henne relaxed, and our super-senior purred no more. We left the vets office with our empty cat carrier in a daze. Several days later the tears still well up when I think of our last few hours together. I never wanted that cat, but she sure had become an important part of my life… a part I had such a hard time saying good-bye to. I miss you, sweetheart.