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Diary #557

When I heard the chicks had arrived at our local Tractor Supply store, I pulled my chick gear out ofthe storage closet and got everything ready, including running everything through the dishwasher to be sure it was completely sanitary.  Unfortunately, I found for the second year in a row that this store never carries very many varieties of pullets; last year it was only hybrid leghorns and Ameraucanas, and this year Ameraucanas and a breed I was unfamiliar with, Sapphire Gem.  But they’re attractive birds and the advertising says they’re good layers (average 290 eggs/year), and the most important thing is to have hens that are easily distinguished from last year’s so I can tell the generations apart once these are full grown (next year I’ll probably get some Rhode Island Reds or a similar breed).  For the next three weeks, I’ll be able to enjoy their silly antics as they run around their enclosure in the bathroom; it’s the best place to start them because we keep the door closed, thereby protecting them from the cats and dogs.  We also keep a small radiator on low in there, so it’s the warmest room in the house.  At three weeks we’ll move them to a caged area inside the henhouse until they’re ten weeks old; for the last four weeks of that period they get to roam around the chicken yard in the daytime and are shut in at night to protect them from being pecked to death by the adult hens.  Over the years, I’ve found this strategy works best; it lets the adult hens get used to their smell and presence before being able to get near them, and that results in fewer lost chicks.  It’s a shame they’re only cute for such a short time, but once they’re grown up it’s worth the minimal effort needed to keep them for the deliciousness of fresh eggs.

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Diary #556

When Annie first arrived, it took her a while to fit in; Trip would crowd her away from the food, and since there were no cats at Winnie’s she wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.  And cats being cats, they took advantage of her uncertainty.  Not Aeryn, of course; she’ll be 19 in a few weeks so she is unimpressed by anything or anybody (including strangers and vacuum cleaners) and everyone knows better than to fuck with her despite her tiny size (note they give her the choice spot where the heating pad is).  But Spec wanted nothing to do with her, and neither did Chekhov’s cat Coco or the barn cat, Rocky; for a few weeks after she arrived, they’d hiss at her every time they saw her, and she started barking in reply.  But that soon stopped, and Spec slowly warmed up to her (they don’t cuddle yet, but I’ve seen them closer together than they are in this photo).  Coco now lives in Chekhov’s cottage, and even though Rocky still swats at her whenever she passes him, it seems a bit perfunctory now, as though he were merely doing it on principle.  As for the humans (including me), we’ve really become quite fond of her; at first I was just taking her as a favor to Winnie, but I quickly learned what an intelligent, affectionate animal she is.  She’s also an exceptional communicator; her tail displays her feelings perfectly, and she’s also good at responding to commands and attracting my attention when she wants something.  And in the evening, she likes to curl up next to me when I watch TV (in the spot occupied by Aeryn in this shot) while stoned.

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Diary #555

I’m glad I was out at Sunset for this snowstorm (the deepest Seattle has seen since 1969, though not as severe out here on the coast), because as I’ve observed before, “when [Seattle gets snow] everything basically stops and absurdist-theater levels of hysteria ensue, complete with ridiculous terms like ‘Snowmageddon’ for a few inches of accumulation“.  By the time I drove back into town yesterday, the snow was all melted and with it all the extra-stupid driving (leaving only the ordinarily-stupid driving), but I can only imagine what it was like on Saturday, given that this is what it looked like out back at Sunset that morning (as you can see, the animals were active out there before I dragged myself outside).  The extra accumulation we had that night resulted in the shitty awning over the hot tub sagging badly, but as we’re planning to tear it down as soon as that part of the roof is in place, I hardly think it matters.  Since I have a proper rural pantry rather than something designed by authoritarian sociopaths, there was no need to go any farther than the barn and henhouse to take care of the animals.  And when one doesn’t have to go out in it, a moderate snowfall is actually kinda pretty. 

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Diary #554

Why do cats dislike having their picture taken while doing something cute? Every time I see one of our cats doing something that would make an interesting picture, by the time I grab my phone and point, they’re already doing something else.  Case in point Rocky, our barn cat; he showed up practically as soon as we started moving things in, and quickly decided Sunset was his territory.  Grace and Chekhov named him “Rocky” because one of his eyes was swollen shut and they presumed he had lost it in a fight, but when they took him to the vet it turned out to only be a severe case of conjunctivitis, which we took care of (I think “Popeye” would’ve been a better name, but he’d already been named by the time I knew he even existed, so there you are).  Anyhow, the other day I found him perching regally atop this post (which will be part of the railing once we get to that point), but no sooner did I grab my phone from my jacket pocket than he crouched down and…well, see for yourself.  He’s a good mouser; despite Chekhov feeding him far too often, he often leaves little presents by the front door, and he also keeps away the black-and-white cat which I sometimes see skulking around the chicken coop and barn.  I’m not sure whether I’m going to allow him bathhouse privileges once the walls go up; we plan to allow the indoor cats out there, and I don’t want a territorial cat with claws and a bladder near my furniture.  But I guess I’ll figure it out when we reach that point, probably this summer.  And just in case you’re concerned about him being outside in the cold, I can assure you that A) it doesn’t actually get that cold here, though a light freeze is predicted every night this week and we expect snow on Thursday; B) he’s incredibly fluffy, and about half of his visible bulk is fur; C) he knows how to get into the shop; and D) Grace made him a hutch which sits by the back door and contains a pad that automatically turns on when he sits on it.  Yet despite C and D, he can usually be found sitting by the front door; I guess curiosity outweighs warmth unless it’s really nasty outside.  And he eventually even learned that no matter how cute he looks, I’m not letting him in.

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Bathhouse 27

Though power outages can occur anywhere, rural power grids have less redundancy and far greater distances between subscribers.  So when the power does go out, it can sometimes be a while before it’s restored.  What that means is, while having a backup generator is probably a good idea for any free-standing building, having one out in the country is a practical necessity.  In Oklahoma, we used Grace’s welder to power the house in emergencies, but she sold it as part of the process of moving to Washington, so all we had until earlier this week was the small backup generator we originally used to power the well in Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, that was only barely big enough to do the job before we added the guest cottages, and in the first major outage after the addition we discovered it was now woefully inadequate.  Furthermore, the process of switching over was rather involved:  switch off the external main; pull the shop cutoff; turn off the breakers for the water heater (which draws far too much power to use during an outage); start the generator; plug in the main standby feed line; throw the shop cutoff back on.  To test whether the power is back on:  pull the shop cutoff (thus disconnecting the house from the generator) and switch on the external main.  If there’s no power, reverse the process to return to generator power; if the outside power is back, turn off the generator, disconnect the standby cable, throw the shop cutoff and heater breakers back on.  So Chekhov offered to buy us a proper standby generator, and it arrived Tuesday.  We’ll connect it via a feed line to the propane tank and it will monitor the power; when it detects an outage it cuts off the outside line and starts automatically, then monitors the outside line and reverses the process when the power is restored.  The thing even runs an automatic test once a month!  Best of all, at 16 kw it should be strong enough to run everything other than the clothes dryer (which I won’t need during an outage anyway).  Once the electrician comes out to connect everything, power outages should be no more than a minor inconvenience in the future, and that fits into my master plan of removing al unneccesary hassle and stress from my life.

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Diary #553

We get a great deal of rain at Sunset, but not much snow.   But about 3 PM last Tuesday, shortly after Chekhov returned from visiting his lady friend, it started coming down in big, fat flakes.  The air had been very cold all day, and I hadn’t even bothered to change out of my warm, fuzzy robe; I made us a pot of turkey noodle soup for dinner, and then cocoa for our movie later.  It kept up pretty constantly until about 9 PM, but Wednesday was much warmer so it was all gone by nightfall, and thus did not impede my drive back to Seattle on Thursday.  That’s the way I like my snow:  on a day when I don’t have to go anywhere, and conveniently gone before I do have to go anywhere.  Too bad most weather  –  and most other natural or man-made conditions, for that matter  –  are not so cooperative with my needs and wishes. 

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Diary #552

I have never believed that special events necessarily require inviting a lot of people over; even when it’s just my family, I’ve always liked doing small special activities on certain nights or occasions.  Longtime readers may recall that I prepare a lot more feasts than most Americans do, all around the year, but I’m talking about even smaller and more frequent events, “micro-events” if you will.  For example, around the beginning of last autumn Chekhov proposed we do “Friday night movies”, in other words every Friday we watch some old horror or monster movie from the ’30s to ’70s, mostly from Universal, Hammer, Amicus, American International, etc; last Friday it was The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and our next will be X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.  Once Daylight Mismanagement ended we added “epic movie night” on Sunday, featuring 3-hourish type spectacles (recent picks include the three Lord of the Rings installments and Fiddler on the Roof).  This past Sunday was Spartacus, so I made pizza because that’s how I roll.  Not only are these micro-events fun, they also help family members to remember what day it is without the usual weekday/weekend factory/cubicle grind most folks rely upon to keep that straight.  We’ll truncate our epic movies once Daylight Mismanagement restarts in March, then suspend them completely once the days start to get long, because I’m just not in the mood to watch long movies with sunlight streaming in the windows.  But hey, that’s something to look forward to picking up again in the autumn.

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Diary #551

Since Sunset is very near an actual rain forest, we’re used to seeing a great deal of rain, especially in the winter.  But this year the rain went on for much longer and harder than expected until we finally got a respite starting Thursday afternoon.  We’d been feeding the animals in the barn since the rain started, so I took advantage of the break to feed them in the normal outdoor spots.  But Orville didn’t show when I called him, so the next morning I went to the barn to check on him and found the poor beast actually stuck in a hollow in the dirt floor he’d made into a nest.  He was squealing pitifully, clearly unable to get up, so I had to get behind him and push; that allowed him to get unstuck, but his left hind leg appeared to be “asleep” because he was very unsteady on his feet and kept almost toppling over.  But Chekhov and I kept watch on him for a while, and within an hour he was moving around much more normally.  He’s obviously a bit constipated, though, probably from being unable to move overnight, and I couldn’t get him to eat anything until Sunday morning, when he eagerly devoured half of a bagged salad Grace suggested I try on him.  He ambled about pretty well for a while, and sunned himself (lying on the opposite side) for most of the afternoon, as you can see.  So I had Chekhov pick up several of the bagged salads (on sale!), and he devoured them; I suspect he was instinctively seeking vegetables to clear up his issue, and it seems to have worked because he was making his usual rounds yesterday, even coming to the porch to beg for peanuts.  But if dealing with a constipated pig isn’t the perfect example of what #TheSexyNeverStops hashtag is for, I’ll be damned if I know what is.

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Diary #550

A few weeks ago, we were still seeing a few sunny days, as in this picture from mid-December.  But around the solstice the monsoons arrive, and we generally get very few breaks from the rain until late winter.  The animals spend most of their time in the barn, and we even feed them there because it’s too marshy to do anything else.  Last year, it was this heavy seasonal rain which made me realize the guest cottages should be part of the house complex, so nobody would have to go out in it unless absolutely necessary.  Well, this year I was glad for that decision, because it was especially heavy, and the main drainage ditch through the paddock looked like a small creek.  But at the end of last week we got a three-day break, conveniently falling just when I had to drive to Seattle to spend some time with Dr. Quest.  I’m not afraid of driving in the rain; after all, I grew up in south Louisiana.  But I don’t like driving in it; there are far too many bad drivers who are afraid, and behave foolishly as a result.  No, I prefer looking at my rain from a stationary vantage point inside of solid walls and a roof, preferably with a mug of tea in my hand.  And once we get the roof of the bathhouse complex in place, we won’t even need to get wet to go to the cottages or the shop.  Because if it’s too wet for pigs, ponies and llamas to be outside, it’s certainly too wet for me.

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Diary #549

As I’ve written on numerous occasions, I’m a big believer in celebrating Christmas for the full twelve days, to the greatest extent the modern world will allow.  If you look back at my diaries for this week in previous years (can you believe I’ve been posting them for over six years now?) you’ll see that it has not usually been possible to the extent I’d like.  But starting last year it became much more so, and now that I’m officially semi-retired the chief impediment is my compulsiveness.  For example, the week before Christmas I got an email from Bob Zadek, asking me to be on his live radio show at 8 AM on the 3rd day of Christmas, so I dutifully set my alarm for 7:30, trudged downstairs for a cup of tea, then got back under the covers to do the show naked (which is one of the advantages of radio).  Then for the last week I’ve mostly kinda slacked off except for keeping up with my writing and cooking and household chores and such; from the time I got up on New Year’s Eve to sometime after breakfast on Saturday, I didn’t even bother to put on more than my comfy old robe (and no, I’m not wearing anything under it).  But tonight is Twelfth Night, and tomorrow I’m driving back to Seattle for an extended date with Dr. Quest (the first engagement of my semi-retirement!), so I guess I’ll have to let Yuletide go into carnival.  And maybe I’ll bake a king cake next week.

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