Monday, September 29, 2008

Now Taking Reservations

For everyone who is thinking a farm might be a good idea on a day when the dow drops 777 points (clearly a sign that Jesus is coming), we're now taking reservations. The Peeling Wallpaper suite is still available, as is the Scratching Rodent room. Payment may be made in goat milking, cutting firewood (by hand, of course), or hanging drywall.

Here's a bit of a recent Michigan cultural experience I'd like to share...

A week ago we stopped at the "Main Street Pub" in Vicksburg on our way back from visiting the harvest festival at Tiller's International (it's a school that teaches cool stuff like farming with draft animals). I figured any place that called itself a pub in this day and age must have decent beer, which is rare in Michigan. Sure enough, when we got in, the wallpaper was printed with pictures of microbrew bottles like Alaskan, Deschutes, and dozens of others. Definitely a good sign.

The waitress came to take our drink order, and rattled off their beers on tap, "Bud, Bud Light, Bud Dry, Bud Ice... " and kept going with a couple names that I wasn't familiar with (either that or my hearing wasn't good enough to understand what she was saying). I asked if they had any microbrews. Rachel suppressed a giggle. The waitress paused, with a perplexed look, and said "I don't know what that is."

We've found precious few good restaurants (well -- one actually -- but it's not cheap) by Bellingham standards. I think that every single restaurant we've been in had a TV in each corner. Perhaps it keeps the patrons from inspecting their food too closely. It's a good incentive to grow and cook our own food, I guess.

Speaking of TV, guess what's in the waiting room of the local pediatrician's office? That seems to me like putting cigarette vending machines in the lobby of a hospital.

The harvest festival at Tillers was fun. We've been wondering if there are any like-minded folks in Michigan, and this is the first place we found whole hordes of them. It was a bit like the Bellingham farmer's market, full of organic produce vendors. There were seminars on fermented foods, urban farming, and a demonstrations of sorghum pressing (for molasses) and plowing with oxen.

They also had hay rides with draft horses doing the pulling. Henry could barely contain himself as our wagon drew near. Rachel had to remind him not to destroy the eardrums of our fellow passengers as he excitedly pointed out some other animals on the farm. We had to take two rides.

The previous day, I attended an Amish farm auction, where I was checking out some horse drawn farm equipment. The Amish really seem to be into auctions. There were probably 50 buggies there, most of them full. The women set up a lunch counter and sold baked goods. There was a household goods auction inside one of the barns (attended mostly by the women), while the farming goods auction was all outside, attended mostly by men. Most of the kids under 10 were running barefoot. I bought some bits for a bit-brace (basically a hand operated drill), but decided not to stick around to bid on the larger equipment, which the auctioneers save for last. There was a nice buggy in the auction as well. Doesn't look quite as comfortable as a car, but it might work a little better if gas isn't available.

Our woodstove is now fully installed, and just in time. Today has the feel of the first real day of fall. This last week has been dry, with temps in between 50-80. The next few days are supposed to be rainy, with temps from 40-60.

Last Saturday I started in on my project to fill the little holes that invariably start in a 140 year old stone foundation where the mortar has turned to sand. I was thinking I'd just trowel a little mortar into a few holes to keep rodents out. As with most home projects, this one grew a little bigger than I'd planned.

I started with the obvious places, where mortar was missing (many places have been patched over the years and appear to be sound). Realizing that a stone was loose, I pulled it out. And another, and another, and another, until I had a hole big enough to reach my entire arm into, in pretty much all directons. Whoever built the foundation put nice rocks on the exterior, and filled the interior with the smaller chips left over. They didn't use much mortar in the middle either. I guess it's a good thing that earthquakes aren't too common out here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

You can't polish a turd, but you can sure try...

The "you can't polish a turd" thought kept coming to mind today as we painted our living room with the assistance of Rachel's parents.

We had originally planned to just live with it until next year, but it's pretty bad. When it comes to the most "ghetto" part of the house, it gives our bathroom a run for its money. The bathroom had several holes in the partially rotted floor (from old plumbing installations) and a resident cricket (now with a girlfriend cricket). The cricket usually hides under the trim near the toilet and sings for me when I visit, but last night he came out for a stroll while I was cutting my hair.

The living room has 140+ years worth of wallpaper, all of it peeling or peeled to reveal crumbling plaster, and an occasional nest of asian beetles. It's kind of fun to play "name that decade" as you peel off each layer.

The living room is where our sole source of heat (a woodstove) resides, so any major projects here need to be done in the summer months. Realizing that peeling the wallpaper down to a paintable surface is a futile effort at best, we decided that it may be worth it to have a drywall contractor replace the walls for us before the wood stove goes in (we have maybe a couple weeks before things get cold). After getting the contractor's estimate, we decided that the peeling wallpaper really could be painted, at least until next summer when we should have time to drywall it ourselves.

While the new paint does calm down the many competing prints of the different wallpapers, it also serves to highlight every bubble, edge, and hole. The paint rollers have a great ability to wet the wallpaper and make it peel up underneath them as well.

Some of you may have heard me gloat about how Michigan doesn't have the perma-drizzle that Bellingham suffers from 9 months of the year, but I think I would take perma-drizzle over our weather for the last two days. We lost track of exactly how much rain we got after emptying the rain guage several times, but I believe we were between 10 and 11 inches over the last 48 hours, as the remnants of a tropical storm, followed by the remnants of Ike rolled through. Toads liked the weather though, and were out in force.

The sprouts out in our newly planted pasture didn't fare so well as every dip in the terrain turned into a babling brown brook full of our topsoil. I think much of it will recover, but it's tough to see $1100+ dollars of seed and countless hours of tractor work get beat up and washed away.

This morning, Rachel and Henry heard a strange noise through his bedroom window. Rachel asked Henry what he thought it was, and he said "That's a chicken -- that's the sound they make when a raccoon is eating them, or maybe a weasel." Thinking that Henry might be right, I ran outside to investigate. Sure enough, the sound came from the coop. Sitting in the middle of the roost was our solitary rooster (recently named Fergus) surrounded by his harem, trying out his newfound crowing ability.