Sunday, August 30, 2009

A crappy weekend

Crap has been a subject of much focus lately, this weekend in particular. But a crappy day does not a bad day make (at least not necessarily).

A little while back, an unsuspecting bathroom-goer made a grim discovery. A mysterious someone had plugged the toilet yet again. Rachel rushed in to assist, plunger at the ready, yelling "Clear!" before attempting to restore circulation to the afflicted fixture. Pushing the plunger down produced a nice little geyser from outside the toilet, which hadn't happened before. Hmmmm...

I loosened the bolts to lift the toilet and discovered that they really didn't need to be loosened, because three of the four were completely rusted through. There was no wax sealing ring to replace, but rather a home-made rubber washer and globs of sealant. The pipe underneath was crumbling away - I think it had an asbestos flange. So it wasn't going to be a simple wax-ring replacement, but rather a plumbing repair as well. I don't really like toilets (except at certain times) anyway. They use electricity (via the pump in our well) which puts them on my black list.

So instead of sinking a little money into a simple repair/replacement project, I decided it was high time to sink more time and money into a much bigger project. It's time to build the outhouse!

This isn't just any outhouse, but a *composting* outhouse. That's the plan anyway, as the outhouse doesn't fully exist yet. A fancy-schmancy double-seater affair to allow complete composting of the "product" before removal is required. It would be almost as romantic as those dual-showerhead showers in fancy houses, except you're only supposed to use one side at a time, until the chamber beneath fills up.

Our neighbor Stan volunteered to teach me to lay cinder block this weekend, which is about 3/4 complete now. Next weekend should finish the foundation, and after that it's on to the rest of outhouse. I'm making it up as I go -- hopefully the inevitable design flaws won't be too daunting.

Some of you will be visiting us soon, and are probably wondering if the outhouse will be finished by then. Perhaps you're wondering if you'll have to stumble outside in the dark of night, searching in vain for the correct outbuilding. Maybe you'll get lost and end up as Buttercup's next love toy, discovered face down in the barnyard the next morning. Worry not! You won't be relegated to the bushes when nature calls, as we do have an interim solution.

We also have a "sawdust" toilet in the bathroom for the time being. It's a fancy frame and toilet seat that fits over a 5-gallon bucket, which uses sawdust to accomodate your offerings. Don't remind me that sawdust *also* requires energy to produce (perhaps using more energy than the toilet it replaces). I can't be burdened with petty details.

Our neighbors accross the street keep horses, and like most horse owners have an abundance of horse crap. Being as I am the proud new owner of an ancient manure spreader, I offered to relieve them of this awful burden, which they were happy to unload today.

When Bruce mentioned that he would be cleaning out their horse barn, my first thought was to hook the spreader up to the tractor. But that would involve 1) pumping up the leaky tire, 2) detaching the brush-hog, 3) fueling up, and 4) setting up the tow-bar before I could hook up the spreader. After a few minutes of deep thought, I realized that this would take just as much time as harnessing the horses, which made it an easy decision.

Bruce and Doc seem to know what's coming, and didn't want to turn into Bruce and Kelly's driveway at first (yes, our neighbor has the misfortune of living next to a horse with whom he shares a name), but eventually they relented and resigned themselves to their crappy fate. A strong magnetic force seemed to pull them back towards our barn each time we passed, but they managed to resist it with my assistance on the lines.

The spreader worked beautifully, spewing a fountain of poo in graceful arcs accross the pasture. The weeds which overpowered my grass seed have never had it so good!

Rachel has been dutifully harvesting the bounty of our garden. We'll have enough potatoes to feed half of Ireland this winter. She's also made kim-chee, sauerkraut, relish, and too many types of pickled items for me to remember. We also canned tomatoes for the first time -- one batch of tomato sauce, and another of ketchup. Several hours of prep, cleaning, and cooking down a four-gallon pot of tomatoes rewarded us with 6 and 1/2 pints of ketchup. Like most food items we produce, it's really best not to compare our time and energy spent with the alternative of just buying it at the store. I think the lowest wage in Bangladesh would compare favorably with our wage if we figured out what we "earned".

With Ron's help (that's my father-in-law), the woodshed I started nearly a year ago is now standing. It was immediately recommissioned as an equipment shed, however, so our firewood is still living under leaky tarps. We put it together using timber-frame construction, which is both a lot of fun and much more work than conventional construction. At least all of the beams were free. The turkeys like it quite a bit. One of them flew up to inspect my work while I was putting the last few sheets of roofing on.

One evening after dinner, Henry decided that it was high time for a salamander hunt in our basement. This is one of the fringe benefits of living in an ancient house of questionable structural integrity. The basement didn't disappoint, and boy did we eat well the next day!

Buttercup has a new companion now, Josie the cow. Josie is a 3/4 Jersey 1/4 Holstein cross from a nearby dairy. She's very friendly, and had no transition problems moving to the farm. She's been producing over 5 gallons a day ever since she arrived at the end of July. Twice a day, after I release her from the milking stanchion, she uses my butt as a scratching post.

As Josie arrived a month ago, Buttercup was just leaving in the same trailer, off to her vacation at Camp Studly Bull. Buttercup just returned from her vacation, and seemed happy to have a new companion. They're inseperable, and both come into the barn for milking time, although Buttercup won't be milked for another 9.5 months.

With Josie's arrival, we've started up our cow-share operation,and are officially open for business. We even have a customer already. Drinking 5 gallons of milk a day was getting really tiresome, so I'm happy to be able to share it now.

We're still cutting firewood for this coming winter -- 5 cords cut and stacked now, with another 1.5 cords to go. I wish this was all done last spring, but... we've been kind of busy. At least we're ahead of where we were at this time last year. I've been hauling whole logs out of the woods with the horses, rather than cutting them up in place. That takes the truck out of the loop and reduces fuel use. In the interest of eliminating fossil fuel use, I should be getting rid of the chainsaw too, of course. Maybe next year. Yeah, next year.

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