Archive for July, 2016

My apologies — again — for taking so long between posts.  I got swamped at work.  Well, to be accurate, I chose to swamp myself.  We have an issue with trying to gather data from spreadsheets that are sent via email.  If the data can’t be accurately ingested into the company databases through some kind of software intelligence, people end up having to type it all.  That’s one big @#$%load of tedious typing.

Although this wasn’t technically my problem to solve, I had a flash of inspiration on how to solve it.  So I wrote code until the wee hours several evenings in a row (including weekends) and proved I could indeed solve it — for one major supplier of the spreadsheet info.  Now I’m attempting to take what I learned and apply it to multiple suppliers, all of whom seem to have their own opinions about where the data should go on a spreadsheet and how it should be formatted.  It’s a ginormous task.

But I’m close.  Really, really close.

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My weekend on the farm consisted of fixing stuff, hacking down stuff, and blowing stuff up.  Or as I like to call it, Getting In Touch With My Inner Male.

The fixing-stuff phase started on Saturday.  After Chareva and I spent part of the day working on the book, she reminded me that one of the big drawers in her dresser had fallen apart.  The pieces were sitting on the bedroom floor.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now we have to replace that dresser!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  So I took the pieces of the drawer into my workshop and started tinkering.

I had attempted to fix the drawer once before, and it actually held together for a few months.  Trouble is, I used the same skinny nails the manufacturer had used.  Probably not a good idea, since those nails had already demonstrated a talent for working themselves loose.  So this time I decided to use wood screws.  I figured if the screws split the wood, well, I’m no worse off.

The wood managed to take the screws without splitting, and at the end of the job, I had a solid drawer in my hands.  I high-fived myself and considered beating my chest while doing a Tarzan yell, but thought better of it.  I moved on to re-installing a toilet-paper dispenser that had fallen off the wall in the girls’ bathroom.  You know, real guy stuff.

On Saturday night, I blew stuff up … namely, the fireworks we didn’t get to set off on the Fourth of July because of thunderstorms.  I had hoped to post a video like this on the Fourth, but better late than never.  The other adult male you see and hear in the video is our neighbor Brian, who came over to enjoy the show with us.

Back in March, I wrote about tilling the ground in the old chicken yard with our new tiller.  The yard looked like this when I was done:

After tilling, I pretty much ignored that patch of ground.  Oops.  Here’s what a patch of ground in rural Tennessee looks like if you ignore it for three-and-a-half months:

Clearly, it was time to feed The Beast.  So on Sunday afternoon, I cleaned up the mess from the fireworks show, then played 18 holes of disc golf, then steered The Beast into the old chicken yard.

I’d knocked down about a third of the jungle when The Beast started smoking and refusing to whack any more weeds.  I shut it off and smelled burned rubber.  That meant the belt that turns the blades had snapped.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now I have to hoist this heavy @#$% into the van and take it to a repair shop!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  In fact, I was pretty sure I’d changed the belt once before and even had the good sense at the time to buy a spare.  So I wheeled The Beast back to the garage.

I believe in giving manufacturers props if they build a good product, so I’m going to post a few pictures to explain how impressed I am with the Swisher Predator – a.k.a. The Beast.

Actually, I’ll start by explaining why I’m not as impressed with my Toro lawn mower.  Yeah, it cuts the grass just fine, but changing the belt (which I’ve only had to do once, thankfully) is a royal pain in the @$$.  You have to turn the thing over and unscrew screws that can barely be reached.  Then you realize it’s impossible to change the belt without using four hands.  I had to recruit Sara to hold back a spring-loaded part with a screwdriver while I worked the new belt into place — which was no easy task.  I’m pretty sure I expanded Sara’s vocabulary during the process.

The Beast, on the other hand, was designed for easy access.  To get to the belt drive, I just had to unscrew a few bolts – which are right there on the top of the thing, no less – and remove a cover.  (As you can see, the belt had definitely snapped.)

To release the old belt, I only had to unscrew one clip that holds it in place. And then, easy peasy, I wrapped the new belt around the belt-drive assembly and screwed the clip back into position.  (The clip is surrounded in red in the picture below).

The whole job took maybe 15 minutes – including the five minutes I took to sit inside and drink a glass of ice water.

So with The Beast back in Beast mode, I finished taking down the jungle in the chicken yard.  I got as close to the barn as I dared, since it’s become a condo building for wasps.  Then I gave the yard a once-over with the lawn mower to knock it down another few inches.

This is the chicken yard afterwards:

With that out of the way, Chareva and I took the garbage and recyclables to the county recycling center, then went to the hardware store to buy another couple of belts for The Beast … because I’m a born-again Tool Guy now, and I know enough to keep some spare parts around.

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Hard to believe it’s already July. The month sneaked up on us so quickly, Chareva and I both forgot our anniversary on July 1st, at least until my mom called to wish us a good one. We can both plead extra busy-ness as an excuse. I worked a lot of overtime in June. Chareva spent two weeks in Chicago (along with Sara), helping to care for her parents, who both had medical issues.

That left me to look after the dogs, the cat, the chickens, the egg stand and the garden in addition to working overtime. Fortunately, I had a helper for the chickens and the egg business.

Back in April, we installed arches in one of the chicken moats (using cattle panels, of course) so we can walk around in there without ducking. The arches are now covered with netting, and the chickens love running around in the moat and finding fresh bugs to eat.

Unfortunately, we have four fewer chickens now. Some critter found its way into the chicken yards and killed three of them within a week. I set up and baited my raccoon trap, only to learn that whatever was killing our chickens wasn’t particularly interested in sardines. The bait sat there untouched for a few days, then disappeared one night … with the trap door still open.

Two days later, Chareva found our last remaining rooster torn up near the fence. My guess is that he was doing his rooster duty and trying to take on the predator to protect the flock. Chivalry isn’t dead, but the chivalrous rooster is.

@#$%!!

So I moved the trap, tested it, and baited it with a can of chicken-liver pate cat food. Two days later, the pate was all gone, the trap door was closed, but nothing was inside except some critter poop. I was half-expecting to find a note reading Thanks for the chicken-liver pate. For future reference, I prefer the turkey giblets.

After experiences like that, I have visions of sitting out by the chicken yard in a camouflage tent at midnight, my hands gripping a rifle with a night-vision scope. Come on, critter, I dare ya. It’s you or me. Then rationality kicks in and I decide I should probably get a good night’s sleep and go to work the next day.

So for now, the chicken-killing critter is still at large. Chareva reinforced a couple spots where she thought a critter might have burrowed under the fence. So far, that’s worked. No more dead chickens.

Her garden has wilted somewhat under the 90-degree heat of the past few weeks, but we’re still harvesting some good stuff.

We’ve had several good bunches of kale, and Chareva has turned me into a fan of roasted okra – which I didn’t think was possible. I’ve always suspected okra was created by a mad scientist who didn’t think were enough slimy creatures in the world and thus decided to create slimy vegetables. Roasting the okra removes the slime factor, and what’s left is actually pretty tasty.

Chareva had some zucchinis growing, but they became infested by squash beetles, so she had to yank them up and feed them to the chickens. This made the girls happy, because during a typical summer, we end up eating fried zucchini, roasted zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini stew, eggs with zucchini, zucchini surprise, etc. My dad once warned me that if I left my car unlocked in the summer, people would leave zucchini in the back seat.

Chareva and Alana harvested some potatoes last week. Just like with greens and tomatoes, the difference in flavor between what we buy at a grocery store and what we pull from the garden is amazing. All these potatoes need to be delicious after cooking is a little salt … not that I’m averse to adding butter and sour cream now and then.

Fresh food is one benefit of living on a small farm. Another benefit is being legally allowed to shoot off fireworks on our own property. Last year we set off a bunch of little bottle rockets and two bigger rockets. This year we decided to put on a more impressive show for ourselves and stocked up on some big boom-boom makers.  Unfortunately, it’s raining as I write.  I guess we’ll save the show for next weekend.

To our American readers, Happy Fourth of July. To everyone else, Happy Monday.

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