Rodents. I hate rodents.

Okay, so it’s definitely time to light the bedroom heater.


Getting the pilot to light up is the only thing I dislike about this heater, getting the gas to the pilot flame is an endless PITA but otherwise it’s so perfect in every way. Of course after seven or so months of inactivity it does need a good cleanup first…


…and then the first couple of experimental snaps of the clicker exposed a possible … issue. I took off the isinglass sightglass to discover…


Oh, no. No, no, this is very bad.

Seriously, how is this even possible? She must have come in through the external vents, right? But…


…every bit of the nesting material was fabric and Tobie hair, there was no vegetable matter at all. So this mouse has been going back and forth from the firebox to the cabin interior, somehow without leaving telltale excrement or alerting my useless dog. Since the firebox is supposedly sealed to all but the cabin exterior, I have no idea how that’s even physically possible.

What’s more…


…as I hooked the nest bit by bit out of the firebox I saw an adult mouse and two fully-furred babies, none of which showed any willingness to leave the firebox despite all my commotion.

When I was sure I had removed all but the sweepings of the nest I lit the pilot, which as if in compensation for my other troubles went unusually well…


…and I’ll leave it that way for the rest of the day and night, but if they haven’t vacated by tomorrow morning I’m firing up the heater and living with the roasted-mouse smell till it fades.

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Two tons and counting…

D&L are sort of trading downtime back and forth. She’s getting her strength back from chemo, and now he’s scheduled for some delayed surgery that will put him on crutches for a while. But winter won’t wait, the bitch, and so…


…we’re stocking up on wood pellets and horse … well, pellets. If I understand correctly there’s a pallet of both yet to go in the next week before D gets cut on.

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I’m not ready for this. Seriously, just no.

I knew when Tobie and I went for first walkie in the dark that the weather was quite unpleasantly cold, damp and windy. And there were occasional … bits of something … flashing by in the lamp beam.

It was only when the sky lightened up that I saw…


…it’s snowing. Well, sleeting, which is technically snowing. At 12 October. Yeah, I know, nothing special for Minnesota. This is the SW desert and I am not yet mentally prepared for this.

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Hey, don’t laugh. By our standards this is a monster.

Look what the July floods brought us!

Not quite sure how to unwrap it and bring it home, it’s a bit much for my chainsaw. No way this is juniper, I’m assuming it’s cottonwood since AFAIK that’s the only actual tree that grows here – and not in great numbers. There are some in the canyons where they benefit from more frequent waterings.

Not sure how big around it is. I don’t carry a tape measure (prep fail!) But…


…my knife blade is 3″ so compare the two visually, naught, naught, fetch down the naught, and…

It’s probably bigger than my chainsaw can deal with, and I don’t like how it’s embedded in sand and rocks. Or maybe it’s really soft and/or lighter than it looks. One way to find out.

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How you know the curator isn’t a gun guy…

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When Tobie challenges the Jeep to a duel, it’s time to go home.

Okay, enough procrastination. Ian asked me to put a coat of stain on the exposed wood of his porch/sunshade/gazebo?-looking-thing, and I’ve been putting it off. Then when he actually paid me for having done so, I figured I should take the hint and do what I’d promised to do.

I have two modes of getting ready to leave the Lair: “Tobie’s coming with” and “Tobie’s staying here.” I think maybe he’s learning the difference, because he became positively militant in his opinion that I was making the wrong choice.

I figured maybe I was: Maybe he’d stay in the Jeep and be a good boy while I worked…


…and he did, too, for half an hour or 45 minutes. But he has obvious tells, same as me. And when you can hear him doing that Cassius Clay stutter-step of his from halfway across Ian’s front yard, you know he just declared war to the death on one of my belongings. Given that whatever it was was inside the Jeep at the time, it was probably the shotgun seat’s remaining upholstery.

Turns out it was the work gloves from out the driver door pocket, but that didn’t matter. Nothing further would be accomplished until he went home in mild disgrace. Probably for the best – I didn’t get back home myself for another three hours, and that was far too much to ask of a bored puppy.

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Okay, this is too perfectly cute…

Tobie and I had a busy afternoon, heading up to T&S’s mesa in the Jeep for the last time, assuming they make it home as scheduled. We got home a little after five, he got his food and his evening walkie, stopped by Landlady’s to tend the chickens, then when we got home for the last time I was distracted by something I needed to do and forgot my final essential Tobie-related task of the day.


…and sonuvabitch if that very smart puppy didn’t quietly stand behind me until I turned around, then drop his frickin’ Kong tire at my frickin’ feet.

Because I was supposed to give him a couple of treats packed inside it, and I seemed to have forgotten…

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One ton of wood pellets

I’ve mentioned that an unexpected side effect of having lots of thermal mass in winter is that you really can’t afford to let it all get cold. So D&L burn their pellet stove 24/7 for almost six months in the year. That means we’re already behind schedule in stocking them up.


And the plan involves really stocking up since Neighbor D is due for a knee replacement, I think later this month. He won’t be up to schlepping big sacks of stuff for a while. And of course L never is, weighing as she does about as much as a hummingbird.

I can’t believe how much of this stuff they go through; that’s not two months’ supply. Don’t even want to know what it costs.


“You work cheap, Joel.”

Yeah, if you only knew…


I haven’t really started woodcutting yet; I did this much just to see what needed tweaking/repairing in my chainsaw and sawbuck.


I much prefer pallet wood and old lumber, but this hasn’t been a good year for that. Half an hour’s work increased my pallet supply by 50%, enough that I think it’s worth dragging out the sawzall and generator to cut them up.

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Bedtime for Tobie

I bitch and moan about him, ’cause he drives me crazy, but all in all Tobie is a fine young man.


He’s only the second puppy I’ve ever raised, but apparently they all need their treasure spot. Little Bear’s was outdoors, since we slept in a tiny RV trailer. This one is about to become problematic since I don’t think it’ll fit in the bedroom. It’s too close to the woodstove once that goes into winter mode. We’ll work it out.


Tobie starts to settle down once it’s dark outside, going in and out of sleep… Continue reading

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I’m always a little surprised when this works…

One day to go on the T&S gig, and the Jeep can do it with one engine cylinder tied behind its back.

Yeah, only two days before the gig was supposed to start, guess who got another rat nest on top of the engine and an injector connector wire bitten through right at the frickin’ connector so I can’t splice & solder it. At this point it’s like a curse: Every time I get a T&S gig and really need the Jeep, something Jeep-related goes badly wrong. White knuckles the first couple of times I hit that last really steep spot on their driveway, but the Jeep did it – and nothing new has fallen off on the bumpy bits.

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I got a little stressed yesterday morning…

One bad thing you think you’re gonna kiss goodbye when you become a cedar rat is scheduling conflicts, particularly when none of the several things you’re supposed to accomplish simultaneously are optional. I’m certain you know exactly what I’m talking about if you live or have ever lived in a city: When other people are setting your schedule and priorities for you, conflicts will ensue and you’re just sort of expected to somehow gracefully make it all happen, and the impossible is not free to take a little longer. Or at least that’s the way my days often went.

In honesty, a lot of that is on me: I was a neurotic mess when I lived in the city and had a hard time saying no. I blamed others for my troubles at the time but as I’ve said, hindsight can be a harsh judge. If I’d told certain other people to go jump in a lake from time to time my life might have gone considerably smoother. And yesterday wasn’t nearly as bad as I used to let things get, in terms of scheduling conflicts, because of course it wasn’t. You can call my current life a lot of things, but ‘fast paced’ seldom fits. Mostly there’s always mañana.

But sometimes there isn’t, like yesterday morning. Basically I was running from five in the morning till noon, and the allotted times for required tasks sometimes clashed. When you’re already behind schedule at 7:15, you know you’re in for one of those mornings.

The first three tasks are all Tobie-related, of course, and the first one comes with a pretty severe penalty clause: He’s still just a big puppy, and he can only hold it for so long. The fact that, every single morning, I get a cold nose on my back within ten seconds of the first time I consciously stir tells me he’s been waiting impatiently for that to happen. So step one: Get dressed without delay and take Tobie for the first of two morning walkies. If he’s feeling patient, you can get the coffee water on the stove before you go out.

Step two: FOOD. Of course. Big puppy is a growing boy.

Step three: Second and much longer walkie. This can be tailored somewhat to the needs of the day but typically this walkie is a minimum mile and a half and takes about an hour.

For the past week, I’ve been driving across the eastern plateau and up T&S’s scary mesa twice a day, and I’ve been trying to arrive in the morning somewhere around seven am. This round trip can also take in the neighborhood of an hour depending on what chores need accomplishing (with this unexpected October rain I haven’t needed to water gardens [plural] so that’s good) so if it’s already quarter past seven and I haven’t left yet that’s bad, especially since yesterday I was supposed to drop off laundry at L’s house at eight. Since that pretty clearly wasn’t going to happen I switched things up and drove to S&L’s place first, leaving the hamper on their porch and texting an explanation of why I skipped the usual polite visit. I had to be back to the Lair at least before 8:30 because at any moment I would get a text from D&L who wanted to drive to the biggish town about 35 miles away for a visit to the Palace of Food. I happened to be flush with cash and didn’t want to miss that, but they might decide to leave anywhere from (typically) 8:30 to 9:30 depending on how their chores went, and I could either be ready to meet them or not. They usually but not always give me a heads-up when they know what the time will be. They’re doing me a favor letting me tag along and it’s up to me to be ready.

That, for me, amounts to a very unusually busy morning with everything seemingly needing to be done at once. And when it happens, I tend to fall into the bad old habit of getting all stressed out over it.

I was going to get home around noon, which would be just in time for Tobie’s lunch and mid-day walkie, and lately I’ve never exactly known what condition the Lair would be in when I arrive. I’ve gotten much more careful about where certain things are stored before leaving him alone for any serious length of time, but he doesn’t always take alone time very well and can be diabolically sincere about finding things to chew into pieces. Let’s just say I’ve grown happy about the Official TUAK Rolltop Desk, or I’d probably have found my electronics in pieces on the floor before now. I never used to bother closing it, but now I do so very carefully.

Happily, yesterday Tobie was a Very Good Boy and contented himself with his own toys while I was gone. Otherwise I’d probably have completely blown my top, and I hate when that happens.

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Tobie takes matters into his own paws…

Tobie didn’t get his morning Jeep ride to T&S’s yesterday, mostly because I was mad at him for the (bad dog) way he behaved during his morning walkie. Since I got back from T&S’s only to drive straight away again for the Monday morning water run, that meant he spent nearly all morning locked up alone in the Lair and he didn’t like that, not one little bit.

And apparently he remembered, because this morning he took steps to ensure it should not happen again.

He planted himself in front of the door, eyes bright, tail wagging madly, as soon as he saw the signs of imminent departure. Then when we got to the Jeep he dispensed entirely with the usual ‘getting Tobie to jump into the damned Jeep” rigmarole and just sailed past me at chest level as soon as I opened the door. Until recently Tobie, a large, strong, leggy young dog, has labored under the impression that getting into a jacked-up Jeep is this really hard thing requiring mental preparation and sometimes several tries. It’s kind of annoying, and I’m happy to see that he seems to be getting past that. Tobie is capable of jumping onto the roof of the Jeep if he wants to, but I’ve had a difficult time convincing him of that.

We may or may not be going back together this afternoon, because it’s forecast to be another rainy one…


And the mud is only now starting to fully dry from the last time. So while it’s unlikely that the afternoon run up the mesa will be entirely rained out, it might be difficult enough that I don’t want to chance getting both of us stranded halfway there or back. Tobie does not share my distaste for mud, and in its presence he becomes an insufferable pain in the ass.

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One ton of horse pellets…


Neighbor L has been done with her chemo for maybe a month now, and is starting to get some of her strength back. She was able to empty the whole pallet by herself, which means…


…that we’re back to the Three Amigo method: She unloads, I transport, and D stacks. Makes short work of what would be a big job for one or two old folks.

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My chainsaw runs, and nobody could be more surprised than me.

I’ve been really worried about this.


I mothballed that chainsaw so long ago I was certain that the carb diaphragms were going to be stiff as boards, just because of course they were. And the only saw shop in town dried up and blew away, and there I was going to be, needing to do something really administrative to get my saw fixed when administrative is my worst thing.

So I kept putting off doing anything about it, because procrastination is my best thing; it’s my absolute specialty and my invariable first resort. But this morning I was like, “Screw this, Joel. You’re supposed to be cutting wood and you don’t even know if your saw works.” So I dragged it out of the powershed, and I mixed some gas, poured some of it into the saw, went through all the preliminary rigmarole … and it started right up. Seriously, it runs just fine.

I was almost offended.

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More flowers in the desert…

I’ve got another T&S gig so mornings and evenings will find me across the plateau to the east and up and down their scary mesa. And I was on my way home from that this morning when I came upon a most unexpected sight…


A sunflower?


A sunflower! What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?

I mean, yeah. A wet monsoon brings out all the flowers, including varieties we might not otherwise see for years. But we don’t normally have sunflowers. I’m betting some bird accidentally dropped a treat from a feeder on this very spot just in time for the rain, because otherwise that flower has no earthly business being way out here.

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A muddy good deed for the day…

I had to go to town to pick up a package. I did not want to go to town, because it rained from Saturday to yesterday afternoon and the roads were going to be a sea of mud. But this is Friday and it had to be done today. So.



Mud.

Still, I rode from the county road to the town without incident, got my package, came back, found a better route home with less mud … and what to my wondering eyes should appear upon it but a van full of kids stuck in sand.

Not mud. Sand. She took that route to avoid the mud, because van.

Need I add I’m not the only person who moved out here on a shoestring. It’s pure unbelievable luck that I’ve had access to a Jeep all these years so I’m not going to get all superior on this lady. Who was ever so stuck in quite literally the middle of nowhere…


…until I happened along. 🙂

So I guess I’m glad I made the trip even though I didn’t want to. But just to make sure I didn’t get a swelled head over it, while I was gone Murphy whispered a secret into Tobie’s ear…


“See that cushion? Uncle Joel really hates that cushion. He won’t be mad at all if you shred it.”

That’s the second Official TUAK Cushion Tobie has shredded. I can’t wait till he outgrows puppyhood…

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I hate this part.


Slept like a baby almost all the way through last night…


But that was because everything about the bedroom except the furnace is already in winter mode.


And I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t time to light the furnace.

It’s definitely time to gear up for woodcutting. This year, since there’s not enough pallets and old lumber, I have to see if I can resurrect my chainsaw. I mothballed it very carefully and in theory it’s just fine. But I mothballed it several years ago and those damned diaphragm carburetors can’t read the theory, so…

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It’s a very wet day in the neighborhood…


I woke several times during the night with rain blasting down on the metal roof. When I came fully awake at 5 it was … blasting down on the metal roof and that was bad, because step 1 after pulling my pants on is taking Tobie outside. Tobie does not care that it’s raining, any more than Little Bear did. Also like Little Bear, he can’t be trusted to go out by himself and come back. So by quarter after five, grumpy Uncle Joel was dressed in rain gear with a headlamp on his hat, waiting for this damned dog to take a dump so we could both go back inside.

So yeah, Monsoon decided to go into extra innings this week. The mud is, once again, epic.

But here’s something (I find) somewhat cheerier. Wanna see the prettiest loaf of bread I ever baked? Well, you’re gonna…


Eh? Eh? I’ve only been doing this fifteen years, about time I started getting it right.

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Today is this week’s designated beautiful day!

Right on schedule. Supposed to go right back to thunderstorms tomorrow. Fullscale Walky time!


And may I say right here before I forget that I have a modest proposal: Tobieforchristsakegetoutofthemud is indeed a proper word and should be added to the OED forthwith. It expresses a single coherent concept, serves a useful purpose, and needs to be acknowledged as a full fledged, first class component of the English language. You think it isn’t in common use? Ha, you oughta hear me walking Tobie for an hour and a half, you’d get over that notion right quick.

Speaking of mud…


Mushrooms. Mushrooms in the desert offend me on a visceral level. There, I said it.

But we were discussing walkie time… Continue reading

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I’m having a holster problem…

Tools for squeezing things together are 2-a-penny, but I need a tool for spreading things apart. Preferably an improvisation on something I already have.

When I first came to the desert my Plan A handgun was a beat-up 4″ Springfield Armory 1911. This gun was clearly made during one of SA’s quality-control-be-damned periods. Its only virtue was that (almost) all the powdered-metal parts had already broken and been replaced – I did have to find a shadetree gunsmith when the thumb safety just broke off for no good reason shortly after I arrived – and it was certainly, um, worn in. So whatever its (substantial) failings in the accuracy department, it always ran as long as the magazine did its job. It was an embarrassing piece of crap, as my guns tended to be until quite recently, but it was what I had and what I carried.

Some ten years ago I switched to wheelguns, initiating another “what’s wrong with this gun” period in my life, and the 1911 became my Plan B handgun. It has slowly tumbled down the ranking since then and rarely comes out of the cabinet. But during the time I did carry it, I found a better EDC holster at a flea market: an old cop holster that apparently fell out of an inventory locker at some point…

My pistol was crap but its holster was primo. I carried it every day until I got my first revolver, and it got kind of beaten up as my belt gear tends to do. In particular, since it was made for a 5″ gun but carried a 4″, the mouth got squeezed a bit over time.


This presented no problem at all and I never gave it much thought. Until…

A few days ago a neighbor wanted to trade my 1911 for his. His was nearly new but – well – if he’d asked me at the time, I’d have counseled against buying. Cheap 1911, like cheap AR ten years ago, is just asking for trouble. It was his only handgun and it didn’t run reliably, and that’s no way to be when you live way out in the boonies and can’t call 911 about that bump in the night.

I figured what the hell, I’ve never in my life actually taken on a project gun. I can’t do it any harm, let’s see if I can get it running. Winter project, as money permits.

Getting it to provisionally run turned out to be less hassle than expected but a proper holster was an unexpected problem. I dragged out my old cop holster for it, and found to my surprise that the 5″ wouldn’t go all the way in! The mouth had been squeezed halfway shut and I haven’t figured out how to persuade it otherwise. It’s quite rigid: there appears to be a wire band around the top and sides of the mouth and I can’t pull the ends apart with my fingers. I need something I can stick in there and expand with enough mechanical force to get the band back into its proper shape.

Anybody ever solve a similar problem?

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