On the quality of Chinese camo netting from Amazon…

This one’s just about exactly a year old.


And it didn’t survive the last couple of windstorms. It would probably be fine as shade cover for camping trips and such, or in a place with milder weather. But the UV weakened it and the wind finished it.

Not that it matters a lot, at present. I remodeled the Fortress of Attitude for a dog kennel last summer, should I need one. So far I haven’t needed one.

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Calcium and Iron Oxide…

The water tank on top of the ridge is nearly full at last. This afternoon I’ll turn the pump off. And every morning for the past few days I’ve trudged up the slope to see how much the water level dropped during the night when the pump wasn’t running. And every morning I found that the level hadn’t dropped a fraction of an inch. There’s nothing wrong with that part of the water system I didn’t break myself. Apparently I just thought I checked the level, but didn’t.

So it was time to open that expensive new ball valve and send water down to the Lair’s yard. This isn’t quite as simple as just opening the valve, because of all that goo in the bottom of the tank which is now most certainly in the more than hundred yards of underground pipe between the tank manifold and the yard spigot.

Pull the yard hose out of storage, hook it to the spigot and uncoil it downhill. Go up the hill, open the valve, come downhill and open the spigot. After several seconds the hose will spit red goo, then it’ll run orange for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour…


Eventually, no matter how much you may come to doubt that it’ll happen, the hose will run clear.


And at that point, I have water back in the yard. Not in the actual cabin yet, of course, because there’s still that broken shut-off valve that needs to be dug up. Honestly I considered holding off on this step till sometime next month or even April, because when I fix the shut-off valve I also want to tear out the plumbing to the cabin and do more insulation-related retrofitting and I don’t want to do that in February. Today’s warmish except for the wind, but the cold is coming right back. And now when I do that, I’ll basically flood the yard emptying the pipe from the tank. But most of that water can be shunted downhill with the hose, and at least now I can haul water for dish washing and toilet flushing. I’ve been spending drinking water for washing and not using the toilet at all for well over a month now and it’s getting a little old.

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Wow. Soccer is not for sissies.

My peals of laughter should not be taken as lack of sympathy, but are entirely to be blamed on the commentator.

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Huh. I’m beginning to wonder about the water…

Was there anything wrong with it at all, before I started tinkering and breaking things?


Because as far as I can tell, the tank is holding its level overnight. I’m beginning to think I just used more water in a shorter time than I imagined, and should have checked it more often.

Meanwhile we had another coldish night…


Far from a record for the date, but still scraping the upper single digits overnight. The day is still predicted to be 20o warmer than yesterday, though. And with the wind having settled down, yesterday was less unpleasant than the day before. And fortunately for these old bones…


I know I say this a lot, almost as though I’m trying to convince myself. But I do seem to have effectively if not entirely shaken my chimney fire phobia.

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After such a string of mild mornings, this one kinda stings.


Laddie got me up at 4:30 with an urgent demand, then we both just climbed back into the sack until seven. It’s not that cold, 15o at present, but it certainly feels cold compared to the past mild week or so. I haven’t even been lighting the woodstove. But it’s roaring at the moment, for sure.

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Had to break out the heavy coat for afternoon chores, from sure

Stayed in the mid-thirties all day which wouldn’t have been bad at all except for the 40mph+ wind. Went out to walk the dog in just a hoodie and came back frozen after only a circuit of the driveway. So I bundled up good before visiting the chickens, measuring the tank water level and gassing up the Jeep.

It’s supposed to get to the mid-teens tonight and then repeat the whole thing tomorrow but without so much wind. I don’t know what the wind chill factor is this afternoon but my fingers are still tingling.

Also I still haven’t found anything wrong with the water system. I’ve definitely established that there’s nothing wrong with the pump, and indeed the level didn’t drop much overnight though I do confess I kinda forgot to check till pretty late this morning. I’ll do better tomorrow.

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Winter returns to Joel’s Gulch

Heavy wind in the afternoon often means a change of weather, so I woke this morning to see our brief mild spell has gone. There’s a dusting of snow and the weather man (person of undefined gender?) says the temp is supposed to stay in the 30’s all day.

I had to go out first thing to refill the Jeep’s antifreeze. It started to overheat during evening chicken chores, indicating that the new water pump leak is more severe than I hoped. So it’s not shaping up to be one of those really great days.

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A second thought about Torso Boy’s intolerant morning…

I went to have a second look at that scat pile Laddie found this morning. And you know, it kinda looks like cat. We do have quite a few bobcats here, and on one occasion we even accidentally documented that they will come close to the cabin.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier, but the possibility exists that he tried to challenge a cat for his territory. And that would have been bad because a bobcat would have run away, and Laddie most certainly would have wanted to chase, and it was dark, and… Anyway, I should have praised him more for listening to me and coming away.

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It took an embarrassingly long time to finish this…

…because I only get to town once a week and I didn’t get the right stuff the first time. Or…the second time…

…but I finally finished repairing/replacing the valves at the foot of the water tank.


Sunny and warmish, a perfect day for working outdoors except for the wind, which is like unto a tempest. But it wasn’t a hard job at all, once I finally got all the right parts. And so I could close off the valve to the cabin and turn the well pump on. I’ll let it run all this afternoon, then this evening I’ll measure the tank level and start to see if I can figure out where the water went. I’m thinking there’s only one possibility, since I never found any wet spots. But by tomorrow I should be able to confirm or reject that theory.


Since I had everything dug up, I installed this nice valve box rather than bury everything in dirt again. Tonight before I knock off I’ll stuff it full of insulation, though the past couple of nights haven’t been cold enough to freeze the pipes. Now that I have the plumbing complete, of course the temperature will crash.

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Laddie has a brush with the locals

One thing we’ve worked on since the day he arrived: First thing in the morning, as soon as I get my leg on, he obviously needs to go out and pee and I don’t want to have to futz with the leash. So we go out on the porch, I light up the grove right next to the porch, he picks a tree and has a pee, then he very promptly comes back in and has a biscuit. At the very first we did it with the leash and I swear this dog was so out of his comfort zone I had to unzip and show him what was expected, but he quickly got with that simple part of the program.

We’ve been doing that long enough now that it’s an expected start to the day, and as often as not he’ll bully me to get out of bed and get with it. If nothing else, he wants his biscuit. But this morning he trotted out to the grove and then stopped, sniffed around, and found something else between the porch and the tree that needed covering up. And no sooner was that done than he looked up and started to growl, and even from the porch I could see the hair rising on his neck, and he started to slink forward as well as a canine version of Peter Dinklage can slink. Torso Boy was going to war.

I called him back and he came to his senses, and by the time of the biscuit part of the program he seemed to have forgotten all about it. But maybe not, because a couple of hours later when we went out for a more substantial walky he nosed around and then went off the normal path and straight to some fresh scat in the middle of the yard, not far off from where he’d been looking earlier. So we probably interrupted some small nocturnal predator. I can’t identify the scat except that it wasn’t coyote: At a guess I’d say a badger or something similar. We have badgers and woodchucks and such, but I almost never see them because I’m not nocturnal. I do see a lot of small weird tracks in the mornings, though seldom so close to the cabin.

He’s not very well clued in or suited to life outdoors in the desert, but he’s not stupid and he’s not a wimp.

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The Jeep is getting on my last nerve.

Looks like it’ll be headed back to the shop in town, in the fullness of time.

I was so pleased with myself. I got the radiator replaced without much delay. New hoses, everything sorted out, no parts left over. With a new radiator cap, for the first time since I started driving it 11 years ago, the cooling system held pressure! Actual pressure!

Then this afternoon I went out to drive it to D&L’s place. And on the dirt under the front…


rrrrrr…

Going so far as to actually fix the coolant leaks may have been a mistake. Now the damned thing needs a water pump.

I am reminded, to my disgust, of oil leaks in Oldsmobile 5.7L “diesel” engines. Customers would ask “can you fix that?” I would say, “Sure I can. Where would you like it to leak next?”

I hated doing water pumps even when I was used to wrenching on engines. That was over 30 years ago. I’m going to need to pay somebody else for this one.

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The Hermit Gourmet

Regular readers know that Uncle Joel is an inveterate food hoarder. Canned meat in particular, with the exception of Spam which is a weekly staple, tends to get hoarded. Know what bad times feel like and you’ll likely hoard against bad times.

But I got an email from Big Brother saying he was rotating some older canned meat my way. Yesterday I decided to celebrate that news with a rare treat…


Now, I have to tell you that right out of the can this stuff isn’t a gourmet delight. It’s not Banner Canned Sausage by any means, but you can’t just slice and fry it like Spam. For one thing it’s not as sliceable as Spam; it’s basically pressed ham bits. And it’s salty as hell. But it’s also not ‘pork products’ – in fact the ingredients basically list ham and lots of salt. And I like ham a lot. Still my first experiment with opening one of these cans was disappointing. Uncle Joel is not a great chef.

But two things go well with canned ham bits: Brown sugar and – yes – pineapple.

Cover it with brown sugar and give it fifteen minutes at 350o, and the gag-inducing saltiness is tempered with the gag-inducing sweetness to make a lovely lunch along with fried potatoes. And there’s a whole pound of it so it’ll last for a couple of days’ snacking.

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Well. That was…an adventure. Not in a good way.

My last laptop, on which I ran Linux, gradually became a paperweight because of my neurotic reluctance to update software. I say “I ran Linux” as if to suggest that I’m a spongy but proud computer expert capable of calmly doing such things – that is far from true. I’m a (somewhat-spongy at this time of year) gimp with an aversion to math problems and look-how-smart-I-am puzzles and updating computer software. My last laptop was configured by a friend to whom I didn’t have regular access, and it worked great at first and then gradually less great until it simply became too outdated to be compatible with anything. Someone sent me thumb drives with updated software and detailed instructions, and I could never quite bring myself to give it a try since there was no effective Plan B.

Over the past year everything has transitioned to Apple products, not really through any decision of mine, and the matter of software updates has also been taken out of my hands. At irregular intervals the MacBook just refuses to play anymore until it has its way. And I might actually relax and consider that a good thing if it weren’t for the factor that Apple’s totalitarian little policy completely fails to take into account: I live in the boonies, where there is not a cell tower on every corner. On good days my connection is slow but relatively reliable. On bad days – like any randomly-chosen day in winter, for example – there may or may not be a connection from one moment to the next. If you happen to be trying to upload or download or synch or whatever modern software does when it updates itself, tough toenails. And what are you supposed to do after the update fails and gives up retrying? Your theoretical connection will eventually return, if possibly at a low quality. But your software does what it will, if it remains capable of doing anything at all. Talk about being at the mercy of merciless machines.

So yesterday my laptop abruptly informed me that it was incapable of working online until something in the iPhone was updated, and would I like to do that now or just read a book or work on a jigsaw puzzle or something? I said go ahead and update – seconds later it said “No can do.” And that was that. The afternoon wind picked up, which is almost always a sign that weather is blowing in, and when weather blows in my cell signal goes completely to crap.

This picture took forever to load.


This morning I hooked everything up and rebooted the laptop and we seem to be back. For now. But I am reminded that this stuff isn’t meant for use where I’m using it.

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If you can’t have a backhoe/loader…

…have a friend with a backhoe/loader.

Neighbor D expressed a desire to come over this afternoon and help me with a new driveway apron onto the wash.


Last summer’s flash flood exposed two big rocks in bad places. One wasn’t really much of a problem, but while waiting for D I poked around with a shovel and determined that it would be pretty easy to move. Without anything better to do, I went ahead and did that before D and the tractor arrived.


But the other is the tip of an iceberg-sized boulder and directly in the path of the old driveway apron. It might conceivably be possible to dig it out but it would be more practical to knock the top off with an explosive or jackhammer – and more practical yet just to dig the new ramp off to the other side of it. Which is what D did.


Within a week or two it’ll be packed down nice and tight. Already my driveway is in better shape than it’s been in half a year.

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Two thirds through

This is arguably in poor taste given that I’ve vaguely heard of a winterpocalype devastating basically all of the midwest. But I think of winter proper being composed of the months of December through February, even though it’s not practically true and March always ends up acting like it was seduced by the dark side. Therefore the first day of February is kind of an excuse to celebrate, since it means that official winter, of which I am thoroughly sick, is officially 2/3 over.

So let it be written, so let it be imagined. And now I’m going to town to hopefully get the right plumbing parts I need, since it turns out I pretty comically screwed that up last week and have wasted a couple of pretty nice days in the meantime.

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The mulies are back.

All the time we were having that weather, all the deer and elk disappeared. Don’t know where they go to ride it out. But these game camera pics are dated eight days ago, and here’s a big gang of mule deer. I haven’t seen a lot of new sign, but apparently they have been around…

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Oddball Girl lays a blue egg


It’s common for some mail-order chicken breeders to throw a thirteenth chick in with every dozen order, and it tends to be something a bit oddball. In this case it was that one there, and for once it’s a hen. She is by far the most shy of the bunch, to the point where sometimes even the leghorns pick on her. She mostly hangs out in the corner; for several months I even fed her separately from time to time though I never saw her driven away from the feeder.

I was told to watch for blue eggs, and sure enough today we got a blue egg.


Neighbor L cares about that, so it looks like Oddball Girl just started paying her way.

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Oh, you’re going to be a problem.

Maybe a week ago one of the Leghorns snuck out of the chicken house behind my back and got chased by Laddie. Yesterday it happened again, less dramatically. She ran around being annoying for a few minutes and then just walked through the gate I held open for her.

This morning she – I’m pretty sure it was the same bird – nearly got decapitated trying to dash through the door before I could close it.

Why does a chicken whose only wish once free is to rejoin the flock become obsessed with escape?

Scratch that – if raising chickens has taught me anything, it’s that asking “why are you doing that” is always a waste of time.

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What a beautiful day. For once.

Neighbor D traded his single action for a semiauto, and wouldn’t you know he just had to buy a cheap 1911. But it was an excuse to go shooting, and I think that problem it had with not wanting to lock up was just the fact that he didn’t actually know anything about semis and it was totally dry. I would not have suggested that particular gun if he had asked, but at least I do have a lot of experience with POS 1911’s and so could show him how to take it apart and clean and lube it. Sigh – does anybody make a good 1911 for less than four figures? No wonder everybody just carries Glocks.

And as previously mentioned, it was an excuse to go shooting at this perfectly good shooting range I’ve been too bummed out to do more than wave at on my way to chicken chores ever since the weather went to hell over a month ago. And at last, what a lovely day! Cloudless, calm, and it even scraped the low fifties! I had a nice morning walk, then did some shooting with D, then fiddled with his pistol which remarkably works much better with a little lubricant, then did afternoon chicken chores early so I could come back and clean guns, then had a nice sink bath while it’s still warm inside. Now I’m wearing clean everything and don’t feel like a crabby old man who’s been stuck inside all day. What a nice day it was.

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A little too far to the right there, Joel…

This is the wash end of my driveway, as re-sculpted by last August’s flash flood…


I should say the new wash end of the driveway, since the original wash end is now too steep and high for anything but a monster truck, plus there’s a big jagged rock right in the middle that was once buried in the sand. It was kind of a pain for a while, but erosion and traffic is gradually beating it into a sort of ramp-like angle. Until next time.

The biggest issue with exiting the driveway by this route is that I have a very narrow road between the new erosion gully on the left, which is gradually wearing down to a more manageable angle, and the drop-off to the right. As the Jeep approaches the wash I can no longer see the approach, so I kind of bias toward the right. The drop-off is just a little bouncy, while until recently the gully would high-center or conceivably even roll the Jeep.

Yesterday on my way to afternoon chicken chores I got a bit – a lot – too far to the right…


…and the right side of the Jeep took a rather more precipitous trip down than the left side did. My mind on other matters, this came as a surprise. The one nice thing about the Jeep’s aftermarket suspension bits, which regular readers know have been much on my mind lately as so many have chosen to leave my employ, is the additional clearance. A couple of months ago I borrowed Neighbor D’s essentially identical but unmodified Wrangler, and it has a much (much) nicer ride – but will just flat bump into obstacles I’m used to being able to blithely drive over. Anyway, the sudden bumpsy-daisy wouldn’t normally cause any concern since that’s exactly the sort of thing the Jeep’s mods are supposed to help it shrug off. But those mods are eighteen years old and for something like fifteen of those years the Jeep has rarely seen pavement at all, so it’s all just a bit worn. So normally I’m more careful than that.

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