Chore done – with an asterisk…

Not much more than an inch of snow fell early this morning, and it stopped around eight – exactly like the weather report predicted. The same report that predicts it’ll start back up soon and basically snow all day. No word about wind.


So I took that opportunity to go take care of T&S’s horse, double-feeding her in case it’s not safe to go back this afternoon. If weather allows I’ll go, but her water won’t re-freeze between now and four in the PM and she won’t fade away from hunger – so I’m not risking a stranding to do it.

In the meanwhile the chickens still need me, and that I can happily do on foot. It’s one of those mornings where the snow seems more pleasant than not as long as you wear crampons and watch your footing; it’s a few degrees above freezing but the snow hasn’t converted to mud yet, so it’s a nice morning for a walkie and I’m off to get mine right now.

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I hate it when a forecast is right…

I know for a fact that there was no snow on the ground at 4 ayem, because Torso Boy and I went out for a pee at that time. Then when I crawled out of bed for serious an hour and a half later, I had the suggestion that the ground outside was of a … lighter hue. And when the sky finally lightened enough to show details…


It’s not snowing hard, and hopefully between now and 9ish it’ll stop and let me go feed T&S’s horse. I remember what happened the last time I got caught in a snowstorm without windshield wipers, but them’s the breaks.

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Random gulchy moments – no Spam yesterday

I don’t celebrate Christmas or any holiday especially, and as far as I know neither does Torso Boy. But it was a cloudy, blustery day perfect for sitting inside where it’s warm, and I decided that holiday or no, it was a good time to have a little feast.

So I ordered my servants to get cookin’ – and when nobody answered, I did it myself.

Fresh bread – it was baking day anyway – canned veggies and a couple of those pork chops I put up for winter two months ago, marinaded in chili sauce. Lovely! TB approved as well, though he had nothing good to say about canned peas. He didn’t get any of the wine, he’s not even nine years old yet.

As on Christmas and indeed every other day this week, I had to go up the plateau to feed T&S’s horse. The morning was frosty, though not especially cold…


…and as I turned the Jeep into the sun the windshield decided to fog right back up. This was a problem, since the defroster setting that had always workers before decided not to blow on the glass…


…and there was nothing to do but stop until I worked out the problem and could see again. This is one of the advantages of living way out in the boonies; if you just stop in the middle of the road, nobody’s going to complain. Or even notice.


Fed T&S’s one remaining horse, an old mare that’s gone damned near feral by now – They both had practically back-to-back serious riding injuries several years ago now, and decided that the fun of riding half-broke horses wasn’t worth the near certainty of death or crippling wounds. Since then the horses just stood around on the bare dirt that was their “pasture” and consumed hay, giving nothing back. One died last year, and I think T&S are just kind of hoping to outlive this one. They went to visit family for the holiday this week and I’ve been up to their barn twice a day all week. Didn’t have to climb the mesa to care for their dogs this time though, they took them with.

This was also the day D&L had to go to the biggish town about 35 miles away for D’s doctor appointment, and so I also gave their horses a feeding at noonish.

A pretty day today, hardly any clouds, though it turned windy this afternoon. That’s supposed to change overnight; tomorrow’s supposed to cloud up and bring snow as well as be substantially colder. We’ll see; so far things have been pretty mild, but we’re headed for the new year and that usually brings weather trouble for some reason.

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Here’s a counterfeit Baby Yoda for you!

Only those who have actually raised a baby will completely – and I do mean completely – sympathize with the conclusion.

There’s a shorter version but it misses the funny part at the end. I’m also a fan of Samuel L. Jackson’s take on the problem (very much NSFW).

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Merry Christmas!

TB and I are cocooning in the Lair and nothing much is going on, so in lieu of political filler things are currently a little quiet on the TUAK page. But just so you know I’m prepared to be inconsistent on that ‘no politics’ thing…


Have a very pleasant holiday. And best wishes to all TUAK readers and others of good will for good things in the coming year.

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Solstice!

I never used to pay the slightest attention to it – in fact for much of my adult life I couldn’t even have defined it with assurance, it was that insignificant. But off-grid, with improvised, scrounged, inadequate homemade housing and infrastructure, the winter solstice seems like it’s everything. And year after year TUAK readers patiently suffered along with my inevitable complaint, “I hate winter.” Because it seemed like I was bloody freezing half the time.

But in the past few years things finally turned around. And now my monotonous refrain becomes “Look how well the Lair is doing!”


Shirtsleeve temperatures in late December did not used to be a thing, I assure you. Certainly not at six in the blessed ayem. It’s not coldest at the Solstice, certainly – January is the coldest month, overall. And for some reason you can almost confidently expect a cold snap right at New Years that will be the event by which the winter is remembered – the desert does like its drama. But December is the first and darkest month of winter – from then on at least you can make a game of seeing how much earlier every morning the sunlight first clears the ridge and appears on the Lair’s wall – if indeed it’s clear enough to the east for the sun to do its thing. You still have the cold bit to slog through, but it feels as if you’ve hit the bottom and are headed slowly uphill even if it’s not really true. I fully understand, now, why Northern Europeans used to make a big deal of the Solstice.


Happily, it’s not the big deal here that it used to be. The Lair finally began turning into a snug place to cocoon through winter in ’15, after I finally got it wrapped and sided. By then, too, my chimney fire phobia began to fade after that memorable morning in February 2012. The fear of fire roaring up the stovepipe wasn’t gone by any means but it had at least begun to fade to where I was no longer willing to shiver rather than use my perfectly good woodstove to its potential.

And with the new siding, the stove’s potential was – almost shirtsleeve temperatures. Winter became not entirely negligible, but no longer a trial.

Then came the summer of 2017 and the bedroom addition – providentially on the windward side of the cabin – with its much-improved insulation and vented space heater! Ha! No more piling on blankets to keep you from waking up shivering at 2 AM every damned night. And throwing off the blankets at five to go light the fire in the main cabin is no longer a test of character.

And now, when neighbors text after a cold snap like the one we just came through to ask, “Are you staying warm?” I can chuckle and reply, “Snug as a bug.”

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When you can’t heat poultry waterers…

I don’t care what the calendar says, Winter Is Here. Which means one of the first essential daily chores of the Compleat Desert Hermit is to get liquid water to his chickens.


And from now until sometime in late February or March, that’s going to be an issue needing address because the waterers absolutely will freeze overnight. Normally you’d just get a heating pad to keep the bottom of the waterer above freezing – but off-grid, electrical heaters are usually a no-no. Seriously, one of the most useful technological advances for off-grid electrical systems was the compact fluorescent lamp. Heat takes way too much juice – and particularly when it’s expected to run all night long.

So, as with most things, I fall back on redundancy.


Even if the air temperature never gets above freezing all day, the sun will heat up that south wall until it’s uncomfortably warm. Replace the frozen waterer with a spare from the powershed – which seldom goes far below freezing, though it may not be warm enough to thaw ice – and put the frozen one on the pad in front of the wall. When you come back in the afternoon, it’ll be well-thawed and ready to clean and store in the powershed for the next rotation.

You gotta understand and take advantage of the resources you have, because they may be completely different from the resources you grew up used to.

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That moment when a boy realizes life as he knew it is over…

I genuinely sympathize.

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Products that make you say, “Wha?”

Joel to the Past: I’m sorry I laughed at Murduck and said it was the most idiotic product ever packaged and sold in the western world.

Okay – Murduck may have been the most annoying product in history, but he is now proven not to have been the most ridiculous. That seat is taken.

Introducing…

I am not making this up.

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She’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille…

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Coldest night yet…


37o in the main cabin when I rolled out around 5:30, and it’s struggling to get above 60. Yesterday temp stayed below freezing all day and the sky was clear so you knew it would get good and cold overnight.

That new(ish – this is its first winter) big pressure gauge on the sink gives instant reassurance that no pipes split overnight. 🙂 I truly think/hope I finally have the insulation issue sorted out well enough I can be confident of getting through a winter without busted pipes – but since this is the first test, confidence is not yet justified. Only hope.

Double coat be damned, Torso Boy considered it a one-human night at minimum. Never came out from under the blankets – I truly don’t know how he breathes through the night – and wanted full-body contact at all times. Roll over to get a tissue from the nightstand, and you can expect a wrestle for bed space before you can go back to sleep.

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Care Packages! “Look at all this Spam” edition.

I haven’t seen Landlady in five weeks, and some of this stuff has sat at her house for longer than that. So apologies if you’d given up ever hearing what became of your kind care package.

About five weeks ago, in the wake of a problem with D&L’s generator starter battery, we had a discussion about battery load testers. I was aware that such tools existed from my time as a dealership mechanic – but that ended like 35 years ago and my mental picture of a load tester is something the size of a small desk that GM probably soaked the franchise a thousand bucks for. There was no reason for me to give the matter any thought, because as far as I know – and I’d probably know – none of my immediate neighbors owns such a thing.

Until now!


Big Brother said, “I’ve been using that style tester forever. I was surprised to read that you didn’t have one, given that batteries are central to your lifestyle.” Yeah – in hindsight, me too. It never occurred to me to check if there had maybe been some technical advances in the past several…decades… Continue reading

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Probably should have done this right at the first…

I filled that hole yesterday afternoon after spending an hour in the wash collecting stones for LB’s grave. Filled it with rocks and then smoothed it out with the displaced sand. Went past Boot Hill first thing this morning to see if anybody had dug themselves out overnight. Nope; apparently nobody was home yesterday…


So today after it warmed up I went back and did the proper to the grave.


I confess I didn’t do the pretty rocks thing after I buried LB because that was never part of any plan I ever heard of. I did kind of start it, though: When we buried T we gave him a nice marker but it seemed kind of naked there on the bare dirt so I made a rectangle of stones from the wash to doll it up some. We started burying the pets in the same place; that was part of the original plan and then Landlady came up with the idea of the funny markers, which sort of played off T’s original marker…


…but I hadn’t really planned to do the rocks thing for the pets, to be honest. I think Neighbor L started doing that. Still, I figure why the hell not, and anyway it’ll hopefully keep any more varmints from making their dens in the soft sand over the graves.

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Cow elk requests privacy…

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That’s just rude: Rabbit desecrates LB’s grave

Somehow not entirely unfitting under the circumstances.


Several of the graves on Boot Hill have decorative rocks that may serve some accidental protective function. I never got around to doing that with LB’s grave, and this morning I found reason to regret that…


Big hole! My first thought, of course, was scavengers and that both bothered and perplexed me; it’s fairly recent, and there can’t be anything left more than six feet down to attract a scavenger. Then I took a closer look…


The hole goes down less than 2 feet, then hangs a right. It’s a rabbit warren.

Which, given Little Bear’s favorite food during his life, is somehow entirely … well, the word karma comes to mind.

I’m still going to fill it in and line the grave with stones. ‘Cause don’t do that to my favorite dog’s grave.

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Oh, here we go…

I went out for a nice long walky this morning – the weather was perfect for it, no wind or rain, temp just cold enough to freeze the mud. No direct sun which isn’t so great for the batteries but at least you’re not overheating in your coat.

Happened to go close to the cliff overlooking the South Wash and what to my wondering eyes should appear but…


Cattle. Damn it. Not a lot of cattle, but where you see a few there are probably lots someplace close. Like shitting all over my yard right this minute.


They spooked a bit when they finally spotted me – oh, a freezer full of steak would have been so easy – and more came into view. In total six of them headed south away from me.

I texted D&L about them, since the presence of cattle means they have to be extra vigilant about keeping their gates closed. L texted me a little later, saying she had called the rancher to confirm that he was running cattle here now and he said he didn’t know anything about it. So it’s possible these six are the result of a fence break closer to town. I suppose. Maybe these six are just breeders who know this area and gravitated back to it? But it would be a long way for them to stray just for a few mouthfuls of bad grass.

Damn it! Just when the deer and elk had come back…

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The Inconstant Dog

I shouldn’t complain. I keep inheriting the care of dogs who were raised by women, and who prefer the company of women even if they accept living with me from day to day. TB, of course, spent his whole life with Mama Liberty, a lady in her seventies, and so that’s what he sees as a proper human with whom he should live.

Neighbor L – of S&L, not D&L – has been kindly washing my laundry for years, ever since she moved up here full time. When Torso Boy learned that Jeep rides are fun he started bugging me to take him with whenever he saw me suiting up to go somewhere, and he gets especially excited if I first sort out my laundry and load it in the Jeep. That most certainly means a trip to see the Nice Ladies. He loves L – a lady in her seventies, go figure – and he absolutely adores L’s 98-year-old mother. He seriously just wants to sit at her feet and worship her.

Rather to my surprise, he never gives me a hard time about coming back to the Jeep when it’s time to leave. But if I try to leave him in the Jeep without giving him his visit, he absolutely will give me a snarling argument. He does not consider that negotiable. I can leave him home, though he’ll pout. But as far as he’s concerned I can’t take him there and then leave him in the Jeep.

I like to look at it as a test of my own maturity, and don’t let it hurt my feelings. TB is a fine little guy and, as with Ghost, I accept the limitations of the relationship. But next time I’ll get a weanling. No more Uncle Joel the Dog Nanny. I was much closer to Little Bear.

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“‘Prosthesis?’ You keep using that word.”

“I do not think it means what you think it means.” Or maybe I’m just behind the times. That’s not uncommon.

I happened to be reviewing the game camera mem card just now. Nothing on it but some rodents hanging around and a Corgi and an old man walking around a bush several times. And I kept looking at the way the boot sat on the old man’s left foot and thinking, “Man, that foot is worn all the way out.” And it’s not going to be fixed any time very soon because I’m a high desert hermit and the closest prosthetist I know of is five hours away by highway. Until it actually breaks, the hassle cost is too high. The only real damage to the foot at present is cosmetic and it’s been this way ten years; as far as I can tell, the real functional part of the foot is effectively immortal. So I’m not interested in spending days or weeks in the city far away just to replace my foot.

But the exercise got my mind spinning on a related tangent … what would it cost to replace the whole leg? It’s over 20, pushing 25 years old and hasn’t fit right in this century, plus in the meantime I’ve rather reconciled to the idea of one of those titanium pegs which are goofy-looking as hell but much lighter and cheaper to keep in service than mine*.

Which, given all I went through to sign up for medicare six months ago, naturally led to the question, “What prosthetic stuff does Medicare cover?” A question you’d think would be easy to answer…


Notice something that list doesn’t specifically include? I’m (almost) sure it’s just an oversight, because specifically excluding limbs from that list would be like saying, “I’ll replace any broken part on your car except the steering, suspension, wheels and tires, you’ll just have to get along without those.” I’m (almost) certain this is just a writer throwing together something that’s good enough for government work. Almost. But yeah, the list of covered prosthetic parts on the main page officially includes everything except arms and legs.

It’s just poor writing, though, because if you type “prosthetic limb” into the search window you do get sent someplace else that does specifically say…


So, yeah. In money, I could even afford to do it right now. But it would mean spending more weeks in a city, and I’m not at all sure I’m over how I spent my summer vacation.


*When this leg was made back in the nineties, the prosthetist asked me, “endo or exo?” Which was not a question anyone had ever asked me before. Those space-age peg legs were just coming into vogue at the time, and I made the snap decision that I wasn’t ready to look down at one of those things every morning. Little did I know that they weren’t just a fad, and that replacement parts (like feet, for example) that would fit my new leg were about to entirely leave the market. I had to have my leg extensively revised in 2008 just so I could get a decent off-pavement foot installed.

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Awright, this isn’t funny anymore.

Rain. Rain since sometime around eleven last night.


This is the desert. It’s an arid environment. And I really hate mud*.


It hasn’t been cold enough to waste wood and make a big mess running the woodstove. But I’m gonna fire it up this evening just to dry out the air to the normal and healthy 15 – 20%. I’m expecting to see ferns sprout any minute.

Also the cell signal is crap; I couldn’t upload this at all earlier and I’ll be surprised if it posts this time. Here goes…


*Yeah, I know we basically had no monsoon at all this year and I have no room to bitch. Plus it’s probably good that we’re not in a wipe-the-Anasazi-right-out-of-history kind of drought. But I don’t have to like it.

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Good thing D&L wanted to go to town…

I took the opportunity of this patch of mild weather to finally decide whether I’m done cutting winter wood. Decided I was, which meant changing the oil in the generator, draining it of fuel, and putting it away for the season…


…and I got as far as draining the oil, which is when I learned that I had apparently used my last quart of oil from the shed and neglected to ever replace it. Bother!

Fortunately it was about then that D&L texted me to say they had decided to hit the dollar store on coupon day, and did I want to come along? I’d hoped they would make that decision anyway because I wanted to fill a couple of propane bottles and it’s easier to do that on a non-water day for reasons having to do with the rear of their truck bed.

So I was able to top off my propane…


…and also finish servicing the generator and putting it to bed. It’s been dry and fifties here for several days now, and the mud is mostly dry at last, making it a good day to get outdoor stuff done while I comfortably can.

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