IMG_2596

We purchased our washer and dryer some years ago, used, on craigslist. They are supposedly “high-end” machines, but we bought them because they were high efficiency and water saving. The story was that they were being delivered to a new home, and the delivery guys (rather than remove the door through a tight entry) pushed them through and scratched them. The new owner rejected them. The delivery outfit ate the loss. They kicked around without owner or direction until our seller bought them at liquidation.

That’s another story entirely, since our seller was a bit of a tweaker. He seemed dodgy on the phone, so Rick came with me for the transaction (also to help loading, as a washer and dryer are pretty big.) I was greatly relieved that he came, as the seller was a little scary. We stuck to our resolve, and the purchase, which had been skittering out of control and felt like it could come to blows, was concluded without bloodshed. We climbed into the truck, and neither of us said a word for about 30 minutes. And then a torrent of “Well that was weird!” And, “What the hell did he mean by that?” And, “Sure glad we got out of there.”

Anyway. The laundry machines have held up like champs, despite their scratched fronts. They get things cleaner than any maching I’ve ever used. There’s this one weird thing, though. The washer ties our clothes up in knots. We’ve tried everything, loading less, loading more, it makes no difference. The machine is determined to make every load into a veritable Rubic’s Cube of unloading. Is it something we’re doing? Surely this isn’t a feature. We do wear long sleeve t-shirts (and these are the worst) but other than that, we cannot imagine what’s up with that.

In the end, the clothes are clean. There’s a little more work involved, but we got a great deal, so we’re not really complaining. If anyone can explain this, we’d be curious to hear any suggestion beyond that the gig was jinxed from the start.

Beekeeping for Beginers

IMG_2589

Michigan has no shortage of bugs. I know we hear about the dangers of the insect apocalypse, and those are very real dangers, but you couldn’t tell it from where we live. I’ve heard all the jokes (mosquitoes so big, they’re the State Bird; black flies so thick they blot out the sun; and so on.) We get it.

My standard reprise (especially to Californians) is that we have enough water to support life here. Insects are one healthy barometer of that fact. That usually shuts them up.

But, we comfort ourselves in the knowledge that winter offers a respite from the bugs. (They say that’s why Michiganders like ice-fishing.) Sigh.

Or so I said, until now. It turns out we have winter bugs! They call them snow fleas. Hypogastrura nivicola (Hypogastrurida) They’re about the size of fleas and they jump. Go ahead, look it up. They’re a kind of springtail and they actually manufacture their own internal ‘anti-freeze’ that lets them thrive in winter. They come out when we get warm spells, so that they can slurp the water from the sun-melted snow.

IMG_2592

The good news is that they are entirely beneficial. They don’t bite, sting, suck blood, eat your home or annoy. They eat dead plant matter, and so are nature’s little composting assistants. If you have them, it’s an indication of clean soils.

I’d never seen them before. It requires just the right conditions to get them on the snow’s surface. I saw the specs on the snow when I was bringing in firewood. I assumed that it was ash debris–from the chimney–until I saw them jumping, and then I looked closely. Bugs! Bugs in winter! Who knew?

IMG_2588

It’s been a long time since we had kittens. One forgets. They’re into everything. I thought I kept a moderately tidy home, but they show up wearing dust bunnies, from God only knows where. I guess the bright spot is that they’re dusting areas that I’ve clearly missed.

They follow me around making trouble with whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Today was laundry. First, they kept running off with the socks. Then, finally they settled in for a nap. I guess I can do without the laundry basket for a while.

Thankfully, there are two. For the most part they keep each other busy, which is good because I don’t have that kind of energy to entertain a kitten.

We’ve set firm rules. For the most part, they’ve been pretty good. We decided at the outset, no kittens on the bed–and that’s been the hardest thing to enforce. They want to be where we are. I should take it as a compliment, but at 2:00 am, I’m not easily flattered.

IMG_2587

IMG_2582

As a teen, at my parents’ home, my least favorite task was to have to get wood from the woodpile, at night. In the snow. In the dark. We’ve set it up here so that this is never the case.

Sure, the woodpile is out back, at stone’s throw from the house. But by the basement door we put in a wood ‘crib,’ enough to hold two or three week’s worth of fuel, depending on the temperature. And, just inside the basement door is a woodbox, that we fill everyday, so that the wood for the day is dry, and warm.

A couple of times each month I refill the woodcrib. I use a sled–the kind they make for ice-fishing, unless there’s no snow, in which case, I use a wheel barrow. It takes eleven or twelve full wheelbarrow loads to fill the crib–but only five or six sled loads. I prefer the sled.

IMG_2580

You cannot turn your back on that sled though. If the ground is uneven, it’ll do what sleds do. Just before the holidays, the sled got away from me and whacked me square in the knee–knocking me over. I hobbled for a couple of weeks after that. That was my stupid-tax–it was my fault. I need to be more careful about observing how the sled is positioned on any slope–especially if I’m going to get out in front of it.

IMG_2581

Just enough of a slope to cause trouble!

Unlike my sister, further north, we don’t burn 24/7. We start a fire when the temperature falls below 62, usually mid-day, and keep it going until we go to bed. Any more than that and the house would be too hot. In my parents’ house, the fire burned non-stop from October to April. I’m not sure if our difference in burn time is because of latitude, or the fact that we stuffed every nook and cranny of this house with insulation.

All the wood we burn comes from deadfall here on the property. It’s free, unless you count the hours we spend cutting, hauling and splitting. It’s heavy work, but it’s outdoors  in the woods and lovely. It’s one of our favorite tasks.

IMG_2583

And ready for next time–sled or wheel barrow.

I was the one who insisted that we heat with wood. Not only had I grown up with it, but I learned a lesson in a rental once, that made me insist on having some measure of control when it came to heat. We lost power at the farm where I rented–and it was out for nearly a week. The furnace, though propane fueled, required electric power to operate. It was a very long, cold, week. After that, even though it was a rental, I installed a small wood stove. I never again wanted to be at the mercy of a public utility.

We have back-up heat, propane stoves and some electric baseboard units–enough to keep the house from freezing if we go out of town in the winter. But for day to day use, we burn wood.

We’re having a winter storm today. Not much of a storm really, there was some wind last night and by tomorrow morning we expect to add a foot of fresh snow. It’s beautiful. We won’t shovel until tomorrow–no point in doing it twice. In the meantime, it’s toasty inside by the fire.

img_2342

 

IMG_2579We were only gone for five days. The weather was mild, so the chickens had full access to their outdoor pens. And we had a chicken-sitter checking in on them–water and food and all that.

So, there was nothing to prepare us for the surprise when we arrived home. The first indication of a reality shift was that Einstein, our docile runt chicken, was marching the fence line, desperate to return to the company of the other two Chanteclers–her former tormenters. We’d put her in with the Barnevelder, with the idea that two lonelies might do better together–and at first, it seemed to work.

Rick went down to check on the chickens–and opened the gate between the pens. Einstein made a bee line for her Chantecler buddies. So much for trying to mediate chicken disputes. He noticed something else different…but didn’t say anything.

IMG_2573

I went down later, just to check things out on my way to the compost. It was subtle, but something was different. That Barnevelder seemed to have developed an attitude. It was patrolling its territory, with a decided swagger — even, I’d go so far to say, a strut. Head high and eyes bright…this was new.

“Rick, did you notice anything odd about the Barnevelder?”

He looked at me funny, nodding. “A little on the aggressive side. I saw her go after one of the Chantclers, talons first.”

“Do you think…”

“Yeah, I wondered. Maybe we have a rooster on our hands.”

The signs are there. There’s that upright posture, and the start of more pronounced tail plumage. Even new wattle and comb growth. (We’d selected our chicken varieties for low comb and no wattle, because there’s less chance of freezing in a cold climate. But, course, all bets are off if we’re talking roosters.) We’re pretty sure.

IMG_2574

The other chickens want nothing to do with it (him?)

We weren’t banking on roosters. So far, no crowing, at least we haven’t heard it. But then, we’re late-risers.

What to do with a rooster? Soup? We cannot have him annoying the neighbors. (Though a mean rooster would be an interesting match for those goddamn dogs.)

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

IMG_2577

IMG_2572

Because, no matter how painful the losses, there’s always room for more loving.

IMG_2567