Monday, December 31, 2018

This Is How We Ended 2018

This is how we ended 2018 here on the property. (Central Texas)

What a glorious way to usher out one year and get set for the next!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hey Santa! Where Do I Send The Bill?

Worst place ever!!
A bit of a leak in a steel barn with a concrete floor is nothing to get too excited about, unless that leak happens to be right over your workbench. You know, the place where you carefully cut, trim, fit, and assemble complex masterpieces of woodworking art, (Yep, maybe a bit of exaggeration there.) where you apply museum-quality finishes that take days to complete, and where you painstakingly place 1000 different puzzle pieces made of paper and ink into cohesive wholes.

When that's where the leak is it becomes a big friggin deal!

Because of the sprayed foam insulation where the water comes out in the inside, just off the end of that light fixture in this case, doesn't always correspond to where it went in on the outside.

OK, I'm not saying I have definitive proof. No CCTV, no eye witnesses, no forensics,  no smoking gun, not even little reindeer footprints, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty dang strong.

I mean who else would be stomping around on our roof creating leaks on Christmas Eve?? And I don't care if it was the fat man in the velour suit or the pointy little hooves of his ride, a leak is a leak.

There are a trabazillion bolts in our barn. That might sound like an exaggeration
but ask me how I know what the actual count is. Go ahead, ask!

In the 15 years since the barn was assembled, bolt by bolt and section by section, we've had one other leak. It was in a non-threatening location, doing nothing more than creating a temporary damp spot on the concrete floor during rains, but a leak is a leak so I tracked down the source and put a stop to it.

Because of that previous experience I had a pretty good idea what I needed to tackle this second leak.

With my bucket full of potential tools at the ready and my trusty ladder firmly in place (I know, it looks scary as hell leaning over like that, but it's propped securely against the AC platform and is more stable than if I blocked up the right-hand legs to level it out.) I headed up to correct the situation.

Our barn is made up of a number of 30' X 14' arches, 25 of them to be exact, and before I went wheels (feet) up and climbed on top, I stood under the leak and counted valleys from the front of the building to the inside location of the leak - five. I knew from my previous experience that the source of the leak was either the 5th or 6th peak, the peaks on either side of the 5th valley.

And once I got up there the culprit was obvious. This bolt at the top of the barn right were two of the angle-supports come together. Those supports are used during the assembly process. (The whole 30' X 50' building was delivered to us on a single pallet and just adding water does not turn it into a building.)

They help hold things together during the process of standing the next flimsy, twisty, floppy arch up and getting it bolted to the one already standing. (It takes about 5 arches before the whole mess stops feeling like it is on the verge of coming down. Scary shit!) You could use just three (one on each side and one on top) of the 10' angle sections, moving them along as you go, or you can buy some extras and just leave them on the building as additional bracing. We chose to do the latter.

But the previous leak was also at one of these overlapping joints.

The bolts are about an inch long with a neoprene washer under the head and a square nut on the inside of the barn.

One thing you do NOT want to do with neoprened bolts is over-tighten them, squishing the washer until it can't do its job anymore, but that does create the risk, especially for an amateur, of leaving a bolt loose enough that over time it backs off to the point where the washer isn't doing its job for a whole 'nother reason.

But no big deal, just come back and tighten the bolt down a little bit. Except that with the nut now being inaccessible under the spray-foam insulation, that can be problematic, as was the case with my first leak several years ago. The nut just turned right along with me as I tried to tighten the bolt, so I ended up calking the area instead. (Yes, I could have dug through the foam and gotten to the nut to tighten the bolt properly but that just didn't sound like a lot of fun. Besides, having the guy come out and spray the foam was one of the few things we actually paid good money to have done and tearing it up just doesn't seem right.)

This time the nut stayed put and the bolt tightened just fine, bringing back memories (flashbacks?) of tightening all trabazillion of these bolts 15 years ago as I tried to judge just the right degree of tightness.

OK, so the calk is clear which makes this photo pretty much useless.
And I really hate opening a fresh tube of calk for a tiny job since I know the leftovers aren't going to last long, but I also really don't like climbing around up here a trabazillion feet up in the air, so I went ahead and calked the whole damn thing as well.

And now I'm back to puzzling without fear, but Santa - you owe me for a tube of calk. . .

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Celebrating the Cycle

Yesterday I saw someone bemoaning the Winter Solstice as a day of peak SADness (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to be tolerated, but not a day to celebrate.

Well, we're all different and each of us have out own unique way of navigating through this life.

When I came across this particular viewpoint of this particular day, I had just been out with the camera capturing memories of, what for me is a glorious day.

Yep, the rules state never take a photo with the camera pointed at the sun. Well sometimes you just have to break the rules.

Of the four annual solar events, two equinoxes and two solstices, the Winter Solstice is my favorite.

The equinoxes are somewhat interesting from an intellectual standpoint, what with there being an equal amount of light and dark on those days, and the Summer Solstice is useful as a bookmark on the solar calendar,


but the Winter Solstice, now for me that's a day to celebrate!

It signals the beginning of the climb out of darkness.

The promise that the days of rest and hibernation will give way to days of renewal and growth.

It reminds that this cycle, so critical to the working of our planet for billions of years,
is still there for us to make the most of.

And when that day, as it did for me here in my little corner of the world, coincides with mild temperatures, dry air, and cloudless skies, well I'm not sure I could ask for anything more. . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Weird Coincidence or Serendipity?

My Delorme Topo, the mapping system I use on my laptop, has a choice of 7 different coordinate mapping formats. Admittedly, more than half of these are pretty obscure unless you are in the military, work for the USGS, or are just plain contrary, but that still leaves at least three different  coordinate formats that are in common use.

The other day I saw a mention of the Cosmic Campground in the Gila National Forest. I hadn't heard about this place before so did a little research on it so I could stick a pin in my map.

 Rather than chase down the directions I simply copied the coordinates that came up and pasted them into the find field of Topo

Except that I wasn't paying attention and copied the degree-minute-second format and Topo was set to degree format. I don't know what convoluted magic happened in Topo to twist what I copied into the degree format it was set for but,

It sent me off to what is clearly a campground loop. One I hadn't marked before. But wait! This is in the El Morro National Monument. Still in New Mexico but definitely not the Gila National Forest! What is going on?

I eventually figured out what I had done wrong and plugged the proper coordinate format for the Cosmic Campground into the find field.

Ahh, that's better. Back in Gila National Forest, only this time it's not an obvious campground. Good thing I went looking for it then.

But how great was that! Two new pins in my map for the price of one.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Cha-Ching: or Ho Ho - Ho Hum. . .

You'd never know it based on all the hype, but I suspect I'm far from the only one that's become jaded by Christmas.

It seems like it's been an awfully long time since that unique, delicious, squirming anticipation of Christmas morning has set my youthful blood afire. Disillusioned, for a variety of reasons that would hijack this post if I covered them all here, for decades my participation in the holiday, the Christian version, has been based mostly on upholding expectations and forestalling confrontation.

But this year, for reasons unknown even to me, despite the retail hype pandering to our increasingly gime-gime-gime-and-gime-more culture starting up pre-Halloween, I made more of an effort than usual, but only post-Thanksgiving when it's supposed to happen. When there's time to enjoy but not so much time as to get bored with it.

 This tree, including the pot it is sitting in and the star on top (And the bit of cardboard underneath to keep the plaster-filled ceramic pot from staining the raw concrete floor like it did my workbench!) tops out at a rather modest 54". But in the context of our two-room, (one of those is the bathroom) 380 sq. ft. home it's pretty dang big!

We have to slide the tree, which weights a friggin ton by the way, (Did I really need to fill that pot nearly to the top with plaster? What was I thinking??) towards the door, to the right, in order to use the printer which lives in the second drawer up and I gota kinda squeeze my arm through the partially opened door of the closet above to get to my heavy jacket. (The one I wear to town, My real jacket, my working jacket, lives out in the barn.)

I even pulled the wire lady, one of those 3/4 sized garden sculptures that looks something like the sewing dummy my Mom used to have in the spare room, out of the weeds this year and gussied her up for the season

with a cheap tree-skirt and even cheaper Santa hat.

Oh, and a few lights too.

She's had to endure nearly 5" of rain since December 3rd when I put her outside the back door (where we can see her when sitting inside) and that has washed the color right out of the paper dragonflies,

but she's actually holding up better than I expected.

That's not to say though, that I'm not pretty much over the "festivities" and looking forward to January 6th when all the hype will be stuffed back into the attic until next time.

Friday, December 7, 2018

When Mothers Go Bad

I  (- you know - the first born - clearly her favorite -) called my mommy the other day,

       the woman that birthed me, fed me, guided me firmly down the right path,

                      and also the one that sold up and moved to an independent living place a few months ago.

We barely got started and I was settling in for a nice chat when she interrupted me mid-sentence and said "I'm hanging up now cause I gota a thing ta go to."


What the hell!!!

But then I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

Last week she was telling me about how much she's enjoying her Tuesday evening card group.

How they're all a fun bunch of people and they meet for dinner then go play cards the rest of the night.

And, while telling me all this, she accidentally let it slip that the other night they were playing -- gasp -- FOR MONEY!!!

But wait, it doesn't stop there!!  She actually went to my sister's place for a family Thanksgiving with the grandkids and great grandkids, WEARING BLUE JEANS!!!

What is happening??!!

Personally I think she's done that dire and dastardly thing she warned me about all through my teens.

I think she's fallen in with a bad crowd!

But what can I do about it? She HUNG UP on me!!

I wonder what's next. . .

           Food fights? . . .

                       TP'ing the concierge's office?

Disclaimer: None of the images above are of my mom or her new bad crowd because they broke curfew and I don't know where they are. . . 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

(Something) Touches Red You're Dead??

Once in a while, while doing my laps on the back of the property, I run into a snake. The vast majority of the time it's a Texas Rat, a grumpy but otherwise harmless reptilian neighbor, (To big critters like me anyway. I'm sure the voles and field mice have their own take on this.) like the one above that enjoys lurking in the well-house's warmth. (That's the top of the well casing over there on the right, ruining my otherwise perfect composition. . .)

But today, up on the southern end of the ridge-top I ran into one of these. It was about 2.5 feet long (Actually, at the time I figured it was more like 20.5 feet long but you know how things like this tend to get exaggerated.) and must have recently shed because it was very bright and shiny with well defined borders between the colors.

Being a pair of very civilized creatures we both went our own ways, each suffering nothing more than a momentary fright.

There are two red, yellow, black snakes. One is venomous and the other is not. All the way down the hill after our chance encounter I was trying to remember the mnemonic (Isn't that a weird way to spell the word?!) I was taught as a Boy Scout. I knew it was about which color touches red, but I couldn't remember if it was yellow or black that makes me dead.

Well apparently my Boy Scout days are too far behind because according to the The Art of Manliness Guide to Snakes, the publishers of other manly tomes such as How To Ram Through Vehicular Roadblocks: Becoming Antifragile: and How to Make Women Like You: (And the source of the image above since I didn't have my camera with me at the time) the mnemonic is actually Red and Black friend of Jack; Red and Yellow Kill a Fellow.

Clearly I just had a close encounter with a venomous Coral snake; but since I wasn't going to pick it up and put it in my pocket anyway, Coral snake or King snake, it doesn't really matter. (Beyond having a Manliness Encounter that is.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Don't Cha Just Hate That!

When the cows are on the wrong side of the fence?

We were making a quick trip down a nearby county road into town last week.

That whitish square in the center of the image is the new bridge over a tributary of of Cummins Creek, itself a tributary of Colorado River. It's a replacement for the old bridge that washed on down the creek a couple-three years ago. It took nearly a year before this new bridge was usable and the road opened back up, but that's not what this image is about.

If you blow it up you just might be able to see a handful of black marks inside the red circle.

They, the black marks, the cows, are a little clearer in this shot taken from the dash-cam video just as we pulled over (We've been getting a lot of rain for two months now so pulling over too far and falling off the hard-surface is not recommended!)

Another thing not recommended is to continue driving, or walking, or anything, at cows that are being pushed along towards you. It freaks them out and they scatter everywhere which would certainly not make the guy trying to get them back where they belong very happy. (He's just barely visible here riding along just behind the cows on a wheeler with a blue feed-bucket on the front rack.)

And there they go in this shot from the rear camera through a not-very-clean window. (One of the things on the list for this trip was a new rear wiper blade.) Two mom-cows that probably know better and two calves just tagging along.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


It was a beautiful morning. One to be appreciated after all the rain and gloom we've had the past couple months. (I think we've used up our annual quota of 60 days of clouds all in one shot!!)

The sun was leaking through the trees to the east and poking at the gaps around the barn doors so I opened them up and stepped out to just stand there and soak up some D.

That's the point where everything went to shit. . .

Instead of being hugged by some rays I was mugged by an electric coop crew clearing right-of-way a half-mile to the south of us.

Then kicked in the nuts by people talking loud in the vicinity of the gate - probably bicyclists trying to recover after a serious uphill grind, (Doesn't matter which way you come from, it's all uphill to our gate which seems to be a popular break-spot)

Taunted by a single-engine plane snarling through the sky above

And if that wasn't enough, had my head drilled by a truck going by on the county road singing that tuneless knobby-tire-whine.

I was ready to march down there, throw all their tools into the chipper and tell the coop-dudes I'm going to take myself off-grid forever.

I had to hang tight to the nearest tree to keep myself from running up to the gate and marching those damn cyclists back to the city where they came from. (OK so they probably came from a B&B in the town of 200 five miles away, but same thing. . .)

If my arms were long enough I would have reached up and snatched that plane right out of the sky and fed it prop-first into the coop wood-chipper.

And I attempted to use some of that wizardry that seems to popular nowadays to put a thrown-rod hex on that truck.

Just when the hell did I turn into the neighborhood curmudgeon???

Though I have to admit, it seems to fit me like a tailored suit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This Is Not Right!

OK, this may look fine to y'all, but it's not.

There are probably less than a dozen mornings in a year where the barn doors are not opened first thing, then only closed again when it's dark out and we are wrapping things up for the night.

And those days occur in the January-February timeframe, Never in November. And especially not in the first half of November!!

But this morning it was a full 25 degrees colder than the normal low of 50. In fact, for the third day in a row, the high for the day will be less than the normal low.

And even though the barn is not exactly what you would consider weather-tight, with the doors closed it is still considerably warmer than on the other side of them. 52 degrees inside compared to the 25 degrees outside.

Fortunately for us, inside the living quarters which are in a corner of the barn and significantly more weather-tight, we woke up to 64 degrees, and this is without heat which we only run once in a while to take the edge off during the evening, but never while we sleep.

The Van, being a marginally insulated steel box, doesn't fare quite so well, so this is one of the rare occasions when I drag out the neglected power cord

and set up the little space-heater, that frankly sees most of its annual quota of use as a load on the generator during the monthly check-runs.

In these kinds of temperatures it keeps the insides of The Van at 47, warmer than it needs to be but cranked down to the lowest temp and running on the Low setting, that's the lowest I can get it. Still, it sure beats messing around with winterizing! (I designed The Van with both the potable and grey water tanks as well as the pump and what little plumbing there is, including the tank fill and dump lines, to fit inside The Van with nothing hanging out underneath where I can't protect it.)

But look on the bright side!

Having to wear gloves means my old-man hands are covered up, taking years off my age. . .Right??

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I'm Prime Stuff !

That's right, I'm a Grade A: USDA Prime: hunk-a beef !

Wait . . . That can't be right.*

*Actually, truth is I am a superb example of a ripped and cut specimen of a man, but you don't know that because I'm really good at disguising it under a fluffy layer of excess calories.

Oh . . . Right . . . What I meant to say is that I'm now an Amazon Prime Member.

For some membership is a coveted accoutrement to be collected like a lothario collects notches on the bedpost. Be it that coveted golf club, or the book club, maybe that not-so-exclusive gentleman's club, (not that I have any firsthand knowledge of gentlemen's clubs! - OK - so there maybe a little knowledge there, but not enough that they know me by name) or even just a seat at the morning McDonald's coffee gathering table, but, being the crotchety old bastard I am, membership is not usually my thing. (Does Sams Club count?)

But for many months now I've been non-member-shamed at Whole Foods.

For years we've been making a trip into the city every week or two and stocking up on produce at Whole Foods and ever since Amazon bought them out the cashier has bugged me for my Prime membership number and I've been forced to admit that I am not one of the elite.

Well no more!  At least for now. . .

I finally broke down and became a Prime Member so now when, after letting that skiny wisp of a spandexed woman with a single carrot in her hand go through ahead of us, we go through the checkout at Whole Foods with our high priced organic-crap-that's-going-to-make-us-live-longer beeping across the scanner and riding the little conveyor down to be stuffed into our socially-responsible reusable bags, I can haughtily hold up my phone and get my membership scanned with a jaunty beep of its own, and then walk away secure in the knowledge that I have claimed my rightful savings.

But the jury is out on whether being a member of such an exclusive club is worth it.

In order to break even on the cost of being a PPM (Proud Prime Member) we will need to realize an average savings of about $2.30 per week at the Whole Foods checkout. I've set up a spreadsheet to track the numbers (and now I have to remember to check the receipt before shredding it because checking after shredding sucks!) and so far it's not looking good, but then again, as a neophyte it could be that I just haven't figured out how to work the system yet and am missing out on some of those Prime Deals.

And throwing the entire fiscal responsibility for my coveted membership onto Whole Foods isn't exactly fair either, after all, there are some 20 additional benefits to being a PPM.

There's the two-day "free" shipping. (Just how the hell is it free if I have to pay to get it? But I suppose calling it "included in the price of membership" just doesn't have the sort of ring that sucks us clueless rubes in as readily as "free" does.) In the past we've always just collected things in our Amazon cart until we made it over the minimum dollar limit for the other, the true, free shipping, then waited patiently for the week-and-a-half to two weeks for stuff to arrive.

That's been good enough for many years now, but it sure was nice the other day to order a low-dollar power-converter for the 12V TV that came out of The Van and have it arrive in a couple days on our Prime membership. I'm not sure how to value that convenience so for now I'll just track what 2-day shipping without membership would have cost, although, now that my account has been activated for Prime, coming up with the non-prime shipping cost is proving to be a challenge.

The other thing I've been threatening to do for a long time now is try out e-reading. With that in mind, and my new Prime Membership in hand, (and desperate to squeeze all the value I can out of my dues) I took a hard look at the various Kindles out there. Fortunately, during my poking around I discovered a free Kindle app for my phone and went that route instead.

It took a while since there is no obvious 'help' button to tell me that instead of touching the universal, but-non-existent-here, app-menu icon I should just tap once anywhere on the screen, but eventually I figured out how to download multiple books at a time and once a book is in the app a data connection is no longer needed which is great. Now, when hiking I won't have to carry a paperback with me, even in signal-less territory, because I always have my phone in my pocket. And it turns out reading on the 2.75 x 5.5 inch screen is a heck of a lot easier than I expected. Between the stark-white background and the screen-optimized font I don't have to take my glasses off and hold the print a few inches from my nose (I'm nearsighted) to read it like I have to do with some paperbacks with non-optimized fonts in faded ink on yellowed paper. (discount books tend to be old books)

In addition, when unexpectedly held up somewhere, such as in the long line at the Post Office the other day, or when The Wife suddenly decides she wants a haircut during one of our supply runs, I have reading material right there in my pocket without having to plan ahead and grab a book before heading out.

Through experimenting I've found that in the dark, like when reading before going to sleep, or in my camp-chair while watching stars and jumping at every monster-like noise out there in the pitch-black woods, I can turn the screen brightness down to about 5%, saving not only battery, but my night-vision too, without compromising the ability to read without straining.  Cool!

Prime Reading, one of those many benefits of Prime Membership, gives me access to a whole bunch of titles I can read for free. Granted, best-sellers are conspicuously absent from this list of titles but then again, I'm not exactly an elitist reader either.

Through what seems like a convoluted process to me at the moment, I can also grab one free book a month off a list of 6 hot titles picked by somebody over at Amazon that are not included in the Prime Reading list.

Since I never buy a book at full price, and almost never at even half price, I'll track my reading savings by valuing each title read at $1, what I normally pay for a paperback.

(by the way, I have no plans to give up paper books and go exclusively e-book, especially since I have nearly 100 unread paperbacks squirreled away on various shelves at the moment.)

Obviously there's a bunch of other"benefits" to Prime membership, such as exclusive Alexa deals, (I'll have enough 'home assistance' when I'm senile and crippled, for now I can manage to turn a light switch on by myself, thank you very much, besides, why the hell would I voluntarily invite yet one more thing that talks into my house?!) Prime Video streaming, (we don't have enough internet or data-plan bandwidth for that) or phone discounts. (so far I've averaged one new phone every 10 years so I don't see that helping out much) All stuff I've lived without so far and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So now only time, and my spreadsheet, will tell if being a member of this particular club makes any sense for us.