Extreme jenga stacking millends, holly branches and making pandemic buckets

November 23, 2014

I have been a little concerned about the guys having enough room to build the chicken shed.  So today I finished stacking up the last of the tossed elm, freeing enough room for about half of the mill ends in the elm wood pile. I surprised myself in how much of the wood I got moved today and the area for the shed is all raked up and the rock layer looks level and ready to go.  One of the neighbors said there is a racoon out and about and has killed a few chickens.  With the shed and kennel the chickens should be safe from any predators. I have a couple  motion detector/spot lights that are sensitive under the car port so any furry little bandits should be seen before they can attack the birds.  Mom and I have pellet/BB guns so we can persuade the racoon to hunt elsewhere.  I wonder if the holly branches might help the neighbors to make a barrier around their coops against the racoons?  Those holly leaves act like rose thorns when I was cutting them down. It would be nice if we could get another use out of the holly, rather than just send them to the dump.

Lovely weather right now in the Treasure valley.  Upper 40′s today and it looks like it will stay warm until Friday so the BBQ turkey looks like a go!  SW Idaho can get sort of crazy weather depending on if it comes out of Alaska and is cold or up from Cali and is warm. We might even see the low 50′s this week!  I am letting the stove go cold so I can finish cleaning out the ash. The glass window of the stove is staying cleaner so I think I’m doing a better job of using the wood.  Mom said if she needs to buy a replacement stove for her new “home” she will get one of the Pacific Energy type stoves as they are well insulated and you can place furniture very close with no fear of fire.

Since Mom is moving into my Sickroom, I moved most of my pandemic supplies into buckets moving the buckets to my medical storage area. I’m using my blue buckets as sort of a quick color coding and one bag full of the Tyveck suits and the light weight bulky items.  This will free up a shelf and some floor space for some of her stuff like blankets and bedding.  In the catch all room I did a little more rearranging and moving some item to the basement so we gained a lot more floor and storage space.  A new goal for 2015  is to add more wall shelving and going vertical with my storage. I have the tools on hand and making shelves will be a great way to improve my woodworking/carpentry skills.

While I’m doing a lot of work because of  Mom moving in, it has motivated me to square away many jobs I put off because I did not want to do the work.  Nothing like panic to get you motivated to get stuff done!  Plus if I was a little to conservative about the space for building the shed I’m sure the guys would have moved the wood and charged us big time for a time consuming but very simple job.  The shed will be built the first week of December so I still have some time and it looks like good weather to finish up getting things ready for the chickens.

Finished most of the chores today

November 21, 2014

Last of the cell phone transfer is done and I got the veterans discount added. Hopefully all the hoops have been jumped through and there won’t be any more problems.  Dad is keeping my sister on his plan but by taking off both my phone and Mom’s he will save at least $20.00 per month and if he goes with fewer minutes, he could save some more money.  I’m trying to stay as neutral as possible but with Mom moving into my place it is a tad more difficult to be seen as a neutral party.

I finished up the Thanksgiving shopping and I didn’t get as good of deal on the turkey as I had hoped so I only picked up one eleven pound bird. The weather forecast looks good for BBQing the bird. It’s supposed to be in the 30′s and calm winds that makes it easier to maintain the heat level of the coals. I think the bird is small enough that I can use my rotisserie if the weather doesn’t work for BBQing the bird. One thing nice about being a prepper and having alternative ways to cook food, is it can make cooking the holiday meals a lot easier. Plus it is good practice for a disaster.

Speaking of the weather there is an alert for freezing rain and 15 mph winds tonight and Saturday though the temp is warming up a bit.  I started moving the holly branches to a spot where I can cut and bundle them up for the garbage truck or Dad has better access to pick them up and load them in the trailer for the dump. I still have about 1/4 of the pile to move, I’m hoping with the warmer temps melting the snow on the branches the holly will be easier to stack up.  I stacked the mill ends up higher and if what the store told me about how much room is needed to bring in the walls and roof we are good to go. The wood rack on the porch is refilled and I have a few days to a week worth of wood to burn. I’m recharging my cell phone and the kindle and got most of the storm prep done last week. I finished shoveling the bad spots  for snow out and added more salt to the front side walk just in case we get freezing rain.  Over all I’m prepped for the storm.

Mom says she will be coming over Saturday and we can work out the placement of the chicken shed and the placement of the kennel and the food for the chickens. I think the chickens will be happy in this spot because it is very well protected from the wind. The carport does a pretty good job and protecting of rain and snow so the chickens will stay dry.  I know if the chickens stay dry and out any wind/drafts they can tolerate cold temps very well.  There will also be plenty of room for the metal cans that hold feed for the chickens that is close to hand.

Last but not least I stopped by the beer lady and picked up some black and chocolate malt along with some hops and yeast to make a black lager, a black ale and another amber ale. I like making the darker beers in winter and the basement cools to the perfect temp. in winter for making lagers. I paid a couple of bills ahead, picked up a few oz. of silver on sale and got a little bit of a buffer to see how much more it will cost in utilities with Mom moving in. She is pretty frugal with electricity but we have added another fridge so cost will go up though I hope to off set some of the cost with the LED light bulbs.  Mom is sort of cold blooded compared to me and my sister so she might need to use a small electric heater in order to fell comfortable and I’m okay with that as she has offered to make up the difference in costs.  Her rooms get warmed by the wood stove so she may not need the little electric heater at all. I’m doing a lot better this year at maintaining the temps with the wood stove this year and she prefers the wood heat compared to the constant on/off cycles of an electric furnace. The chickens will need some heat and lighting this winter so that will add a bit more cost to the electric bill.   If Mom needs to stay into summer she has a small window A/C unit that will keep her and probably the front part of the house cool and comfortable in summer.

One last thing for you all. I really like the tower fan and small table I am using this year to push the heat from the wood stove though the house.  The tower fan seems to do a good job moving the warm air and it has a small foot print compared to box fans.  Outside of installing a ceiling fan the tower fan is a good compromise on cost and easy to add where you need it.

Last of Mom’s big stuff arrived today

November 19, 2014

The movers had to take off my front door to get Mom’s fridge onto the porch. Now that I see the fridge on the front porch I wonder why I didn’t put my little freezer there instead of in the shop? Well, live and learn once Mom gets her own place I can move my little freezer to the porch. Mom will probably be be moved in officially once the shed is built and the chickens get here in the first week of December. I need to move a few more boxes into the basement and the rooms need to get organized but overall we have enough space and Mom has a storage unit for the rest of her big stuff. Hopefully Dad can stop by and haul the holly branches to the dump next week and I can work on the carport area cleanup so the guys will have a plenty of room to work on the shed and Mom can park her Ford. Then again Mom may park the ford on the street as the ground in the shed area has a few uneven spots and with her knee the sidewalk is easier on her.

We have some more weather that is supposed to hit this weekend and they are calling for freezing rain. I need to get the wood pile stack up and shovel a bit more snow out front so I can lay down more ice melt before the storm hits. Hopefully I can finish up the shopping on Thursday, as Cash and Carry’s meat fridge died and I could not get my shopping done.  I wa a little tired today so I put off my shopping until Thursday. I have to get the turkey as it takes a bird a few days to thaw in the fridge and I want to brine it a few days. Pauls has a couple of items on sale and I want to get a new pair of snow boots this week. I sort of spoiled myself today cooking up a small Prime rib and fresh baked bread for dinner tonight. I wanted to see how the prime rib tasted after being frozen for almost a year and it tasted great and no freezer burn. Prime ribs tend to go on sale around the holidays so I wanted to make sure I could freeze it for a year with out sacrificing quality.

I can’t explain it but I have had an odd sense of foreboding the last couple of days. It seems more of a personal thing rather than a feeling that the SHTF for the USA. So I got the Kia gassed up, paid a few of reoccurring bills early, like car insurance, internet and the water and trash. I restarted my emergency cash savings plan again and I am holding off on replacing the drain pipes till next month and have a little more confidence in spending cash and I have all my ducks in a row so to speak. My advice for people is if you can make an emergency fund and not spend it, that is the best way to go for your emergency fund for 3-6 months of bills.

If you are like me and have a tough time saving cash, try to pay some of your small but critical bills early and up to 3 months ahead.  Since a savings account interest rate is not even staying on par with inflation, I think paying ahead on bills and saving yourself a late payment fee is the way to go, if you can’t seem to save cash like me. While very few people have a 3-6 month emergency fund if you have paid most of your basic utility bills early you will have time to adjust your spending in any event. One thing I am always concerned about is a bank run or the shutting down of banks and you have very limited access to your funds.  If you pay your reoccurring bills early, prepared on all the basics, then if a bank run should happen it is not not be a big concern because those bills are already paid and you have a buffer of 30-90 day of the next due date for your bills.  What is great is you can start with your smallest yet critical bill first and simply pay it one month forward. If nothing changes and you keep paying your bill you will always have that 1 month lead time and if money get tight you can blow off paying the bill for a month without any penalties.

Think about how nice it would be not to have pay any reoccurring  bill for 30-90 days.  It is very easy to do with most utilities giving you credit for any extra payments. While you might not have a true cash emergency fund you will know those bills are paid!

Mom ordered the chicken shed

November 18, 2014

The shed will be a little more expensive but it will be delivered and built in the first week of Dec. It is a local company and it is a wood shed and I like how they build it with a 16 inch on center studs and it comes with a steel and wood foundation that looks very solid. The company fabricates the walls and roof in their factory then build it on site so it is a modular system. I feel much better about someone who knows what they are doing builds this shed instead of me. I know enough about carpentry to know I don’t know enough! The shed itself is 6′x8′ and is just over 8 feet high, I can run power from the shop for a light and a heater so Mom’s chickens should be nice and cozy this winter.

I finally got the cell phones from switched over into my name. I will have to drop off a copy of my DD 214 for the veterans discount but it looks like the cost per phone will be around $28. 00 per month and that is doable. I’m a little peeved at Verizon store because of bad info given at the store, but I will say the gal on the telephone help line was very good. I have worked in food service as well as tech support and there is no reason to give out bad information about your programs. I always like to have good info upfront about having to jump through hoops rather some smooth talk about how easy something is to switch and it not be easy. I try not to blame the average workers as they are constrained by what they can say and do by corporate policies. But it is bad customer service to have a person visit a store five times to do a somewhat simple transaction of moving phone lines.  I don’t think I’m unusual in wanting some honest and forthright answers to start off with in any process.  I’d rather have an salesperson tell me up front that they have to jump through hoops with the companies PTBs and the fastest way to make something happen rather visiting a store many times when all I want to do is give them money for providing service I need.  What is really dumb is Verizon will actually make more money because we have added another plan.

Today was one of those days that it seemed very hard to get people to take our money. I realize our little bit of shopping was not a large amount of money to a big box store like Home Depot but they lost over $1200.00 in sales because of poor customer service. Mom wanted to buy a freezer on sale at Home Depot, only $160.00 but it was not in stock and they wanted to charge a $90.00 home delivery fee and take over a week just to get the item in the store.  Forget about Amazon I can get a freezer for about the same price at Fred Meyers and take it home today! I can get it delivered to my home in a couple of days with free shipping using my Amazon prime membership. I don’t get extra cool points for shopping at a big box store so if they can’t at least do as well as Fred Meyer’s they will lose sales. What is terrible is many of the employees are just as frustrated by the hoops they have to jump through and they know they are losing a sale!

I don’t want you to think I am just picking on Home Depot or that lowes is perfect. I have had both good and bad happen at both stores. The cooperate guys need to realize they must compete with great personal service to overcome Amazon’s low prices and really when Fred Meyer’s has as good or better prices, and item in stock to sell and you don’t stock an item in your building supply store is screwing up in a major way! Saving money is a big thing with some people but if you make it difficult for people to spend money at your store you are setting yourself up for failure!

Enough on my rant about basic economics. I should be able to get two free turkeys via Paul’s points plan. I want to buy a few more of the shelve systems at Fred Meyers so a .69 cent turkey will be doable. I like BBQing a turkey as the flavor from the mesquite seems to complement all poultry.  It also leaves the kitchen oven free for casseroles, breads and pie.  The holidays are going to be tough on Mom as she wants a close knit family and that has not worked out very well and the divorce will make it worse. I’m sorry that things did not work out for Mom. I think she wanted to become a matriarch and sort of square away the kids and that has not worked out so well. Life is not fair and we all just have to adjust daily to reality. The best we can do is plan, prep and adjust our plans when stuff happens to us.


Plastic on the windows and thinking about chicken coops

November 18, 2014

I covered  the windows in my bedroom and PC room with plastic and seems to have helped stop some of the drafty cold air coming in. I really need to replace those windows and add some insulation to the area around the back door. The house is normally a bit dark and leaving the binds and curtains in place makes it very dark and cave like. I prefer to have more light coming in and while the plastic does not afford the best view it has helped a lot already. The wood in the porch wood rack lasted just over a week in zero degrees days,  but I only used one bucket of mill ends mostly for restarting the fire in the morning. I learned a lot about burning elm and it seems that I’m doing a better job making it burn more clean if the glass of the wood stove is any indication by staying clear of soot.

I moved a couple of fans around and I think they will do a little better job on moving the heat from the wood stove towards the to rooms in the back of the house. Last year I used the fruit woods and mill ends the front rooms would usually hit the high 70′s 80 degree mark and it was very nice to go into the back of the house to cool off. Now that I’m keeping the front rooms about 72 degrees heating with the wood stove it. The backrooms of the house are just a touch on the cool side.  When I can come up with an extra $10-20 grand to remodel and create an open floor plan in the house it will do better for both heating and cooling. That project is going to have to wait a few years.

I brought up the idea of going with a couple of smaller coops with Mom today and it did not go very well. Let just say we are both a little stressed out by trying to get all this moving done as quickly as possible and doing it in winter weather is not helping. I came up with a new idea for the foundation of the shed Mom wants to get for her chickens that uses sand and some concrete patio blocks. I have used the sand and block method on small projects around my house and feel confident that it will work and might be a little less expensive and work better than using wood for a foundation for the shed/coop.  My carpentry skills are mediocre at best, but I have a lot of confidence working with rock, sand and patio blocks.  I’m also on the look out for more pallets that could be used as a short term foundation.  I would need just 4 pallets to build a a semi-rigid, short term foundation for the shed as long as I get it level.  I have half-assed projects because of a lack of funds or just not knowing how to do stuff, but I hate it because you tend to spend more money and time trying to fix a problem you created by half-assing it!

I understand  that being a prepper/self reliant means you compromise in order to get things done. While some people will not do anything to prep until everything is perfect. (Never) I don’t think a person should just go blasting off on projects without a little research and practice.  If you are good at carpentry go for it and the same for any skill set you have. I think it is wise to understand your limitations as well and consider those limitations when prepping.

0 degrees F. this morning Amber lager started and chicken coops

November 16, 2014

Beautiful day, clear and very cold at 0 degrees at 10 am when I checked and on Monday morning fog will roll in. I’m not acclimatized yet and still get a bit chilled at times. The wood stove is doing a good job keeping the house warm overnight as it was 65 degrees when I got up this morning and there was a hot bed of coals to start today’s fire. I’ll be washing up all my long sleeve T-shirts tonight.  When I was in the Army I got a lot of long sleeve T-shirts and it is amazing how much warmer I felt compared to wearing a regular T-shirt. Now that I have been losing some weight I can start wearing those shirts again for winter. I was a little behind as I did not expect it to get quite so cold so fast. The local weather guys seem to be in the same boat, as the forecast temps keep getting revised downward each day.  Once it warms up a bit I will add some clear plastic to the windows. The blinds and curtains do a good job but I want to have more sun light coming into the house.  Some good news from my sister and using the new quartz heater “gift”. It is working well and she likes the heater and she is staying warm.

I got the Amber Lager finished and fermenting in the bucket. The house needed an extra boost of humidity and the extra heat was welcomed in the house.  I did a 90 minute simmer of the grains but I did not see a major boost in the sugar levels via the Hydrometer. I tend to brew for taste rather than alcohol content so I’m not worried about the beer, if I get about 5%  yield in alcohol. The snow and cold helps with chilling the wort quickly so there is an upside to the cold weather. The first tests of the amber ale have been good for flavor.  Just have to wait on carbonation and conditioning in the bottles.

I have been doing some research on chicken coops and I think Mom is making a mistake buying a semi-expensive shed and not investing in a solid foundation to support it.  I went on Amazon and they have several coops that would be a better temporary solution and could work long term for introducing new chickens into the flock. For the price of the shed and a good foundation she could buy 2 or 3 of the smaller coops with runs that would very simple to set up without investing in a good foundation needed for the shed. Running lights or heaters to the coops is not a problem as I have plenty of outdoor power stakes.  Give me a realistic budget and what you want to accomplish and I’m darn good at making stuff work. My biggest problem is a time crunch via the divorce. While I understand things can get unpleasant between those folks. I’m in the middle left hold the bag so to speak.  I really hate this crap of everyone picking sides and stuff. I suppose I am picking a side by taking in my Mom in but my Dad really helped me out so divorce is not easy for kids at any age.  Nothing new I have played this game before and I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

Looks like the snow finally stopped, wood used so far

November 14, 2014

I got a good eight inches of snow here at my house but I kept the sidewalks mostly clear. I managed to break the plastic handle of my snow shovel and it will have to be replaced. I never cared much for that old snow shovel, I’m glad I have an excuse to replace it now.  I didn’t go driving but I saw people were driving much slower today and leaving more room for stopping. It’s going to get into the single digits overnight but the weekend should give the road crews time to catch up and for people to practice driving a bit without so many going to work and rush hour’s traffic.

I checked my car battery and it finally crapped out. I have been expecting for awhile so I replaced it with an AGM battery I had standing by just in case. The hardest part in replacing it is one of the battery cables was too short to reach the terminal and I had to add another cable for it to reach. It is a kludgy sort of arrangment, I need check out the auto parts stores for a long term fix. The old battery did a good job for many years as it was the one that came with the Kia when I bought it. Working in the shop made things easier even though it is not insulated it is dry and out of the wind. Diana the peke complained a little bit as the concrete slab was cold on her feet. She went into the house to warm up while I finished the repair.

On the wood used since I stocked up for the storm. The wood rack of elm is over half full after a week and I still have the first bucket of mill ends though I did add a 5 gallon buckets worth when I cleaned the wood from the new chicken coop area.  I have not started a fire as the elm burns nice and slow over night and leaves a nice bed of coals in the morning.  The elm has worked much better than the fruit woods in keeping a a comfortable temp of 65-75 degrees F. in the house.  When I used the apple and cherry wood last year the house would get up into the 80′s and I could not seem to control the heat output very well. I supposed I did learn a little bit last year about how to burn wood in the stove but I believe it is how the elm burns that has made the biggest difference.  I hope the holly bush transplants I gave to my aunt start growing along the fence line and she will cut down the elms to use for fire wood.  I will be looking to add more wood next year and if I can get elm cut & split for a good price I will buy it!

I finally got the amber ale bottled today. With getting the yard work done and moving in Mom and getting the house ready for this little polar vortex thingy, bottling the beer was not a priority. As Mom put it we both needed a snow day to recover and catch our breath. I don’t see any big tasks for Saturday so I will get the amber lager boiled up and fermenting. One thing nice about brewing beer in the winter time is adds heat as well as much needed humidity to the house.  Heck even my beer brewing is a multi-tasker. I did not taste much of a flavor change with the wheat beer “bottle conditioning” though I think it help the black ale get a bit smoother and combine the richer flavors of the black and chocolate barley malt.

I want to add a few more fire extinguishers to the house now that the wood stove is going. Total Survivalist blog  http://www.totalsurvivalist.com/ suggested having a small extinguishers in each bedroom along with a couple of larger ones in the kitchen and close to the wood stove.  I think this is a brilliant idea as a person might put out the flames of a small fire or they could smother the flames in order to escape a fire. I think these might also be useful in many situations from a brush fire to a riot. I do wish the mob would leave all lighters and matches at home. Something about a riot always seems to bring out all the firebugs wanting to commit a bit of arson.


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