Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving Thanks for Hot, Running Water

Running water is something that most of us take for granted most of the time. We're thirsty, we get a glass and fill it from the tap. We want to wash our clothes, our dishes, or our bodies, easily done.

This past week our family had to make do without running water for three long days and nights, and it was very illuminating. We live in an area where wells are not possible (high clay content in the soil.) And although city water is available, the cost of running a line down from the road to our house would be several thousands of dollars, so we have learned to make do with our cistern, which holds 5,000+ gallons and runs under the front porch as part of the foundation of the house. When the rainwater collection system in place doesn't fill the tank well enough, we run a series of hoses down from the hydrant we installed in the chicken coop area by the road.

This past summer, as well as last, we had fairly severe drought. One of the consequences of same, about which we were unaware, is a shifting in the soil around the foundation, and sometimes, a crack. Since our cistern is part of our foundation, when this happened, we found out because suddenly we had a slow leak of water into our basement! The crack was high up on the wall of the cistern, so it didn't come to our attention until after we had filled it with city water (which is relatively cheap, but not free, by any means.)

I was reluctant to have the cistern fixed at that point (early September) because I had just paid for all that water. So we used the water up, mopping the leak as we went. Time passed, and suddenly it became very cold, unseasonably so for Kentucky this time of year. I knew we had to have the cistern pumped out and repaired. What I didn't know was that the repair would take several days to dry.

This past Tuesday I called a local cistern repair/cleaning service (basically two guys, a pump, and some shovels.) I asked them to come give me an estimate on cleaning and repair of the leak. I had been told by neighbors this might cost as much as a thousand dollars. Happily, when the team arrived, they said they could do it all for half that amount. Unhappily, they wanted to do it right then, and furthermore, it would take up to three days to dry/cure. Yikes!

I scurried around, filling five gallon buckets with water, all that I had. I knew I could still get water out of the hydrant up at the road, but our needs are not just for a family of four, we have all that livestock that needs watering every day as well! Four horses, two goats, two large dogs, six cats, and a multitude of chickens large and small (we're probably down to about 125 right now, which is a seasonal low.) That many critters needs a lot of water hauled every day.

As the repair men were pumping out what was left of the water I had paid the city for, we were able to save some by shooting it across the horse pasture with a fire hose into one of the horse troughs. But most of it was lost, down the hill into the hollow. The repair men did their thing: cleaning out the leaves and gunk accumulated during the past seven years (we've lived here for five, I feel certain the previous owners didn't clean the cistern since they built the house two years previously.) I didn't even want to see what came out, but was told it would make lovely mulch. (Ick.)

Once cleaned, the cistern was repaired and relined, and off they went. I was left with a house with no running water, and all those critters with big thirsts. So I hauled water. I estimate I or we (James, the girls and me) hauled between 350 and 450 pounds of water per day, for our own use (manual flushing of toilets, etc.) and for the animals. A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds. We used five gallon buckets (for the most part) and filled them about four gallons full - any fuller and water sloshes out and gets your pants wet, nasty in cold weather. So between 50 and 55 gallons per day. The horses alone go through about 25 per day, then there are all those chicken pens, the dogs, the goats, and oh yes, the humans!

Happily, we have friends who took pity on us and let us come to their house and shower (thanks Susie and Randall!) But it's not the same as being in your own bathroom, not by far. And hand washing with water in basins and plastic gallon jugs is an exercise in ingenuity. I goosed the drying of the repair along by putting a fan down there. James was the brave one who climbed down the ladder, I just couldn't bring myself to descend into the dark, nope, not me. And after three days of being back in the days when water was hauled for every use, yesterday evening we determined that the repair was dry, and we could start filling the cistern.

Four hoses linked together, hooked to the hydrant in the "Big Coop" area where the layers live. We let it fill for about three hours, putting about a foot or so of water in (it holds about six feet in height.) Enough to cover the inlet valve, and oh my gosh, hot showers! In my opinion, there is little in life that can match the sybaritic delight of a long, steamy, hot shower after a long day of hard work in the cold. Glorious!

With luck, we'll remember this experience for a while, and not take for granted the true luxury that heated running water is. But the human brain being what it is, we'll likely forget after a week or two, and the experience will just become one of those funny stories we tell about living on a farm. But I hope, every time one of us takes a shower, we remember, and give thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gift of The Old One

It's getting to be almost holiday time, so I thought I'd post this, which I did not write, but love.

The Gift of the "Old One"

The young couple had made their usual hurried, pre-Christmas visit to the little farm where dwelt their elderly parents with their small herd of goats. The farm had been named Lone Pine Farm because of the huge pine which topped the hill behind the farm, and through the years had become a talisman to the old man and his wife, and a landmark in the countryside.

The old folks no longer showed their goats, for the years had taken their toll, but they sold a little milk, and a few kids each year, and the goats were their reason for joy in the morning and contentment at day's end.

Crossly, as they prepared to leave, the young couple confronted the old folks. "Why do you not at least dispose of "The Old One". She is no longer of use to you. It's been years since you've had either kids or milk from her. You should cut corners and save where you can. Why do you keep her, anyway?" The old man looked down at his worn boot, scuffed at the barn floor, and his arm stole defensively about the Old One's neck as he drew her to him and rubbed her gently behind the ears. He replied softly, "We keep her because of love. Only because of love."

Baffled and irritated, the young folks wished the old man and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward the city as darkness stole through the valley.

So it was, that because of the leave-taking, no one noticed the insulation smoldering on the frayed wires in the old barn. None saw the first spark at all. None but the "Old One".

In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a cry of horror and despair, the old man shouted to his wife to call for help as he raced to the barn to save his beloved goats. But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing heat drove him back. He sank sobbing to the ground, helpless before the fire's fury.

By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking, glowing ruins were left, and the old man and his wife. They thanked those who had come to their aid, and the old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon his shoulders as he clumsily dried her tears with a frayed red bandana.

Brokenly he whispered, "We have lost much, but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas. Let us, therefore, climb the hill to the old pine where we have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down upon our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared."

And so, he took her by the hand and helped her up the snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back of his hand. As they stepped over the little knoll at the crest of the hill, they looked up and gasped in amazement at the incredible beauty before them. Seemingly, every glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pine, and it was aglow with heavenly candles. And poised on it's top most bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like spun glass. Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas tree such as this.

Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of wonder, and incredible joy as he pulled his wife forward. There, beneath the tree, was their Christmas gift.

Bedded down about the "Old One", close to the trunk of the tree, was the entire herd, safe. At the first hint of smoke, she had pushed the door ajar with her muzzle and had led the goats through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping daintily through the snow. The kids were frightened and dashed about. The skittish yearlings looked back at the crackling, hungry flames, and tucked their tails under them as they licked their lips and hopped like rabbits. The milkers pressed uneasily against the "Old One" as she moved calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now, she lay among them and gazed at the faces of those she loved. Her body was brittle with years, but the golden eyes were filled with devotion as she offered her gift - because of love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three days without water

Ok, our cistern cracked this summer during the drought, which I didn't discover until I had filled it with about 5000 gallons of water and it started leaking on the basement floor.

I didn't want to get it repaired until we had used at least SOME of the water that I had just paid to have put in there, so I waited. And now the guy who's here fixing it today is grumbling because it's so bloody cold. Like I knew it would be Jan temps in Nov?

And because it is so cold, it's going to take three days for the sealant to dry, which means three days with no running water in the house. :(

I guess I'll go take a shower at my friend's house down the road. But jeez, no dishwasher or other way to wash dishes, no toilet flushing except using the big buckets of water I filled before they turned the pump off, no hand washing (which is really yucky.)

I can see I'm going to have to go buy paper plates and hand wipes and all that totally non-green stuff I try to do without. Very unhappy-making. But the upside is, having a broken cistern is very bad Feng Shui, and fixing it will be A Good Thing. And the really good news is that it's going to cost about half what I thought it would (only $500) yay!

But I sure wish I'd taken a shower this morning before the guy came (I usually shower at night.) Ah well...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wrapping up the show season

Well, unless I change my mind, we're through showing for the year. Between being Show Secretary for the Bluegrass Poultry Association's 5th annual fall show and getting ready for the Ohio National (over 5300 birds this year!) I'm pretty well chickened out for now.

And the weather has turned cold, so it's time to winterize things anyway. I'll be setting up breeding pens soon, although I won't set a hatch before Christmas this year, in case we go away. We have a wonderful family who come and house sit while we're away, but don't want to burden them with chick care as well, so I'll wait until mid-December to set eggs.

We had a very good show year this fall, with some excellent successes here and there. Colleen and Allie won Champion Bantam in the Youth Show at Lucasville this year, with a Dutch bird no less! This is quite an accomplishment, as the SCCL (Single Combed Clean Legged) class is such a large one, and it's very hard to compete with the White Rocks and Leghorns and RIRs. So if nothing else happened this fall, we'd have been content.

But we did well at the Bluegrass show too, and the OH National is always a pleasure, so many of our good friends there, and partying with the Wolfe men and Tylor is an annual treat for us. We did have to dodge the crazy chicken lady while we were there, but that's a story for another day.

I must admit I don't mind the change of seasons, as much as I like being outdoors (when it's not brutally hot or cold), I do like to be curled up with a book and a cup of tea, or to sit here and putter around the Internet on the computer too. I love the way the 'Net allows me to connect with so many people I'd not speak with otherwise, and I enjoy the social networking sites.

Cool weather always prompts me to catch up on neglected paperwork too - I finished up the tardy show reports yesterday and today printed a number of letters for new BPA members. Looming on the horizon are Christmas cards, but I'm not ready to go there yet. Time enough for those in a week or two!