Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Surviving the Storms

On Sunday, our area got hit by some major storms. It's been said that this was the third largest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with more than 25 tornadoes confirmed so far, and the storm investigation is ongoing. Now, because I am kind of into the weather, I knew this was coming for at least a week beforehand; it was kind of a big deal in Weatherland. I followed the forecast and all the professionals were saying that the ingredients were all out and ready to go for a major severe weather outbreak across the Midwest. And they were right!

We spent Sunday preparing ourselves, knowing the storms were due in shortly after lunchtime. We kept all the animals in, Martin secured the big pasture shed/goat house, I packed bags just like I always do before storms, and made sure to include an entire package of Hershey chocolate bars. We watched the radar and sure enough, shortly after noon, here came the storms. I watched them on the radar as they moved through Illinois and on into our state. We had plenty of water and chairs set up in the basement, we moved our bags down there, and when it started getting pretty bad, we gathered the girls and went on down.

This was our first storm in our new house. The basement, in most ways, is better than what we had at our old house. For one thing, our two houses were  built around the same time (about 1900) but this one is about a zillion times sturdier. In our old basement, when the wind blew, it made the floorboards above us creak. Also, the floor of that basement was just dirt. It was basically a hole in the ground... in fact, there was a really old, rusty shovel down there, as if someone had just decided to dig a hole under the house for a basement as an afterthought, after they'd already built the house. Anyway, it was creepy and gross and I didn't like it, but it WAS pretty big. At least compared to the tiny basement we have now. Right now we are two adults and three small children. I'm not sure what we're going to do when the kids get bigger, or if we have very many more! Martin and I sat on the stairs and held Elka, and there was room for three camp chairs at the bottom of the steps. And that was it. We could have climbed underneath the stairs (as was our plan if things got really hairy outside, since there is a little window down there) but it would have been a very tight squeeze.

Aside from the smallness though, it was comfortable (cement floor!) and most important, it felt safe and secure. Had the tornado hit our house, I think we would have been okay down there (under the stairs.)

As it turns out, we were VERY lucky our house didn't get hit. As the storm reports came in and tornado tracks have been verified and intensities determined, it looks as if the line of an EF-3 tornado came within about three miles of our house. Today I saw the damage of the farms along the highway  about 8 miles from our house, and it was pretty intense. One field was full of debris, which I realized on the way home was their barn roof. Houses were smashed, barns were obliterated, trees were destroyed. Two of our county schools were so badly damaged that the students are finishing out the year at other schools. Whole areas of the city were without power last I checked, with no estimate of when it will be restored. It did so much damage to places so close to us, and we came out of with part of a shed roof blown off, a fence down and some garage shingles lodged in our car. Nothing to complain about!

I'm glad that we live with the mindset of being prepared. And I'm glad that we already knew what we need to do to make us MORE prepared as we live here, where we will inevitably lose power more often than we did when we lived right downtown. (which was never. And if we did, it was never for more than an hour.) The two biggest things we need are a hand pump for our well and to get our wood stove installed. (The woodstove installation has become WAY more complicated than we had originally thought, thanks to a chimney that turns out to not go all the way out the roof... we're going to have to install a chimney from the stove all the way up through the attic to the roof instead of using the existing chimney ((because the existing "chimney" doesn't actually exist...)) *sigh*)  Down the line of course, we have plans for major renovations to the house that include little pieces of self-sufficiency (and in my dreamland, a basement that is secure AND not scary at all) but those are all far away down the line. For now, if we had those two things, we would have been fine for a long time without power. As it was though, we drove to my parents' house for dinner, loaded up lots of blankets on our bed when we came home, read bedtime stories by candlelight and were REALLY GLAD when the power switched back on around 2:00am. (Funnily, the power went off and came back on almost exactly twelve hours apart, so that when Martin checked the time it was only off by a few minutes and he thought I had reset it just a few minutes off!)

So there's my personal storm report. Now, here's a picture rarely seen, of my clean kitchen sink:

I really love my sink. I'm looking forward to replacing our countertops (white plastic with gorgeous gold speckles) with some really nice butcher block generously given to us by some friends who were re-doing their kitchen. Until then, I'm happy to just stare at my sink. (which is kind of what I'm forced to do, with the amount of dishwashing I have on any given day....)

And what would a blog post be without a picture of Elka? She's obsessed with oranges these days. Also, she has many words. Actually, she has about four, all of which mean many different things. So every step of communication is a puzzle, but we're all learning!

And my little Native American daughters:

Anja painted their faces and they took the feathers from a jack-o-lantern that Martin had carved and decorated at his office. Later Greta kept the facepaint and put on her fairy costume that her Ooma just made her, and then we went for bagels for lunch. Sometimes I forget when we go out in public that my kids are in full costume. Anja was wearing this funny wool dress and these wooly slippers that she and my mom hot-glued felt leaves onto, which she had been wearing for the past week or so. I hope they look back on their childhood and appreciate my encouragement of this kind of independence and don't hate me for letting them leave the house dressed like they forgot Halloween is only one day a year.

If I had more time, I could write an entire blog post on Mrs. Meyers brand dish soap. That stuff has changed my life. Seriously.

Oh, also, we seem to have a new cat. She's kind of a scrawny young tortoiseshell who showed up suddenly after the storms. She's really friendly and Greta has named her Calick. (Like Calic-o. I added the K.) For now she is just our outside visitor but if she keeps hanging around and trying to slip inside when we open the doors, we might just invite her in for good. I just hope no one is actually missing her.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

8 Weeks In

Just for reference, for my actual first post when I was having trouble with this particular spot, see: beanieschapini.blogspot.com
It's been eight weeks since we closed on Possum Cottage. That first weekend was pretty much one big celebration with family, but since then we've buckled down and have worked hard to start making this place what we want it to be. We moved here with a list of goals, both housing and homesteading related, and both lists have been getting attention, as we also work at our old house to get ready to rent.
A few things we've been doing are pretty boring. Example, it appears we need to chlorinate our well, so we bought bleach. (whoopee.) Martin has been pinning up wire mesh to keep birds out of the garage because they come in and poo-poo all over his tools.
But there have been some fun and exciting developments too! We received a whole bag full of garlic to be planted, so we're hurrying to ready a small garden plot. The same friends who gave us the garlic generously gave us two bushel baskets of apples and an enormous box of winter squash. We're going to try the idea of burying drums as individual root cellars for these things and see how that works. BUT, the most thrilling development has been:

Two weeks ago, Martin woke up with a bee in his bonnet about getting chickens. He declared that that was THE DAY to ready the coop and get some chickens. Okay! We'll get chickens today!

We are lucky that previous residents of this place had already been keeping chickens and a coop was set up in a room connected to the garage. The room is about 8ft x 10ft and contained a few straw bales and some scrap wood and an old, mouse-infested bag of chicken feed, but the owners had taken the nesting boxes and while there were a few upper rafter, there didn't appear to be any roosts. Martin built a shelf and on it put four 5-gallon buckets. He filled them with straw bedding to be our nesting boxes (which, we found out, they would use as bathroom stalls and lay their eggs in nests they made on the floor.) Out of a dowel rod and fasteners, he supplied them with a roost. That morning I had searched Craigslist for chickens, but only found outdated ads from pretty distant locations. We talked about getting chicks because they had them for sale at the feed store. Martin liked the idea of raising chicks, I did not. With three little girls, two cats, a very small house, an iffy furnace and plenty of other responsibilities and whatnot, I did not want to mess with mothering a box full of cold baby chickens. It actually sounded kind of miserable. Once he had the coop pretty much finished later in the day, I checked again and there happened to be a new posting for 8 laying hens, right near our house!

And so, he took our big dog crate and paid $48 for a flock of two Araucanas, two Rhode Island Reds, two Golden Comets and two Wyandottes.
I love these silly birds. I told my sister, I don't have any emotional attachment to them as individuals (in other words, I'd have no problem chopping off their heads and letting them flavor my soup) but I love having them out there. They make these funny noises and Anja especially loves to visit them and check for eggs. The coop is right outside our kitchen door, which is good and bad. Good because they are right there all the time, keeping us company. Bad because... well, call me naïve, but I didn't realize quite HOW MUCH chickens poop. We had had every intention of raising these as completely free range birds. (after all, why not? We have no nearby neighbors to complain!) But within a few days, there was chicken poo EVERYWHERE. Not just that, but the dogs were messing with them, getting in their coop and eating their food and drinking their water, and scaring them often enough that they stayed close to the coop and weren't appearing to range very freely after all.

The solution came in the form of some of that cheap, wooden slatted snow fence. Because it will eventually be replaced with quality fencing, Martin took the time to secure permanent fence posts and stapled the snow fence to those. And I know it's just a cheap fix for now, but I think it's really cute. Now the chickens are out ALL THE TIME and we can get through the fence just by rolling it back at the corner. The poo has stayed contained to that side of the fence, the water and feed isn't mysteriously disappearing anymore, and everyone is living in harmony.

In the two weeks we've had them, we've gotten 23 eggs. Not bad, but we all agree... we need more hens!!