Wednesday, April 25, 2012

16-24 April, 2012, Feed Grinding, Tire Swapping, Birch Syrup, and the IRS

Another busy week (plus) going on.   The weather has been great (mostly) so we've been outside a lot.  Susan has done more trimming and raking in the yard.  I've been completing some of my  projects too.  I got the tiller running and made a couple of passes in the garden but it's still too wet to work up.  Susan trimmed up her raspberry bushes, cutting out the dead stems so the live ones will produce better. 

We have a relative who's having problems with the IRS over identity theft that's been going on for many years.  The IRS has got to be one of the most incompetent organizations in the entire world. It's a good thing he's saved every scrap of correspondence with them because every time we try to deal with them they don't have any records of previous correspondence.  So, after today's conversation I'll have to re-scan more documents and resend them to yet another IRS clerk who is looking into the matter.  Hopefully this bozo will enter the information into their computer ... but I'm not holding my breath!  A word of advice, save FOREVER everything and anything that has anything to do with income taxes!  I can guarantee that if they ever investigate you they will have no record of previous correspondence.  Another tip ... if you happen to mention that there's a reporter from a major news network looking into your situation the IRS clerk will adopt a much friendlier attitude.

I plugged the holes in the Birch trees and quit gathering sap for the year.  We have enough stored in buckets in the root cellar to make probably another quart of syrup.  It takes about 100 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.  I thought when I began that it took a lot less than that.  If I'd have begn earlier it would have been better because we could keep the stove going hotter all day.  Now it heats up the house too much and with the nice weather and dry ground we have things to do outside.  I checked out some You Tube videos and Birch syrup sells for about $35.00 per pint.  I may do it again sometime but It will be earlier in the year and I plan on having a "sugar shack" to boil down the sap. 

The days are much longer now which means we have lots of extra electricity even though we've plugged the refrigerator back in and are now running it.  I switched the angle on the solar panels to the "summer" position this week.  We were watching Netflix shows on the television in the evenings between supper and when Scott went to bed.  (If you try to read or do anything productive he wants to do it with you so it's easier to just watch television for a bit until it's bedtime for him.) We finished up the "Out of the Wild - Venezuela" series but it's light late into the evening now so we won't be watching much on TV for awhile.  We'd rather spend the time outside.  In a few weeks we'll be going to bed before sunset and getting up after the sun rises. 

A neighbor dropped by and we swapped some of his tires around.  Turned into a bit of a problem so we had to stop while he got some more tires and a tube.  The tires he had were picked up on a trade and they had bad sidewalls.  When we got them mounted they wouldn't hold air.  He bought a radial tube for the best one but when he tried to put it on himself he ruined the bead on the tire so he brought the stuff back here to finish it up.  We ended up removing the tire with the broken bead and tube then removing a different tire from a 4-hole rim and putting that tire on the rim that had the tire with the broken bead which meant we had to put a new valve stem in the rim (lucky I had one left!).  We took one of his tires with  the bad sidewall and put the tube in it so now he has the two tires he needed to put on his truck.  I still need to swap the studded tires on our Cherokee for non-studded ones. 

We had a scare with Susan this week.  She had one eye cloud up for no apparent reason on Sunday.  We contacted the eye doctor on Monday and they got her in.  The local optometrist wasn't sure what was going on so he sent her to a specialist in Kalispell.  She went through a bunch of tests there and she had some broken blood vessels in her eye related to some floaters that had broken off.  He thought it would clear up but there's no guarantee.  Her vision in that eye is still 20/20 but it's like looking through a foggy window.   Our emergency fund is also lighter by over $350.00.  (But then, that's why we have one!)  At least most places give you 10 percent off for paying cash.

Scott is relaxing on swing while he watches Saturday morning cartoons.  Of course in our case they're on Netflix, DVD or VCR tape.  He doesn't sit like this very often.  He's sort of a perpetual motion type of guy.
Time to grind more chicken food.  This is an assortment of outdated food we had on hand.  Most of it came from stuff we got after Y2K.  We helped an elderly couple move into town and they had a pickup load of food that they'd stocked up on for Y2K.  This was several years after Y2K and they wanted to get rid of it.  The last couple of years we've been using some of it for chicken food.  There are beans (white and pinto) rice, wheat (in the red can), a wheat, barley and oat mix in the brown bag, boxes of old macaroni and cheese and a couple of containers of egg shells we've saved since the last time I ground chicken feed.   We mix it as we grind it and I ground about 40 pounds before quitting for the afternoon.

I had a little help though.  Scott loved dipping out the wheat ...

and pouring it into the hopper ...

or sometimes pouring it near the hopper.

We rode bicycles up into the state land south of us to see if the snow is gone yet.  I have some trees spotted that I want to cut for firewood before someone else gets them.  It's about 3 miles (one way) by road.  The snow is gone so I just need to get a permit.

We've been trying to keep a hat on Scott so we have them around him most of the time.  He likes them (which is good) but obviously has his own ideas of how they're supposed to be worn.

This is the turn-around point of our latest bicycle ride.  We lost the license plate on our little trailer last fall somewhere along a ten mile stretch of Highway 93.  We parked the Cherokee and rode along the highway looking for it yesterday afternoon.  We average about 10 mph on our rides so this as about an hour after we started.  We took a half-hour break primarily so Scott could get some exercise then we headed back for the car.  We never did find the license plate but we picked up a roll of duct tape and a Leatherman Sidekick in like new condition.

We had a meeting at the fire department afterward.  Susan is part of getting an Auxiliary set up so this was an organizational meeting where they mainly went over the bylaws and mission clarification.

After hours upon hours of sap collecting and boiling we have two pints of the best tasting Birch Syrup you can imagine.  After making it I fully understand why it cost $35.00 a pint! 

We got the wash tub out for Scott's bath but he didn't want to wait for the water.  He tossed in his bucket of toys and climbed in after them.

We ordered a helmet for him and it finally arrived.  We checked a lot of reviews before choosing this one.  We mainly wanted it to fit well and stay where it belongs.  It does a fine job of both and he loves wearing it.

If he keeps driving forward while looking backward he's going to need a helmet!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

9-15 April, 2012 - Birch Syrup, More Snow and Trucks Mired in the Mud

I posted a couple of pictures on last week's blog showing the taps I made for harvesting Birch sap to make syrup.  It's been a learning experience!

I've been using quart jars for my "buckets" on all of the trees except one.  I used an old plastic juice bottle for this one and I like it best.  I tapped the tree then tied a section of baling twine around the top of the bottle for a hanger.  I cut a hole in the back of the bottle and slid the tap into the hole.  The nice thing is that it keeps the debris out of the bottle.  We're going to be saving these up next year so I can make greater use of them next spring.

We wondered if cold weather would stop the sap from flowing but it doesn't have much effect. The ice builds up around the inside of the jar and over the top but the sap keeps flowing.  Those are birch sap ice cycles hanging from the jar.

This is Scott on one of my early morning rounds.  He got up early that morning and wanted to go with me so we bundled him up and I took him along.  It was the morning the jars had ice in them.  I took this picture around 6:33 AM.  The temperature was about 25 degrees.  He's not usually up at this hour.

When I bring the buckets of sap in I strain them through our canning funnel using a coffee strainer.  I fill the jars with clean sap then either dump them into the kettles or into a clean bucket for storage.

Most of the debris is pieces of birch bark or leaf fragments.

This is what it looks like when you put a fresh batch into the kettle.  We added another larger kettle to the stove top.  We keep a low fire going non-stop in the wood stove trying to keep the sap just barely simmering and evaporating.

You keep adding sap as it boils down and the mixture keeps getting darker until if becomes a beautiful mahogany brown.  This batch needed to go a little longer but we couldn't wait.  It smells and tastes wonderful!  It takes probably at least fifty to sixty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.

We're storing the extra sap in buckets in the root cellar.

We took the bicycles for a ride during the week and explored a new road.  We couldn't get where we wanted to go because the road was too soft and waterlogged so we took a side road across a section of National Forest.  That's Susan and Scott by the railroad crossing.

This is looking north from where Susan and Scott were in the previous photo (which I took from the hill on the right side).

We found out that it made a loop through the National Forest and came out behind the Fortine golf course.

I welded up the sides on the trailer.  I'd made them where we could take them off but we've been using it awhile now and never took the sides off so I made them permanent.  Before they rattled like crazy on our road.  Now it's a lot quieter.

We went to Kalispell yesterday and Scott was playing with my hat trying to keep the sun out of his eyes.

Scott meets our oldest daughter's horses or horse and a half horse as I classify them.

Scott was up early again and is helping me check the storm reports on my computer.  I'm from Kansas and they had several tornadoes roll through last night.  None where my mother or sister live though.

I've been wishing all week that the syrup season arrived during a colder part of the year because running the stove keeps the cabin too hot and I got my wish.  It snowed about three inches last night and this morning. 

This is one of my sap bottles this morning.
This is what the yard looked like.  We got about three inches total.
I'm writing an article on vehicle recovery and needed to take some photos so ... against my better judgment and in the pursuit of cash I intentionally drove my truck into the mud.  Unfortunately I got it a little more stuck than I'd planned on!  The axle is dragging in the mud on the right front wheel.  The tires kept sinking in the clay and even when I was winching it out the tires rolled the mud behind the wheel instead of rolling out of the trench.
One of the tools I'm illustrating is using a Hi Lift jack as a winch.  They work great for this but you're limited to moving the vehicle only about three feet before you have to re-set everything.  My jack's release pin stuck and when I went to relieve the pressure to re-position the jack the head flew down the shaft and blew the foot off the bottom.  I had enough pictures of it already so I went to the come-along to finish up.  I have an 8,000 lb. Warn winch but the article is about using manual (low priced!) equipment.
Odie is surveying the trench I cut.  The shiny place on the ground just beyond her and on the other side of the trench is where the front axle dragged on the ground.  I drove into the situation earlier in the day but as the sun warmed the ground it made it soft and the tires just kept sinking deeper.  I broke one of my chains but I got some good photos (and a lot of exercise!) out of it.  It's the first time in my life I got stuck on purpose!  Hopefully it's the last time as well.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

1-8 April, 2012 - Tapping Birch Trees, Charging Batteries, Bicycle Rides,and ...

Susan has her first non-fiction book published on Kindle and it must have hit a niche because it's selling very well.  She sold 59 in the first four days.  It's outselling her fiction book "Tale of Two Preppers" which was her top seller (and is still going strong).  It's easy reading and doesn't overwhelm the person who is just beginning to store up extra food for emergencies.
It's beginning to look a lot like spring now.  Most of our snow is gone and we've had some absolutely beautiful days this week.  So we put them to use...

The infant seat and rack was given to us by one of our kids to pass on to the next person who needed it.  We never dreamed we'd be the next people needing it though.  The seat comes with a rear rack.  To use the seat you slide it onto the rack then lock it into place.  It works great.

We installed the bike seat on Susan's bicycle.  Since the seat wouldn't fit on her bike rack we had to switch them.  I've got the old one off so Scott and I are installing the new one.  I had to find some longer screws to hold it in place on Susan's bike.

All ready to go on our first test drive.

Scott is our test subject.  This is his very first ride on a bicycle and he loved it.  Scott is at the age when he mimics the sounds and words he hears so when some dogs began barking at us Scott barked back at them.  (And I had the pepper spray aiming toward them in case they wanted to do more than just bark.)  We rode in to Fortine to get the mail.  We drive down to the pavement so it was only about nine miles round trip.

I didn't start my S-10 at all last year so I expected problems when I tried to start it this spring.  I wasn't disappointed!  The battery was dead so I tried jump starting it from the Cherokee.  That didn't work, so ...

I took the battery out and started the generator and used the fast charger on it.  The battery was so dead that it took about an hour before the charger began showing any charge.  When a battery is that dead it takes a lot of voltage to overcome the resistance inside the battery.  Once it begin to take a charge the resistance decreases and it becomes easier to charge it all the way up.  I ran a load test the next morning and it passed so I put it back in the S-10.

But the truck still wouldn't start so I hooked up the Cherokee and we towed it to start it.  It still took a bit of towing to get it running but we did.  It acts like it has a carbon track in the distributor.  I just drove it back home and parked it in the driveway.  I'll check it out more in a couple of days.

I made a chicken feeder and attached it to the wall inside the chicken house.  I was feeding them in a bowl but they wasted so much of it that I made a feeder. 

Susan took advantage of the sunny weather to trim some trees.

Scott loves being outside and he did a bunch of it the last week.  Here he's posing with the dog (Odie).

Now he's tasting the wire around the old horse corral.

And now he's playing on the trailer.

...he's taking inventory of the cabinets.

He and Odie are plotting something.

I did some book swapping in my room and Scott helped there too (when he wasn't reading the books, that is).

He's been driving his car outside too.

And riding one of Grandpa's bicycles.  This is a Schwinn mountain bike I found at the dump.  It needed tires and shifter cable. 

He's now helping me do my Sudoku puzzles.

While the generator was running to charge the battery I plugged in the lead melter and melted a few pounds of scrap lead.

These are the steel bolts from telephone and power poles that hold the insulators for the power lines.
The insulators screw onto lead threads cast onto the top of the bolts.  I melt them down and use them to make bullets.  They're pure lead.

Bacon and eggs for breakfast.  The bacon is organic from a local farmer.  He's kind of famous in these parts for killing a grizzly bear with a .410 shotgun.  We buy sausage from him also.

The four eggs on the left are from our chickens. Not only are they larger, they're a deeper orange.

I tapped some Birch trees (eight) this afternoon.  I made the taps out of pieces of plastic pipe cut to about three inches long.  I cut one end at an angle to pound into the tree.  I drill a hole using a brace and bit then hammer the tap into the hole.  I go in until the cut-out just enters...

I then pound a nail into the tree and hang the jar under the spout.  I use a jar with a ring and screw the ring down on some baling twine used as a "bail."  Between 2:30 and 7:00 (pm) I got almost two gallons of sap off those eight trees.  We'll boil it down into syrup.

Had company over on Friday.  Note the ages and their occupations.  Each one had access to the Internet using their assorted electronics.