Missouri or Bust
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We've seen the first Vulture of Spring. We have survived the winter! I feel like not much has happened since the last update. We have mostly been waiting for the cold weather to end. We can't get many of our projects done while the ground is frozen.

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::  WHAT IS IT LIKE HERE?
I still can't believe we are here, and yet it also seems natural to be here. It gets pretty cold here. During December, January and February, it had mostly been from around 0 degrees to upper teens in the morning to 20s and 30s during the day. A mix of cold sunny days and snow. The cold is really not too bad. It really only feels cold when the wind blows. And it blows too much.

Early in the season there was an ice storm. I've never seen anything like it. It really was glorious. Photos just don't do it justice. We were fortunate that we didn't have any damage as a result. I guess people farther south got the worst of it. This was the case all season. We never got more than a couple inches of snow at a time. It makes everything so clean and pretty. Since we weren't commuting to work, traveling was never a problem. Locals say that it used to snow a lot more way back when. They would measured snow in feet instead of inches. They also said this was the coldest February in quite awhile. Weather is a pretty popular topic of conversation here.

We also missed all the flooding that has been in the news. We are well North of it and are situated on a ridgetop.

The weather can change in a instant. One day of note, started at 60 degrees in the morning after an unusually warm 50ish degree day the day before. It was 70 by mid-day. Then in the afternoon a front came in. We saw a bank of fog in the distance and it completely enveloped us in less than 15 minutes and the temperature dropped 30 degrees. One morning while we were working on the barn roof, the wind was coming out of the south. Every time I checked it, it was coming from another direction. By the end of the day, I think it had made a complete 360.

The weather is starting to change. It has been dry, high 20s in the morning and 40s-60s during the day. Nothing is really growing yet. The grass is just starting to green up. The cow pies in the pasture are getting soft enough for us to move. We've been playing cow pie football during our morning walks to get them broken up. Every day it seems a new species of bird is showing up.

::  MEET BUSTER
We have a new addition to the clan. Danny couldn't resist stopping at the Humane Society one day in early February to see what they had. He has been wanting to get Sammy a puppy to torment her as much as she torments Aiko. Sammy was using some of her extra energy playing with the Kitty. The Kitty loves to tease her and then race through the house with Sammy at her heels. (The kitty never got a better name than Kitty.)

The Humane Society had two puppies that day. One was a Great Pyrenees. Really pretty and sweet and Danny really liked him, but I just don't want a BIG dog. And he will be big! The other, that we brought home, is a Labrador/Heeler mix. He looks mostly Lab but he has markings on his chest, toes and chin that are white mixed with spots like Sammy's coat. We came up with his name while watching Mythbusters. He's named after the crash-test dummy, Buster. He is really sweet and affectionate and exuberant. He was not quite house-broken and Danny was in charge of cleaning up the pee on the carpets. We put down plastic and towels in his favorite place. That worked for a while, but he decided to try other places as well. He hasn't made a mistake since March 1--knock on wood. I still have to watch him every second though, to make sure he is not chewing on something that he shouldn't be. I really didn't realize what we were getting ourselves into, but for the most part he is good and eager to please.

It took about a day for Sammy to get over her initial jealousy, but they have been playing ever since. They do the most adorable tug-of-war with the sock toy. Aiko doesn't pay any attention to him at all. The Kitty, on the other hand, makes horrible growling and yowling noises whenever she comes near him, but she creates all the drama. She is dying to play with both dogs but the puppy is rather overwhelming. I worry constantly, but Danny says not to worry and the cat seems to be able to defend herself. She sits in front of Buster's food bowl and bops him on the head when he tries to eat. She saunters into the room and then races out trying to get him to chase her. She sits in the chair and they bat at each other through the chair back. Sammy tends to get between Buster and Kitty to protect her.

::  WHAT WE'VE BEEN UP TO
Danny's been able to catch up on TV and I spend most of my time doing jigsaw puzzles, playing computer games and working on the remodel design. Danny finally found a job as a seasonal worker in the sign shop of MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation). We are hoping that this will get his foot in the door for a permanent position, or that he can get winter snow plow work at the end of this season. It doesn't pay well but it is a government job so it should have good medical benefits. I'm still trying to find more freelance work.

::  WE LOVE AUCTIONS

The auction season is starting to pick up. The biggest problem with auctions is that if you go late the thing you were interested in bidding on has already been sold. Or, if you get there early, you have to wait through every other little item before they get to what you want. We can't spend the entire day at an auction since we have to leave the dogs locked in the house. Plus, we have to take the puppy with us and he is really not into it at all!

At the last auction, I won a few pieces of junk that no one else wanted to bid on. I got a 2-drawer filing cabinet in okay shape for $5, a log carrier and holder for $2.50 and a pair of old floor lamps for $2.50. Danny on the other hand won the bidding on a transit level for $50--something that we have been wanting but didn't want to pay much for. It was missing the tripod. When we got home, we looked it up and it turns out to be worth $450. He also got a cordless drywall gun that may not have been the best deal since, I think some parts are missing and it doesn't sound very healthy, but we got a couple 12V batteries out of the deal for our other screw gun, if nothing else.

At another auction, I got a couple doors that match the doors in this house for just $10. Should come in handy in the remodel.

::  FARM AFFAIRS

We've been starting to buy some necessary equipment for the farm. We have a wood-burning stove in the basement that we used primarily during the winter with the propane furnace as a back-up. We used a lot of wood. There was about a 1/2 cord here when we moved in and we purchased 2 truckloads (about a 1/2 cord each) during the season plus 2 truckloads of lumber scraps, which is cheap but doesn't last long. When that all ran out, Danny started cutting our own wood. There are a couple of piles of logs out on the ridge. We found a good deal on a log splitter on Craig's list which really makes life easier. It's really quite fun to use. With that and the chain saw, it almost makes you want to go out and cut down some trees.

We found a website on-line that has all kinds of merchandise to auction off. They sell the stuff in lots. We were basically interested in the tools. We missed out on a few lots that interested us but did end up winning one that had a propane backup generator. It had about 4 other items as part of the lot that we really didn't need but figured we could sell. It ended up being not the greatest deal. One item was broken, one item was missing entirely and the others are items that may not be easy to sell. That and the shipping made me gun-shy of trying to win any other lots. The generator is good. Danny has been working on pouring a pad to get it set-up and hooked up to the house. We never lost power this year but it should be nice to have if we do.

We found a used Craftsman riding mower in Craig's list for about half the list price. It has low hours and is in good condition. When we got it home, Danny took it for a ride up and down the road, around the house, all the way to the end of the property, and around the house a few more times at top speed. Ostensibly, to charge the battery. Sure! We don't have anything to mow yet but now we can hardly wait!

We've had been looking for a used full-size tractor that we will need to mow the pasture and to move dirt around. We got a load of base rock to put down around the entrance to the barn and the parking area. We found one we liked on Craig's List but it was in Illinois, 270 miles away. We drove over there to take a look at. It was raining the whole way. Danny's knuckles were white during most of the trip there and back. We decided to buy it and it was delivered on Friday. Our first project was to pull out 8 fence stakes. We figured it cost $3,000 to pull out each stake. That's worth it, right?

::  THE BARN
We continue to work on the barn. We have gone through and thrown away all the junk. And there was a lot of junk! We found a junk metal guy to come and pick up all the useless metal. He's a neat old guy. He's been by a couple of times. Each time, we get to hear about his latest ailments. We traded him one pile of junk for a neat old wood stove that he got for $35 at an auction up the road. We had admired it at the auction but didn't stick around long enough to bid on it ourselves. It will either go in the new shop or the house.

At the moment I have been moving piles of junk that Danny couldn't talk me out of, from place to place in the barn while we make other improvements. I still need some kind of storage/shelf units. We are looking for something used and cheap, hopefully at an auction. We still have a pile of hay in one spot that is Bootsy's bed.

We installed nice new fluorescent lights and have wired new receptacles, but we need to get new power run from the pole. I want to run it underground but the ground had been frozen until now. We also need to fix a few of the poles that have rotted out, and flatten the floor. It is dirt now with a small slab at the back that is broken and entirely out of level having been undermined by critters and soil movement. I've already had to move three inches of partially composted hay and manure that was on top of the concrete. I want to put down a new pad in my future work area and maybe baserock or gravel in the rest. Hopefully that will discourage Bootsy from continuing to use it as her catbox.

There were several critter holes in the barn. There's plenty of access for anything to come and go and the cat doesn't seem to mind sharing. I tried filling in the holes under the concrete but they were open again shortly after. We haven't figured out what is using them. I dug up one tunnel that ran through the floor and was very surprised to find a sleepy groundhog at the end of it. He was just as surprised as I was. I'm glad that he was moving kinda slow. Danny and I are such soft touches that we just left him there for the winter and covered the hole with a piece of plywood. I check it from time to time, but he has filled in the opening. I don't even know if he is still there. If he is, it's about time for him to wake up and move out. On another occasion, Danny surprised a possum in Bootsy's food on the hay. After unsuccessfully trying to chase him out, we gave up and left him hiding in the hay and moved Bootsy's food.

The corrugated metal roof that was on the barn was leaking in numerous places. We bought some discount metal roof in January to replace it. We got a break in the weather in early February and it took about two days to do the shorter backside. We haven't had decent, relatively windless weather until last week when we were finally able to finish the front side. It took us four and a half days to do that side. I was so sore everyday I could hardly move. I am out of practice from missing my Habitat Saturdays. Now that the new roof is on and we don't have to worry about water leaking on everything we get to worry about bird poop all over the place. Several sparrow pairs are starting nests in the rafters. We still need to button up all the gaps into the barn and we will have to replace all the doors.

::  NATURE ABOUNDS
We've become quite the voyeurs. We have binoculars at all the windows--to watch the birds, not the neighbors. Our greatest pleasure here is bird watching and enjoying nature. On our morning walks, we have occasion to observe different local fauna. On our property we have seen deer, coyotes, squirrels, turkey and hawks. On snowy days, we try to identify the abundant tracks we see along the way. At night, we can hear the coyotes and Hoot Owls calling. And now the frogs are chiming in.

We have bird feeders in view of the back porch (and one outside the bathroom window). It was not uncommon this winter to see ten species at a time. There are abundant House Sparrows, Juncos, Starlings, and Goldfinches in their winter garb. There are so many Cardinals and Blue Jays you might almost get tired of them, except that they are so colorful. We have resident Red-bellied Woodpeckers and the cutest little Downy Woodpeckers. Plus, we have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at the feeder recently. The Red-shafted Flickers and, now the Robins, wander the fields in search of goodies. Mourning Doves occasionally visit the feeder. Black-capped Chickadees and Nuthatches are not as abundant but can be seen most every day. We had a flock of Cowbirds that seemed to have been just passing through. They sat up in the trees or bushes en masse and made the most amazing gurgling sound--it is almost like a babbling brook. The Red-winged Blackbirds are back. We have seen several in the feeders but they can be seen setting up territories all along the roadsides. Talk about flocks though--this is a major flyway for Canadian geese. We have seen hundreds at a time, fly by on high. A few days ago we saw a Grackle and Danny saw a Tufted Titmouse. It is a joy to see the bluebirds flash through the air after insects. At the pond, we have seen ducks, a great blue heron and a kingfisher.

During one road trip, we had a bald eagle fly right over the truck. There also is a juvenile that we see from time to time on our drives to WalMart. We often see Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Merlins and Kestrels. We generally see one or the other every mile or so.

The neighbors cattle were still on the property early in the winter. On one morning walk we saw that one of the cows was down. She was rather old and had pushed her insides out during her struggle to get up. We informed the owner and the cow had to be put down. Sam dragged her into the back of their property. We have been keeping track of her progress since then. While it was cold not much happened, but now that it is getting warm, she's starting to get some attention from the scavengers.

::  WHAT'S NEXT
The contractor is supposed to start the pad for the shop this week. Since Danny will be starting work soon, it will take longer than we hoped to finish. At least the days are getting longer. Once we get the shop together, we can start working on house projects.

I did tear up the carpet in the bathroom shortly after we moved in. The hardwood floor underneath is in very poor shape with essentially no finish left on it but it will have to do until the remodel. It is still better than carpet!

Then I couldn't resist tearing up the carpet in the kitchen one cold boring day. Under that I found old vinyl that had been cut back around the edges, I guess to put the carpet down. The hardwood floor under that has no finish on it at all so the vinyl stays until the remodel. I had to put duct tape around the edges to keep the dogs from ripping up the floor to get to the dog food that the cat keeps pushing under the edges. It's really a classy look.

We have just started to replace the plastic water pipe now with copper, after having two leaks, rather than waiting for the remodel. Along with that we are replacing the hot water heater with an on-demand hot water system.

I have come up with a remodel plan that we both like. Now we just have to determine if and when we can afford it. Next update will probably be after we get the shop done. Till then. (Updated March 24, 2008)
Also check out my portfolio website: I Like It Design.com.

CHAPTER 4