Thursday, January 24, 2013


Not exactly a hot seat, is it?
 Oh, doggies, it's cold outside!  

I gave Teddy a haircut just before the cold snap.  Bad idea.

 Normally Wisconsin has a temporary thaw around January 20th.  We had our thaw much earlier this year by almost two weeks.  Almost all the beautiful snow we were blessed to receive in December has melted except for the drifts in the road ditches and along the line fences here on the farm.  I'm done cross-country skiing until the next snowstorm.  On Thursday night the forecast calls for three inches of new snow.  I sure hope so.
We had snow in December

After our early thaw,  the ground is unfortunately bare in most places.  And since Sunday night,  the temperatures have plummeted below zero with a -20 degree windchill. I'd be a whole lot happier if we could have kept our snow cover, but I think we'll be ok as far as garden plants go.  I'm writing this on Wednesday night and the brisk west wind buffeting the house is clipping along at 13 mph making the TV antenna on the roof bounce around.  Every time the wind gusts hit the antenna, we lose reception which, I guess, isn't such a big deal since most of the shows aren't worth watching anyway.   But don't you hate it when the picture locks up on the TV?  And why aren't the commercials affected??

Oh, well, I turned the TV off.

Smile, it's Winter!
The pictures I'm sharing in this post are all of the snow we had earlier, which was extremely powdery in nature.  I don't know why this dry snow stuck to the trees as well as it did, but it certainly clung to every surface tightly.  Carl and I had to go out with brooms and shovels to whack the snow off of the smaller trees to keep branches from being broken.  Some of the miniature conifers were bent nearly double under the weight.  The snow we didn't remove  was still on the other trees for at least two weeks or more.
Formal Garden

The dry, powdery nature of the snow was really evident when I took an impromptu break from skiing one day.  I was out there just step-kick-gliding myself silly when all of a sudden I lost my balance.  Since I know the dangers inherent in trying to save myself from a fall with six feet of boards strapped to the bottom of my feet (flailing around doesn't help much) I decided to simply tip over sideways.  The landing was very pleasant, foof, down I went into about  two feet of drifted snow bank.  It was a sunny afternoon and the sky was a brilliant blue.  There were two hawks way up high, riding the breeze in ever-widening circles.  Funny how the world looks so different when you're laid out flat.  I never noticed before just how hilly this old farm really is.   I was completely out of breath when I'd fallen, so the rest was welcome.

As I was lying there, resting up for the fight to regain my feet again, I noticed the hiss of the snow sifting around me in the slight breeze.   My little break must have lasted longer than I thought; I was surprised to see my right arm was almost completely covered by a small drift.  
Maybe they'll find me in the Spring?

The sight of my rapidly disappearing limb and the fact I was starting to melt the snow under me prompted me to burn about two thousand calories in the struggle to stand up again.  I know, I could take my skis off for this, but hey, where's the fun in that?  There is no exercise in any gym that can compare to trying to get your skis uncrossed causing great bodily contortions and distortions while you try to get the ski poles under your arms and finally, hoisting yourself back on your feet again, especially when the skis slide out just as you're halfway up.  (It's a good thing I've never taken up downhill skiing.)   So, that was the last time I was out skiing this winter but I'm hopeful there will be another opportunity.

The Girls aren't too fond of the snow, so when the thaw came, they were much happier.  They follow my snow blower trails all over the garden.

Two of them decided to molt.  I don't know why some chickens lose their feathers in the winter.  It would make a whole lot more sense in the spring.  But it's amazing how fast the new feathers came in. 

Speaking of snowblowers...we bought a new one this fall for the 574.  For years and years we talked about having one for the tractor and finally took the plunge.  Even though we haven't had a lot of use for it yet this year, we're glad we did.
8' wide and ready for snow
Joel making quick work of the driveway
Tuesday was an epic day around here.  I woke up to the magical sound of the sump pump alarm shrilly blasting away in the basement.  Down the stairs I went and was relieved to find it was only water running across the floor from the pressure tank which is right near the floor drain.  At least we weren't knee deep in water!  The pressure tank had sprung a major leak.   I turned off the sump pump alarm (wow, that thing is LOUD) and realized I'd just found the reason why our well pump had been cycling on and off for weeks on end. 

We've been having problems with the well lately.  Back in November, we pulled our well because the pump kept running.   The pump sits at the bottom of the 80' deep well, so we had to take the cover off the well and with Joel on the end walking backwards eighty feet, Carl guided the casing out of the pipe until the well pump was on the surface.  It turned out the check valve in the pump had worn out, and anticipating this before we pulled the well, Carl installed a new valve we had purchased earlier in the day.  It took about an hour and a half to pull the well ourselves and replace the part.

Then comes the fun part of putting the pump back in the well.  My job was to clean the casing as it was lowered back down....and I was really kept busy with cleaning it with hot water and cleaning cloths as fast as I could manage.  The well is heavy and it was getting dark and cold out.  The hardest part was trying to get the well cap to seat in the right direction to line up with the pipe going to the house.   Joel was helping Carl hold the weight of the well assembly while they were trying to figure out why the thing wouldn't hook up correctly.

I was supposed to hold a flashlight and try to shine the beam down the six inch hole so they could see what they were doing since by now, it was fully dark out and around 25 degrees with a brisk west wind.   I had to kneel about  two feet from the well casing so my body would be out of their way somewhat and still aim the flashlight at the right angle so they can see what they are doing.   My part sounds easy, right?  Well, it was, but since I can't see what they are looking at and Carl is straddling my arm with his leg and trying not to hit me in the head with his elbow, needless to say, the flashlight beam was off kilter more than on target and we weren't making a whole lot of headway.   Tempers flared.  Thankfully, after another twenty minutes of twisting, turning and kabitzing, the job was done.  Phew.

After we were done, we hoped the well would stop cycling on and off for no reason.  For awhile it did appear we'd solved the mystery and fixed it by replacing the check valve.  But in the last two weeks, the well was starting to run again, on and off, when no water was turned on in the house.  We were worried.  The last time we had to yank the well pump was in November with the temperature in the 20's.  Yesterday was nine below zero.  Oh, I was REALLY hoping we wouldn't have to pull the well in this weather. 

 I made my way through Carl's work room (an adventure fraught with danger since Carl is not exactly tidy) and then found myself in front of the switch box.  I wanted to turn the breaker for the well pump off.  This was no small feat, since the breaker box is a mislabled nightmare.

When we built this house in 1978, the electrician was a bit of an eccentric apparently; there are light switches mixed up in every room in the house.  If you flip the switch on the right side, the light on the left side of the room lights up.  The one in the middle turns on the yard light and the one on the left turns on the dining room light on the right side of the room.  Either our electrician was drunk or he just enjoyed seeing his clients confused, I'm not sure which.  (I often wonder about people who make viruses that infect computers, too...I mean, what joy do they get out of making people's computers sick?  They aren't actually physically there to see people wringing their hands and fretting, so what's the big attraction?)  And along with weirdly wiring our abode,  it was his job to label the breakers in the box.  Oh, boy.  He didn't make any more sense in the labelling department either. 

 And over the years, Carl's added his own labeling system that I just don't get.  He's crossed stuff out and written stuff in and it's a jungle in there.  According to the handwritten sticker on the lid of the box, the well pump breaker was number thirteen.  Ok, that's great, except there is no breaker installed in the number thirteen slot.  I tried fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, and after turning off the lights in the basement and who knows what else, I finally found the right one.  At least the well stopped pumping and the water stopped squirting all over the place. 

I called Carl at work, but he was in a meeting.  Remembering that I was also supposed to shut the electric hot water heater off if the well wasn't running, I went back to the box and tried to decipher the hieroglyphics scribbled on the sticker one more time.  I finally located what I thought was the hot water heater and trudged back upstairs.  Ok, no big deal; no water in the house until Carl can fix the problem.  Not a tragedy by any means, I had two gallons of water in the fridge.

This wasn't like when we were farming back in the day.....not having water then was a Big Deal.  We had to haul water in milk cans from the neighbors to water the cows with milk pails.  Cows drink a LOT of water, up to 20 gallons a day, so we made repeated trips in frigid weather to slake their thirst.  And then the well had to be pulled up out of the ground and defrosted.  I remember those awful days so well, and always in the most frigid January weather.  Dad used to leave a kerosene lantern burning in the pump house in an effort to keep the water lines from freezing.  On a day when nobody should be outside, we'd be pulling a well up and out of the ground.  Ah, good times. 

Anyway, back to Tuesday. As I said, the temperature was very cold, down to -9 below with a steady west wind and -25 windchill.  After folding some laundry, I felt a bit of a chill.   The furnace was running steadily and yet the temperature in the house was going the wrong way.  Down.  The blowers were running and though the thermostat was set for 67, the actual temperature was 62.  We have geothermal heat and this is the first time this has happened, but again, this is the first time we've had such cold temperatures since we installed it in 2009.

Carl finally called me back and said we'd have to install a new pressure tank when he got home from work.  "This is really good, actually.  At least now we know why the well was running!  Maybe we won't have to pull the well again this winter after all."  Only Carl can find the silver lining in every situation.

When I asked him about the furnace, he was stumped.  By that time, the temperature was down to 60, though the furnace never shut down.  There's an auxiliary electric backup unit on the furnace, but we'd never used it and I didn't want to touch it unless he was here.  I just put on a coat and walked five miles with Leslie in the living room which kept me nice and warm.

By the time Carl got home at 4PM, the house was down to 54 degrees.  I will admit, that is a bit chilly.  We were both worried about the furnace more than anything.  The pressure tank replacement was going to be a big job, but what if the furnace was out of commission? 

Carl decided to turn on the auxiliary heat for the first time.  As soon as he did, the smoke alarms started going off in the house, since there was dust (yes, I'll admit, I didn't dust the heat-thingy) and apparently some paint that had to burn off the coils.  Once we got the smoke alarms settled down, Carl tried to figure out why the furnace wasn't putting out any heat.

Turns out, the problem was with me and the switch box.  When I turned off what I thought was the water heater, I had actually turned off the compressor for the furnace, so yes, the fan for the furnace blower was running nonstop, but was only circulating cold air through the house since I turned off the heat source.  (I am brilliant.)  Once Carl switched the compressor back on, we had heat again.  In about four hours we had the heat back to normal.

Carl set to work on taking out the old pressure tank for the well and replacing it with the new one.  I was in the way in the small space and went upstairs to make supper, but was in earshot so I could gopher for him if he needed anything.  After an hour, he had the pressure tank in place and plumbed.  When the water was turned back on though, another pipe sprunk a leak.  We had to turn the water off again and head to a big box store for more plumbing parts.

By this time it was 7PM and still bitterly cold out.   My car barely started; I think it's time for a new battery, but one dilemma at a time, please.  I drove since Carl's hands were so full of plumbing compound and yucky goo and we still had no water to wash with.  When he got to the store, he cleaned up while I cruised the fascinating plumbing aisle.  Armed with a small arsenal of assorted pipes and fittings, we sallied forth for the hut one more time.  Carl had to start all over from square one, but by 10:30 PM, we had Success.

Running water and a working, what more can you ask for?

You never miss the water til the well runs dry or the heat until it's 25 below.

And I shouldn't take Carl for granted, either. 

But we really do have to relabel that pesky switch box. 


Karen said...

Not sure what is up with the comments, I'm trying my best to figure out a solution!

Shirley said...

I haven't been around for awhile so I'm now scrolling through your old posts. Sometimes life gets too busy and some things get put aside. Your gardens look absolutely beautiful all year round. It's been nice to visit them again.