Around The House - Summer 2005

  This last winter was very mild. We had little snow and few really cold, blustery days. That was followed by a wet but beautiful spring. The summer of 2005, however, has been anything but mild. It has been especially hot and very dry. We normally receive about 4 inches of rain each month during spring, summer, and fall. This summer, we have had only about 1 inch per month. The lack of rain has dried up farm ponds and drastically limited how much hay they have been able to bail for winter.

The water level in our pond is down also but fortunately, not as bad as most around the county. Ours is down a little over a foot. It is still almost 10 feet deep so the fish and turtles are doing just fine. The picture below shows what the pond looks like right now. The green grass tends to mask the water level drop. This picture is taken looking west along the north edge of the pond, the edge closest to the house.

  The picture below shows the lower water level a little better. The bases of the plants in the foreground near the water are normally under water. This picture is looking east towards the north end of the dam.
  For a better reference, the hollow inside the stone half circle shown below is normally under water.
  Something that is especially nice about the Ozarks, however, is that even in a drought, it still looks pretty here. Faith has been watering the lawns up close to the house. The trees, shrubbery, and most of the green grass you see in the photo below get no extra water.
  As further evidence of how green it still is in the Ozarks, the photo below shows the view looking toward our house along the driveway.
  The photo below shows the sign you see on the tree at the right side of the driveway above. We think it is amusing but haven't been able to find out how other people feel about it. We haven't actually had any guests since we put it up. We are beginning to suspect that it is working better than a "No Trespassing" sign might.
  You probably noticed in the photos above that we have not yet planted many new decorative shrubs or trees around the house. We have had poor success at getting commercial plants to survive in our soil. The standard procedure of digging a big hole and planting a plant doesn't work here. The hole in our heavy clay soil acts like a waterproof tub, drowning and rotting plant roots when it rains.

We are trying a new trick recommended by the Missouri Dept of Conservation. That trick is to not dig a hole. You un-pot the plant, set it on the ground, and build a mound of topsoil around it. The idea is to let excess water run off while the plant gradually extends its roots down into the ground. We are hoping that this trick will work.

The little pine below is about 2 foot tall. I dug into the clay bank a little but made sure that the hole would drain. We stacked stone around the down-hill side of the hole and packed commercial topsoil around the root ball. It kinda' looks like a pine tree shrine instead of a Wal-Mart sale item though. Oh well, its decorative.

  One of our yard projects this year was to clean up a small cove for Faith to establish a bog garden. There is quite a number of interesting and pretty plants that prefer a wet, muddy environment. This particular area is ideally suited for that kind of garden, usually flooded with lots of daytime sun. She has named this area "Pollywog Bog" (carefully misspelled on the rustic sign on the stump below).
  The photo below shows what her bog looks like now. Planting bog plants will probably have to wait until next spring. In normal years, the water level in the pond would be just under the bottom of the bridge. The bridge was actually constructed as a way to get across a spot that is normally very muddy.
  Another outside project was cleaning up outside the basement. The photo below shows that area. You can see the basement bedroom window.
  Speaking of which... The photo below was taken looking into that bedroom. The window seen in the photo above is at the right side of the photo below. You will notice that this bedroom has a decorating theme. What that theme is, I'll leave that for you to work out.
  The photo below was taken inside that bedroom, looking back toward the doorway. You may notice that the room's decorating theme carries through to the quilt on the bed.
  A project I took care of this last year is upgrading the squirrel cage. Suki, our Grey Squirrel, is not releasable so is stuck with us for life. He needed a larger cage than we could buy locally. I built one from scratch. It is 3 feet by 4 feet at the base and 5 feet high. That gives him room to move around. I cut a tree top to fit inside so he now has a tree to climb around on. He sleeps in the rectangular wooden house.

As soon as we brought the new cage into the basement, Suki knew exactly what it was and who it was for. He sat in his old cage watching us get the new one ready for him. It was obvious from his actions and body language that he wanted his new cage. He hardly slept the first two days he was in it. He bounced around exploring it but mostly just laid on his his log staring at it. There was no doubt he loved his new home.

  While I was in the basement taking pictures, I took one of our woodstove. It's not much as household decorations go but it sure has served us well. Last week, I finally called a chimney sweep in to inspect the chimney. We have used it for two whole winters so I wanted to know how bad a problem creosote buildup was going to be. It turned out that the chimney did not actually need cleaning. It does not appear that it will be a problem for us.

Talking to the chimney sweep about it, I learned that I had accidentally achieved an ideal chimney configuration. During construction, I had our chimney chase insulated and sheet rocked on the inside. I had it done because the wall the fireplace sits in would not be insulated. It seemed silly to put insulation everywhere except for one large wall in the living room. The insulated chase does keep the cold air out of the house but it also keeps the chimney warm. Keeping the metal chimney warm keeps wood combustion moisture from condensing in the pipe, minimizing creosote buildup. It also improves the draw. I don't mind being right about something, even if it was for the wrong reason.

There was actually a second reason for calling in a chimney sweep. We had him install a new chimney cap. The old one did not have a screen so we have had birds dropping in and getting stuck. It is a real annoyance to have a trapped bird flapping its wings and chirping as it tries to escape. I was getting tired of taking the chimney pipe loose from the stove to get the birds out. It was also pain in the butt to get them out of the house. We never did manage to capture any of them as they emerged from the pipe. We had to chase them around the basement with nets. Our cat, Rocky, did manage to capture one once.

The photo below shows the woodstove. It is in a corner of the basement. The black panels behind it are sheet metal heat shields. They are spaced out from the wall about an inch so that when heat from the stove warms them, they draw cool air up from the floor to keep the wall materials from overheating. The heat shield air draft works so well that the sheet metal never gets so hot you can't hold your hand on it. The power cord and shiny metal thing you see on the floor behind the left side of the woodstove is a temporary light that I used to show more detail. I found it is hard to get good photographic detail in a black on black scene.

We keep the fire burning in this woodstove 24 hours a day for weeks at a time during the winter. It has held up very well and is very efficient. It makes the basement very cozy in the winter. Its heat rises and warms the floor above so that this small woodstove keeps the house warm all by itself until the temperature outside gets below 35 degrees. Our gas furnace starts cycling on at lower temperatures but even then most of our heat still comes from the wood we burn.

  Anyway, that's pretty much it for this summer.