Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween-ish Activities

Times have been busy.  It would have been fun to leave this diary dormant for a few months, with the last post titled "We bought a farm", but I am attached to the idea of the kids having a record of what their childhood was like.  

We listed the blue house on Craigslist, and Alexe broadcast it to her network of fans on Facebook; less than two weeks later, we have a contract for the asking price, closing on December 1.  (Knock on wood.)

That has allowed us to move a few more things to our farmhouse, since we no longer have to stage the blue house for walk throughs, and it alos frees up some capital to start the renovations on the house here.

We had plans to take it slow here, but in this dark house, with no windows looking out over the wonderful views, the old Kagan&Alexe nownownow is kicking in, and last night we were already stripping the ceilings in one of the back rooms to expose the original wood.

There will be porches.  And lots of french doors.  Soon.

In the meantime, we're working/playing/relaxing into our new spot.

Alexe took Annaliese on a girl's day out, and they bought costumes. (Store bought, I know, but Square Books Junior was having a 30% off sale on all the Melissa and Doug stuff, as Alexe keeps telling me.)

The kids gave their costumes a dry run yesterday.  Annaliese picked out a hairdresser outfit for herself, and a policeman's outfit for her brother.

I had a very relaxing haircut from one while being handcuffed by the other.

I have been tearing around the place freeing trees and hillsides form decades of scrubby growth.  This is down near the pond looking back up towards the house, with two little kids in costumes working their way down the hillside.

A week ago you wouldn't have been able to see the house from here for all the vines and saplings.

The pond is silted in, and my fleeting thought of digging it out with the tractor amended after a short foray into axle-deep squishy mud.  Took some time using the bucket to slowly lift and push myself back out. The spring that feeds the pond is flowing nicely.

We carved pumpkins a week or so back.  I thought this design was hilarious, nobody else did.

Family Day!  Our weekly schedule leaves all of us pretty zonked Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday we go on adventures as a group.  It was a church day, something we try for every other week, and Alexe and I enjoy the forty minutes of quiet time sitting together in a pew while the kids are off doing art or playing games in kid's church.  We had a short nap, then suited up and headed North to the zoo, with a short stop at the tractor supply store, a very tasty vietnamese restaurant for dinner, and a starbucks run for hot chocolate.

The Memphis Zoo was having its Halloween extravaganza, trick or treat stations throughout, special decorations and exhibits, and a hefty cover charge. ($60 for the four of us.)

We didn't pay all that much attention to the ads we saw, so both the cover charge, even for zoo members, and the costumes everyone else was wearing, were both surprises to us.

We did come prepared with warm clothes, and suited up before handing out the hot chocolate and heading in.

The zoo did a nice job.  

The place was packed, and this was a Sunday night.

We've been missing this busy girl.  Nice to have her all to ourselves for a day.


These three kids decided to go on the twisty-ride.  They loved it.  And Alexe got a kick out of seeing me turn green, just from watching them.

A warm up session in the reptile house.  I've been spending some quality time with snakes at our new place, turning them up in the barn, and every time I dig up the roots of a shrub or smooth out an unnecessary hillock in the fields or near the pond.  It was nice to have them behind glass.

Some of the progress being made around the homestead.  After taking down the 30 ft deep border of crap that has grown up along the edges of the fields, you can see right into the lovely oak forest.  One small section below the house done, several acres left to go.

The crew I met earlier this Spring at a community design and revitalization workshop brought a class up from the college in central MS to explore the town, and work on designs to turn an empty lot downtown into a walking park.  They came by the BTC for dinner, a first for the BTC serving at that late hour, and Dixie and Alexe put out an amazing spread.

After the crowds left, Alexe and I still had time on the babysitter clock, and some delicious leftovers, so we headed to the quiet blue house and kicked back for an impromptu date.  T'was lovely.

The barn has lots of potential, and I've decided rather than ripping off the back section, I'm going to remove the second floor that has mostly fallen in, and turn that section into a drive-in shelter for the tractor.

In the process of doing that I ran into a pile of old bottles.  This one is my favorite: "made from flavors specially blended in the traditional hillbilly style"

The kids were going to have their own bedrooms, but with the accelerated timeframe for the renovations, they're sharing this room while we work on the other section of the house.  The seem to like it.

The one redeeming feature of the dark, cramped kitchen is this gas stove, with a built in griddle.  I love cooking on gas.

And there we are.  I need to take some time to focus on getting in firewood. The wood stove does a nice job of heating the whole section of the house we're sleeping in, with a nifty blower that pulls a lot of hot air over the insert, and a well sealed firebox that will burn for most of the night without being re-stoked.  However, we don't have any firewood, and any you buy locally was cut up a week ago and is close to water-logged. We have a few fallen oaks on the edge of the woods that are pretty dry, I just need to get to them with a chainsaw and splitting maul.  

Did I mention I'm happy?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

We bought a farm.

It's been busy times.  We closed on the farm last Friday.  The store has been very busy, which makes for great highs for Alexe when Dixie is running the kitchen and Alexe is running the front and they can deal with any rush, just the two of them. It has also meant deep lows when the weekend rolls around, and the staffing issues that have resulted in a new weekend cook mean that half of the BTC isn't running as it should, and Alexe takes the lack of a perfect BTC experience for every customer as a personal failure.  Hopefully with training the weekend kitchen staff will come up to speed quickly, because business is not going to slow, (knock on wood,) and there continues to be great press.  The WSJ was the latest.  

We're selling the blue house, and the other project house in town, because owning 4 properties in this town is silly, and we need the capital to pour into our farm.  This means the house needs to be show ready, and with these two kids in their punchy 3s and 4s, it's a challenge.

And there's so much to do at the farm.  So many fun projects.

I'm enrolling Caspian in a morning program to match Annaliese's schedule.  Something's got to free up some time to do projects that are not children friendly, and Alexe's schedule is not lightening up, so I will have the mornings to do everything I can before the kids come home.  That gives me another two hours during nap to do computer-related work while they sleep, and then around 2:30 it'll be family time.  I think that's a schedule that I can feel good about.

One of the families that came to view the blue house had four children.  I knew they were too big a group for the house when they arrived, but the kids had a blast tearing around the place for a good hour. 

This was a quiet moment while they ate frozen juice boxes.  

On Saturday night, Dixie threw Alexe (and me) a belated birthday dinner at her house.  It was amazing.   Secret fried chicken, shredded brussel sprouts with nuts and berries, black eyed peas that melted in the mouth, marinated cucumber salad, rolls, and cold hard cider.  Made with love.  

We took Dixie up to see the farm after dinner, and she brought cupcakes. This is the birthday girl, blowing out her candles.  

These two are adorable together.  Friends, business partners, co-authors, and they even coordinate their clothing.  

The back pasture, before I hooked up the bush hog and started learning the lay of the land.  Much of the land on the farm is very rolling, which hasn't been a problem with the feisty 4 wheel drive tractor, but parts of these pastures are slightly terraced, and that's begging for a roll over in an unfamiliar field.  The first go around was nice and slow.  Which I didn't mind at all.  If you haven't ridden a tractor around on a glorious blue-sky day, I highly recommend it.

This little guy followed his mother across the field.  Last night as I was closing up the shop there were at least 4 deer at the tree line 100 feet away.  Seems to be a healthy population in our back woods.

There may be an abundance of tractor pictures.  

This is a view of the house.  It is an original, solidly built bungalow from the 50s, with a two story box-addition that is less well built from the early 80s.  We haven't decided what our long term plans are yet, a major renovation, or a rebuild.  Either way, we want to move up there now, just to be there.  Tonight may be the last night we spend in the blue house.

We took all the curtains down to let the light come in, and have had all three doors open all day for the past week to air the place out.  I tinkered with the whole-house fan and got it running again, which is a fun thing to flip on and feel the fresh air come rushing in to replace the stale air that is being sucked into the attic.

The thing I don't think I'll be able to renovate around are the low ceilings. 

One of my favorite views, out the sliding door of the workshop towards the barn and that back pasture.

The kids are juggling a few reactions to the farm.  Missing of the blue house, excitement over having their own rooms, (that's more Annaliese,) freedom of exploring and playing new outdoor games, and the too frequent bickering that they take everywhere they go.

This was a happy collective game of making a pathway of leaves down the shop ramp.

Speaking of the shop, I took a few hours to put in three sky lights.  ($50 each on craigslist.)  They make it a much lighter place to be.  There was a heavy storm the night after I put them in, and I need to get up there and re-seal the leaks the storm kindly pointed out to me.

The previous owners left an old cabinet radio that needs to warm up before it will receive a few very nearby radio stations.  The kids had a dance party; Annaliese practicing being a cheerleader with leafy branches for pompoms, and Caspian wielding a stick-sword and trying to swat a hanging extension cord.

Alexe's mother, Sharon, aka Nonni, came for a visit this past week. 

Annaliese still has an afternoon or two a week at the BTC with Alexe.  She's very focused right now on doing homework for school.  The homework is on a volunteer basis, with the teacher offering a toy from the treat basket for anyone who does any.  Annaliese obsessively fills pages with words and numbers and brings them to school.  According to her teacher, Annaliese and one other girl do this, and all the others, who woud benefit more from this kind of practice, don't care.

I went to the season opener at the Fiddler's Loft outside of town, solo, with Alexe being poooped after a very long Friday at the BTC.

Kevin sitting on the right, along with his wife, put these shows together, and they're awesome.  These guys are warming up the crowd with a fun set of songs, one sung mostly in chicken-bok-boks.

This duo is a long time Oxford staple.  I had never heard of, or heard, them before.  They were amazing.  Both skilled instrumentalists, the man on the right has a relaxed, effortless voice, and between the two of them they write some excellent songs.

The bassist told a pretty funny chicken joke.

I'm missing a picture of the second act, a solo young lady who could really play her guitar.  

The last act, an old blues man from Arkansas in the middle, Jared Spears a local talent on the right, and someone who was sitting in the audience until they insisted he come up and join them on the left.  Energetic blues/rock mix to close out the night. 

The old oak barn at the farm.  As you can see it has been neglected, with sections of the roof being allowed to fail, and a nasty lean starting, and progressing, over the years unchecked.

It was the first thing I did after we closed, firmly tie the long diagonal of the parallelogram together, and slowly, at an inch a day to give it time to rest, start cranking it back together.

It was slow going.

But it started to stand up straight again after a few days.

After a certain point the right hand corner started picking up off the foundation, so I lifted the left corner up with  hydraulic jack to level out the bottom.  Rather than push the right corner down, the whole front section of the barn swung left a foot to straighten up, leaving the right corner over thin air.

After a week of slow progress, this was annoying. While the structure was straight I went inside and bolted in a few diagonals to hold it roughly square, the I pulled the tractor around and pushed it back over the foundation pillars, and released the tension on the diagonal to let it sit back down.

There's plenty more to do on this beauty to make her safe, but she's standing up straight-ish now, and I'm not worried about her falling over anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Skipping through a week.

John M came by on Friday to have lunch, visit with the family, play a quick game of ping pong, and take a look around our farm.

So far John has won 2 out of every three ping pong games we have played, winning a Reuben in the last bout.  However, with the children giving him a little family-treatment, I swept this game, 21 to 9.

Annaliese is wielding a broom, Caspian a paddle.

Hard to say who won.  Other than me.  21 to 9.  Did I already mention that?

Sunday Annaliese had a birthday party to go to with her friends.  Our good friend, mother of the two beautiful blond girls who often appear in pictures here, volunteered to take the troop.  

(Those scratches on Annaliese's forehead:  During bath time the other night she and Caspian applied some of Alexe's face mask to their faces, and then shaved it off with a razor.  She came to get Alexe in tears, naked and sudsy and streaming blood down her face, saying how careful she had been and not wanting us to be upset.)

With Annaliese away at a party, we had a half hour lounging in the sun with our boy before the father of the little charmers showed up with Leah, the younger girl, and took Caspian to the park for a play date.  That left Alexe and me with alone time, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  We went hiking on our future farm.

But for that half hour, the little boy had all our attention.

I walked the perimeter of the property with the current owners last weekend.  Alexe had not had the tour, so we did a quick stroll in our hour through the oak woods, down by the spring/pond, and up through the lower pasture.

The land has been neglected for over 20 years, but we're going to fix that soon enough.

We're both very happy, and excited.  My farm girl:

Tuesday, Alexe turned 30.

We had lots of fun over the days leading up, talking about how everything she did she was doing for the last time in her 20s.  

Alexe had to go to work, and she took the little man with her on the produce run.  With no kids, I had time to put up a balloon covered sign in front of the store, (there was a helium tank in the Main Street office that I borrowed,) get some shopping done for dinner and dessert, and pick up the house a little.

The moment I had both kids again, some time around 11, a friend called me and told me he had found my tractor, and I needed to grab my check book and get out to it now.

A very nice older gentleman with a farm in the country was diagnosed with a heart condition.  He decided to sell everything, and while he has the time and the funds, he and his wife will get in their very nice trailer and travel around the country.

It was sad.


He sold me everything I need to bring our farm back to life, for pennies on the dollar.  From the 4 wheel drive tractor with a loader and a dozen attachments, (disk/harrow/bush hog/finish mower/plow/box blade/grader blade/spreader/post hole digger, etc.) to a 200 gallon diesel tank with an electric pump, to piles of chains and logging tools, to buckets of electric and barbed wire fencing tools, insulators, clips, posts, the electric fence charger, a 100 gallon water tank, it just went on and on.  

Awesome presents, for me.  Alexe appreciates what I do for her and us with my tools, but she doesn't get all that excited about them.

So we had to race home, making it by 1, and I fed and dropped the kids in their beds for nap time, and got going on Alexe-things.

Cake:  Every year Alexe gets a home made cake, and I've been adding layers over the past few years.  This year we were looking at six.  It started with homemade applesauce, something I've been doing with a bushel of apples we bought that lost their crunch last week.

Mix, stir, measure, and there's a pile of goop.  Too much for the mixer to handle, so finished by hand.

Bake, cool, whip cream with cinnamon, confectioner sugar, and vanilla paste, assemble, sprinkle with confectioner sugar.  It turned out nicely.

The birthday girl.

There she is.

At 2:30 Jackie, the same lovely lady who took the girl's to the birthday party on Sunday, had both kids over to her house for a play date.  In that time I was able to get dinner completed, and pick up the house, do the laundry, etc.  These are not things I often do, and though my girl loves wrapped boxes, me doing these things makes her smile more.

Dinner was a beef stew.  I like throwing these together, as long as there's time to get them going early enough so they can simmer for many hours.  They're even better if you age them a day or two.

We had dinner, presents, and cake on the porch.  

The cake, unfortunately, after being cut and having time for the cream to warm up, lost its structural integrity.  Some for the chickens, plenty left for us. 

My tractor.  On, after the closing tomorrow at 2, our land.

The nice gentleman who sold me the tractor was in a rush, so I had to move everything I bought off his property yesterday.  Once again Jackie took a child for me, Caspian heading over to play with Leah while the two older girls were at school.

With two trailers, using the tractor to load them both, then loading the tractor and driving to our farm, unloading the tractor to unload the rest of the equipment, then loading the tractor up again and heading back to use it to load more heavy stuff, rinse repeat, I was at this until 4:30, after starting at 8. On the first trip the tractor had to squeeze onto the trailer behind the bush hog, leaving the weight too far behind the axles.  After almost getting thrown off the road when the trailer started weaving at 27 mph, I drove the 15 miles into town at under 20 mph. Things went more smoothly after learning that lesson.

Jackie picked Annaliese up from school, and then kept both our kids, along with her two, all day.

We had her and the girls over for a pizza dinner.  A paltry thank you, but having these kind of friends: one of the many reasons we've decided we love living in a small town.

Today we turned Alexe's produce run into a family trip, sans Annaliese, who was at school.  Caspian ate three bananas, after two large breakfasts, and then had lunch at 11:20.  

The last night of soccer.  Caspian, and the team he barely made an effort to play with.  He sure loved the snacks after each game though.

Annaliese got it this year.  The games weren't very well organized, but in between the chaos she got a few great break aways, a couple goals, and lots of high fives.

Tomorrow we close on the new land, and we have a couple coming to see our blue house in the afternoon.  Wouldn't that be perfect.