Thursday, March 31, 2011

There is a Mole (or a Few Dozen) Among Us...

Now that the snow has cleared (and will hopefully stay away), we've been walking the grounds at the new house dreaming and scheming lots of plans for the future. We'll put apple trees there to the west, blackberries on the far side of the garage, a three-part compost system behind the garage, the bonfire pit north of the chicken coop...

The established garden plot is roughly 25 feet by 12 feet, and our intentions are to expand this plot by a good section every year. This year, however, we will limit our garden production to the established plot since we have lots of things vying for our attention (like, say, all those boxes that have yet to unpack themselves - what's up with that?).

A quick view of the garden plot shows that it's in pretty good shape except for these:

Sticking your hand inside it is a rite of passage, just like in Flash Gordon.

This is an example of the few holes present in the garden (keys are included for scale). There's less than a handful of these in the actual garden space, but there's a couple dozen just like them scattered throughout the yard. In general, the hole is roughly two inches in diameter.

TMOTH initially suggested that they were caused by moles. Like anvils and dynamite, I learned all I know about moles from cartoons. This left me with an understanding that they're as big as our miniature schnauzer, have spiky noses and sometimes wear glasses. Because of that understanding, I figured that these holes were too small to be made by moles.
I forgot to mention the shovel and overalls...

A quicky Google search revealed the error of my knowledge - moles are small! Like, rat-size small! I had no idea. According to the University of Kansas Field Station website (from which the below photo originated), what we most likely have are eastern moles. They are mostly solitary (thank goodness, I had envisioned a city of moles under our property, vis a vis The Secret of NIMH) and primarily eat grubs and earthworms.

I don't understand...where are his glasses?

From speaking with local gardeners, they are also darn near impossible to get rid of. Sigh.

Up to now the only major threats I had to protect our garden from were squirrels (acquired a dog that scared off the squirrels) and the dog (acquired a garden fence that kept the dog out). I'm not battle ready when it comes to "varmints."

Apparently, there's a multitude of really nasty and questionably effective approaches to dealing with moles (pouring boiling water down the tunnels, claw traps at tunnel openings, poison), but I'm not willing to use such options due to their inhumane aspects and the fact that children and pets will be using the yard as well. This basically leaves two options...coating their tunnel openings with Castor oil (it gets on their fur, tastes bad and might give them an upset stomach which, supposedly, makes them move on) and/or getting rid of their food source.

Since their food sources are grubs and worms, this means applying some nasty chemicals to the yard (which is definitely not our preference), or applying beneficial nematodes, which are small, specialized worms that eat the grubs. Apparently, the moles won't the nematodes, which is good because the beneficial nematodes aren't exactly cheap.

Either way we better get crakin' on this problem, since we still have to address the deer and rabbit interlopers as well.


--Rational Mama

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turning Off Niagara Falls

When we were calling around to the local utility companies to change over names on the accounts for the new house, the task of calling the water department fell to me.

While the house has a septic system it is, in fact, on city water and so one Monday morning I called the water folks and gave them our names and the dates of the transfer. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked the polite county employee on the other end of the line what the average water usage was at the new house. Since the previous owners were a young couple sans children (and thus, half the size of our household, half the laundry and half the toilet flushing...), I fully expected their average usage to be noticeably under our average.

So, I was understandably floored when the average number of gallons she provided was nearly 40% more than our average at the old house.

That didn't make any sense. I expressed as much and she gave me the readings for their last four months of usage. and why would they be using so much more water than us?

TMOTH pondered how much extra watering they did of their (larger) garden, but that wouldn't have been the source for the readings shared, since they were taken in the winter. A good 10 minutes of head scratching had us no closer to a cause, so we tabled the discussion and figured we'd have our epiphany sometime after moving in to the new house.

That epiphany moment came at roughly 6:05am on our first morning in the new house. Up early that morning to get ready for work, I headed to the bathroom to take a shower. The shower is one of those riser extensions off of a claw foot tub and after a few tweaks and alterations to get the temperature just right I turned the appropriately labeled "shower" knob to the left.

Holy Niagara Falls! If you're old enough to remember the "good ol' days" of Nickelodeon and the familiar shoulder arch/facial expression of someone getting slimed, then you have a good reference for the impact the massive amounts of water had on this shower occupant. This was definitely NOT a modern, reduced water flow shower head.

Is this slime biodegradable? Because we're on a greywater system.

We had found our mystery water hog.

This shower head was definitely retro old-school in every way possible, including spray surface area and water output. Pure steel construction made us think that it's the original shower head, which would date it to around 1957. Ah, post-war American...when gluttonous consumption of resources following mandatory rationing was the norm. But an engraving at the base of the head says that it has an output of 2.5 gallons of water per minute, which is technically within modern ranges...

As invigorating as the shower was, eco-guilt got the best of me and within a few days I brought this home:
Not only is it eco-responsible, it gives you the excuse to repeatedly say "Power in your Shower!" in a Mr. T voice.

To conserve water and energy, all residential and most commercial shower heads sold in the U.S. must flow less than or equal to 2.5 gallons per minute. This criteria hit the books in 1992, and since then there's been a sort of black-market for high-output models of the past, fed by the demands of consumers who want that slime-bucket effect.

Better yet, uber-efficient shower heads identified as low flow must have an output of 2.0 gallons per minute or less. The model I chose above, according to Internet resources, has a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute which is quite sensible, especially when combined with the handy toggle button that will shut the stream down to a trickle (but keep your temperature steady) for when you're lathering and shaving.

So how is it? Slightly less invigorating but definitely less guilt-inducing. And really, who needs that kind of "I'm killing the world" guilt at 6:00am? Plus, all the resources and money we're saving will definitely allow for the shower to pay for itself within a few months.

But what to do with the old shower head? We could sell it on e-Bay to some desperate bather wanting a higher flowing shower head, but that would seem a tad bit contradictory. According to my food scale, the old shower head is close to two pounds of solid current scrap prices it could net us a whopping $1.40.

Man, think of all the things we could we do with those kinds of Benjamins!

--Rational Mama

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Operation Muffin Top

As many of you are aware, when we first started the "new house" journey, we were looking at up-sizing from our 1,600 square foot American Foursquare to a 2,000+ square foot bungalow.

The "Old" House

In this new house Sissy and Eowyn would each have their own bedroom and the two and a half bathrooms would allow plenty of privacy for all. Not to mention the extra bedroom and basement space for guests and arts/crafts. We were going to be living in high (modest) style - a room for every person and then some. We were going to be bigger and better.

But as we got further into the rationing project we realized that expanding into the bigger house was actually quite contrary to the spirit of the project. Helloooo - wasn't a big part of that project to learn to live with just enough - and not too much? Did we actually need the additional space, or did we just want it? And did we really want the extra rooms, or had society tried to convince us that we did? Just like they've tried to convince me that I want a mega-grande latte espresso every morning...(Ha! Take that society! I make my own fair-trade cup of coffee in mah house!)

"I'd like to trade these vegetable juice ration coupons for a mega-grande-latte-mocha with whip cream and an extra shot, please."

A few weeks of soul searching led us to the resolution that what we wanted was extra space. But rather than extra rooms (that would need to be heated and cleaned and furnished and...), we wanted extra outside space - to expand our gardens, add chickens to the list of household critters (and food supply), and provide a haven for the girls to play and discover nature like no city dwelling could. And, we decided, we were willing to sacrifice house size to accomplish this dream.

We would downsize.

This, my friends, is basically unheard of among our peers. Society tells us that downsizing is for retirees with empty nests, not for young, active families.

It was challenging to find the right small house/modest sized land/appropriate price combination. Most options on the market were either fixer uppers (in that scary, end-of-"The Blair Witch Project" kind of way), way too small and/or ridiculously expensive. Eventually, we found the right match (960 square feet, solid construction, 2.58 acres), and it's into this house that we moved last week.

The "New" House

Moving is always a process in patience, and for this move we had to start planning months in advance. We knew that we would be downsizing from 1620 square feet of living space (plus a full basement and walk-up attic) to 960 square feet of living space (full basement and no attic). The smaller house was efficiently designed with decent-sized closets and storage, but with an overall smaller footprint and no attic things were going to get tight, fast.

The house has only two bedrooms, so we knew the girls would be sharing the (modest) master bedroom while we took over the (very, umm..efficient) second bedroom. We knew that not all of our current furniture would fit in the new house, at least not in conventional ways. If we tried to shove all our current furnishings into the new house it'd be busting as the seems. Our house would have a muffin top.

Now, I'm not a big fan of the muffin top phenomenon. I have nothing against larger folks (indeed, I am one), but the practice of squeezing into too tight and too low pants is painful, and the jiggly extra spilling forth from the top is less than attractive. Same with the house - cramming too much furniture into too small of a space just wasn't going to be reasonable. Hence, I have no muffin top, and my house will not have one, either.

In order to make sense of it all and proceed with Operation Muffin Top we broke out the graph paper.


I went through the old house and got rough measurements of all the big furniture, then converted it to a scale of one square on the graph paper representing six inches. We then arranged, and rearranged, the furniture in the paper rooms, sketched out to scale.

And then walked away and came back a week later and arranged things again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately, these were some of the realizations we came to:
  • The good-sized kitchen and bathroom would be our "comfort" rooms - with dimensions very similar to what we were used to there would be very few issues with space and storage.
  • Getting the full upright piano to fit in the living would take some creativity.
  • There was no way our expansive dresser would fit in our would have to go in the basement while we used a smaller, old hand-me-down from when Sissy was a baby.
  • The dining table would have to loose a leaf to fit comfortably in the dining room.
  • The girls' pet rats would not be able to use a spare bedroom for their location, so arrangements would have to be made to move them into the girls' room.
  • Since there is no spare room, we would upgrade from our 12 year old sofa and purchase a new hide-a-bed model for when guests stay over.
  • The workshop space in the detached garage would become TMOTH's man-craft cave (with space for the throwing wheel, kiln and such).
  • A portion of the basement would be converted to a rough-and-ready recreation room with the old t.v., old sofa and treadmill. Plus, a desk or two for crafting.
Of course, Operation Muffin Top hit full swing during the actual move last week. We're still trying to figure out a few key pieces - every once in a while I come across a box, scratch my head and ask "Where the heck will that go?" But we're getting there.

And come late spring we will have one heck of a garage sale.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moving On

We did it.

This was the week we made the big move to the little homestead.

Moving is always such a mixed bag of emotions...the purging of belongings, packing of memories, and finding closure with the old in the midst of excitement for the new.

And in the middle of all that poetry there's boxes, boxes, boxes. Boxes to find, boxes to move, boxes to haul up/down stairs, boxes to stack in tipsy-turvy Dr. Seussical fashion and boxes to (eventually) unpack.

We're dealing with those last two descriptions right now. Oh, how I loathe the house when it's in that "forest of cardboard" phase. It's a disaster zone that gets my special kind of crazy going. We spent 15 minutes this morning searching for clean socks and underwear. Seriously.

I've managed to get a few things unpacked, but there are still plenty of boxes to go through. And some things have made it out of their boxes but haven't yet transition to their permanent homes.

Everything is in transition, really...and that includes this blog.

Over the next few weeks you'll notice some changes to the Rational Living blog. Topics du jour will begin focusing on our efforts to live more sustainably on our small acreage, rather than our rationing experiment. There will still be plenty of history lessons as we learn how to expand our home canning, make cheese, raise chickens, make household goods rather than buy them new and the like.

Over the next few weeks, though, we'll be attempting to conquer the cardboard forest. And I imagine that one of the first "new" posts will review the in's and out's of downsizing from 1620 square feet to 940 square feet.

Possession purge, anyone?

--Rational Mama