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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And Then There Were Three

Blue was sleeping on the front porch swing when Karen and I went off to the post office and to visit our mothers in assisted living this afternoon. When we came back, he was gone, and hasn't returned.

This morning, we saw a coyote at the top of the field behind our house. I walked across the field to chase him off - a big dog with large ears. He retreated to the trees atop a small hill and watched me, then sauntered off. I'm sure he's the coyote who took Tigger and Ricky last week and Blue today. I grieve for our lost cats, but I just can't fault the coyote. The cats were taken while hunting mice; the coyote took them while hunting for food. It's what they did; it's what they do.

We first met Blue on a visit out here about 14 years ago. He was a large, long young cat, full of himself. Karen's mother kept the house windows open so Blue could come and go. He hunted by day and by night, his lilac point coat glowing in the moonlight. Throughout the years, we were surprised he'd survived so long. 

When we moved to this old house, we brought Blue into the house from the garage, where he slept with the remainder of Karen's mother's cats while we lived in an apartment. Blue slept on the bed with us, but got up early to catch his own breakfast. He had a talented tongue, leaving a mouse or shrew's gut pile on the doorstep, but nothing more. His favorite "dish," however, was chipmunk. He'd go walking with us up in the hills on our place, three miles at his peak, about a mile yesterday. He'd gotten slower, and rested more often, stopping at the bottom spring and every puddle for a drink. 

During the past two years, Blue had developed diabetes, and it dragged on him. Every day we gave him two doses of Lantus, a long-lasting form of insulin, which I'd used before going on an insulin pump. He drank water all night, pulling the water dish across the kitchen, upending it, and lapping water from the kitchen floor. And ate more and more, going through about three small cans of Friskies pate every day. In recent weeks, his rear legs grew weaker, and he had a bit of palsy in a front leg, but he loved going for walks and he loved hunting.

Early this past winter, anticipating his mortality, I dug a grave for Blue in the front garden. I'll fill it in this weekend.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Absent Friends

Today, Karen and I got back from  a week in Portland, our first vacation in seven years. Upon our return, Karen called her son, who was house/cat sitting for us while we were away. He told us that he hadn't seen Tigger, my mother-in-law's brown tabby, since we left on Thursday, and hadn't seen Ricky, our orange tabby, since Friday morning. They must have been taken by a coyote.

Tigger was a funny little cat, with a long, thin tail, tiny paws, and a missing fang that gave him kind of a Billy Idol sneer. Before Karen's mother went into assisted living, Tigger loved sleeping on her lap as Jean rested in her old rocking chair. As Jean developed dementia and forgot to clean out the many sand boxes scattered around her house for her eight cats, Tigger began spraying in protest. After Karen and I discarded the carpet and cleaned and painted the house, Tigger and another cat - a latecomer that came down the valley from another family - were banished to the garage, where we bedded them down every night. Tigger did enjoy sitting on our laps whenever we'd sit on a porch swing or front-yard bench. He'd also go for walks with us up in the hills, meowing the whole way, whether in protest or enjoyment. Now, he's gone.

So is Ricky, my favorite cat. Ricky came to live with us in Laramie,showing up on our back porch. He was skinny, had a hernia, had been shot with a BB that lodged under his skin, had a broken tail tip, and had had his front claws clumsily removed. Ricky suffered from skin allergies, which drove him to pull out fur near the base of his tail about every six weeks, and for which he received depo medrol shots. And we twice had to have him treated for an anemic blood disorder he'd inherited, probably from his mother. But he was a joyous cat. On the drive from Wyoming to Idaho he sat behind my driver's seat with his head perched on the center console; he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Ricky slept on the bed with us, curling up into the small space between our pillows, getting up early to give himself a good wash-up. And in the evenings, he'd crawl into my lap and rolling around, looking up at me, before settling down for a long nap. Ricky was the only one of our six cats that would sleep on my lap, and I will miss him. 

Now, we're down from six cats to four. In late July, we'll be moving our remaining cats to a new house away from the coyote's hunting field, where Ricky had become an accomplished mouser. I'd like to think he was enjoying himself before he vanished from our lives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Show Me the Money!

After a couple of delays and several skirmishes with a calculator to determine how much money we'd already sunk into building our new house, today Karen and I initialed and signed the ream of paper required for closing on our construction loan. Thanks to Sarena at Global Credit Union and Rhonda at First American Title Co., it wasn't as harrowing an experience as it had been when purchasing our houses in Maryland and Wyoming. Tomorrow I drive back out to Coeur d'Alene to deliver the rest of our contribution to the actual cost of construction. Then, it's back to ordering appliances, flooring, lighting, etc., so we have it all ready when the house is delivered sometime in June. There's a certain lightness of being after emptying your bank account.

No excavation work yesterday due to heavy rainfall, but when we got back today from the title company, we saw that Lish was back on the job, backfilling the foundation, laying and compacting gravel on the garage pad in preparation for another concrete pour, and bringing in the backhoe for tomorrow's work - filling the electrical trench and digging in the septic field; there's a pile of plastic pipe just waiting for interment.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Surviving the Tour

I was looking forward to and dreading today for about two months.When I'd signed up for the Tour de Cure, Spokane, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, I'd promised myself that I'd hit the bike hard, racking up the miles and fitness. Didn't happen. The rainy spring and process of building a house prevented me from hitting my 500-mile target. So, I started the tour with fewer than 200 miles in my legs. If I'd been smarter, I'd have looked at the route map and ramped up the mileage no matter what. But, I was smart enough to dial back my intention to ride the 50-mile route in favor of the 25-mile route.

25 miles? No sweat. Normally. But the folk who laid out the Tour de Cure routes built in some brutal climbs that slowed me down to 4 mph and some sweet descents that, at 41 mph, nearly made up for the climbs.

Nearly 200 riders took part in today's Tour de Cure. Those of us with diabetes are known as "Red Riders" and were given special jerseys to wear during the ride. Every time I was passed (which was pretty often), the overtaking rider called out "Go Red Rider," and at the finish, the small crowd of greeters welcomed me with "Good ride, Red Rider"!

A few thoughts:

  • The event was really well organized
  • The route was well planned and signed
  • The route marshals were attentive
  • The Red Rider jerseys by Primal Wear fit well and looked good
  • The after-ride chow was tasty and thoughtful
  • The band at the after-ride party rocked
  • Everyone was really nice
  • I was inspired by the 7-year-old diabetes patient who started the race in the front row on his unicycle
  • I was able to encourage the mother of an 8-year-old daughter with diabetes that cycling will make her stronger (her dad was in the ride, and next year they're going to do the short family ride together).
  • I'm looking forward to next year's Tour de Cure
  • Thanks to everyone who sponsored my ride, to Dr. Ed Detar who saved my life by removing my pancreas, to the staff at Kootenai Medical Center during my stays, to Krista and the gang at the Kootenai Diabetes and Endocrinology Center in Coeur d'Alene, and to my wonderful wife, Karen, who kept me alive and motivated during my recoveries. Love you. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Loading Up the Juice

 7 a.m., and here comes Kootenai Electric Cooperative. Seemingly every truck they own. A bucket truck, a pole truck, a pickup truck, and a backhoe. Mayhem ensues. Backhoe digs a hole for the first telephone pole; water wells up from the spring seepage along Cable Creek. The pole won't stabilize and needs rock or gravel to help set the pole. I call a neighbor who offers up a mound of broken concrete from his place. Three bucket loads later - and a bit of anxiety on the part of the neighbor's mastiff - the post hole is filled and tamped solid. The second pole, on the west side of the creek, draws no water. Easy peasy.

The bucket truck goes into action, cross-trees are bolted onto the poles, and wires are strung between them.  The power module is set into place at the first switchback in our driveway, and the transformer near the home site is prepped.

 From conduit sweeps at the module, a cord is shot up the conduit to the transformer using a vacuum, much like a bank. drive-through deposit tube. The cord is attached to a thick power cable wound around a spool on the cable truck and winched down through the conduit to the module. 

When that's done, the cable truck rolls down to the module and the process of cable pulling begins again, blowing a cord up to the module from the telephone pole and winched back down to the pole.

The wiring will be finished early next week after additional excavation work on Monday - backfilling the foundation and trench, digging the power line trench from the transformer to the house; digging the water line from the well to the house; digging the line from a propane tank to the fireplace input; and digging out the septic field. Then, Kootenai Electric will turn on the power - shoot me the juice, Bruce!

Closing on the construction loan is Monday.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moving at Warp Speed

After months and months of planning, the house construction is moving along at warp speed. The foundation is done! On Monday, the Foundation Kings finished pouring the foundation walls, through the forms and over the rebar and vents. The forms came down yesterday, and the Kings debarked for their construction castle. Meanwhile, Stratford Construction set up for temporary power in preparation for today's work.

Kootenai Electric Cooperative was up on our place to start the electrical work. They delivered the power module, installed the transformer, and dropped off the line truck and two telephone poles. Tomorrow morning, they'll install the poles, run the wire through the conduits that are already in place in the line trench, and hook up the temporary power, which will be switched on after Lish Excavating finishes the foundation and trench backfill on Monday.

The actual construction of the housing modules starts up in the Stratford factory on June 4.

In the meantime, we've been working with Global Credit Union to finalize our construction loan (scanning and e-mailing a whole host of documents and receipts for house-oriented purchases we've made so far); we'll probably be signing the closing documents tomorrow. Yay!

And, we've been shopping for countertops for two of the three bathrooms (the third will have a pedestal sink). This is what we're looking out right now.  It's called "Blue Fire." Really nice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Foundation Kings Play Songs of Cement

It's 6 a.m.Saturday, and quiet for a while. But I'm expecting the Foundation Kings to come rolling in soon for their third day on our house project.

They came on site 10 a.m. Thursday, dropped off two flatbeds of stakes, boards, panels, rebar, module ties, vents, shovels, floats, tool belts. and a wheelbarrow. "We'll be back in two hours," said Cory, the Foundation King himself. Four hours later, no Cory. I assumed there had been a palace coup in Foundatia. But, at 2 p.m., they came back - Cory, Sam (the Foundation Prince), and Henry (the Foundation Jester - a small, lazy blue-heeler, who spent all of his time under a flatbed.

It only took a couple of hours for them to lay out the footings forms and rebar, and ready the foundation panels. Break for the day.

I woke early yesterday, waiting for the Foundation Kings to ride up and build the footings forms. Suddenly, a Knife River cement truck appeared at the bottom of our driveway, and I panicked. Hopping on my ATV, I raced up the building site - and there they were, the king, the prince, and the jester, and the footings forms were all built and ready to go. Somehow, they'd gotten past me and done their job quickly and efficiently. Knife River Brian maneuvered his truck into place, dropped the cement chute, and started pouring mud as Cory the King scooped it into the forms. Prince Sam was a master with a float, filling, smoothing, and transferring excess to the next form in line. Henry stayed in the shade.

The rhythm was impressive: move the truck, swivel the chute, scoop the mud, float the cement, insert rebar, start over in another spot. They worked around the perimeter of the house and the garage, leaving the center piers until last; the chute couldn't reach these, but a wheelbarrow could. Sam got wheelbarrow duty (well, he is just the prince). Pour, load, dump. Cory was on float. Henry didn't move. With five feet to go, it became clear that there just wasn't enough mud in the cement mixer. Knife River Brian shut down the truck and started hosing down the chute using the truck's internal water tank. Sam began shoveling over-pour, into the empty forms. Still not enough.

On Monday, the empty footings forms will be filled through the foundation forms - to be erected today - and the foundation work will be done.

More good news yesterday. Materials aren't yet available for a commercial job just before us in the queue for factory construction. If things go right for us, work on our house proper will begin mid-May rather than early June. If that holds, we could take possession in late July rather than mid-August. Wow. Time to start ordering flooring and lighting and, not much farther down the road, appliances.

Moving right along.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ricky and the Mouse

 When Ricky came to live with us in Laramie, he was skinny, had a broken tail tip, a BB under his skin, a hernia from where he'd been kicked, and was afraid of Karen and me. And, his front claws had been removed. He was a physical mess, but after a few years he's filled out, been repaired - no claw reconstruction - and has grown emotionally. He's the only cat who sleeps on my lap and loves making up to strangers. And, he's become a pretty good mouser. Yesterday I saw him walking across our driveway to the front yard with a mouse in his mouth. I went over to look, as did three others of

our cats. The mouse was still alive - actually seemed to be pretty good shape; Ricky has the soft mouth of a Labrador retriever - but was surrounded by three cats. Ricky just lay on the grass with the mouse off to the left of his right paw; Tigger, a skinny tabby sat behind the mouse; Pete, a long-haired black cat sat a few feet away; and Blue, our old part-Siamese kept circling the whole group.

So, I decided to rescue the mouse. This was not an Androcles and the lion moment. When the mouse's head was turned away from me, I reached down for it and, with remarkable speed, it turned and bit me. I flung the mouse off and went into the house to clean
the wound (antiseptic soap, antiseptic gel, antibiotic                                                                   ointment) and check mouse bites on the Internet; not a problem as long as it's kept clean. 
And, as I looked out the window there was only one cat on the lawn under the trees. Blue. And he was chewing. Good for him.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Look What the CAT Dug Out

We have a new topographical feature on our ranch. I call it Mt. Dirt, a man-made pile of topsoil, clay and crushed granite that looms over our newly-dug home foundation

The action began early this morning when a flatbed arrived to drop off septic pipe and electrical conduit and nearly dropped off our culvert into Cable Creek. Fortunately, the weight of the truck compensated for the spinning right front wheel of the cab, and it lurched across our bridge and moseyed up our driveway to the building site. Then, time stood still for a couple of hours. Inaction ruled the morning.

At noon, Scott Dawson, our building site manager, arrived to set up a silt fence on the west edge of the big dig. County requirement, though there's no water on the western side of our building site for silt to slide into. A half-hour later, a flatbed hauling a big CAT backhoe and a trailer with a trenching attachment inside pulled up to the intersection of the county road and our driveway. Much maneuvering. Then, the CAT was driven off the flatbed, across the culvert, and up the road, led by Scott and escorted by me on my ATV. I pulled around to the head of the convoy, and glanced back over my left shoulder at the first switchback; the CAT was gone. I looked over my right shoulder, and it was climbing the hill to our home site like, well, a cat.

I got to the homesite just before the CAT, which soon swung into action, digging along the spray-painted outline of the house and garage. Two hours later, the foundation space for the house was excavated and the foundation line around the garage slab was dug out. We lost one modest-sized pine and a few small sarvisberry bushes, along with a handful of old tree stumps. But, we gained a foundation.

After changing the CAT digging head, Lisch Excavation started digging the electrical/telephone wire trench. I had no idea how deep and wide the trench would be.

Not the Grand Canyon, but pretty impressive. They got most of the way down the hill, trenching and laying conduit and wire, before stopping for the day. Lisch will finish up and Kootenai Electric Cooperative will inspect their work tomorrow. The excavation is drying quickly, and concrete could be formed and poured by close of business Thursday. Moving right along.

Some day, Mt. Dirt will be nothing more than backfill.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Morels That Grow in the Spring, Tra-la

The first morels of the season. Just as happened last year, Karen found the first one. Small first-day harvest, but the ground is still mostly cold and damp. Unlike last year, we found these on the western slope of our hills; last year, they were all on the northern slope. With any luck, we'll have a great morel year once the ground begins to warm. These beauties will be part of tonight's supper, sauteed in butter and served with huckleberry-glazed pork chops (thanks for the marmalade, Erin), steamed broccoli, and vine-ripened (but store-bought) tomatoes.

The rain has been good for our meadows and hills, but has caused a minor delay in home construction. Excavation had been set to begin tomorrow, but now will begin on Monday - rain or shine. Yesterday, we paid the first 40 percent of construction costs and picked up the construction schedule. If all goes well, we'll have walk-through and final inspection mid-August. There's a good chance we'll be spending our 32nd wedding anniversary (August 31) moving in.