Slipforming, part 6 – The latest rock project

This post follows “Slipforming, part 5 – Dad’s initial view.”  For a complete list of links to all slipforming posts on this blog, click here.

Whenever cement was delivered for sidewalks, or a stairway, it always seems that there was cement left over.  In one case, the cement company had a full yard of extra cement that they would give me, if I could take it.  Of course I would take it, I said.  This meant quickly slapping together forms in a variety of places where cement would not be a regrettable addition.  Consequently, I ended up with an odd extra outbuilding that had cement walls around the exterior up to approximately five foot high.  The walls were ugly, as we were in a hurry to pour the cement and always had the other “original” project, which needed finishing with fresh cement, too.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just cover it with rock later. 

Well, later has arrived.  This spring, we had MRA Construction put a roof on the building and I am very, very pleased with it.  Milan, the owner, was also my drum instructor in high school, so he knew what to expect and was exceedingly patient as I explained that I wanted a special roof line.  We have double glass doors that view this shed, and I did not want to be looking out at an albatross every time I passed those doors.  The extra curve in the roof adds a whimsical detail that I am thrilled to see.  It was definitely worth the small bit of extra labor and materials.

So, with the roof completed, it was time to address the siding.  Ken suggested we try a different method of doing the rock work – namely by smoothing the joints of cement.  This is unlike the finishing technique I used on the main house.  On the main house, the joints are rough.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate a more “polished” finish, it was that I had my plate full learning how to do the rockwork and anyone suggesting I not only learn it, but learn to do it beautifully on the very first project, would have been limping home…smarter for the experience. 

Ken, to his credit, was persistent.  He really, really, really wanted it to look good.  So, I opted to try smoothing the joints immediately after removal of the slip forms.  This proves to those of you trying this method that adding the extra finish is not only easy, but highly worth the extra trouble, because you will not have to revisit the joints later to grout them.

So, here’s the short sheet on this process.  1)  You pour the rock and cement in between the forms, with the rocks cinched up close to the leading edge, cement oozing behind and between the rocks.  2)  You leave the cement to cure for 4-5 hours (depending on the weather).  I’m talking about Rocky Mountain summers and falls.  I’m also talking about a medium-stiff batch of cement to begin with.  If you are pouring soup into the forms, it may take a little longer. 

3)  You remove the forms.  Your result will look very rough, like shown in this photo, at right.  Don’t panick.  At this point, you will scrape, with the back of a hammer, or with your husband’s new iPod (just kidding) the extra cement off the rocks. 

 4) You will leave a smooth joint that can then be left to finish curing.  You do not need to do anything else to this concrete if you are happy with the joints.  If they still appear rough, you can take a paint brush (a stiff one), add some water and paint over the joints. 

 When you finish, you will be left with joints that look beautiful and you will exclaim, “Wow!  That was easier than it looks!”

Out here, we are racing the weather.  It’s cooler each day as we approach winter.  I had high hopes of completing this shed before spring so that I can add a chicken pen to the north side of it and have fresh eggs soon.  I’m not sure that I will hit my marks on completion time.  I had counted on a teenage boy’s help.  That was my first mistake!  (Just kidding, again.  Ben has been a fine helper.  He’s just very busy in school, tennis, contemplating his navel,…you know, the hard life of being a teen. 

I keep telling him, this will be a GREAT skill to carry into his adult life.  He will be able to build his family a fabulous home with the knowledge he’s gained.  Instead, he’s still hoping to win the lottery and hire others to do such work.  Toward that end, I wish him luck.  It didn’t pan out for me and I ended up doing it myself.  But, if he can make it work, who am I to stop him?

Here’s a shot of Ben chipping off the unwanted cement.  The extra cement, which falls into his hands, is still wet enough to shove into gaps along the seams between the rocks.  The old saying, “Waste not, want not,” is true around here.  If you look below Ben, you will see the older, cured cement with the finished, smooth seams. 

Lastly, if you have the unfortunate experience of having any rocks pop out as you are removing the forms, don’t panick.  If it is just one rock, it can be re-glued into place using a masonry glue made for the purpose.  In all the rock work we have done, we have had less than three rocks pop out, and usually it was along the very top edge where I did not apply enough cement to adhere the rock into place.  Use the glue, replace the rock, let it cure properly and then mortar around it as usual.  *Save the rock that falls out.  It will fit the hole perfectly.  If you try to fit another rock, you might regret it later when the replacement sticks out of place and draws attention to your accident. 

Hope this helps on your wonderful projects!  I will try to post photos of the finished project once we have completed it, which does not look like it will be the fall of 2009!

To see “Slipforming, part 7 – “Murphy’s Law, a constant companion,” click here.

Band pants and abortions

Emergency hem job? Or unknown new kid in the school drum section?

If you like the teenage drama series, you’ll appreciate this. My husband, Ken, was gone last week, and conveniently for him, everything went to heck as soon as the airplane door was fastened securely shut. This was lucky for him because, had I known, I would have pried the door open and plucked him out to help, fending off air marshalls if necessary. That not being an option landed all subsequent drama onto my shift, which was unfortunate.

When we first married, we divided child care 50/50. I called the first 10 years, he got the second. I got paperwork, he got yucky stuff. On both counts, age and yuckiness, the events of this week should have fallen squarely on his shift. But noooo. He was sitting on a plane at 40,000 feet debating the relative merits of peanuts versus pretzels while I was suffering the pangs of parenting teens.

The week progressed with the usual doses of tantalizing ups and downs including our daughter’s prom drama (a riveting story unto itself), son’s first lovelife hitting the skids and housekeeping necessarily being thrown out the window. By Tuesday, it was clear that Martha Stewart did not live here anymore. By Wednesday, it appeared the landfill had been relocated to our living room.

Striving for order, I fought back against the laundry first, hauling a dump truck load of dry cleaning (debate suits for the kids) to the cleaners which is an hour away round trip.

This, I thought, was brilliant on my part because we were well in advance of needing these suits again. I was busy congratulating myself on my forward thinking when son Ben came strolling home from school making noise about a band concert…that night.

Band concerts, as all varsity parents know, require that the kids wear…dress pants…which I had just hauled to Delta because I was unaware of the band concert. The alternative blue jeans will result in an F in band, subsequent unemployability, and a lengthy layover living at home after high school. Becoming quite stern with him (yelling), I asked why I was hearing about it so late. Ben calmly assured me that his teacher gave him the notice a week ago, but that he lost it, or forgot it, or insert teen-excuse-of-your-choice here, because, by now, I had pushed the “mute” button and could only see his lips moving – no sound. 

Not a problem, he assured me – he would wear his debate clothes.  So, I told him to indulge me and to produce what he intended to wear. Confidently he strides out of the room and I hear rustling in his room, rustling in the t.v. room, rustling in my room, rustling in the attic, the cars, the laundry room, the bathroom, the shower stalls, the toilet tanks, the dog crates, the truck, the goat pen, and finally, he comes in and asks me, calmly, like nothing is the matter, if I might have seen his debate clothes.  Oh yes, I reply.  I did see them…all.  And I picked them all up, and I hauled them all to the cleaners. 

A brief wave of panic crosses his face, and then he replied, “Well, I’ll just run to Farmer Franks and buy another pair of pants.”  Yes, yes.  Great idea.  Except that it is Wednesday – and they are closed on Wednesdays.  Panic returns to his face. He glances at his watch and grimaces.  He does not have time to run to Wal-Mart.  Real panic begins to bubble.  The thrift store?  They hardly have anything in his size.  He’s now in a real pitch when my mom and dad walk into the house.  What’s going on? Dad asks sensing the tension, to which I ask if abortion is still an option.

“How far are you along?” he asks, with eyebrows arched.  Sixteen years, I answer.  “Hmmm,” he ponders.  “Yes, I think Obama just signed a bill permitting it.” 

Ben ended up wearing a pair of Dad’s pants to the band concert.  Cannot believe how lucky guys-covering-for-guys can be.  My dad measures four foot in the torso with two-foot-long legs.  Ben’s measurements are the reverse of that. Good thing Ben is a drummer.

I forgot to mention – Hotchkiss is having another band concert soon.  I hear the last one was a riot.  Some drummer was wearing an over-sized suit jacket with capris.  I, of course, have never heard of him.  Didn’t even know he attended school here….Ben? Ben who???

Farm funeral director wanted

Coyotes are notoriously unpredictable farm funeral directors. They rarely take the right bodies, preferring registered young stock over those about to die.

A few years ago, I was kidding a friend who was complaining about his wife. I told him that if he and his

wife did not work out, that Grace-the-goat would have fallen for him with no concern for pre-nuptial agreements, unless they tasted good. Another goat, Matilda, would have fallen for him too, but instead she fell over dead.  I would have noticed something was up if she didn’t always act that way.  She was the one that I thought was brain damaged from late horn removal by a previous owner. 

My main criteria for determining a brain-damaged goat was that whenever the whole herd went right, this one stupid goat went left. When they all easily came in for grain, she stood outside in the rain. When all the other goats were eager to be milked, this one made an event out of it. Anyway, we did not expect to lose her and it was a shock to my daughter, Heidi, and probably to Matilda, too!
It also brought up that our resident farm funeral director, Dad, was unable to complete the normal dad-duties of disposing of dead livestock with the tractor claiming “I had a massive stroke. I cannot do it.” We all know this is a lame excuse, but since he can get half of his face to droop, when none of the rest of us can do that – despite valiant attempts – he succeeded in avoiding the duty. Now, looking back, I think he would reconsider and the rest of us would have tried harder to mimic a stroke.

I thought applying for this position would be highly competitive, so I admit I glamorized my resume. Yes, I have driven the tractor on a number of occasions. No, I do not rev the engine for grins except in extreme cases. Yes, I know where reverse gear is. Apparently those were outstanding skills for this position and I, over my husband and son, was promoted. Funny thing…I caught a glimpse of my husband’s resume and he denied ever seeing a tractor before. Said he had a hair appointment and was prone to driving on two wheels. Only the last part is true. Clearly he preferred his day job. My son was little at the time, so the qualified applicant pool was disappointingly narrow.

Farm funeral director promotions apparently do not come with balloons and supermarket sheet cake. The announcement was met with dread by all who attended. Mom seemed to think that my lack of tractor-bucket operating skills would be a disadvantage. The only one really excited about the affair was the family dog, but, in fairness, she gets excited herding ants on the sidewalk. A farm funeral was a definite upgrade for her.
Sensing the promotion ceremony had ended, I went out to the pasture and attempted to scoop Matilda up into the bucket no less than three times when, in a fit of anger, I backed up the tractor, put it in high gear and charged toward the dead goat with the bucket in low position. 

Mom, heard the commotion and arrived just as I sent the dead goat flying – still unloaded in the bucket. She then insisted on helping Heidi and I manually load Matilda into the bucket.  It’s a good thing there are no funeral requirements regarding compassionate care toward this client because if there were, I violated most of them.
Once loaded with legs bouncing from atop the rim of the bucket,
Heidi and I proceeded to drive the tractor up to the old animal cemetery, where for convenience no holes are dug. Digging holes required more tractor skill than I had amassed.  As the tractor groaned up the hill, I found a slight ravine which looked perfect to dump a goat.  I noticed that the tractor gained momentum down that slight grade and worried a little about getting back out.  I remember old man Whittaker getting pinned by a tractor and yelling for nearly the whole day before his wife found him.  Why do thoughts like these always come up when you would least like to think about them?
Anyway, I “layed to rest” Matilda with a thud and I attempted to back up. Before I was done, I had nearly pulled a Whittaker myself. I hated this new position of mine, vowing to give multi-vitamins early and often and to haul any wistful looking animals to the local livestock auction quickly to reduce future funerals on my shift.
In all the years of living on the ranch, I never knew that Dad’s job as funeral director of the animals was so terrifying, or that it required so many skills. I stand impressed at his talent and would gladly pass the baton to some other willing funeral director. The entire family would probably agree that would be a good idea.
If interested in the position, apply with tractor and nose-plugs to our
living room and don’t expect a lot of pay. Bring your own supermarket sheet cake and balloons because I will celebrate!

Brandy Swamp Juice at day 29

Evidence of primordial life? Poison? Or incredible football beverage?

This post follows “Brandy, the new hobby.”  To view that post, click here.

Well, I do believe I’ll be feeding the first batch of brandy to Ken and his football buddies.  To call this batch “unappetizing” would be an understatement.  It is a murky blend of decomposing apricots,   The poor apricots look like aging women in there…losing their perky forms and digressing into blobs of soft pulp.  Yes, AARP is not hiring me as a marketing rep.  And the brandy institute is not interested in my skills, either.

For those of you interested in following the brandy experiment, I guess it is important to know that the fruit supposedly begins to ferment at 28 days.  Hmmm.  28 days sounds familiar.  Oh, yes, that’s coincidentally the same length of time it takes women to develop a “change in character,” too.  You can disregard that last statement as brandy consumption and PMS are rarely related, except in extreme cases.

As I spin the gallon jar around, the bodies of the apricots look like lifeless eyeballs in a high school science teachers lab.  Mind you, this is in direct contrast to the crabapple brandy.  The crabapple brandy looks great!  Clear liquid, still perky bodies at 28 days – very tasty looking indeed.  (That’s the one I’ll try…three days after Ken and his buddies try batch number one. )  If Ken is grabbing his stomach and moaning in pain, I’ll blame it on the nachos, but I may delay drinking my portion…indefinitely.

Ken, I might add, views this concoction every morning as he makes his coffee.  In the last two days, he’s been eyeballing this “stew”  with concern, if not downright suspicion. 

“I’m not drinking that!” he said this morning. 

“It’s not ready yet,” I answered.  “It needs filtered, and, uh, well, strained, and,…”

“In two months, there will be primordial life in there!” he interrupted.  “There’s no way you’ll get a bunch of football guys to drink that!” 

Obviously, we have a difference of opinion on how much attention guys watching a football game pay to what they are drinking.    I will have reached a new high if I can command the attention away from a touchdown to the relative merits, or pitfalls, of this beverage.  Of course, if I do, Ken will have reached a new low, too, being fired as football host.  Hahaha!

Seriously, I am noticing a distinct downfall of the web…not having anyone close enough to look at this mess and tell me that 1) I’ve ruined it and it’s poisonous now; or 2) It’s supposed to look this way, and 3) to take the first sip as proof of their confidence.

For those of you entertaining making brandy, I would stress a couple things I have learned from this experiment the hard way.  First, I’ve never met a gallon jar full of liquid that one could seal sufficiently to turn upside down on a counter without regretting it later.  Second, covering the jar with plastic wrap before putting the lid on to seal it is an idea propped up by the plastic wrap industry.  They lie.  Of course, you can do it, and it may improve the seal…but it is – in no way – a guarantee that your syrupy, brandy mixture will not leak all over your counter, down your cabinets and onto the floor and cause your family dog to walk funny. (O.K., that last part was an exaggeration!  The dog was not that interested in my brandy mixture, either.  Hmmm, that’s perplexing.)

Also, there is another difference between the two batches.  Since the apricot brandy jar was leaking, I removed the lid and replaced the plastic wrap somewhere around day 20.  I was impressed by the smell, but perhaps the air tightness might have something to do with the development???  If any of you out there know, please add a comment onto this post.  Preferably before Ken’s football buddies arrive in late October/early November and start complaining about…the nachos. 

After that, just disregard the newspaper headlines….And in 10 years, that “Women in Prison” television show will present an episode with a woman who looks a lot like me.  Mere coincidence….I’ll be in Mexico hiding out.

To fast forward another 30 days in this experiment, click here.

The “other” side of “Cash for Clunkers”

Son Ben was the first to complain about the “Cash for Clunkers” program being counterproductive.  Frankly, not being in the market for clunkers, I did not “feel his pain,” but now I do.

Ben is 16.  He drives a 1981 Toyota Corolla.  The car is a decade older than him.  It was what he could afford.  He paid for it in cash from money he’d earned, been given as gifts and saved along the way.  The $1,100 purchase price was HUGE to him.  It could have been a million dollars from his young view.  I’m ashamed to admit that we all kidded Ben about his big purchase.  When he called his car a “bullet”  we called it his “bomb.”  Big sister did NOT want to ride in it for fear that it would ruin her reputation.  With no radio, no heater, an odd smell and questionable wipers, no one except Nana was eager to take the first ride.

Ben, the poor kid, had worked so hard to be responsible, to only buy what he could afford, to love it and treat it like a Bentley, and he was rewarded with our laughter.  We should all be ashamed…But not his dad.  Ken thought that Ben driving an ancient car was important.  “He needs to learn to work hard to better his position in life,” said Ken.  “He needs to know that things are not handed to him on a platter,” he said.  “He needs to develop a work ethic so he can provide for his family,” he would say. 

And so the lessons have been underway for a year when Ben’s clutch went out.  It was expected.  A car that old cannot run without a menagerie of broken parts – which, translated, means that whenever Ben got his savings account up to $200, or $300, he’d get a car problem that cost $500.  So when Ben said he wanted to upgrade his car, I offered to help him in his hunt.  That was before I had considered that the Cash for Clunkers government program had encouraged people to take in old cars and get ridiculous prices ($4,500+) for old vehicles, only for those vehicles to be destroyed.

“It will clean up the environment,” said the President.  “It will help the economy,” said other leaders. 

They’re all wet.  From Ben’s perspective, they have removed the affordable cars out of the marketplace for young men like him to buy, repair, learn from, and drive until they can upgrade.  They removed the cars that the insurance companies charged less to insure.  They removed the cars that had affordable registrations.  Now, those cheap cars are scarce.  Instead of easily finding a car for $2,000-$2,500, the upgrade cars start at $4,000.  This steep price jump forces young bucks like Ben to accept ”borrowing,” from dubious sources for depreciating assets.  Hmmm.  That’s an odd lesson for government to endorse.  Especially in this economy when those who live within their means should be applauded.  What were they thinking?  Get rid of the clunkers – remove the reachable goal for young boys.  After all, every 16 year old needs a $10,000 car, right?  And, at 16, if they get that far into debt, how will their college tuition get paid?  By borrowing, that’s how.  Methodically, our high school children are being desensitized to debt.  How will they learn fiscal responsibility?  How will they recognize what government is doing wrong? 

So, I search the classified, the salvage titles, the back-door entry into automobile ownership for a kid that wishes he wasn’t stuck in a clap-trap of a car.  And as all those clunkers get smashed, replacement parts for cars like Ben’s will become more and more expensive.  Why didn’t the congressmen think of that?  Are they all so accustomed to driving higher end cars that they forgot what it’s like to be 16 again?  Or, did all the congressmen’s parents buy them their first cars?  Perhaps that would explain the lack of guilt in spending OPM (other people’s money).

So, I apologize for this post not being “funny” as the title of this blog suggests.  I just sometimes feel that as a parent trying to raise a responsible adult – someone who will NOT be a drain on the system – that the government decision makers are  just not being that helpful. 

Heidi went off to Los Angeles for a debate camp and was accosted with those who view the government allocations to educating the poor as hopelessly inadequate.  She finally got a belly full of this tripe and asked one attendant if the local libraries in their town charged admission.  “Well, no,” the kid said.  Heidi then reminded this kid that some of the best educators in the world – the most expensive speakers who have ever lived – offer their insights for free at local libraries.  “Education is free in the U.S.,” she said, “Just most people are too lazy to go get it!”  Of course, that went over like a lead balloon.  But she speaks from the heart and from her own experience.  When Ken and I were first married and I could not get hired, I went to the library and checked out countless books on finance, real estate, pitfalls of money management, etc.  That education will never show up on a transcript, but a shrewd businessman would be a fool not to hire me because of my lack of a degree – the education I received was superb – and exceeded much of what is taught in colleges.  The fact that I got it from a library showed incredible initiative.  I made sure that my kids knew that beyond cars, and colleges, there is always another way to make your dreams come true.  It might take extra work, but it’s not “someone else’s fault” if your life doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped.  And no amount of government spending can change that.

Out with the goats, in with the Grass Carp…Ugh!

Skinny-dipping anyone?

Well, we are less than 24 hours without goats and the withdrawl symptoms hit Ken.  Actually, it was just lucky timing.  We have a pond that has been a money pit.  It got all gunked up with gloppy, gross crud including a floating crust.  Ken hired a smiling tractor guy to dig it out and the ensuing stench left the air nearby smelling worse than a sewer for nearly a month. That was nearly a decade ago.  Then, Ken looked into getting grass carp. 

Grass Carp are a regulated fish because they eat virtually anything that does not eat them first – which makes them a hazard to all other fish because they eat literally everything and then the native fish die.  Ken invited the Division of Wildlife folks out and he filled out a bunch of forms.  Then, the idea got sidetracked and the fish never arrived. 

Well, yesterday he got the call and he was like an adoptive parent receiving word of a new baby.  Today, he dashed out to pick up the new babies.  They are now several years old and 18-20 inches long.  They are sterile fish, so it is unlikely I will look out there and see a school of them.  Then again, with our luck….

Supposedly, the fish will clean the pond within a year.  I’ll try to do a follow up as the pond progresses.  The biggest concerns are namely that the fish will get snagged by eagles or hawks, or just die, and secondly, that they will clean that pond so clean that Ken and Ben will skinny-dip in there.  The second risk is the most worrysome to wildlife officials.  Anyway, we have put fish into this pond before.  None have thrived.  The pond expert took a sample of the goop out of the pond and said it was a veritable delicatessen for grass carp.  I guess we’ll see.

I wonder if the fish messed in the back of Ken’s car.  I’ll probably mention it the next time we go somewhere.  Something like, “Wow, this car stinks…like FISH!” To which Ken will have a coronary and probably give an impressive tirade using various adjectives which are rarely used to describe goats.  Then again, maybe they ARE commonly used to describe goats. 

To fast forward six-weeks to see the progress on the pond, click here.   To see other comical posts from this blog, click here.

Prom is a 4-letter word

Jabbing the stickpin into the actual boy is sometimes merited.

It does cross my mind that last week, I had to do an article which said that the Pueblo mental hospital only has seven beds for the entire western slope of Colorado. Why, I could have filled all seven beds with people from my own house on prom weekend. I also note that the director of the Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center is needing $400,000 from 27 counties but she did not have a booth at the Delta High School prom. I suspect, if she had, she could have gotten donations rivaling that amount from parents. I simply cannot accept that we were alone.

Oh be Joyful

“It’s just criminal not to go riding up here more often,” I said to my friend Sarah. “Oh Be Joyful” was the name of the horse riding trail, and the Aspen trees were spectacular. The air smelled like fresh rain, and the blue sky seemed endless. It was even more special because I was taking my 26-year-old retired show horse, Twister, on the ride.

Twister in his glory years. (Photo by CAT Photography)

We set off, Sarah on Prince, and me aboard Twister, a palomino Quarter Horse. It is mountainous country and I made sure to give Twister plenty of rest breaks. We got about two miles out and were coming down this steep hill when suddenly Twister crashed to the ground, rolling his eyes back and acting, for all intents and purposes as if he were dead.

The “What’s for dinner” report card

Mothers should NEVER be allowed to goof off with their jobs. (Photo courtesy of

Pancakes…with funny faces of mustard, and a sauerkraut mustache above the smile. Ben was unamused. “Can I have syrup?” he asked, poking at it with his fork.

I’m still hearing a lot about my “What’s for dinner” report card. You see, I’m all about fairness. What’s good enough for my kids is good enough for me. This concept took an unexpected turn when Ben was in seventh grade and was happily driving his teachers bananas by not turning in assignments when due, handing in part of an assignment, and basically goofing off in class. The teachers were beside themselves. “What can we do?” they asked. That’s when the following conversation/action plan took place.