The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

March 10, 2015: We’re Pulling for You

I was so out of it yesterday that I forgot to include an update in my journal on the condition of the woman we brought back from Hernandez’s place.  She’s not out of the woods by a long stretch but her condition seems to have stabilized.  Laura patched her up as best she could on the ride back from Hernandez’s estate and then did some more long-term stuff once they returned to the farm.

I’m no doctor and I haven’t had a lot of time to talk to Laura about what she did but the injured woman has lost her left eye.  Laura dug the bone fragments out of the wound and smoothed up the rough edges of the woman’s skull.  I’m not sure I want to know how Laura did that but it had to be painful – probably will be for a long time.  Laura also stitched a couple veins shut that wouldn’t stop bleeding and then closed everything up with more than a hundred stitches.

Friend or foe, right now we’re all praying that she’ll pull through.  Well … Levi might not be, but the rest of us are.  That reminds me, he and I should have another talk.

Fortunately, the woman has been in a coma the entire time.  I’m not sure how Laura could have performed the surgery otherwise.  She’s still in a coma and Laura hopes she’ll stay that way for a while until she’s done some more healing.

The woman’s entire face is black, blue, purple and yellow.  The bruising runs down the side of her face into her neck.  It’s not a pretty sight.

Speaking of pretty sights, both Sam and Levi went back to the Larsen place to check on Melody today.  I wonder how that will turn out.

So, we have a nearly dead woman healing up in our cabin and two of my brothers potentially ready for a knock-down-drag-out over a woman neither of them really knows.  That seems about average for the new normal.

Personally, I’m thinking about the rest of the Hernandez outposts, trading with Pete for some horses, figuring out how to augment out toilet paper supply and pulling together the Union Creek community to better support one another when the vacuum left by Hernandez’s death is filled by someone or something even more evil and well-coordinated.  Oh, and there’s the unsettled manner of re-establishing the rule of law.

What a bright, sunshiny day, huh?  Call me a pessimist, I guess.  The feces seems to hit the fan (or your left hand) on a pretty regular basis in the new normal.

There are some positive things going on.

Miriam, her mother, Rachel, and Heather, are making soap.

The soap that we make is lye soap.  We make it with soft water, collected in rain barrels or from melted snow, in stainless steel pots.  The lye ruins pretty much any other kind of container.  We use a mix of 40:13 (soft water:lye).

As we slowly mix the lye into the water, the mixture gets hot and lets off fumes so we usually do this part outdoors or on the screened porch of the farm house.  We use the lids from copy paper boxes to form the soap, lining them with garbage bags.  After we line the box lids, we heat lard to 100 degrees.  The best lard is “leaf lard” from around the kidneys of the hogs we butcher.  The trickiest part is getting the lard and lye mixture to exactly the right temperatures.  The lard needs to be  at 73 degrees Fahrenheit and the lye mixture at 83 degrees.

One of the best ways to heat and cool the pans of lye and lard is to fill one side of the kitchen sink with hot water and the other side with cold water.  That allows you to dip the pans in either side to heat them or cool them as necessary.

Once the lye and lard are exactly the right temperatures, we pour the lye into the lard very slowly, stirring as we do so.  At this point, the tricky part is over and the hard part begins.  You have to stir the lye/lard mixture for 45 minutes to an hour until you can see the “tracks” of the spoon for a few seconds as you stir it through the mixture.

Once the tracks appear, the mixture is ready.  We pour it into the garbage sack-lined box lids, cover it with another garbage bag and let it sit for 24 hours.  After twenty-four hours, we cut the soap into bar-size shapes and put the bars onto old cookie sheets.  Two or three days after that, we turn the bars over.  After that … the long wait.  It takes 4-6 weeks for the soap to cure.  Anything we’re going to mill – to use for laundry or dish soap – we pull out after a week and mill it through an old cheese grater.

That has me thinking that we might be able to make our own toilet paper too.  I know the pioneer women who walked west with the wagon trains used bits of cloth.  That would be another alternative.  Those pieces of cloth could be washed with our lye soap.  That would make them re-usable.  The lye soap seems to do a pretty good job killing bacteria.

Then again, bacteria-related illness probably killed more pioneers than Indians and bandits combined.  We know more about sanitation now, but managing the risk of disease is certainly still a concern.

Limiting our exposure to the members of our small group probably protects us against some amount of viral and bacterial infections.  Back to the glass half empty … as we widen our circle of acquaintances, we’ll also widen our exposure to bacteria and viruses.

One step forward; two steps back.

We have two newborn calves.  When we brought Anders’ cattle to the farm, we brought his best bull along with several of his younger cows and a couple steers to butcher for meat.  The cows were already bred by another bull back in May or June of last year – just before we moved them here.  A cow’s gestation cycle is usually about 280 days.  So, calving time is here.  Both of the calves were born without complications on the warm morning while we were invading the Hernandez place.

Fortunately, neither of the calves had to be pulled.  I’m not sure if we brought a calf puller with us in the stuff we loaded up from Anders and Rachel’s farm or not.  A calf puller is basically a long pole with a brace on one end, to rest against the cow’s hips, and a ratchet on the other end.  With a couple wraps of chain around the calf’s legs and some gentle ratcheting, usually even a large calf can be safely pulled from a young cow.  More “experienced” cows don’t normally need the help of a puller unless they’re bred to an unusually large bull.

Women who have experienced relatively recent childbirth typically do not enjoying pulling calves … or even watching them be pulled.

According to D.J., both of the new calves were up and nursing in no time.  Here’s hoping the remaining cows and calves are as successful … and the weather stays relatively nice.  Extremely cold weather and deep snow are the anathema of the cattleman.

We’ll most likely have a litter of piglets soon as well.  Our old sow is about to burst.  We have a couple gilts that will make good sows soon.  Our hog production is coming along nicely.  That reminds me, it’s about time to fill the smokehouse with meat again.

D.J. and Levi’s girls have several plants started in our “hot house”.  The hot house is an A-frame building covered with translucent, polyethylene panels.  The house, much like a greenhouse,  heats up quickly in the sun.  We store several 55 gallon water drums in the house to hold the heat after the sun sets each day.  It’s a great place to start plants from seed in the late winter or early spring.  If the temperatures are low enough, we have a wood stove made of metal 55 gallon drums that will keep the house nice and toasty – essentially turning it into a greenhouse.

The plants are coming along nicely and should be ready to put out in the garden when the soil is warm enough.  D.J. and the girls have cabbage, broccoli and lettuce started that will go in pretty quickly after we’re confident that the frost is out of the ground.  We’ll probably plant our potato sets at the same time.  I think we could safely put out the pea plants any day now.  We can cover them with the top halves of empty milk jugs to keep any late snow off of them.  The squash, cucumber, tomatoes and eggplant will all have to wait until the danger of frost is completely past, however.  Our green bean seeds won’t go in the ground until June.

I suppose, if we enlarged the hot house, we could grow fresh produce almost year-around.  The canned goods aren’t bad in the winter time, though.  It seems like, with the added effort of dealing with snow and ice, we already have plenty else to do in the winter.  I’m not going to push for year-around fresh produce.  If someone else wants to take it on … fine.

That’s pretty much a day in the life here at the Union Creek farm in the new normal.  It’s a pretty big change for most of us, even without the constant worry about drug lords, gang members and Chinese U.N. troops.

Time to go pull a calf.  I sure hope we have a puller ….

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17 thoughts on “March 10, 2015: We’re Pulling for You

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  1. Boy Scout on said:

    What a great line: “The feces seems to hit the fan (or your left hand) on a pretty regular basis in the new normal.”

    No only is it true, but it’s pretty signature-worthy on a forum/message board!

  2. Making biodiesel produces glycerin as a by product…

    diesel and soap 🙂

  3. Good entry. Dave is leaving a lot of doors open for the Journal to follow, should be very interesting.

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