June 2012


Waldo Canyon Fire, photo found on the Gazette website.

I sit here amazed on so many levels.  You may have heard about the Colorado wildfires on the news.  I am living in the middle of them.  Literally.  Last I heard, we were surrounded by at least 11 wildfires around the state, and to my knowledge, the Waldo Canyon fire, pictured above, may be a #1 priority in the nation.  Now, mind you, for the time being anyway, we are perfectly safe.  We are located in a fairly safe area for the most part, about 20 miles from the Waldo Canyon fire.  Nonetheless, we have friends who live near to these fires, some of whom have had to evacuate their homes.

So why am I amazed?  Several reasons.  First, it always absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring to see the hand of God, and see how powerful a force Mother Nature, one of His creations, can be.  Secondly, I am amazed at the idea that there is a very good chance most of these recent fires in our area are being caused by an arsonist.  Most have been contained in a timely manner, though the Waldo Fire is still 0% containment (although they are not sure if it is the work of an arsonist or not).  The mind of someone who could do such a thing, with no regard for those affected, amazes me.  The pure selfish-mindedness, and the anger that person must feel toward something is very sad.  Finally, though, and importantly, I am amazed by the astonishing support offered by the folks in the area.  People are coming out of every direction, setting up resource pages where volunteers can list services, vacant space for evacuated families, foster homes for animals, and more.  Many people spend the day driving around collecting donations and getting them to the appropriate agencies.  If a need is mentioned, it hasn’t taken long for the need to be filled by generous volunteers.  It could bring tears to your eyes.  It is truly the picture of a community effort, and shows why it so important that communities be willing to depend on and help one another.  There were over 11,000 people evacuated over the weekend, and yet, thanks to volunteers, all had their needs sufficiently met.

For the record, we are part of a network of volunteers offering to house families, livestock, and other animals should an evacuee need it.  If you know someone affected by this fire, feel free to direct them to my site.  I am checking my e-mail frequently, so I can contact them back.  In the mean time, please pray for peace for the people who are affected, no matter the outcome.  Many people are just terrified and panicked in the area, so I pray that God could use this incident to lead some to Him.

Thanks to our experiment raising meat rabbits in a community environment, we are learning a great deal about rabbit social issues.

Granted, raising in a fenced-in colony is not completely natural.  In the wild, rabbits have far more space than a fenced pen allows, and tunnel systems can be quite intricate.  Nonetheless, after reading many seemingly successful stories of colony raising, we figured it was something we needed to try.  Even if we can’t duplicate nature in it’s entirety, we figured everything we could duplicate would only improve the lives of our bunnies.  The following is a totally random compilation of what I have observed:

Temperament:

I feared turning rabbits loose would cause their temperaments to become more skittish and wild.  To the contrary, every rabbit, of several different breeds, that I have turned out, has grown friendlier with time.  All I can figure is that they learn we are not trying to catch them every time we come in (like you do when you open a cage), and so they don’t anticipate or fear trouble as much.  Pelham, our AC buck, has been running free in this pen for about 8 months now, and he is the friendliest rabbit I have ever seen.  He will greet us at the gate, run along the fence with us if we are walking outside of it, sit there and allow anyone to pet him, eat from your hand, crawl on you, stand up on your legs, and so on.  At first I thought it was just him, but every other rabbit put in there has done similarly over time.  Visiting children love our rabbit hare-pen!!

Behavior:

It has been a blast watching the rabbits interact with each other.  They romp, play, leap, chase, dig, explore, hide, and lounge.  Pelham often tries to breed the does, and they are easily able to escape his advances if they aren’t ready.  If they are ready, they just sit there and allow it.  Growing kits love the extra space to be…well…like little kids running around or playing hide-and-seek in the tunnels all the time.  By having an assortment of obstacles, tunnels, lounging surfaces, and different heights, all rabbits seem to find a space they can claim as their own, and preferences are as individual as the rabbit.  Preferences also vary with the weather and temperature.

Health:

I have had few health problems with rabbits in the hare-pen.  I have had a couple of new rabbits that developed “snuffles,” a highly contagious respiratory infection, or other mysterious conditions, shortly after arriving.  Most were caged and in quarantine at the time.  Still, I feared my hare-pen rabbits might catch it, but they never did.  They are just healthy, happy, and seem resistant to common diseases.  I certainly don’t go looking for things to expose them to, but overall, they just haven’t had health problems.  It is possible that it is breed-based, as Pelham is the only surviving AC rabbit we have (after 9 tries), and I have only lost one of our Harlequin hybrids.  I know AC’s are weaker as a whole anyway.  Nonetheless, I also have to imagine that fresh air, being exposed to things on the ground, a cleaner environment sterilized by the sun, and a lack of intense smells caused by urine and feces collecting under the cages contributes to their health.

Breeding and Kindling:

Breeding takes place as nature intended.  The buck doesn’t require much to get in the mood.  A fluffy doe tail hopping by is about all it takes, and he’s ready.  If she isn’t ready, she runs or refuses to raise her haunches for him, and the pen allows plenty of space to escape. When she is ready, she allows him to do his thing and cooperates.

We have had three litters born in the Hare-pen so far.  The first was a pregnant doe we added, and shortly after noticed her waistline had shrunk a bit.  JR found a bit of plucked hair under the cages, so we went searching for her kindle.  We found her kindle neatly situated in one of the underground nest boxes we had designed.  At that time, our tunnel system was not completed, so there was a hole in the ground that went right to the entrance to the nest box, and we found she had filled this hole with dirt.  As we watched her, a couple times a day, we found she would dig the loose dirt out of the hole, go in the nest box, tend to her kits, then exit and re-bury the hole.  It was clear she was hiding her nest, and quite effectively at that.  Before the kits got too old, we actually sold the doe and her kindle to an individual trying to start a meat rabbitry of their own.

The second was more recent.  We were expecting the doe to kindle, again noticed the smaller waistline, found tufts of hair throughout the Hare-pen, but couldn’t find the kindle anywhere.  We searched all nest boxes, corners, dark areas, the community shelter, and even did our best to look in the tunnels, all to no avail.  After several days, we were puzzled.  She has proven to be a great mother in the past, but we finally concluded that she had either eaten them, or they were tucked away deep in a tunnel.  Either way, there was nothing we could do about it.  Then, S and I were out doing some work in the pen about a week later, and suddenly, the ground gave way under S’s foot.  As it turns out, she had created a perfectly hidden little den of her own in the center area of ground not covered by the fencing.  His foot had landed on the entry space, which she neatly back-filled with dirt.

This area looks just like the rest of the dirt ground, with the exception of bits of straw and slightly looser dirt. In fact, it contains the hidden entrance to the den.

It led down to a slightly deeper, perfectly dug little cove, full of a kindle of perfectly healthy kits which appeared to be about 4-5 days old.

With a bit of loose dirt dug away, you can see the entrance to the den.

With the camera stuck down in the entry-way, and the flash on, you get to see the hidden treasures. I haven’t counted them yet, but it appears to be a good-sized kindle.

With this kindle, my first question was “Why did she not use the nest boxes?”  My theory is that all the older, weaned kits use the tunnels and nest boxes frequently, so perhaps she sensed it wasn’t safe?  Or, perhaps she didn’t like the length of the tunnels, and felt she couldn’t bury the kits as tightly as she’d like.  The den she dug is very tight, so perhaps the small space holds in heat to protect them, and the tunnels don’t allow that.  Certainly worth considering.  I really didn’t know the answer at that point, but we decided to leave it and see what happened.  Unfortunately, before they were 2 weeks old, we lost 4.  As you could see in the photos above, the den wasn’t very deep, so when she would back fill the dirt into the opening, she would accidentally bury any kits that had followed her out a bit.  As a result, we finally removed them and placed the kits and mom into a cage with a nest box to try to keep the rest alive. They are still doing great as best we can tell.

Look closely and you might see a couple of kits around her.

The third happened just this week, with an expecting doe delivering in another nest box.  Again, we have decided to leave them, although JR, our resident rabbit manager, decided he’d had enough excitement and put Pelham (the buck) in a cage temporarily to see if that could decrease the stress of the does at all.  ( I don’t think Pelham causes any, but it isn’t worth arguing right now).  I have caught one of the older kits napping with the nest, so I’m not sure how long it will last, but for now, we’ll watch and see.

 

Nonetheless, I think we are going to make a few improvements to some issues that we have discovered because of this whole experience.  I’ll keep you posted.

Meat Production:

A few weeks ago, we decided to do some experimenting in regards to meat production.  I had two does, each with weaning-age kits that were born on the same day and within hours of each other.  I separated one doe from her kits, and put her in a separate cage, leaving her kits in their cage for typical weaning by separation.  The other doe and her 9 weaning-age kits were turned loose in the hare-pen.  It has been quite fascinating comparing the two groups of kits.  It’s a highly scientific experiment, don’t you think?! LOL!

What we noticed first was the behavior and development of the weaned kits.  In the past, I have found that kits will pester their dam (mother) trying to nurse even after she is ready to wean.  In a cage, she has nowhere to escape and either gives up and lets them nurse or runs herself crazy trying to avoid it.  Separating the kits from the dam has proven to be the least stressful way to do it, for her at least.  The family we turned out in the colony, however, weaned totally naturally.  From the moment I put them out, the kits were so busy running around, playing, digging, exploring the tunnels, and sampling all the hay and feed, that I never saw them try to nurse again.  The dam, on the the other hand, was almost as playful, and certainly more relaxed.  She just lounged wherever she pleased, and didn’t seem at all concerned about her kits playing nearby.

Now, you may think that’s a perfect solution for all, but as it turned out, there is a definite downside.  We found all that playing and running has resulted in beautiful, fit, lean kits as we approach harvest, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to meat production.  As a result of the calories they burn, they weigh about 2/3 the weight of the kits we left in the cage, who ate more out of boredom and activity was limited.

A bit hard to tell in the photo, but the rabbit on the left is one of the hare-pen kits, and you can see the caged-kit on the right is at least 30% larger. Sorry, you try to get two rambunctious babies to sit still and smile for the camera!

Now, for the most part, I would rather have leaner and lower-weight, but happier, healthier kits at harvest than fatter, less hardy, happy ones.  However, we haven’t tasted the meat yet.  I am interested to compare the tenderness of the meat when we harvest both kindles, as it is also very likely the hare-pen kits’s meat will be tougher due to the intense use of their muscles with their higher activity level.  We’ll have to see how that goes and decide how we want to handle meat in the future.

Effort Involved:

Colony raising in the Hare-pen requires, by far, the LEAST amount of work to raise rabbits.  We have all our cages full, plus this experimental group in the pen.  The cages require twice the effort and time, at the least.  Because of the colony set-up, we have multiple food and water spaces, all of which are checked twice a day just like the caged rabbits.  Unlike the caged rabbits, however, the multiple sources mean they rarely run out of food or water.  The caged rabbits do on occasion.  If you have a leaky bottle on a cage, and it runs dry, the rabbit is really thirsty before you discover it.  If that were to happen in the pen, they just use the other sources.  No big deal.  There is far less time involved in clean up, and the pen just looks neater than the cages as well.  Although rabbit pellets do get scattered all around the pen, for the most part, rabbits are quite clean, and choose a certain far-off corner to do their business.  The nest boxes, community shelter, and tunnels stay surprisingly free of excrement. Cages, on the other hand, build up waste quickly, and we find all our rabbit smells derive from the cages rather than the pen.

Well, I guess that’s it for Colony-Raising 101.  I am contemplating doing a few things differently in the next one we build (after moving to Red Gate), but we love it so much, we will absolutely have one there!  To give you an idea, we are considering not having large tunnels like this one, but rather having the entrance to the nest boxes go right to the box (thereby allowing the doe to backfill it more easily).  I still want to improve on our food an water set-up, as there currently seems to be a lot of waste of food.  I love the sifter-feeders, so I think we are going to implement those into the plan.  Then, I want to fence the entire ground and add a larger pile of dirt on top of the fence where they can dig.  Finally, I think I will have a few short (less than 18 inches) tunnels scattered around and/or partially build to be used more as hiding areas and fulfill their burrowing instinct, yet eliminate some of the difficulties our current ones cause.  I’ll let you know as we continue to develop it.

We believe we have finally finished the so-called “Hare-pen,” or our colony rabbitry.  For any of you who may be new to my blog, we have spent the last 8 months or longer designing an outdoor, fenced-in yard, where several of our breeding rabbits could run free and act as natural as possible.  Read this post for more information on that, as well as details on how we first constructed it.  To try to lay it out more smoothly, though, I will summarize all past posts here.

Like with other rabbitries, first we built the cages, or in our case, the bunny-condos.  Read this post for more info on the cage system we custom-built.  We planned to use the cages to gradually wean the rabbits out into the yard, and then later to separate breeding animals, quarantine new rabbits, confine rabbits scheduled for harvesting, etc.

Stage 1 involved building a large fenced yard, with the main fence being 5 foot tall 2×4 welded wire (aka horse fence), and lining the lower portion of the fence with chicken wire to prevent escapes by smaller kits.

Next, we built some nest boxes to simulate natural dens, and designed tunnels to simulate underground burrows leading to the nest box-dens.  Our first attempt at this failed miserably (read here for details on that), but we believe our most recent attempt will be better.  The same basic idea was used, but we designed a total of 4 nest boxes set up in a square (of sorts).  One nest box was located at each corner of the square.

 

 

Then, instead of using ducting this time, he used a bunch of scrap lumber to build 3-sided boxes (2 sides and a top), and then laid wire on the bottom.  The wire prevented digging and offered good traction, while the wood supported the dirt and weight of people walking over it while still simulating the tunnel.  Each box had a separate tunnel leading from it to join another tunnel, then both were joined to save time on digging.

 

For the record, after we move to Red Gate and re-make this, all tunnels will be made from 7″ PVC, with grooves cut on the bottom side and filled with dirt for traction.  We couldn’t find any in our local area, so we had to improvise.  Menards in the midwest carries the correct size PVC, however–in the event you happen to live in the midwest and shop at Menards.

Finally, all tunnels were designed to come up in the center of the square, into a community shelter.  The shelter was also recycled from an old shipping crate, so we simply found a way to make it work.  The shelter has a little opening on each end for the rabbits to get in and out.  It also has a water bottle hanging on the outside of each end, with the nipple going through a hole to the inside, and a food dish inside.

 

Because rabbits can be territorial and fight viciously if they feel crowded, we decided to divide the box into two sections, with each half basically mirroring the other.  So, the box was divided in the middle, and a shelf installed over the divider, covering half of each side.  This is simply to give the bunnies an area to lay off the ground (and they use it all the time, by the way!!).

 

The shelf on each side is located over the entrance to the tunnels for that side of the pen, with each hole accessing two separate tunnels.  In the photo below, you can see a couple of older kits resting in the cool dirt entrance of the tunnels for that side.

 

While we have no access to the tunnels themselves, all other structures have a lid to allow us to maintain and check on things.  This includes the community shelter and all 4 next boxes, with the nest box lids being the only part of the boxes you can see at ground level.   In addition, as a finishing touch, we laid a 4 foot section of 2×4 fencing on the ground around the entire perimeter.  We found early on that the rabbits truly love to dig, but for the most part, they tend to dig the largest tunnels near a upright structure like a fence, a building, or a box.  We have found that by installing the section of fence on the perimeter (which can just be seen in the next photo), the rabbits have mostly stopped tunneling with the exception of a small one that starts on the outside of the community shelter, and goes up under it.  We are currently monitoring the length of the tunnel to see what happens.

 

If tunneling begins to be a problem, we will simply cover the entire ground in the fencing, with cut-out areas for the openings to the tunnels and nest box lids only.   Again, we love the rabbits to be as happy and natural as possible, so because they do dig small holes in the unfenced dirt, should we cover the ground, we would put mounds of dirt here and there around the pen so they have a sand pile to play and dig in.

I realize it is very difficult to get the overall picture of this set-up, so I have tried to put together a sketch for you to show an arial view of sorts.  Unfortunately for you (but great for me!!), we just switched from the age-old Microsoft computer to an iMac, and I am still figuring it out.  In other words, no fancy semi-pro looking computer sketches, or even decent editing for that matter, for you this time.  You were lucky I figured out how to scan a document!  Had I not a had a few hours to spare on this day of rest, even that wouldn’t have happened!!

Well, that’s it for the new rabbitry.  We now have a regular colony of 2 does, 1 buck, and a litter of almost-harvest-ready kits, in addition to a week old litter (our 2nd hare-pen-born) that I will tell you about later.   Hope this all makes sense.  Just leave me a comment with your questions if not.

“Mi Vida Loca” (my crazy life) was a country song I used to like. Who knows why? I may have thought that song was about my life, but at 16, with no husband or children, I really had no clue back then what craziness was all about. Take today for example.

**Warning: Difficult and traumatic story follows, but everything has turned out OK–praise God!!

We returned from Red Gate on Friday, had a busy, but pretty normal Saturday, followed by a fairly restful Sunday. This morning (Monday), S left for work as usual, and I prepared for a day of catching up on bills and other miscellaneous paperwork that needed to be done. Around 8:30, my twice-weekly house-helper showed up. Everything was going pretty smoothly, until about 11. I was downstairs working on some bills, and my assistant was upstairs making up a bed in the boys’ room. R and A were upstairs playing. I heard the common pitter-patter of A’s little feet running across the living room, and then heard the sadly all-too-familiar “BOOM!” of him crash into something and fall down. Normally, I might hear him cry, verbally ask if he is OK, but rarely is anything serious enough for me to even get up. You have to understand that his clumsiness is a daily issue for us because of his as-yet undiagnosed neurological issues. In this case, however, I heard the most blood-curdling scream I have ever heard from one of my children and I immediately bolted up the stairs. At the same time, my assistant came running out of the bedroom, and reached him first.  I was looking over my shoulder at A on the upstairs area above the stairs, as my assistant squatted to check on him.  For the first couple of seconds (probably long enough for me to go up 4 steps at a run), he was holding his stomach and screaming a horrible scream.  My first thought was that he broke something.  Then, at that moment, his eyes rolled back in his head, his entire body went stiff, and he rared backwards–thankfully into her arms.  I doubled my speed, got to him, and quickly took note of his symptoms as my past first-responder training kicked in.  I knew he was having a pretty good seizure, then I saw his face changing color as I realized he wasn’t breathing.  I told my helper to go call 911 and get the ambulance on its way.  Probably 30 seconds had elapsed at that point.  She got the dispatcher on the line, but because she was on the phone in another room, I was yelling his symptoms to her so she could relay the info to the dispatcher.  After seizing for about 30-45 seconds (hard to say since time totally stops when it’s YOUR child!), his lips and gums were totally a death-colored ashy white.  It was awful, and I began seriously fearing I was watching my son die in my arms.  I cannot possibly describe that feeling, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  Then, A’s eyes closed, his body went totally limp, and he was clearly unconscious.  I still couldn’t see a visible injury, and begin checking, but at the same time, I noticed he started to breath again–albeit shallow and irregular.  Slowly, though, color began to return to his face so I hoped the worst was over.  He then began to come to, started whimpering and moaning, and tried to sit up a bit.  At that point, my helper was having some difficulty answering dispatcher questions.  So, with the worst over, I picked A up and took him into the other room, where I laid him on a table and began to talk to the dispatcher over a speaker-phone.  Although conscious, it was still clear that A was out of it and not right.  He started to complain that his stomach hurt (likely nausea from the head trauma).  As the dispatcher kept us on the line, I knew we would be headed to the hospital, so I asked my helper to take my place by A while I gathered my things (purse for my own diabetes medical supplies and shoes) for the hospital.  I returned, and had my helper go outside to meet the medics.  After answering their questions and getting them up to speed, they began to prep A for the ambulance ride.  I quickly  attempted to call S at work, but of course he was not in his office today.  By the time I finished, the medics were strapping A into the gurney in the ambulance, so I jumped in and away we went.  My helper was left in charge of R, while my other 3 children “happened” to be playing at the neighbors.  As we drove away, I saw their little faces standing along the neighbor’s driveway, clearly worried for their brother. 

We arrived at the hospital with A conscious, but still very quiet and not quite normal.  I followed the medics into the hospital, to find an entire pediatric trauma team of 10-12 people waiting for us.  I was kept in the hallway, as A was transferred to the triage gurney, stripped down, hooked up to monitors, and examined.  By this point, his face had begun to show signs of his injury, and he had a clear bruise below and up to his temple where he hit (we believe the corner of a bookshelf he was running past).

That’s not a scratch on the side of his face…it’s the linear bruise from his head hitting the sharp corner of the bookshelf.

Once they were comfortable with his vitals, they took him away to do a CT scan and check for brain bleeds or other unseen trauma.  In the mean time, a hospital liason came over to ask me who she needed to call.  I explained to her that my husband was at the flight line that day, totally clueless about all this, and I needed to inform him so he could either come to the hospital or go get our other children.  I told her who to contact on the base to get the info to him.  She then essentially disappeared. 

Now, I will say, the good news here is that they felt A was OK, having concluded he suffered an “impact seizure” and minor concussion, and released him after several hours of monitoring.  However, when the doc walked in and told me to not let him hit his head for 2 weeks so his brain could heal from the concussion, I just looked at him and shook my head.  I had already told him about A’s neurological problems with coordination and clumsiness, and he had gone over the scars all over A’s head that proved it.  He kind of laughed and jokingly said, “Can you make him wear a helmet?”  After further thought, though, we agreed that was the only way to protect A.  Our kind nurse went and found a brand-new, perfectly-sized bike helmet the hospital just “happened” to have on hand, and gave it to us. 

Now that you know everything turned out OK, I have to tell you the not-so-traumatic parts of the story, simply because I like to be detailed just because it’s the way my brain works. 

After arriving at the E.R., I did experience a slight moment of irritation as the doctor, following protocol, began questioning me about A’s past injuries. His little body is covered in bruises and scars, and after my experience with foster children, I am well aware of the importance of having a witness to such injuries.  I just praised God right there for always providing a witness, as well as allowing us a record of having closely worked with specialists over the last 6 months!   Some people joke that their kid is a klutz or prone to injury, but mine truly is!

Just a few of A’s scars, and current scrapes, dings, and blisters, with most of the ones on his knee being from falls on the gravel while at Red Gate.

When we first arrived at the ER, some of the nurses initially assumed the purple goose-egg on A’s forehead was the injury we were dealing with. I had to explain that it was from him running into a livestock gate while at Red Gate last week.

So, I was sitting in the triage E.R. with A, and connected to our room was another room whose only entrance was through our room.  By the sounds of things, there was “complainer” type of person who was clearly driving the nursing staff crazy with his constant complaints.  For hours, I sat there, listening to him moan, yell for help, ask for morphine, and then complain about something else.  I have no idea what his story was, but the nurses were obviously not making him a priority.  A would periodically ask about the “noises” coming from that room, and I tried my best to tactfully explain that somebody had an “ow-y” in there.  At one point, we were sitting there listening to the pitiful moans from the other room, and our nurse was filling out some paperwork by A’s bed.  Suddenly, we heard a scream in the hallway, looked up, and saw a nurse go running past the door.  Then another couple of nurses went yelling down the hall, though we couldn’t understand what they were yelling.  Next, a police offer went flying down the hall yelling something like “Stop NOW!”  Within 1/2 second, 3 more officers, followed by doctors and nurses went running past, everyone yelling, but we couldn’t tell what.  Our nurse and I looked at each other, and she casually walked over and pulled the curtain shut, while I envisioned a lunatic, gun-wielding, criminal walking into our room.  I never did figure out what happened, but finally heard something about a run-away patient–whatever that means. 

Thinking our day was winding down, the doctor walked in to discharge us.  The nurse followed to have us sign papers, and I explained that we were stranded a good 30 minutes from home, and I REALLY needed to reach my husband, who still knew nothing of the morning’s events.   I asked if the liason that had originally helped us had reached him, only to discover that other traumas had arrived and she was too busy with them to help us.  We figured there was still time, though, as A was still hooked up to all the monitors, so she let me borrow her phone to make a few calls while she continued her duties. 

Suddenly, the nurse hastily walked in, quickly started unplugging A, asked me to help by removing his cuff and several sensors attached to his chest, and finally apologetically explained that a severe trauma was headed in and they needed our bed like NOW!  With wires still attached, she had me pick up poor A, still shirtless and totally confused, and briskly walked us down the hall.  She then apologized that she couldn’t lead us, but tells me to follow signs to the “triage waiting room” and mentions I can use the phone in there. I pointed out the wires still attached to A, and she quickly removed them.  I followed the signs, only to find myself in the main lobby of the E.R.  Amidst all the sick and injured people in the waiting room, I found a chair, set A down, and began dressing him and trying to recoup. 

Finally, I walked over to the phone, still attempting to reach S.  No luck.  I knew there had to be a way to reach him, if I could just reach the flight line.  Yet, no one I called could find a number for the office there.  I turned around and found several active duty members had entered the waiting room, so I went and asked them, hoping they could point me in a direction.  One young guy piped up and explained that I could call the Red Cross, who would contact the base command post, who could then notify S that we were at the hospital.  I then found a sympathetic nurse to help me get the Red Cross number, called, and was told that I no longer had an emergency (which was true) and so they couldn’t help.  Four hours and many adventures after first attempting to contact my husband, and almost at wit’s end, I explained my situation and asked if she could at least offer a phone number I could call, seeing as how I had no access to a computer or phone book.  One nurse I spoke with had even suggested I call a taxi, but without a phone book, even that idea didn’t work for me.  I guess she felt sorry for me, as she agreed to give me the number for the base command post.  I called, only to be shockingly told that they had no contact info for the flight line!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  You’re the command post!  You’re supposed to have a way to contact every major office on base in the event of an emergency!  I explained our situation, and he agreed to send a security detail over to the flight line.  Finally, a message arrived to S to call our neighbor (the simplest message I could send), who then filled him in.  40 minutes later, S arrived to pick us up and see his son.  We then went home, exhausted–him from his day, and me from the huge adrenaline rush (which, oh by the way, sent my blood sugars through the roof, which didn’t help any!), and collected our other children from the neighbors. 

Oh, and remember the helmet A is supposed to wear.  Well, realize A also has sensory issues, and is not crazy over things on his head.  Knowing he would have to wear it later, I agreed he didn’t have to wear it for the car ride (since he was just sitting), and then when we got home, I would let him sit and watch a movie.  We arrived home, I carefully helped A out of the van, I walked right behind him to make sure he walked into the house rather than run.  We made it about 10 steps inside the door, A walked over to the computer to sit down and watch Netflix, and lo and behold, if he didn’t run his face (same side as his initial injury, of course) right into the corner of the chair!  All we could do was shake our heads, and move on.  That’s just life with A.  Though the moment that movie ended, you can bet the helmet went on! 

Later, we enjoyed a simple family dinner followed by family worship time, during which we cherished our family and praised God for the blessings of the day.

Yes, it was quite a day.  Yet, as I sat in that ambulance, holding A’s hand on the long drive to the hospital, I realized how God had arranged everything.  My helper was there that day–both to assist and to serve as a witness (which came in very handy when the doctor began questioning me about all A’s scars and past head injuries).  JR, M, and N all “happened” to be at the neighbors playing, and therefore did not witness any of the actual trauma we experienced.  They only saw the ambulance drive in, and were wise enough to stay at the neighbors and watch from a distance.  The ambulance from our nearest station (which is often out on a call) “happened” to be available, meaning that even though we live 30 minutes out in the country, they arrived at our home within about 7 minutes of the fall itself.  Then, unbeknownst to me until later, the other children had watched as the paramedics loaded A into the ambulance and me climb in.  JR told M that they needed to pray for A–for whatever had happened.  The father of the home overheard JR’s comment, invited all the children onto the porch, and led them in prayer together.  After I got back home, I realized that God had also allowed the hospital to have the exact-sized helmet for our needs (something the nurse said was unusual), and we were provided with wonderful neighbors willing to drop everything to take care of our children as their own.  Thanks to my past first-responder training, despite my panic, my training kicked in and kept everything under control until the ambulance arrived to take over.  I knew what to watch for, what was happening, and what information the dispatcher would need.  And most of all, A was OK in the end.  I’m sure I sprouted a few more gray hairs through this, but I am so thankful for a God that is so all-knowing and all-powerful that He provides in such a way that we never have to feel alone.  Traumatic as the day was, I knew that my son was in God’s hands.  There was truly a moment of panic where I thought I might be watching him die, and yet, despite the adrenaline rush flowing within me, I had a peace that everything would be OK.  It was truly a good reminder that God never promises us an easy life or life without trauma, grief, and trials.  What He does promise us is that He will ALWAYS be there to see us through it, no matter the outcome.  When we feel totally alone, or at wit’s end, we can turn to Him for strength, courage, and endurance.  He will uphold us at our weakest, and remind us of our strengths when we need it most.  Because He is a great God, a dependable God, and a God that loves us more than we even love our own children.  That is a blessing I cannot live without!

Our farm actually provides several options for water.  There is a good well, but because it is only around 50 feet deep and our property is located high up on a bluff, anytime we have a drought, the well dries up with overuse–especially with our family of 7 plus animals.  The second option we have is city water, however, in order to actually connect our house to the main water pipe at the road, we have to run it down our 1/4 mile driveway at a cost of about $10,000.  After that, it costs about $50 in monthly fees just to be connected, plus whatever cost for usage that month!  That’s a little steep for us, not to mention we have a fear of city water anyway due to JR’s water-related seizures as a baby.  So, our third and preferred option was to install rain-water collection cisterns, and that is just what we did.  For the record, the actual rain-water collection system install will run us close to the same price for initially connecting to city water, however, we will have no monthly charges after that, so it begins paying for itself right away.

In our case, we opted to install two, customized, 2,000 gallon, concrete cisterns into the ground, giving us a total of 4000 gallon storage capacity.  Our family is fairly frugal with water, and we have calculated a current monthly usage of about 2000 gallons.  Of course, that will go up slightly as the kids get older, plus it’s always good to have some to spare.  With our short time frame, we had to hire it done, but it was great to get to watch and have a say in how the pipes were all connected. 

First, they had to dig a gigantic hole, roughly 20 feet long by 10 feet wide by 17 feet deep.  Then a massive truck carrying our cistern pieces drove in and began to unload one piece at at a time.  Each cistern was divided into 3 units–the bottom half, the top half, and a lid with several holes.

This is just the top half of one cistern.

The cisterns were assembled and sealed, a 6 inch PVC pipe installed to connect the two cisterns at the bottom to allow water to fill both equally using gravity pressure, and then a water truck was called in to pump in 2000 gallons.  We immediately noticed a few leaks and had to pump all the water back out.  After the leaky areas were re-sealed and checked, another load of water was brought in, the dirt filled in around the cisterns, and the rest of the unit assembled. 

S (front) standing on top of one cistern.

Next, they lined up and sealed the entry points, which consisted of a concrete “donut” ring that really served as a riser/spacer to fill the gap between the ground-level manhole entry point and the top of the buried cistern.  This ring was covered with the actual man-hole entry piece, which allows us to check the water level or enter and clean the tanks periodically.  There is a vent pipe on one lid to allow air to exchange with water as needed, as well as a 6-inch well casing where we will eventually attach a manual water pump.  In addition to these, there are two other holes, one on the upper side of each cistern.  One is the entry point, where the rainwater will pour in from the gutter pipe system, and the other is the overflow exit point (when we have seasons with lots of rain!).  Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pics of the customized set-up, so I am going to offer you a sketch in the event it actually interests you…

Inside, the house was re-plumbed somewhat to allow the house’s primary water to come from the cisterns.  By using rain water in our copper pipes, toilets, sinks, tubs, and appliances, we eliminate problems caused by mineral deposits that well water causes.  Because of the benefits of those same minerals, the well water will service the kitchen drinking system only, serving as our drinking water and water for our ice maker.  In addition, the water pipe leading from the well to our barn was destroyed before we bought the place, so we had that pipe replaced such that the well will also service the 2 hydrants in the barn.  As a back-up plan, however, the plumber set our house system up such that, with a simple flip of a switch, we can reverse the water flow so the barn can also be served by the cisterns in a dry year. 

You may be wondering by now how rain-water collection cisterns can be of much use in a drought year.  We actually aren’t quite as dumb as we seem.  You see, once the entire system is in place, we estimate that 1 inch of rainfall on our 1200 square foot roof will provide us with about 748 gallons of water.  If that rain is 1 inch per hour, then we will be collecting 748 gallons per hour.  So, essentially one good solid rain could possibly fill our cisterns, and provide enough water for an entire month of drought afterward.  Of course, there are such things as droughts that last multiple months with no rainfall (though highly uncommon in our area).  Should that happen, we can have city water trucked in to fill the tanks, which is still far cheaper than connecting to city water permanently.  The previous owner of the property used to fill the well with this city water when it dried up, but of course, if the soil is dry, a good portion of that water will simply be absorbed into the ground rather than be available for household use.  So, by having the cisterns, we have the option of trucking in water on an as-needed basis (which we hope will be very rare), filling the cisterns, and having none of the precious water leach back into the soil.  It will all be available for household use. 

Before closing, I want to add a side note about collecting rain water.  The water is only as clean as the surfaces it comes in contact with.  A shingled, leaf-covered roof, while probably cleaner than city water (believe it or not!), is not as great as a debris-free tin roof.  This should at least be considered when going this route.  Our roof is currently shingled, but because we aren’t drinking the rain-water for now, we aren’t too concerned about it.  However, our roof is way overdue for replacing.  So, we have spent the last couple years having any overhanging limbs and trees cut back to prevent debris collecting on the roof, and we will soon be replacing the roof with some type of metal roofing.  Furthermore, our gutters will be replaced and re-directed at the same time to allow all gutter downspouts to be easily connected and diverted into the cistern’s entry pipe.  There are also several layers of different sized plastic and screen filters connected to any openings to prevent large debris, insects, and varmints from collecting in the cisterns themselves.  The only thing that will get through is small sediment, which will collect at the bottom of the main cistern for the most part.  An every-to-every-other-year cleaning will take care of that issue.  Then, we simply have to clear the screen filters on occasion to keep everything flowing smoothly.

We have just returned from our big, annual, family “vacation” to Red Gate Farm, where we spent the last couple weeks.   As usual, we were totally isolated, with no phone, no internet, no cell phone, nada.  For the record, we LOVE it that way!!  The only strange thing is that we tend to work harder on our vacations than we do at home.  As usual, we had a few planned projects to accomplish this trip, but this time, there was a new excitement in the air as we did them.  It is highly possible that this was our LAST vacation as a family to the farm.  Lord willing, the next time we go as a family will be our final trip–to move in!!!  Sean and I will likely go a couple times individually though, as there is still much to be accomplished.  I have already realized that we didn’t take nearly enough photos, so hopefully these few will suffice.

The main project this time was getting a reliable water source.  I will write a more detailed post later for anyone who is interested, but we opted to fill this need by installing two, 2,000 gallon storage capacity, concrete, rain-water collection cisterns.  That was fun to watch, and of course the kiddos (and dad!) loved the big “man-toys” equipment that were used for the job.  When one huge truck in particular drove down our long driveway, he managed to effectively clear all the low-hanging branches that we were planning to prune, thereby saving us half a day’s work! 

This massive, almost-tractor-trailer sized truck is hauling 1 cistern, and this photo is showing only the top half. The bottom half is already in the ground.

Impressive parking job, with the truck tucked just under the tree-line, our septic tank right in front (in all the bushes), and the hole right behind him. One great thing about living in a small town–the same company that made the cisterns is the same company that made the septic tank, so if they destroy it, they replace it at no cost!!

While all this was going on, S and his brother, Uncle M, completed our trailer parking retaining wall, and all the un-needed dirt from the cistern hole was hauled over and used to back-fill the parking area.  Almost surprisingly, the wall actually held as the heavier-than-any-trailer-we-will-ever-own dumptruck and front-end-loader worked to dump and spread the load out.  That area is almost a finished project now.  We just need to haul in some gravel to cover the dirt, and it will be ready for a trailer!  It looks so great!  Eventually we will also add a roof extension from the barn to protect the trailer, but that is a distant future project.

Pushing dirt to back-fill the trailer-parking area.

S’s other big project for this trip was to mill lumber for our animal shelters.  We plan to do rotational grazing of our livestock, and have to build a couple of simple shelters for the hooved animals, and a portable coop for the hens.   As a result, S had previously felled a small oak and a small elm he intended to mill, and this trip, he finished felling a larger elm.  The fun then came, as we manually pushed this 1500 lb elm trunk from its original location to the lumber mill–a distance of about 10 yards (but seemed more like 1000 yards!) 

We had designed our blue-prints for the coop before leaving home, so we had calculated exactly what dimensions of lumber we needed for the project.   Using his saw mill, S cut as many of those as he could. 

The wood grain turned out so gorgeous though, we may opt to go buy some cheaper pine and plywood and use this wood to make our dining-room table!  We’ll have to decide after it finishes drying.

Incredible grain on this elm, but, sadly, not so incredible cheapy camera taking the picture!

While the men were having fun playing with machinery, and the kids had fun playing in the dirt piles, I stayed busy cleaning and organizing the loft of our barn to make room for the milled lumber to stack and dry.  I also worked on more brick walk areas, which seem to be turning out very nicely. 

R thinking she’s helping mommy build the brick platform.

As a side note, our original brick sidewalk which is now several years old, had developed quite a bit of weed growth.  It was really a big job that would have taken a full day or so to weed well by hand, but we didn’t want to use chemical weed-killer.  So, I decided to try a new technique I’d heard about.  I went to the nearest store and bought all their plain table salt–about 6 lbs. for about $3–and sprinkled it in all the spaces between bricks and along the edges where weeds had grown so thick they covered the bricks.  Then, I carefully watered it to encourage the salt to go down into the crevices and to prevent the next rainfall from washing it off into the front yard (where I would like the grass to continue growing!).  The next morning, we walked out to all brown and dead weeds on the sidewalk.  The day after that, a quick sweep job resulted in a totally weed-free sidewalk.  Beautiful!  I think I need to buy stock in the salt industry now (or maybe just a Sam’s Club membership for their bulk salt), as I plan to do the same to our driveway and parking areas later! 

Me and R standing next to the salted, dead-weed-covered path.

Finally, I did a little gardening, and also collected and submitted soil samples of our intended garden and grazing areas to see where that stands and find out whether we need to ammend the soil at all. 

The kids actually did help quite a bit.  For the most part, they really enjoy helping us, and feeling useful, but for harder or less-pleasant jobs, a simple bribe of “gatorade” would result in the job getting done!  The rest of the time, a few hand spades and a pile of dirt was all that was needed to keep them out of trouble.

One real treat I received was my first view of R’s ringlets!  The IL humidity made that wavy hair just curl right up into the most adorable curls and ringlets!  I enjoyed them for the trip, and about 2/3 of the way home, they began to loosen back into waves as the humid air disappeared.  I miss them already!

A few other random photos for your enjoyment:

S eating breakfast, preparing for a long, hard day of manual labor! Yes, he really eats his porridge out of the pot; No, he isn’t as tough as he looks (he’s too incredibly sweet for that, but don’t tell him I said so!)

As usual, we had a great time.  The weather was beautiful, the temperatures great, the flowers in bloom, the orchard going strong, and the kids all old enough to love being outside with us.  The only downside was that I totally forgot to bring our camera, so we bought a cheapy digital to get us by, and then we hardly ever remembered to use it.  Oh well.  For the first time, A and N seemed to understand that this was our farm rather than “Grandma’s house” (she moved in and lived there for about 5 years after we bought it).  As we drove away on our return to CO, A quietly and sadly said what we all felt….”I don’t wanna go back to Colorado.  I jus’ wanna stay at the farm.”  In time, my son, in time.

We did take one last adventure, when we detoured on the way home to check out a herd of miniature milk cows that I have been considering (see previous post on that topic).  The owner will be offering a few for sale next year, and I have been talking with her about them.  It was fun to see them in person, and the kids and I all got to milk them just for the experience of it!  What a trip!!