Sunday, January 10, 2010

Purple Fingertips and Running Water

Texas has been unusually cold the past few days. Very unusually cold. Usually, we MAY get one or two days where the temp drops below freezing each winter, well we've now had over a week of temperatures below freezing including several days in a row where the temp never got ABOVE freezing. This is NOT something that we're used to. To begin with all the hose pipes that we use to water our critters froze solid and didn't even thaw out enough during the afternoon to let us fill up the water trough and buckets, so Foxfire and I would have to haul buckets full of water from the master bathroom out to the water trough and watering buckets. It certainly gave me a new appreciation of how people lived before electric pump houses and water on demand from a tap.

Okay, so we'd sort of gotten used to hauling water outside. We didn't like it, but we'd adjusted to doing it. But this morning we discovered that that was no longer an option. The pipes in our pump house had frozen and cracked and once things thawed out a bit, we had water running out of our pump house into our tank. Not the ideal way to fill your tank. And, of course, things finished thawing and cracking wide open right after I'd gotten into the shower and completely wetted down my hair prior to shampooing it. Fortunately, I hadn't actually put any shampoo in yet. I felt the water pressure suddenly drop then taper off to nothing and yelled for Foxfire to check and see what was wrong. He came back in yelling that there was water pouring out of our pump house. He ran out to try and turn the water off. I dried off somewhat, threw on some clothes and a hat (since my hair was wet and I didn't want it to freeze to my head) and went out to help him. Foxfire, not having grown up with a pump house, didn't know that you had to flip the breaker switches to turn the pump off and was frantically turning various faucet heads to try and stop the water. I reached over and, somewhat nervously, since I was standing in water, flipped the breakers. The pump shut down and finally the water stopped coming out.

We looked at the remains of our pipes. One elbow joint was completely broken into two pieces and a length of pipe next to it was badly cracked. We were both a bit stunned and tried to decide what to do. Obviously we could call a plumber and pay a lot of money and he would fix it. It would be very expensive and we didn't know how long it would take a plumber to get to us. I thought, looking at the pipes and thinking about SH who has talked about fixing his own broken pipes before, that maybe it was a simple enough repair that I could do it myself. Unfortunately, Foxfire could not stay and help because he had to go to the memorial service for the very close friend of his that had passed on a few days ago. Fortunately, he had showered before me and somehow the pipes had held together long enough for him to get clean. Apparently, the fates knew that he had to attend the service and arranged that he could make it. I suppose it wasn't as important to the universe at large that I attend. And I admit that I wasn't as close to this person, but I had wanted to be there for Foxfire. Ah well...

So... anyway, I called SH and asked about fixing broken pipes. He asked if they were metal or PVC and sounded relieved when I said PVC. He told me that PVC was easy to fix and gave me detailed instructions on what I needed to do. I thanked him for his advice and went to work. First I used a little hacksaw to cut off the broken pieces, then I brought the broken pieces to Home Depot to make sure I got the right sizes. I bought the stuff I needed and then went home. Unfortunately, the very first thing I tried to do didn't quite work. One of the pieces that needed to be replaced was actually screwed into a metal pipe and there was a specific PVC adapter piece that screwed in on one side and attached to the PVC on the other side. Well, the piece I had wouldn't screw in properly. I thought maybe there are different types of screw threads and I bought one with the wrong type of threads. So I went back to Home Depot. No, there are NOT different types of screw threads, they are all the same. Okay, maybe I simply had a defective piece. Since that particular piece was only about $0.35, I bought two more (just in case there was another defective one) and went back home. Well, guess what... neither of these pieces worked any better. I thought maybe something was gunking up the the threads in the metal pipe, so I used my fingers and a paper towel to clean it out as best I could. I also screwed the broken piece back in and out a few times to make sure nothing was blocking the threads. But, nope, the replacement piece still wouldn't screw in properly. Finally I just wrapped a major amount of silicone tape (the stuff you use to make sure stuff that screws together doesn't leak) around the screw threads and forced it in there. It was sort of crooked, but it seemed like it would work.

I then proceeded to prime, cement and connect the various replacement pipe bits. I got it all together, waited a few minutes while I sort of cleaned up and put away the various tools that I used, then turned the pump back on. The good news is that the pieces that I'd fixed didn't leak. The bad news is that a piece next to the pieces that I had fixed apparently had a hairline crack along its bottom for almost its entire length. I turned the water back off. Looked at what I would have to do to fix that section, sighed a big sigh, cut off the elbow joint that I had just fixed and the entire length of the cracked pipe with the elbow joint at the other end, and went back to Home Depot... again. I brought the cracked piece with me for reference, and the nice man working the plumbing section cut a piece of PVC the exact length that I would need. I'd asked if he would cut it for two reasons. One, it would make it easier to fit in the van, and two, even with the handy dandy PVC cutting tool that the nice man had recommended I buy the first time I went in(much faster than using a hacksaw, especially in confined spaces, and it leaves a cleaner edge), cutting PVC is hard, and it hurt my hand to have to exert so much pressure. I also grabbed a couple of more elbow joints and went home, hoping that this would be my last visit to Home Depot for the day.

I primed, cemented and connected the PVC much faster this time, having by now gotten the hang of it. I waited a bit for things to dry and seal and crossing my fingers and my toes, turned the pump back on. I watched... closely ... to see if any water leaked out anywhere. It was sort of hard to be absolutely sure since the area was soaked and new water wouldn't be immediately obvious, but as far as I could tell nothing was leaking. I kept watching... just to be sure. After a few minutes, I finally relaxed and decided that I had done it right and everything was holding together. I put the new insulation that I bought around the pipes that I fixed, and went inside and turned on the kitchen faucet. Yay!!! Water on demand!!! My fingertips were purple from the PVC primer, but I had running water.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Second trail ride

A few days ago, Foxfire and I went for a second trail ride around the neighborhood. The pasture was (and is) still too muddy for riding, and also, Ziggy seems more accepting of Shadowfax when they are away from the donkeys. Shadowfax did quite well again. Still very looky, but paying more attention to me. There was only one time when he had a little problem. Foxfire had ridden Ziggy fairly far ahead and turned a corner. Once Ziggy was out of sight, Shadowfax got somewhat nervous and started prancing. I tried to calm him back down to a walk, but he wouldn't calm very easily. I tried letting the reins out just a little to let him trot to catch up, but he gathered himself like he was going to go into a canter, so I pulled him back. (I do not want him cantering over asphalt.) I thought about just working through it, but we were coming up on a section of the road that slopes somewhat steeply down to a bridge and I didn't want him to be prancing down that slope. Shadowfax apparently doesn't have much experience with going up and down hills and I was afraid he might lose his balance or something, so I called Foxfire to bring Ziggy back. As soon as Ziggy was back in sight and relatively close, Shadowfax calmed right down and went back to walking.

We finished the ride back in our front yard, and I let Foxfire ride Shadowfax for the first time. He walked, trotted and very briefly cantered him up and down the long side of our property (we live on a corner). Shadow did do a little buck when Foxfire asked him to canter, but otherwise did pretty well. However, I think he really is the kind of horse that would prefer to have just one person riding him. He seems to behave better for me than for either Foxfire or JJ. (JJ said so herself when she went with me to evaluate him before buying him. And she is not the type to say things she doesn't mean.)

Anyway, that's all for now. Foxfire lost a very close friend today and I'm trying to help him deal with the pain. Right now, he's sitting next to me on his computer chatting with other friends, so I figured I would simply write a short post so that I had a reason to sit next to him. I hope that I can give him what he needs.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve started out very nicely. SH offered to trailer our horses over to their arena so that he and Foxfire could practice their jousting and I could ride Shadowfax around. Unfortunately, it was very windy. VERY WINDY! A front was coming through and all the horses were a little antsy. I had to ask for Foxfire's help in bridling Shadowfax. I think part of the problem is simply that the bit is longer than my hand and parts of it dangle over the edges so I have trouble holding it properly to put it in Shadowfax's mouth. I'll have to work on that. However, he stood still while I was mounting, and once I was in the saddle he did very well. Even with the intense wind. DA wasn't there because she had to work, so I had a little more room to ride around without running into anyone. I did a bit more trotting than I did previously, but I still didn't canter him simply because it was so windy and even though he was behaving well, he was still just a little antsy.

I did however, practice on the "heads course" that is set up semi-permanently in part of DASH's arena. It's sort of like Western pole-bending in that you have to weave in and out of the poles. But when you run the heads course you have a "sword"(not a real sword) in your hand and there are "heads"(not real heads, of course) on the poles that you try to whack with your sword as you go past. I didn't have a sword (and didn't want one at this point) so I just practiced weaving in and out of the poles at a walk. I would only go down the course once or twice then go back to riding around doing other things because I didn't want Shadowfax to figure the course out and do it automatically. Why not? Because guiding him through it was good practice for me to learn how to give more subtle and accurate direction cues. However, even without doing it a number of times in a row, Shadowfax still seemed to get the idea of what we were trying to do and I eventually had to do a lot less work to steer him through the course at a walk. Of course, maybe my steering was improving as well. That would be nice.

Eventually, after I had done some trotting around in the dressage area of the arena, I decided to try trotting the heads course. The first time I tried it, I missed a turn and went around two poles in a row instead of weaving between each one. I went back to riding around the arena, did a little more trotting around the dressage area, then gave it another go. That time I did it properly! I made every turn even at the trot. It wasn't a very fast trot and I had to push Shadowfax to keep him in a trot for the last pole, but I did it! I did a little more general riding. Watched Foxfire and SH practicing some different jousting stuff, then tried it again. I did it again! It wasn't just a fluke. And this time, I didn't have to push Shadowfax to keep him in a trot. Unfortunately, the boys were focusing on their own stuff and didn't see me either time. Oh well. I know that I did it.

Sadly, after bringing the horses home, the rest of the evening didn't go so well. It wasn't the fireworks. When people near our house starting shooting off fireworks, we went outside to check on the horses and they didn't even seem to notice the bangs. They would occasionally twitch their ears, but that was it. So that was good. However, later in the evening, while Foxfire and I were having our own little private party, we heard a crash from the pasture area. By the time Foxfire had gotten his clothes on and run outside, all he saw were some drunk idiots climbing back over the back fence into the woods by the creek while the horses and donkeys were running around frantically. I made it out shortly after him and heard the idiots thrashing around in the brush, but didn't see them. I ran back inside and grabbed a pocketful of treats then came back out and called the horses and donkeys over and gave them treats. They calmed down pretty well. At least they weren't running frantically around anymore, but they were still very nervous and kept looking toward the creek where we would still hear the occasional noise of drunk idiots trying to get through the brush. A couple of them made it back to the fence and tried to climb back over into the pasture. I ran toward them and yelled that they had better stay out of the pasture or they would get hurt. They stopped trying to climb the fence and Foxfire yelled at them to get off of our property. Some idiot yelled that they weren't on our property since they were outside the fence and Foxfire yelled back that our property extends to the middle of the creek. They shut up and we could hear them making their way back through the brush towards our neighbors' house.

The neighbors were, of course, having a huge out of control party. Our neighbors are actually very nice and in a way, it wasn't them having the party. They were out of town, but their older daughter who does not live with them was house-sitting or something and had decided to throw a wild party. I stayed with the critters while Foxfire walked around the perimeter of the fence to check for damage. It was good thing he did, because he discovered that someone had obviously scared one of our horses badly enough to make him crash through the front gate into the front yard. The chain holding the gate closed was broken and that gate itself was bent badly out of shape and would no longer close properly. Fortunately, whichever horse had crashed through had obviously come back into the pasture. And even when looking over them closely by flashlight, neither Foxfire nor I could find any scrapes or cuts to indicate which horse did it. Neither horse seemed to be in any pain, and since there were no longer people thrashing around in the brush near the fence, they were considerably calmer. We left them in the area near the barn and Foxfire and I managed to force the gate sort of back into position. We had some chain and a double snap in the garage and I made a temporary fix to hold the gate closed.

After we had things as secure as we could make them. I went inside and tried to call our neighbor to complain and hopefully persuade them to calm the party down and make sure none of their guests invaded our property and scared our horses anymore. I thought about calling the police, but they had been very good neighbors up until this point, so I wanted to try talking to them first. However, their phone was apparently disconnected, so I walked over to their front door instead. As I was walking toward their house, the cops started showing up, and I admit, I was VERY GLAD that someone had called them. At the front door, they originally refused to open the door because they had seen the cops flashing lights, but when I banged on the door and yelled that I was their neighbor and needed to talk to them, the daughter finally opened the door. She admitted that her parents weren't there and about then, the cops stepped up and asked me to move so that they could take care of things. I left it in their hands and went back to stand with Foxfire in the freezing cold to help keep the critters calm and guard them from any other drunks.

Very slowly, the cops managed to get rid of most of the people from the party. Anytime anyone even came close to our fence, I would shine the flashlight at them and tell them to keep back. Most people were actually pretty nice about it and apologized and wished us a happy new year. The few jerks who yelled obscenities at us were approached by the police and taken away. Yay police!!! I had earlier told the police about the horses being freaked out and asked them to avoid using their sirens if possible and they actually didn't for the most part. I suppose they had to every once in a while to get rid of the real trouble-makers. Anyway, Foxfire and I stayed out most of the night guarding the critters. Once in a while one of us would go inside to warm up, but we didn't go to bed until almost all the cars that had been parked along the road (and in our yard) were gone. The ones that were left probably belonged to those who had been arrested or were too drunk to drive and had gotten rides with others. Finally about 5 AM, we felt comfortable enough to go inside. We left all of the outside lights on.

The next day while I was in the yard communing with the horses, the neighbors' daughter and her boyfriend came over to the fence and apologized. I believe it was sincere. But I will definitely be talking to her parents when they are back in town, and if we can't fix the gate, I will be asking her (or more likely her parents) to pay to replace it.

But all the critters seem to be fine. Even in the daylight, we couldn't find any cuts, scrapes or signs of injury. One of the horses is probably bruised, but there is no way to tell which one. No one seems to be in any pain and everyone is calm. So everything worked out okay, but needless to say, Foxfire and I were VERY UPSET. What a horrible way to begin the new year.