Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Building Hope

I’m sore. Like just-cut-it-off sore. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I’ve been sore since the beginning of August.

The good news? The skin-melting temperatures are behind us. The bad news? Now it’s freezing. Literally. And let me tell you, these kinds of temps cause fights.

Hubs and I argue about whose turn it is to go out of the heated camper to grab missing tools.

So we’re sore and freezing but hopeful because now we’re putting things back in the trailer.

Demolition is kind of exciting. Fixing is demoralizing. Building is glorious.

Except for the occasional splinters and smashed fingers.

Youngest can usually be heard exclaiming, “Language!” when he makes rare appearances at the worksite. I swear we don’t abuse the english language that often – the kid just has amazing timing.

I know, we’re terrible parents. We’ll worry about it after the camper is done. Like every other thing that has fallen into disrepair since its arrival.

Okay, enough editorializing. Lots to update.

The bathroom wall and bedframe were built this weekend.

New bathroom wall and bed frame. You can kind of see the new chrome shower fixtures.

Hubs and Oldest gave in to my floorplan change and Hubs built a wall cabinet over the soon-to-be desk.

The ceiling is still awaiting its turn to be tacked up.

Boring stuff like the propane installation, toilet plumbing, more caulking, new shower fixtures, filling uneven walls, and lots more priming took way too much time.

We rebuilt the bathroom counter since we couldn’t reuse the one I fell through. The new counter got a laminate surface that looks like concrete. Unfortunately, we couldn’t install it after we read the contact cement instructions that clearly stated the temps had to be above 65 degrees for 72 hours. The thermometer read 23 degrees outside, so the counter is in time-out in the basement.

New bathroom counter.
The laminate sheet. It’s going to recover the kitchen counters and the kitchen table too.

Great progress, but the most exciting arrival was the newly finished rock guard. This awning-like piece locks over the front windows during travel to prevent rocks from breaking the glass. Previously, it depicted an ugly mountain scene.

Grant’s rock guard looked identical to this one. Somehow, we missed ever taking pics of it before we primed it.
The rock guard has already been primed here but you can see the ugly mountain scene. The surface has a crazy texture of hairy fiberglass.

Now?

Snoopy.

Hubs came up with the idea and his mom, Mary Anne, worked her magic on a surface no one thought could be painted. We all adore it. It’s perfect for Grant since he’s a pilot and loved snoopy as a kid.

Hubs favorite part of the weekend? Moving the camper to the barn. Now it’s closer to his tools.

The camper couldn’t be moved previously due to two windows that wouldn’t close. Thanks to blacksmith Eric who forged new hinges and mailed them from OKC, we were able to install the windows and move the trailer.

Forged by a real-life blacksmith.

We also got this package in the mail.

Did you know you can have an air compressor emergency? Me either. But that’s what the box says. Many thanks to Ingersoll Rand for fast-shipping out the part for our broken air compressor.

Because building things the old-fashioned way is overrated.

Flusing Away All Our Fears

We passed a giant hurdle this past weekend.

Plumbing.

For those of you that RV, you understand. For the rest of you – tanks that hold what they are supposed to hold are THE most important aspect of a camper.

Except for tires. But those will come soon.

The black tank, the gray tank, the water heater, and the freshwater tank are now installed and have been tested. No leaks!

Hubs used residential PEX to create a complicated system of valves that can be shut off easily if any plumbing fixture begins to leak in the future and will still allow the other fixtures to be used. Oldest will be able to walk into any home improvement store and get new parts and install them in minutes. All the lines can be drained for winterizing the trailer when not in use. PEX won’t freeze and burst but Hubs mounted it to the underside of the future bed to keep it in the heated interior.

It all makes sense – trust me.

We also installed the toilet. Never has flushing brought me so much joy.

Seriously.

There might or might not have been a fifteen-minute period where the three of us stood around the kitchen sink turning the faucet on and off.

Just because we could.

I also finished filling the hundreds of holes in the wood walls this weekend and completed the priming of the walls and cabinets.

The only complication? We decided to change the floorplan of the kitchen and bedroom.

And by we I mean me.

I know. I know. But, as I reminded Hubs and Oldest when they rolled their eyes at my idea, we haven’t started building the furniture yet. So it’ll be easy.

Right?

Well, It Smells Less Like Dead Things

You know that smell you notice when you walk into an old home? The one that suggests dead things are in the walls? Oldest’s camper definitely had that smell.

Now it smells like oil-based primer.

So. Much. Better.

Unfortunately, the primer has to go on by hand. My cheap spray gun can’t handle the viscosity of primer and thining it doesn’t get the coverage we need.

Hubs got the shower re-set and braced up. If you are an RV owner and have never added braces under your shower, you WILL have a leak. All RV tubs float above the floor and, sooner or later, as people stand on the thin fiberglass, the drain will begin to separate from the trap. The leak won’t always show up near the shower either. Grant’s shower was leaking but the floor was rotting in the bedroom. RVs are rarely parked perfectly level so the water travels until it finds a way out.

We also got the peel and stick tiles installed on the bathroom walls. And by we, I mean Hubs did all the difficult work and I handed him things. The difference in the room is astounding. The plastic tiles are washable and lightweight. Perfect for a camper. The install was not easy with all the cabinets and windows to cut around in such a small space, but the job only took about 2 1/2 hours.

Next up on the worklist? Filling holes in walls, priming, installing the freshwater tank, building the bathroom wall, and installing the bathroom countertop.

And finding a way to keep the goats out of the worksite.

The Boring Stuff

The last week has been filled with boring progression. Well, boring to you. We are ecstatic about the amount of caulk and butyl tape being put to use sealing this tin-can-O-holes.

Windows, exterior lights, compartment doors, and entry doors have been installed. I don’t think Hubs and I have ever stared lovingly at door handles until this week. The reason?

Animals.

Everywhere.

Our cats, the neighbor’s cats, the other neighbor’s dog, and who-knows-how-many wild animals have been enjoying RV life since we tore the trailer apart.

How do I know?

Tracks.

Tiny, and not-so-tiny, footprints on every surface. Sometimes in my paint. Just yesterday I had to keep shooing a goat off the wheel I was painting.

The goats have benefited from our all-consuming work on the trailer. The electric fence is red most days and we’ve grown complacent with goats-gone-wild. After all, they put themselves back in the barn at night. Plus they keep the grass mowed. It’s a win-win.

Contrary to popular belief, goats don’t eat everything. They TASTE everything. Most things are spat back out … so the random trailer parts sitting around are fine.

And covered in goat spit.

A Solid Foundation

The college camper had a squishy floor upon arrival at the farm. The previous owners had tiled it and the mortar base was the only thing keeping anyone from falling through.

Bedroom floor torn out.

We researched all the options for RV flooring and settled on a few necessities. We wanted the floor to float above the decking, it needed to be water-resistant, and it needed to be very thin to work under the walls and doors. With those requirements in mind, we found Traffic Master Allure flooring sold at Home Depot. The flooring is available in tons of colors, but we chose Khaki Oak since it was sold in the store and available immediately.

Hubs installed the floating floor in about 6 hours. The planks have glue tabs that allow them to adhere to each other but not the subfloor. Cutting into all the tight corners is easy since the planks can be scored with a utility knife and snapped to the correct size.

The gray edging is the sticky strip that allows each plank to stick to another once pressure is applied to the seam.

A week later, the floor is handling the construction traffic really well. We walk in and out with rocks and butyl tape stuck to our shoes and the floor takes the wear beautifully. It’s easy to clean with a shop vac at the end of the day. Perfect for a college student.

A Facelift

“Just slap some paint on it.”

Sounds easy, right?

*Bangs head on wall.*

Sure, painting takes just a couple of hours – or faster if you’re trying to beat a rainstorm. But the prep work for painting a 30-year-old travel trailer?

Six weeks.

Butyl tape, silicone caulk, latex caulk, and decal all in one spot.

No joke. We scraped, scrubbed, and conducted science experiments to discover the correct chemical remover for all the different adhesives and caulks on the trailer for six weeks. Lucky for you, I now have a list:

liquid nails = DAP Caulk-Be-Gone

Butyl tape = plastic scraper for the chunks and mineral spirits on shop rags for the residue

decals = heat gun and plastic scraper

clear silicone caulk = WD-40 and a scraper for the thick stuff, then “sand” off with scotch brite pads on a die grinder.

latex caulk = Goo Gone Caulk Remover

rust = scotch brite pads on a die grinder

general metal cleaning = acetone (don’t use on aluminum siding – it just takes the paint off)

Be prepared for lots of ripped fingernails, cuts, and skin coated with mineral spirits. Funny side note: I started adding Collagen Peptides to my coffee everyday and noticed that my cuts heal really fast now. If you are taking on a trailer remodel you might want to try the peptides. Oh, and get a tetanus shot.

Seriously.

Buy the shop towels listed above in bulk. And nitrile gloves. You’ll use a lot. And be sure that the scraper is plastic – metal will damage the aluminum siding. If you don’t have an air compressor – get one. You’re going to need it for sanding, scrubbing, and painting.

Steps to paint the exterior of an aluminum-sided RV:

1.) Remove all the doors, windows, trim, and side rails.

2.) Scrape off all the chunks of butyl tape and wipe clean with mineral spirits and shop towels.

3.) Remove any decals and other kinds of caulk.

4.) Sponge-bathe the entire outside of the trailer with shop towels.

5.) Sand the edges of any holes you intend to fill and any rough spots. Clean those spots.

6.) Fill holes with Bondo.

7.) Sand Bondo spots. Clean those spots.

8.) Tape off any part of the trailer you don’t want painted, including the window holes. Don’t forget the tires.

9.) Spray auto primer on Bondo spots and any bare metal spots.

10.) Prep paint sprayer with 6 parts paint and 2 parts acetone.

11.) Spray light coats of the paint over the body of the trailer. We sprayed 2 coats.

12.) Spray a light coat of clear coat according to the manufacturer directions.

13.) Remove any tape or plastic from trailer and wait to dry. We waited 5 days before re-taping for stripes to make sure the new tape didn’t remove the new body paint.

14.) Repeat steps 10-13 if you want a different color accent.

Body paint done.

I must admit that it turned out better than I expected. It’s not perfect – there are rough spots where we could not remove certain adhesives. I would wager that our previous owners were not handy. Murmurs of “idiots” were frequent during the cleaning process.

Grant opted for a white body accented by red and black stripes that will match his 1993 F-150 tow vehicle once it’s painted.

We also changed the aluminum windows from brown back to aluminum with paint. It took 3 cans for all of our windows. I’m really impressed with the Rustoleum High Performance Enamel paint. It goes on very smooth, levels out beautifully, and is very hard once dry. I can’t even scratch the paint with my fingernail now that it’s been hardening over a week.

Unfortunately, the day after Grant installed the bathroom window, I fell through the sink (don’t ask) and shattered the bottom pane of glass. Good news? I learned that duct tape is great for removing glass from skin.

Next week? Interior floors!

Diving into Adulthood

Our oldest son turned nineteen in June and bought his first house in August.

A house on wheels.

The idea is that he can take his house with him to college, internships, and even his first job. The problem? College students are not known for having much money and our son is no different. He spent most of his meager savings on his travel trailer and it still needed to be pushed off a cliff a lot of TLC.

Dreams of a fresh coat of paint were replaced with the reality of roof repair, replacing the water heater, installing a new sub-floor, replacing corner braces, all new plumbing and all new wiring.

Welcome to home ownership.

For the last month, we’ve endured demo mode in 100-degree heat. This past weekend we finally turned the corner and started putting things back into the trailer. Oldest seems more hopeful.

Probably because he won’t fall through the floor when walking from the bed to the shower.

You know you’ve reached adulthood when you are learning how to rewire your house at the same time you are studying for a Calculus test.

The plan is to have the trailer completely remodeled by the time Oldest transfers to Texas Tech in January. Stay tuned to see if we make it!

A Day in the Life

People always ask me what it’s like living on a farm. My typical answer is “busy” but I finally decided to chronicle a day in my life for your enjoyment.

6:45 am – Wake up to a call from the post office telling me to pick up my mail-order of turkey chicks.

6:45-7:10 am – Drink coffee while checking work email.

7:10-7:25 am – Get dressed, insert contacts, brush teeth, shove hair under a hat and find car keys. Push a sleeping cat off the car before pulling out of the garage.

7:25-7:45 am – Drive to the post office and pick up turkeys. Drive home with a backseat full of chirping.

7:45-8:15 am – Open package to find 10 healthy chicks. Prepare turkey brooder (large old stock tank) with shavings and teach chicks how to drink and eat. Spend three minutes observing fluffy cuteness.

8:15 am – Get a God-nudge to check baby goats but ignore it and start the trek from the barn to the house.

8:17 am – Get a louder God-nudge to check the baby goats so I turn back around and head to barn.

8:20 am – Find a baby doeling covered in diarrhea and very weak. Coccidia. We’ve never had it before but it’s common with babies in goat herds and easily contracted by animals and humans. Grab my medical kit and syringe-feed her Nutri-drench.

8:25-8:45 am – On hold with the veterinarian’s office while checking work email. Vet tells me to swing by at noon for the meds.

8:45-9:00 am – Wake up human kids and tell them to clean the goat stalls. Find electrolytes and syringe-feed to sick doeling.

9:00-9:45 am – Drive to feed store to buy medicated goat grain to prevent remaining goats from getting sick.

9:45-11:40 am – Feed medicated grain to all goats and syringe feed more electrolytes to the sick doeling. Help boys clean a stall. Prep a dog cage in a separate stall and move sick the doeling there. Stab myself in the shoulder blade with a 5-inch screw when I back into the gate. Try not to 1.) cuss and 2.) cry in front of the two younger boys. Fail at #1 but they kindly ignore me.

11:40-12 noon – Contemplate jumping in the pool with all my clothes on but decide to change into swim clothes. Spend the first 10 minutes cleaning the pool and the remaining 10 minutes talking to each of the human kids about what they need to get done. The realization dawns that I haven’t actually done anything on my lists for the day so I begin mentally rearranging them.

12-1 pm – Drive to the veterinarian’s office. Find that I really need a nap but ain’t got time so I crank up a Meghan Trainor song and have a sing-along dance party in my car. Get meds and remember to pick up blood work results from April. Drive home repeating the sing-along dance party. Doesn’t help. I’m still tired.

1-1:10 pm – Medicate sick doeling and yell at Youngest for not spreading the goat stall bedding around the apple trees after I reminded him. What kind of a farmer wastes free fertilizer?

1:10-2:00 pm – Eat lunch while writing notes for blog, responding to messages from Outdoorsy (where we rent out our camper), checking work email, responding to a bite on a Craigslist ad, responding to someone interested in buying sheep, and logging goat medication and blood work results. Sneak to the refrigerator to see if there is any of my mother-in-law’s famous pecan pie left. Find a piece (a miracle in a house with four males) AND whipped cream. My day is saved.

2:00-3:00 pm – Get through 1/3 of an episode of Good Bones while folding two loads of laundry. Do dishes. Contemplate ignoring the list line clean master shower. Wonder if you can get gangrene from your shower. Decide to risk it.

3:00-3:05 pm – Remove 2 empty milk jugs from the refrigerator and car parts from the kitchen table. Shove multiple pairs of muddy boots out of the way. Remember three new things to add to my to-do list.

3:05-3:20 pm – Syringe-feed the doeling more electrolytes and check turkey chicks.

3:20-6:00 pm – Work for my off-farm job.

6:00-6:30 pm – Make dinner. Syringe-feed the doeling.

6:30-8:00 pm – Weed garden. Pick blackberries. Check sheep. Discover that all of our eggs have disappeared from the coop for the second day in a row. Realize we have a snake somewhere who’s cheating me out of my breakfast.

8:00-8:30 pm – Swim again. Thank God for our pool. Again.

8:30-9:00 pm – Check work email.

9:00-9:15 pm – Clean up dinner mess.

9:15-10:00 pm – Watch TV with Hubs.

10:00-10:30 pm – Syringe-feed electrolytes to doeling and discover that her mom is now sick. Pull sick momma into the stall with the doeling and start syringe-feeding her too. Check all the goats very carefully to make sure everyone else is okay. Try to bottle-feed the sick momma’s healthy buckling since they are now separated. He won’t take the bottle but thankfully another goat momma lets him nurse.

10:30-11:30 pm – Call all the human kids together to explain the course of treatment for the sick goats and how to keep all the healthy goats from getting sick. Warn them that the ill goats might not survive. In our experience, once a goat actually acts sick, it’s too late.

11:45 pm – Finally head to bed.

Update:

The baby goat died the next morning and her mom died three days later. My boys continued to syringe-feed every three hours all that time.

Four days later, we still have a snake eating all of our eggs and we’ve done everything but tear the coop down to find it. Someone finally suggested placing golf balls inside the nesting boxes. Apparently, once the snake eats them it can’t eat anything else. We try not to kill snakes but this one is proving very elusive.

I decided to write this blog the night before the eventful day depicted. The complete change of plans for the day is not unusual for farm-life. Chaos is normal. Sheep giving birth, goats escaping, the livestock guardian dog getting skunked, the barn cat marching into the garage with a 3-foot-long lizard, snakes in the garden, barn, chicken coop, flower bed, a freak storm that litters your property with downed branches, and the electric fence flashing red again. All normal. All painful for this first-born-stick-to-the-plan personality. My advice for future farmers?

Expect the unexpected.

And get an above-ground pool. The snakes can’t get in there.

Oh Sheep!

IMG_20170620_164338

Our two ewes. Qui is on the left and Notion is on the right.

Sheep are referenced in the bible over 500 times. Most frequently, they are compared to humans.

That is not a compliment.

Having been a shepherd for a whopping five months, I can testify to the sheer insanity of sheep.

They are afraid of everything. They panic unexpectedly and frequently which causes them to bolt in different directions.

Like fluffy, annoying popcorn.

Metal wall in the way of escape? They will attempt to jump through it.

Don’t believe me? Come count the dozens of sheep-shaped dents in our shed.

 

Patmos

Patmos, our ram. See the dents in the shed behind him?

Hubs has become an expert at catching sheep in mid-air with the crook. Seriously, he’s reached sheep-ninja status.

We raise Barbados Blackbellies, which are promoted by the Livestock Conservancy in an effort to protect endangered livestock breeds.  Lots of research went into our breed choice. We knew that we wanted hair-sheep, which are used for meat and shed their winter wool without having to be clipped.

Raising sheep for meat was our number one goal until we discovered the Barbados Blackbellies. Now our goals are split equally between preserving the breed and producing quality grass-fed lamb for consumption. Blackbellies are known for their tender, flavorful meat without the common “gamey” taste of wool-sheep.

Our seven acres of pasture land can handle a large number of sheep using a rotating pasture method. Each ewe typically has two to three lambs over three breeding seasons in a two-year period. If we’re lucky, we’ll get six to nine lambs every two years from each ewe.

That’s a lot of insane beings on four-legs in one area.

We need to be smarter than the sheep.

Thankfully the bible says people also come in the goat variety.

patmosnotionfield

O.M.G. = Oh My Goat

goat herd

Sure they seem cute and innocent with their sweet maas and soulful eyes.

But it’s all a lie.

Goats are smart. Take-you-for-all-your-worth-smart.

They are also great at making up  when they’ve wronged you. So you forgive them. Until they escape again and eat your prettiest rose bush.

Our favorite goat, Skye, has become a master escapegoat. We searched the electric fence for the weak spot. We shocked the bejeezus out of ourselves testing the electric flow. The thing about electric fences? You have to be grounded for the shock to work.

Skye jumps through the middle of the fence. All four hooves are off the ground at the same time. No shock.

She never goes anywhere. She just eats the greener grass on the other side of the fence from her herd, driving them and her livestock guardian dog, Thor, crazy. Her herdmates, Iona and Vaila, are usually the ones who alert us to Skye’s trechery. They sound the alarm that the insubordinate has breeched the perimeter. Again.

Vailia and Iona

Vaila and Iona

One of us walks out to the barn with a grateful Skye running, ears-flopping-in-the-wind-style, to meet us and follow us back into her pen. Why does she escape when all she wants is to get back into the goat yard?

Because she can.

Goats are as curious as cats without all the supernatural balance working in their favor.

We try to be mad at her but she is so darn cute. And friendly. She is the first one to greet you, the first one line up for a rub down.

skye

Skye

We’re toast.

Hmm, toast covered in goat cheese sounds really good. “Babe, do we have any fresh goat cheese?”

thor and goats

Thor and his goats. Don’t let the picture fool you. He’s enormous, more like a baby polar bear.

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