February accumulation proves to be a little too much

A couple of weeks ago the temperature got down to twenty-two below. This was the first time we had experienced double digit negatives, and here’s the main lesson:

Nothing likes it that low. No animal, no piece of equipment, nothing. Add wind to it and even if there is no NEW snow, the drifted snow is too dense and too high to move with a miniature plow. The wind chill factor was something like forty-five below.

That morning (it was a Monday), I got the little 4wheeler stuck twice trying to move what had blown around. I spent a big portion of the morning digging it out with a snow shovel, just so I could move enough of it to get the vehicles out. During that process, I thought “I wonder if my truck will start?” So, I tried and it almost didn’t. The starter made some really weird noises when I finally got it to turn over. The crunching rattle coming from the 6.0L powerstroke while it tried to warm up was nerve racking. But it fired up and I let it run for about forty-five minutes before trying to move it.

When I finally got some of it moved around I went up stairs to finish getting ready and noticed there was no hot water. There was cold at the kitchen sink (the farthest point from where the water enters the house) but no hot water anywhere. I didn’t have time to deal with it, so I told Mychael I would try to figure out what was going on with it when I got home. She wasn’t going anywhere that day so she could live a few hours without it.

I climbed in the truck and drove off, and the drive from the house all the way to the main road is basically idle–almost not throttle needed. That’s about a mile. When I got on to the main road, I started to throttle up and the more I pushed the pedal, the slower it got. Eventually, it died and I had to limp it over to the side of the road, where it got stuck. I could not get it out, and could not start it. Eventually I got it to turn over, and a neighbor with another super duty pulled me out. But the truck would not go more that about twenty feet and die. I called Mychael who had to put my tow chain in her car and come down to where I was so we could pull it to a safe location and have it towed into town.

The problem? I found out that weekend the difference between “diesel #1” and “diesel #2.” If you have ever wondered what that difference is when you are at the pump, it’s that diesel #1 has a freezing point of about forty below. Diesel #2 freezes (its called “gelling”) at about positive fifteen. Never seen temps like that in Texas. But they are pretty common here. The fuel filter was damaged, and the truck had to be pulled into a warmed garage for about 24 hours before they could even diagnose it. The truck has had a twitchy electrical system for a while, and the batteries were barely holding a charge, so ALL OF THOSE problems compounded and needed total replacement. In the end, I got:

New fuel filters, new fuel pressure regulator, two new batteries, new starter (I burned it up that morning trying to force it to start), new alternator (my intermittent blinking headlights became much worse once they got it started), new battery cables (all four were fraying and falling apart), and new power cord for my block heater. The total was about $1600 to get it road worthy and reliable again. Now she runs better than ever.  Solution? Run diesel #1 (which is way more refined and expensive) from about November to March. Here she sits next to her pal, the Honda Pioneer 1000 that plows us out in a rare non-blizzard, non-gale force wind moment from the bedroom window.

That road in the background is our access easement to the main road, and I have to plow it every day.

I wanted to live here, in these conditions, in this place. I am not complaining.

Next, the hot water problem. I got home that night and started to investigate. But in the mean time, I had contacted the builder who looked at the original plans and plumbing diagrams to give me some ideas about what went wrong. He suggested that somewhere between the toilet and the bathroom sink was the freeze. He said we needed to get the temp in the back bedroom and bathroom up by cranking up the heat in those rooms, opening up the closet (where the water heater is) and getting some heat in there. Here’s what it looked like:

That was all fine, but why did it happen? It’s a brand new house. So I investigated further and found that the hole in the wall where the power enters the house (located in the subfloor of the bathroom) is WAY bigger than the cable that goes in. So, I jammed a towel in there until I can get some expanding foam insulation.

Within an hour of plugging that hole, the hot water came back. And since we have pex pipe, it did not rupture. No permanent damage.

The builder said the guy I hired to do the electrical should have plugged that hole. No shit.

It was my oldest boys sixth birthday yesterday. Here he is with his mom handing him his presents:

And speaking of Mychael, here’a a little girl game tip for the ladies. There has been a lot of talk over at the Dalrock site about who is and who is not suitable or elite enough for modern marriage. Or what is game. Or…

The latest post is a wellspring of conversation on the topic.

I don’t know how elite I am, but sometimes I get pics like this from her:

That’t not a pregnancy test, its an ovulation test. Full disclosure–we are NOT TRYING to have another one. In fact, we bought this thing at the store a couple days ago as a joke. She’s 45 and I’m 47, so we are pretty sure those days are over. But she thought it would be cute to send it as a flirty way to say “want to have some fun later?” The smiley face means “peak” so who knows? But it was pretty creative.

She also picks my clothes out for me for work:

She says its not because I can’t pick out my own outfits, but because she likes to do it.

Now, for the married women who read here. Set aside everything you think you know about “headship” and “servant leaders” and what you believe you deserve or whatever. How hard is it to be sweet like that? How hard is it to flirt and make your husband feel like he’s a hundred feet tall? If you have to pull teeth to remind yourself that he’s supposedly the love of your life, is it possible the problem is you?

I’m not some super catch. My wife just knows instinctively that keeping the fire going requires her to light the match once in a while too.  Or maybe she’s grateful that I’m the one who goes outside and fights the double digit negative temperatures to keep her comfortable and safe.



Lazy, snowy weekends are nice

Got up Thursday morning and had to plow about a foot of snow before I left for the gym and work. Otherwise,  Mychael would not be able to safely leave the property when it was time to run around with the kids on her mommy errands.

The thing is, even on the nights it doesn’t snow, there is enough on the ground the the wind blows all night causing it drift over whatever road I made the day before and that drifted snow is more difficult to drive on than freshly fallen powder. Another thing I wasn’t tracking I needed to know about. And not being ready for it made me late for work twice last week.

The rest of the weekend was filled with fixing downed fences (goats are relentless in their pursuit of escape), off loading feed, and all the usual stuff. It never ends on a farm/ranch.

I did to take the oldest girl and pull her behind me in the 4 wheeler.

For the readers and followers of the old American Dad blog, I have finally started a serious new workout schedule, which includes going to the gym before work and doing both my run AND my lifting in the same workout. Then I go sit in the locker room and while I am cooing down I get to listen to guys who are only maybe a decade older than me talking about colostomy bags and erection issues. This makes me grumpy.

Oh the fun we have to look forward to as all our parts stop working!

On a related note, Mychael started a new routine (not really changing the activity side, but the diet side) and she is down a size. For any women readers interested, just comment below and she’ll get back to you. Its kind of her own creation based on a bunch of stuff she has come in contact with. She asked me to take her shopping and buy her a new pair of jeans to celebrate the weight loss.

And finally, I did get to relax for a minute with one of the other girls in my life.

I’ll start a log and some posts about how the new workout is going soon.


There are no heroes.

Now that I am a veteran, it occurs to me (to my great satisfaction) that I no longer have to care about things like Department of Defense guidelines and the “acceptable use policies” that govern the online behavior of those who remain on active duty.

During my time serving, most of my readers know I skirted that line quite often but now I can just write whatever I think about much of the colossal stupidity that passes for “honor” and “service.” In that regard, I’d like to talk about how lame it was, and still is, to be called “hero” when folks learn of my time in the army.

But first, two stories. In my first year as an enlisted soldier – still in my initial entry phase at Fort Sam Houston, my company was marched down to one of the on-post theaters to fill up the seats. This is common practice when a speaker is coming and they need to fill the room with the smiling faces of soldiers for the cameras. The guy that was speaking was a chief warrant officer who had been shot to pieces on some battlefield in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Our drill sergeant, right before the speaker arrived revealed to us whey we were being forced to give up a Saturday afternoon.

Some guy is coming to speak to you this afternoon. He was a medic in Vietnam and got shot up pretty bad and pulled his buddies to safety. I guess that makes him a hero or something. I don’t really get it, but whatever.

At another spot in my training, just a few months prior I was near the end of basic. We had finished our field training exercise and as we rounded the corner at the end of the ruck march back to civilization, we were funneled into a large bonfire area with a stage in front. There was rock music playing loudly and the officers of the battalion were all at the front cheering us on, congratulating us, giving speeches. The drill sergeants surrounded the event, with looks of disgust. You could see this was not their idea. They could not wait until the officers released us back to them. And they did, I thought they were going to kill us the way they went off.

Both instances gave me the impression that there is nothing heroic about simply accomplishing what you signed up to do. And that there is an expectation that even if you get all your limbs blown off dragging your buddies to safety, all you did was what was expected. Doing whatever it takes to accomplish the mission is not heroic. 

As I left active duty, one of my parting shots that I tried to share with the newer, younger officers and soldiers I encountered was basically a version of this speech:

We (the military) currently enjoy an enormous amount of positive regard from the general American public. They call us heroes everywhere we go. We are untouchable in the eyes of many–a group that has reached sacred cow status. But we can lose that high regard, and the American public will turn on us in an instant. I have already started to see it. Every time some veteran claiming special status because of his “PTSD” I can sense the cringe. I can see the looks on their faces. Oh great, another one of these supposedly traumatized soldiers gets special treatment.

Most of the time, they would look at me with the sideways, confused dog look. As if no one could possibly ever get tired of soldiers and their bullshit. I guess time will tell.

I’m no combat veteran. Sure, it says I am on my DD214. I get to call myself that. But please. I have been outside the wire a total of three times, and the scariest thing that ever happened to me was listening to small arms fire plinking the side of our Chinook. No real danger. In fact, we thought it was funny and we took selfies.

Silly Haaji. Don’t you know you can’t shoot down a Chinook with an AK47?

So maybe some of my consternation is my own guilt over having never actually faced the enemy on the field of battle, engaged him while he engaged me, and came back alive. Maybe I wish I could tell people my story before they say “thank you for your service.” I usually just grunt and awkwardly turn away.

But from my perspective, no duty bound personnel, should ever be called a hero in the course of doing exactly what they are called (and paid) to do. I reserve the term for the guy–not in uniform–who runs into a burning building and starts pulling people out who he has no fiduciary responsibility to care about at all. No oath bounds him to run into that building. He takes a huge personal risk to save people he does not know. 

What about Dave Sanders, who died protecting students at Columbine? Similarly, Liviu Librescu at the Virginia Tech massacre. These folks were thrust into a situation, and when the time came to make a decision, they suspended all thoughts of danger to themselves, with no statutory obligation to do so.

Or people like Chiune Sugihara, or Paul Rusesabagina–people who were in exactly the right place, in the right position to do the maximum good for a large amount of people–again at great personal risk to themselves with only morals to guide them. I could only dream of having the heroic ethos of people like them. 

My friend and former colleague Zeno Franco and his associates have been trying to wrestle with the definition of heroism for quite a while. He was thinking about it a lot, way back when we were in graduate school together. I think their efforts are interesting, but the quest for the heart of the matter will, I am afraid, elude them forever.

The duty bound personnel may sign up for firefighting, police work or soldiering because of an inordinate amount of altruism, belief in something greater or an extra helping of courage. Or they just have a really high appetite for risk. Either way, if they turn their back at the moment of truth, they will be branded a coward, as it should be.

All the others I listed, had they saved themselves, no one would have noticed or judged. They did something that no rational person would do, to save strangers.

And those of us who “served” know it. So the next time you see a soldier at an airport, think twice about the hero crap. You will probably avoid an awkward situation and most likely they just want to be left alone.

Am I proud to have “served?” Sure. But only because I managed to provide for a family without breaking any laws. But the plumber and the guy who dug my well do that too.

The necessity of one on one time

I had to take Mychael for part II of a dental procedure today. Not exactly the way she wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon. But we took the opportunity to have some individual time with David, our soon-to-be six-year-old.

Before we left for our day, David “caught” us making up after a minor disagreement and snapped the photo saying “that’s how rabbits apologize.” It was pretty cute. Apparently he learned that from a cartoon version of “Peter Rabbit.”

Rabbit Apology

Off we went into downtown Helena, which is essentially a living modern Norman Rockwell painting. We had ice cream.

Big Dipper ice cream in Helena

I got a pic of them holding hands

And looking around I noticed how idyllic this place is. Here’s the street the dentist is located on.

It’s about 50 meters from the front door of my office:

Anyway, David got some time with mom and dad, while the others stayed home with “Gam.” And he definitely enjoyed it.

Ive noticed that all my kids respond differently to these little outings but they all need it. Do you do this with yours?

Winter finally arrives at Ljubomir

Since the first snow that hit us in October, we have been waiting for the big one. It has snowed numerous times here, but its always a one to two inch dusting that is gone the next day. Finally, we got some real snow a couple days ago and although we did not have a white Christmas, its still everything we imagined it would be.

Here’s a look at what Christmas and the week after looked like around here. We had the traditional family around the tree opening presents in the morning. In this particular case it was nice because the twenty two year old one was home so we had all of them under the same roof.

I snapped one on Christmas Eve that had everyone in it:

The “littles” decorated sugar cookies to leave out for Santa:

The brakes on Mychaels car started rubbing steel on steel so I got to do that on Christmas morning.

We picked up some hay bales in the snow.

I went with Mychael to pick up some stuff we wanted once the after Christmas sales started. If your wife does her hair and make up just to hang out and run errands with you, keep her.

Went ice fishing with friends in 2 degree weather.

And here’s a tech tip on what I am having to do with my diesel every night, or risk it not starting in the morning. (It generally gets down into the negatives at night now).

Make SURE the block heater is plugged in AS WELL AS have the trickle charger going on one of the two batteries. Alternate batteries every night.

Finally, here are three videos I took. The last one was supposed to be an inspirational running one and it just ended up sounding lame.

Hope everyone enjoyed Christmas as much as we did. Have a great New Year.


A walk through thirteen Ljubomir Christmases

Looking through the Christmas album, I find these tell a pretty amazing story. We met at Christmas time 2006, and one of our first dates was to Mychael’s work Christmas party.

This year will be thirteen Christmases together, and it’s been a blessed life, and one we both think of as undeserved.

It’s interesting to watch it chronologically, and see the family grow.

Our fist Army Christmas ball. Mychael is “out to here” with Kenna.

The following year, Kenna starts a tradition in our family. Suspicion of the big guy in red.

That year, Mychael worked Christmas eve (hence the nursing uniform) and we opened presents and went to church when she go home.

Chrnistmas morning church

Christoipher’s first serious hunting knife

The following year, we moved to a new duty station, and Santa had changed his entire look

It was also the year of the pointiest tree ever

Kenna crashes after opening presents

Baking Christmas cookies

One year, I came home from Afghanistan during R&R and we got to go to a hotel (alone) and go see Austin Ballets “The Nutcracker”

Salado Christmas Tree Farm. Christopher had a huge bandage on his finger from the neighbors dog who bit him.

David shows up, and this is one of my favorite pictures of him. Salado closed, so we tried Silo Tree Farm

And Christopher took over as the guy who cuts down the tree

That was the year we bought the big house that we lived in for almost seven years

Kenna did not understand what was in this box, but once I built the doll house she loved it

I started taking pictures of Mychael hanging tree lights

Snapped this one during a photo shoot for Christmas cards in the woods behind the house

You can see me in the background trying to hold up David

Aleksandar appears for the first time, only three months old

And it was out first Orthodox Christmas

Another Christmas ball, San Antonio

We had temporary duty for those two years, so we had to find a different tree farm, again

More of the tree light elf

Gratuitous picture of David “helping” me tie the tree down, another year.

I tried to recreate the magic of the cowboy hat David picture with Aleks, but this one is just not as good

Aleks takes suspicion of Santa to a new level, this time its just pure terror

Super cool filter for fireplace photo, another year

David–first gun that actually shoots a projectile (darts)

During the intermission at their sisters Nutcracker debut as a reindeer

And now, here we are, about a week out from Christmas number thirteen.

Aleksandar, the youngest boy, is still very suspicious of Santa.

…very suspicious.

David, has reached a level of not being so “anti-help” and actually gets some things done when I need him to.

In order to jam it into our temporary arrangement, the tree is much smaller.

The Montana sky is more breath taking than I imagined even in my dreams.

And my wife is still my dream girl.

Here’s to hoping all our readers have blessed Christmas season, and if we don’t see you on Christmas day–Hristos Se Rodi!

To finish off as we started this post, with another work Christmas party, what a difference a few years makes.




Getting it ready, slowly

I can’t remember the last time it took me this long to get the lights up. It’s usually something I do Thanksgiving weekend. Here it is December 8th, and I just got it done. Also, we are going a little subdued this year, so it wasn’t even that hard.

If I had a taller ladder and money for WAY more lights, it would be lit up Clark Griswold style.

I had a little help from the blonde kid that lives with us:

And the little tree I cut down on the ranch had to be trimmed even smaller to fit on the TV stand. But I think it still looks pretty good:

Since the Orthodox Nativity Fast is a little longer than the western Advent season, we started using this book from Elissa Bjelitich. It is an Orthodox children’s survey of the relevant scriptures, to be read daily. It brings you to an understanding of how each story fortells, in some way of the coming of the Christ child. As an adult Christian, the stories are not new to me. But the format is great and I must admit to finding a little vicarious living through my children, for whom these stories are mostly new, is fun. There is a question and answer section at the end of each story (only my 9 year old really engages in that part) and it comes with a tin of ornaments–each one corresponding to the story you just read. Mychael bought this little tree to hang them on.

Mychael and I hope all our readers are slowing down to enjoy the season.

Edit: I just came across this slick video that Montana Shed Center made of the delivery and assembly of my barn a few months ago. They  even came back and took some aerial footage so you can see our horses, donkey and some of our vehicles.

Heaven is a place called Helena

We’ve been here for almost two months, and its time to start singing the praises of the local businesses and proprietors that have made our transition, in some cases, possible at all.

Recall, Montana Shed Center and their subcontractor Riverside Cabins built our absolutely beautiful “barndominium.” Every morning I go for my run, and as I crest the hill that my horses graze on, I see the sun coming up over it. I have to pinch myself.

Ljubomir Farms, approximately 6:30 every morning.

I won’t lie and say that there have been zero issues with it, but that is to be expected. A few minor things here and there, and Bill from Riverside had a crew out to address them. They were proud of their work, and you could tell. They even sent a guy out with a drone to take some aerial photos to use in their own promotional stuff.

I bought a vintage tractor, a 1956 Allis-Chalmers WD45  which, to be honest has had some problems from the start. Transmission went out. (Well, actually it was just the linkage). Front tires were cracked pretty bad and I didn’t notice when I bought it. I hauled it to Grizzly Diesel Service and they were a great help. They had never worked on one of these, and were not able to find the parts. So they fabricated them!

From there, the tractor went to MontanaTire Company to replace the cracked tires. And of course, the age of the tractor proved to be an issue again. When the tire came off, all the JB Weld that was holding the rim together over the years disintegrated into crumbling shards of rust. The rim would not hold a tire and tube (yes, it takes tubes). So they turned me on to Helena Farm Supply, in East Helena. They did not have rims for a 70 year old tractor on hand, but they were able to get them in about a week. So the tractor sat at his place all that time, taking up space, waiting for the rims to come in.

Keep in mind, every one of these places “spotted” me the cash in advance. Montana tire ordered the tires for me over the phone–specialty tires that no one would ever likely need–no credit card, just my name and a promise I would come in to pay for them later.

Helena Farm supply actually FORGOT to bill my card for a couple of days after I picked up the rims.

Mark Heimann is a local farmer/rancher who I started buying hay from. Once I got to know him, I just stop by his place, grab the hay I need and either leave the cash there or settle up later.

Picking up hay at Marks place.

We took the kids to get pumpkins at Johnson’s Nursery where they had a blast. It is small and they gave us some pretty cool jelly jarring techniques for next year when we are ready to start that part of business up again.

Murdoch’s is a chain, and I don’t usually mention stuff like that. However, the one here is outstanding. I’ve been in there 50 times already, and I could tell a story about the helpful and friendly folks there each time. The best was the day I went in and had the baby in my arms. I needed to get about a dozen 50lb bags of horse grain onto carts and pushed out to the truck. The lady that found me in the isle was not big enough to help load, but she carried Kathryn for me the entire time, all the way to the check out stand and out the door.

Some other honorable mentions:

Steve’s Cafe.  Two locations, great food.

Parrot Confectionery. No better candy in town.

Bert and Ernies. Great comfort food, accommodating to people with little kids.

The staff at the tag office for getting plates? Totally normal and nice. The guy who helped me change my drivers license to Montana? Friendly, polite, helpful.

Two months in, and the honeymoon is still on. We love it here.


A picture tour of the last few days and travel to Montana.

Retirement party:


All of us

“Attention to orders!”


Kathryn and mommy

Travelling, including the night before with vehicles staged and ready:

Navigator and co-pilot, Faith.

We had to stay in places that accommodate livestock. This was Lubbock, Texas.

Fuel up in Raton, New Mexico.

Blowout number one.

Blowout number two.

And the first couple of weeks. Fencing in several acres for the horses. Building a chicken/duck coop. Purchasing a restored 1956 Allis Chalmers WD45 tractor. Scenes from around the place.

First morning stretch after run.

Fence posts pounded in for pasture.

This is the view from my deck every night.

“New” tractor.

Icon corner

Assembly/install of the new wood burning stove.

Finished chicken run around coop.

There is still so much more to do before the first freeze. There were two blow outs on the trailer. The movers basically dumped all our stuff down in the breezeway of the barndominium. Installing the wood burning stove was weird. It seems like we work 24/7 to get organized and de-cluttered and never get anywhere. The kids have already met their homeschool co-op. Our new church family brought us food before we even met them.

We are safe and sound. I still can’t believe I live here now.