Monday, October 31, 2016

The Rover's Return

Fall is coming slowly to an end. It really is our longest season here in Maine, starting in August when the leaves of swamp maples first begin to show color, and ending in late November or even December with the first nor'easter that falls and stays. That's nearly five months, some years. Spring is long too, from mud season in late March or early April to the first hot, humid weather in late June, but that's only about two to three months. High summer, with all the heat and heavy humidity, is usually less than two months, and sometimes less than one. I personally measure summer by the presence or absence of fireflies after dark. Winter can be very long here, though, depending on when that first lasting snowfall occurs.

For which we're grateful. It keeps the riffraff away. But, considering that winter in Maine means snow, and lots of it, you have to have everything ready, or you'll be caught short.

I didn't mention either road repair or blackfly season, both of which overlap these other, more formal seasons, and both of which can hinder your movements more than the weather does, except, perhaps, for snow.

And then there's hunting season, the cusp of which is Maine's month-long rifle season for whitetail deer, now upon us.

The leaves are almost completely gone from all the trees except a few beeches, birches, alders, and tamarack. The tomato plants are black from frost, although there are still edible berries on some, trying desperately to ripen. I picked the last of the eggplant, tiny little things that Aimee says will be bitter, and a couple of blue Hubbard squash. I thought I'd make ratatouille with the eggplant.

We take nice walks with the dogs, but now we have to worry about deer hunters. Since our road is a dead end, and because the dogs bark whenever a truck comes, it's usually easy to know when there's a hunter in our woods. It is possible, although not likely, for a particularly motivated hunter to come in from the other side of the woods, nearly two miles away on the Bog or Village roads, but no-one ever does. Hunters are not usually that athletic. But even so, we all wear orange, including the dogs, and don't stray from the gravel roads as we might have done earlier.

Edana doesn't know much about hunter safety, so she's unaware of the reason she has to wear a bright orange vest. But she likes pumpkins and apples and the apple juice we get from the orchard, and enjoyed her first Hallow'een last night at the village library, so fall is a hit.

I've been reminding her that it will snow one day soon to prepare her mentally. She probably will be happy, not sad, to see the fluffy white snow, even if it will restrict her movements further. She likes to watch kids sledding on TV, and her favorite book is "The Snowy Day".

With the advent of the white stuff in mind, though, I have as always been working down a long to-do list of pre-winter chores, now nearing completion. This process has been slower than usual because the only time I have to do this work now I have a kid is four or five hours on Saturday morning, when Aimee takes Roo first to swim class and then to do the week's shopping.

Time and money, money and time. The hardest job to get done was the Land Rover's muffler, not so much because it was hard mechanically, but because our finances were strained by the purchase of the trailer and the annual property tax bill. I had to wait nearly two months before I could afford the replacement. But it's done, and, after the usual two hours messing with annoyingly intermittent defunct lights and horn, the Rover is over at the local repair shop, ready for inspection, with two Camry wheels and snow tires for fitting in the back to boot. Afterwards, I'll take her to the local short stop and top off the gas for the winter. When it's back we'll fit the snow plow.

There's still a little fence to take down, as well as the greenhouse frame to fix, and the trailer to winterize (a new chore, that I have to teach myself to do), but these amount to less than two hour's work for next Saturday, and once the Rover Returns (slight "Coronation Street" pun there for you British readers!) and the plow is fitted, it can snow if it wants to.

We're ready.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Leaf peepers

Aimee planned a leaf-viewing picnic -- on a train. This is the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad, a volunteer-run local railway heritage preservation organization that offers rail tours a few times a year.

Edana, who has read about trains in books and seen them on TV and possibly from afar, was very excited to go on the train. She got so worked up that she became upset when we stopped to quickly pick up some groceries, and I had to placate her with a story or two while mommy did the shopping. But eventually the great moment arrived and our kid got to go on a train.

The day was gloomy and not the best of days for leaf-peepin', as Mainers say, but the train was full. There was one particularly loud extended Indian family with several kids, all speaking Hindi ten-to-the-dozen. This reminded me of Sheffield, of course, and even made me a little homesick, but I'm not sure the very middle class American retirees sat next to them enjoyed the spectacle quite as much.

The train rocked and rolled a few miles down the tracks. Being used to British trains, I was surprised at how much our coach car, a former Amtrak stalwart, rocked from side to side. I was glad that we didn't pick up speed. I expect it would have derailed.

We've considered using the train to get to Aimee's folks in VA, and indeed, we could go all the way from Portland to Staunton, VA, twenty miles from H-burg, on the train, but my experiences with Amtrak have not been that positive. I expect we'd get delayed, and then we'd be on a train with a kid and a bunch of luggage for two or three days. At least in a car you can go to a motel and rest.

Anyway, our picnic was very successful and our kid was very happy with her train ride.

In other news, the kitchen range has now been replaced with a fancy new one. I've dismantled the old one and determined the fault, a failed oven igniter unit, but the repair part may be more expensive than the value of the range, which has rusty feet from Mary-dog's unfortunate habit, when she grew geriatric, of piddling on the floor next to the stove.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pork load

Here's the fruit of at least some of our labors. Three pigs, properly butchered, await delivery to various freezers belonging to Unity College faculty. Total hanging weight was 539 pounds. Average per pig 179 pounds. Spot on the 180 pound target.

And what a lot of very good food!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Skunking around and other annoyances

There are several domestic annoyances happening right now, but the gravest is the skunk that has taken up residence in our barn. This is a mature female and incredibly tame, to the point were a person can come within a couple feet of her and she won't spray. She's nocturnal, of course, and if it wasn't for the fact that we put the chickens "to bed" in their coop late each evening, and that I feed them and the rest of the animals at four or five am, we probably wouldn't have noticed her. All the same, she's an annoyance, because sooner or later one or the other of our dogs will take too friendly an interest in her and get sprayed.

I borrowed a .22 rifle from our neighbors, all of our firearms being way too big to use on a skunk inside a building, and have had a couple of chances, but not the clear shot that I need to take care of her without her spraying. I also borrowed a live trap, but twice now she's taken the bait without springing the trap.

Next on the list in terms of importance is the well. There's been a great drought in Maine this summer, and all the rivers and ponds are lower than anyone can remember, while the leaves on the trees, especially the ash trees, are all crisp and brown long before they're due to fall.

Accordingly, our well is sucking air. Not all the time, but whenever we accidentally use too much water. The limit seems to be somewhere between 100 and 200 gallons. We can guess this from the time it takes running the water hose before the well sucks air and loses pressure. Thursday last, the well sucked air in the morning before work because I was watering the sheep while Aimee was doing laundry. Edana got into a fuss because of a big mess she made in her diaper. I was distracted and left the hose on about twice as long as was needed to fill the water tub, which probably takes around 50 gallons to fill (hence we know that we have only 100-200 gallons in the well). The well started sucking air, and didn't recover full pressure until the afternoon, when, quite worried, I finally turned the pump off, waited half an hour and turned it on again, at which point the pressure shot back up properly. At the time I was pleased, because I was getting ready to pull the well pipe and inspect and replace the foot valve. I suspect that low water caused the well to suck air, and debris in the foot valve stopped it from properly recovering. The debris must have washed out when the pump was turned off and the well pipe began to drain back.

If we just assume the recharge rate is so slow as to be negligible in the calculation, and use the formula for the volume of a cylinder to derive the height of water pumped before air is sucked, at 100 gallons in a six-inch well,  we get 21 feet of water above the foot valve, so we're nowhere near dry, and will almost certainly manage until fall rains replenish the water table. But we will have to be very careful with that hose.

Then our nice Jotul wood stove had to be taken out of service because of cracked interior heat baffles. I priced replacement baffles at around $400, which is far less than the price of a new Jotul. But this was too rich for my blood for the time being at least. I had a few other bills that I wanted to pay before parting with this amount of money directly, including the trailer. Instead I found a Scandia look-alike secondhand for $250, thinking that, even were I to eventually fix the Jotul, it would be fine to have a spare wood stove around in any case, considering that both this building and the Bale House use essentially the same size of stove. But on first use last night, the Scandia isn't properly airtight, runs away, and will need work on the door.

Finally, the oven in the kitchen range died last weekend while I was baking a cake. This range was installed brand new in 2007, and cost a fair amount at the time, so this is upsetting too. I can probably fix it, but the light and access is bad in that corner, and the stove is dirty, so I have to remove it and clean it. We decided to get a new stove instead. I'll probably try to fix this one, but then sell it on. I had to finish baking the cake in the tiny oven in the trailer.

Then there are all the other jobs we haven't had time to get to: the tomato canning, the new trailer's brakes and bearings that need to be serviced and checked, the Land Rover's muffler that needs to be replaced, and the VW's brake job that still is not finished.

All in all, this adds up to a stressful fall, domestically speaking, but there's nothing to be done but suck it up and do the work and spend the money on parts and equipment. We started by ordering a new kitchen stove last night. Today I will empty every last thing out of the barn, clear away all the bedding, and blast off the cobwebs wit the pressure washer, effectively evicting the skunk at the same time. I hope to get the wood stove fixed and the tomatoes at least picked too, this weekend. It would be nice to finish the VW too, because then I could sell it and have extra money for some of these bills.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New trailer

We went shopping for a camper trailer a few weeks ago, after our return from the most recent trip to see Aimee's folks in VA. The plan is, assuming we can figure out some remaining sticky details, to haul this thing down there for us to stay in while we're visiting. But we also hope to go camping with our kid here in Maine, to see the state a bit more, and to have some fun family adventures.

The first time I took Roo to see a trailer, she obviously loved it, running around inside and climbing all over everything. Now we have this one, a 1997 Prowler 24 footer, she loves to climb inside and run around and jump on the bed and open all the cupboards and drawers.

Finding the trailer was a bit of an adventure. This job fell primarily to me, and, to begin, I had no clue what I was looking for. It's been forty years since I last went trailer camping, with my own family, back home in Britain. I had to do a lot of research online.

We decided we wanted a relatively small camper, at least by American standards, so we could haul it with our existing truck. Actually, that's the remaining difficulty in getting down to VA with this beast. The truck, at 160,000 miles, probably won't make too many trips down to VA without its little V6 engine conking out. But we can safely haul the trailer around Maine, so for now that's what we plan to do, until we can get a haul vehicle with a bigger engine.

We found the Prowler in Veasie, Maine, where there's a guy who likes to camp with his family, but also likes to fix up trailers.

At least, that's what he said. I'm an expert handyman, and can see zero signs of this trailer having been worked on in at least five years, unless our trailer-fixing handyman is the one that did the somewhat amateurish paneling in the bedroom, which you can just see in the picture above, where obvious water damage has taken place and been covered by "T & G" boards.

That seems possible, since the paneling looks new. But when I asked him about the paneling, he said it had been done before he got it. The huge gobs of extra sealant that mar the outside of the trailer, undoubtedly done to stem the water leaks that caused the internal damage, were applied years ago. Otherwise, no-one has worked on this trailer. He just bought it low and sold high, is all. I didn't mind that so much because I thought the price was fair.

The other thing that might have inclined me to regret buying this trailer was that the battery was switched out between the day we put a deposit on the trailer, and the day we went by with the rest of the money to pay for it. Our supposed trailer-handyman told us the battery had failed and he had given us a new one. I took him at his word, and the battery certainly looked new, but on closer investigation, I found traces of typical lead corrosion around the bottom of the terminal posts, and the battery is not of the correct marine/RV deep-cycle kind. My guess is that the original battery, which was probably a better one and the correct one for the job, was switched back to his other trailer, which he'd only just bought to fix up, and that this battery was the dud that came with the new fixer-upper.

That could have left a bad taste in my mouth, but at this point I'm well aware of the "moral hazard" problem endemic to Craigslist selling, and I remain pretty happy with the trailer itself. The only other problem is a binding trailer brake, but I expected to have to strip down the wheel assemblies and service the bearings and brakes.

I just chalked the rest up to experience. If we decide we like trailer camping with our kid, this won't be our last trailer purchase.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Taking pictures with daddy's camera

If I press this button, what happens?

Taking selfies is fun!

I can also take pictures of daddy! Oops. Where are his eyes?

And mommy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bitter enders

Summer bounty: canned peaches

Summer is coming crashing grinding to a halt whether we wish it too or not, and in my case the answer is a most emphatic "not!"

But all good things come to an end, and as I've said many times on this blog, I do enjoy my job most of the time. In particular, it will be a bit of a relief to be able to justify time to concentrate on adult things again, thanks mostly to the miracle of daycare.

Much as I love my kid, I don't get much done when I'm watching her. And she needs to be with her little friends some of the time, or she won't be properly socialized in time for school.

In other news, our bus is up for sale. This is primarily because most recent trip to VA to see Aimee's folks was hard on me, mostly because of all the bag-carrying, but also because we managed to break the bed in our Airbnb! I repaired it, of course, and indeed it was in better shape when we left than when we arrived. The lady whose home it was seems none the wiser. I think the bed, a miserable piece of flat-pack MDF dressed up in heavy black lacquer as it it were a real piece of furniture, was already broken before we arrived, but hadn't yet collapsed, and when we arrived to make use of it, already substantially weakened. Anyway, long story short, it took two days to fix.

Additionally, Aimee said she wouldn't go camping in the bus. That wasn't unreasonable, since the bus is very small and doesn't have a bed for Edana. But I want to go camping with my kid! And so, it turns out, does Aimee.

So we're selling the bus and buying a camper trailer. We already have one, in fact, We placed a deposit on it Sunday and will pick it up in a couple of week's time, once the owners have had one more trip. I'm going to miss my venerable bus, but there's not much point having a camper that you can't go camping in.

We'll use the new camper to visit Aimee's folks and to camp here in Maine. I'm already exploring with the map to see where we could go that a little kid might like. I'm also replacing the truck's trailer hitch and wiring up the appropriate seven-point plug.

In other news, the garden is producing tomatoes now, my favorite cooking ingredient. I have a nice chicken-garlic-tomato risotto cooking as I type. The Land Rover needs a muffler, and indeed I already cut the old one off in hopes of getting a new stainless one from the UK for cheap, thanks to the "Brexit" premium on dollar-pound exchange rate. This hope proved fruitless, because once we added the shipping, a stainless series Rover muffler was as prohibitively expensive from the UK as they are in the US. We'll get another mild steel one and hope to make it last longer.