Sunday, October 4, 2015

Falling accidentally into fall

It's fall, and we've been letting it happen to us without much of a fight. Not that we could do anything if we wanted. Snow will be here soon enough, and it's best just to enjoy the wind and rain and blowing leaves and, of course, those wonderful New England Indian summer days, when we have time, that is.

Here's a couple of shots of the Womerlippis goofing off. One of the advantages of having a kid is that you get to visit the park and have a swing set in your yard, and you can play if you like. Roo particularly enjoys the swing set we built for her this spring. She also likes the Belfast City Park. Here she is on their big swing earlier this year with Aimee.

School is busy, though and grading season is upon us. The midterm grades are due later this month, so we need to get all our grading done. Grading is a brain-sucking chore that spoils your weekend and ruins your family life. Sometimes I wonder just how much time we spend grading. If that time were to be added up then divided across the summer days we have off, including the early morning and late night office work we also have to do, would we even break even?

A British left-of-center newspaper, the Guardian, has been reporting research that shows British school teachers work between 54 and 60 hours a week. If you count the time we spend working at home, it's easily that much.

In other news, my sister and her partner Wayne came to visit. This was the first time Aunty Carol had set eyes on her niece. They seemed to have a good time, and, among playing with Roo, managed a couple of tourist outings.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Busy Brits

It's been a busy couple of weeks since the airshow, and indeed, this is going to have to be quick, since I do not really have time to write anything long.

What has happened of suitable import for diary notation?

We've been back at work now for four weeks. We are now back in a routine. Roo even likes her childcare. To begin, she cried and cried, but has gotten used to it.

We had an infestation of stable flies in the house. Pretty nasty, actually. There were hundreds of them hovering outside the garage and deck doors and you'd inevitably let a few in when you opened each door. They went away when the humid weather did. It's now officially fall outside. Aimee got mad at me for swatting them annoyingly.

We put up another few quarts of roasted tomatoes, then started giving them away. We have way too many tomatoes, and way too little time to do anything with them now we have a baby to look after.

The pigs went to the butchers and then came back all packaged for the freezer. I made the usual deliveries to pig club members. Bacon and eggs and ham have already been sampled. All very good.

My sister is Somewhere in New England and due to materialize in Jackson, Maine today sometime.

Now I have to go to work.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Air show

This Sunday, for an early birthday treat, Aimee bought us tickets to the State of Maine Air Show at the former US Navy air base at Brunswick, Maine.

Actually, back in the day, this base originated as a training unit for Royal Navy flyers during World War II, but that's a whole other story.

A former Royal Air Force aircraft engine fitter or "sumpy," I like aircraft, and always have. We toured the static displays for the first half-hour or so, and that was fun enough for me, but then the flying began, with a display by the P 51 "Mustang", one of only 150 or so still flying.

I was impressed that the commentator got the history right. The Mustang started out as an RAF plane, designed for that service by the North American aircraft company in 1940.

Here's the Mustang taxiing in front of a couple of "Blue Eagles."

Roo loves to point at things, and recently has been pointing at airplanes as they fly over the farm. We are on the flightpath from Bangor International Airport and get aircraft flying low overhead while landing and taking off. Here she is pointing at an aerobatics aircraft.

She seemed to like all the smaller, piston-engined planes.

The highlight of the day was the F22 "Raptor," the USAF's new "stealth" fighter bomber. having worked on F4 Phantoms during the 1980s, I knew what to expect in terms of engine noise. This kind of aircraft makes an enormous amount. We had ear defenders for Roo, but it was still a bit much. 

Here's the Raptor with bomb bay doors open.

And here's Roo in a model jet.

Unfortunately, all the noise from the Raptor was a bit much, and we had a good cry. then Mommy and Daddy decided enough was enough and took us home.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Back at work -- kind of

The college year started at 8 am Monday, when I greeted my sophomores. I thought, "Oh well, that's that, then," a brief requiem for the joys of summer. But then time rapidly reversed itself, and by 9.30 am I was sitting with my darling daughter drinking coffee and eating a very early lunch sandwich. However, by 11am I was back in my lab alone working on internet assignments and physics lab prep and getting ready for my 12.30 pm juniors. And the whole week was like that. Aimee and I handed Roo off to one another like a package all week.

This was primarily due to the dearth of childcare services in these parts. It all works on the principle of "dead man's shoes." We discovered this fact in the spring, when we began touring childcare providers, and none were able to properly answer our question about whether or not they had a spot.

They might have a spot. When there's a "r" in the month and if Jimmy gets into kindergarten or Jane goes back to her grandma and if the creek don't rise. But they don't know for sure. Ask us again in late August.

We actually felt lucky that our nearest provider, who came recommended, might be able to accommodate us, but not until the current occupant of the place graduated to the local elementary school, which wasn't until two weeks after our fall work would begin, and after the first whole week of classes. And so, without the prop of formal childcare, we would have to manage on our own resources for those first two weeks, with what help we might cadge from friends.

Aimee, needing the security of hard facts, developed a schedule for us and uploaded it to our computers, so that the specific times of the day when each of us ought to be minding Roo were all worked out ahead of time. And lo, miracle of miracles, it worked, mostly. We were able to cadge a couple of half-days from our friend Eileen. But it was still stressful. Particularly for Aimee, who is very committed to her work. There were more than a handful of times when I could see her temper begin to fray because she wasn't able to do something, or do it properly.

Me, not so much. I enjoyed having Roo to watch instead of working. I like my job, and am always sure to try to do it as well or better than the next guy, but I don't tend to lose sleep over it.

While I do lose sleep over my kid's welfare.

Case in point: It's just after four am on a Sunday and said kid just woke up.

I knew she would do this because, although it's early, there's a toy, one of those noisy ones, sounding off in her room. More than likely it was left on and other toys piled on top in the toy box and things slowly shifted and whatever button makes the noise happen was pressed. It has a child's voice saying something, then a fake dog barking, and it seems to repeat every couple of minutes. I first heard it, reverberating in the background of the baby monitor feed, about 2.30 am, but I knew that if I went into her room to turn it off, more likely than not I'd wake her up, while somehow the toy was not itself doing so. I couldn't sleep under these circumstances, even if Roo could. So I had to get up.

No great loss. I'm sure there's some work I should have done last week that I didn't get to.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Last weekend of summer

It was Aimee's fortieth birthday yesterday, and as befits a family of three on a birthday in summer, we went looking for fun. I had heard of nearby Fort Knox's "Pirate Day" from our local TV station, so we went to check it out.

Roo is of course too young to know what a pirate is, but she does like people and crowds, so we thought she'd enjoy it. We were right. Here she is hamming it up for the camera as usual.

Aimee of course took dozens of pictures, but these are mine, taken with my phone.

The so-called pirates, also major hams, staged a mock attack on a Royal Navy vessel, in reality a yawl-rigged sailboat down in the Penobscot River. The pirates were so poor at their gun drill that the boat had to sail back and forth under the guns many times, essentially attracting fire in order to get enough bangs to please the crowd. I imagine that in any real battle these pirates would have been overwhelmed fairly quickly. The guns were loud, though.

Eventually they gave up on cannon fire and turned to hand-to-hand combat. This was even lamer. But no-one seemed to care. This is supposedly a Royal Navy officer being set upon by a pirate. Americans always choose the British to be the villains in any such period piece, in much the same way as the Brits always choose the Germans.

The pigs are heading off today to the butchers. They had almost eaten through their last load of grain -- we allot a thousand pounds per pig, then call it good -- but the next two weekends are busy, so I was glad to be able to get them in today. I'd like to get the barn cleaned out before the various fall visitors show up.

Thursday was peach-canning day, and it went particularly well, with over fifty jars canned, a Womerlippi Farm record. We made a movie this time, improving and expanding on our how-to-guide from last year. It isn't finished -- that will have to wait for next year -- but here it is.

Finally, we had a minor emergency Friday, when our well pump refused to stop pumping for about five hours. It took a good deal of mental work to run through the trouble-shooting chart, but we eventually were able to isolate all of the usual possibilities -- bad foot valve, blocked ejector, tired motor, worn-out impeller, and so on. The problem turned out to be low water level in the well. It hasn't seemed particularly dry this year, but it must have been. Anyway, lowering the cut-out pressure setting on the pressure switch from 60 to 50 PSI did the job, allowing the pump to work a little less hard, and there's been no trouble since.

Tuesday will be my first day of attendance at work, Wednesday will be Aimee's. Off course, we've been puttering away at syllabi and course prep, but that we can do at home and even while watching Roo. Having to actually show up is different and marks the real start of our fall season. That and butchering pigs.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shifting gears

Here's our darling delightful daughter one morning when she just couldn't wake up. Usually she's awake when I go into her room, but this one day last week she just kept sleeping and sleeping until we had to wake her, about when we felt very sorry too. Kids are pretty cute when they're sleepy.

This coming week is the last full week of summer before the fall term begins. Our in-service training days are the week after, and classes start on the 31st, which also happens to be Roo's first birthday. I don't suppose she will mind very much. She doesn't really know what a birthday is yet. Considering I'm coming up on my fifty-fourth, I'm not sure she should begin counting them anytime soon. Ignorance is bliss.

It will be good to get back to work, though. Mentally rested after a summer of more mundane but physical activity, I'm ready to teach again. Accordingly, however, I'm declaring partial victory on the VW project and shifting gears mentally. It doesn't usually work out that well to go straight from a demanding, long-term technical project back to work without a rest and a period of mental regrouping. Plus, the weather is slated to be sticky hot until at least the end of the week. I already fried my head, and cooked off a quart can of expensive primer paint, trying to make progress in the summer heat.

The paint thing was interesting. I had been late getting out to my job and the morning heat had begun to build. Trying to make progress, but frustrated by my own tardiness, I worked fast to strip the remaining paint and corrosion off the rusty roof with the wire cup wheel on the angle grinder, a nasty dusty job made worse by the dark hot metal surface. Although I was feeling rushed, never a good feeling in any technical situation, I did a good job, and proceeded then to spray POR-15 primer, which essentially cooked off and turned to dust before it could properly adhere to the roof! What a waste of expensive paint.

In the afternoon, after things had cooled off some, I went back and removed the offending POR-15 with the dual action sander and applied instead a quart of white Rustoleum primer, which, although it dripped and ran and will require extra sanding as a result, at least it didn't turn to dust. Here's the finished effect:

The body of the vehicle is now straight and rust-free.

There remained the two front fenders to do, and they hadn't been delivered yet, but they arrived Thursday and I knocked them out Friday.

Here's the driver's side. You can see the weld-through primer can in the background. That stuff sure makes your job easier. Fitting the fenders required to doors to be rehung to get the lines straight and to make sure the doors would shut.

Here's the passenger side.

The two panels that make up the passenger side fender assembly are made by different firms and don't match. They still require a section of right-angled tin to be welded across their tops to complete the fender shape. I can't bend a decent right-angle in my shop because I don't have a bending machine, so I went to our local Amish roofers for a section of their right-angled metal trim, which they'll make up for me and which I can trim down with the air shears. The young guy that sells this product was a little confused by my request, though, because I told him the paint color didn't matter. Usually people are more worried about color selection when they buy roof trim.

So that's the VW chassis and body properly repaired and mostly primed if not painted. There remains the finish paint to do, the engine to rebuild, and the rolling gear and brakes to service, but this is a good time to quit for now. We'll get back to the paint job when the weather has cooled off a little in the fall.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There and back again

 Photo: Roo with "Grandpap."

For some months now, Aimee has been planning a trip to Pennsylvania to see her parents. They live in Virginia, but moved there years ago from the "coal patch" towns of western PA. We generally only see them once a year, at Christmas, but since Roo was born, the traveling has increased greatly, so the grandparents can see their grandchild more frequently.

Accordingly, we flew to Pittsburgh and spent a couple of days there doing tourist things -- the restaurants and museums, then motored up to the Mount Pleasant area in a rental Ford Focus. Aimee had found a nice AirBnB, in, of all things, a former "company house" in the coal patch village of Calumet. Since she grew up in just such a house, this might have been nostalgia on her part.

The grandparents were very happy to see her, and we were just as happy to hand some of the childcare over for a short while. Grandma is in green on the right. Roo has a little cousin six months younger, called Leelynn, also pictured above. This was the first time the two had laid eyes on each other. 

On the Friday evening we had a big family picnic at a state park, where there was this big slide. Both Aimee and I took Roo down. She liked it a lot.

Calumet, I discovered, is close to Norvelt, a town I'd heard of through reading New Deal history for my work in economics. FDR sponsored several such experimental government-funded towns as part of the New Deal. The inhabitants were employed building their own houses, then later a clothes factory was built. Each home had enough acreage to run a homestead about the size of our own, gardens, chickens and pigs. I read up on the experiment, an interesting side-note in economic history, while we were there, and we took a driving tour around the town.

As we had a very young child with us, we didn't want to have to drive back to the airport and fly out in the same day, so we booked in at an airport hotel for the last night. I had done a little research and discovered there was an aircraft museum and restoration center a half-hour north, so we visited, mostly to see this little beauty, a 1958 Mk. 3a Jet Provost, formerly based at RAF Church Fenton as part of the system of Flying Training Schools that I used to belong to.

I worked on these aircraft for five and a half years, through most of my RAF career, doing everything from flight-line work, through scheduled servicing, to engine bay rebuilds. Even after thirty years I can still remember the procedures for pulling the engines or stripping the compressors.

I was pretty happy to see the plane, but even happier to discover that the museum needed some help in figuring out what to do with it. I was able to put them in touch with the UK-based Jet Provost Appreciation Society, where they'll be able to get parts, manuals, and advice.

All's well that ends well, or would have been, if I hadn't caught a nasty summer cold. About two days into the trip I came down with a sore throat that became a disgusting and painful chesty crud, then bronchitis, requiring antibiotics. The doc thinks I probably got it from the airplane ride. Hopefully it clears up soon, because it's very annoying not to be able to breathe properly.

If you have cold or flu symptoms, they make you wear masks now at our doctors office. This, of course, just makes you feel sicker, but if it prevents anyone else getting sick like I did, then it's fine with me.