Monday, April 25, 2016


Science girl. She wanted to see what was in my magazine. Good for her. I haven't even read it yet.

Life has been busy as we get ready for the growing season. The garden has been manured -- about three tons of well-rotted pig manure mixed with sheep bedding. It has been tilled. Several varieties of veg are already planted. The sheep are now shorn. Green grass is growing and they occasionally get to eat it -- there isn't enough of it yet to let them go wild, so they have to be held back.

I was able to find two half-days to get quite a bit of the VW engine remantling done. I fitted the new cylinder heads and completed one side of the valve train. The other is waiting for a new push-rod tube. One of the eight original 1975 ones had a pin hole. This is now waiting for a rebuilt alternator before we fit the cooling fan housing. The old one still works, or was still working when removed, but the alternator change on these things is a bear when the engine is still in, and so it would be mush easier to switch it out now than later. There's also the small matter of a new clutch, also on order.

I have a hard time explaining to most people why engine rebuilding is so satisfying. It's like a giant jigsaw, only much more challenging. And there is something very satisfying about taking a greasy dysfunctional mess and turning it into a gleaming, roaring beast, ready for another 100,000 miles or more. Michael Crawford, whose excellent book "Shop Class and Soulcraft" talks about gaining "power over your own stuff", and how we no longer have this in modern society, when most technology requires expert servicing. Engine rebuilding is the ultimate power over your own stuff. What could be more proof of that than driving down the road in a vehicle whose engine you built yourself.

Finally, I solved the poppy problem. This is the difficulty that arises for ex-pat Brits, especially ex-servicemen, when November comes around and you can't find a proper British Legion poppy. I discovered several solutions over the years. I've driven up to Canada (not a major trek, really, it's only 80 miles) to get one, having a nice mini-break along the way. I've had one sent from Britain. But these new permanent poppy pins solve the problem nicely, and you can get them with your own unit crest. Twenty percent goes to the British legion, which runs to the same amount of dough as about two or three years of normal poppy donations.

I expect by the time three years has passed, I'll have lost it and so need another.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Da grind

 One spring break activity was a trip to the children's science museum in Bangor. This is the flowing waters exhibit, courtesy of our local hydropower company.

 We're back to work after a glorious two-week spring break in which the weather did not cooperate, but our metabolisms did. After about nine or ten days of regular exercise and daily naps, I finally started to get the feeling I'd finally caught up on my sleep.

Considering that our child was born August 2014, that adds up to a year and a half of chronic sleeplessness. The last six months, of course, were way better than the first year, but you still don't always get enough sleep. I'm sure this is typical for most parents.

Of course this feeling didn't last long because I'm working nights, teaching economics classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-7.15 pm. I generally don't mind night classes, since students are usually in a better mood than at, say, 8am or 9am. I had one such typical "youf" in my office yesterday, yawning away at 9am. Gosh knows what that kid will do when he finally gets employed and has an adult schedule to keep.

But it does take it out of you to work such long days, especially if your kid isn't sleeping and if the weather prevents exercise, and by Thursday I'm generally tuckered and ready for a break. Night checks for lambs doesn't help. It's good that lambing season went so easy this year, with such mild weather, because that reduces the worry over freezing lambs, but there were still some nights that required three or four night checks.

All semester, I've tried very hard to work from home Fridays when I don't have classes, which allows an afternoon nap. Saturday and Sunday are usually good for catching up too. It hasn't been too hard, but I doubt I'll get that wonderful feeling of having gotten enough sleep again until after graduation.

In other news, The weather finally improved for spring, and I broke out the rototiller attachment for the tractor and checked it out prior to fertilizing and tilling the garden. I also "turned" the compost heap in hopes of getting a little more decomposition before this material will need to be spread. It was a very mild winter, but this meant no warming blanket of snow, and so the top layers had hardly decomposed at all.

Spring also brings the annual round of vehicle work. Although we do have a cramped one-car garage, I don't have a proper indoor shop, so working on cars is hard in the winter. I try to fit it all in between May and November.

We began with Aimee's Matrix, which needed new summer tires and an inspection sticker. It's our newest vehicle and so requires little serious mechanic-ing from me. This is good, because my lift is still occupied by the '75 VW bus. I cleaned the lift area and inspected and tested the lift. With an outdoor lift, you need to be sure every year that there hasn't been frost damage to the concrete or anchors. Everything was fine.

My next vehicle job is to finish the engine rebuild, put the finish coat on the engine bay paint, and refit the engine. That and some brake work should get me to a "rolling chassis", which is infinitely preferable to the "lump" I have right now, since I might then use my precious lift to work on our other cars. It will take me several years to finish the bus to the standard I'm hoping for.

I could probably finish that engine rebuild on my weekends before the end of the semester, but I'm not going to. It would mean shirking at least some of my share of weekend childcare, and in addition to being unfair to Aimee, that would mean I miss parts of watching my kid grow up, which I'm not willing to do. The bus can wait until after graduation. We will still have some summer daycare, and even the most loving of fathers needs to make sure their kid plays with other kids, not just with him. She gets to do that at daycare and in fact is quite happy there and ,loves the lady in charge. I'll get my car work done while she's in daycare.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Batching it"

I became a temporary bachelor for a few days while Aimee took Roo to see the grandfolks.

This was harder than I thought it would be. I've forgotten how to be a bachelor. I did manage to make fish and chips (above) and catch up on some Netflix, but the highlight of the few days I spent alone was the big strong lamb, now called "Widget", born to Quinn.

Here she is keeping close to mom in the sheep pasture.

I was pretty pleased to get my girls back after their trip, albeit again mentally scathed by another miserable experience, courtesy of American Airlines.

This time Aimee wrote to complain. She's very good at writing complaint letters to corporations, and I've lost track of the gizzits she's gotten that way. This time she got two flight vouchers, each for $200. 

I think she would have preferred a flight that was on time and a flight attendant that knew how to strap in a child seat.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Splinter the chicken

We now have a chicken in a splint.

I found her the other night just as our third "W" year lamb was being born. She had a broken leg. She was hiding in the hay, and had aborted an egg, probably due to the pain. (When chickens are stressed, they sometimes lay eggs without fully-formed shells.)

The best thing to do with a wounded chicken is usually to cull her and make soup, but I just didn't feel like doing so, not the same night that a new life had just been born on the farm. I decided to splint the leg.

Here she is with the splint applied. Obviously, she can't go out for a while, and so we're providing food and water and a heat lamp in the interior of the barn.

Here's the new "W" lamb, as yet unnamed. She's as big as the two-week old ones behind. She was so big, in fact, that she couldn't be born quite as presented, with the legs and head coming together through the birth canal, and I had to pull her legs out one by one before her head could be born.

This is not unusual. About one in four or five of our lambs seems to go this way, especially the big ones. If I can't quite get a hold of the slippery legs with my fingers, I slip a loop of clean baling twine over the legs and use that to get a grip.

In other news, we have an ice storm today, and we can't go anywhere because the driveway is iced up.

The plows have been out with salt and the main roads are probably fine, but our driveway is way too slick, even for four-wheel drive vehicles.

I'm keeping busy with webinars and conference calls. The nice thing about being an academic in today's world is that you no longer really have to travel to access new ideas. This is very helpful for us farmer-teachers, especially in an ice storm.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Life in slow(er) motion

After a hectic first half of the semester, we're on Spring Break.

For me, this began Thursday, as I don't have Friday classes. I'll get seventeen full days before I'm due back at work, although I gave half of one of them up yesterday to "do" the Maine State Science Festival.

This is a fun day out, in which all the science project posters from all the high schools in Maine are judged. While the high school students are competing in the middle of the room, the giant ballroom at the Cross Center in Bangor, we science educators get to give demonstrations and do show-and-tell around the fringes. Lots of tables are set aside for all the colleges, and we always try to do it up for Unity.

I like to bring a lot of science toys for the little kids. They don't get to compete in the science fair until they're older, and most of the posters are a bit beyond them. Here I am demonstrating the simple electric motor for one of them.

We also had help from the Admission Department, which sent three student ambassadors. Here they are with the radio-controlled "Snap Circuits" robot.

Meanwhile Aimee was off shopping with our little one. She came back with a huge back of blocks from Reny's. Fun for all the family.

Here we are earlier in the week, a selfie.

The major project for this spring break is to get all our lambs born safely. This requires fairly constant checks, every two hours or so. I won't be going far. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lambs and other signs of spring

This El Nino winter has been relatively snow free, and Mainers are suffering. There's no snowmobiling, no ice fishing, no skiing, except way up in the mountains, and indeed I even saw a garage sale sign yesterday, something we wouldn't normally see until May.

Our sheep don't particularly care. There's nothing they need at garage sales. They are instead busy putting the final touches to the babies inside them. This is a contemplative process. We have big sheep, and they get even bigger when carrying one or two lambs. They tend to lie down a lot when heavily pregnant, with odd-shaped bulges coming out their sides. They lie down, chew their cud, and build babies.

Eventually, as happened last Tuesday, needs must and the lambs come. We had our first two W-year lambs. They are christened Winston and Winifred. Funny to think we only have three letters to go and then must start back at "A", but then this herd was already at "N" when we got them.

(Nellie, of course, who must sadly soon go to the knackers or face one of the inevitable and horrendous deaths that geriatric sheep endure, is the only remnant of those days and she's not one of the originals, just one of the first year's lambs we had, along with the ill-fated "Nugget," who was battered to death by another ram, not on our farm, but on the one he was sold to. I know she has to go, along with Quetzal who is younger but has the particular problem that she won't allow herself to be bred, but I haven't yet been able to bring myself to do the deed. I expect I will, though. Geriatric sheep suffer too much, as do barren ewes that then get bred after too many years out of practice, and I know my duty as a shepherd.)

Last Tuesday looks to be the start of the lamb stream, then. More is to come, probably around four to five more. Tia managed to get her birthing done just before my evening economics class, so Aimee and Roo had to manage, which they did with aplomb. Next up will be Quinn, whose bulges are the largest. There are either three or four more pregant ewes after Quinn. It's hard to tell if Ritzpah, a lanky two-year old, is actually with lamb, but no doubt we'll eventually find out.

In other news, the late winter weather has been so fine that Roo can run around in the yard. She must of course do this in the mud or frost, while avoiding piles of gravel moraine left by the various plow trucks that traverse our roads in season. But running is running and great fun when you're a toddler. Daddy, for his part, has gotten fat this winter. Not that he wasn't before, but he certainly needs to practice his running and lose some pounds if he's to keep up with Roo.

So now, after the ordinary child business of bottles, diapers, naps, breakfast lunch and dinner is done, all of which takes up a surprisingly large amount of time, running in the yard is on the card. I say, "lets go check on the sheep," and our child obligingly tooters over to the cubby where her coat and wellie boots are. She has her own word for this, "-side," meaning "outside."

She has to be helped down the kitchen step, but then can manage on her own. There's a regular tour. We must first let the dogs out, then go to the barn and give the ram or chickens some extra feed. We have to go in the sheep's yard and play with the water in the tub, as well as chase the sheep themselves, especially the lambs. We must visit both the front and back seats of the Land Rover. Being pulled around by daddy or mummy in the green wagon is a must. There are the swings to play on, and of course we must throw the frisbee for the dogs.

An hour or so of this apple-cheeked outdoorsiness is of course very good for parents who want their kid to take a nice restful nap so they can get something done, or even take a nice restful nap themselves.

Friday, March 11, 2016