Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A day off from summer break

It's been nearly a week since our summer break began. What did we do with all that "free time"?

Well, we looked after our kid. Played with her, fed her, bathed her, put her down for naps. All that good stuff. Here she is. having discovered that fun stuff comes in packages, she decided to try to open one with a table knife. Luckily, not only are our knives blunt, but we caught her in time.

We also bought a new livestock trailer, to replace our old home-made one (pictured above). I have to restore the body and frame of the new one. No welding needed, just mild rust abatement, but if it's done now, it should last for twenty more years at least.

There was a gale last weekend that took out our greenhouse. Repeated gusts pulled the anchors out of the ground and bent the frame. I was able to square it up again and re-position it, but a proper repair must wait for replacement rafter tubes. Since then the weather has been better and we now have the garden planted.

Aimee made more of the new design wooden tomato cages.

Finally, we've done a lot of work on the VW project and started the repairs to the Bale House.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nearly done -- crack that nut

Our summer break has nearly begun, but you wouldn't know it from the weather. Graduation was Saturday, and that day was nice and warm, but then some cold air spilled in and we even had snow in northern and eastern parts of Maine.

I enjoyed the commencement ceremony, mostly because of all the students and their families and how happy they were. I'm not fond of dressing up, nor of anything really that gives people the impression they are better than other people, and so I don't enjoy all the robes and pomp and circumstance. But I like seeing the smiles on all the students and parents and grandparents.

I also like the bagpipes.

We have our requisite period of "professional development" this week, our mandatory in-service teacher training, and then we're officially off work for the summer.

My grading done, I've been dividing my time between jobs around the house and farm and making progress on my Volksproject. The interesting rig you see above is my solution to the difficulty that ensues when you remove a VW engine before you crack the large nuts on the rear stub axles. Normally, you'd do this procedure with the engine in, using the engine's compression to lock the gearbox and prevent the wheels from turning. But I had removed the engine before I realized I had to remove the axle nut. I used an old clutch plate placed over the gearbox input shaft, attached to a long bar,  to make a jamming rig.

Our kid is thriving with the (mostly) warmer weather, and spends a lot of time running around the yard. We now have our feeder pigs in the barn, and with the lambs running around and baby chicks in the kitchen, there's lots to see and do if you're a few months shy of two whole years old.

The garden is about half-planted, just waiting for some warmer weather and for the risk of frost to pass. We managed to find a horse trailer to replace our pathetic home-built animal trailer, something we've complained about for years. It needs to be restored, although it's not as much work as the VW.

Mostly, this particular season of the year, I'm just anxious to get started and get some of this work done. I'll be glad when these two training days are done.

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.