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.

Monday, August 1, 2016

There and back again, again

To Virginia and back with a toddler. In a 1997 Camry.

Need I say more?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bale-full woes

Our kid learns to roll pastry. Eating pastry while rolling is optional.

Not much time these last few weeks for posting, I'm afraid. Some folks, relatives of a former student, want to move into our straw bale house in Monroe, and I've been over there repairing the various systems.

This old house, which could be termed one of the greatest mistakes of my life, was built in 2002 and 2003 when I was ostensibly a single man, although I started dating Aimee before I began building. I was also very poor. Assistant professor salaries at Unity College were never very great, and my student loans kicked in six months after I graduated with my PhD (in May, 20002). Later, Aimee got employed and we both got promoted, and I could afford proper hardware and wotnot, but the Bale House is built with recycled trash of various kinds, as well as straw bale for insulation.

The main problem is, we don't own the land. if we did, I'd have sold the place long ago and made some money for our family by doing so. But we have a lease instead, on land owned by some other folks we know. As a result, we're stuck with a hosue we don't need, but which we need to repair and keep up.

Despite this, it has been a refuge for numerous people over the years. It may be the western equivalent of a shanty house, but it is surprisingly large, and the architecture kind of "works", in that there's a spacious mock Tudor kind of feel to the interior.

I've been over there almost every day cleaning and fixing, including some very heavy and dirty jobs, all done with absolutely no help because someone has to watch our kid. It's been miserable work. I hope to be done with it shortly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are potatoes.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

On the road again!

After nearly thirteen years sitting in the woods, my old VW camper is mobile and almost street legal again!

I finished the bodywork and paint a couple-three weeks ago, refitted the engine, newly rebuilt, and a new steering beam, and have been puttering more or less daily on the small stuff like lights, door seals, and interior. It's now insured and registered.

I've taken it for a few test drives. I'd forgotten how much fun these are to drive. The driver sits up high with good visibility, the steering is responsive and has a tight turning circle, and the engine drives from the back, so the vehicle powers around corners.

Our kid seems to like it too, mostly because we sing "The wheels on the bus go round and round" whenever we get in. But it has carpet in back, and a big floor to play on, and will soon have a bench seat that folds into a bed, and a table for eating picnics.

Here she is the other day when I had the seats out for cleaning.

Next stop, a nice family picnic, and when she's old enough, a fishing trip!