Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy families

Here's three of the four indoor animals, not counting primates.

Charlie cat is a sociable cat, and will hang out with dogs and humans alike.

Shenzhi cat, not pictured, only like to sleep with Haggis. Although if it's cold, she'll also sleep on the bed.

Mary dog is just hoping for a snack. She's not sociable, just hungry.

Ice climbing, sort of

I expect that more than a few of my former colleagues from the RAF, despite middle age or retirement, still climb ice and snow, or climb alpine and mountaineering routes that include ice and snow.

Those of us that settled down to other kinds of lives have different challenges. I find interesting physical challenges in farming, construction and renewable energy work, and sometimes the things I do even have recognizably similar kinds of physical challenges as the work I used to do as a military mountaineer and mountain rescue troop.

Our porch roof was pretty slick to begin this morning after a cool night with a dusting of new snow. I discovered this after I had stepped out onto it quite confidently, expecting the same kind of footing as yesterday. I beat a careful retreat and advanced again throwing ice-melt crystals before me like some swami with rose petals. That allowed me to walk without skidding off the roof.

If I had skidded off, the consequences may not have been too bad, assuming I hit one of the deeper spots. But I didn't care to risk it.

Then the last of the ice, by now honeycombed with holes from the ice melt crystals I put down last thing yesterday, was chipped off a bit at a time. Only a little roofing came with it. This roofing will need to be replaced this spring now, whether I like it or not. This latest ice dam problem, and my attempts to fix it, has done too much damage.

Then a trench had to be shoveled for the ladder along the front of the porch where the snow was deep. The roof was too slick, still, to do the work from on top, so I decided to work from the ladder.

After that the ice-melt cable could be attached with the clips provided. This was easy enough to do, although I soaked two pairs of gloves through and got cold wet hands doing it.

The ladder was fun. It had to be pounded down into the snow to remain at all stable. At one point I was half-way up and the thing slid sideways and broke a gutter attachment.

Another job to do in the spring.

But a broken gutter, plus a replacement roof that we knew we had to replace at some point anyway, is better than a porch collapsed under several tons of snow and ice.

And I needed the exercise. And next time the snow falls, I can prevent an ice dam just by plugging in the cable.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

That dam ice

We have a mild thaw, 40 F, and so I decided to deal with the porch roof. The colder than average weather a few days ago meant we turned on the electrical heater for the dogs while they were confined to the porch during the working day. That extra heat meant that snow melted on the porch roof and froze again at the eaves, forming what Mainers know as an "ice dam."

There is nearly always some icing on this roof whatever the weather, and I nearly always have to clear it if we get a suitable thaw. But this year it's worse than normal, and drips are occurring inside the porch.

Usually the worst ice forms where the porch joins the main roof. Heating duct twists through the attic space up there, and there's also a metal chimney. Both are insulated, and the attic is also insulated from the conditioned space in the rest of the house.

But the attic can still warm to 40 or 50 degrees, and so there's ice that forms at the drip line and icicles that droop down to meet the porch roof.

They are generally easy to clear. I usually shovel the snow at the same time, because this much-repaired porch was an afterthought to the building design, and definitely has too low a pitch.

Today's ice won't be easy to clear. It formed differently and is in a different place, under the snow, not on top of it, and dripping onto the gutter, which is also heavily weighed down with ice.

It can't be chipped yet. I'm using ice-melt crystals to weaken it. It might take through tomorrow afternoon, and two or three bags of ice-melt, to get rid of it all.

Then I bought some electrical heating cable designed to prevent ice dams.

This is all a bit of a pain for me, because I have been meaning to blow some cellulose insulation into the crawl space above the porch, where there is only R11 fiberglass, as well as put metal roof up on top of the old shingles, which in any case are quite worn from shoveling.

If I did all that, the problem would be cured once and for all.

But that's more money for materials than I care to spend right now. We need to pay down all our debts now that we're settled and the house is mostly repaired, and I'm working pretty hard on that.

So the cable will have to do for now.

Haggis supervised from the driveway the whole time I was up there, making sure I didn't fall off. He looks out for Aimee and I constantly. He must clearly think that without him we'd surely get hurt or lost all the time.

At least he has a job to do. Shepherd dogs without a job go nuts. Haggis is a great watch-dog and guard dog.

The view was quite nice. We live in the valley of Great Farm Brook, a nice meandering dale about a mile wide, three hundred feet of elevation, and four miles long, running west to east and then north to join the Marsh Stream in Jackson Village. But you normally couldn't tell any of this because of the heavy forest cover. From the porch roof, you can see above the trees and right across the dale to the south and southwest.

I expect Jackson must look like what Yorkshire looked like a thousand years ago before all the trees were cut down.

Of course, all Jackson's trees were also cut down once, or most of them were at least. The whole countryside was cleared for farmland between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. After the Civil War, depopulation set in as Maine folk moved west to take up better farmland in the new territories, or to take industrial jobs in the cities.

This is mostly second-growth forest now, although there are some patches of quite large white pine trees here and there that are original. I know of one small patch in Monroe to the east (well hidden from the loggers) where the pine are five and six feet around at the base.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What does it take if you don't change a lightbulb?

A near-disaster, that's what.

I came home from a trip to the state capitol yesterday afternoon (for a renewable energy conference) to walk the dogs, check on the sheep and chickens, and eat something, before returning to college for a night lecture.

I gave myself lots of time because the weather was bad. I was glad I did, for two reasons.

A short while after I traversed the same bit of road, there was some kind of icing conditions on the freeway and it had to be closed because twenty or so cars were off the road. I missed all this, and so had an extra hour on my hands after my early dinner. The sheep's water needed changed, so I went to use my hour productively to do that.

And promptly discovered the heat bulb in the well housing had quit, and the recent very great cold had crept into the well pump and associated pipes.

Now I check this bulb religiously, every night before I go to bed, and it was on for sure the night before, so it had gone out in the last eighteen hours. But at -20 F (-28 C) Monday night, the cold will creep in quickly.

I quickly recycled the small electric heater that the chickens had been using, popping it in the well house and turning it on full blast.

Then I called to cancel my attendance at the lecture. Luckily, it wasn't me that was giving the lecture. Aimee, who is part of the same class, made sure my responsibilities were covered. That gave me the evening to put matters right, before they got much worse.

American above-ground farm well pumps are sturdy, made of cast iron, and ours is only four years old, but ice will destroy the pump by cracking the iron particularly at the outlets. And cold will seep into water pipes, following the pipes from the well housing to deep underground, where in the worst cases, thawing will have to wait for spring.

Luckily, there hadn't been time for any of these consequences. The extra heat thawed out the frozen pump, which started back up again without even a drip. Another hour of heat was needed to get the pipes ice-free, but they weren't damaged.

It took two hours, but by seven in the evening I was back inside, warming up, the sheep watered and bedded down for the night, all back to normal, the heat bulb glimmering through the top of the well housing, as usual.

Except for the fleeting feeling of insecurity, a little more tiredness than usual, and what now feels like the start of a cold.

Still, that's much, much better than a frozen well.

It's supposed to get warmer today, back up to 28 F. The warmth may come with four feet of snow if the storm that accompanies the southerly airflow veers west, but we can handle the snow. I'm looking forward to the reduced margin of heating needs and the increased margin of safety for our water supply.

We can probably find a way to survive a frozen well, too, but the additional difficulty taking care of our animals, while also doing our day jobs, would be very great.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Football day in America

Here's "Roethlisberger."

Or to give him his full, slightly gender-bent name, Cheryl Roethlisberger Crow.

To begin, he was just Cheryl Crow. That was the name we gave him when "she" turned out to be a he.

You can thank Murray McMurray Hatchery for that mistake. We ordered only hens.

The Roethlisberger part came about when he started molesting the hens without their say-so.

To explain for the Brits who read this blog, Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, and he had a reputation for getting into trouble pressing his affections on young women.

But he's a reformed character, apparently, church-going and going-steady with a girl, and although suspended earlier in the season, continues to quarterback the Steelers, who are through to the division championship, which again for you Brits is the equivalent of the semi-finals.

Which are to be played today. The Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Jets versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, at 3.30 and 6.30 pm respectively. I'm looking forward to it.

I lived in this country for many years before I became interested in American football. It takes time, for anyone who's played Rugby Football, as in RFU, 15-a-side rugger. Which I used to play, for Tapton School in Sheffield, in the forward pack.

You have to let American Football grow on you.

I still prefer the original by far, and am as always looking forward to the Six Nations season coming up. As befits someone with Anglo-Welsh ancestry, I support both England and Wales. Until they play each other, when my 3/4 English ancestry takes precedence.

Sorry Grandma. (My gran was Leticia Jones from Machynlleth in, as she used to say, "Welsh Wales". But the rest of my ancestry is broad Yorkshire.)

My first experiences with American football were quite negative. Twenty years and several lifetimes ago, I had an American brother-in-law who quarterbacked the State University of Montana's football team.

He was an arrogant and unpleasant and quite ignorant young man.

In an attempt to be fraternal, I took him deer-hunting once. About two hours into what I had planned to be a good tracking day with fresh snow on the ground, he blazed away at a young doe with his stupid semi-automatic hunting rifle, missed a clean shot and instead blew her front leg off, after which she ran away three-legged.

To paraphrase the NRA, guns don't wound deer, people do, but the fact that he could shoot so rapidly probably encouraged him to take such stupid snap shots, instead of setting the shot up like a proper stalker. If there was ever a hunter who needed to go back to a single-shot weapon, and not be allowed automatic loading, this was one.

After a fairly desultory attempt to follow the blood trail, my prize brother-in-law gave up and went home early.

Long story short, I tracked the animal all the rest of that day and the following day, found her, killed her, and brought her back. He had the gall to say that it couldn't possibly have been his. This despite the fact that the front leg was missing and all the blood on that wound had dried.

To say that I disliked this fellow would be understating matters a good deal.

That relationship colored my opinion of American football and footballers for a while. It didn't help that one of the ways I worked my way though my first university degree was to work for the catering department, where it was my job to serve the pre-game breakfasts to the football players. They were encouraged to eat these monster breakfasts, to stoke up on "carbs."

I didn't enjoy this duty. The footballers were younger than me, rude, unpleasant, demeaning, and, again, quite ignorant. And, of course, the university gave them an easy ride in classes, as long as they won games and brought in money. Which for me, a fairly hard-working and serious student, seemed corrupt and unfair.

So my first experiences of American football were that, 1) It was slow and boring and hard to follow compared to rugby, 2) The players all wore pads and what looked like motorcycle helmets and so they must be wankers, 3) All the football players I knew or had known were total wankers, and 4) No-one I knew or liked played or watched football.

And there matters stood for years and years, until I married Aimee.

When I married Aimee, I married the Pittsburgh Steelers too.

All Aimee's relatives, if they watch football at all, are Steelers fans. Aimee watches every game she can, and follows the Steelers through the season, every season. And so I've become accustomed to watching the games with her. There are attractions, not being lonely being one, and food another. Chips and guacamole and beer will get me to watch just about anything. It helps that the Steelers are a family franchise, and that the majority owners, the Rooney's, have a reputation for high standards, fair dealing, and for building a team game rather than relying on expensive star players.

And so bit by bit, I've learned the game. And slowly, almost glacially, I've come to understand it and even enjoy it.

There are limits. I don't watch too many non-Steelers games. Without that connection, I get bored easily. Although it was somewhat of a pleasure to watch the New York Jets beat the hated New England Patriots, especially since this involved the arrogant Pats quarterback, Tom Brady, getting sacked five or six times.

(I tend to fast forward through the Italy-Ireland or Italy-Scotland games too, in the Six Nations, although I always watch the French games, in hopes of seeing the French team get beat by anybody, please.)

For you Brits, a "sack" is a timely tackle on the quarterback before the pass, not unlike when the flanker hits the scrum half just as the ball leaves the scrum.

So it's football day in America, and I'm getting ready to watch the games. Aimee, who is with students at a science conference in DC, will be arriving home about halfway through the Steelers-Jets game.

I'll have it recording for her.

I don't expect she'll be bothering to unpack her bag right away.

No guacamole, though. I don't much like shopping, and although I was sensible enough to stock up on bread and milk and coffee yesterday, so Aimee wouldn't have to go shopping again until next weekend, of course it never entered my mind to get advocados.

I do have quite a bit of father-in-law Dick Phillippi's hot pepper relish, though, and plenty of beer.

If I just tootle down to the local grocery later and get a big bag of chips, all will be well in the kingdom of Mick.

As long as the Steelers win.

If they don't, Queen Aimee will be upset for days.

She takes her Steelers football very seriously, does our wee lassie.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cold Comfort Farm

Here's the interesting sight that greeted me this morning: The local plow truck had been around last night, for which we are grateful, but had plowed a nice "roadway" across our lawn, instead of on the actual road, and had left a five foot deep pile of snow between the roadway and the mailbox to boot.

I'm not complaining, though.

I'm grateful the town plow is willing to try to navigate our driveway at all.

We live on the edge of what was once a school bus turnaround. We own the turnaround, so we shouldn't ordinarily expect it to be plowed by the town's plow at all, but it's very difficult, especially after a heavy snow, for the plow truck driver to do a three-point turn on the part of the road that actually belongs to the town, and a lot easier for him to just keep driving around the turnaround, our driveway.

So every winter, most of the time, our driveway is plowed for free. Win-win, though -- the town plow truck therefore must take less time to do the part of the road that belongs to the town, which makes the overall job of plowing marginally cheaper for everyone else in the town, since the driver is paid by the hour.

But every once in a while some problem occurs. Last year I awoke one day to find a plow truck stuck in the middle of our lawn, and had to help dig it out with our tractor before the driver could get on his way.

Yesterday's deep snow lay unplowed all day until quite late in the evening. Then, while watching telly, I heard and saw the lights of the plow truck by our mailbox.

I wondered what had happened, but as the lights and noise went away, shrugged my shoulders and went back to the TV.

This morning it was pretty clear: The driver had tried to plow our lawn again, instead of the road, and as a result had gotten jimmied up in front of the mail box and had to back up and try again to make the turn.

So I had to get busy with the Kubota and plow away and put the road where it was supposed to be, fifteen feet further to the east, as well as move that big pile of snow in front of the mailbox. Here's a shot of the Kubota with its nose buried in the snow. Such a powerful little tractor. They don't make them like that anymore.

This all took a little while, and as a result my bum was pretty cold by the time I got done. This Kubota has the old type painted metal seat. They don't make them like that anymore, either, and for good reason.

I wear insulated coveralls for this job, but today they were not quite up to it.

I also found my left hand was getting pretty numb with the insulated work gloves. I have an old frostbite injury to my left pinky, which feels the cold pretty badly.

So I went inside for my Dachstein mitts. I have two pairs of these old fashioned oiled wool mountaineering mittens left over from my RAF Mountain Rescue days. My hand recovered it's feeling right away.

What I really need is a Dachstein mitt for the bum.

Mary-dog was quite dismayed to see the snow. She knew she had to empty her bladder this morning, but couldn't find anywhere to do it that wasn't up to her nose in snow.

Poor cold puppy.

After about two seconds of this, she was asking to be let back in the house.

What a wuss she is. Southern dog.

Forecast is -7 F tonight (-22 C), and -14 tomorrow night (-25 C). But it's always a few degrees colder here at 527 feet above sea level than the forecast says it will be.

Luckily, when it's that cold, it usually doesn't snow around here.

Otherwise I'd have to plow snow again and my bum would be really cold then.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow, then cold

Here's our front porch, snowed up to the knee wall and festooned with icicles.

Another snow day off school, I'm reading Keynes, topping up my macro before a paper I'm due to give in June.

Snow and economics is definitely enough to keep the "animal spirits" under control.

Of course, the real animal spirits have to be looked after too. The sheep decided to eat a whole bale of hay this morning, so they got another one this afternoon. It will be cold tomorrow, a low of -15 F is forecast for the Penobscot and Kennebec Valleys.

No time to have sheep go hungry. Their rumens need to keep cooking for them to stay properly warm. they can have as much fodder as they want.

That means that it will be closer to -20 F up here on the Jackson-Dixmont hills, which are essentially the divide between these two deep Maine valleys.

I often wondered if Dixmont was old Acadian French for "ten hills," which is about how many we have.

This was always an unlikely theory, since this area was never really occupied by the Acadian settlers. It was too remote from the coast for the colonial period.

There were some French and Indian War (1763) skirmishes through here, though, and the occupants of the French forts further down east would surely have appreciated the landmark.

But, says Wikipedia, the town was actually named for the father of Dorothea Dix, and used to have the most sheep of any town in Maine. Too hilly for any other kind of farming.

I can appreciate that.

Our sheep don't appreciate history, even when about sheep.

But they do like hay when the weather is bad.

Sheep are less color-coded today.

All sheep become white sheep in the snow.

Even though they have a nice clean barn, they'd rather stay out in the snow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Popple-ation control

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA, a public holiday. We're off work, although Aimee has driven in to confer with students.

I decided to spend the time more selfishly.

Our firewood pile has been declining at an alarming rate since the cold weather arrived. It does this almost every year, because we only have convenient storage space for about four cords, and we need a cord more than that if the winter is a cold one.

There's only really a month-and-a-half more of the very coldest weather. By the end of January, winter is half over, and by the end of February, daytime temperatures come back above freezing, saving considerably on heating.

But we'd used more than half our firewood, so I wanted a little more.

Unity College's Woodsman Team obliged. Right about when I needed it, they advertised firewood for sale. This is wood left over from woodsmen- and woodswomen sports, which are basically competitive elaborations on tradition lumberjacking.

Unity College has lots of useful student clubs and sports teams.

I'd has this firewood before. It's what Mainer's call "popple", otherwise known elsewhere as quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, which is deciduous, but doesn't really count as a hardwood. It burns well enough, but the BTU content is low compared to ash, cherry, or elm, the three species we have the most of on our woodlot.

Twenty-five dollars a pick-up load was not too shabby, though, and I'm probably well ahead on dollars/mBTU. One pick-up load in the farm truck with the new bed was about a half-cord.

Popple is 13.7 mBTUs/cord, whereas the white (AKA gray) ash is 21.6 mBTUs/cord. Elm and cherry are a little less than ash, but not enough that you'd notice.

But white ash costs $200 to $250/cord dried, whereas this popple is costing us $50/cord.

$50/cord divided by 13.7 mBTUs/cord equals $3.64 per mBTU

$250/cord divided by 21.6 mBTUs/cord equals $11.57 per mBTU

Pretty cheap per BTU, I'd say.

Of course, this isn't a fair comparison, since I cut the ash myself.

Don't ask me why Americans still use the British Thermal Unit as their preferred unit of home heating energy.

I quite like it myself, but it is a clunky kind of a unit.

I think I'll get at least another pick-em-up truck load of popple.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Winter beauty

This morning was fairly gorgeous on the Great Farm, with bright yellow sunshine and twinkly air and fluffy fresh snow.

This first shot is from inside our barn, looking through the double Dutch doors.

Then there's the sunrise over the woodlot.

The next shot is an attempt to capture the fat snowdrops melting off the branches of the ash trees in the hedgerow. It doesn't work for that, but it's still pretty.

Finally, the sheep.

Our sheep don't care much for winter beauty. They hang out in the shade of the barn, traipsing around on the same three or four sheep trods in the snow.

Sheep are total Eeyores, when it comes to pretty. Not enthusiasts at all.

They much prefer oats and hay. That gets them enthusiastic.

There was a time when I found it hard to appreciate the stark light beauty of a North American winter. An ex-pat, I thought that I most liked to hike in soggy green countryside even in the winter, and didn't realize I could just as easily enjoy hiking in whiteness and light.

It took me about twenty-five years to develop a taste for it.

People, like sheep, are creatures of habit and like to traipse the same old sheep trods.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stayin' warm?

Here's our outside thermometer showing -7 F (-22 C) this morning at dawn.

That's not nearly as cold as it gets around here, but it is cold enough to take a few precautions.

I gave special care to tending our wood stoves last night, making sure to throw another log on at 2pm. I checked the taps to be sure the pipes were not about to freeze, and I turned on our small electrical heater in my den.

I wore my "mad bomber" hat with the rabbit-fur ear muffs to feed the animals this morning. I gave the sheep extra oats to keep their rumens running hot, and I'll give them two bales of hay to go at today instead of one.

For my own rumination purposes, I had a nice greasy breakfast, with four rashers of our own bacon and two eggs and two slices of fried bread, as well as some of our canned tomatoes.

The only items we didn't grow ourselves were the bread and the coffee. Actually, Aimee makes her own bread, but not from our own grains. And coffee, unfortunately, won't grow in Maine.

Earlier in the week I had finished the sweater I started Sunday, and I'm wearing it now and it's very thick and warm and comfy.

These pictures are before and after the first hot wash. I want these sweaters to be pre-shrunk, so I make them abut a third bigger to begin.

Aimee always has a good laugh at me trying on the sweaters, especially when they haven't been shrunk yet. I look like Nanook of the North.

I didn't get the collar quite right and may spend some time re-doing that today.

Last night Aimee decided to torment an animal, something she does fairly frequently. Especially when the animal is the male of her own species.

This time I was off the hook. Mary-dog was the victim.

I'd placed a cookie sheet on the floor for the dogs to clean up. Aimee decided to get down on all fours and act like a dog, growling and baring her teeth, and quickly forced Mary-dog off the tray.

Mary-dog took this all very seriously and made all the proper submissive dog actions, whining, face-licking, rolling on her back and showing her belly.

"Please, please let me lick the cookie tray!"

I guess we know who really is top dog around here, don't we?

Today I think we'll take to dogs for a good walk, after the sun has been up for a while and the worst of the cold has abated. Aimee plans to go shopping in Bangor.

Sooner her than me. I don't wish to go anywhere today. Not while it's this cold.

Then, when she gets back, we'll watch the Steelers-Ravens game.

It doesn't get much better than that, not in Maine, not in January.

Domestic bliss.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blizzard avoidance techniques

The wind blew and the snow fell -- actually it came sideways -- and we have the kind of superior plastering that will take until 10 am or so tomorrow to plow and dig ourselves out of. A foot and a half now, maybe two or more by the time it's all over. College was canceled today and may be tomorrow morning too.

I went outside exactly twice, for less than ten minutes each time, to check on the animals. Aimee went out only once.

So it was indoor jobs and activities. Here's our Singer 150 "Chunky Knitter."

This is a 1980s model hand-operated knitting machine we picked up second or third hand a couple years ago. We bought it from the Rockport, ME Knitting Circle, who had been given it as a gift at some point, but none of the ladies could puzzle it out and in any case they were mostly interested in hand knitting, so it lingered for years and then they sold it for pin money.

We have an enormous amount of yarn and fleece, and so handicrafts wouldn't make much of a dent. It takes a machine like this to make any sense out of the quantities of material we have on hand.

This is the sleeve for a sweater, now ready to stitch up, that was started Sunday. It took around 8 hours altogether, for the full sweater.

While I knitted, Aimee did college work (I did do a little of that too earlier), and did her jigsaw puzzle. I made her a new smaller puzzling table out of some spare laminated flooring boards and some trim. It's a great surface for puzzles, hard and smooth.

This is the second one I've made, both modeled after one her parents have. The first was too big, and so Aimee wanted a smaller one.

What my wifie wants, my wifie gets.

(Within reason.)

A little white, out

The weatherman was threatening a "white-out" on the five o'clock local news last night.

Now I've been in a real white-out, many, many times, in places where they actually occur, such as the Cairngorm Plateau, or on the top of the Ben (Nevis).

So let me tell, you, this photo from our front door may show a lot of snow, but as long as I can still see the mailbox twenty feet away, it is not an official white-out.

It's a kind of a gray-out maybe.

Let's just call it a decent snowstorm and be done.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Angry (at the) birds

Here's our chickens hanging out in my workshop, the silly clucks.

I hate when they do this because they poop all over the floor and leave feathers everywhere and get into stuff they shouldn't get into, but to get them to stop I would have to close the door, which restricts the light, as well as the space I have in there to move around and get things done.

Sometimes I shoo them all out, or have Haggis shoo them all out, only to have them come back in when I'm not looking.

Why do they prefer the shop? When they have a huge barn all of their own, except for the sheep pen? And the entire dooryard, indeed the whole durn farm and all the surrounding woods and dells?

Well, it is a degree or two warmer in there with the wood furnace running full blast right now. And there's less draft.

And, I suppose, there's interesting stuff they shouldn't get into, to get into.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter outdoor activities and other ways to keep warm

Here's my Christmas present from Aimee. It's a hand-operated hydraulic log splitter.

I quite like this device.

We get 90 percent or more of our heat from firewood burned in efficient modern wood stoves. The wood itself comes from our own land, and I put it up every year in late spring and early summer, as soon as the mud season has ended and the leaves have bloomed. This is the best time because the sheep get to eat the leaves of newly-felled trees, which they like a lot, which reduces bother and volume in handling brush.

Our trees are all under twenty-five year's old, for the most part. Our woodlot was a farm paddock before that time. In Maine, as fertile as this country is for trees, this means some fair-sized trees, but most are slender and don't require splitting, while those that do tend to be ash, straight-grained, and easy to split.

There are only a small number of logs, mostly from elms and the larger ash, that are really hard to split.

This means it will help a good deal to use this device to split them, while the number of logs that require this treatment will remain small, and so we don't need the fully-mechanized motor- or engine-driven type of splitter.

I've been trying it out on some big logs that our neighbor, a very tiny retired lady who still splits her own wood (they make 'em tough in this part of the world), couldn't easily split. She let me have a wagon load of these earlier this winter, and I've been burning them in our big wood furnace, which likes a bigger log.

It works very well, although you need to use a spacer for the shorter logs.

In other happenings, Haggis and I went for a ski. Actually, Haggis can't ski. But he can tunnel along behind me while I ski, and this is good exercise for him.

I planked around on our lawn for a couple minutes to test out my wax, and then we went about a half-mile into the woods, and then turned back. The snow was pretty crusty, and I was breaking through. In any case, I'd gone for a good post-holing walk earlier and didn't particularly need the extra exercise.

Haggis is not exactly the world's best snow dog. He has long fronds of Australian Shepherd fur on his legs and feet and these get balled up easily. This means he will lie down in the trail periodically, to chew the snowballs off his fur. This is fine when you're hiking, or skiing uphill, because you can stop or get around him.

It's a little interesting when you're skiing downhill on skinny skis and all of a sudden there's a big heap of dog in the way.

As you can see, we have our proper Maine winter weather now. Lots of snow, sparkly cold air, and deep blue skies.

The house is kept warm by burning wood, while the sheep keep themselves warm by burning hay. All this material came off our land, or that of other farms close by.

Three cheers for local cellulose. Beats oil and coal hands down, any day.

Amen to that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fun in the snow

The thaw came as promised, and made sticky snow out of drifty snow.

(Mainers may not have 1000 words to describe snow, but we do have a lot of adjectives.)

Aimee came back from snowshoeing to her forest tree plots and decided to make a snowman.

She made me help.

Then there was a slight difficulty getting the nose to stay in place.

I had to go out later and stick it back on.

A nose job, for a snowman.

Nip and tuck.

Sheep are quite happy to eat the remainder of a snowman's nose, as long as it is the traditional carrot.

I admit, I love Nellie more than the other sheep, which is why she got the carrot.

But Aimee went out later with other left-over vegetables.

All's well that ends well.