Sunday, October 30, 2011

Around the farmyard in the storm

I went out with the forty dollar camera to see what I could snap, so you can see what it looks like up here today.

Here's the view up the driveway to the barn. Notice the heavy snow on the power line. We'll be lucky if we don't lose power today.

The house itself is cosy and warm inside the blanket of thick insulation there now is under those excellently-dipped shingles.

I can't imagine how the old couple that once lived here managed to get by without any insulation! I've been sealing and insulating this place for five years now, and it's still not quite done. But it is very cosy.

Ten inches of snow on a sheep fence. I'm glad I bought in the rugs that were hanging here until a few days ago.

Here's faithful Nellie, one of our more affectionate sheep, coming up to be petted in the snow.

Nellie, Molly, and a white fluff ball of a ewe lamb, whose name according to the wife is either Roxy or Rhea.

(I can never keep these names straight in my head.)

Haggis in the deep snow, and a nice natural curl of snow on the side of the greenhouse.

October snow and a sad, sorry dog

A big nor'easter came early, barreling up the coast and smothering pretty much everything from New Jersey north to Nova Scotia in the white fluffy stuff.

We had fair warning, and although I'd been plugging away for weeks at the pre-winter farmyard and dooryard chores, I took fair note of the forecast and put a good day's work in Saturday, cleaning up the rest of the equipment and other items lying around the place, fixing the fences and gates that needed to be fixed before the snow, and otherwise taking care of business.

I took special care to check the generator and tractor fuel supplies and put the starter battery for the generator on a trickle charge for the day. With such wet sloppy snow, and the leaves still on the trees, power outages are forecast, and indeed we've had three or four short ones already.

I then retired for a nap on the couch smug and secure in the husbandly knowledge that it could blow as much as it bl*@dy well liked and all would still be well in the world of the Womerlippis.

Since then we've had a good ten inches and it's still whiter than any English Christmas out there.

It's interesting to me that we live more or less constantly, November to March, within a thermometer's hair of the climate regime at the top of Britain's Cairngorm mountain. I well remember how daunting it used to be, on the RAF Mountain Rescue winter climbing course, to drive our Land Rovers from the warm cosiness of the village of Braemar to the top of the road at the Cainrgorm ski area car park, and then continue up to Coire an t-Sneachda for the climbing.

How many times have I made that particular trip?

But here all I have to do right now to get the same experience, as long as there's a "R" in the month, is to stick my head outside my own front door.

Today's plans include a sensible big and greasy breakfast, followed by a good wait for the blizzard to stop, followed by a couple-three hours work with the tractor and snow shovel, to make sure that when this mess melts, as it surely will someday between Monday and Friday, we're ready for it and the meltwater can all drain in a useful direction.

In other Womerlippi news, we had a bit of a blow of a different kind Friday to hear from our vet that Mister Haggis, our recalcitrant shepherd dog, may have canine lymphoma.

We had thought it was just asthma brought on by contamination from the chemicals used in cellulose blown-in insulation.

A few weeks ago, with Aimee gone for a day or two to some wifely conference or some such thing, I'd taken the opportunity to blow a foot of insulation into the tiny crawl space above our front porch, something I'd been meaning to do for a few years now.

But the crawl space was not yet well-sealed, and every time the wind blew thereafter, cellulose dust would settle to the porch floor below, where Haggis spends his days patiently waiting for us the get back from work.

When the poor pup first contracted a good case of pink eye, then developed a nasty cough, it was a fair guess that the cellulose dust was to blame. Occam's razor ain't no facial hair removal device.

Accordingly, I sealed the crawl space up properly with mastic and trim boards, then decontaminated the area below with a good old-fashioned besoming, making good use of the Swiffer mop and it's alcohol-laden cleaner to be sure we'd gotten most of the light grey dust.

Yet the cough persisted, and so Haggis had to go to the vet's Friday. He was very happy to ride in Aimee's Camry car, and indeed sat without moving a muscle at the tire place, while I bought a nice aggressive pair of all-weather radials to see us safe through the snow and down to Virgina for Christmas. On to the vet's, and he was still happy until he made it inside the front door, when the smell of the place suddenly hit him and he made an abrupt u-turn, heading, or attempting to head, right back to the parking lot!

He loves to go for a ride, but he doesn't like to go to the vet.

On the vet's table he was given a very thorough examination, with all kinds of strange palpitations -- the spleen, the lymph node, the tendons on the back of the rear ankle joint, as well as a good old-fashioned stethoscoping, and so on. I appreciate the work of any craftsman, and this particular vet is clearly a master of the medical massage.

Haggis, for his part, was most upset to be felt up so thoroughly, without any choice in the matter.

The upshot was, we must now do a couple weeks of patient dog-watching to rule out kennel cough, and then our sorry mutt must return to the vet's to have some blood work and a biopsy of the lymph nodes. More than likely, he has the carcinoma, in which case he has less than a year to live.

His coughing proceeds apace, and is most unpleasant to hear. We feel quite sorry for him. It's clearly very uncomfortable. Often, he coughs up some interesting clear frothy spittle. We're in the habit of pausing whatever TV show we're watching using the DVR to let him get it over with. Yet another advantage of modern entertainment technology.

Mostly, he just lies quietly, as in this photo, trying not to get worked up about anything. Sensible dog.

The good part is, he now gets three cheeseballs a day, the cheesy mutt, with his several pills wrapped inside.

And, loyal and true friend that he is, all red hair and soppy puppy love for us both, we know that as long as we're both close by, he's happy enough and content with his lot in life.

If he really must die soon, all he will ask of us, to die a happy dog, is a little more of our time and companionship.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Camry starter solenoid repair for $15

Aimee is off to a biology conference in New Hampshire. While the wifey's away, you'd think the husband would play, but there's a persistent "fails-to-start: starter just clicks and doesn't turn engine over" problem on her precious Camry to fix first.

Otherwise not only will she be upset when she gets back, but she'll also be driving the 215,000 mile Nissan farm truck back and forth to school, and Aimee's not really up for that. The truck is pretty old and has lots of foibles that only mechanically-inclined folks would have tolerance for.

Like the tailgate that falls down of its own accord every 50-60 miles unless you check the catches every ten or fifteen miles. Or the smell of oil-burning-on-muffler that occurs every time the truck is asked to drive more than five miles. Or the gas tank that has to be filled only 2/3 of the way because the filler neck had to be lowered to accommodate the new wooden truck bed when the old one rusted out.

The Camry starter job was going to be easy enough, and indeed if it hadn't been for the SAR call-out last night I would have had it done by 9am or earlier.

What happens, apparently, with these Camry starter motors is that the solenoid (the big electromagnetic relay that carries the power from the battery to the starter whenever the key is turned) had worn out its own contacts. These little l-shaped copper contacts do all the work of passing all those starting amps to the starter motor itself every time you start the engine.

They were easily sourced online, just by googling "Camry starter solenoid repair." They came first class mail, less than a week, cost less than $15 counting shipping, while the replacement motor from our local discount starter firm cost nearly $130.

$15 bucks and an hour's work saved me $115. That's $115/hour.

Almost lawyer's rates, that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ravioli! (Eventually)

Aimee bought me the ravioli-maker attachment to my pasta machine for my birthday.

(My fiftieth -- a half-century on planet Earth!)

It took me a few days to have the time and mental capacity to risk wifely ridicule, and try to make some ravioli.

Unfortunately, ridicule was forthcoming anyway. And, I suppose, not without warrant, since this mess was the result of my first try. Not proper ravioli by any stretch of the imagination. Aimee laughed and laughed. I like to hear her laugh, so I didn't mind so much, but I wanted some proper raviolis!

However, a little tweaking and reconfiguring and learning of technique, and we had it down. The key seems to be to make sure you have slightly stickier pasta sheets than are normal for regular noodles (fettuccine noodles are what I usually make), and that your filling is very regular and smooth in composition. My first attempts used filling that had big chunks of grated zucchini, which got in the way of the roller edges and so prevented the sealing of the ravioli pockets. I blended the same filling down a little, used slightly stickier dough, and it worked fine.

The second-last photo, a little blurred, shows last night's dinner of home-made ravioli with home-canned tomatoes, homemade pesto and a thick slice of home-made wholewheat bread. Very tasty, filling, and nutritious.

The final photo shows the frozen noodles the next day. This was a great success, and bodes well for future mass-production. If you dry them a little on pastry sheets, flipping them once to dry out each side, they seem to freeze well in Ziploc bags. (This would be a good place to use those Ziploc bags with the vacuum pump, so you might squeeze out all the air and prevent freezer burn.)

I think I like my ravioli maker. It's also a great way to use up surplus eggs, of which we usually have plenty. Eggs go into both the noodle dough and the filling. If I used rolled wax paper or parchment to catch the finished pockets, I could make sheets of finished noodles several feet at a time, let them dry, and freeze them. Currently Aimee buys me bulk frozen ravioli and tortellini. It's an easy dinner when you come home late from work, and goes well with our homegrown tomatoes and pesto. But now I can make our own ravioli instead, enough for three or four dinners at a time.

I expect this to become another winter pastime, like knitting with our knitting machine. And the noodles will dry quickly whenever the woodstove is going.

The next question is, "what to put in the filling?" I need some good recipes for filling that use other local or home-grown ingredients we have on hand and in good quantities. Ground lamb and tomatoes with rosemary would be one good possibility. Bacon and mashed potato? Pesto and cheese? The possibilities seem extensive.

What did I do with the mushed-up monstrosities that were my earlier attempts? I popped the worst messes in the blender with some mashed potato and ground it all down, then called it gnocchi dough, and froze it for later. The second tier messes, the ones that actually had some shape to them, I cooked up and kept for snacking on later.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A walk with Haggis

It's the long weekend for the Columbus Day holiday here in Maine. I pulled our spuds yesterday, not a great harvest, but adequate and better than might have been expected considering how much potato blight we had.

That left me stiff and sore this morning. The weather was due to be warm, so I wasn't much up for any more garden chores. Aimee was off to some biologists' fungus meeting in Waterville.

Haggis and I decided on a good long walk.

We drove up to the Dixmont Hills, just across the county line to the north. A good three miles or so and maybe 800 feet of ascent, just enough for a couple hours exercise in the golden-dappled woods of autumn in Maine.

Haggis is funny when hiking. He's an old dog now, and likes to spare himself if he can, and the Dixmont Hills are steep in places.

Probably he's thinking to himself, "if that mean old master would just take me on a good walk like this every day, I wouldn't be so old and fat and slow."

I know the general feeling. I get much the same inclination during the deep snow of early winter, when walking in Maine is damn near impossible. Any moderate walking fitness I may build up the rest of the years seems to bleed away during those two months.

Not that Haggis won't run along most of the day. he just takes a lot fewer side trips than he used to. If Haggis can see a trail and thinks he knows where to go, he'll run still ahead. Not too far -- just enough to let you and he both know that he's not quite past it yet, but not enough to give him more work to do.

If you're bushwhacking, he sets right in behind you and dogs you until he can see the trail again.

He gets hot, too, so any crick or wallow is a good excuse for a nice cooling dip.

I took pictures, but my cheap old camera was set to the close-up setting, so they all came out blurred. Here's one from way back, but the same season of the year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's a wet weekend in Maine after a nice week of Indian summer. We're in domesticated mode.

Nothing like a cat in the lap for that.

Charlie-cat likes to cat around in the bushes on his forays and so he picks up stickers and burrs.

Then he decides he needs a little hair-do, so he jumps up on the couch and settles in my lap until I comb out all his burrs. Even when I'm done, he stays until get a dead-leg from cat-constricted circulation.

Shenzhi-cat brought in a dead vole, the killer.

Haggis, for his part, has a sore eye, and many have pannus or CSK. He went to the vet Friday. He's on cortisone drops.

The sheep are wet and soggy, but don't seem to mind.

Aimee and I have the weekend off completely for once, which is nice. I've been doing door-sealing, weatherstripping, and ductwork-insulating jobs, ready for a hard winter.

Aimee wants me to make her leek-and-barley soup later, another sign of dropping temperatures.