Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday treat

So the husband starts banging around with the kitchen trash can. Flame jumps on the porch couch and looks through the kitchen window to see what's happening. 

"Oh boy," says Flame, "we're going to get a ride in the truck." And she starts jumping up and down like Princess Flame Jumping Bean (Aimee's long-winded name for her).

And it's true, they do get to go for a ride in the Land Rover truck. We drive all of half a mile to the transfer station, where I unload the trash and sort the recycling, and then we drive home. At no point do they get to come out of the truck. But they love it all the same.

Every week. 

Dogs love routine, and this is their favorite routine.

Winter survival, expert edition

"Ex" as in "has-been", "spurt" as in "drip under pressure." (Popular RAF enlisted man's saying, circa 1980. Generally used to refer to any pointy-headed officer or boffin, or oneself, in deprecation.)

The weather has been steadily improving, by Maine standards. Although it's snowing steadily out there right now, and we may get another four inches, at least it isn't four feet.

And the temperature is a whole 27 degrees F, which is a lot better than -10 or -15 degrees F.

One or two days have been warm and sunny and in the high 30s or low 40s.

The days are getting longer, and there's this distinct feeling of being well "over the hump" and sliding down the easy side of winter's mountain.

Even so, it's best not to be suckered in. One of the things I teach is a general upper-level class on climate, and I well know that we can get one, two and occasionally three-feet snowstorms in Maine right through April.

Here's the one we got in 2011, a foot or more. But that was the only one I could find in the Great Farm Diary.

In any case, it behooves one to have a few activities and distractions, lest cabin fever take over.

For her part, Aimee has been cleaning. Not spring cleaning, I guess, but mid- or late-winter cleaning. I've noticed a distinct uptick in the besoming index. She's brushed out corners and mopped floors. The bathroom has been scrubbed and re-scrubbed. There's even been a little light dusting, an activity we often neglect. (With two dogs, two cats and a wood stove, this is a major family failure.)

I've done my bit, cleaning out under the sink when we had the plumbing leak, and getting a few cobwebs with the feather duster.

I've also been more than normally diligent about smoke alarms. I watch the local news on the TV most evenings, and there's been a heck of a lot of fires in these parts.

Here's one that occurred in Unity last week. This old Victorian was split into a small number of rental units, and one of our students and her mum lost their home and everything they had. They have a place to stay, but still, that's pretty horrible.

I'm well aware of the death trap nature of old wooden houses when it comes to fire. The Womerlippi farmhouse has been properly retrofitted, with fire-retardant insulation in the walls, lots of smoke alarms, a carbon monoxide alarm, and a proper new chimney for the wood-burning stove, but I still check the smoke alarm batteries fairly frequently in winter.

On a brighter note, here are some winter activities that made me happy. The first is, I made clotted cream.

Most Americans have never tasted this British specialty. Worse, yet, if they are like Aimee, they turn their nose up at the very name. After all, who wants to eat anything that has clotted? We may need to rename the dish.

But clotted cream is one of the British foods I miss a good deal, along with proper fish and chips, a decent Indian take-away, and a good pint of fresh real bitter ale. Whenever I go home, these are the things I usually try to get a little of.


Clotted cream, it turns out, can be made on a wood stove. In Britain, it would most likely be an Aga that would be used, but here in the States we have the usual black cast iron stoves, and these, apparently, will do just fine if they're not too hot. 

I'll let you know how it works out.

I also made trifle. This is another British specialty that Aimee turns her nose up at, but she'll happily partake of tiramisu, which is really an Italian trifle and made much the same way with sponge cake, booze, custard and cream.

In my case I made fresh egg custard and yellow Victoria sponge cake, and used cheap cognac and a little Vermouth, for want of sherry. It turned out well.

When sister Carol and I were little, mum made trifle every Saturday, as well as chocolate cake,and we had both for Saturday tea, usually after cheese on toast. When I explained this to Aimee she was quite shocked. 

"You mean to say, you had dessert every weekday and two on Saturday?"

Well, urm, yes, I suppose if you put it that way...."

(But we also grew up in a candy store, a high-end sweet shop. So we had access to lots of sweet stuff, on top of the two dessert Saturdays. No wonder we're both a little plumper than we should be.)

My final and perhaps best line of defense against the winter blues this year has been books. In particular I've been reading about, and trying to come to terms with, the history of the British Empire. By the time I was old enough to be aware of such things, in the early 1970s, much of the old Empire had been liquidated. The void, of course, was filled with the informal American commercial empire and the old Soviet empire, the latter now also thankfully defunct.

But then we had the Falklands War, whose 30th anniversary was last year. I was in the service during the Falklands War, and experienced the full flood of emotions that every other Brit did at the time. And guys I knew served on Navy ships like HMS Sheffield, named for my home town, and at the RAF base on Ascension Island.

I think this was perhaps the moment at which I began to realize that Britain had once had an Empire, a very large one, and that this fact explained a lot of what went on in the world, from Irish nationalism to Rugby Internationals.

The left-leaning school curriculum during the 1960s and 1970s in the so-called People's Republic of South Yorkshire hadn't really covered this history very much, and so when I began to encounter a little lingering anti-British hostility in the US, I felt at something of a disadvantage.

It's been helpful to read up on the Empire. This began a couple of decades ago, after a particularly bruising brush with a University of Montana Professor of Irish History. Now I realize a) what an utter idiot the man was (he used to tell stories of poor starving Irishwomen who had to peel potatoes with their fingernails), b) the British Empire was probably a better deal for it's inhabitants than the alternatives, ie, Russian/Soviet empires, the French, German and Belgian, and even perhaps most recently the burgeoning American Empire, and finally c) as working class Brits, our family was fairly well oppressed by the British Empire system too, grandma Lettie having been, essentially, an indentured servant, grandad Arthur having been a household gardener and cannon fodder during WWI to boot.

This doesn't mean to say that the cruel Empire didn't do horrible things to lots of people.

Just that it also did them to my people too.

(Except that I've mostly gotten over it, and I don't hold long-dead people and policies responsible for my own failures.)

What anti-British feeling in the US there once was seems to be dying out in any case, to be replaced by a kind of commercial merger of the two celebrity cultures, perhaps fed by the large scale military merger that has been ongoing since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan jointly reset the button on the Special relationship. Serious news-consuming Americans listen to the BBC on the radio, while Americans of all classes, races, and ethnic extraction seem to love watching Downtown Abbey on PBS.

Even Top Gear has an American following, to eternal British shame.

Now, if anything, the British and our dregs of Empire such as Ascension and Diego Garcia have become minor partners in the new American Empire, including the ownership of a few shares in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, as well as options on the drone strikes. I worry that these atrocities will linger in the minds of others of the world's peoples as long as, say, the executions after the Easter Rising, or the Amritsar massacre that David Cameron just apologized for. We're going to need a better, more trusting relationship with the rest of the world, particularly if it comes to the crunch with China.

So American excuses for anti-British hostility have more or less evaporated, haven't they, now that Americans are just as complicit imperialists? While the history of the British Empire informs the outcome of American imperial policy.

And Jeremy Clarkson is just as much of a twit on American TV as he is on British.

But I doubt any of this will mean I'll be able to talk Aimee into trying either trifle or clotted cream.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Aimee's cold heart?

There were a few serious jobs to do around the house and farm this Saturday, mostly the generator unpacking and wiring, but also sheep water-changing and one or two other must-do farm things. Sunday, however, was pretty much of a wash because of the storm and so I concentrated on writing for my blogs, particularly my teaching blog. We're discussing agriculture in class right now, and some otherwise disinclined students are engaged, and I wanted to capitalize on that interest with an article and some videos.

I wrote until 9.30 am, which when you consider how early I get up, is a good long stint. The storm had blown up Saturday night but the winds for some reason had become disassociated with the worst of the snow, and so although we had a few inches of snow overnight, it wasn't too bad. I then took the dogs for a good walk, using the trail some local snowmobilers had kindly made to avoid the need for too much post-holing.

But by noon Sunday the winds had begun to strengthen, and by evening they were howling pretty good around here, the windows creaking, and the house occasionally too. It's somewhat unsettling to live with the notion that your house may one day blow away, but I guess since we've been messing with the planet's climate, we'd better get used to it.

The power flickered off only once, so my new generator went unused, but I felt vindicated in true husbandly fashion -- the way a man does when the wife doesn't listen too well to an argument you know is sound. The only problem would have been that the new power cord for the genny wasn't ready for service. I made plans for another trip to Home Depot during my lunch hour today. It helped the urgency a little that we also have a plumbing leak under the kitchen sink, for which I need parts.

During the afternoon, I turned my attention to learning to use a new piece of science kit the college has just bought, a FLIR infra red camera. I'll be using this in physics labs and in fact already have. It's a very helpful device, and very engaging. It will also find use in building technology and energy classes, as well as in community energy auditing service work with students.

The windy cold day made our creaky old farmhouse an ideal test bed. Although there has been an enormous amount of energy-saving work done over the years, and the house is currently pretty cosy and efficient, there is still more to do.

Here's the good news, the outside of the front of the house where our super-insulation retrofit shows very little energy leakage at all. The hot spots, at around 30 degrees F compared to an ambient of about 10 F when this shot was taken, are the windows and the satellite dish.

Here's some bad news, our rickety staircase from inside. You can see the cold air infiltration through the cracks in the staircase construction. That air is not too cold, indeed at 59 F it could be worse. It's coming from the cellar, and being slowed and warmed by the insulation in the cellar head.

I now have dozens of these kinds of pictures.

Here's a fun experiment, a Shenzi-cat in infra-red. You can even see the brindles on her fur, which Aimee was quite impressed by. I enjoyed the cold wet nose.

And here, for fair measure, is Charlie-cat, also with wet nose.

A student once ribbed Aimee for being "heartless" on an exam. She kept the note on her Facebook page. When the IR camera appeared she decided to prove the matter once and for all, with the help of a pack of frozen vegetables. Here is the officially cold-hearted Aimee:

I think she looks more like a ghost myself, and the veggie pack is the wrong shape and perhaps too far over to the left.

But I think we get her point.

The wind is still howling outside. I'll need to get suited up in my insulated coveralls and go break out our vehicles from whatever snow drifts they're in. This may be a day to try to get home early so I can move snow from the driveway and chore-paths.

Hopefully the wind will have dropped by then. It will be March soon, and we may begin to get some better weather around here. The likelihood of heavy snowfall drops in March, to be slowly replaced by rain, and mud season is usually underway by the end of the month.

Then April, and lambs in the sunshine.

I'm looking forward to it after these arctic months.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New generator

Regular readers will know that I've been worried about our aging home back-up generator since the most recent power cut. This happened during the last-but-one snow storm, not a particularly big storm by Maine standards.

The power was out for nearly eight hours, and although I'd slept through most of it while sick with the flu, Aimee had been at work, and I wanted her to come home to a hot shower and a warm, well-lit house. But the tired old generator only ran for forty minutes, then cut out. The reason was most likely overheating due to a worn engine, and indeed the next time I tried to start the genny, I got blue smoke, not a good sign.

We need a working genny around here, not just for our own comfort, but to pump water for our livestock in a power cut.

I had been prevaricating between getting a new unit or rebuilding the old, or some combination, most likely buying a new one, rebuilding the old one, then selling it on.

After some thought, I resolved to partially rebuild the engine, and sent away for the piston rings I needed to do so. I was sort of looking forward to puttering on this all weekend, but by the time the rings came Friday, another storm was forecast for late Saturday, and it made no sense to strip down the generator just at the moment when we could easily need it, even if it was running poorly. I'd also received notation of our tax rebate from the IRS "Where's my rebate" site, and so had the money for a new one.

I decided to just go get one. It required a little work to talk Aimee into it. She wasn't happy about the expense, but I think this winter's various adventures have shown the need.

But which one to buy? I wanted a generator with a propane engine because propane engines typically run quieter and cleaner than gas or diesel. We also have a lot of problems with gas spoilage in carburetor engines around here. We have a lot of farm and yard equipment that only needs to run a few times a year and the gas spoils, or the fuel hoses decay on the smaller carburetors. You want an emergency generator to work when you need it.

Propane keeps for years. We've had the same propane tanks on the current generator for four or five years. It always starts, and never needs a carburetor strip-and-clean job. Most of our other motors require this at least once a year, usually due to resin in the gas that gums up orifices and jets. But the con is, the propane generator itself is more expensive.

I almost bought a gas genny. I'd been shopping online ever since I saw the blue smoke. I knew I could get a mid-size propane generator from Home Depot for about $900, which seemed a lot, while a gas-fueled unit of the same wattage output would only be about $600. But then I noticed a Generac 3,250 W propane generator at the Waterville Home Depot for $609.

The only difficulty was that it was pull-start. When we're away from the farm, we get a farm-sitter, often a student, often female, and even the most self-reliant student might have trouble with a pull-start engine.

But, as we discovered this year, if we're away and there's a power cut, usually other bad things begin to cascade. Most recently it was the oil furnace, and we had to return home early in any case. And our old generator had to be wired directly to the breaker panel each time it was needed to power the house, so it wasn't exactly user-friendly. I decided I could live with a pull-start, as long as it had 220 volts and so could power both sides of our breaker panel.

I'd use the savings to buy and set up a proper 220 volt generator socket, and make it a lot easier for someone other than myself to connect the generator to the house. The new model at 3,250 W would have almost the same wattage output as our old one at 3,500 W, so we'd have to turn off some devices in the house while we used it, but through the new connection it could deliver more of that power, and run all our farm food freezers and the main fridge at the same time and handle the water pump too.

I'd been able to get a lot of use out of the old Generac unit, which had the same GN 220 engine as the new, and so I was also brand-loyal.

Here's the new genny after assembly, which took about half an hour. It's easy to move around.

As you can see, it's a lot easier to move around than our old one. The old one was supposed to be permanently installed outside, and we certainly did that at the Bale House, but it would get covered in snow and rained on and dirty, and so here at the farm where we didn't need it to run off-grid systems on a fairly frequent basis, I always kept it indoors and just manhandled it outside when I needed to. It's heavy, and so this wasn't very efficient, and would have been another barrier to having Aimee or a house-sitter operate the unit in an emergency.

The big white box on the top of the old unit contained the receptacles. You'd take a 110V plug, plug it into one of the receptacles, and wire that directly to a breaker on the breaker panel (having first turned off the main breaker). Not that easy to do, especially in the dark with just a flashlight, and the most you could get was 10 amps because there were 10 amp GFCI breakers fitted to the receptacles on the receptacle box. That meant that you couldn't run a fridge or freezer and the water pump at the same time.

Here's the new disconnect socket I wired in yesterday. Much better, and it can take up to 30 amps. This is not easy home wiring, because it uses large gauge cable that is hard to manipulate, but if you persevere, you can get it done.

The new genny started a little hard, but that's normal for a new pull-start engine. I expect it will settle in, and I'll figure out what the particular "knack" is too. I didn't much like the way it scooted along on its wheels while I was pulling on the starter, but I think I can figure that out too. The only remaining problem is to pick up a new two-gang breaker for the genny. The old one I had on the shelf turned out to be a dud. I also need a different plug. The Home Depot "Associate" inadvertently sold me the wrong one, although he swore blind it was the standard item for a generator's 220 V outlet.

I'm not sure what Home Depot "Associates" are "associated" with. Although some of them are knowledgeable, others of them clearly need to be re-associated with some trade-training programs and a few good textbooks in mechanics and construction.

Another sign of the decline of western civilization. And the durn generator itself, although a major American brand and probably American-designed, is actually made in China. But what can you do?

When Margaret Thatcher and to a lesser extent Ronald Reagan's economic reforms reduced funding for the kind of "socialist" trade training and engineering educations available at places like the UK's then-magnificent RAF Halton, and similar vo-tech colleges all around the USA, I'm not sure they realized just how delinquent we'd become in terms of the engineering literacy of the average person in such a short space of time.

When I was a kid in Sheffield, almost every other kid's dad I knew had some kind of solid trade.

Now we're all occupying cubicles in call centers, shifting each other's bad credit around, and knowledgeable hardware store "Associates" are few and far between.

Next time I'll take my durn jackknife and cut the durn plug out of the stupid blister pack right there in the store, and try it on the display model generator, just to be sure. And I won't listen to no so-called Associate if he or she tells me otherwise.

But I think all will be well enough with the new genny. It's a compromise, with the pull-start and the Chinese manufacture, but it's backed by an American warranty and a good brand name that has worked well for us before.

So, if today's so-called "Blizzard Warning" doesn't turn out to be a storm in a teacup, as it currently seems to be, and if we do sooner or later get a down tree on our spur line again, we ought to be a good deal happier and less worried than we have been the last few times.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Here's the Womerlippi farmhouse at dawn today, showing the very large drifts up against the front wall and the garage.

The latter was well buried. It took a few minutes to free the tractor for snow moving duties. Flame helped.

I was on the tractor for long enough to get numb-butt. But it wasn't that long. We were done shoveling and plowing by 8.30 am. I came in for a nice Hobbit-like Second Breakfast of bacon, eggs, fried bread and our own canned tomatoes.

All's well that ends well. The main thing is, we didn't get a power cut, although apparently several hundred thousand folk are without electricity between here and New York.

I ordered the piston rings for the generator engine. Better safe than sorry.

The sheep were spoiled today. We dug them a trail to get to their water tank, so they wouldn't have to eat snow. Then they got some kale stems. Even the chickens got let out of the barn to peck around in the sun and melting snow.

These two seem quite content with how they weathered the storm.

What they want is more kale.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow updates

I had to find a way to get the dogs some exercise, and there was no use shoveling until this storm stops, so we walked down Great Farm Road. This is what we saw.

Here's the drift in front of our garage door:

 Here's Flamey in the snow, well over here nose, with her eyes closed:

And here's the town plow, stuck, taking a lot of back-and-forth tries to plow our driveway:

Riding it out

Finish the following sentence:

"You know you are living in Maine when..." can't open your front door because of the snowdrift outside.

The drift on the step was actually the smaller of the several drifts I had to struggle through to feed the sheep this morning. The deepest were about four feet deep, while I could see others, not in my path, that were easily five feet. 

The sheep of course were quite stoical about it all. Most of the had slept outside or just inside the door of the barn, to judge from the layer of snow on their fleece. There was quite a bit of spindrift snow inside the barn, too. We leave the doors open, so the sheep can come and go. They don't like to be cooped up, and so when it's this bad the snow does come in a bit. I'll have to sweep it out later.

This must be the new fashion in sheep-wear, a layer of fresh snow.  

Or, more likely, a very old tradition indeed.

Here's the snowfall inside the barn. 

It looks worse than it is. A few seconds with a broom will dispose of this later, once all the wind has dropped and the snowfall has stopped. We won't plow or shovel until late this afternoon or even tomorrow morning. It isn't worth it. The town plow hasn't been up our road all night in any case, and the road is drifted over pretty well, so only one of our vehicles can go anywhere, the Land Rover, and we'll only drive that in an emergency, if someone gets hurt.

The Land Rover found itself in a small snow-free zone, the result of some kind of self-induced vortex. We used this spot for a partial trail, to help us in our trek to the barn, but there was a pretty good drift in front we had to wade through first. 

The dogs were well over nose-level. They actually didn't want to leave the house this morning, and had to be coaxed out. Poor puppies. 

Actually, that's a bit wimpy for farm dogs, isn't it? 

Aimee must have spoiled them.

It couldn't possibly have been anything to do with me.

I've half a mind to start the Rover up and drive it to the store, just to see if I can, but I'd feel pretty silly if I got stuck half-way and needed help, or worse yet, blocked the road for the plow-man. 

Better hunker down some more, and perhaps save that special experience for when we really need it.

The power has flickered on and off a few times, rebooting the DSL modem and interfering with my newspaper-reading this morning, but so far it hasn't stayed off. 

Which is a good thing. After trying to use the generator last week, and having it cut out after only forty minutes of run-time, I of course investigated as soon as I got the chance. We were sent home early from work yesterday and I took the opportunity to do all my pre-storm chores, and checking on the genny was one. While firing it up for a test run, I noticed blue smoke at start-up. This might not be so bad -- it is a fairly old generator after all, and saw a tremendous amount of overuse at the Bale House

But the smoke continued for at least the first four or five minutes. Not good.

The piston rings are worn out, then. It won't be long now. Later yesterday afternoon, I researched the price of a new short block engine replacement. Generac no longer makes the generator, but they do still use the # GN 220 engine, and you can buy one for about $300 plus shipping from online discount parts warehouses. The trouble is, you can get a whole new propane generator, with a larger power output to boot, a full household draw of 8,000W versus the 3,500 W we have now,, and the option of full 220 V supply, instead of the 110v we have now, all for about $800 plus shipping. 

If I had 220 V, I could run the entire distribution panel instead of just half. That would be a great convenience. Luckily, our well pump is only 110V, so we've never really worried. We felt lucky to have the old genny from the Bale House for a back-up. Lots of other people around here don't have generators at all.

The trouble is, I could just also replace the rings in the old one, probably for less than fifty bucks. I doubt this would be a particularly difficult job, and I'd probably even enjoy the work.

We'll see. For now, with the storm hitting pretty good, we have a fair chance of an outage. I'm not too worried. I'm sure I could nurse the old engine along for a few bursts of say 30 minutes at a time, enough to shower or cook or water the animals. 

But I'd like to have the full-on 220V set up, with the proper connector and switch to boot. Power cuts are a fact of life in mid-central Maine. It's silly to struggle without a generator, or with an old worn-out one at half-power, if we don't need to. 

Probably the thing to do is to buy the rings and change them out, then buy the new generator anyway, and sell the old one for $500 on Maine Craigslist.

Of course, the humans are the ones that have to worry about electric power and pumping water when the power goes out. The sheep say they don't know what all the fuss is about, but thank you anyway, for the extra oats and coarse-16 they got this morning.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A storm approaches

The local (Bangor, Maine) TV news and weather team was on full alert last night -- they did that thing they do when a storm is coming or overhead, where they go first to the weatherman, instead of telling us about all the latest house fires and murder trials.

That means the weather itself is top of the news.

In this case, the NWS is calling for a couple feet of snow in our part of Maine in less than 24 hours. It's supposed to arrive later today, rapidly get worse, snow all night and Saturday morning, and then clear out for Sunday.

Two feet of snow is a fairly regular occurrence around here. It happens maybe once a winter, say two out of every three winters, or something like that. I can remember several two-feet snowfalls since we moved to the Great Farm.

And it doesn't seem like class is going to get cancelled. The snow will arrive later this afternoon or evening, after school is done for the day.

But still. Best be ready. I put the generator battery on a charge last night. I should now switch the charger to the tractor battery. The tractor's fuel tank may be low. I'll check that today. I may need to buy some kerosene for the tractor on my way to work.

This might be a good day to drive the Land Rover to work myself, and have Aimee drive the four-wheel drive Nissan pick-em up truck. I've been driving the truck every day this week, since the Ford Escort sprang a brake line leak. I haven't had the time to fix the Ford, and I doubt I'll do any such thing this weekend or for several weekends to come. It doesn't make sense to me that I should hurry up to lie on the frozen ground under a rusty old Ford car to change a brake line, when I still have a Land Rover and and pick-up truck to drive.

I'll be glad to get home from work later today. Not only is it a Friday, but with a blizzard coming, this is no day to have to go anywhere.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The "Woman Flu" and the end of hoarding

Now Aimee is sick, having caught my "man flu" last week. And she is quite unhappy about it, poor girl.

As a consequence, household conversation is reduced to a very bare minimum -- she sees no point in talking, especially if it hurts.

Being British, I instinctively tend to believe that if a person won't talk to you, won't say even the basic daily niceties: "good morning," "how are you," etc, that means they are mad at you.

Aimee trained me out of this long ago in our marriage. I no longer assume she's mad at me if she doesn't talk to me. She doesn't want to talk, is all.

The difficulty is, when she is mad at me, she has a bad habit of not talking to me.

It gets confusing, you see.

So I learned what every married man must learn if he is to remain married, and indeed, this was the very advice my father gave me:

You just can't win.

In other news, this weekend, as a prelude to a very important project for this year, of building an extension, I began to clean up the "bomb dump."

This is another piece of RAF slang. Nearly every air force base in Britain, and particularly all the World War II Bomber Command bases like RAF Leeming, had a remote corner of the base, equipped with road access and grassy berms, whose original purpose was the storage of all that tonnage of bombs destined for Hitler's Germany.

By the 1970s and 1980s, however, the RAF needed to keep very few bombs around, and so the wartime bomb dumps were given over to the storage of military junk of all kinds. If your flight or section finished up with some kind of large but potentially useful waste item, say an old vehicle, or piece of equipment that no-one knew quite what to do with, you often were told to simply take it "out to the bomb dump," until someone in authority decided what to do.

In our case, the area I called my "bomb dump" was the small square of land between my workshop and the sheep fence, about 25 feet on a square. There, I stored just about any kind of potentially useful-but-bulky material.

This squirreling-away of refuse of course has another name, that of "hoarding." And indeed I may be a hoarder of old lumber and spare lawnmower parts and old metal fence posts now too bent to hammer into the ground. My wife certainly believes I am.

I'm sure it might all have come in useful one day.

But it all had to go, because it was in the way of what will be a new access road to the back of the house. So, last week's thaw having provided the rare opportunity, I picked it all up. This was healthful exercise, although Maine outside temperatures are still uncomfortable. I stayed wrapped up and wore my thick fleece work-coat and insulated work gloves, and just kind of plugged away at it, snotting and hacking all the while, but if you're going to snot and hack anyway, it feels better to do so outdoors while physically working and doing something ultimately useful.

At least, I've always felt so.

Five truckloads to the transfer station later, and all we have left is the pile of lumber, the tomato cages, a stack of old window sashes, and a stack of old tires. The windows will go next weekend unless we get another foot of snow. The tires will go one at a time until they are gone. The transfer station allows you to drop off tires, but only one or two at a time.

The old lumber, however, is potential fuel. It will be "recycled" into useful heat via our wood stove. There must be at least a cord. I began sawing it up Monday, and burning it Monday night.

You can't imagine how satisfying it is to heat our house with trash.

But I wouldn't call it a win.

After all, you just can't win.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The "Man Flu"

It started with a slight tickle in the throat Tuesday night, which I put down to having eaten a large and very hot piece of Indian fry bread too quickly, but I was wrong. By the next day I had a full-on sore throat. That night I went to bed even earlier than usual, having imbibed the regulation shot of generic Hannaford's "Nyquil" substitute. The next day, my attempt to get out of bed and go to work simply failed. I was shaky and feverish and a little weak. I made it rather gingerly downstairs to get my laptop, brought it back up to bed, and therein tapped out a message to the faculty secretary and all my colleagues that were expecting me at meetings.

And then I slept. And slept. And slept some more.

The wind was up that day as a result of the massive arctic front bearing down on us after a day of warm rain, a proper "January Thaw." It took down trees all around our state and knocked out a lot of power lines.  The power went out at the Great Farm neighborhood around 9am. Actually, I have no clue when it went out. I was sleeping, and only realized the power was out when I woke momentarily, looked at the radio alarm, registered barely that the power was out, and went back to sleep.

After all, I didn't really need any power, did I? All I planned to do was sleep until I felt better.

At some point during the morning, perhaps during one of my excursions to the bathroom or the kitchen tap for a glass of water, I took my temperature: 101.5 degrees F.

Flu, then. You don't get a fever like that with a cold.

Later that afternoon, still sleeping, the dogs barked the bark they use when someone is actually coming to the door. It was the scouts for the linesmen, two older Central Maine Power supervisors in a van with iPhones and radios, coordinating the efforts to get the power back on. They said there was a tree down on our spur line, but that power was reestablished on the main line that runs up Maine Route 7, the "Moosehead Trail." They were running out of daylight, and told me that I had best get my generator working before the light failed, since they weren't sure they would get to our spur line.

The thoughts of a tired wife coming home after a day of hard labor to no shower and a dark house and the slowly melting freezers full of nice Womerlippi 2012 produce were enough to spur me to shake off some of my illness, and so I found the energy somewhere, manhandled the heavy genny out of the shop and wired it to the power distribution board, being careful to throw the main breaker (so as not to accidentally feed power back to the line and perhaps electrocute the linesman). It took a little trial and error to establish which circuit breakers to use, since the genny can only produce 3,500 watts, not enough to run the entire house. I needed the water pump, the two fridges and two freezers, and a few lights. It would be nice, too, to watch the TV news and get the weather report and see how the rest of the state was faring.

It turned out that if the genny was hooked up to the water pump's breaker #26, then I serendipitously got the half of the distribution panel that included everything else I needed. File that knowledge away for another rainy, windy day.

After these exertions, I'd begun to recover my appetite, so I went in for some supper. The genny didn't cooperate, however, and before I was half-way through supper it died, and the house went dark. I finished my supper in the dark.

I figured I could probably get the genny running again when Aimee came home.

That was when I looked down the road and saw neighbor Kelly's yard light on. Kelly doesn't have a generator. The power must be back on.

It took only a few seconds to disconnect the genny wires, throw the main breaker and all the subsidiary breakers, and lo!, the miracle of electricity returned to Womerlippi-ville.

The next day, Friday, I struggled in to work and managed to get through a whole day, but I'm still not 100%. I don't have that nasty fever though, so I can function, more or less.

Aimee says it's not the flu, can't be, or I'd be worse than I am.

It must be the "man flu."


I'd like to see her sort that genny with the girl flu!