Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nag order and other pictures for Turkey Day

Aimee was sternly correcting my husbandly behavior this morning (for some reason already forgotten -- just how effective is this particular form of marital discourse anyway). I had the camera in my hand, so this may have been a mistake on her part. She realized I was taking her picture in mid-nag, and took evasive action. Unfortunately for her, I'm taller, so we settled for a high angle shot. She used her hands to block the shot, reminiscent of basketball action.

Meanwhile, just to show what a good husband I actually am, here is the fine extension I built, now almost finished with proper trim and doors. There's some quarter-round molding to go along the baseboard (AKA "skirting board" in the English version of English), and then she'll be done.

"T' job's a good un," as they say in Yorkshire. Almost.

I really do think that it's good too. Very good. I really like the light in these rooms. I also enjoy the view of our main sheep paddock/woodlot.

Here's Aimee's spectacular marine-themed color scheme in the bedroom. It will need some colorful organisms to set it off, a few floating jellyfish, or some sea squirts, in honor of her marine science specialty.

And here's the finish work from the other direction.

It hasn't been all trim work this vacation. There was the small problem of vehicle and yard winterization. I also had to put the garden to bed. Here's all our carrots in our outside fridge. Three large boxes, about fifty pounds.

The sheep had to put up with inclement weather yesterday, about three inches of rain, followed by a hard freeze. I was worried that their fleeces would freeze and that they'd get cold. We considered bringing them into the barn, but that would have involved some difficulty with the ram. The barn is open to the North Paddock, the fence of which would not have been ram-proof.

In the end they were fine. I checked their fleeces this morning and they were warm and dry, just a little frosty on the tips. Amazing animals, sheep. They can stand almost any weather.

While I was working on the carrot patch, the sheep got lots of damaged carrots, and all the left-over beets. They were very happy.

Here's what we have left of a garden. A few leeks, the Brussel sprouts, most of which will get eaten today for Thanksgiving Dinner, some cabbage stalks that were left after the cabbage harvest and that grew back, and three-quarters of a row of parsnips, which will be very good in the spring. The digging fork also marks a few carrots I left in the ground in case there's a thaw before Christmas.

And here's our compost heap, the largest we've ever had. All that moisture yesterday should set it off nicely.

All things to be Thankful for. (Even the slightly naggy wifey.)

But now it's time to get ready for a good dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Slower daze and first snow

We're now on Thanksgiving Break, a holiday that in previous years would have been a kind of mid-term, but because of this year's advanced end-of-term, on December 13th, becomes a kind of pre-end-of-term holiday. There will only be a week and a half of classes left after the break.

Accordingly, this isn't a complete holiday, since I have a stack of grading and a list of committee-work must-dos, but I decided that could all wait until so-called "Black Friday" just so I could feel the benefit. This is probably akin to not putting on your warmest winter coat until January, until it really gets cold, and something that was drilled into me as a child living in Yorkshire. The benefit you feel may be mostly in your head. But it's warm and cosy here in my den, with my cup of coffee and laptop, and I'm happy and grateful to not have to think about work until Friday.

There's also a vast list of pre-winter must-dos for the house and farm, but I'm whittling that down slowly. Items on this list include finding winter tires for all the vehicles, picking up the equipment from the dooryard and taking down the hot-wire fences and moving them out of the way of the various snowplows and other winter machinery, putting the tank heaters in the sheeps' water, "banking" up the kitchen crawl space, putting the hoophouse "to bed", and putting most of the garden machinery in said hoophouse, getting in the five gallons of kerosene that the tractor uses each winter, and so on.

All are jobs required to keep us safe and the sheep fed and things moving around here.

And not a moment too soon. Winter is clearly here. The sun is now about as low in the sky as it's going to get, the "racing days" have long stopped racing, and we have only about nine hours' daylight. It gets full light at seven and you can work outside in full light until about four in the afternoon. On a gloomy day, there's less than that.

We're forecast a wet and windy rainstorm for tomorrow, but it's snowing out there right now. The snow is mostly that thin windy stuff you get whenever the sky isn't that serious about snowing, but with a stiff breeze to spin it along nicely, it certainly counts as "inclement".

I'm glad I was able to get the snow tires sorted on Aimee's Camry already.

That was a chore. Tire operations around here get very busy when snow tire season comes about. For various reasons (a long story), I had to take the Camry to two tire places on Sunday, waiting an hour at the first one, and five hours at the second, with an hour's drive in between. Essentially, I lost a whole day of my vacation to this job. Sometimes I think that Aimee weighs the benefits of marriage in terms of not having to get her own snow tires, along with freedom from a long list of other such unpleasant chores.

She did make me a nice pie while all this was happening, so at least I came home to a warm house full of enticing pie-y smells. My warm cosy feeling didn't last that long, though. After a nice dinner, I made the mistake of looking at the weather forecast. Thirty mile-an-hour winds and 12 degrees F! Ouch. That much cold and wind wasn't expected for a few weeks. I was quickly out back with insulation board, wooden battens, and a cordless screwdriver, banking up the crawl space so the kitchen pipes wouldn't freeze. Luckily this job is a good deal easier now that the extension is built. There's only about ten running feet of wall to be banked, not the twenty-four feet there were before, and there's a nice big beam there now, all along the wall, to accept the screws for the battens.

As for the rest of the snow tire chore, there remained the Escort, my trusty, rusty old battle-wagon, now nicknamed the "Super Duty" Escort on the grounds of all the heavy lifting it's had to do since the truck's transmission was burned up. The beads on the Escort's snow tires were damaged by one of our local mechanics last year, totally trashing about $200 worth of very expensive synthetic rubber. I should have know better than to take it to this particular shop, a chaos of dirt and grease, with hoses flying and OSHA violations by the minute and second, but I was trying to save time and money. Had I been thinking when I first saw the damage, I should have said something and asked for compensation, and I certainly would have said something if it was one of the chain operations in Bangor, but it doesn't do to be too pushy with people you actually know, and the guy in question has helped me out with one or two things before. I had to decide to just "eat" the damage.

How much I have to eat is the question. I'm trying to decide between 1) a work-about, jerry-rigged kind of fix involving lots of bead sealer and some gasket cement, 2) getting new snow tires, and 3) just relying on the Land Rover whenever it snows.

Using the Land Rover would be fine except for the fact that it is slightly more expensive in gas, and I'd need to worry about road salt. Last year was of course the first year in which the Rover was an winter driving option for us, and a fine option it was too whenever there was more than a few inches of snow on the road. But it's a bit of a waste of money and precious Land Rover road life if there isn't that much snow, especially if that means there's lots of road salt about. I know that eventually I'll need to strip this old vehicle down to nothing and put in a new frame and bulkhead, but I want to make the current frame last a few years yet, hopefully into my own retirement, when I'd have all the time in the world to do the job properly. I'd much rather wear out the Escort, which will have to be scrapped come June in any case, as it probably can't pass inspection again.

Anyway, dear reader, by the time you have gotten this far down my tedious accounting of all these winter preparations, you should either a) be bored to tears, or b) be aware that winter is serious business around here, or c) both. It doesn't matter much, since in any case what I have to do now is go out in the spin-drift and feed the hungry sheep.

Winter is here, whether we're ready or not!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Primed for action -- after a sad week

We've had an easier week or two since I last had time to post. The level of craziness at work -- the periodic high grading load, extra meetings, and gratuitous weekend events that are all part of the job at a residential college -- has tailed off just a little, allowing me to make plans during the week for work on the weekends. This strange feeling of relative ease was tempered by sadness, as we learned of the death of my aunt Rita Womersley in Britain, and then that of our faculty colleague, Lois Ongley here in maine.

Rita married my father's brother Stan, pictured in this post here. They had two children, my cousins David and Ann. My mum and dad kept a chocolate business which went through several iterations, and in the last and most permanent, mum and Rita were the real business "heads," working together to figure out a sustainable and profitable cost structure which would support both families as they staged into retirement. After retirement, mum and dad moved down to the Welsh valleys area to be close to my sister Carol, but as cousin David, now married to Beverly and a Captain in the Salvation Army, was stationed in the valleys too, mum and dad and Rita and Stan saw plenty of each other. I liked Rita a good deal, mostly because she had what Americans call a "feisty" nature, and was compassionate and willing to lend an ear. This was helpful, especially later, when things grew difficult for Carol and I caring for mum and dad, by then both suffering terribly from Alzheimer's Disease. Aimee only met her once, at my other aunt Barbara's wedding (her third -- at age seventy!), but Rita's feisty nature made a great impression on her, and she often commentated on it.

I wasn't able to afford the air ticket to go home to Sheffield for Rita's funeral, which was Thursday, so sister Carol went "for" both of us. 

The last time I saw Rita was at my mother's funeral. I can't help but get the impression that if I don't get done with this extension and to a level plateau with this farm-building project in the next year, to a point where Aimee and I have enough time and money for some proper vacation-length family visits, I won't have very many of my immediate family left in the UK to go visit! That's not entirely true, since Carol and I have a myriad of cousins with a plethora of offspring, some of whom I don't know very well. But of the family crowds I grew up with, the large numbers of immediate aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and great uncles that could fill a house for a slightly boozy Christmas party in Dronfield or a lively game of Newmarket in Crooks, well, there are hardly any of those folk left alive now. 

This isn't just a family sadness. The same thing is happening to millions of British families. It runs to a national loss, of character and memory and resilience. The folk I'm thinking of were the Great War and WWII generations in Britain. Rita, for instance, like uncle Stan or my father Gordon and my mother Jean, the Womersleys of Dronfield and Sheffield, were all small children during WWII; while my maternal grandparents and great-aunts and uncles, the Watsons of Fullwood and Whitley Woods, were survivors of the Great War and Great Depression. All had reserves of personality, character and resilience as a result. It was a privilege to be raised by them.

My sister reports that the Salvation Army had a brass band for my aunt's funeral, and that my cousin Beverly, who has the voice of an angel, sang the 23rd Psalm. I'm happy and glad that there are still brass bands to be found in the North, and that Salvation Army women can still sing for the funeral of a loved one.

Lois, for her part, was also a wonderful personality, one of several faculty members that I hired for the college while interim Provost in the mid-2000s. I distinctly remember her private interview with me because she made such an impression. Lois was an old school field geologist that cut her industrial teeth in the "oil patch" of Texas when there were few women in a male-dominated business. She took s**t from no-one, man or women, and I valued her deeply as a colleague for her integrity and independence of mind. According to Dilbert and in reality, the world is full of horrible leaders promoted well above their capabilities, and, from time to time, even little Unity College is no exception. Lois was a scourge to the spin-mongers and flim-flammers, a pest to Provosts, interim or otherwise, a friend for all seasons, and a one-woman hospice and den mother to stray students and stray dogs to boot. Her house on Main Street in Unity was always full of both. They just don't make them like her anymore. 

Lois died of lung cancer in a Portland hospital this weekend, and will be sorely missed. The only consolation for the loss of a valued colleague is that Lois had three bright and feisty daughters, each of which in her own way has made a contribution as helpful as their mother did, scientists and medical professionals. There couldn't be any greater tribute to the dead from the living than that.

Life is for the living, however, not the dead, and I always think that it's by going on and making progress in living that we honor them best. One thing Aimee and I badly need in order to better stay in touch with our families is some room in this small farmhouse for people to stay when they come visit. This particular weekend it was time for priming the bathroom and trimming the living room and bedroom in the new extension. 

Aimee's tiled vanity, pictured above, was finished sometime during the week, as was the tiled shower stall. She's on sabbatical, and so has some extra time for this kind of thing -- when she's not attending marine biology or conservation group meetings or finishing up her sabbatical paper on seaweed research. This nice new item of furniture remained, however, parked firmly in the middle of the living room floor, in the way of everything. I wanted it out of my way so I could clean up some pretty horrible mess on the new floor (where dollops of dripped paint and, far worse, epoxy grout were getting slowly ground into the new surface), and then get ready for baseboards ("skirting board" in British) and window trim.

Accordingly, I had Aimee order me a few hundred feet of pine, which arrived Friday. I staged it up in my workshop and ran the first coat of gloss Min Wax finish over it, sanding down any discolored or rough spots. I then ran the first coat of drywall primer over the bathroom walls. Then I ran to town for more finish, and a new finish nailer, a slightly better one to replace the many old ones I've broken over the years. Back home, it was time for a second coat on both boards and walls. We had some nice sunny weather yesterday afternoon, which allowed me to stack the drying boards outside in the sun. then I moved the vanity into the bathroom and cleaned up the new living room and, on my hands and knees, scrubbing the paint and grout spots off the living room and bedroom floors. 

Aimee for her part decided to preempt her usual workout by cleaning out the two remaining stalls in the barn. I'm sure she was pretty sore when she got done with all that, and will be even sorer today when she wakes up. But now the barn is pretty well clean and the compost heap is built and ready to go.

Last weekend we'd bought the two doors needed for the new building and I'd hung them, leaving the plastic protective sheet on the as-yet unfinished pine.

This weekend it was time to wire and hang the final, formal lighting fixtures, which I did while waiting for my baseboard to dry.

Here's Aimee's finished shower stall, in need of a good clean, as well as the final plumbing. I should be able to get both done today. It will be Aimee's job, however, to take the bathroom to the next stage, as she is in charge of finish painting, as well as picking out the flooring.

All in  all, we're making progress, and we expect to be "in" the new building by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The sin of vanity

Here's Aimee finishing the unfinished vanity for the new bathroom, carefully supervised by the ever-earnest Ernie.

For you Brits who like me probably grew up with standard two-tap pedestal sinks, a "vanity" is what Americans call a cabinet that houses a bathroom sink. Don't ask me why it's a vanity. I long ago gave up trying to understand most American nomenclature.

This particular vanity is getting "pickled" rather than varnished. This naming is more reasonable -- the wood is protected by a slightly caustic material. Apparently this is all the rage, the new "faux" finish, a simulacrum of a traditional American craft technique originally intended to ward off termites and such. (The new finishes are actually synthetic chemicals, when lime would traditionally have been used.) Aimee is taking great care with the job -- as she always does.

Me, I'm somewhat relieved to be off the hook for another job. As you can see, I celebrated with a "selfie." 

What a goof.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Busy bees

It's been a busy couple of weeks for us, even busier than our normal hectic schedule.

It all began, of course, last Christmas, when Aimee made it clear that she was hoping for the long-planned extension to get built this year. The result has been that every other job has gotten short shrift. There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week. Seasonal farming activities that would normally take days have had to be trimmed to hours, sometimes short minutes.

The biggest loser turned out to be the garden, which has been, essentially, neglected since late July. But more on that later. This latest fortnight of hectic-ness started last Thursday with the preparation for the Maine Association for Search and Rescue's second annual Search Team Leader Course. I was one of the two co-founders of this event, and the primary host, and so this wasn't something that I could skip out on, even though I would much have preferred to use the weekend spent running the training on finishing up the trim work in the new extension. The course went well, and you will eventually see some pictures on the Unity College SAR team website. (I'm still waiting to get them from the official photographer.) I was limping with arthritis for several days thereafter, though the result of some very hard hiking after a fall in which I haven''t even really walked the dogs because of work on the extension. It didn't help that I'd spent much of the previous weekend on my knees laying the floor.

So I lost a whole weekend and most of my spare time in two whole work weeks to the SAR training, so nothing happened to the extension in that period except for Aimee's shower tiling job, which has proceeded very slowly. The quality, however, is very high, and we are both pretty happy with the effect so far.

My gimp went away slowly during the work week after the STL course, and by Friday I was walking more or less normally. Saturday saw us off to Scarborough, albeit not the one in Yorkshire with the famous fair of old folk songs, but the one in Maine that, with South Portland, is home to the largest shopping area in the state. There's a store that specializes in unfinished furniture, and Aimee wanted a vanity from there for the new bathroom. This was the kind of three-hundred mile round trip shopping expedition that is quite normal for Americans, but which British people simply don't understand. We had to take my battered Ford wagon because our truck is still on the fritz with a torched transmission, and Aimee doesn't drive a stick and so couldn't drive the Escort herself. Aimee compensated me for my lost time in the car, by helping me harvest and put up the spuds. We managed to get about 150 pounds lifted and into the basement root cellar before it got dark Saturday.

Next weekend is already scheduled up with a college event. Sunday, therefore, was the only day available in which we could clean up farm equipment from the dooryard to allow the snowplow to come by, finish cleaning out the barn, put the garden to bed, and put the ram in with the ewes. Normally we would have chosen to spread these chores out over the course of three or even four weekends, but that wasn't going to happen. By cutting corners and working fast, I managed all three chores in one day. We did have a little difficulty with one of the two little ewe-lambs that are too young to be bred. She did not want to go into the barn to be separated from the others and we finished up chasing her, then cajoling her, through the door.

The upshot of all this rather frantic activity is that I'm beginning to feel caught up.

But my arthritis has also flared up again, so I'll be limping around campus all week again.

Poor old man. If you'd have managed to convince me when I was young that all that running and hiking would result in this much pain when I was older, I think I might have taken it a little easier. But back then I was bulletproof.

Now I'm just bullet-headed.