Monday, September 30, 2013

What a friend we have in cheeses!

An awful pun, but not my line. I stole it from American environmental author Ed Abbey. As far as Aimee is concerned, it's right up there with "our feet are the same", my usual pun on auf Wiedersehen, German for good-bye. It makes her groan with disgust every time.

Aimee's cheese project had an outcome much more successful than my puns, though, a bright shining victory, even if it did take an inordinate amount of time to come to fruition. By my reckoning, it was fully three months before we got to taste the sage Derby, while the Cheddar and Gouda may take up to another year!

While I consider myself a Yorkshireman, I was born in Derbyshire, in the city of Chesterfield, so during this aging process my prospective favorite was the sage Derby. My opinion was confirmed, especially when it come out tasting like a dead ringer for Wensleydale, a proper Yorkshire cheese of great renown! 

Go figure. 

But quite amusing.

To make matters even funnier, Aimee, who as a died-in-the-red-white-and-blue American has of course tasted neither cheese before, insists that it is indeed a proper British sage Derby, although it rather conspicuously lacks the mottled green colour and smooth texture. 

As a well-trained husband, I know when I'm beaten. I gave up the debate after only one or two attempts to convince her otherwise. In any case, I much prefer Wensleydale to Derby, sage or otherwise, and so I'm quite happy eating my Wensleydale, while Aimee is also happy eating what she thinks of as proper British sage Derby. Despite the obvious opportunity for confusion, especially if we ever have any British visitors, this is otherwise a perfectly acceptable outcome for me, because Wensleydale, along with many classic regional British cheeses, is virtually unobtainable in the United States, as well as my all-time favorite cheese. 

I should mention that my first house was in Bedale, "capital" village of Wensleydale.

The only problem with this is, I have to figure out how to make her make more, much more, of the otherwise failed sage Derby that is secretly a quite successful Wensleydale, whereas if she ever gets wind of the fact said cheese it is actually nothing like a sage Derby, she will likely never make it again. 

Luckily, she never reads the blog. Don't let on, dear readers. In the interest of cheesiness. Stick with me here.

In other news, we have a swinging chicken. I'm not sure why a chicken would like to swing, but this one does, apparently. The problem is, getting a picture. Both times I've spotted the phenomenon and gone inside to get my camera, by the time I got back outside, the bird had flown, or, at least, hopped off the swing. Aimee got this picture with her "new" camera.

Both the previous articles were under the heading of entertainment, but the last one I want to talk about was sheer bloody hard work. Hard graft, as we say in God's country.

The problem of fitting a sewer for the bathroom in the new extension had been bothering me intermittently for months now. I was able to get the plumbing permit for this important utility on the basis of a forty-five foot run of four-inch pipe with a one eighth inch minimum drop per foot, and I'd been buying hardware and setting aside fittings for quite a while now in readiness, but I knew that required drop might be difficult to achieve, given the fact that there were two joist beams in the way, beams that I had personally placed with my own two hands.

I should have known I would have had no choice but to cut holes in the joist beams, but it was just killing me to admit it. No carpenter likes to have to cut into a structural support as important as a joist beam, especially one he made himself. 

It was Saturday afternoon when I first figured out what I needed to do. (That's only about six months of intermittent work on the problem!) I could "spot" the joist beams to the solid rock floor of the crawl space just about anywhere I wanted, making a post-and-beam out of what had been just a beam. If I did this close enough to the foundation wall, these two new posts could take the load easily, allowing the beam to be cut on the short side. I would then finish up with a joist beam of only a few inches effective width, and therefore much reduced strength, on that short side. But, if the span was only a foot or two, this wouldn't matter. Even a couple inches of beam width can carry a full live and dead house load if the span is only a couple of feet. If I then reinforced the short span to the new post with a triangular plywood gusset, we'd be in yet better shape. "Belt and braces."

Once I'd figured this out, I just had to run the forty-five feet of sewer. Easier said than done; this would take quite a bit of scrauming around underground, but the conclusion would be inevitable.

The worst part was the crawl space under the kitchen, where I had to wiggle myself through about a one-foot gap, then over the new pipe, then work at full stretch with my head jammed between the kitchen floorboards and the dirt to fit a 45 degree bend. At least this section required no pipe hangers, since the pipe sits right on the dirt floor throughout. Part of the basement wall then had to be demolished to make the connection to the existing bathroom sewer. (The rubble was used as handy hardcore to fill holes in the basement's concrete floor.) And then Aimee had to be prohibited from using the toilet or sink for about an a hour while the final connection was made and the glue dried. Since she was already tired and ticked off from a busy day for her too, probably exacerbated by the intermittent mining songs emanating from below -- she hates my singing -- all this resulted in me being "punished" by being rather high-handedly given the job of completing her tomato canning project!


So, by the end of the day I was tired and achy from all the scrauming, as well as filthy, encrusted with glue, my hands died purple with plumber's PVC primer, and smelling vaguely of finely aged human poop, and I still had to can nine quarts of tomatoes and clean up the kitchen thereafter. 

(Although her Aimeeness was, in her defense, cleaning the floor while I was earlier watching TV.)

And I keep going over the calculation in my head: if the floor of the extension is at the same height as the floor of the existing house, and if the sewer pipe is twenty-five inches below this floor at the connection, and fifteen inches below at the new "glory hole" in the extension (pictured), then I have ten inches of drop in forty-five feet, which makes just under a quarter of an inch a foot. 

In contrast, forty-five eighths of an inch would be just over five inches of drop.

Those are the numbers the plumbing inspector will want to know.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stuff we did this weekend

I came home Friday to find Aimee canning tomatoes, a job I normally do, but I'm busier than she is this fall.  She canned up a bunch of Magic Mountain variety, not a tomato we thought of as a canner, but it worked out well, she said.

This is her harlequin pattern of paint samples from the Home Depot. She's trying to find the exact color she wants for the new extension. She settled on the cream color for the side and front walls and a brick brown color for the rear wall, which will need a darker color to absorb the passive solar heat.

Meanwhile, I switched out the Land Rover's exhaust system for an entirely new one, following the failure of the old one. I also beat out a ding on the front right fender and smoothed it out with some filler, and primed it, in readiness for some proper Land Rover "Marine Blue" color later this fall. Then the Rover was used to tow the sheep trailer with five lambs and Molly, an older ewe, to the butcher. Molly's mum Tillie died in lamb-birth this summer, and Molly is getting older. She's also too related to Shaun, our ram to be bred to him this fall, so this summer would be her last year of breeding. 

So, fulfilling our pledge to not overload our land and keep sheep around until they die of a painful old age, like Tillie did, Molly had to go. I didn't feel good about it. I never do.

Here's Flamey trying to cheer me up. What a goof.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sheep exhibits "learned helplessness?"

Aimee was having trouble moving the sheep to the New Paddock. You'd think they'd want to go there because it's full of apple drops, but one ewe-lamb got hung up in the Back Forty.

I emerged blinking from my nasty dusty insulation job in the new extension's  attic crawl space (hence the rather strange garb) to see what all the fuss was about.

Aimee was tired of trying to chase her to where she needed to be, so I got Ernie the half-trained shepherd dog, who then chased her the wrong way. The lambie finished up down by the bottom fence where it just stopped dead, as did Ernie, who didn't know what to do with a lamb that wouldn't run. It was a Mexican stand-off.

So I picked the lamb up like a sack of Maine spuds and carried her to where she needed to be. Less tiring for the lambie, a bit puffy for me.

When she got to the gate of the New Paddock and was put down, she just lay there for a while.

I think it was all just a bit too exciting for her.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A very busy week finally slows down

The work week was going fine and not particularly stressful, until Wednesday morning, when I realized that I had forgotten the meat for the afternoon cookout planned to greet the new students matriculating to the Center for Global Change and Sustainability's degree programs.

I rushed home after my first meeting to get a couple of dozen pounds of our various lamb and pork products from our freezer. That made me late for class prep. Then there was the small matter of a moderately large BBQ grill and smoker that had to be manhandled onto a pick-up truck and brought to the college. I got it delivered and the coals properly glowing in time for the dinner. "So far, so good," I thought. "I'll have time to catch up tomorrow."

But Thursday began unexpectedly early for me at 3.30 am with a search and rescue call-out. Our student team fielded ten, including me. We ran hasty and grid searches in the rain until a thunderstorm cut off the light at 5.30 pm. The missing man, an elderly gentleman, was found the next morning. You can see it all on TV here, if you're so inclined. I'm the fat one with his gut poking out of his day-glo orange vest and radio in my hand, interviewing a neighbor with Warden Chabot, who'd been out all night with his SAR dog, searching.

A success for the team but a small disaster for me. I managed to put the Rover into a ditch, a slow gentle immersion from which the Solihull Splendor extricated herself without difficulty in low range, four wheel drive, but not without torquing the muffler, which made it break at the junction with the intermediate pipe. I drove back to the Command Post, past all these State Patrol and Game Warden vehicles, sounding like a Lancaster bomber on take-off. I didn't think they'd ticket me while I was still on the search, but it was slightly embarrassing.

Anyway, long story short, by Friday morning I had a broken, noisy Rover full of wet stinky outdoor gear, a BBQ grill to take back where it belonged, classes to prep for, assignments to write, missed meetings to catch up on, and only just enough time to do it all. A small scale but military strength SNAFU in the making. One more job would have broken the poor camel's back. And this wasn't counting the many jobs at home that needed done, to the extension, the broken pick-up truck, or the garden, never mind the grain for the sheep that hasn't been collected because of the broken truck. The garden is particularly painful, because we're so busy this year we're not able to keep up with the tomato harvest. I hate to let the birds get them but that's what is happening.

But I did my best to get through my day job work Friday and pick up the loose ends, including delivering the BBQ back to it's owner, who hadn't missed it for the extra day it was gone, made it home early, took a nap, had a good dinner, and watched some bad TV with the wife -- Breaking Bad, to be precise. All of which made me feel more capable of catching up today.

I started with the forty-five bales of cellulose ceiling insulation which was cluttering up the garage and moved it to the new living room. Then I stripped out the Rover's muffler and inspected it. Couldn't reasonably be repaired. I made plans to order a new one.

Here's the problem in a close-up.

If I tried really hard I could weld it, but there would soon be another hole someplace else.

So that was it for the Rover for a good while, until the new exhaust system arrives. Now for the extension. I then drove to the builder's yard that had delivered the insulation, to inspect their insulation blower. Way too large for the Land Rover, even had it been working, it also would never have gotten through the 31 inch door into the new living room. I drove home and called the rental yard and ordered a much smaller one that would fit.

The rental yard is in Newport, close to the bulk feed store, so that gave me the opportunity to pick up the oats for the sheep as well. By lunchtime I'd thrown 500 pounds of oats in the grain bin and blown ten out of the forty-five bales into the new extension's ceiling. The insulation was slow going as I could only run two bags at a time before having to come down the ladder and fill the blower, but it was progress.

I figured that ten bales out of forty five left thirty for the next day, Sunday, when I might also have a helper, Aimee, who could feed the machine for me. That was enough for one day.

Time for a sandwich and a very well-earned nap.

As I was waking from my nap, the dogs started barking madly, signaling a visitor, our neighbor who wanted to borrow some fence to keep out a raccoon that's been eating his corn. I fixed him up with the sheep's fence. They won't need it if we don't have time to graze them anyway. The neighbors were also happy to pick a few of our surplus tomatoes that would otherwise have gone to waste or been eaten by the birds. I urged them to take more, to come pick them even if we weren't home.

By the time I'd unloaded a couple gallons of tomatoes on the neighbors, I was starting to feel caught up.

Nothing like outsourcing your problems, is there?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The 30,000 mile service for a sheep

Many thanks to the happy jolly crew of first year Captives that came to the farm yesterday and cleaned up our sheep and listened attentively while Aimee and I droned on about farm systems, the importance of science, nutrient capture and management, FAMACHA, and, of course, how to grab a sheep.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Various menaces to manhood

File this one under the "marital tensions" heading.

Aimee has determined that the bathroom in the new extension should be a considerable improvement in both style and functionality over our old one. This is fine by me as far as it goes. The old bathroom is so pokey that I tend to take my clothes off in the hallway before taking a shower -- because in the hallway I can take my clothes off without hitting walls, ceilings or other fixtures with my flailing arms and legs.

The difficulty with the new bathroom is less in the concept, more in the execution. Although RAF engine bashers were often called, disparagingly, "plumbers," my plumbing skills are still in the development stage. The plumbing in the Bale House was so bad, a leak once ruined a whole bookshelf full of Aimee's precious books, mostly college textbooks and notebooks from her undergraduate and master's degrees.

That event is high on the long marital list of Things That Have Not Been Forgiven.

So it was with some trepidation that I stood on the sidelines while Aimee used masking tape to set out shapes on the new bathroom floor for all the bathroom furniture, and then went on to lay out what for me seemed like a very complex design for a custom tiled shower stall. 

After all, you can just get a plastic shower stall that does the same thing for a third of the price in a flat pack, right?

But ours is not to reason why.

She even made a sketch. That's never happened before in nearly ten years of marriage. In every other instance where we've built something together, I've made a sketch and she has gotten frustrated with me for making her pore over said sketch. 

She says that it's hard for her to understand how the final design will look from the sketch.

I do this sketchwork deliberately, of course, because after long and hard experience I've learned that you need to sketch out designs before you build them so you can see how all the parts fit together. But Aimee, like many women, apparently, has a hard time with dimensions and coordination of objects at this imaginary level. My efforts to figure out how things go together are not always appreciated.

So, as a result of all this marital history, I was very interested in a theoretical sort of way as to how this sketch and associated shower design would work out in reality. Would the sketched design actually function, or would there be that kind of built in-contradiction, where, say, the outside of a sketched wall's dimension is three inches longer than the inside?

I also worried about my own ability to carry out the design to a finished shower stall. Although Aimee has promised that she will do the tiling, the substrate that the tile will stick to has to be shaped more or less perfectly so everything will drain well and thoroughly reinforced to prevent cracking, while the plumbing must also be perfect since it will disappear behind a tiled wall, presumably never to be seen again in my lifetime.

With all this in mind, we managed to find time Tuesday for a midweek joint trip to the hardware store, another fairly rare eventuality. I prepped for this visitation by poring over online videos and downloaded instructions for fabricating custom tiled shower stalls.

At the hardware store we checked off my list of requirements and double-checked it. Back home, once the long holiday weekend came about, I started to frame in the shower stall area.

Almost immediately we discovered some difficulties with the sketch. The main problem was with the dimensions of a tiled seat Aimee wanted framed into the shower stall, essentially a ledge on one side of the design. That seat's dimensions couldn't be reconciled with those of the rest of the stall. Either a) the outside dimension of the stall was either three-and-a-half inches shorter than it needed to be to accommodate the seat, or b) the seat would make the inside shower three-and-a-half inches smaller than planned, too pokey by far, while the planned glass shower door would no longer fit "right out of the box." 

There were no logical alternatives that I could see.

OK, then. Now what? I called Aimee in to my work area for a difficult marital conference. 

The upshot, of course, was that it ended up somehow being my fault. And thinking about it, I'm not sure why I expected otherwise. Indeed, my dad warned me about such things when I was a whippersnapper. Even so, we did get a rough kind of progress. Now that we had provided quite satisfying scientific evidence for Doctor Ayala's theory, the seat idea was abandoned, making the remainder of the job a good deal more simple.

Because all our plumbing will need to be inspected before it is covered up, I roughed in some pipes for the other utilities, those for the laundry machine, the toilet flush, and some stubs that will eventually lead to the vanity. All began in the same corner where, nearly a month ago now, I'd already roughed in the on-demand hot water heater.

Then I fitted the internal parts of the shower fixture.

Finally, and it took a lot longer to do than it does to write about it, I framed in the shower to the new, properly field-tested dimensions, and then used mortar to build up a slope from the outside of the square to the drain hole in the center.

All this took most of Saturday and all of Sunday, and required a total of three trips to the hardware store with a fourth planned for today or later in the work week. I hope to finish the rough work today as far as I can before a plumbing inspection is required. I'm including the sewer and drains in my schedule of work because I don't want to keep asking the inspector back again and again.

While all this was happening, Aimee was studying up on territorial aggression in dogs.


This, because our otherwise well-behaved English Shepherd dog Ernie, pictured looking suitably sheepish, bites anyone who comes up to the house. 

This is, as far as I'm concerned, an admirable trait. Presumably Ernie would bite any thief or home invader with equal alacrity and magnanimity as he employs for potential friends, house-sitters and hapless neighbors looking to purchase eggs. I'm looking forward to the day when someone tries to steal from us or tries to invade our home. Bring it on!

But Aimee seems worried. Ernie, so far, has racked up quite a scorecard. He's bitten one house-sitter, one visiting friend, and one egg-buyer. Only one of these events required first aid, although there was the small additional expense of a new pair of pants. 

The biting of the house-sitter and the friend were far more upsetting to us than the egg-buyer, a stranger who was silly enough to climb over a fence that was otherwise between him and the dogs, who to their credit gave him fair warning, barking madly on the other side. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

If I were him, I'd have stayed on the other side of the fence, but he was, apparently, braver and/or more foolish than that.

Or, more charitably, he really, really wanted those eggs. 

And they are quite nice for Sunday breakfast.

I'm not sure that Aimee's research will help Ernie with his toothy difficulty. More than likely, once a biter, always a biter. And, biting aside, we like him far too much to get rid of him. He's the first shepherd dog we've had that really can herd sheep. I expect too that if a coyote or bad neighbor dog went after our sheep, Ernie would give him what-for. He's just going to have to stay on the porch whenever we have guests, while we might need to put up a "beware of the dog" sign to discourage fence-climbing egg buyers.

I hope those eggs were worth it.