Wednesday, December 16, 2015


One thing about teaching college the way we do it is that the semester comes grinding, shuddering to a halt at the end of the sixteenth week, whether students and professors wish it to or not.

Our jobs currently require our attendance only thirty-two weeks a year, divided into two 15-week semesters, with a week of in-service professional development at the beginning of each. There's the small matter of summer and winter break course prep and research, for which we're evaluated even if not paid. But that's a mild quibble.

I got done with my semester's teaching Monday, and my last meeting yesterday, and, except for student conference, which is more of a pleasure than a chore, my attendance is no longer required at work until January 12th. I have a show-and-tell on solar and wind power at a local grade school Thursday, and then, apart from grading, that's it for the semester. Grading gets done at home, so that doesn't require my presence at school.

Aimee got done teaching yesterday, but may still have a meeting or two.

Now we get to shift gears and adopt a more domestic lifestyle, my favorite kind. The reason we live on a farm is that we like living on a farm. And, thanks to El Nino, there isn't even any snow on the ground. We can still work outside, and even still eat our carrots and parsnips, and leeks straight out of the ground.

About those leeks. We grow a barrow load each year. I love them. They're by far my favorite vegetable to cook. My Welsh granny would be proud.

But they're giving me gas.

Three times now, a meal including leeks has resulted in the worst kind of gassy bloat, with an accompanying case of the runs.

What's a (one-quarter) Welshman to do? I thought about feeding them to the sheep, which would make said sheep very happy. But it occurs to me that there's probably a way to reduce the leeks to soup stock, and then freeze them, and it may be that this process cooks them for long enough to reduce the gas. And even if I can't eat them, Aimee will be able to. She likes my leek-and-barley soup. I also need to pull the carrots and put them in the bottom of the outside fridge, where they'll be good until January at least.

The parsnips can be left in the ground until the thaw. They survive the winter. Once it freezes solid, we won't be able to dig them, but it's nice to have a spring vegetable.

The firewood pile seems likely to last the winter, as does the potato stash in the cellar, but the haystack does not. We've just used too much already. Luckily, this year's hay is good enough that the sheep are eating it more thriftily than in previous years, so it will last longer than it otherwise would have, but we'll still need to get a trailer load or two before the term starts.

We're short on eggs, the chickens having discovered some new hiding place to lay that I have not yet found. The other week I found a clutch of twenty or so in the hay loft. I found them the hard way, in that they were on top of a bale that I couldn't see, and so when I pulled the bale down, the eggs came flying, breaking all but a couple. That was a waste.

Now one chickie at least is laying in the hay crib, which egg duly rolls out while the sheep eat their hay, and I can find it on the ground if I rummage a little in the waste hay stems. But that's only one egg a day, not enough to keep up with breakfast and baking needs, especially when daughter Roo has discovered a liking for cheese omelettes. Something has to give here.

I've conceived a project to make new nesting boxes. Maybe that will entice them to lay eggs where I can find them.

Our baby daughter, to whom this farming life is just a fun opportunity to practice her animal noises on real animals, and to go for short walks with mommy and daddy to feed sheep and chickies and pull carrots and wotnot, is enjoying her first Christmas as a more sentient human being. Last year she was too young, really, to appreciate any of it. This year, she has enjoyed the tree, and even a few Christmas carols and songs.

The tree is a special favorite. Like daddy, she's a sucker for pretty lights. She and I make a ritual of turning them on, and she gets excited and happy and says "twee" contentedly. The carols, well, she just likes a good old sing-song, whether it's a special Christmas song or not.

Our daycare place took Christmas photos of all the kids and posted them on their FaceBook page. Apparently our wee precious was the only one who wouldn't smile for the camera.

As doting parents, we're actually quite proud of this achievement. It shows her already-strong resistance to the overbearing superficiality of today's society.

Besides, mildly quizzical is a much better look for the long term, dontcha think?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nearly there

We're helping mommy wrap presents and package them for shipping!

This is tricky work. Gotta concentrate.

A little quality time.

Getting ready for the Christmas holiday, Aimee and Roo wrapped and packaged presents for shipping, while I just took photos. For my part, I plan to find a tree today for the presents to go under, and then to decorate it with my kid. She's still too young really, to properly help, but I think she is ready to appreciate the pretty lights and all that good stuff, so this should be fun.

At work, we have only two weeks left of the semester, and the second of those weeks is usually relatively easy. I'm feeling that "over the hump" feeling. 

Rolling down the back side!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The hairy eyeball

It's the first weekend of our nine-day Thanksgiving Break. Thanksgiving, as in in thank heavens we don't have to go to work for nine whole days!

I began as I meant to go on, with bacon and eggs for breakfast. Roo and I shared, as we always do. Here she is with fried bread and egg yolk. Yum.

Then there was the slight problem of making the Thanksgiving Break to-do list. Usually we've had a snowstorm by this point in the year, but so far not this year. There remains the possibility of doing a few more winter prep jobs that could use to be done, that would make our lives a little easier when the snow does fly. Choices, choices.

Before any of those could begin, however, there was a plumbing leak to fix. I'd gone down to the cellar to get the bacon out of the freezer on Friday afternoon -- planning ahead for Saturday's celebratory brekkers, of course -- and noticed that there was water on the floor. Tracing this to its source, I discovered a disconnected drain leading back to the kitchen sink. For gosh-knows-how-long, we'd been draining our kitchen sink into the dirt beneath the kitchen crawl space.

Now, of all the attics and crawl-spaces and basements and cellars this old house possesses, this is my least favorite. It's so tight, I can hardly move under there. Very claustrophobic.

Here's the way in, about one foot tall by two feet wide. The plastic helps you wriggle a bit and keeps you from getting too filthy, although it also crumples up and gets in the way. My chest essentially takes up all the available room in this opening. It widens out a little inside, but the drainpipe from the extension, a four-inch PVC main drain, has to be wiggled over before you get to the plumping.

Here's a selfie taken as I wiggled out for the last time. The tool caddy to the right gives you an idea of scale. And yes, my nose is very close to the springboard.

You can see the offending pipe at the very back of this shot, right behind the four-inch drain. This is the drain that I have to wiggle over every time I go down there. You can only do this bit belly down. My butt snags on the hemlock sub-floor board splinters each time I do this, and there's always a moment of panic when I think, "Oh shit, I'm really stuck now! I hope I don't have to call the fire brigade! That would be embarrassing."

You can also see that the kitchen floor joists are hundred-and-fifteen year-old pine logs that run the whole twenty-eight foot length of the kitchen. This makes the floor very springy. Gosh knows why the original builders, the Amsden family, did that. If they'd used them the other way, the joist length would have only been fifteen feet and the floor much less bouncy. Maybe they didn't want to make all those extra cuts. The sills are six-by-eight hemlock, built to last -- if the previous owners hadn't allowed the kitchen sink to essentially drain down through the inside of the wall for several years. We had to rebuild the kitchen floor before we could move in, and a large section of the west sill and wall before we could add on the extension.

In the end it took two half-days' work and about sixty dollars of plumbing parts and cement to fix what could have been fixed for ten bucks and ten minutes anywhere else in the house. I came out after each session underneath the house bruised and mentally battered and a little shaky from claustrophobia.

I also managed to gas myself with plumber's PVC cement, by spilling a whole pint container onto the dirt Saturday towards the end of the session. The smell even penetrated to the house through the cellar, so if we all get cancer next year, we'll know why. Luckily this was the cold-weather stuff, and so it set up overnight, so I was able to remove it today, along with a conglomeration of wasted parts, shown in the shuftie above.

Then, to add insult to injury, just five minutes after the start of the second session down there today (Sunday) I got a big old clod of dirt in my left eye. I had to finish the job, though, and so even though I needed to rinse my eyeball, I kept on at it until I was done. What misery!

But imagine what it would have cost to hire a plumber to do it!

I still need to seal up the entry to the crawl space with banking and insulation for the winter, then check the other crawlspace under the extension for humidity and mold and other problems. But I'm just going to sit here in my comfy armchair and recover from all this for a while before I do any more around-the-house jobs today.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grey November days

October was brilliant, at least what I remember of it. November is shaping up to be a bit cloudier and greyer, so far. The clocks were put back and it's now getting dark at 4.30 pm, earlier on the cloudiest days. Yesterday was Veteran's Day, and we had the usual ceremony at school. I got a free lunch of swordfish steak and mashed potato, nice for me. Childcare was closed, so Roo accompanied me for lunch and to the ceremony, although she was too noisy for the latter and so we walked off a little, away from the crowd.

Life remains very busy, but not nearly as much as it was last week. We're counting down the days until our Thanksgiving week's holiday.

The ram, a new one bought from our friend Meg, is in with the ewes. He's a handsome little guy, but only a year old, and lacking confidence, so we may not get too many lambs next year. With Roo to look after, we may not be too upset if we get fewer lambs. There's just too much to do around here in any case. Something has to give.

I harvested about two thirds of the spuds, took three lambs to the butchers, and got both the lamb and the pork back from the butcher and into the freezer. Quetzal, the fat, dry ewe that hasn't produced a lamb for two years now, was slated to go to the butcher, but I had no help that day, and she fought me and won, and so got a reprieve. Our home-made livestock trailer isn't very good, and it makes it very hard to load animals if they are big and if they fight. I need a real trailer, but we don't have the money for one right now. Maybe next year.

Last Sunday I made a lamb leg roast, had leftover lamb cuts for a few days, and then made scotch broth with the remains. I think I got about ten meals out of one leg roast.

The sheep got out because I left their gate open one morning, and ate all the carrot tops and most of the Brussels sprouts. Our neighbor Hamilton saw them and put them back in. I was able to get the snow tires switched over on the two drive-to-work cars, as well as get them and the truck sprayed with the Fluid Film rust-proofing product, so they're all ready for winter now. The snow plow is on the Land Rover, and of course the Rover car itself is serviced and ready for snow. The tractor still needs an oil change.

Roo is now walking a lot, and likes to go off exploring on her own. This can't be permitted, of course, so we follow at a safe distance. She likes to wander down corridors, so when we're at the college together, and if no-ones around, we let her do so and follow along. It's funny to see her stump off so willfully. Here I go! Off to see what's going on down that way. She gets so mad when you try to take her hand and guide her back to where you want her. No! I'm going this way, not that way! Leave me alone! She reminds me of her mother.

Here are some of the veterans in our family that I was thinking of on Veteran's Day:

My paternal granddad, Arthur Holden Watson, Private, Northeast Fusiliers, WWI

Grandad again: private, ROAC, WWII, with my mother and grandmother.

My dad, Gordon Womersley, Private in the Royal Signals Regiment, 1953, with his brother Stan, also a private in the Catering Corps.

Me (second from left), with the troops of RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team, 1985. 

My father-in-law, SFC Dick Phillippi, LZ Oasis, Vietnam, 1969.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breakfasts with daddy

Funs stuff happens while mommy is still sleeping. We get to eat Cheerios, for instance.

 It's fun to get them out of the bag yourself.

 Muffins are fun too, even when we're woken up by a sore toof.

Cleaning up, though, is not so much fun.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Long weakened

Here's a group of the best pictures sent by my sister Carol after she and partner Wayne came to visit. It looks like we had a good time, although so much has happened at work and home since then, we've forgotten that we did have a good time.

Apparently we spent a lot of time on the swings.


And we went to the fair. That must have been nice for us.

We ate apple crumble...

...and were even at the lobster pound. What tourists we were. Proper grockles.

Since then, Roo has officially walked. She can now walk short steps between myself and Aimee or between a supporting piece of furniture and one of us.

The first time this occurred was around Tuesday this week. Happy walk-day, dear daughter.

She also says words. Sort of. She likes the word "up", meaning "pick me up, mommy (or daddy)". And the word "ot", for "hot", is now useful when food is too hot, or we want to keep her away from the woodstove.

In other news, work.

The four letter word.

Notwithstanding the rush of midterm grading, there has been a further rush of "essential", late meetings.

I have around a twelve-credit teaching hour semester. In addition there are my administrative duties, and the need to make lesson plans for three classes and a lab. Ordinarily, I teach a night class Wednesday, teach early classes on MWF, meaning I have to be there by seven or seven-thirty to prep, and must be on campus at least four weekend days this semester. I also get up at four or five am each morning, sometimes earlier, and use most of that time to get writing, lesson planning, or grading tasks done.

Once you take into account all the early morning prep and grading and office work, all this would amount to about a sixty hour week, were I to stay on campus until five pm.

Instead, I've felt justified in clearing out of there by around two pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and around three-thirty pm on Fridays, thus recapturing some of my time, and getting me down to a "mere" fifty hour week, a number I can live with.

But these late meetings are eating into this scheme for sanity. In addition, they make for some long days in daycare for Roo.

Aimee, for her part, is teaching an introductory Biology class with a high grading load. So that makes for two overworked parents. Most weekday evenings we just feed ourselves and her, play a little, and then collapse in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street with her, before her bedtime at 7.30.

On weekends whichever of us has least work to do looks after her, while the other grades or does some farm work. We just had a long weekend of four days that followed this pattern entirely (hence my bad pun for a title).

Our poor kid is getting shortchanged here, so something will have to give. However, with just over a month until Thanksgiving, and only a couple of weeks after that to do, I can see my way to the end of the semester and winter break, and should have fewer classes in the spring.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Falling accidentally into fall

It's fall, and we've been letting it happen to us without much of a fight. Not that we could do anything if we wanted. Snow will be here soon enough, and it's best just to enjoy the wind and rain and blowing leaves and, of course, those wonderful New England Indian summer days, when we have time, that is.

Here's a couple of shots of the Womerlippis goofing off. One of the advantages of having a kid is that you get to visit the park and have a swing set in your yard, and you can play if you like. Roo particularly enjoys the swing set we built for her this spring. She also likes the Belfast City Park. Here she is on their big swing earlier this year with Aimee.

School is busy, though and grading season is upon us. The midterm grades are due later this month, so we need to get all our grading done. Grading is a brain-sucking chore that spoils your weekend and ruins your family life. Sometimes I wonder just how much time we spend grading. If that time were to be added up then divided across the summer days we have off, including the early morning and late night office work we also have to do, would we even break even?

A British left-of-center newspaper, the Guardian, has been reporting research that shows British school teachers work between 54 and 60 hours a week. If you count the time we spend working at home, it's easily that much.

In other news, my sister and her partner Wayne came to visit. This was the first time Aunty Carol had set eyes on her niece. They seemed to have a good time, and, among playing with Roo, managed a couple of tourist outings.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Busy Brits

It's been a busy couple of weeks since the airshow, and indeed, this is going to have to be quick, since I do not really have time to write anything long.

What has happened of suitable import for diary notation?

We've been back at work now for four weeks. We are now back in a routine. Roo even likes her childcare. To begin, she cried and cried, but has gotten used to it.

We had an infestation of stable flies in the house. Pretty nasty, actually. There were hundreds of them hovering outside the garage and deck doors and you'd inevitably let a few in when you opened each door. They went away when the humid weather did. It's now officially fall outside. Aimee got mad at me for swatting them annoyingly.

We put up another few quarts of roasted tomatoes, then started giving them away. We have way too many tomatoes, and way too little time to do anything with them now we have a baby to look after.

The pigs went to the butchers and then came back all packaged for the freezer. I made the usual deliveries to pig club members. Bacon and eggs and ham have already been sampled. All very good.

My sister is Somewhere in New England and due to materialize in Jackson, Maine today sometime.

Now I have to go to work.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Air show

This Sunday, for an early birthday treat, Aimee bought us tickets to the State of Maine Air Show at the former US Navy air base at Brunswick, Maine.

Actually, back in the day, this base originated as a training unit for Royal Navy flyers during World War II, but that's a whole other story.

A former Royal Air Force aircraft engine fitter or "sumpy," I like aircraft, and always have. We toured the static displays for the first half-hour or so, and that was fun enough for me, but then the flying began, with a display by the P 51 "Mustang", one of only 150 or so still flying.

I was impressed that the commentator got the history right. The Mustang started out as an RAF plane, designed for that service by the North American aircraft company in 1940.

Here's the Mustang taxiing in front of a couple of "Blue Eagles."

Roo loves to point at things, and recently has been pointing at airplanes as they fly over the farm. We are on the flightpath from Bangor International Airport and get aircraft flying low overhead while landing and taking off. Here she is pointing at an aerobatics aircraft.

She seemed to like all the smaller, piston-engined planes.

The highlight of the day was the F22 "Raptor," the USAF's new "stealth" fighter bomber. having worked on F4 Phantoms during the 1980s, I knew what to expect in terms of engine noise. This kind of aircraft makes an enormous amount. We had ear defenders for Roo, but it was still a bit much. 

Here's the Raptor with bomb bay doors open.

And here's Roo in a model jet.

Unfortunately, all the noise from the Raptor was a bit much, and we had a good cry. then Mommy and Daddy decided enough was enough and took us home.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Back at work -- kind of

The college year started at 8 am Monday, when I greeted my sophomores. I thought, "Oh well, that's that, then," a brief requiem for the joys of summer. But then time rapidly reversed itself, and by 9.30 am I was sitting with my darling daughter drinking coffee and eating a very early lunch sandwich. However, by 11am I was back in my lab alone working on internet assignments and physics lab prep and getting ready for my 12.30 pm juniors. And the whole week was like that. Aimee and I handed Roo off to one another like a package all week.

This was primarily due to the dearth of childcare services in these parts. It all works on the principle of "dead man's shoes." We discovered this fact in the spring, when we began touring childcare providers, and none were able to properly answer our question about whether or not they had a spot.

They might have a spot. When there's a "r" in the month and if Jimmy gets into kindergarten or Jane goes back to her grandma and if the creek don't rise. But they don't know for sure. Ask us again in late August.

We actually felt lucky that our nearest provider, who came recommended, might be able to accommodate us, but not until the current occupant of the place graduated to the local elementary school, which wasn't until two weeks after our fall work would begin, and after the first whole week of classes. And so, without the prop of formal childcare, we would have to manage on our own resources for those first two weeks, with what help we might cadge from friends.

Aimee, needing the security of hard facts, developed a schedule for us and uploaded it to our computers, so that the specific times of the day when each of us ought to be minding Roo were all worked out ahead of time. And lo, miracle of miracles, it worked, mostly. We were able to cadge a couple of half-days from our friend Eileen. But it was still stressful. Particularly for Aimee, who is very committed to her work. There were more than a handful of times when I could see her temper begin to fray because she wasn't able to do something, or do it properly.

Me, not so much. I enjoyed having Roo to watch instead of working. I like my job, and am always sure to try to do it as well or better than the next guy, but I don't tend to lose sleep over it.

While I do lose sleep over my kid's welfare.

Case in point: It's just after four am on a Sunday and said kid just woke up.

I knew she would do this because, although it's early, there's a toy, one of those noisy ones, sounding off in her room. More than likely it was left on and other toys piled on top in the toy box and things slowly shifted and whatever button makes the noise happen was pressed. It has a child's voice saying something, then a fake dog barking, and it seems to repeat every couple of minutes. I first heard it, reverberating in the background of the baby monitor feed, about 2.30 am, but I knew that if I went into her room to turn it off, more likely than not I'd wake her up, while somehow the toy was not itself doing so. I couldn't sleep under these circumstances, even if Roo could. So I had to get up.

No great loss. I'm sure there's some work I should have done last week that I didn't get to.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Last weekend of summer

It was Aimee's fortieth birthday yesterday, and as befits a family of three on a birthday in summer, we went looking for fun. I had heard of nearby Fort Knox's "Pirate Day" from our local TV station, so we went to check it out.

Roo is of course too young to know what a pirate is, but she does like people and crowds, so we thought she'd enjoy it. We were right. Here she is hamming it up for the camera as usual.

Aimee of course took dozens of pictures, but these are mine, taken with my phone.

The so-called pirates, also major hams, staged a mock attack on a Royal Navy vessel, in reality a yawl-rigged sailboat down in the Penobscot River. The pirates were so poor at their gun drill that the boat had to sail back and forth under the guns many times, essentially attracting fire in order to get enough bangs to please the crowd. I imagine that in any real battle these pirates would have been overwhelmed fairly quickly. The guns were loud, though.

Eventually they gave up on cannon fire and turned to hand-to-hand combat. This was even lamer. But no-one seemed to care. This is supposedly a Royal Navy officer being set upon by a pirate. Americans always choose the British to be the villains in any such period piece, in much the same way as the Brits always choose the Germans.

The pigs are heading off today to the butchers. They had almost eaten through their last load of grain -- we allot a thousand pounds per pig, then call it good -- but the next two weekends are busy, so I was glad to be able to get them in today. I'd like to get the barn cleaned out before the various fall visitors show up.

Thursday was peach-canning day, and it went particularly well, with over fifty jars canned, a Womerlippi Farm record. We made a movie this time, improving and expanding on our how-to-guide from last year. It isn't finished -- that will have to wait for next year -- but here it is.

Finally, we had a minor emergency Friday, when our well pump refused to stop pumping for about five hours. It took a good deal of mental work to run through the trouble-shooting chart, but we eventually were able to isolate all of the usual possibilities -- bad foot valve, blocked ejector, tired motor, worn-out impeller, and so on. The problem turned out to be low water level in the well. It hasn't seemed particularly dry this year, but it must have been. Anyway, lowering the cut-out pressure setting on the pressure switch from 60 to 50 PSI did the job, allowing the pump to work a little less hard, and there's been no trouble since.

Tuesday will be my first day of attendance at work, Wednesday will be Aimee's. Off course, we've been puttering away at syllabi and course prep, but that we can do at home and even while watching Roo. Having to actually show up is different and marks the real start of our fall season. That and butchering pigs.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shifting gears

Here's our darling delightful daughter one morning when she just couldn't wake up. Usually she's awake when I go into her room, but this one day last week she just kept sleeping and sleeping until we had to wake her, about when we felt very sorry too. Kids are pretty cute when they're sleepy.

This coming week is the last full week of summer before the fall term begins. Our in-service training days are the week after, and classes start on the 31st, which also happens to be Roo's first birthday. I don't suppose she will mind very much. She doesn't really know what a birthday is yet. Considering I'm coming up on my fifty-fourth, I'm not sure she should begin counting them anytime soon. Ignorance is bliss.

It will be good to get back to work, though. Mentally rested after a summer of more mundane but physical activity, I'm ready to teach again. Accordingly, however, I'm declaring partial victory on the VW project and shifting gears mentally. It doesn't usually work out that well to go straight from a demanding, long-term technical project back to work without a rest and a period of mental regrouping. Plus, the weather is slated to be sticky hot until at least the end of the week. I already fried my head, and cooked off a quart can of expensive primer paint, trying to make progress in the summer heat.

The paint thing was interesting. I had been late getting out to my job and the morning heat had begun to build. Trying to make progress, but frustrated by my own tardiness, I worked fast to strip the remaining paint and corrosion off the rusty roof with the wire cup wheel on the angle grinder, a nasty dusty job made worse by the dark hot metal surface. Although I was feeling rushed, never a good feeling in any technical situation, I did a good job, and proceeded then to spray POR-15 primer, which essentially cooked off and turned to dust before it could properly adhere to the roof! What a waste of expensive paint.

In the afternoon, after things had cooled off some, I went back and removed the offending POR-15 with the dual action sander and applied instead a quart of white Rustoleum primer, which, although it dripped and ran and will require extra sanding as a result, at least it didn't turn to dust. Here's the finished effect:

The body of the vehicle is now straight and rust-free.

There remained the two front fenders to do, and they hadn't been delivered yet, but they arrived Thursday and I knocked them out Friday.

Here's the driver's side. You can see the weld-through primer can in the background. That stuff sure makes your job easier. Fitting the fenders required to doors to be rehung to get the lines straight and to make sure the doors would shut.

Here's the passenger side.

The two panels that make up the passenger side fender assembly are made by different firms and don't match. They still require a section of right-angled tin to be welded across their tops to complete the fender shape. I can't bend a decent right-angle in my shop because I don't have a bending machine, so I went to our local Amish roofers for a section of their right-angled metal trim, which they'll make up for me and which I can trim down with the air shears. The young guy that sells this product was a little confused by my request, though, because I told him the paint color didn't matter. Usually people are more worried about color selection when they buy roof trim.

So that's the VW chassis and body properly repaired and mostly primed if not painted. There remains the finish paint to do, the engine to rebuild, and the rolling gear and brakes to service, but this is a good time to quit for now. We'll get back to the paint job when the weather has cooled off a little in the fall.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There and back again

 Photo: Roo with "Grandpap."

For some months now, Aimee has been planning a trip to Pennsylvania to see her parents. They live in Virginia, but moved there years ago from the "coal patch" towns of western PA. We generally only see them once a year, at Christmas, but since Roo was born, the traveling has increased greatly, so the grandparents can see their grandchild more frequently.

Accordingly, we flew to Pittsburgh and spent a couple of days there doing tourist things -- the restaurants and museums, then motored up to the Mount Pleasant area in a rental Ford Focus. Aimee had found a nice AirBnB, in, of all things, a former "company house" in the coal patch village of Calumet. Since she grew up in just such a house, this might have been nostalgia on her part.

The grandparents were very happy to see her, and we were just as happy to hand some of the childcare over for a short while. Grandma is in green on the right. Roo has a little cousin six months younger, called Leelynn, also pictured above. This was the first time the two had laid eyes on each other. 

On the Friday evening we had a big family picnic at a state park, where there was this big slide. Both Aimee and I took Roo down. She liked it a lot.

Calumet, I discovered, is close to Norvelt, a town I'd heard of through reading New Deal history for my work in economics. FDR sponsored several such experimental government-funded towns as part of the New Deal. The inhabitants were employed building their own houses, then later a clothes factory was built. Each home had enough acreage to run a homestead about the size of our own, gardens, chickens and pigs. I read up on the experiment, an interesting side-note in economic history, while we were there, and we took a driving tour around the town.

As we had a very young child with us, we didn't want to have to drive back to the airport and fly out in the same day, so we booked in at an airport hotel for the last night. I had done a little research and discovered there was an aircraft museum and restoration center a half-hour north, so we visited, mostly to see this little beauty, a 1958 Mk. 3a Jet Provost, formerly based at RAF Church Fenton as part of the system of Flying Training Schools that I used to belong to.

I worked on these aircraft for five and a half years, through most of my RAF career, doing everything from flight-line work, through scheduled servicing, to engine bay rebuilds. Even after thirty years I can still remember the procedures for pulling the engines or stripping the compressors.

I was pretty happy to see the plane, but even happier to discover that the museum needed some help in figuring out what to do with it. I was able to put them in touch with the UK-based Jet Provost Appreciation Society, where they'll be able to get parts, manuals, and advice.

All's well that ends well, or would have been, if I hadn't caught a nasty summer cold. About two days into the trip I came down with a sore throat that became a disgusting and painful chesty crud, then bronchitis, requiring antibiotics. The doc thinks I probably got it from the airplane ride. Hopefully it clears up soon, because it's very annoying not to be able to breathe properly.

If you have cold or flu symptoms, they make you wear masks now at our doctors office. This, of course, just makes you feel sicker, but if it prevents anyone else getting sick like I did, then it's fine with me.