Thursday, January 29, 2015

Digging out

We received what looked like about twenty inches of snow Tuesday, the Great Blizzard of '15 according to the TV weathermen. It was hard to tell exactly how much because of the drifting. Here's our dooryard after my neighbor Ham and I had already plowed away the worst of the snow. You can see that the house is drifted in again, although not as deeply as a couple of years ago.

We had to push pretty hard to open that front door. I can easily imagine that sooner or later we'll get so much snow, we won't be able to open that door, which opens outwards, at all, and will have to exit by a different door. All it would take would be for the drift on the right to relocate a bit to the left.


Here's Aimee's little car drifted in pretty well. I'm glad we bought a black one and not a white.

The snow, light and fluffy, driven by a powerful wind, drifted in through the Rover's sliding glass windows, making for that ice cave look when I opened the door. Even so, it was a lot nicer sitting in the warm cab of the Land Rover than on the cold seat of the tractor. The inside of the Rover can get wet. After all, it sat uncovered in a junkyard for about ten years.

The new plow did a great job, despite the lightness of the truck, the light construction of the plow, and the depth of the snow. All in all, I'm pretty pleased with this device, which came from Home Depot, but was made by a Canadian firm. I guess Canadians know their snow.

Even so, the Rover and tractor both got stuck once before the job was done. There was a lot of snow.

One important consideration when plowing is that you have to clear out the mail box pretty good, or our mail lady just drives on by.

The plow blade is hinged and tilts up when it encounters an immovable pile of snow or ice, reducing the impact to the frame, and allowing you to pile snow higher with multiple sweeps.

The garage was well hidden.

This is after I cleared most of the snow away with the tractor. I always leave a foot or two to be cleared by hand because the garage's sliding metal door will bend if I hit it with the loader.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Kids grow up fast, the saying goes. We've been trying to make sure we don't miss anything. The most recent advance has been the addition of "solid" foods to Roo's diet. I say "solids" in quotes because, well, the pap that she has begun to eat and even enjoy is not exactly what you would term solid. But it's not milk, and that's something.

She doesn't yet like banana or apple or even the specially prepared commercial baby food (organic, of course). But she likes baby oatmeal mixed with a little formula or better yet, mommy's real milk. Porridge, in other words, being true to her Celtic inheritance. I expect she will like leeks too, one fine day.

Of any given amount that is fed to her, a proportion even ends up inside her. But a lot doesn't. It's best to have dinner time just before bath time, if you know what I mean.

One result has been at the other end, where the relatively manageable effluent of her previous diet has of course been replaced by much more sticky, smelly, and otherwise obnoxious material.

In other news, the Camry came back from the painters looking brand new, but it was a while before I could bring myself to drive it, considering how much slush and salt there currently is on our roads. Worried about possible damage to the new paint, I was getting ready to take it to one of our local detailers for a good old fashioned wax job, something I can do myself in summer, but that has to be done in an indoor shop in Maine in winter. I called the painters to ask about this, though, and they said I had better leave it until all the solvents had evaporated, about a month. I couldn't countenance wasting that much gas driving the truck for another whole month, so I gave up and started driving the Camry again.

We've had one small snowstorm since I last wrote, but before these few inches arrived, almost all the snow had melted out in a big rainstorm the weekend before last. This is rare for Maine in January. We usually have a decent snowpack of at least a foot by now. But another storm is heading our way. It may even cause a snow day. That would be nice.

No Burn's Nicht celebrations for me this year. I didn't have the time or the inclination to make haggis, which Aimee never eats anyway, and I'm almost out of whisky. Instead we've been eating lots of cheese. There's a new shop in Belfast called Eat More Cheese, and Aimee has a gift membership to their "Cheese of the Month Club." This to me seems a novel and interesting way to make sure my nursing wife has enough protein.

As the old saying from Ed Abbey goes, "what a friend we have in cheeses."

Sunday, January 18, 2015


 Aimee's photo: Roo helps with the dish-washing.

Our little bundle of joy has been anything but these last two days: cranky, windy, always hungry, wants to play constantly, but then is also always tired. I don't quite know how she achieves so many mood swings in such short space of time. It's a bit like the current weather, which is also going from January thaw to deep freeze and back again with alarming regularity.

Aimee says that it's a "growth spurt", a diagnosis I am easily prepared to believe, considering I weighed just her last weekend and she came in just under fourteen pounds and is now closer to fourteen-and-a-half. Our scale, donated by a colleague at work, has seen better days and is somewhat uncertain, so these are unscientific estimates. But, best I can tell, based on the average of the needle swing, she's put on a half pound or so in a very short time frame.

In other news, we survived our first week of work as two fully-employed parents. Last semester I worked full-time, but with flexible hours. Aimee had about half the semester off, thanks to the various forms of maternity leave available at our small college, but then was back to work, with somewhat flexible hours. This semester we have a normal workload each, and an inflexible schedule, but no overlaps, meaning that one of us can be with Roo most of the time. This is necessary because she's still way too young for daycare.

Trying to make this work was interesting, to say the least. For my part, I had to work a lot of very early morning hours, Skype in to meetings, and go to work on part of Saturday to succeed in this endeavor, but I'm now done until Tuesday, thanks to the MLK holiday. Aimee had to work a lot of evening hours and still has things to do today and during tomorrow's holiday, but plans to watch the football today. This, despite her being up almost all night with Roo. I'd say she's getting the worst of it, and will continue to do so as long as Roo needs to be breastfed in the middle of the night.

There remains virtually no time for house, farm, or mechanical projects. Luckily it's too cold to do mechanics. The Lister engine has been removed from it's trailer and sits cold and neglected on the shop floor. Its generator is in a hundred pieces and I despair of ever remembering how they all fit back together. The farm work is ticking over on a low "idle" -- all I do is make sure the sheep and chickies have lots of food, and unfrozen water to drink, and as well keep the heat lamp running. It takes less than twenty minutes a day. The dogs are lucky if they get even a half-mile walk once a day. I did start the job of cleaning out my den, but was only able to give it twenty minutes at a time. After about two weeks I got it done.

I did manage to host these renewable energy students at the house the other day to study energy retrofits, of which the house is of course a great example, and Roo was good enough to sit on my knee and let me talk to them without too many interruptions. That was remarkable, but it also reminded me that I still have a serious career in renewable energy and climate policy to tend to, if I somehow can.

Roo, for her part, now four-and-a-half months old, has been working on important projects: learning to roll over, and trying to crawl. She is beginning to be a little more mobile, and can squirm herself around a little bit, especially when gravity is on her side. She'll be sitting on your knee, see something she wants, a favorite toy, say, a foot away on the couch, then execute a kind of controlled fall in that direction, and sometimes almost get there.

I expect that she'll get to crawling an a few weeks or months. We hope to start her on solid food soon too. But this is not any big, intense kind of a project. We're just taking things one day, one hour at a time.

Mostly we just hope to get more sleep, especially Aimee, before we begin another week of school work. Our semesters are fifteen weeks long, except that one week of that is exams, so basically we have to survive another twelve weeks after this one and we will have not only summer, but a seven-month-old baby to spend it with. We hope we make it. That's about the limit of our time horizon.

I'm reminded of Bob the Builder, my new favorite philosopher:

"We can do it! Yes we can!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Quiet winter nights (?)

Here's the most recent picture of my darling daughter in "adorable" pose. She was being carried in the baby sling while mom got some cooking done. Mommy wanted a shuftie of this new experience, because, well, we've become the parents who constantly take pictures of their kid and post them on FaceBook. The picture came out very well, so although I'm become self-critical of this new family trait, I thought I'd repost it here.

Here's the full context. Aimee seems to like this bandolier-type set up.

For my part, I tend to just try to hold Roo in one hand, while I cook, do dishes, and attempt other household chores with my other. I can get quite a bit done this way, and Roo seldom cries while being carried, as long as you're doing something. This is good because it helps me find time to cook and keep house.

Finding time for blogging, however, has been hard since Roo was born. But I've learned that I can keep up with it, albeit at a slower and more deliberate rate. This farm blog, which is only one of the several I run, is hardest to maintain since it's not something I do for work, while the other blogs are, but I seem to have found a kind of rhythm.

Put simply, whenever I can't sleep, I can blog. That's what I'm doing right now. Aimee, exhausted by nursing, is trying to get Roo to sleep by herself in the crib, a major psychotherapy project, and the poor kid has been crying all night because she doesn't like sleeping by herself very much. Call me soft, but I can't sleep through my daughter's crying, so after an hour or so I had to get up. That gave me a chance to blog.

Previously I would blog whenever I felt like I had something interesting to relate in the way of household or garden or mechanical projects. Looking over how I've blogged since August, I realize that the different routine since Roo's birth has required a different technique. For one thing, I'm doing far less in the way of projects. For another, there's no overall topic to each piece. I tend to start with news of Roo, appropriate because that's what family and friends want to hear. Then I give a rundown of notable events since the last post. Each post is a mish-mash.

This, and the slower rate of posting, seems to have lost me about a third to a half of my readers, just quickly looking at the stats. Apologies for that. But I guess this is just the way it has to be.

As for news of projects, all the insulation and air-sealing work on the house, and all the attention to insulation and air-sealing done while building the extension has certainly paid off during the recent cold snap. The temperature readings have been well below zero for several nights and not much above zero during the day, but the house has been really cosy and comfortable, none of the drafts and cold spots we used to experience. Our power bill for November was less than last year, and our firewood is lasting well. All in all, I can't see us paying more than about $1,000 for heat this year, which is pretty good for what was once a horribly drafty hundred-and-fourteen-year old farmhouse.

It used to require 700 gallons of heat oil and ten cords of wood to heat this home when the previous occupants had it. Now we're down to two cords and fifty gallons, plus about 1500kWh of electrical heat.

I'm not sure Aimee has noticed any of this, of course, even though it means success for what has been about an eight-year project, overall. She seems to take it all for granted.

But it's nice to know my wife and kid will be cosy through the coldest nights of a Maine winter, and that the bills for keeping them so cosy are affordable.

The other big news is that I took the Camry in for a paint job. I'm a total anorak about rust and making my vehicles last, I know, and I probably should get some therapy. But I think it pays off in reduced bills and even reduced climate emissions. After all, it costs energy to build a car as well as run it.

The Camry is a 1997 model and should probably be in the junkyard by now, but is in great mechanical shape, has only 110,00 miles, and has virtually no rust. It just took us all to Virginia and back to see the relatives, perfectly safely, with not a peep of any mechanical difficulty. It does, however, have some pretty worn-out original paint, with scratches and blisters all around, and not a few small dents. I found a couple sixty-something brothers who have run a paint shop in Newburgh for several decades, who will bondo it up and spray it up for around a thousand bucks. I think this is worth it, but we'll see. The car should be done today.

Finally, we're back to work Monday after the long winter break. This semester will be a milestone at work, of sorts, because it will be the first time that Roo has to go into childcare. At just four months old, she's still way too young, but we have to earn a living. We've managed to get teaching schedules that don't overlap, the first and last time that will ever happen. But we still have a few meetings to attend. Our friends Will and Eileen have two very young girls, and Eileen, who has qualifications, is considering some more formal childcare or day school business. She plans to dip her toe into this particular adventure by taking Roo for a few hours here and there. They want to trade, and so I may be helping them with some automotive repair, or possibly by wiring a rental flat retrofit project they have going on. Their girls seem to like Roo, and Roo seems to like them, so this will probably be a good deal all around.

At the very least it will help mitigate the heavy psychological effects of having two anti-social hermits for parents.