Saturday, December 31, 2016

Heavy wet snow

Arriving back from Christmas with family in Virginia late on Thursday morning, having left a day early because of the forecast, we had a couple hours to spare before the snow storm hit. It snowed for a few hours then rained, then snowed again. Then at 3am Friday morning, the power went out.

This combination of rain and snow was hard to shift, whether by Rover, tractor, or hand. But despite the block heater having stopped with the power supply, the Rover did start, as did the tractor. It took about four hours to make our dooryard and turning circle safe for civilization.

Then we ran the genny and waited for the power to come back on, making frequent excursions up the hill in the direction of the golf course, where the three phase distribution line for the entire town was down on the side of the road.

We wanted to know when the trucks came to fix it. It isn't much fun to leave a loud genny running outside your house all night, so we preferred not to do that, but when you have a toddler, you need to make different arrangements for sleeping when the power is off and you have no noise maker, baby monitor, or nursery heater. We were hoping the power would come back on before all this had to happen.

In the end, the power stayed out even after the downed line was fixed, there being some other fault closer to us, so we put her to bed with extra blankets, left her door open to get the heat of the wood stove, brought the dogs into the living room and locked them behind the baby gate so they wouldn't go into her room, and made sure to stoke the fire in the middle of the night. She slept fine all night without a noise maker.

It was during the excursion to stoke the fire that I realized it was getting too cold out there for propane. Our genny runs on twenty-pound bottles of propane, and doesn't like the cold at all. Even in moderately cool temperatures around freezing, it wants starter fluid. Propane boils at -43 F, but it doesn't boil easily as well as it does at higher temperatures, when it essentially flashes from liquid to gas as soon as the pressure is relieved. It was 15 F outside already.

So, after some thumping and struggling at 2am, things going bump in the night, the genny spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. It did occur to me to turn off its propane for safety's sake. It started easy this morning.

Now we hope to see some linesmen soon. Much of Maine has been without power, about a quarter of the state, and we are obviously in better shape than most, but it would be a relief to shut off that noisy genny, and, at only 3,500 watts, there are some things it just can't run or doesn't much like to run, including the electrical heating and the sheep's water heater.

Friday, December 16, 2016

End times

Don't worry. I just mean the semester.

Although we have relatives who are waiting it out for the real thing.

Me, I'm glad of an easy day today, just one exam and pick up some grading and home for the weekend with my kid. Classes ended Tuesday.

Today, we're hunkered down. The weather outside is frightful, very cold and a nasty north wind, one of those Yorkshire "lazy" winds, the kind that's too lazy to go around you. We have six baby chicks under a heat lamp in the barn with their mommy hen, and they are doing OK, but it would be good for all concerned if the wind dropped a bit. It seems to be doing so, but you never know. As night falls, and a storm coming in tomorrow, it could easily start up again.

Edana is snoozing nicely in the nursery. She kept waking up last night. The wind caused multiple short power cuts that continually reset her digital noisemaker, switching it from "rain" to "heartbeat", which wakes her up. If it doesn't, the heater resets too, and that always wakes her up. She doesn't much like the cold and without her heater that room is drafty.

Anyway, we had hot milk and a story at midnight or thereabouts, and then she slept for a bit, then the power went out again and she woke again. All in all she woke four times. The last time she didn't really get into it, and the heater was still on, so we left her and she went down again of her own accord. So now she's catching up. I caught up some too. It was good to nap.

Here in our winterwonderland, we've broken out the Roverplow once and look to do it again tomorrow. The pipes in the bathroom have frozen briefly twice, the result of too much cold but, paradoxically, not enough snow to seal the perimeter of the house from the wind. There's plastic "banking" in place, but the snow weighs it down and adds insulation.

I set a heat lamp on the pipes and left the bathtub tap to run. It's supposed to be 40F Sunday, classic La Nina Maine weather. We can leave the tap run until then.

Other than the lack of snow on our banking, we're ready for winter. All the cars are sorted with snow tires and all repairs done, the oil tank is filled, and the new wood stove is running very well. We have a nice Christmas tree, which Edana loves, and our Christmas cards are arriving, much to her delight. She loves to tear them open and hang them up on the string in the living room. "My card," she croons in delight, in total ignorance of whoever sent it.

Late last month I finally cracked the fault diagnosis on the VW, which had eluded me all fall. I pulled the engine again and stripped it down to the case again, looking for a fault. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I've stripped that old engine down like this, I'd be a rich man.

I found I'd left out the head gaskets. In the VW engine, these are just tiny aluminum circles that sit between each cylinder and the cylinder heads. Older motors don't have them. I originally rebuilt that engine last winter, and was rushed and not working in the best of conditions, and must have left them out accidentally. At least, that's my excuse. I have no memory of doing so, but the proof of the pudding was right there in front of my eyes. With the gaskets in, and a tune up, the engine starts and runs easy now.

Before that, late October or early November, I'd been working on the seized brakes, and eventually traced the difficulty to a brand new Brazilian VW master cylinder. Apparently a bad batch of these had made it onto the American parts chain, all with over-zealous check valves. I bought a new German unit, fitted it, and the difficulty went away. Then I still had trouble bleeding it, until Henry Thompson noticed the bleed valve was at the bottom of the caliper on the left side. They're supposed to be universal, but to be so, they need two bleed valves, not one. I switched out that caliper for one with two bleed valves that I'd had lying around since early attempts to diagnose the stuck brakes, and all as well.

It's a good thing that all this work delayed the serviceability of the VW, because if it had been usable earlier, it would have been sold, and I really don't want to sell it. In September we had to pay $4,500 for our new trailer and that set me back a bit, using up my savings. I had planned to sell the VW to pay some bills and rebuild our savings, but we're so close to tax refund time, I won't need to do that now. Besides, it has no heat so no-one will buy it in the winter.

So I can keep my lovely old bus after all. I have too many happy memories of this bus, and would really like to take my kid fishing or camping in it one day.

After all, we do live in Maine, and it is nice here at least six months of the year.

Just not these ones.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Rover's Return

Fall is coming slowly to an end. It really is our longest season here in Maine, starting in August when the leaves of swamp maples first begin to show color, and ending in late November or even December with the first nor'easter that falls and stays. That's nearly five months, some years. Spring is long too, from mud season in late March or early April to the first hot, humid weather in late June, but that's only about two to three months. High summer, with all the heat and heavy humidity, is usually less than two months, and sometimes less than one. I personally measure summer by the presence or absence of fireflies after dark. Winter can be very long here, though, depending on when that first lasting snowfall occurs.

For which we're grateful. It keeps the riffraff away. But, considering that winter in Maine means snow, and lots of it, you have to have everything ready, or you'll be caught short.

I didn't mention either road repair or blackfly season, both of which overlap these other, more formal seasons, and both of which can hinder your movements more than the weather does, except, perhaps, for snow.

And then there's hunting season, the cusp of which is Maine's month-long rifle season for whitetail deer, now upon us.

The leaves are almost completely gone from all the trees except a few beeches, birches, alders, and tamarack. The tomato plants are black from frost, although there are still edible berries on some, trying desperately to ripen. I picked the last of the eggplant, tiny little things that Aimee says will be bitter, and a couple of blue Hubbard squash. I thought I'd make ratatouille with the eggplant.

We take nice walks with the dogs, but now we have to worry about deer hunters. Since our road is a dead end, and because the dogs bark whenever a truck comes, it's usually easy to know when there's a hunter in our woods. It is possible, although not likely, for a particularly motivated hunter to come in from the other side of the woods, nearly two miles away on the Bog or Village roads, but no-one ever does. Hunters are not usually that athletic. But even so, we all wear orange, including the dogs, and don't stray from the gravel roads as we might have done earlier.

Edana doesn't know much about hunter safety, so she's unaware of the reason she has to wear a bright orange vest. But she likes pumpkins and apples and the apple juice we get from the orchard, and enjoyed her first Hallow'een last night at the village library, so fall is a hit.

I've been reminding her that it will snow one day soon to prepare her mentally. She probably will be happy, not sad, to see the fluffy white snow, even if it will restrict her movements further. She likes to watch kids sledding on TV, and her favorite book is "The Snowy Day".

With the advent of the white stuff in mind, though, I have as always been working down a long to-do list of pre-winter chores, now nearing completion. This process has been slower than usual because the only time I have to do this work now I have a kid is four or five hours on Saturday morning, when Aimee takes Roo first to swim class and then to do the week's shopping.

Time and money, money and time. The hardest job to get done was the Land Rover's muffler, not so much because it was hard mechanically, but because our finances were strained by the purchase of the trailer and the annual property tax bill. I had to wait nearly two months before I could afford the replacement. But it's done, and, after the usual two hours messing with annoyingly intermittent defunct lights and horn, the Rover is over at the local repair shop, ready for inspection, with two Camry wheels and snow tires for fitting in the back to boot. Afterwards, I'll take her to the local short stop and top off the gas for the winter. When it's back we'll fit the snow plow.

There's still a little fence to take down, as well as the greenhouse frame to fix, and the trailer to winterize (a new chore, that I have to teach myself to do), but these amount to less than two hour's work for next Saturday, and once the Rover Returns (slight "Coronation Street" pun there for you British readers!) and the plow is fitted, it can snow if it wants to.

We're ready.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Leaf peepers

Aimee planned a leaf-viewing picnic -- on a train. This is the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad, a volunteer-run local railway heritage preservation organization that offers rail tours a few times a year.

Edana, who has read about trains in books and seen them on TV and possibly from afar, was very excited to go on the train. She got so worked up that she became upset when we stopped to quickly pick up some groceries, and I had to placate her with a story or two while mommy did the shopping. But eventually the great moment arrived and our kid got to go on a train.

The day was gloomy and not the best of days for leaf-peepin', as Mainers say, but the train was full. There was one particularly loud extended Indian family with several kids, all speaking Hindi ten-to-the-dozen. This reminded me of Sheffield, of course, and even made me a little homesick, but I'm not sure the very middle class American retirees sat next to them enjoyed the spectacle quite as much.

The train rocked and rolled a few miles down the tracks. Being used to British trains, I was surprised at how much our coach car, a former Amtrak stalwart, rocked from side to side. I was glad that we didn't pick up speed. I expect it would have derailed.

We've considered using the train to get to Aimee's folks in VA, and indeed, we could go all the way from Portland to Staunton, VA, twenty miles from H-burg, on the train, but my experiences with Amtrak have not been that positive. I expect we'd get delayed, and then we'd be on a train with a kid and a bunch of luggage for two or three days. At least in a car you can go to a motel and rest.

Anyway, our picnic was very successful and our kid was very happy with her train ride.

In other news, the kitchen range has now been replaced with a fancy new one. I've dismantled the old one and determined the fault, a failed oven igniter unit, but the repair part may be more expensive than the value of the range, which has rusty feet from Mary-dog's unfortunate habit, when she grew geriatric, of piddling on the floor next to the stove.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pork load

Here's the fruit of at least some of our labors. Three pigs, properly butchered, await delivery to various freezers belonging to Unity College faculty. Total hanging weight was 539 pounds. Average per pig 179 pounds. Spot on the 180 pound target.

And what a lot of very good food!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Skunking around and other annoyances

There are several domestic annoyances happening right now, but the gravest is the skunk that has taken up residence in our barn. This is a mature female and incredibly tame, to the point were a person can come within a couple feet of her and she won't spray. She's nocturnal, of course, and if it wasn't for the fact that we put the chickens "to bed" in their coop late each evening, and that I feed them and the rest of the animals at four or five am, we probably wouldn't have noticed her. All the same, she's an annoyance, because sooner or later one or the other of our dogs will take too friendly an interest in her and get sprayed.

I borrowed a .22 rifle from our neighbors, all of our firearms being way too big to use on a skunk inside a building, and have had a couple of chances, but not the clear shot that I need to take care of her without her spraying. I also borrowed a live trap, but twice now she's taken the bait without springing the trap.

Next on the list in terms of importance is the well. There's been a great drought in Maine this summer, and all the rivers and ponds are lower than anyone can remember, while the leaves on the trees, especially the ash trees, are all crisp and brown long before they're due to fall.

Accordingly, our well is sucking air. Not all the time, but whenever we accidentally use too much water. The limit seems to be somewhere between 100 and 200 gallons. We can guess this from the time it takes running the water hose before the well sucks air and loses pressure. Thursday last, the well sucked air in the morning before work because I was watering the sheep while Aimee was doing laundry. Edana got into a fuss because of a big mess she made in her diaper. I was distracted and left the hose on about twice as long as was needed to fill the water tub, which probably takes around 50 gallons to fill (hence we know that we have only 100-200 gallons in the well). The well started sucking air, and didn't recover full pressure until the afternoon, when, quite worried, I finally turned the pump off, waited half an hour and turned it on again, at which point the pressure shot back up properly. At the time I was pleased, because I was getting ready to pull the well pipe and inspect and replace the foot valve. I suspect that low water caused the well to suck air, and debris in the foot valve stopped it from properly recovering. The debris must have washed out when the pump was turned off and the well pipe began to drain back.

If we just assume the recharge rate is so slow as to be negligible in the calculation, and use the formula for the volume of a cylinder to derive the height of water pumped before air is sucked, at 100 gallons in a six-inch well,  we get 21 feet of water above the foot valve, so we're nowhere near dry, and will almost certainly manage until fall rains replenish the water table. But we will have to be very careful with that hose.

Then our nice Jotul wood stove had to be taken out of service because of cracked interior heat baffles. I priced replacement baffles at around $400, which is far less than the price of a new Jotul. But this was too rich for my blood for the time being at least. I had a few other bills that I wanted to pay before parting with this amount of money directly, including the trailer. Instead I found a Scandia look-alike secondhand for $250, thinking that, even were I to eventually fix the Jotul, it would be fine to have a spare wood stove around in any case, considering that both this building and the Bale House use essentially the same size of stove. But on first use last night, the Scandia isn't properly airtight, runs away, and will need work on the door.

Finally, the oven in the kitchen range died last weekend while I was baking a cake. This range was installed brand new in 2007, and cost a fair amount at the time, so this is upsetting too. I can probably fix it, but the light and access is bad in that corner, and the stove is dirty, so I have to remove it and clean it. We decided to get a new stove instead. I'll probably try to fix this one, but then sell it on. I had to finish baking the cake in the tiny oven in the trailer.

Then there are all the other jobs we haven't had time to get to: the tomato canning, the new trailer's brakes and bearings that need to be serviced and checked, the Land Rover's muffler that needs to be replaced, and the VW's brake job that still is not finished.

All in all, this adds up to a stressful fall, domestically speaking, but there's nothing to be done but suck it up and do the work and spend the money on parts and equipment. We started by ordering a new kitchen stove last night. Today I will empty every last thing out of the barn, clear away all the bedding, and blast off the cobwebs wit the pressure washer, effectively evicting the skunk at the same time. I hope to get the wood stove fixed and the tomatoes at least picked too, this weekend. It would be nice to finish the VW too, because then I could sell it and have extra money for some of these bills.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New trailer

We went shopping for a camper trailer a few weeks ago, after our return from the most recent trip to see Aimee's folks in VA. The plan is, assuming we can figure out some remaining sticky details, to haul this thing down there for us to stay in while we're visiting. But we also hope to go camping with our kid here in Maine, to see the state a bit more, and to have some fun family adventures.

The first time I took Roo to see a trailer, she obviously loved it, running around inside and climbing all over everything. Now we have this one, a 1997 Prowler 24 footer, she loves to climb inside and run around and jump on the bed and open all the cupboards and drawers.

Finding the trailer was a bit of an adventure. This job fell primarily to me, and, to begin, I had no clue what I was looking for. It's been forty years since I last went trailer camping, with my own family, back home in Britain. I had to do a lot of research online.

We decided we wanted a relatively small camper, at least by American standards, so we could haul it with our existing truck. Actually, that's the remaining difficulty in getting down to VA with this beast. The truck, at 160,000 miles, probably won't make too many trips down to VA without its little V6 engine conking out. But we can safely haul the trailer around Maine, so for now that's what we plan to do, until we can get a haul vehicle with a bigger engine.

We found the Prowler in Veasie, Maine, where there's a guy who likes to camp with his family, but also likes to fix up trailers.

At least, that's what he said. I'm an expert handyman, and can see zero signs of this trailer having been worked on in at least five years, unless our trailer-fixing handyman is the one that did the somewhat amateurish paneling in the bedroom, which you can just see in the picture above, where obvious water damage has taken place and been covered by "T & G" boards.

That seems possible, since the paneling looks new. But when I asked him about the paneling, he said it had been done before he got it. The huge gobs of extra sealant that mar the outside of the trailer, undoubtedly done to stem the water leaks that caused the internal damage, were applied years ago. Otherwise, no-one has worked on this trailer. He just bought it low and sold high, is all. I didn't mind that so much because I thought the price was fair.

The other thing that might have inclined me to regret buying this trailer was that the battery was switched out between the day we put a deposit on the trailer, and the day we went by with the rest of the money to pay for it. Our supposed trailer-handyman told us the battery had failed and he had given us a new one. I took him at his word, and the battery certainly looked new, but on closer investigation, I found traces of typical lead corrosion around the bottom of the terminal posts, and the battery is not of the correct marine/RV deep-cycle kind. My guess is that the original battery, which was probably a better one and the correct one for the job, was switched back to his other trailer, which he'd only just bought to fix up, and that this battery was the dud that came with the new fixer-upper.

That could have left a bad taste in my mouth, but at this point I'm well aware of the "moral hazard" problem endemic to Craigslist selling, and I remain pretty happy with the trailer itself. The only other problem is a binding trailer brake, but I expected to have to strip down the wheel assemblies and service the bearings and brakes.

I just chalked the rest up to experience. If we decide we like trailer camping with our kid, this won't be our last trailer purchase.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Taking pictures with daddy's camera

If I press this button, what happens?

Taking selfies is fun!

I can also take pictures of daddy! Oops. Where are his eyes?

And mommy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bitter enders

Summer bounty: canned peaches

Summer is coming crashing grinding to a halt whether we wish it too or not, and in my case the answer is a most emphatic "not!"

But all good things come to an end, and as I've said many times on this blog, I do enjoy my job most of the time. In particular, it will be a bit of a relief to be able to justify time to concentrate on adult things again, thanks mostly to the miracle of daycare.

Much as I love my kid, I don't get much done when I'm watching her. And she needs to be with her little friends some of the time, or she won't be properly socialized in time for school.

In other news, our bus is up for sale. This is primarily because most recent trip to VA to see Aimee's folks was hard on me, mostly because of all the bag-carrying, but also because we managed to break the bed in our Airbnb! I repaired it, of course, and indeed it was in better shape when we left than when we arrived. The lady whose home it was seems none the wiser. I think the bed, a miserable piece of flat-pack MDF dressed up in heavy black lacquer as it it were a real piece of furniture, was already broken before we arrived, but hadn't yet collapsed, and when we arrived to make use of it, already substantially weakened. Anyway, long story short, it took two days to fix.

Additionally, Aimee said she wouldn't go camping in the bus. That wasn't unreasonable, since the bus is very small and doesn't have a bed for Edana. But I want to go camping with my kid! And so, it turns out, does Aimee.

So we're selling the bus and buying a camper trailer. We already have one, in fact, We placed a deposit on it Sunday and will pick it up in a couple of week's time, once the owners have had one more trip. I'm going to miss my venerable bus, but there's not much point having a camper that you can't go camping in.

We'll use the new camper to visit Aimee's folks and to camp here in Maine. I'm already exploring with the map to see where we could go that a little kid might like. I'm also replacing the truck's trailer hitch and wiring up the appropriate seven-point plug.

In other news, the garden is producing tomatoes now, my favorite cooking ingredient. I have a nice chicken-garlic-tomato risotto cooking as I type. The Land Rover needs a muffler, and indeed I already cut the old one off in hopes of getting a new stainless one from the UK for cheap, thanks to the "Brexit" premium on dollar-pound exchange rate. This hope proved fruitless, because once we added the shipping, a stainless series Rover muffler was as prohibitively expensive from the UK as they are in the US. We'll get another mild steel one and hope to make it last longer.

Monday, August 1, 2016

There and back again, again

To Virginia and back with a toddler. In a 1997 Camry.

Need I say more?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bale-full woes

Our kid learns to roll pastry. Eating pastry while rolling is optional.

Not much time these last few weeks for posting, I'm afraid. Some folks, relatives of a former student, want to move into our straw bale house in Monroe, and I've been over there repairing the various systems.

This old house, which could be termed one of the greatest mistakes of my life, was built in 2002 and 2003 when I was ostensibly a single man, although I started dating Aimee before I began building. I was also very poor. Assistant professor salaries at Unity College were never very great, and my student loans kicked in six months after I graduated with my PhD (in May, 20002). Later, Aimee got employed and we both got promoted, and I could afford proper hardware and wotnot, but the Bale House is built with recycled trash of various kinds, as well as straw bale for insulation.

The main problem is, we don't own the land. if we did, I'd have sold the place long ago and made some money for our family by doing so. But we have a lease instead, on land owned by some other folks we know. As a result, we're stuck with a hosue we don't need, but which we need to repair and keep up.

Despite this, it has been a refuge for numerous people over the years. It may be the western equivalent of a shanty house, but it is surprisingly large, and the architecture kind of "works", in that there's a spacious mock Tudor kind of feel to the interior.

I've been over there almost every day cleaning and fixing, including some very heavy and dirty jobs, all done with absolutely no help because someone has to watch our kid. It's been miserable work. I hope to be done with it shortly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are potatoes.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

On the road again!

After nearly thirteen years sitting in the woods, my old VW camper is mobile and almost street legal again!

I finished the bodywork and paint a couple-three weeks ago, refitted the engine, newly rebuilt, and a new steering beam, and have been puttering more or less daily on the small stuff like lights, door seals, and interior. It's now insured and registered.

I've taken it for a few test drives. I'd forgotten how much fun these are to drive. The driver sits up high with good visibility, the steering is responsive and has a tight turning circle, and the engine drives from the back, so the vehicle powers around corners.

Our kid seems to like it too, mostly because we sing "The wheels on the bus go round and round" whenever we get in. But it has carpet in back, and a big floor to play on, and will soon have a bench seat that folds into a bed, and a table for eating picnics.

Here she is the other day when I had the seats out for cleaning.

Next stop, a nice family picnic, and when she's old enough, a fishing trip!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The thick of it

Loading the lambs in the Land Rover

Summer is well under way at Womerlippi acres, with the farm and garden work proceeding apace, as are all our projects, and the days are blending into one another nicely in the way they do when you no longer have to go away to work every day. There's something very satisfying about not knowing what day of the week it is, and I certainly don't miss weekends. Nor do I miss the daily commute. I much prefer getting up, walking out of my door, and picking up whatever tools I need to do whatever job I have to do.

Most people lived like this at one time, and I think our bodies and minds are probably built for this more continuous kind of rhythm to our days. I sleep better in the summers, usually, perhaps because I get more exercise, but more likely because there just isn't any stress. If you think about it, one of the reasons work is so stressful for many people is that you have to get there, and on time.

We still get to go places, of course, mostly for farm chores, as well as to shop for food, and for any family outings we plan. Our first farm sale of the year is always that of two lambs to our friend John Mac and his partner Nancy. Pictured above, I take them in the Land Rover because their driveway is very narrow and it's hard to turn the truck around. These two will graze the lawns and other unused spaces around their home for the summer, and then become dinner in the fall.

Roo was investigating the situation for herself. She likes to scramble around in the cars when they're parked for some reason, investigating the controls and of course any cargo. This activity occupies her for hours, another reason why I think having a nice big VW camper bus is going to be a big hit.

Our most recent family outing was to the new kids play room in Belfast. This is a combination of gym and rumpus room for kids to run around in, and the grand opening was Saturday. We went along to see what all the fuss was about. Roo had fun, while we watched carefully from the sidelines. Most of the other kids were much bigger and fast, so we expected her to get knocked over at any point, but she stayed on her feet pretty much the whole time.

We've also discovered that our daughter likes to "cook".

What this really means, of course, is that Roo likes to make a mess in the kitchen while we're cooking.

This is some rice and flour, mixed with food color, that mommy used as a distraction. Roo had a fine time using her hands to mess with the colorful grains.

My VW project is coming along nicely and I will probably finish it later this month. "Finish", in the sense that all the major restoration work is done. I'm not sure if I will sticker and drive it this year. We'll see. I have a mind to do the interior up really nicely, and am looking around for ideas.

I thought that getting the engine over to the lift would be a problem, but then realized that the car itself could be used as a strong point to lift the engine off the trailer. Here's the engine being lifted off the engine stand and onto the trailer, and below you see the bus rear beam used as a strong point to lift the engine off the trailer and get it in position underneath the car.

From this point it was less than twenty minute's work, six bolts and two nuts, to install the engine. The whole process was complete by nine thirty Tuesday morning, having started at eight. This was very satisfying for me.

Here's the rebuilt engine in the car. We'll try for a start late next week sometime. As I was working,I discovered that the distributor was bad and had to order a new one, so we'll have to wait a little while.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A day off from summer break

It's been nearly a week since our summer break began. What did we do with all that "free time"?

Well, we looked after our kid. Played with her, fed her, bathed her, put her down for naps. All that good stuff. Here she is. having discovered that fun stuff comes in packages, she decided to try to open one with a table knife. Luckily, not only are our knives blunt, but we caught her in time.

We also bought a new livestock trailer, to replace our old home-made one (pictured above). I have to restore the body and frame of the new one. No welding needed, just mild rust abatement, but if it's done now, it should last for twenty more years at least.

There was a gale last weekend that took out our greenhouse. Repeated gusts pulled the anchors out of the ground and bent the frame. I was able to square it up again and re-position it, but a proper repair must wait for replacement rafter tubes. Since then the weather has been better and we now have the garden planted.

Aimee made more of the new design wooden tomato cages.

Finally, we've done a lot of work on the VW project and started the repairs to the Bale House.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nearly done -- crack that nut

Our summer break has nearly begun, but you wouldn't know it from the weather. Graduation was Saturday, and that day was nice and warm, but then some cold air spilled in and we even had snow in northern and eastern parts of Maine.

I enjoyed the commencement ceremony, mostly because of all the students and their families and how happy they were. I'm not fond of dressing up, nor of anything really that gives people the impression they are better than other people, and so I don't enjoy all the robes and pomp and circumstance. But I like seeing the smiles on all the students and parents and grandparents.

I also like the bagpipes.

We have our requisite period of "professional development" this week, our mandatory in-service teacher training, and then we're officially off work for the summer.

My grading done, I've been dividing my time between jobs around the house and farm and making progress on my Volksproject. The interesting rig you see above is my solution to the difficulty that ensues when you remove a VW engine before you crack the large nuts on the rear stub axles. Normally, you'd do this procedure with the engine in, using the engine's compression to lock the gearbox and prevent the wheels from turning. But I had removed the engine before I realized I had to remove the axle nut. I used an old clutch plate placed over the gearbox input shaft, attached to a long bar,  to make a jamming rig.

Our kid is thriving with the (mostly) warmer weather, and spends a lot of time running around the yard. We now have our feeder pigs in the barn, and with the lambs running around and baby chicks in the kitchen, there's lots to see and do if you're a few months shy of two whole years old.

The garden is about half-planted, just waiting for some warmer weather and for the risk of frost to pass. We managed to find a horse trailer to replace our pathetic home-built animal trailer, something we've complained about for years. It needs to be restored, although it's not as much work as the VW.

Mostly, this particular season of the year, I'm just anxious to get started and get some of this work done. I'll be glad when these two training days are done.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Science girl. She wanted to see what was in my magazine. Good for her. I haven't even read it yet.

Life has been busy as we get ready for the growing season. The garden has been manured -- about three tons of well-rotted pig manure mixed with sheep bedding. It has been tilled. Several varieties of veg are already planted. The sheep are now shorn. Green grass is growing and they occasionally get to eat it -- there isn't enough of it yet to let them go wild, so they have to be held back.

I was able to find two half-days to get quite a bit of the VW engine remantling done. I fitted the new cylinder heads and completed one side of the valve train. The other is waiting for a new push-rod tube. One of the eight original 1975 ones had a pin hole. This is now waiting for a rebuilt alternator before we fit the cooling fan housing. The old one still works, or was still working when removed, but the alternator change on these things is a bear when the engine is still in, and so it would be mush easier to switch it out now than later. There's also the small matter of a new clutch, also on order.

I have a hard time explaining to most people why engine rebuilding is so satisfying. It's like a giant jigsaw, only much more challenging. And there is something very satisfying about taking a greasy dysfunctional mess and turning it into a gleaming, roaring beast, ready for another 100,000 miles or more. Michael Crawford, whose excellent book "Shop Class and Soulcraft" talks about gaining "power over your own stuff", and how we no longer have this in modern society, when most technology requires expert servicing. Engine rebuilding is the ultimate power over your own stuff. What could be more proof of that than driving down the road in a vehicle whose engine you built yourself.

Finally, I solved the poppy problem. This is the difficulty that arises for ex-pat Brits, especially ex-servicemen, when November comes around and you can't find a proper British Legion poppy. I discovered several solutions over the years. I've driven up to Canada (not a major trek, really, it's only 80 miles) to get one, having a nice mini-break along the way. I've had one sent from Britain. But these new permanent poppy pins solve the problem nicely, and you can get them with your own unit crest. Twenty percent goes to the British legion, which runs to the same amount of dough as about two or three years of normal poppy donations.

I expect by the time three years has passed, I'll have lost it and so need another.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Da grind

 One spring break activity was a trip to the children's science museum in Bangor. This is the flowing waters exhibit, courtesy of our local hydropower company.

 We're back to work after a glorious two-week spring break in which the weather did not cooperate, but our metabolisms did. After about nine or ten days of regular exercise and daily naps, I finally started to get the feeling I'd finally caught up on my sleep.

Considering that our child was born August 2014, that adds up to a year and a half of chronic sleeplessness. The last six months, of course, were way better than the first year, but you still don't always get enough sleep. I'm sure this is typical for most parents.

Of course this feeling didn't last long because I'm working nights, teaching economics classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-7.15 pm. I generally don't mind night classes, since students are usually in a better mood than at, say, 8am or 9am. I had one such typical "youf" in my office yesterday, yawning away at 9am. Gosh knows what that kid will do when he finally gets employed and has an adult schedule to keep.

But it does take it out of you to work such long days, especially if your kid isn't sleeping and if the weather prevents exercise, and by Thursday I'm generally tuckered and ready for a break. Night checks for lambs doesn't help. It's good that lambing season went so easy this year, with such mild weather, because that reduces the worry over freezing lambs, but there were still some nights that required three or four night checks.

All semester, I've tried very hard to work from home Fridays when I don't have classes, which allows an afternoon nap. Saturday and Sunday are usually good for catching up too. It hasn't been too hard, but I doubt I'll get that wonderful feeling of having gotten enough sleep again until after graduation.

In other news, The weather finally improved for spring, and I broke out the rototiller attachment for the tractor and checked it out prior to fertilizing and tilling the garden. I also "turned" the compost heap in hopes of getting a little more decomposition before this material will need to be spread. It was a very mild winter, but this meant no warming blanket of snow, and so the top layers had hardly decomposed at all.

Spring also brings the annual round of vehicle work. Although we do have a cramped one-car garage, I don't have a proper indoor shop, so working on cars is hard in the winter. I try to fit it all in between May and November.

We began with Aimee's Matrix, which needed new summer tires and an inspection sticker. It's our newest vehicle and so requires little serious mechanic-ing from me. This is good, because my lift is still occupied by the '75 VW bus. I cleaned the lift area and inspected and tested the lift. With an outdoor lift, you need to be sure every year that there hasn't been frost damage to the concrete or anchors. Everything was fine.

My next vehicle job is to finish the engine rebuild, put the finish coat on the engine bay paint, and refit the engine. That and some brake work should get me to a "rolling chassis", which is infinitely preferable to the "lump" I have right now, since I might then use my precious lift to work on our other cars. It will take me several years to finish the bus to the standard I'm hoping for.

I could probably finish that engine rebuild on my weekends before the end of the semester, but I'm not going to. It would mean shirking at least some of my share of weekend childcare, and in addition to being unfair to Aimee, that would mean I miss parts of watching my kid grow up, which I'm not willing to do. The bus can wait until after graduation. We will still have some summer daycare, and even the most loving of fathers needs to make sure their kid plays with other kids, not just with him. She gets to do that at daycare and in fact is quite happy there and ,loves the lady in charge. I'll get my car work done while she's in daycare.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Batching it"

I became a temporary bachelor for a few days while Aimee took Roo to see the grandfolks.

This was harder than I thought it would be. I've forgotten how to be a bachelor. I did manage to make fish and chips (above) and catch up on some Netflix, but the highlight of the few days I spent alone was the big strong lamb, now called "Widget", born to Quinn.

Here she is keeping close to mom in the sheep pasture.

I was pretty pleased to get my girls back after their trip, albeit again mentally scathed by another miserable experience, courtesy of American Airlines.

This time Aimee wrote to complain. She's very good at writing complaint letters to corporations, and I've lost track of the gizzits she's gotten that way. This time she got two flight vouchers, each for $200. 

I think she would have preferred a flight that was on time and a flight attendant that knew how to strap in a child seat.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Splinter the chicken

We now have a chicken in a splint.

I found her the other night just as our third "W" year lamb was being born. She had a broken leg. She was hiding in the hay, and had aborted an egg, probably due to the pain. (When chickens are stressed, they sometimes lay eggs without fully-formed shells.)

The best thing to do with a wounded chicken is usually to cull her and make soup, but I just didn't feel like doing so, not the same night that a new life had just been born on the farm. I decided to splint the leg.

Here she is with the splint applied. Obviously, she can't go out for a while, and so we're providing food and water and a heat lamp in the interior of the barn.

Here's the new "W" lamb, as yet unnamed. She's as big as the two-week old ones behind. She was so big, in fact, that she couldn't be born quite as presented, with the legs and head coming together through the birth canal, and I had to pull her legs out one by one before her head could be born.

This is not unusual. About one in four or five of our lambs seems to go this way, especially the big ones. If I can't quite get a hold of the slippery legs with my fingers, I slip a loop of clean baling twine over the legs and use that to get a grip.

In other news, we have an ice storm today, and we can't go anywhere because the driveway is iced up.

The plows have been out with salt and the main roads are probably fine, but our driveway is way too slick, even for four-wheel drive vehicles.

I'm keeping busy with webinars and conference calls. The nice thing about being an academic in today's world is that you no longer really have to travel to access new ideas. This is very helpful for us farmer-teachers, especially in an ice storm.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Life in slow(er) motion

After a hectic first half of the semester, we're on Spring Break.

For me, this began Thursday, as I don't have Friday classes. I'll get seventeen full days before I'm due back at work, although I gave half of one of them up yesterday to "do" the Maine State Science Festival.

This is a fun day out, in which all the science project posters from all the high schools in Maine are judged. While the high school students are competing in the middle of the room, the giant ballroom at the Cross Center in Bangor, we science educators get to give demonstrations and do show-and-tell around the fringes. Lots of tables are set aside for all the colleges, and we always try to do it up for Unity.

I like to bring a lot of science toys for the little kids. They don't get to compete in the science fair until they're older, and most of the posters are a bit beyond them. Here I am demonstrating the simple electric motor for one of them.

We also had help from the Admission Department, which sent three student ambassadors. Here they are with the radio-controlled "Snap Circuits" robot.

Meanwhile Aimee was off shopping with our little one. She came back with a huge back of blocks from Reny's. Fun for all the family.

Here we are earlier in the week, a selfie.

The major project for this spring break is to get all our lambs born safely. This requires fairly constant checks, every two hours or so. I won't be going far.