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.