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.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There and back again.

It's the 28th December and we're all well and very quiet this morning at Womerlippi Mansion. Little Roo and her mom are sleeping off a poor night's sleep. This was somewhat self-inflicted on Aimee's part. She determined that this was going to be The Night when Roo would finally sleep by herself in her bedside crib (co-sleeper being the technical term). This didn't seem like too much to ask, but resulted in an awful lot of crying.

Still, no cloud without a silver lining, and the silver lining for me is that I've been able to read the entire online Observer, catch up on all my FaceBook and email, and even peruse my blog stats. All good things will come to an end of course, and it remains to be seen which one of my girls will be in the worst mood when they finally rise, but for the moment all is quiet.

A good time to catch up on the Farm Blog.

Since I last posted we've performed our annual Visitation of the Relatives. This filial observance is quite the logistical performance, requiring a 1,300 mile road trip. Traveling with a four-month old baby proved easier than expected and indeed we drove the route in double-quick time, mostly because we skipped a lot of coffee and pee stops because stopping would wake the baby. The trusty Camry was faultless except for a wonky trunk latch, which I'll have to fix.

Grandma and grandad and great-grandma and all the aunties and uncles were very pleased to see Roo, so my mission was accomplished.

Of course, this is just the American side of Roo's family, so an even greater logistical process will one day be required to go visit the British side. That, however can all wait for the time being.

Roo of course got lots of presents from the in-laws. She was, as befits a four-month old, totally ignorant of any notion that this was Christmas and these were Christmas presents, so Aimee and I were spared having to worry about Santa. Here's one of her favorites, a jack-in-the-box that is actually a stuffed frog. It launches quite nicely. Roo liked to see the frog's eyes poking out of the box. She was more blasé about the jumping.

In other news, my Lister engine rebuild ended in partial disaster. I'd gotten the engine running well and had ordered the trailer and diesel caddy required to make a more formal portable generator set-up, and was working on the connection to the building, a standard 220-volt two-pole locking plug and cut-off switch arrangement. Following US routine electrical procedure, I wired the cut-off switch red to red, black to black, and white and copper to ground. But of course, this is only routine in the main breaker panel, not is subsidiary ppanels and certainly not to one leg of a three-leg generator stator coil. The white cable from a three-leg 220 volt generator stator is just as hot as the black and red ones. So I shorted out my genny.

This would have been fine if I hadn't actually started the motor, but I did, and let it run for a couple of minutes while I tried to figure out why it was running so rough. Of course it was the shorted leg, not the motor, that was causing the rough running, and thus I burned up my generator. Once I realized what I'd done, I ran the usual diode, continuity and "megger" checks, and traced the fault to a burned rotor coil, causing leakage to ground. (I purchased a Chinese-made knock-off of a Hitachi type grinder megger to do these checks and was actually quite pleased with the unit when it showed up.) J ust slightly unwinding the rotor coil and testing further suggested that the leakage might be limited to the transition connections between the four subsidiary coils, and thus relatively easily fixed. I might yet go down this route, or even rewind the whole coil, but for now I'm trying to sell the motor by itself, as that represents my best chance of getting some value out of my investment of time and money. Lister-Petter diesels are needed for lots of different kinds of equipment needed by Maine businesses, including some cat tractors and many brands of rock screeners, so I do expect to sell it for a good price. I'll still double my money. Here's the motor with the genny disassembled:

A more successful project was the new wind turbine for our friends Brent and Erin. The turbine head used was a new Maine-made Pika, connected as a battery-charging turbine to Brent and Erin's existing off-grid solar electrical system, where it would make up for the relatively poor sunshine Maine gets in the winter.

This was a beta test install for Pika, and we're all interested in the results. I'm particularly interested in the reliability. Pika claims up to five years without maintenance, which I think is probably an industry best for small wind turbines if it pans out.

The college donated a used six-inch, forty meter NRG Systems anemometer tower to Brent and Erin in return for the right to visit the turbine and use it in training. Brent, Erin and I trimmed it to a 100-footer, Pika sent a crew to assemble the head to our tower, then we raised it successfully in one day.

This project was being planned at the college at the end of the semester, but because of various delays (on Pika's end, not ours) slopped over into our break, meaning that SEM students were not available to participate in the work.

This doesn't bother me too much because a) we have visiting rights and b) the tower will have to be lowered for maintenance in the future and students can help with that. There are a number of local turbines where we get called in to help, and we also have our small training tower on campus, so missing the original installation of this particular turbine was not such a big deal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Some stills from the past couple weeks...

... because we're still way too busy to post any writing!

Bloody-mouthed sheep? man-eaters?

Nope. Beet-eaters. Not to be confused with Beefeaters

Looking at the "baby in the bathroom" mirror. Roo loves this baby.

Makes me think she'll be very pleased the day she actually meets a real other baby for the first time.

Sleeping soundly in the kitchen rocker...

... gives daddy a chance to have a good solid breakfast!


The Land Rover with its new Canadian snowplow. This works well for moving snow and I'm pleased with it, although it's a little flimsy and doesn't like to be driven on regular roads. Even though it has a lift mechanism -- unlike some "personal" snow plows -- and a chain hitch designed to secure the plow for regular driving, the whole attachment sticks out too far in front, providing way too much leverage, and it bounces wildly if you hit a bump.

Showing the snowplow mounting. It's bolted to the front leaf-spring mounts and welded to the bottom of the front bumper.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

With a great roar...

... and a rather volcanic outburst of black smoke and soot and even solid fragments of carbon that had been lodged in the muffler, my massive Lister-Petter TS3 genset came to life Saturday. It took about half a bottle of starter fluid -- note to self, buy more starter fluid -- but after a short while the injectors bled through and were primed and then it ran just fine all on its own, putting out 117 volts at each pole of the three-wire connector.

Well within the tolerances to run this old house the next time we get a four-day power cut.

Here's the home movie I took of the second start-up. This one lacked some of the drama, but I wasn't going to be futzing around with a camera if it exploded during the first attempt.


All said and done, I was fairly pleased with this result. It's been a while since I got this deep into an engine project, and it was fun to dust off mt skills.

There remains a little work to do on the Lister. It clearly needs a new muffler, for which we'll adapt a cheap bit of car muffler from the parts store. There's the small matter of a new oil pressure switch to replace the one I managed to burn out while trying to sort out the electrics the other week. And I ordered a large external fuel tank, one that comes on wheels, so we can take just the tank and not the whole genset to the gas station to fill up. And it needs wiring and connectors to connect it to our power distribution panel the next time we get a big outage. 

I haven't decided where to put it yet, either. It really needs it's own permanent shed, some distance away from the main house in case of fire, but I may also just find a good solid secondhand trailer and fit it to that, after which it will be possible to move it to other places around here that may need power.

As the most recent power emergency showed, there just aren't enough generators in the county when the power goes out. Most of our public buildings were closed, and eleven public schools were completely dark, and even some of those that had standby-generators couldn't get them running, because some key experienced people had recently retired. If I fit this big genset to a trailer, it may one day be of some help at someone else's house or for some other useful purpose.

In other mechanical news, our big "new" Nissan four-door pick-em up truck needs a starter motor. At least, I think it does, and will have to change out the starter motor before I know for sure. It has the dreaded no-crank, no start condition on cold mornings, until I hit it with the 200 amp starter, then it goes just fine. The rest of the day, it takes one or more turns of the key. This beast has the same Nippon Denso starter that the Camry had, the one where the copper contacts wear out after a while, producing these kinds of symptoms. But a bad neutral safety switch will do pretty much the same. I ordered a reconditioned starter, and will soon find out which one of the two possible causes it is.

I'm just hoping the starter arrives before the next snowstorm, but it's not looking good.

As for baby Roo, things are pretty swell there most of the time. Aimee is still very sore from sleeping with her own personal parasite more or less firmly attached all night, but Roo is getting better and better at entertaining herself and us. She has begun to "talk", by which we mean coo repeatedly, having "conversations" with us. She also now likes her baby gym, and can entertain herself there for anything up to a half-hour.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some belated visuals

Here's another image of the big storm that knocked out power to about a quarter to a third of the state a few weeks ago. You can see why this particularly wet and sticky type of snow brought down so many trees.

Here's the Land Rover workhorse with the new snowplow safely attached and ready for the next big storm.

Here's the plow attachment. It was bolted right on to the two five-eighths frame-to-leaf spring bolts, one on each side, then welded directly to the bumper. Then we welded the adjustments on the hitch solid. The only way this is coming off is to cut it off with the welder or a gas torch, but the bumper can be ground back down to the original without too much damage. The bumper is slightly bent in any case, and already has the winch welded directly on, so it's not like I'm worried about maintaining that right-off-the assembly line kind of originality. Maybe one day I could afford to have that kind of Rover, but for right now, we need to get some work out of this one.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last work week before Turkey Day

The fall weather has finally begun to turn to winter. Almost all the leaves are gone, the only ones remaining being those of the beeches, and some apples, whose leaves were seemingly frozen in place by the cold snap that came with the power outage.

We've had another small snowstorm, which underscored all the snow-related items on my pre-winter honey-do list.

Unfortunately for that list, baby-holding and baby-sitting duties were preventing me from getting to a lot of it. Aimee can't look after the baby 24/7, so I need to take over for several hours each day. These duties usually come in stints of an hour or so at a time, except on the days when Aimee must teach, in which cases I have Roo for up to four hours.

In either case, I now understand how impossible it is to do the kind of household and mechanical maintenance I do while holding or otherwise tending a baby. I do love my baby daughter and like being with her, and have even gotten used to the screaming, but I need long periods of uninterrupted time to solve mechanical or household problems properly. It can take several hours just to make a diagnosis, let along fix something. If you have to stop every half-hour to check on baby, your train of thought is naturally broken. This time of year we get only seven to eight hours useful daylight, compounding the problem.

So it was with some frustration that I found myself out in my workshop yesterday at 5am assembling a snowplow. This unit, which is now attached to the Land Rover, is supposed to save me from the long hours I spend with my butt frozen to the hard metal seat of the tractor. Not only will it shift snow faster, I'll be able to work in the warm. Once it had arrived by freight truck Thursday, I was determined to have it ready as soon as possible, certainly for the next big storm.

I was able to get the assembly completed by 7.30 am, then I raced off the Belfast to get the hitch receiver I needed to mount it to the front of the Rover, returning by 8.30, by which time Aimee was getting up with Roo. But that was all the time I could reasonable expect to have without interruptions, and indeed Aimee was planning to leave Roo with me all day to go shopping, essentially eliminating all thought of further progress.

Some difficult marital discussion ensued. Aimee is pretty worn down by breast-feeding and by the uncomfortable sleeping position Roo forces on her. She'll sleep most of the night, for which we're grateful, but needs to be attached to Aimee for a good part of the time to do so, making her stiff and sore. Aimee was naturally looking forward to a bit of a break while shopping, leaving me with "the package."

But, with the tractor also in need of a fan belt, we didn't have any reliable way to plow snow, and a small storm is due even by Monday. The greenhouse needed to be sealed up for the winter, and the banking needed fastened around the house to stop the pipes from freezing. A host of other winterization tasks remained undone that I normally would have done by this time of year. I was fairly frustrated by all these undone tasks and could also see that stuff would start to break soon, if most of it wasn't done.

The upshot was, Aimee decided to take Roo with her shopping. I then stayed by myself and was able to concentrate and plan. I completed the mounting of the snowplow by noon, which went easily enough once I got over the fact that I'd have to cut into a brand new $140 hitch receiver with the cut-off saw and weld it directly to the Rover's front bumper.

Then I replaced the fan belt in the tractor. Fan belts are usually easy, but the radiator had to come out for this one, taking around an hour and twenty.

Then the greenhouse, then the banking around the house. Then the yard still needed some things to be picked up. By 2.30 pm when the girls returned, happy enough despite the unplanned outing for Roo,  I'd been on my feet for 9 hours, racing through all this as quickly as I could, with only a cup of coffee and a pecan roll at 4.30 am to succor me.

Poor puss.

But I was able to declare victory over the list.

The only things I haven't done which I wanted to do was to spray underseal on Aimee's new car, and winterize the auto lift. There's also some de-icer cable I wanted to fit to the kitchen roof, but it's way too late for that and has been for some weeks. The car will have to do without underseal for a year. It's a Toyota, and essentially new, so it ought not rust right away. The auto lift needs a coat of Fluid Film to keep freeze-thaw action from causing damage. I expect I can find a moment to slap some on there today, between stints of baby-care duty. And of course we still only have the 3kW generator available to use in a power outage, not my 18kW Lister Petter "sleek green beauty", which is rebuilt but needs a fuel tank and perhaps some new injectors to start. But at least we have one to use.

It can snow two feet tomorrow if it wants, and the power could be out for a week if it likes. We'll still be fine.

For today, Aimee needs to have a rest. I can take Roo on my Sunday rounds, to get gas and local milk and cream for the week, and to a buddy's house to look at a wind turbine for him, to help diagnose some layout problems with the tower. She usually sleeps through that kind of thing.

Hopefully there'll be a Steeler's game to watch too. Maybe Roo will even let us watch it.