Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making omelets

We like cheesy omelets for breakfast. And we like being given the bowl of eggs to whisk, so we can help make omelets.

But we can't say "omelet" yet.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sled head


Our kid loves to sled, it turns out. As long as she doesn't fall in the cold, cold snow, in which case she cries like a, well, like a baby. The solution is for mommy or daddy to pull her along on the easy ground. No falling, no screaming, no worries. Fun for all the family.

Of course, there wasn't any easy ground earlier in the day, what with a good eight or nine inches drifting up in the dooryard.

The landy needs a starter solenoid, and so needs to be jumped constantly if it's cold. Luckily, she's not prone to stalling out. The solenoid is ordered, from the yUKe, but it must be on the slow boat. Maybe sailings are off for the winter.

Once started, she does as good a job as ever. So much nicer being able to sit in the warm cab than on the back of the cold tractor. We still need the tractor for a couple hard-to-reach spots, like just in front of the garage and in front of the barn, but ninety percent of the work can now be done with the Land Rover plow.

Happy man.

And then there were lots of places to pull a sled without depositing our darling daughter in the snow.

Friday, January 1, 2016

There and back again

We're just back home from an eight day trip to Virginia to see the in-laws. It was almost a nine day trip, thanks to American Airlines, but that's another story, the only hero of which is the Washington DC National Airport authority, who thought to provide a small sanctuary for parents of screaming babies in the form of a privacy room for nursing mothers, wherein we all took a nap and retreated from the madding holiday airport crowd. There was also an heroic American Airlines clerk called Sterling that finally ended our limbo by overriding a glitchy computer system -- after two other clerks had failed.

We were in the DC airport from eleven am through nine pm. By my count there were six departure delays involved, caused by one broken plane and one late plane, plus the aforementioned computer glitch. We even climbed onto the bus to go to the plane once, to be turfed off again.

We'd like to say we're not flying this FUBAR airline anymore, but it is the only one that goes from Bangor to DC.

I told Aimee that the whole episode was a deliberate plot on her part to get me to stay up and see in the New Year for once! I'm usually in bed by nine pm, even on New Year's Eve. When you live in a different time zone, on a different continent than the one where you were born and raised, it's hard to draw a line where one solar year ends and another begins.

The purpose of the visit was of course for the kid to see her uncles and aunts and grandparents. This was duly achieved, as were a number of home improvement projects. So I shouldn't, and won't, complain. But I'm quietly ecstatic to be home. It was the best of luxury after our poor tired cranky kid was finally put to bed, past midnight on New Year's Eve, and after a nice shower in my own bathroom, to sleep in my own bed. Today I got up and did my own chores in my own dooryard, and was a very happy man. I don't know what is such fun about feeding sheep and moving snow and firewood, but to me, it's infinitely preferable to traveling.

I also had a number of car and truck repairs to begin this morning, the partial result of a comedy of errors that took place the night we left. I had loaded our ancient Camry with all the luggage, but once wife and baby were also duly loaded, the headlights wouldn't come on, even after changing the fuse We switched the luggage to the Matrix and took that to the airport, but not before backing the Camry into the pick-up and smashing the bumper cover. Not a great way to start a trip. Additionally, I'd managed to back the truck into a tree at the daycare place, smashing a lamp unit, which was ordered and arrived while we were away. Then there's the small matter of our "new" but slightly broken Honda Insight hybrid, but that interesting wee beastie can wait for a post all of its own.

For today, after feeding sheep and moving the snow that had fallen while we were away and digging out the firewood pile so we could switch off the oil furnace (we don't allow our house-sitter to run the wood stove, for fire safety reasons), I switched out the lamp unit on the truck and got that vehicle working legally again. The Camry, whose engine had been running all this time to warm up the icy snow that was attached to it, had meanwhile somehow fixed its own headlights. Go figure, but they now work. I'm going to check the wiring diagram to see if there's a headlight relay and switch that out for a new unit, if there is one. That's the best explanation, other than a faulty switch unit. But I was happy to have this vehicle serviceable again too.

Tonight, we will celebrate with family homemade pizza night.

There now follows an interlude of a couple weeks before the semester in which my attendance at work is not strictly required, but after the New Year's weekend is over I'm going to go in anyway, just for the pleasure of it. Several colleagues and I have a new building to move into, for research and teaching, essentially a purpose-built sustainable energy demonstration laboratory, and am greatly looking forward to moving in, as well as rationalizing, repairing, and sorting all my teaching demonstrators and research and other equipment before the new semester.

I have high hopes for this new building. Essentially I want to make it the cool, go-to-place for sustainable energy information in Maine and even New England, and am very excited about the prospects.

There'll be more, much more, on this new era in my professional life later, here and on my teaching and research blog.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

But they're giving me gas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nearly there

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

This is tricky work. Gotta concentrate.

A little quality time.

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

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

Rolling down the back side!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The hairy eyeball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grey November days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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