Archive for December, 2010

Last Newsletter

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

working.jpgAfter 5 years as newsletter editor for FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw) I completed my last newsletter this weekend. I got things mostly written and through the world’s toughest proofreader (Alice) on Friday, and sent the draft out to my fellow board members Saturday morning. After incorporating their suggestions, I started printing today (Sunday.) Printing can be anywhere on a scale from relatively painless to painful indeed, all depending on the mood of my printer.

It is a salvaged HP 4SI MX. I’m guessing it is over 20 years old, and was retired probably 10 years ago. I bought it along with a couple of others for parts, and have been using it to print all the FOLK newsletters, in addition to the Estivant Pines brochures, our Christmas letters, and many other projects. Like so much technology, when it works, it works like a charm. You tell it to print 270 double sided newsletters and go away for a while. When you come back, they are neatly piled in the output tray perfectly printed. When it doesn’t, you feed each and every page in to the manual feeder. It is enough to make a grown man cry.

lastone.jpgToday I didn’t have a single jam. What a nice way to finish 5 years of printing. After everything is printed, Alice and I sit at the table and fold, stuff, tab, and put the letter in a USPS tray. In this picture I am holding the last newsletter in my hand! After they’re all folded and put in the tray, they are counted, and the 499 zips are separated to make things easier for the folks at the post office. Then I have to go online and fill out a form that tells the post office how many pieces there are and what the cost will be. Tomorrow I’ll drop the package off and pay the mailing fee, and that will be the end of it.

The plan was for my mechanic to come over today to finish work on the Scout, but he got called away on an emergency, so we’ll have to wait a while. I’d *really* like to get the plow on the Scout. I keep telling myself that scooping the driveways is good exercise and good for the soul, but it rings hollow. I’d rather hit those snowbanks at about 20 mph with the Scout and watch the snow squirt out in all directions.

It’s been cold and snowy here all day. We’ve had fires going in most of the stoves, and the house is cozy as a result. We also started out day with a power outage that lasted a couple of hours. Once again, we high fived each other for the way we have things organized around here. We can cook and heat just fine with or without electricity. Things are definitely better with juice, but we can get along just fine without it. Kind of comforting to know.

Oh Fudge

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Today was the official opening of the holiday season at the homestead. Starting way back in grad school (1980!) we made fudge for christmas gifts. In grad school about all the money we had was to give a piece of fudge to our friends and colleagues. Since then our affluence has increased, and the fudge recipe has persisted. The hardest part of the whole thing is the stirring.

fudge.jpgThe first set of ingredients go into a large pot, and it is put on the wood stove. It is tempting to put the pot on the electric burner and crank it up to get the job overwith, but I’ve found it is better to take your time and let it warm up to the boiling point a bit more slowly. Plus, the people that get this treat as a christmas gift do so in the knowledge that no fossil fuels went into the cooking.

I stir it constantly as it is getting up to the boiling point. Once reached, and it looks like a primeval lava field except the wrong color, I have to stir and time it for 5 more minutes. Then the walnuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract are added, with help from my willing assistant. This is blended and quickly poured into buttered glass cake pans, where it cools until it can be sliced.

I wonder if there is anything that tastes as good as warm fudge does? I’ve tried to think of something, but can’t come up with anything right off the bat. Then there is just above room temperature fudge, room temperature fudge, and cold fudge. They all taste pretty darn good when you get right down to it.

This first batch goes to friends and colleagues. I’ll make one more batch soon for family. Of course, it needs to be continually sampled to insure constant quality control. Happy Holidays!

Hot Fire

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

We had the coldest night of the winter last night, so after I got up and got Alice off for work this morning, I got both fires going pretty well. I’ve learned over the years what to look for with the kitchen stove to know when the ashes need to be dumped, and saw the telltale signs as I was building the fire this morning. After both fires were going well, I assembled my gear and worked on the ashes. The kitchen stove is easy… it comes with an ash pan that I pull out and carry out to the hillside where I dump it. The Jotul stove has an ash pan too, but it is designed to be almost impossible to carry. So the ashes have to be carried outside in the pan, dumped in a metal bucket, brought back inside, refilled with ashes a couple of times until all the ashes are gone and nothing but coals and wood are left.

As I was doing this job on the Jotul, the door was open quite a bit, and the fire got really hot. When I got back inside from dumping the ashes, I was pretty cold, so I added some more wood in the stove. Unbeknownst to me, the temperature outside was going up. The first clue I had was Franco had his tongue out. “That’s odd,” I thought to myself as I walked to the window where the outside thermometer was located. The temperature was 25 degrees. My fires were set for a much colder temperature, and thus began the dance of cutting off the air, letting them burn down but not out, and gradually cooling the house down. I think I have it about right now.

Coldest Day of This Winter

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

I just came in from our after supper walk, and marched right over to the thermometer. The stars were really shining tonight, and the skin on my cheeks felt the cold. It was two above zero, and looks like there is no cloud cover to keep if from getting colder. After I got my winter gear off, I stoked the stoves and opened up the air to let them roar a while. It is a comforting sound when you come in from really cold weather.

Today was mostly inside. I did laundry all day. The new washing machine takes longer to do a load than the old one did, but the clothes come out markedly cleaner looking. In between loads, I interviewed my friends for an article in the upcoming FOLK newsletter. This one is about a PV solar installation they are adding to their house. I’ve learned a lot by talking to them, and hope my readers will too. The article is in draft form right now, and should be incorporated into the December newsletter soon. This will be my last newsletter for FOLK. Back at a meeting this summer I announced I was stepping down as newsletter editor. We’ll see where the newsletter goes from here. I’ll continue to serve as treasurer and maintain the website. You can look at the website HERE, and can read most of the back issues of my newsletters HERE.

Odometer

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

It was time to change the oil on the truck the other day, and when I finished, I had to write the mileage down in the book where I keep track of it. I noticed the mileage was over 111,000. This is my NEW truck. At least it seemed new. I did the math after that, and yes, an ’02 is 8 going on 9 years old. I decided to call the Ford garage in Houghton and schedule it for a checkup. I’ve been reluctant to do this for some time now, because without the truck I am home without a vehicle, and therefore unable to respond if I get a fire or first responder call. With Steve being out of town and his car being stored here, I can use the VW for a run in a pinch, so this seemed like the perfect time. I dropped it off this afternoon toward the end of the day, and arranged with Alice to pick me up on her way home from work. Then we talked ourselves into stopping at the Feed Mill in Tapiola for dinner. We enjoyed the meal, and the owner and chef came out and we had a nice chat as we were finishing up.

We drove home and then I headed back to Tapiola for the monthly meeting of the fire department. It was a good turnout and we had a good meeting. Each meeting we go over the fire and first responder calls for the month. I’m pretty sure I turned out for every one of them this time, which I take some pride in.

My truck will get looked at tomorrow morning, and I expect a call from the garage to learn what they think will need to be done on it. I’m not sure what to expect, but I think I’ll probably pay it. This sure has been a good truck so far, and I hope to keep it going for another several hundred thousand miles.

Outside

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

I was lucky enough to have several errands outside today. It was cold enough outside, and cozy enough inside that I probably wouldn’t have roused my sorry butt out of the house if I hadn’t had to.

First of all, the wood rack in the entryway was empty. I have two racks, one in the entryway and the other in the sauna dressing room. I try to keep the sauna dressing room one full as a backup in case I can’t get outside for a while. Not only was the entryway one empty, but I’d been dipping into the other one… it was clearly time to act. I carried wood for about half an hour, and really felt the glow in my cheeks.

Then I headed out to the woods and made two more bundles of fir. I now have 4 to deliver tomorrow morning. I was getting cold hands and feet by the end, so was grateful when I could load up my two bundles in the wheel barrow and head home. I have to wheel them out now, because there is enough snow I don’t want to chance taking the truck back there. Wheel barrowing even a light load like fir boughs is challenging in the winter. You can easily jam the wheel guard into something sticking up and come to an abrupt halt. I’ve found it works better to pull the wheel barrow behind me this time of year, at least until I get to the road, where the terrain is more predictable.

When I came in I made myself a mug of hot chocolate. Nothing seems to shake the chill out of my bones like hot chocolate, and I rarely drink it unless I’m cold.

I got outside one more time after supper when Franco and I did our mile hike. It snowed hard for our walk, and I enjoyed watching the snowflakes in the headlamp light again. Franco was busy with his nose and especially his stick like usual.

Cold Morning

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

It got cold last night, but I had both the kitchen stove and the big Jotul stove going, so we were toasty. The added advantage with the Jotul is I almost always have nice coals in it that I can use to get the kitchen stove going in the morning.

After breakfast I did a few chores, and then headed out to the woods to work on some more fir boughs. I heard from the wreath people that 3 or 4 more bundles would be good, so I got two done today, hopefully two more tomorrow, and then I can bring them in Monday morning on my way to do the weekly errands. I also hope to gather some Scotch Pine for them to experiment with. We planted many hundreds of Scotch Pine seedlings about 20 years ago. The plan was to put Steve through college with the proceeds from selling the christmas trees we would get from these plants. Sell some we did, but as often happens with such things, the marketing end of it was much more complicated than we had time for. So most of the trees got big. Now I’m hoping I could start harvesting them and selling the boughs if they have any value.

Steve and John left for Chicago the other day, and I had asked them to help me move the Scout into the garage where it will be handier to work on it. They agreed, but we unfortunately waited until they had to leave. We tried our hardest, but we couldn’t line the bucket up with the Scout bumper well enough to push it into the garage. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself because I can’t drive the dozer and the Scout at the same time. After we failed so miserably, I thought about it for a couple of days, and came up with a solution I thought I might be able to pull off by myself.

scout.jpgI hooked a long chain to both front spring shackles. Then I drove the dozer out in front of the Scout and tilted to bucket to expose the big hook welded onto the middle of the bucket. I looped the chain over the hook and climbed back into the seat of the dozer. Then I engaged the lift valve on the bucket, and lifted the Scout off it front tires. Since I no longer had to steer the Scout, I just maneuvered it into the garage as pretty as you please. It took all of 5 minutes except for one mishap.

hangingscout.jpgAs I was setting things up, the engine started to sputter. I checked the fuel tank and I was almost out of diesel. It is a bad thing when this engine runs out of fuel because of the long fuel lines. It is hard to restart when it runs completely out. Fortunately I had about a gallon of fuel in the garage, so I jumped off the dozer, ran into the garage, found the container, and got it into the tank before the engine died. That little extra fuel got me through the project.

I’m hoping this next attempt at repairing the Scout works. I surely do miss having my farm vehicle, and would like to get the plow on it too.

Grand Canyon Pictures

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I’m spending some time here and there writing up our adventures from last October’s Grand Canyon hike. I decided to grab about 20 of the 200 odd pictures we took and make a slideshow out of them for your viewing pleasure. You can look at it by clicking HERE.

Franco Sings

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The Soldan family stealth-cam recently caught Steve and Franco rehearsing for their New Year’s debut of their duet. Find out all about it by clicking HERE.