Archive for June, 2011

Barrette

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Sometimes the projects come so fast and furious that the good stories get untold. Or maybe if they ferment for a while, they come out better (or not.)

One belief I’ve long held is that suspenders are for old guys. I am 59, which doesn’t seem old to me, but I have to admit that when I was 16, I would have thought that 59 was really old.

Since I joined the fire department, I’ve been wearing a pager on my belt all the hours I’m awake. Combine that with my Leatherman, cell phone, and small camera, and I look like a grunt in the infantry. My pants suffer. As all mass does, my pants want to visit the center of the earth. This never used to be a problem when I was younger and had fewer do-dads on my belt. But it became a problem, so I bought some suspenders at Wal-mart some months back. I put them on over my t-shirt, and under my hooded sweatshirt. That way no one can peg me as an old guy. Each morning I’d adjust the plastic sliders to the optimum length for my frame. By evening when I took them off, the sliders had slid to their maximum length, allowing my pants to linger in the irritation zone.

While this was annoying, it wasn’t bad enough for me to do otherwise than to wonder if there wasn’t some cheap easy way I could pinch the two layers of suspender strap material together and thereby stay at the proper length all day. My first thought was one of those paper clips with the fold back handles. They would surely do the job, but they’s bulge out and probably cause real pain when I carried something against my body. Alice and I discussed putting a row of stitches across the material, which would solve the problem, but render the suspenders incapable of further adjustment.

I wasn’t looking in the mirror when I had my aha moment, so I can’t be sure if a lightbulb lit above my head. Barrettes. I’d buy a pair of cheap hair barrettes and clip them on the suspenders. Wal-mart came to my rescue again, and I can now safely say I visited an isle of that store that I’ve never visited before. I do get a kick out of the sideways glances I get from the nicely dressed females that I shared that space with. After some looking around, I bought a package of 8 barrettes that not only looked like they’d do the job, but set off my skin tone nicely.

The results? After a couple of weeks of use, my pants are no closer to the center of the earth than they were at the beginning. Success.

Patio

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Those of you that know me, understand that some projects I undertake can linger for a while. I’ll collect a bundle of materials for a project, and then trip over them for weeks before I get to them. Well, in this case, it hasn’t been weeks but years, lots of years.

It started out with a colleague from work probably 15 years ago. He needed some lumber for a trailer bed, which I happened to have, and he had some bricks that I wanted. So we arranged a swap. It took me two loads in our van to haul them all home. I neatly stacked them in front of the garage, where they have stayed ever since. I’ve used the horizontal surface the top of the brick pile provided for many things over the years. But I never quite got around to building the patio with them that I had intended to build… until this week.

The first step was to hire my strong young neighbor. I’ve learned over the years that this technique is the best way to insure I’ll keep going with a project. One of the impediments to this particular job is that it involved digging up the yard, and especially the area right in front of the door to the house we use multiple times each day. So once this project got started, it needed to be completed as soon as possible.

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This picture shows the step we’ve used to get into the house for about 15 years now. It also shows the gnarly piece of plywood I put down years ago in an attempt to keep the dirt out of the house.

My idea was to put draintile all around the inside of this patio, so no water would linger there. Where we live, the danger times for this is spring when the snow is mostly gone but the nights are still freezing. If water is hanging around then, it expands and causes all manner of bulges in formerly smooth surfaces. So our first day involved digging down beside the house until we found the 4″ plastic pipe that removes the runoff from our eaves. Once we found that, we cut a hole in it and inserted another piece of pipe that would lead to the patio. Then we dug a trench and placed 4″ pipe, elbows, and 45s until we had the pipe sitting just below where the patio was to go.

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Next we started digging in the area where the patio was to go. The sound you least like to hear is a thunk when you hit something hard, like a root. We had a lot of thunks, because we found a lot of roots. We had had a large tree taken down in this area a few years ago because it was leaning toward the house. The roots were dead, but were still hell bent on hanging onto the earth. We finally had to back the dozer up, hook the winch cable around the roots and pull them out that way. This picture shows some of the roots we had to dig out.

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Once we had things pretty well dug out around the perimeter of the patio, we installed some cedar 1x6s to make a frame for the patio. The thing was roughly 10′ x 10′, except for one truncated angle, which my artsy fartsy wife felt was needed (I eventually agreed with her.) With the frame in place, we were able to excavate to the rough depth.

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While digging was going on, I headed into town to pick up the gravel layer. I figured we’d need about a yard of gravel. I looked online, and learned that 1 yard of 1″ stone weighed about 2,700#, which is well within the acceptable range for my truck. So I drove into town and over to the cement/gravel plant in Hancock. I pulled onto the scale, walked inside, and told the clerk what I needed. He told me which pile to drive to, and radioed the loader driver. These loaders are big enough that one bucket load could just about bury my pickup. When he drove up, I told him I wanted about a yard. He scooped up a fraction of what his bucket could hold, and shook it onto the truck. When I drove back to the scale to pay for my purchase, the net weight of gravel was 3,700#! I’ve never had that much on this truck, but I have to say it didn’t seem to notice any hardship on the way home.

Once back home we shoveled gravel, set our tile, and shoveled more gravel. We used every scrap of gravel in that load, and it came out perfectly. Next I headed back into town and got some masonry sand for the next layer; a 2″ layer on which the bricks would sit. I told the operator I wanted about 3,000# this time. He again grabbed some material, dumped it into my truck and drove off. When I checked out this time, the weight was 2,920#. He missed it by just 80#.

That load was spread on top of the draintile and gravel. We fabricated a “screed” to more or less automatically give us the smooth depth we needed to have the brick sit level and at just the right height. We had everything screeded, tamped down, and ready to go. We did a check with the actual brick, and noticed the brick were sitting just a bit below the lip of the wooden forms. Doing some math, we decided to add an additional 1/4″ of sand to the inside of the forms. We were unfortunately out of sand, so I had to make another trip to town for some more. After a couple of more hours of messing around, we had the sand where we wanted it. Now came the fun part.

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We hauled the brick from the place they’ve been stacked for so long, and started putting them in place. After all the work it took us to get to this point (days and days) the actual laying of the brick only took a couple of hours.

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Except for the angle. For that part, I’d need to cut some brick, but that would come later.

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Once all the brick was in place, we took some leftover masonry sand and shoveled it onto the top of the bricks, and then used boards and trowels to coax the sand into the spaces between the bricks. This was a tedious and lengthy process. Once we got the whole thing mostly done, we got the garden hose out and watered it. This caused the sand to collapse into the cracks. We went through this procedure 3 times until we were sure that all the cracks had sand in them.

Once that part was done, I dismissed my helper, and ran into town to the tool rental place, where I picked up their brick saw. This baby has a diamond blade and is designed to rip through brick. I got it home and quickly made the necessary cuts in order to finish out the brick.

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Next I shoveled on some more clean sand onto this section of the patio, watered it, and patted it until the sand had settled in as best as possible. At this point, the patio was now one complete solid structure.

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I swept the whole thing off with my shop broom, and called the family over for a picture. In putting this patio up at the height we did, we were able to eliminate the step we’ve had there for so many years. The step consisted of 2 cement blocks and a 2×12 spruce plank. In its place, you now step off onto a lovely new patio.

Boing Splash

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Franco and I did our usual hike after supper with the backpack (I wore the backpack, he carried his stick.) When we got home, I got to work watering the gardens. I thought the greenhouse garden would be ok for another day, but when I looked at it, I decided to water it too. We got that one done and headed over to the outside garden and started on that one. I’m using my buckets and yoke which I’m slowly getting used to. My hands still want to grip the bucket handles and hold the weight up, so I have to make myself let go and let the yoke take the weight.

On the way across the yard for my second trip, something went boing splash. And my yoke system was in tatters. It seems that one of the S hooks I use to hold the bucket lost its grip on the rope, and bucket A crashed to the ground. Since bucket B had no counterbalance, it also crashed to the ground. I lost some but not all the water, so I retied the rope (this time with a better knot) and continued the watering.

turtle.jpgOn our way across the yard, I happened to notice a busy female turtle laying some eggs in the yard. She was there quite some time, and looked as though she wouldn’t or couldn’t move even if she had wanted to. Fortunately, Franco didn’t notice her, so didn’t “wet nose” her. I’ve seen evidence of turtles hatching over the years, but have never witnessed the actual event. It would be a fun thing to see.

Watering

Monday, June 13th, 2011

This morning we took the car to town and ran our weekly errands. Among the stops was a trip the the local feed store, where I bought two very nice buckets. I had wanted to get 5 gallon galvanized steel buckets, but this place only had the 18 quart heavy rubber ones. Rather than running all over town looking for the steel ones, I got those. These guys are made for watering horses and cows, and I’m sure could easily withstand any punishment a horse or cow could dish out. After we got home, other projects interfered all day, but by around 9:00 I was able to try out my new yoke/bucket system.

watering.jpgI’d like to report that two full buckets of pond water felt like two feather pillows on my shoulders, but I’d be lying. That much water is heavy no matter how efficient your carrying system. I do think I saved time and effort with the system, though. I figured out a way to bend over at the edge of the pond and scoop both buckets full, then stand up with the buckets suspended from the yoke. A short walk to the garden, and I detached the S hooks and watered the row, rehooked, and hiked back to the pond.

Lots of little potato plants are starting to peek through. The onions are looking good too. Some of the tomato plants in the greenhouse have white spots on their leaves that are of concern, but that is the way it goes sometimes. I’ll have to do some research in order to find out what they are lacking so I can get them looking healthy again.

Yoke Part Two

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I had a headache most of the day today. It seemed like everything I tried went kind of goofy, telling my that my judgement and/or cognitive abilities were just not up to snuff. I kept casting about for a project I could accomplish. I grubhoed in the garden for a while and actually finished cleaning up the corners of the greenhouse. I tried mowing the grass, and got less than one trip around before I got sidetracked. Then I remembered the yoke.

I rummaged around in my shop, and found a nice hunk of spruce that was just about thick enough for a prototype. Next I found a yoke being auctioned on eBay that I liked the look of, and printed out a picture of it. Using my neighbor’s yoke as a template for the thickness and length of the arms, I started sketching on the lumber. I measured the thickness of my neck with two squares, and from that came up with the proper size for the opening.

yoke2.jpgA lesson I learned from the classes I took at Wooden Boat School all those years ago helped with the next step. How do you decide what curve you went when you have to go from thin to thick? I used a simple tool called a batten, which is just a long thin piece of wood. I established the points on the board that defined the boundaries by installing screws, and then carefully bent the batten around the screws. I then traced the line the batten made with pencil, and I had it.

yoke3.jpgAbout 15 minutes of work on the band saw and I had the blank roughed out. Next I grabbed the belt sander to make the rough sanding, followed by the orbital sander. Once I had it pretty much the way I wanted it, I tied some rope into the notch on either end, tied on a couple of S hooks, and I was ready to try the thing out.

yoke4.jpgMy first attempt did not go well. The ropes were way too long. On the plus side, my load seemed much lighter than it should have been. On the minus side, that was because the buckets were sitting on the ground. I retied the ropes a couple of times until I was satisfied.

Once I had it right, I made a couple of laps around the yard with my buckets of pond water, while Alice snapped away with the camera.

Another plus… I got so interested in the project, that I forgot I had a headache.

Yoke

Friday, June 10th, 2011

water.jpgOne habit I’ve developed with the garden is watering as much as I can with pond water. This involves dipping and carrying two 5-gallon pails from the pond up to the garden numerous times each watering. The pump that services our house sits 75′ below the ground inside our well casing, and reliably pushes water up to our house, out the hose, and onto whatever plant I point the hose at. Yet I feel funny using all that technology to accomplish what I can do just as well, and powered by a few ounces of useless belly fat.

I’ve been doing it this way for years, and if you’ve ever done something relatively mindless and repetitious like this, you’ve probably had the, “there must be a better way to do this” thought too. I’ve heard about yokes and even seen some, but haven’t made the proper connection until the other day. “Say,” my brilliant mind conjectured; “I’ll bet I could use a yoke to carry this water, just like people have been doing for thousands of years.”

I looked around online, and found some shoulder yokes actually for sale. One catalog claims theirs is Amish made, and is made from poplar. What a claim to make! As far as I know, poplar has never been known as the wood of choice for heavy lifting. Oh yes, the cost for this yoke, complete with manila rope and hooks, is $174.

Next I contacted my neighbor, who is well-read, has an extensive library, and can put a finger on the book he is looking for faster than anyone in know of. He emailed me back to say he had a couple of books, but also had a real water carrying yoke that had come from his Mother-in-law’s barn. I hightailed it up there and looked it over. He allowed me to bring it home and experiment with it.

yoke.jpgThis thing is surely over 100 years old, and could be as much as 200 years old, so I promised I wouldn’t put any real weight on it. I did want to see if it fit my shoulders, so I whacked off a couple of pieces of binder twine and tied on a couple of empty buckets. It fit me great. This one has no shoulder notch like some I’ve researched. I think I’ll use it for a pattern for width, but I think I’ll add the notch to make it sit a bit more comfortably on my shoulders. I intended to get started making my own today, but my shop was a shambles from too many projects that need to be put away. So I cleaned up a bit, and hope to start on it again soon.

Monty Hall

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Have you ever had a night of dreams that just go around in circles? The other night I had one of those, and I woke up tired from it. And the issue I was circling was as unresolved in the morning as it had been the night before.

It had to do with a book I’m currently reading by Sam Harris called, “The Moral Landscape.” The following three paragraphs were taken from the book:

The same can be said, however, about our failures to reason effectively. Consider the Monty Hall Problem (based on the television game show “Let’s Make a Deal”). Imagine that you are a contestant on a game show and presented with three closed doors: behind one sits a new car; the other two conceal goats. Pick the correct door, and the car is yours.

The game proceeds this way. Assume that you have chosen Door #1. Your host then opens Door #2, revealing a goat. He now gives you a chance to switch your bet from Door #1 to the remaining Door #3. Should you switch? The correct answer is “yes.” But most people find this answer very perplexing, as it violates the common intuition that, with two unopened doors remaining, the odds must be 1 in 2 that the car will be behind either one of them. If you stick with your initial choice, however, your odds of winning are actually 1 in 3. If you switch, your odds increase to 2 in 3.

It would be fair to say that the Monty Hall problem leaves many of its victims “logically dumbfounded.” Even when people understand conceptually why they should switch doors, they can’t shake their initial intuition that each door represents a 1/2 chance of success. This reliable failure of human reasoning is just that… a failure of reasoning. It does not suggest that there is no correct answer to the Monty Hall problem.

Now Sam Harris is no slouch, so when he says when your’re confronted with the Monty Hall problem and if you switch doors, your odds of winning the car change from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3, I assumed he knew what he was talking about. That was the dilemma, because I clearly saw the odds of both remaining doors were 1 in 2. My mind went around and around all night, and in the morning, the odds were still 1 in 2. I had a Skype conversation with Steve the next day, and he agreed the odds were 1 in 2.

Later on that day, Steve Skyped me back, and said he’d looked the problem up in Wikipedia, and that he could explain it to me, which he proceeded to do. The scales fell from my eyes.

Perhaps you’ll have a poor night’s sleep as a result of reading the above. If you haven’t resolved it before you go to sleep, I’d recommend you read the Wiki article before you shut your eyes tonight, or you might be a little sleepy tomorrow.

Family Get Together

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

We had a very good reason to get together as a family this weekend. My parents recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. My brother Howard arranged a very nice dinner and accommodations at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Alice and I drove down on Sunday morning, caught the 1:30 ferry, and arrived just as the rest of the crew was finishing their lunch. Alice and I checked in to our B&B (the Grand is just too fancy for me) and then we all met on Main Street for a carriage tour ride. Both my Dad and I are former carriage tour drivers, so it was interesting to both of us to watch and hear how things have changed over the years.

arch.jpgWe stopped at Arch Rock and a fellow passenger took our picture on the overlook. After the tour we went our separate ways for a bit, and then got dressed up and headed over to the Grand for the celebration meal. It was pretty fancy. I had told the hotel coordinator I was a vegetarian, and there was a nice Polenta dish on the menu for me. It was all good. Then we headed back to Mom and Dad’s hotel room that came complete with a sitting room, where we hung out together until almost 11:00.

Alice and I were on the first boat to the mainland the next morning, and arrived home about 2:00 in the afternoon on Monday. It was a quick trip, but we were both glad we went.

The garden got a bit more attention today. I have the buckwheat sown in the fallow halves of both gardens now. In a week or two some shy green stems will start popping out, followed by a riot of green. When the buckwheat starts to flower, I plow it under and plant another crop. I usually get 3 crops of this green manure per season, followed by a crop of annual rye in the fall.

Tomorrow I hope to get the rest of the tomatoes planted and then we’ll see what else can be done. The first 12 tomato plants transplanted extremely well. Some green is showing already in both the sweet and storage onion beds.

Gardens and Deer Flies

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

I don’t know if this guy was very early, or if this was day 1 of the onslaught, but I killed my first Deer Fly today. He landed on my arm for a snack, and I reacted with the instincts of a pit viper. Anyone familiar with this particular pest knows you have to be fast indeed to kill one. I’m sitting at 100% so far this season. These guys can be so annoying on a walk that they often drive sane people to extraordinary measures. For example, last year I bought a small tennis racket that contains batteries. You carry it while walking, and when the Deer Flies buzz around and around and around, you swipe this thing through the air in what you hope is the trajectory the fly is following, and if one bungles into the racket; ZAP it gets fried. By nature I am a tender heart, but that zap is one of the most satisfying sounds in nature.

lupine.jpgThe lupines started blooming yesterday. I like these flowers at this stage, when they have mature flowers and gradually less mature ones on up the stem. Whenever I first see them in the spring, I’m reminded of the Monty Python sketch called “Dennis Moore,” where our hero, Mr. Moore, steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but all he ever steals is lupines. The poor have to try to make do with burning them for heat, eating them, and wearing them for clothes, because that is all Mr. Moore ever gives them.

garden.jpgSome progress has been made in the garden. We’ve completed planting our outside garden with 3 rows of storage onions and 4 rows of potatoes. We started in the greenhouse garden, and have gotten the sweet onions (mmmmm sweet onions) and 12 tomato plants in. This year we’ve spaced the tomato plants out a bit. Last year they were way too close together, and we had to use a machete to hack our way in to harvest any tomatoes. (not really) They look so small and vulnerable out there, but give them a few weeks of 18 hour sunshine and water, and they’ll be peaking above the tomato cages soon. We just ran out of dried tomatoes for our salads, so we’re going to be wanting some real tomatoes soon.

Dry

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Today was sunny and not as windy. Around 9:00 I decided to go for the greenhouse cover. We usually do this chore together, because the wind can come up when the project is at a crucial point, causing the entire sheet of plastic (24′ x 120′) to take off like a sail. Alice had to work today, though, so Franco and I decided to go it alone.

It was calm until we got started, and then little wisps of ripples began on the pond. Shoot. I kept going. The first step is to get the whole thing unrolled next to the greenhouse frame. The plastic cover is not that heavy, but too bulky to carry without help. I had staged it near the greenhouse earlier this spring, though, so with some effort I managed to drag it into position and start unrolling it.

Once unrolled, I take one end of the plastic sheet and try to drag it over the framework. This takes some doing because the ribs are probably 8′ above the ground at their highest point. Tall guys like me do bump their heads more often then the shorties, but we do have the advantage when we have to drag a massive sheet of plastic over steel pipes.

A lot of walking back and forth; tugging here, pulling there, unfolding, and finally the sheet was sitting on its framework. The plastic is discolored where it has touched the ribs from previous years, so it was easy to find roughly where it needed to go. Then I quickly attached the sheet on both ends.

In order to attach the sheet to the lengthwise sections of the framework, I need to lay down in the dirt, mud, brambles, or whatever happens to be on the ground, grab the end of the plastic sheet with one hand, insert one end of the 10′ section of SureLock ™ into its channel, balance the other end of the SureLock ™ with my foot, and pound the thing in with the rubber mallet I drag around on the ground with me. The moment both hands and one foot are busy, word gets around with the lady mosquitoes in the neighborhood that fresh indefensible blood is available. As they are feeding joyfully, Franco decides it is time to lay his slimy stick on my chest, hoping I’ll throw it for him.

Crawl, lay down, line up, pound pound, slap slap, throw, crawl some more. The greenhouse is 16′ x 96′, and once each spring, I crawl the length of both sides of it on my butt. The result of about an hour of this activity follows:

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Once that was done, it was time to broadcast 50# of granulated lime on the gardens, and to fertilize the buckwheat halves of both gardens with triple 12. I call it triple 12, but this year, all I could find was 12-0-12. It seems we’re using our brains as a people and attempting to keep excess phosphorous out of our waterways. I’m willing to take a fertility hit in the garden in exchange for fewer algae blooms in our waterways.

Next I started the big rototiller and worked up both gardens. They look great this year… like chocolate cake mix. The next steps will be to plant the buckwheat in half of each garden and keep that watered until it is tall and green. This crop of green manure is plowed in 3 times this season, and then sown with annual rye for the winter. Then next season, I’ll use that section for the garden, and plant buckwheat in the other half. We’ve been doing this green manure thing in half the garden space for 10 years or so now, and each year I think we see improvements.

After that, we can plant. I hope to have everything planted by this weekend. Then, as all you gardeners out there know already, all we have to do is sit back and wait for the food to fall into our hands. Ha!

In other big news today, Ryan and I got the Scout running! The problem turned out to be a bad coil. Interestingly, we replaced the coil early in the diagnosis part of the project, but must have gotten a defective one. I grabbed a coil from one of the junk Scouts I keep around, and once installed it started right up. I drove it to the woods with a trailer load of sawmill slabs, emptied it, and drove it back home. It is good to have my farm vehicle back.