Archive for August, 2011

Lucky Find

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

On a walk this afternoon with my neighbor and good friend, I happened to spot a chunk of rock that looked like copper. When I picked it up, it sure felt heavy enough, but something didn’t seem just right. When I got home I rinsed it off and it looked like granite to me, although I’ve never seen granite in that shape before. I stuck it in an old cottage cheese container with some vinegar and went about some other chores. When I came back later, this is what I found:

It is quite the prettiest piece of copper I’ve seen in some time, and it is big! There appears to be other neat minerals mixed in as well.

Today we harvested our 4 rows of potatoes. I started out by digging a spade’s depth on both sides of each row, and then Alice went ahead of me and pulled up the plants while I combed the dirt with my fingers. We made a very good potato digging team. As we found what our neighbor calls “gold” we tossed them onto a tarp we had in the center of the garden. We left them outside in the shade for most of the day, and bagged them up just before our “dock-sit” this afternoon. This time we even weighed them, and got about 95#. One of the best parts of the project for me was working through the soil with my fingers. We have worked and worked on this soil over the years, and it is beautiful soil. Occasionally I’ll encounter a lump of the clay that used to predominate this area, and it brings back memories.

The nights are getting cooler.  I’m bringing my headlamp along on our after-dinner walks, but haven’t needed it yet.  It won’t be long and we’ll have the stars as our companions on our evening hikes.  It has been a very nice summer, with plenty of sunny warm days, and lots more rain than I can remember for many years.

Firewood With Interruptions

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

This morning around 1:30 am, the pager went off for a fire call. It took a couple of hours to get it taken care of, and, as often is the case, it took me a while to fall back asleep . I’m fortunate to be able to sleep in, and didn’t get up until almost 10:00.

After breakfast I went out and finished sawing up the first trailerload of logs. I saw them to length, split them by hand if they are big enough, and then stack them. I finished the first load, and enjoyed seeing how much the pile had grown, but especially the wonderful smell of freshly split wood. Then Franco and I took the Scout and trailer into the woods to get another load.

I consider the first interruption the firecall in the middle of the night, which set me back this morning. The second one came as I was loading the forks with a load of logs. The pager went off again for another fire. I turned off the dozer, ran to the Scout and unhooked the empty trailer, told Franco to “hup!” into the back of the Scout, and drove toward home. I’ve seen pictures of people using their 4x4s to bounce across the fields, but never saw the fun of it myself. This wasn’t fun either, but bounce across the field we did. I pulled into the driveway at home, raced upstairs to grab my fire department radio, then threw my gear into the truck and headed for the fire. This one took less time, but was still an interruption.

Once I was back home, Franco and I went back out into the woods and finished loading up the forks. After I took this picture, I drove back to the trailer, and was just about to dump this load onto the trailer when the dozer ran out of fuel. Interruption number 3.

The old Ted might have had some words to say about this, but I felt surprisingly calm. I know tomorrow will be another day. So I quickly turned off the dozer (if I try to keep it running when the fuel is low like this, it becomes MUCH harder to start) and walked back home. I grabbed my 5 gallon fuel can and drove to the store, got some diesel, and drove home. Now the dozer has enough fuel for a lot of work, and I am not stressed. All in all a pretty good day.

Firewood

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Today I finally got the chainsaw out and started cutting, splitting, and stacking the firewood.   It seems like one thing after another conspired to keep me from doing it this year, but I’m finally in gear.  Yes I’m a bit tired, and yes I took several breaks when I got too warm out there.  But the piles did rise and I’m grateful for that.  I have a lot down in the woods, and have a pretty good system for getting it out of there.  All I have to do, unless something major happens, is keep at it for a couple of weeks, and I should be putting the last piece on the pile.

I racked the chokecherry wine this morning.  Since it was moved from the opaque plastic bucket that is my primary fermentor into a glass bottle, I got my first look at the color of it.  It took it a while to settle, and it will continue settling for some time now, but the color is beautiful, I’d say.  Alice called it burgundy, and being not quite as sharp with colors as some people, I’m taking her word for it.

Water Closet

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Disclaimer: This disclaimer is being written before the story was written, so what is being disclaimed may not in fact actually materialize in the story. You’ve been warned. Also, there could be words and phrases that talk about rooms in the house, and appliances in those rooms that are involved with human bodily functions. If you are potentially offended by such things, you should be prepared to avert your eyes as you read along.

When we first moved into this house, there was no plumbing or electricity, and we had very little money to spend. We were fortunate to have access to Alice’s Dad, who knew lots of people in the community, and helped us get some things we needed for little or no money. One such item was the bathroom toilet, which came from a friend of his, who took it out of a rental home he owned, because, as the story goes, it didn’t flush very well. We’ve had this toilet for over 30 years, and we can confirm that it doesn’t flush very well. My guess is we kept the toilet all these years because we thought if we would just be nice to it, it would eventually start flushing better. We gave it everything a toilet could ask for, but did not see any improvement.

If you live in the country as we do, you’ll understand there are always 10 projects looming for every one that there is any time for. Somehow over the decades, we just didn’t allow the anemic toilet to bubble to the top. That all changed last week when we had some company, and our guest asked us, after a fairly long visit to the bathroom, if there was some trick to get our toilet to flush. The crucial event happened after his comment. I penciled the word “toilet” onto my shopping list.

Now, once each week, usually on Monday mornings, I head to town and do the week’s errands. I am an errand running machine on these days. If it is on the list, I *will* give it some attention. I visited the local plumbing supply store, walked up to the desk, and engaged the clerk’s attention. I immediately realized I was about to have a discussion of a highly personal nature with this total stranger, and that I hadn’t prepared myself for it mentally.

“Hello, I’m interested in a new toilet,” I said. The guy kind of just looked at me. I was standing in a showroom that had probably 6 different toilets on display. I think he kind of expected me to ask about toilets, and that he needed more information before we could proceed.

“We need a toilet that flushes really well,” I said. He brightened up at this statement, because now he had something to go on. He suggested I divert my attention to the computer monitor in his desk, and he showed me this video. The toilet he liked the best for its flushability is the Gerber Viper. He said they’d installed hundreds of them in the community, and they’ve never had a complaint. I had to admit that whatever we might have to flush down that toilet would be child’s play compared to the bowl of fruit salad the video showed the Viper gobbling down. So I plunked down the money and loaded two substantial cardboard boxes onto the back of my truck.

Buying a toilet is the easiest part of the process. In order to get the old one out, I had to grind the boltheads off with my angle grinder. I did this with the full knowledge that once this process started, there was no turning back. A house without a functional toilet is not a home. After several minutes of grinding, wrenching, and lifting, I had the old toilet in my arms, and was proceeding to carry it downstairs and outside. It being impossible to get every drop of water out of the trap, I sloshed some dodgy looking water on the floor as I lumbered out of the house with it. I was grateful Alice was at work and not here to observe and offer helpful suggestions like, “YOU SPILLED SOME TOILET WATER ON MY FLOOR!”

Once the old one was out, I began to assemble the new one. I can tell you that in the 3 or 4 decades that have elapsed since our old toilet was produced, the technology has evolved. The Viper went together smoothly and I was soon at the point where I needed to install a layer of plumber’s putty to the bottom rim of the appliance. This seals the unit to the floor and helps avoid damaging condensation. I had some old putty in the garage, rolled out several putty snakes in my hands, applied them all around the bottom, stuck the wax seal onto the bottom, lifted, and walked toward the awaiting erect floor bolts.

Toilets are heavy and awkward, but I am a strong and determined guy. I got within a foot of setting the toilet down on its bolts when the putty fell off. I set the toilet back down, rolled some thicker snakes of putty between my palms, applied them with firmer handstrokes, and came up about 3″ short of making it around the bottom. I called my neighbors and learned no one had any to loan me. (Bear in mind the clock is ticking, and if the new toilet isn’t working when Alice arrives home from work, we may need to get a hotel room.) I rerolled the putty slightly thinner such that it made it around the bottom, spit on my palms, picked the thing up again, and it slid onto its bolts like the champion toilet that it is.

Once the toilet was bolted down to the floor, all that remained was to attach the water. I had neglected to purchase a replacement flexible pipe from the plumbing supply store, and the one I had would not reach. Tick tick tick went the clock.

Franco and I jumped into the truck and made a second trip to town in order to purchase the necessary part. I actually bought two of them in case the first one was too short. It slid into place perfectly, was tightened down in seconds. When I turned on the valve, the sweet hissing sound of water filling the bowl filled the bathroom. No leaks materialized. I punched the lever and the water whooshed out of the bowl like an active reptile. “So that’s where the name ‘Viper’ comes from,” I thought to myself.

I began the cleanup and had things pretty well back to normal about 10 minutes before Alice was due home. I’d told her I planned to shop for a new toilet, but hadn’t let her in on the fact I’d brought one home and would be installing it. I figured it would be best to let it be a surprise, and surprised she was.

Instead of wondering how many 5 gallon flushes will be required to carry away today’s load, we smile the smile of the world’s smug Viper owners when we push down the handle and stand back. WHOOSH! Smile.

Chokecherry

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Over the years, I’ve walked by the chokecherry trees on our property, grabbed a handful, swished them around in my mouth until I got down to the pit, and then spit them out, exactly as the plant wanted me to. I can’t say I’ve gone out of my way to harvest them. Let’s say it’s an acquired taste, and that they get their name honestly.

However, the primary fermentor is now free, and the tree by Franco’s kennel has been tantalizingly lush with fruit this year. So Alice and I each armed ourselves with a large coolwhip (mmmm coolwhip) container, and picked a batch. I decided to use the primary fermentor to make a gallon batch of chokecherry wine.

I guess one thing you could say about me that is also true about my son, is that we’re not afraid to try new things. But gosh, sometimes when you jump into a new area, the basic lessons can be learned the hard way. I’ve spilled lots of stuff all over the place when equipment I’m unfamiliar with reacts in unanticipated ways. Tonight’s adventure wasn’t too bad. I had to rack the raspberry wine tonight. Alice helped, and once the siphon fills with wine and starts rushing into the new secondary container, lots can go wrong. Tonight things went ok, though, and both batches are on their way. We won’t have any results to try with either of these for a year and a half or so. If I’m still blogging then, and I haven’t reported back, please call me to task!

Harvesting

Friday, August 19th, 2011

logging.jpgI’ve finally gotten out into the woods to start on the firewood project. I used 3 tanks of chainsaw gas yesterday, and two today. I have a lot of wood down and cut into 8′ lengths. I plan to spend Sunday out there as well. Alice returns to work Monday, and I don’t like to fell trees unless she is home and we have some sort of communication. Hopefully Monday I’ll be able to start hauling the logs home and start the cutting to length, splitting, and stacking. For some reason I’ve had other projects delay the firewood project this year, but now I feel pretty good about the start I’ve made.

onions.jpgWe’ve also begun the harvesting in the garden. All the garlic is in, bunched, and hanging to dry. The storage onions are also hanging. We have both hanging on the wood racks in the east entryway of the house, and it does smell good out there. They’ll stay out there for a month or so, when we’ll clip them from their stems, put them in mesh bags, and store them for the winter.

The cucumbers are doing well this year. We’re getting just about as many as we can eat plus a little bit. They are really good this year. Some years they get bitter, but we get used to it and keep using them until the frost gets them. We’re also getting lots of beans now. I say we, but it is really Alice that is doing the work. She’s been picking them every other day or so, and freezing them. They will taste so good this winter.

This afternoon after I came in from the woods, Alice and I rallied our spirits and picked a bunch of choke cherries. I found a recipe for choke cherry wine I’d like to try. We’ve had this nice tree for years, and besides a small amount of browsing on my part, we haven’t really done anything with them. It will take a couple of years before we know if it turns out or not. I had hoped to get the batch started tonight, but I lack one ingredient, which we hope to pick up tomorrow.

We also managed to fit in a nice dock-sit this afternoon. Franco enjoyed chasing his stick while we watched “Turdy” the turtle swimming around the dock. It was a beautiful with a nice breeze. We are seriously enjoying our dock again this summer.

Canoe on Otter Lake

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

It seems that at the beginning of every summer, we make a solemn pledge that this year, by golly, we’ll spend more time out in the water in our small boats. We are fortunate enough to live in a water wonderland, and so often we get tied up with projects and bam, the summer is over and we’ve barely wet the bottoms of our boats.

We do have a fleet. A Core Craft 17′ canoe I bought when I was a teenager. One winter it got crushed by the snow, and I almost landfilled it, but my mechanic suggested that fiberglassing isn’t that hard to do and that I should really try it. Try it I did, and resurrected it for many a wonderful trip. There are still broken places in the gunnels that I need to patch every few years.

Our second boat is a small aluminum Grumman dingy with a tiny outboard motor. We mostly use the oars with this boat, though. It is just right for Alice, Franco and me. We’ve taken this boat out on Lake Victoria; a manmade lake near Rockland. The place they put this lake is breathtaking, and we always enjoy going there.

Our third boat is a Klepper 2-person folding kayak. We have had this boat for several years now, but haven’t used it enough that it goes together quickly. They say it can be done in 15 minutes, but I’d say it takes me more like an hour to get it together. My goal when I bought this boat on eBay was to have a craft we could take along in our small aluminum truck camper, so we can enjoy the water when we do our travelling.

The last boat is a 16′ Mad River kevlar canoe. We’ve used this canoe in the Boundary Waters and the Silvania Wilderness. It weighs a tad over 40# and makes the portages as easy as they can be.

canoe.jpgLast Wednesday we set the alarm for 6:00 am and headed for the lake just a few miles from where we live. The canoe we used is the Mad River kevlar. We had heard the winds would be light that day, and Alice (bless her) helped push me into getting the steam up to just do this thing. We are a pretty well oiled machine when we get to the edge of the water. After so many years each knows the jobs they are responsible for. We were in the water and under way just as the sun was coming up. It was a glorious day and the paddle was fabulous. We essentially had the lake to ourselves until we saw one boat on our way back. Just as we were setting off, I noticed the sun peaking out from ahead of us, so I snapped this picture.

Next year, we’ll do some more on the water.

Blossom Rot

Monday, August 8th, 2011

A lot of work goes into a garden. The first fruits of our efforts this year were some tender sweet looking summer squashes. As they got to just about harvesting size, the end of the squash closest to the blossom turned black, and within a few days, disintegrated. A couple of others followed. No summer squashes have yet graced our dinner plates this summer.

Steve kindly looked it up for us, and determined we were suffering (well actually the plants were suffering) from blossom rot, which almost always points to a calcium deficiency. As we researched solutions to this problem, we found several contradictory ones. Add calcium to the soil. No wait! Test the pH of the soil first. Spray the foliage with a calcium solution. Spraying does absolutely no good. Calcium added to the soil takes 4-5 months to become available to the plants. Etc, etc.

I bought some calcium powder and some calcium spray solution in town today during our normal errands. I sprinkled some powder under the tomato and squash plants before I watered from the pond today. I also made up 1/2 gallon of spray solution and sprayed the leaves of the tomatoes and squash. We’ll see what happens. I do lime both gardens each spring, but I only put on 50# of lime total, so maybe that isn’t enough.

The raspberry wine is bubbling nicely. The SG was 1.041 tonight. When it gets to 1.03, I’ll siphon it from the primary fermentor to the secondary gallon glass jug. Then it needs to bubble away for a while. I need to rack the wine back and forth between glass jugs in an effort to discard the gunk on the bottom and clarify the wine. Once the SG gets just right, I’ll bottle it and wait a year for the results. The kitchen smells good… like rising bread.

Estivant Pines Story

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I spent most of yesterday working at the Estivant Pines replacing some boardwalk on the trails. I didn’t actually witness the events in the story, but did hear it from a reputable source shortly after it occurred.

Some background may be necessary. The Estivant Pines is the largest stand of virgin white pines in Michigan, and one of a handful in North America. The sanctuary is owned by the Michigan Nature Association. There are about 2 miles of hiking trails that are open to the public. The is overseen by part-time employees of the MNA, and the trails are maintained by volunteer stewards (Alice and I) and by volunteers we can muster for our projects.

The sanctuary is located a short way from Copper Harbor, Michigan, and is a popular tourist location. Access is via some narrow and rough logging roads, which end up in a rustic parking lot at the trailhead. The parking lot is surrounded by what we call second-growth trees, but no white pines.

Two of the three of us were up in the sanctuary working on the boardwalk project when the third arrived and was organizing his tools in preparation for hiking back to help us. A car pulled up in the spitting rain. A woman got out of the car and walked up to my friend and asked if this was where the pines were located. He answered yes, this is the place. She looked up at the trees in the parking lot, and asked a question that left him slack-jawed, “Is this pretty much all there is to see?”

“No,” he said, you need to do some hiking to see the big pines. (She was edging toward her car as one of the few raindrops hit her shoulder.) “At least take a look at the photographs in the kiosk so you can have some idea what is out there,” my friend suggested. She walked up to the kiosk, stood there for 15 seconds, and then strode briskly back to her car. Her travelling companion has not gotten out of the car at this point. The engine is still running. The lady walked to the car and they drove away!

A slideshow of yesterday’s work session is available HERE.