Archive for October, 2012

Failure

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

The forward to David Pye’s book, “The Nature and Art of Workmanship*” starts out thus:

“The phrase “workmanship of risk” means that at any moment whether through inattention, or inexperience, or accident, the workman is liable to ruin the job. It is in opposition to the “workmanship of certainty,” in which the quality of the result is predetermined and beyond the control of the operative.”

Over the weekend, I suffered the ruin of a job that surprised me. As I’ve written earlier, this was a poor apple year for us, and it took me a big chunk of a day to gather enough for the 6 gallons of cider I needed to make some cider wine. Once gathered, washed, and pressed, I added the necessary ingredients to the juice, let it sit the requisite 24 hours, added wine-maker’s yeast, and stood back to await the bubbles. They never came.

I have no idea what might have gone wrong with this batch. I sniffed the escaping gasses from the jugs many times each day and convinced myself that the magic was happening. By Monday morning, I threw in the towel, and added more campden tablets to kill off whatever yeast had drifted into the mixture, and intended to get some fresh yeast and try again. As I thought about it, I decided not to risk it, and dumped the whole thing down the drain. Having a sugary liquid sitting at room temperature for several days made me a bit nervous about what might have begun to grow in there, so I threw in the towel.

Hopefully the lesson was learned, and I’ll be more careful in the future with my yeast. Having this failure under my belt will make me a better vintner, I hope. David Pye’s statement about risk rang true to me as a result of this disappointment. It made me realize that I could spend all my time doing things I know exactly how to do, or I can try new things. My personality tends towards the later, so I guess I’d better learn how to accept some bad results now and then.

*The Nature and Art of Workmanship,” David Pye, Cambridge University Press, 1968

In Style

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Those of you who know me well will find what I’m about to explain unsurprising. I am not a stylish person. I make no effort to present myself in the latest style. I rarely make a fashion statement. I don’t go out of my way to be out of style either (this would involve understanding what the current style is, which I don’t.) This aspect of my personality has led to some interesting interactions.

One of my favorites involves my beautiful sister, who has a very good sense of style, and seems to me to represent what is in style the way most other women wish they could. Years ago my sister and her husband were visiting the homestead for a few days. We were outside walking around when she said to me, “I like your pants.” I almost never hear those words. I looked down at my blue jeans, both of whose knees were ripped out, in addition to some tears near the pocket. As I struggled in the quicksand, I grabbed for some branch of sanity, and dimly came to remember an NPR story I’d recently heard about ripped jeans currently being in style, and the clever way manufacturers had of making them appear so.

My sister’s quick eye probably told her the difference between my legitimately work-worn jeans, and the fakes in the store, and she couldn’t help but compliment me for my unintentional lapse into stylishness.

Some time ago, I was trolling eBay for a pair of Dahon folding bikes that I hoped we could use post retirement when we traveled. I did eventually find 2, fixed them up, and used them a few times. Alice calls them our “circus clown” bikes. At 6’2″ and about 200#, I do look a bit out of place on this bike, but carrying my weight is exactly what this bike is designed to do.

About a month ago, I attended a two day EMS conference at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. To save the department a few bucks, I took the motorhome and camped at the city campground about 1 1/2 miles from the conference center. I folded up the Dahon and brought it along planning to use it as my commute vehicle while at the conference. One of the evenings, I rode my bike to a restaurant I like, and chained my bike to a sign while I was inside eating. When I came out after my meal, there were literally 5 young people standing around my bike and talking to each other. I was back in style! I approached and asked them if they had any questions about the bike, and they were too bashful to ask, but I rode away from that place with a smile on my face. Later on the next day, I was peddling back to the campground when a guy on a skateboard went by me and shouted, “Nice Bike!”

Modern Dahon’s look almost nothing like the ones we have, which is probably part of the notoriety the bike achieved. Whatever the reason, for about the second time in my life, I was temporarily back in style.

Cider and Wine

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Sometimes you can’t be too choosy. This was not a great apple year for the wild apple “orchard” on our property. The few summer apples fell off the trees much earlier than seemed reasonable this year. The winter apples hung in there well enough that I was able to pick what seemed like enough to get the 6 gallons of cider I needed for the wine project I had planned.

Yesterday was the day I’d set aside to press the cider. This job is one of my favorite on the farm. The press we own comes from a kit I bought when I was early in my undergraduate career in the 1970s. I built the thing by taking a night course in woodshop in the old Houghton High School building. The older guy running the class (probably in his 60s!) worked with me very well, and the resulting cider press has served us these many decades. I got the press down from the attic of the garage using a pulley and cleats I’ve developed over the years. Once on the ground, I placed it on my two-wheel cart, and moved it over to the front porch area of the house, where I assembled the equipment I’d need to press the apples.

There are a couple of ways to go about this job. With a helper, I can just concentrate on turning the crank on the grinder, and holding my hand over the hopper so apples don’t leap out and onto the ground. My helper dips the apples out of the water-filled yellow wheelbarrow and tosses them into the hopper as the load goes down. This method gets a lot of apples ground up in a short time.

I prefer yesterday’s method, if I have the luxury. The amount of apples was pretty small, and my reliable helper was at work, so yesterday’s solo operation was the only option. I say solo, but Franco stuck with me all the while, bringing me a stick to throw for him at regular intervals. I would dip my hands into the wheelbarrow and grab a handful of apples. I’d plunge them under water, and examine them for any attached leaves, grass, or other grunge, which I’d remove. Then I’d move them into the hopper until it was full, at which time I’d turn the crank on the grinder until all the apples were ground up, and the pulp had fallen into the oak slat barrel below.

Once the barrel was full, I’d shake things down a bit and even off the pile, then put the plug on top of the apple mash, and run the screw down until it meshed with the dimple on the plug. Then it was turn turn turn and watch the lovely clear stream of cider trickle, then gush, out of the hole and into the bowl below. When the bowl got full I’d replace it with a spare, and empty the full bowl into the carboy I had standing by on the porch.

I got 4 full barrels of apple mash this year, which netted me about 7 gallons of lovely cider. Even though the apples were some of the rattiest I’d seen in a long time, the cider was delicious. I don’t know of a better taste than a cold cup of newly pressed cider that was generated by my own efforts.

The cider sat in the carboys overnight. In the morning, I followed the recipe for the cider wine I’ve made on several other occasions. The first day everything is added to the cider including 2 campden tablets per gallon of cider. These kill off any yeast that might have hitched a ride on the apples. Tomorrow morning, I’ll add the purchased wine yeast to the yeast-free cider, and watch the fermentation commence. It will start slow, but once the yeast gets going on that sweet cider, the bubbles will really fly. In no time at all, I’ll be hustling around for every wine bottle I can find so I can fill, cork, and start the two-year mellowing process in our wine cellar. I’m not much of a wine drinker myself, but I have learned to sip the finished product, and am slowly learning to tell whether the batch was a good one or not. I’ve found that the same recipe can yield a vastly different product, and that the finished product is always satisfying to behold and sample.

Apples and Garlic

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

This morning after our weekly homemade pancake breakfast, we gathered our tools and planted next year’s garlic. We did 4 rows this year right among the annual rye that was seeded a month ago or so. The annual rye will be dead come spring, and we’ll till it under for organic manure for the garden. I split some tiny cedar strips which get inserted next to every other planted clove. That way I’ll know what to avoid when I till next spring.

In the afternoon I outfitted the wheelbarrow and headed out on a scouting mission to locate some leftover apples. The season has been over long ago, and it was obvious which trees had apples this year from all the pounded down turf under the trees. There were a half dozen trees with some apples hanging on. I started out using our tree picker, which is a wire cage with fingers on a long pole that I can reach up with and coax the apples into the basket. It is very slow. Towards the end, I just shook the trees and picked up what fell to the ground. I got about a wheelbarrow and a half, which I hope will net us about 6 gallons of cider. I hope to make wine and applejack again this year.

I walk by the completed woodpile several times each day. Sometimes I give it a pat, and other times, I take a deep breath with my face right up against the freshly split chunks. It is a fine smell that fills my lungs.

Done!

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Good news to share on the home front. Tonight I put the last piece of firewood on the racks for 2012. The firewood project is done. I drove the Scout and trailer out to the woods this morning, and Franco and I spent several hours in the mud loading the trailer with what turned out to be the last load. Then we drove back home to commence cutting, only to learn we’d forgotten the chainsaw in the woods. No problem. We walked back out there, retrieved the saw, and headed back. After a bit of lunch and a short nap, we were back at it again.

This batch had quite a bit of smaller stuff which means there is less splitting. The 7th pile grew and was completed, and then the 8th and final pile was started. Alice came home from work just as I was processing the last logs on the trailer. She stacked while I cut and split. When it came to the last one, she took over the camera duties while I placed the last piece on the pile.

It is a tradition for me to photograph the placing of the last piece of firewood on the pile each year. This year I actually got a little choked up while I posed for the picture. After it was all over, I sat down, still dirty from the project, but relieved that we’d gotten it done once again.

To celebrate we got in the car and had dinner at the Feedmill in Tapiola, and then headed to the convenience store for ice cream. I’m feeling so good about things, I may even take a hot bath tonight!

Franco Bandito

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

After spending the morning cutting, splitting, and stacking the remaining firewood on the trailer, Franco and I headed back out to the woodlot with the Scout and trailer for another load. I used the big wrenches to tighten the union on the hose repair, and it is pretty much leak free. With an old dozer like mine (app. 1952) there are leaks in a lot of places.

Franco tends not to carry his current stick from home when we drive out to the woods. On this occasion, he found a pretty big hunk of hardwood once we got out there. It is so heavy I can barely throw it, but he seems content, so that is what we go with. Seeing him trotting up to me this afternoon, it looked like he had a large handlebar mustache, so I dubbed him the Franco Bandito, which is a play on the Frito Bandito from TV commercials probably 40 years ago.

We had a few setbacks this time out but managed to load up the trailer with a respectable amount of firewood logs, and hauled them back home. Cutting them up will have to wait until tomorrow, as I had a commitment this afternoon. It was another outside project on the edge of a large field. We could see the clouds and the weather coming at us from a long way away in that place. There was sunshine and blue sky one minute, and stinging blowing iceballs the next. The fall season is an amazing time where we live. The trees are rapidly losing their leaves, but there is still plenty of color. The clouds march across the sky and the wind whips you without warning. Lovely.

A Bath

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

The woodpile is coming along. Today was the day to bring the dozer and Scout/trailer back out into the woods to get another load. I plugged in the dozer, and while waiting for it to warm up enough to start, I planned to drive the Scout out to the woodlot and walk back for the dozer. The battery on the Scout was dead for some reason, so I dragged out the charger, hooked it up, and worked on inside chores for a while.

Once the Scout was charged it started like a champ and Franco and I headed out there. We walked back and started the dozer, drove it out, and loaded a batch of logs on the forks. I had just dumped the logs onto the trailer and was heading back for another load when I got my bath. The right hose on the bucket cylinder broke. When I noticed it, I have to say it was a fairly cheerful looking fountain of hydraulic fluid shooting into the air. I actually got only a few drops on my person, which is contrary to my other experiences with such things.

When I bought the replacement dozer some years ago for parts, it came with some extra hoses. I was lucky enough to find one that was just the right size. I had to make some trips back and forth to my workshop before I got everything hooked up to my satisfaction. Unfortunately on my last trip back to the woods, I forgot the big wrenches I’d been using. I had a couple of wrenches in the pickup that allowed me to connect the new hose. After replacing the hydraulic fluid I’d lost, I tightened the coupling end the best I could with the small wrenches, but when I started the dozer and worked the bucket, a small ooze of hydraulic fluid seeped from the joint. So we decided to drive the Scout back with a half load of logs and work on cutting them up. Tomorrow is another day, and hopefully after I properly tighten the replacement hose, I can haul a full trailer load. Prepare to celebrate with me when this year’s firewood project is over.

Play Doh(tm)

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

I’ve written before about my one good habit… that of starting most of my days with exercises; 35 or so pushups, and 200 sit-ups. For the story of how I settled on 200 situps, click HERE. One thing I’ve found is that when I travel, I often don’t have the luggage capacity to carry along the exercise mat I use. I try to use pillows to soften the impact, but I almost always wind up with a sore tailbone that takes some time to heal.

On a recent trip to my parent’s place, I had this difficulty. I tell myself maybe I’ll have toughened up enough to weather it this time, but no such luck. However, this time, after mangling my tail bone again, I was inspired to Google this phenomenon, reasoning correctly that if I was having troubles, others will have too, and perhaps a clever solution was out there. So I typed in, “sore butt sit-ups” and started working through the responses. It turns out I am not alone. One of the first responses suggested that sit-ups weren’t a very good exercise in the first place, and gave a long list of other possibilities. Thanks but no thanks. I soon scrolled down to a female that described the same problem I had, but had an unorthodox solution. The problem, she said, was the friction generated between the tailbone and whatever it was rubbing against every rep.

“I put a small amount of Play-Doh(tm) in a Ziplock(tm) bag, and put this between my butt and the floor, and voila, no more butt sores.” Next shopping trip, I found the perfect container. It came in a ready-made Ziplock(tm) bag. I have to admit I felt a little silly the first time I stuck this bag inside my pants at the start of my sit-ups. My tailbone said, “Ahhh!” I brought this bag along to Marquette for the EMS conference I attend a couple of weeks ago. I stayed in the motorhome, and used it on the bare carpet with nary a scratch.

So if you have similar sit-up issues, I heartily recommend the Play-Doh(tm) solution. Hint: remove the Shape Cutter first.

***Editor’s note*** After using this method under sit-up conditions for several days, the ziplock failed on the original container. I resealed it, but the next day it failed again. It seems that Play Doh(tm) fouls the ziplock joint when it gets in there. I transferred the clay into another ziplock bag, but that soon failed too. I wound up settling on a somewhat more expensive solution… a backpacker inflatable stadium seat. It folds up to practically nothing, which is good for travelling, but worked well for me several days in a row.

Grand Canyon

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

I’m going full bore now on the woodpile. Today I finished the wood I pile under the outside roof of the garage. When I stepped back to look at it, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, with its distinctive bands of color and texture representing various geological strata.

This sort of thing happens because of the way I go about the firewood project. For the past many years, I’ve been felling the trees in my woodlot, and cutting them up into 8′ lengths. These I load onto the forks of the dozer, and load onto my funky old yellow trailer that I gave $40 bucks for some years back. When the trailer is full, I haul it back to the homestead as close to where I’ll eventually stack the wood as I can.

The logs I can lift go onto my poor old sawbuck. I built this thing years ago, and things break on it every year. It is pretty rickety, and sometimes I’m a little off on my sawing, and I slice through one of the uprights. It is built so I can remove a few screws and remove a section, replace it, and be back in business in no time. Once the sawbuck is loaded up, I go through it with my chainsaw, sawing the accumulated small stuff every 16″. I tend to stack all the small stuff once it is sawn, which is why there are layers in the woodpile. Some loads have more small stuff, and some have less.

If the weather and my equipment cooperate, I should be finishing up after 4 or 5 more loads from the woods. The next few loads should be relatively easy to get out, but as the project matures, I’ll be driving deeper into the woods to get at the trees I knocked down, which will involve some road building. It is all just part of the project, though, and I’m finding I’m enjoying the process, not that I’m finally getting going on it.

“That’s a New One”

Friday, October 5th, 2012

It is my belief that doing the right thing should be rewarded. Yesterday, for example, I was working on the firewood project in the woods, and a log rolled onto my toe. I’d just replaced my long suffering steel-toed boots with some beautiful Red Wing safety boots a couple of weeks ago. When the log rolled and my toes were unscathed, I gave myself a mental attaboy for choosing to wear the proper safety gear on the job.

This morning, as I often do this time of year, I walked out to the entryway where the firewood is stored, and gathered what I needed to start a fire in the kitchen stove. The pieces of maple available to me were too big, so I grabbed one and carried it over to my splitting station. As is my (good) habit of many years, I put on my well used hearing protectors, which are shown in the picture. These poor things are probably 20 years old, and the plastic inside the earpiece is all broken up and jagged, such that it isn’t unusual for me to receive a “poke” when I put them on. Today’s poke, when it soaked in, exceeded all other ear pokes put together.

I took the protectors off, looked inside, and was greeted by a pulsing, black and yellow striped butt poking out of the inside. That is when I uttered to myself the famous quote, “That’s a new one.” Instead of being rewarded for using hearing protection when pounding on the firewood splitter maul, I was punished by being stung by a wasp.

Fortunately, this time of year they are sluggish with the cold. I tipped the earpiece upside down and gave it a tap, and the sleep-disturbed lady crawled indignantly away. I wished her well in her journey, and hoped she would find a better place for her long winter’s sleep than the inside of my hearing protectors.