Rural Life in the UP of Michigan Some stories about life on 160 rural acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

November 29, 2012

Sauna Smoke

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 11:42 pm

Today we learned what a great invention the chimney was. For the first time in probably a year, we decided to heat the sauna. In retrospect, prior to lighting the stove, an examination of the spaces within the sauna stones might have been a good idea. It seems some mice had carried about a dozen of Franco’s dog food pellets into the sauna and stashed them under some handy stones. The odor as the cooking began was not unpleasant, but as they burned black, the acrid smoke really filled up our little room.

Now we had a couple of problems. The stove was hot and drawing like a banshee. The stones were too hot to touch. On the plus side, the acrid smoke pouring out of the rocks made it obvious where the dog food was. We gathered a poker, shovel, and some eager hands together, and slowly moved the stones out of the way, picked up the charcoal dog food pellets, and tossed them into the fire. We missed a few kibbles, which merrily smoked away after we’d dug out all we could find. So Steve tossed on enough water to wash out the organic matter, and dash any hopes of a sauna this evening. Frankly, the smell in the sauna precluded a relaxing sauna anyway.

I kind of doubt I’ll look through the sauna rocks before I start another fire… it would take too long. But I’ll probably poke around in there in the future. Smoke should go up the chimney.

November 25, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 6:42 pm

Yesterday was a milestone of sorts. There are many ways to measure your milestones, and yesterday’s was measured in number of feet per roll of binder twine.

We use binder twine (traditionally used to bind bales of straw or hay together) for two main things around the farm. In the summer, it is the all purpose garden rope. Our climbing beans use it, as to the tomato cages when they try to fall over. In the winter, I use it to bind up the bundles of fir boughs I make for the local wreath maker. I’m struck by how much my fir bundles resemble bales of hay when I pick them up by their twine straps.

Well, yesterday I used up an entire role of binder twine. The replacement role happened to have its label still intact, and my eye was drawn to the length… 2,250 feet of twine in this roll. I guess I felt a sense of pride upon reading that. Nearly 1/2 mile is a lot of fir bough bundles, and lots and lots of climbing green beans. Now that I’ve chronicled the opening of the current roll of twine on 11/25/2012, I wonder what the date and time will be when this one sees the last foot spool off the end.

November 23, 2012

Snow Makes it Harder

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 11:00 pm

Don’t get me wrong. I do like the snow. The beautiful snow is half the reason why we like living here. But snow does make things harder. The wheelbarrow has to work harder to get through snow. When there is snow, it is usually cold, which means clumsy mittens. And when you drop something small, you can just about forget about finding it, unless you happen to see the divot and can locate it thus. You can’t deny that the snow is beautiful:

We had a pretty big storm last night. During the day the temp was in the 50s, and there was no snow anywhere. This morning there was a good 6″ on the ground, with a slush layer holding it up. Still, I had an obligation to get outside and get some fir boughs gathered, so I headed out. After about 2 hours, we were looking for the inspiration to call it a day. When the second bundle was big enough, we looked at each other, trussed up the bundles and tools, and headed home… dog and man, with a wheelbarrow full of icy fir.

November 21, 2012

Harder Than Higgs

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:50 pm

I have a research idea for the folks at CERN and their supercollider. Now that the Higgs Boson problem is mostly behind them, I’m sure they’ll pick this one up and run with it.

First some background. We rarely have potato chips in this house. The reason is we are both hopelessly unable to resist them. I think for us they would be like horses and oats… if we were able to get inside a potato chip silo, we’d eat ourselves to death just like the horses in the oat bin.

The other day we felt the need to celebrate something or the other, so a can of Pringles made their way home. In the evening my habit is to get into my pajamas and into bed, then get the laptop out and play a few games of Spider Solitaire, and then look at facebook for a while. Last night differed in that the can of Pringles joined us. I opened the can, placed a stack of a half dozen Pringles on my chest, and proceeded to play some Spider on the laptop. A few moments later, the Pringles were gone! I felt around on my chest to be sure, and yes indeed, what was definite matter just moments ago had vanished! I repeated this experiment several times last night, and the results were the same each time. Oh, and I won the game of Spider I was playing.

We’re taught in our physics textbooks that matter does not disappear, but this matter clearly did, predictably and repetitively. Readers of this blog (all 6 of you) will hopefully remember that the germ of the idea that led to a Nobel Prize was initiated here on November 21, 2012. You’re welcome.

November 15, 2012

First Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:13 pm

November 15 is the first day of rifle deer season in our neighborhood. Franco and I still have to get out into the woods to get our fir harvesting done for the wreaths. While we have our property posted for no hunting, it is not unheard of for folks to stray. There are stories about dogs that are shot if found “running deer” or being mistaken for a deer. So we decked ourselves out and hope for the best.

The picture shows some of the equipment I use to make my fir bundles. I chop down the fir tree with my bow saw, and then lop off the branches with a hatchet I carry in my belt. Once the branches are on the ground, I use my clippers to remove the correct sized boughs from the larger branches. These I drop into my yellow wheelbarrow, which I’ve outfitted with two lengths of binder twine. Once the barrow is full, I use the twine to tie up the bundles. I usually do two bundles per day, which is about all I can comfortably haul out of the woods in my wheelbarrow. Things are heating up in the world of Christmas wreath-making, so I have to be sure I get out there every day so I don’t get behind. The wreath buying public is depending on me, and I don’t intend to let them down.

Fits Under The Rim!

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 8:59 pm

We’ve recently decided to upgrade our toilet scrubber. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Oh yeah, they just had to have the newest color, so tossed a perfectly good scrubber in order to buy this one.” Quite the contrary. If it is possible to wear out a toilet scrubber, then this is the household for the job.

Alice brought home the replacement, and sat it on the windowsill in the bathroom so it would get my attention. You see, it is my job to cut the bottom out of a empty vinegar or bleach jug to use as the container for the scrubber.

The first time I saw the box sitting there, I laughed out loud, and have chuckled or smiled almost every time I’ve seen it since then. What got me tickled was the little yellow flag near the bottom of the box that exclaims, “Fits under the rim!” Wow, really! Now that is something to get excited about! And what a cheerful font!

I pictured a person coming home from work tired, and their partner asking how their day went. “We finally settled on the wording on the toilet scrubber box, but can’t seem to agree on the font.” I pictured a conference room where the contenders for just the right font were forcefully arguing their positions. Next I pictured a shopper pushing a cart through the isles, and coming across the wonderful choices available utilizing the latest toilet scrubber technology. As they scanned their choices, their eye was drawn to the lower left corner, and the words, “Fits under the rim!” leaped out at them. “You know, I do have trouble reaching under that pesky rim,” was the thought. The box made it into the cart, as it was doing all across the nation, and promotions were being considered for the choosers of the correct wording and font.

Now the competitors are starting to notice. “Our scrubber reaches under the rim just as well as theirs does, so why should they be outselling us?” Perhaps a bigger flag will show up on that box. Perhaps a more radical future design of their scrubber will have a bulge that perfectly meshes with the rim barrier, making the inner rim of these wise consumers the envy of the neighborhood. And so the toilet rim scrubber wars will go. Parry, thrust, until the ultimate rim scrubbers will be in every bathroom. Just think about it. In a few years, we’ll all wonder how we ever got by with our old ones, and how much richer our lives are now that our rims are spotless.

I’d like to stay and chat, but I’ve got a rim to scrub.

November 12, 2012

Streaks of Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 10:54 pm

Tonight after supper, Franco and I set out in the dark for our nightly walk as usual. There was only a dusting of snow when I came inside before supper, and when we came out an hour or so later, there was a couple of inches on the ground. And the sky was full of snow flakes.

Anyone that has driven in snow like tonight’s has noticed the way the snow flakes play in the headlights. You can get so interested in the beautiful arcs the flakes make as you rush toward them, that you can, if you’re not careful, forget you’re driving. Weather like tonight’s was designed for the passengers.

Without thinking about it, I turned my headlamp on at the start of the walk. There was so much snow around my head that I couldn’t see very far, so I started looking at the snow instead. I sort of unfocused my eyes towards the snowflakes, and some kind of magic happened. The flakes turned into streaks of light; sometimes rushing towards me, sometimes straight down, and sometime just hovering for a second. The wind was light and changing direction rapidly, making the show a swiftly changing one. And if I got bored for a while, all I had to do was turn my head to get a whole different perspective.

My favorite was when the flakes came straight down. I envisioned having long hair combed straight down my face, sides, and shoulders. I saw the inside of my hairdo, and it was carved with light.

I tried to take a couple of pictures, but couldn’t capture it. The flash froze (sic) the flakes in place, and I didn’t know how to increase the shutter speed. I probably wouldn’t have worked anyway unless the light from my headlamp would have been enough. I do wish I had a picture to share, because tonight’s walk was one of the best times I’ve had with snow in many years. If you’re lucky enough to live where it snows, get yourself a headlamp and walk outside in the dark during a snowstorm. The results might amaze you.

November 10, 2012

Cold and Wet

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:53 pm

I’ve begun to gather Balsam Fir boughs for my wreath-making friends already this year. I say already, but it is, according to the calendar, November 10, and we start the fir gathering process around this time each year. The time has really gone by quickly this season. It seems like I’ve been, as my Dad says, “behind the 8 ball” all summer. Fall projects are still looming, although I am ticking them off.

Today was a wet day. We had about an hour of pretty hard rain. It drizzled on and off most of the rest of the day. I had to get out to the woods today to get a couple more bundles of fir, so Franco and I headed out, hoping the sky wouldn’t open up while we were out there. I guess we got lucky, because although it did rain, it wasn’t too hard.

We spent about an hour and a half out there, and hauled our bundles back home in the wheelbarrow. I pride myself on spending as few fossil fuels as possible on the collecting of these greens.

I was thinking while I was out there how unaccustomed we’ve become to working outside in rainy and cold weather. Today I learned, as I’ve learned many times in the past, that if you have adequate gear and use your head, you can be quite comfortable in this kind of weather. A good Carhart jacket, hat, chopper mitts, and good quality boots make the job go smoothly. It also helps to keep a fire going in the furnace. I’ve found as long as I keep moving out there, no matter how cold and wet it is, I stay relatively comfortable.

As I was walking along the road, the mail lady stopped on her rounds and rolled down her window. She started the conversation by commenting on the rotten weather. I didn’t agree with her, but answered in the spirit of friendliness in which her comment was intended. The warmth from the heater in her car reached me and I’ll admit it felt good. It felt even better when I got home with my load of fir, and threw a log on the fire in the kitchen wood stove.

Shining Eyes

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:35 pm

Now that it is dark after supper, Franco and I have developed the habit of including a headlamp in our walking gear. He has one ear and one eyebrow up as we are eating, and watches us even more carefully as we clean up the kitchen after supper. As soon as I make a move for the headlamp, he is bouncing on his toes.

During walks on the longer days, I can easily keep track of him by sight alone. This time of year, however, I depend on the headlamp, and the fact that his eyes glow from a quite considerable distance. Not only can I see that he is looking at me, but I can tell he is running toward me because the illuminated eyes bounce up and down. If I’ve called him, I can say, “good boy” when I see the bouncing eyes.

Tonight on our walk we went east on our road. Our path crosses the big powerlines, and as is my habit, I swung my head south to shine my light down the cleared corridor of the powerlines. Four pairs of illuminated eyes stared back at me, and I knew none of them was Franco, because he was right beside me. Now you and I both know they were probably deer, but honestly, standing there armed with nothing but a leatherman, I felt a little concerned as I watched those unblinking shining eyes. I turned my head and we quickly resumed our walk. Franco never noticed the deer, one of which was probably less than 50′ away from me.

On the way back home, I couldn’t help but look down that same way along the powerlines. The four pairs were still there, hardly having moved. I don’t think either one of us intimidated the other, and that is just fine with me. They have some fattening up to do on the grass that will soon be disappearing under the snow, and I had my walk to finish. Franco was oblivious.

November 7, 2012

Fall is Holding

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 10:09 pm

Ah the rush at the end of the year. There are way more projects to be done than there is reasonable weather in which to do them. So it is all about priorities this time of the year. Today I spent most of the morning inside working on financial stuff. I made some progress but have to admit this sort of project is not tangible in my sense of the word. Sure numbers show up on spreadsheets, and these number reflect past decisions. The decisions made on days like today will translate into some results in the future too. Tangible to me means seeing a hole in the ground after sweating with a grub hoe and shovel for a while.

One fall project is to take out the two docks. The small one on the front pond, which I call our “watering dock,” is the easiest of the two to take out, so I tackled it this afternoon. It gets its name because I primarily use it to dip buckets in the pond to water the gardens. I used to just walk to the edge of the pond to fetch the water, but over the years the erosion was getting bad, and I was getting wet feet to boot.

The process in the fall is to bring a large pipe wrench out to the dock and, while sitting in the rowboat, unscrew the outboard pipes on the dock until they can be lifted off the bottom of the pond. I then raise them, sticky mud and all, up and pin them so they can’t slide back down through the sleeves on the dock. I then attach a 2×2 to the pipe so it won’t fall over and rip the sleeve off the dock. I do the same thing on the other side, and then attach the two legs together with a small strip of wood and some bungee cords.

Other years, I’d then drag the dock out of the water and up the hill by hand until I was pretty sure it wouldn’t slide back into the pond. This year I wrapped a nylon sling around the dock and dragged it out with the Scout. Much easier, although if something goes wrong (and it almost always does) then some damage could occur. This year it went pretty well though.

After that project was wrapped up, I decided to empty the compost drum. I’ve put this project off too long on some years, and chipping frozen compost out of the drum is not my favorite job. I donated this batch of compost to the rhubarb, which seemed pretty thin this year. I’ve heard it can go this way the first year you put the roots in, so I’m giving it a good shot of compost for next year’s growth medium.

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