Archive for November, 2013

An Aging Geek

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Alice and I have been watching a series called, “The Secret Life of the Brain.” Until this series, I didn’t notice a habit I’d picked up. When they interview a scientist, physician, or some other professional in their office or lab, computing equipment is often visible in the frame. I look especially at the monitors, and from that determine how old the series probably is. And I’m pretty good at it. I also discover myself thinking, “that’s an old Viewsonic 17. I had one of them… it was a great monitor.” By then, several minutes of the narrative have gone by, and I’ve missed the thread. Since my career in IT has pretty much paralleled the microcomputer revolution, I can spot most hardware except the really new stuff.

Occasionally I’ll lose my composure and say in a loud voice, “Did you just see that Tandy 100?” She’ll often reply with, “What!” After nearly 40 years of marriage, I know enough not to say, “You know, the old TRS-80s that had disk drives.” Instead I say, “Oh never mind.”

Good Gear

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

For the past week, I’ve been going out to the woods for about 2 hours each day and collecting Balsam Fir boughs. I’ve been doing this for years for my friends at the Einerlei store in Chassell, MI. They use these fir boughs to make Christmas wreaths. I take the opportunity to cut down the fir trees that are encroaching into my maple orchard. Our balsam fir is a bit of a weed tree. They often don’t get large enough to make lumber, and the lumber you get isn’t particularly good. Balsam Fir does have a few things going for it, though. The wood and the needles smell VERY nice. And the needles stay on longer than most other conifers in our area. So the tradition is to use these boughs for wreath making… and it is about the only time of the year these trees have much of any value. As a bonus, after clearing off the branches from the fir trunks, I cut and split them for firewood for the maple syrup operation. There isn’t much heat in fir, but the heat does come quickly and hot, which is just what you want when boiling sap.

IMG_3987It seems like this year we have had more rain and snow than usual during the fir gathering season. And I have to say my gear has been performing for me admirably. I have a Carhart ™ jacket that unfailingly keeps me warm, Muck Boots ™ that keep my feet warm and dry, and that wonderful Yooper innovation, choppers for my hands. Sometimes when I come in, everything seems soaked, but I’m pretty comfortable and warm. I think 2 hours in these conditions is about right for me. Otherwise moisture starts to seep in, cold follows, and misery is just a short drive down the road.

I have to say I take no satisfaction in cutting down trees. They are resilient and beautiful creatures that do a lot of good for the ecosystems they are a part of. Balsam Firs, however, are not my favorite tree, and as the years go by and the clearing of the sugarbush of these trees continues, I continue to be struck by how the forest is opening up, and how the paths between my tapped trees, which I’ve walked so many times, are opening up to allow better access to the maple trees. The fir trees are especially troublesome, because when I brush past them with my buckets of maple sap, they seem to take pleasure in dumping twigs and needles into my buckets.

My advice to those of you that see the wisdom in being outside, but dread the cold and wet, is to concentrate on your gear. With decent equipment, you can stay out and enjoy the forest in almost any weather without being miserable.

Racking & Bottling

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

We’ve made a lot of wine this summer. It has all been done as the particular fruit in use was available, so the time to deal with it seems like it should be staggered. The process goes something like this. You add all the ingredients except the yeast, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then the yeast goes in, and it (hopefully) bubbles away for about a week until the specific gravity is below 1.030. Then it is “racked,” which means the fluid is moved from the current bottle to another clean one, hopefully without disturbing the gunk (this is a technical term used mostly in wine making) at the bottom of the bottle. This is again racked in about 3 weeks, and again after 2 months. The wine maker can decide whether to bottle at this point, or rack it again. The idea is to get the wine to have settled as clear as possible before bottling.

IMG_3989In the last week, several of these batch rackings seem to have coincided, and I have acquired “wine rackers dishpan hands.” Not really, but my wine making stuff has been sitting around a lot because it is senseless to put it away. So far I’ve bottled 3 batches, dandelion, strawberry, and raspberry. I’ve also racked all 14 gallons of cider wine, the blackberry wine, and the concord grape wine. We’ve been tasting it as we bottle it, but I am pretty inexperienced at telling whether the batch will turn out or not. When Alice tasted this year’s strawberry this evening, she said, “whooh, that’s strong.” I guess that must mean it is good.

Want To Go Outside

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

We have a deal with Franco. When he wants to go outside to his place on the porch, he puts his nose by the door handle. He is very polite about it. He never barks if we don’t happen to notice us. He just looks our direction with his sad eyes, hoping someone will notice that he needs a helping hand. From my point of view, this request should be for going to the bathroom, but occasionally he also wants to go out just to smell the air and bark when barking is required. I have no problems with this and encourage it in fact.

Last night I had to chuckle at Franco, because he asked to go out for yet another reason.

As I often do just before retiring for the night this time of year, I stoked up the kitchen woodstove. As an avid former player of the computer game “Tetris,” I do enjoy the challenge of matching the geometric shape of potential pieces of firewood with the space available in the firebox. The burning material in the firebox also has to be taken into consideration and subtracted from the space available. As will be seen shortly, I do this without thinking, and after thousands of repetitions, I’m pretty good at choosing the right piece of wood to last the night.

Last night I got sloppy. I failed to look at the entire firebox when determining the available space. This coupled with the fact that the piece of firewood I chose had a knob on it caused us some grief. Franco appears pretty disinterested in the whole process, because he’s seen it so often. When I put the slightly too big piece of firewood into the stove last night, he never lifted his head.

Once it became clear that this piece wasn’t going to fit, and that I was past the point of no return (the fire in the stove has already started to burn the new block of firewood) I may have said something like, “oh shucks.” Franco’s ears pricked.

As I struggled with the firewood, smoke began escaping into the kitchen. Franco’s nose twitched. Most of the time, I can wrestle the piece of wood around and get it to fit, but this allows more volumes of smoke into the house. Franco sat up.

As it became clearer and clearer that my efforts to make this piece fit were not going to be successful, something about my demeanor must have betrayed me, because Franco was now sitting up and watching my every move. I started moving to open a couple of windows to let the smoke out, and Franco positioned himself by the door. Then the smoke alarm went off. Franco’s nose was on the door handle, in-between anxious glances towards me. I assured him things would be ok, and he looked at me as if to say, “ya right, now let me outside.” So I let him outside, got the stove to stop smoking, cleared the air as best as I could, and chuckled to myself about how smart this dog is.

After about half an hour, I was ready to head up to bed. I found Franco laying down outside in a drizzle. I called him to come in, and he lifted his head, looked me in the eye, and seemed to be saying he’d rather lay in the rain all night than put up with my woodsmoke. I insisted, he came in and went to his corner, curled up, and gave one of his little snorts as he was falling asleep.