Archive for October, 2009

Fall is here

October 21, 2009

This fall has been cold so far. It feels “colder than normal” but I’m not sure how to quantify that. We’ve had the heat on off and on since the beginning of the month. I’m closely monitoring the fuel oil level, but it hasn’t moved much, which bodes well. Having never lived with fuel oil heat before, I had visions of turning the heat on for two days and finding the tank nearly dry. While I’m sure that will be case in mid-February, it isn’t right now.

My wife’s pregnancy-based higher temperatures have allowed us to keep it pretty cool, but even I get chilly at times. There is something remarkably comforting about looking outside to the cold and damp and just being warm and toasty.

The True Sign of Fall is the leaves changing color. Lots of rain the past few months have kept things green but the gold and red leaves are starting to outnumber the green ones. We have a maple tree between the garage and the barn that is a glorious intense red. I wish I was a better photographer to capture these sort of things.

Two weeks until the baby’s official delivery date, and we’re betting on her arrival being a bit sooner than that.

Potatoes in the dark

October 20, 2009

[Sidenote: ever since the whole Dan Quayle spelling thing, I still am never sure how to pluralize ‘potatoes’. Firefox is telling me to put the ‘e’ in, so it goes in for now.]

[Side-sidenote: the Dan Quayle thing is now 17 years ago]

A Friday evening or two ago, my wife and I were sitting watching a movie, and the phone rang. Thanks to caller ID, I knew it is our neighbor down the road, who actually is the former owner of our house. (That little bit of info has no relevance here, but it may come up in the future.)
She started the conversation in a way I never heard would have expected.

“Oh, hi, my grandson is here with 600 pounds of potatoes. Do yous guys want some?”

We replied, sure, we’ll take some free potatoes, and we grabbed some plastic bags and our coats and headed down the road. This was during some rather cold fall weather, and we could see our breath in the glow of my wife’s headlamp. The sky somehow seems blacker when it’s cold, and the stars were beautiful. A walk in the dark was a great thing, potatoes or not. Sure enough, about the quarter-mile down the road to our neighbor’s house, we could see the outline of a semi.

We walked up, the scent of diesel in the air, our neighbor’s grandson (who is probably our age) comes out and turns the big crank on the bottom of the trailer, and out to the ground fall lots of potatoes. Flashlights flashed and we load up our plastic bags, and a few more neighbors arrive with enormous gunny sacks. They load up much more than our 10 pounds or so. We started to walk back, but our neighbors noted my wife’s 8.5 months of pregnancy and offered their wheelbarrow.

As we loaded up our full wheelbarrow, our neighbor smiled and cackled, “Country livin’ at it’s finest, eh?”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Truck Saga (pt. 2)

October 19, 2009

[This is part two. Part one is here.

But all was not well with the new truck. We rumbled through back country roads that day, stopped by to visit some friends, and then headed home. Things started to get a little troublesome going up one of the steep hills about a two miles from home. The truck barely made it up the hill, and stuttered, and sputtered, and finally gave out, as we coasted down the other side. The gas gauge read low, but not nearly empty, so I figured we had enough to make it. After sitting dead at the bottom of the hill, and unable to get moving, I swapped to the other tank. It read full, but still no dice. After a few attempts, I figured we were out of gas and that the gas gauge must not work.

So I ran home the mile or so in flip flops, grabbed a handy gas can (always keep some in the garage!), threw it in the trunk of one of our cars, and drove back over. I put about 4 gallons in the front tank, and was able to get the truck started. We rumbled home and I parked it in the barn and figured it just had a bad gas gauge.

A couple days go by, and my dad stopped by the house on his bike. I gave him a ride back into town in the truck noticing that I had to give it a lot of gas just to get going in first gear, almost like trying to get going from a stop in a higher gear. Once I got going things seemed normal, I didn’t worry too much about it. It’s a 20 year old truck, right?

The trip to town was uneventful. I filled up the front tank with a surprisingly-low 14 gallons when in town, dropped my dad off and headed home.

Once again, I had trouble getting going from a dead start, lots of gas, but then finally rolling. I needed to stop and drop off some library books, so I headed out to the mid-town highway, and was going to turn left from the left of two turn lanes. I pulled up to the stop light, waited my turn, the light turned green, and I gave it gas and…the truck died. I tried to start it, it started up. Thinking the tank choice switch was somehow reversed and I was running on the tank that I had not filled. I flipped to the other tank, started it up, it idled roughly. The light turned green, I gave it gas, and…the truck died. People behind me were giving me dirty looks, I frantically searched my the emergency flashers, and finally just put up my hood as the universal “something’s wrong” sign. After a few more attempts and a light cycle or two, people went around me and I found a friendly person who put their flashers on for me a couple car lengths back. After a few more awkwardly panicky minutes, I got it started again, and was able to back up into a nearby parking lot, not daring to try and head down the highway.

I was able to slowly take residential streets back near my parent’s house, and things seemed rough but running. I figured I should just head the 12 miles home, park in the barn, and figure out what was wrong. I was able to get on the highway out of town, and at around 45 miles an hour, suddenly my RPMs went up and the truck was slowing down, as if I was in neutral. I put in the clutch and, try as I might, I couldn’t get into gear. ANY gear. I put on my blinker and got off at the first road I could. I turned the truck off, and tried to start up and get going again. I couldn’t shift at all when the truck was running. I found I could shove the transmissions in first when off, start up in gear and roll along in first gear, but I didn’t want to drive at 10 miles an hour along a relatively busy country highway. (I have learned since it is possible to shift without a clutch, to feel the RPMs and ‘slide’ into a higher gear…but I didn’t know that at the time. Not to mention the combined feelings of shame, rage, and panic at the time.)

After several more attempts to get things going and failing, I also discovered that I did not have my cell phone with me. (This, in particular, is an oddity. I don’t normally leave the house without it.) And, in addition, I discovered that the road I had pulled off onto was the private drive entrance to a dump truck company. Several dump trucks came in and out, two different drivers warning me about being in the way. I attempted to explain the whole “not running” thing, with varying degrees of success. I attempted to flag down a couple drivers for cell phone help, but the truck was just out of sight of the highway until cars were nearly passed, and I guess the guy waving his arms wasn’t clear enough to get folks to stop. I walked a ways down the road and found a small radiator shop where the two employees let me borrow a phone to call my wife.

My wife came and picked me up with her cell phone, and we then went through the usual paces to call AAA and get a tow. An hour, 10 miles and a $20 “extra mileage charge” later I was back home and the truck was dropped off in the yard.

To be continued…

The Truck Saga (pt 1)

October 16, 2009

We’ve been planning the move for quite some time, so we have built a decent amount of savings before buying the house (being that I’m now working part-time and trying to start a business). Aside from covering for the times when I’m not making enough, we figured our savings would be for all the little expenses that pop up along with owning a house.

That’s a bit of poorly worded background that could summed up by saying: we had saved some money and were going to buy a truck. We’ve got a long driveway that has a nice circular section in the middle, and it would take a very long time to snowblow, or longer to shovel. Since we don’t own a snowblower, why not get a plow truck instead? I have been scouring the local Craigslist and classifieds, as well as the Tradin’ Post, and was having trouble finding something in our price range (read: cheap). I wanted a truck that could plow the driveway and occasionally make the trip into town to go to Menards, that’s about it.

We had a few false starts. I called a gentleman who had listed a truck that looked promising and was affordable. We spoke on the first Sunday of football season–he was not at home, watching the Vikings(!) game somewhere else. I asked about coming to see the truck after the game, but he was going to be watching the Packers game that evening…being a true Wisconsinite, I was too…but there was 3 hours between the two games. So this guy said he’d call me back later, and never did. He preferred football to making a grand and a half on a Sunday.

There was another truck that appeared promising, until the seller “remembered to mention” that the dashboard didn’t work. No gauges at all.

Then, one day, I got home and had a message on the answering machine from my dad. He had been out biking, not more than a couple miles from our place, and had seen a plow truck for sale.

My wife and I headed over and checked it out. There were several people out in the lawn, little kids running around picking crabapples and shouting. I met the owner and we went over the truck, took it for a brief test drive, and everything checked out. 1988’s finest, an F-250, with a fancy Sno-way plow. Having done some research on plows, this one was a winner, and the truck seemed to drive fine, so we took it from there. We agreed on a price, and came back later that day, cash in hand. It was a couple hundred dollars more than I planned on spending, but it seemed to be a solid deal. I happily rumbled home, the V8 grumbling and roaring as we drove through the countryside. There’s no finer feeling than driving through the country in a big truck.

To be continued….

Homeownership joys

October 15, 2009

So I’m sitting at the kitchen table, doing some work, and suddenly there is a strange sound coming from near the deck doors.

A “tap….tap….tap” sound.

A Dripping sound.

This can’t be good.

Just for reference, it was snowing again today. Now it’s sleeting and sraining and so on. Outside there’s puddles and water racing down over the slick snow base that’s giving way to just a sloppy, slippery mess. What I’m saying is, there are no better conditions to climb on the roof.

So off I go! Our 30-foot TV antenna is behind the house (opposite side of the house from the leak), offering a convenient, cement-secured method to clamor up to the roof. I slip on my (wife’s, really) pink polka dot rubber boots and climb. I get to the top of the roof, and gingerly reach across, I realize “This looked a lot closer when everything was dry.” A second try, I make it, a little shaky, and my right foot slips and slides. I catch myself, and half crawl up to the peak of the roof, soaking everything that’s comes near contact of the melting snow. Once I get partway up the roof, I look back down and realize I have made A Mistake. At my current rate of crawl-to-slippage there is no way to make it over the peak of the roof and down to where the deck is leaking. At least not without an ice axe and crampons.

I sit down, slip a bit, and slide-scoot-slide, soaking my rump through to my unmentionables, and get to the edge of the roof. Man, that antenna looks a long ways away. A few careful, caaarefullll reaches, and I’m back safely and climbing back down.

Meanwhile, the roof is still leaking. Also, this whole time my wife is inside baking cookies.

I head out to the garage, and grab an old ladder left by the current occupants of the house. I try not to notice one of the steps has been replaced by a piece of 2×6.

A few sloppy steps up the deck with a ladder and a car scraper brush in tow and try and find a not-slippery place to place the ladder. Some finagling, and I’m up, and…I can’t see the place where the roof is leaking. Up one more step to the “it’s not a step but everyone steps on it anyway” level on the ladder. Still can’t see. So it’s up the the very top of the ladder, leaning into the house for balance, holding the scraper brush. I’m brushing and shoving and getting wetter, and I still can’t see any place where the water is coming in.

Finally, near the peak, just past where my brush can reach, I see a seam that looks to have been once covered in tar but is now about a half inch wide and seems to have water running into it. I believe with copious amounts of my favorite silicone adhesive I could take of this, but nothing will bond on a day like today.

Carefully, back down the ladder, and into the furnace room. Beneath sleeping bags and tents a few boxes left from moving, I track down a camping tarp, and 4 trips up and down the ladder and deck, carrying chunks of firewood to hold things down, I’ve got a tarp on my roof.

This is what is known as a Temporary Solution. Naturally, the forecast for the next three days involves precipitation.

First snow

October 11, 2009

I just wanted to mark that today was the first snow of Fall/Winter 2009. It was no more than a quarter-inch, enough to color the deck white and provide a dusting on the remaining leaves and grasses. I admit my severe skepticism when I was told earlier this week that it was going to snow this weekend. It may be that when I hear “it’s going to snow” I don’t anticipate the literal truth alone–yeah, sure, it snowed today, but it didn’t really Snow.

But the seal has been broken. I can think of other tasteless allegories here but I think that will suffice. The next snows are coming, and I can’t think of a reason to object.

Another day

October 2, 2009

Most of today was spent in front of glowing rectangles–we went to a movie, watched a movie at home later on, and then even a TV show. No, I didn’t get any work done, why do you ask?

While in town we purchased an air compressor, a shovel, and a pitchfork. There are many tools and machines we need just to “get started”. We still need a chainsaw. The pitchfork will make turning compost easier, and the shovel, well, you just need a shovel. Last week I was grubbing fence posts with a borrowed shovel. That will never do. An air compressor was something I was hoping to pick up used (it’s tough to haul the lawn mower into town if it gets a flat), but Menards had a good sale on a small one. I’m sure it’s made in China.

Part of the goal of moving to the country was looking for a simpler life. Working part time has certainly altered the pace of my life, but I find myself often falling into old habits. Today is either an example of sticking to old habits (soaked in media-entertainment) or is simply a “day off”. I’m not totally sure, in my own head I’m waffling if this an outlier in the data or a point indicative of no progress. This is only one month in, I should not be expecting massive changes in behavior, but I clearly see that my default is still to pick up the laptop when I’ve got a few free minutes. Should it be otherwise? Should a few free minutes mean I should go work on that fence that’s broken? I’m honestly not sure.

One step at a time, I know that.

The Running of the…Cows

October 1, 2009

This morning I went for a jog (the purpose of this post is to impress you with my physical prowess) and it was cold. And windy. And I admit to having whiny thoughts throughout. As I turned back toward the house, I was running by a neighbor’s farm. There was a small herd of cows off a little ways, mostly black with splotches of white, standing out against the gray clouds and browning grass. But these are not the cows that sparked this post. There was one cow, a small black girl, who was close to the fence where I was, and popped up her head when I went by. I called out to her, as I often like to speak with cows, but she started walking along with me. Now, I was jogging at a solid barely-over-a-walk pace, and a cow’s pace would not keep up. So this cow started trotting, following me from her side of the barbed wire fence. I picked up the pace a bit, and kept talking to her, picturing myself as Burgess Meredith to Cow-Rocky. She trotted a bit faster, kept up, and then, ever so briefly started to RUN.

I have never seen a cow run before today. Not a bull, not a horse. A slow moving, cud-chewing cow.

Cows can be surprisingly fast.

Then, I think she grew tired of me and slowed to a mosey, and headed back to her buddies in the distance.

Either way, it made the cold and the sweat worthwhile.