Friday, April 18, 2014

Splitting Time

As I mentioned, the snow is receding and I'm able to access some of the wood to split. Last year I borrowed a splitter to split numerous logs that I couldn't do by hand, and it was pretty impressive how well that thing worked. Since some of the blocks were 2-3 years old, you can imagine that they wood was not in the best shape, and I probably should have just let them rot in the woods. Instead I split them and burned some of them this winter, and I think it was a mistake. The wood didn't burn that well, or it was not that efficient. There are probably creosote consequences to my decision, but hopefully nothing that can't be fixed this summer.

I guess my point is that now that I'm splitting wood that is not that old, it looks so much nicer. It's not as black and ugly, and burns much more cleanly. While I'm glad to have burned through that old stuff, I think it's better to have wood that isn't one step away from petrification. I'm sure my Mentor would agree. Part of the reason I let the wood go bad was because it was too knotty or big to split by hand, and when I finally obtained the splitter, I ended up splitting it big. Having the big pieces made it much easier to stack, but I've found that consequently, we burn through the pile much quicker. Maybe it's a good thing that we're going through the bad stuff, not that any wood is bad, right?

Now I'm making a conscious effort to split the blocks into smaller pieces, and it sure makes stacking more rigorous. It will dry and burn more efficiently, but it is definitely more work. Oh well, I knew the job wouldn't be easy when I signed on, and who wants to do things the easy way? Not me, that's for sure.

My goal, and it's an ambitious one as usual, is to have two years worth of wood split, stacked, and drying before June. The one constraint on this lofty goal is whether or not I actually have two year's worth of wood on hand. If I do, I will be so stoked, but I won't know until I actually do the work. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Hans Galldin for the pic.

Auto Parts and the Mixed Blessing of Technology

I have to confess, I appreciate technology but sometimes view it with some degree of skepticism, at least in terms of how it's supposed to make our lives easier, and for that matter, better. I'm not even talking about smartphones and iPads, which I think are a double-edged swords. I am thinking about car repair, and of course there's a long drawn-out story involved.

If anyone has purchased a car in the past 10 years, you may have noticed that tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) now come standard, I believe on all cars, but maybe just imports. My understanding is they stem from a problem with Ford Explorers, whereby low tire pressure problems somehow led to fatal accidents. You might have to check up on that one.

Whatever be the case, we first encountered TPMS on our road trip out west. We rented a Matrix and toward the end of the trip, we noticed a dashboard light went on and we had no clue what it meant. I hate when that happens. It turns out that it meant we had low tire pressure, and when we pulled into Kansas City, we discovered that we had a low tire pressure. It was actually a punctured tire that was slowly leaking. Needless to say, this complicated our trip, but we dealt with it, and from then on realized what it meant.

When we bought our current car, it too had the TPMS light, and for the most part, I think it's a cool thing. How often do we check our tire pressure? If you're like me, I'm guessing not much. This TPMS will give you a head's up when the pressure is low, and the mechanic can even measure it with a handheld computer, which is sort of cool.

The problem is that with all new technology comes more complications in our lives, and do we really need more complications in our lives? I don't, that's for sure. I was surprised when I went to put our snow tires on and they charged me an extra $8/tire to re-calibrate the sensors. Apparently they have to do this every time they change the tires, and believe me, when you're dropping $80 to put on snow tires (not buying, installing), you feel the pain of an extra $32. I complained and the guy over at Wilson Tire explained where the cost came from, but it's literally no sweat off their nose. All they do is plug in some wires and push some buttons. His reasoning is that they have to make-up the cost of the new equipment they had to purchase to deal with TPMS systems, but I felt like it was a scam. Bad PR in my opinion, and when I complained, he offered to not charge me for the TPMS stuff when I put the summer tires on. Fat chance I'll be going back to Wilson Tire, who for the record, have left me with a bad taste in my mouth a couple of times.

In all fairness, I think Interstate Tires charges the same thing, which kills me. You just can't beat the system, though our mechanic RM is cool and doesn't charge. I love that guy. On the subject of mechanics scamming you, I'd like to relay two incidences that in my opinion were nothing short of ridiculous. In Providence, I was having the oil changed and bought new windshield wipers. I asked the guy to put them on, and he charged me for 15 mins of labor. They usually charge about $75/hr, so you do the math. This happened again at Midas in W. Leb, the guy put an air filter in, without my consent, and charged me for labor. I asked him to take it out, and was spared the cost, but not everyone pays attention to these things. It's such a scam, and really gives mechanics a bad reputation. It really pays to have a mechanic you can trust, and I really trust Meunier Towing.

Anyway, in addition to the hassle of technology, it also has a finite life. At some point you have to replace all this stuff, and this was the case with our TPMS. When your tires are low, an exclamation point light goes on, but when the system has a problem, a "TPMS" light goes on. Apparently one of the sensors died and needed to be replaced. They are said to last about 5 years, and then the batteries die. How surprising, another occasion to spend your money.

I checked around and almost without fail, every place I talked to was asking over $65 for the sensor. The car was past warranty, but Shearer Honda offered to replace the thing for half price, which still came out to over $100. They have to remove the tire and rotate and balance it. Plus, Shearer is over in Rutland, which is a bear of a drive. I finally went online (Amazon) and found one for $29. I couldn't believe it, and shipping was $2. I ordered it and RM installed it when he put my snow tires in. He said nobody should charge that much for a sensor, and even when I called Gerrish, they quoted me $65. I was disappointed, to say the least.

Anyway, after RM installed the sensor, another one died, so I had to go through all this again, but I figured I was in no hurry. I ordered it, and RM put it in when he put in the summer tires. Now there are no "dummy lights" on the dash, which is A-okay with me.

Sometimes I think technology is so overrated, but that's because I'm old and boring.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to WORK Wheels USA for the pic.

Spring Has Sprung... or Maybe Not.

Spring becomes official around here when we finally put the screens in our windows, and I just did that a day or two ago. Actually, I was inspired when we had 80 degree temperatures, it was so nice outside. Of course, after I put the screens in, the temperature dropped to below freezing at night, and the days are brisk and cool, but still nice. Not such a big deal, though we're still burning wood and will continue to do so probably for the next month.

It is nice to open the windows and get a breeze, and our cats like to get a taste of the fresh air, even if they aren't allowed to get outside and terrorize the wildlife.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jo-Anne Peck for the pic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Take Us Out to the Ballgame

We (N and I) went to our first Dartmouth baseball game, and we couldn't have had nicer weather. It was a beautiful day and the Big Green were playing Yale. In fact, it was a doubleheader, though we only stayed for the first game. A and mom had to go out and prepare for her trip to the Big Apple, so they had things to do, so N and I decided to do guy things like watch baseball and eat hamburgers and ice cream. What else is there in life?

As I mentioned, the day was stellar, sunny and cool, warm enough for shorts but not hot. Best of all, the sun was shining, and I'm all for that. I wasn't sure how much N is interested in baseball, but I for one love it. I grew up with baseball, and there's a big difference between watching it on TV and going to the game, which for the record are free. My kind of price. Plus, the stadium is small, so there are no bad seats, and it's a beautiful field.

Since the crowds were not heavy, we moved around a bit, starting behind the plate and then moving to the third base dugout, which was the student section. This concerned me a bit because young people (guys, actually) can be a little rambunctious, especially outside, but it was early in the day so I'm guessing nobody was drunk.

The game itself was exciting, as well. Dartmouth crushed Yale, and hit 2-3 home runs. I got to explain the subtle details of the game to N, and we got to eat hot dogs, though N opted for a burger. The game threw me off a bit because it only went 7 innings, but I was told that happened because it was a doubleheader. We didn't stay for the second game.

We headed over to Fore-U to get ice cream, instead. The plan was to have ice cream and then get home to split wood and make supper, but the line was HUGE. It took us about 20 minutes, but it was a beautiful day, and no time is too long for ice cream... sort of. We were thinking of hitting some golf balls, but I needed to get home to make supper, and since we spent so much time with ice cream, we shifted gears and decided to play tennis instead, which was fun.

By the time we finished, A and mom got home, so we ate supper and headed over to UA to watch the Upper Valley Vixens and some roller derby.

Talk about a fun filled day. Then again, all we do is have fun, right?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Dartmouth College for the pic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Watching the Vixens

Last weekend we went to watch the roller derby at UA and saw the Upper Valley Vixens take dismantle the Shoreline Belladonnas. As always, a good time was had by all. The Vixens looked better than I remember, I think in the off-season they did some training or something because they were way more aggressive and physical, taking to their opponents and winning by a wide margin.

We met with some friends and it was nice they got to hang out because the socializing is an important aspect for the kids. If none of their friends showed up, I don't think we'd attend. There were some surprises, as well. You just never really know who's going to show up at a roller derby match.

One funny thing is that I actually know one of the Vixens, I work with her at one of the non-profits. How crazy is that? It was cool, and another friend did some of the announcing. His son is friends with N, so that was a funny connection. Maybe because match was the season opener, but the crowd was pretty big, and the parking lot was packed.

One final note was that A won the wheel toss, which is like chuck-a-puck: you roll the wheel into a target and the person who gets the closest wins. She got hers the farthest in, and when he called her name, I couldn't believe it. I think she won tickets to the next match, or something like that.

I think R should come, she would enjoy it because it's quite a spectacle. Maybe next time... or maybe not.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Robin DeGrassi James for the pic.

Plot Development

Due to the fact that we are crazy garden warriors, we are committing to a second garden plot in the community garden. There's no stopping us now. The reason we got a second plot is because I've been informed that you're supposed to rotate your crops. There are adverse consequences to planting the same thing year in and year out. This is what you see in industrial agriculture, where they only grow corn or soy. It damages the soil and creates a situation ripe for disease or pests. It's all so complicated, all I want are tomatoes.

The past two years I did just that, growing virtually nothing but tomatoes, and it was fine. I'm not sure how critical it is on such a small scale, but our decision to diversify was aided by the fact that R and the kids want to grow other things, including fun stuff like peas and corn.

The second plot is actually closer. The farm also does an amazing job of hosting local gardeners, providing mulch, compost, and a greenhouse, which is a bonus. They hosted a welcome brunch that we attended last weekend (I'm never one to pass up free food) and all of us walked over. It was really nice, we got to chow down, and the kids (and myself) got to eat apple pie for breakfast. How often does that happen?

After brunch, we got down to business. Our plot has been dormant for a couple of years, so there is a ton of weeding that needs to be done. That will be my job. I have started numerous tomato plants, and I will eventually bring them to the greenhouse, where they offered to water them if we are away. They also have potting soil and tons of seeding pots, which we are free to use. Once we transplant, they have tomato cages and all sorts of gardening tools that are available to everyone. They also provide straw for ground cover. It's pretty incredible.

Now we have to get to work. As I mentioned, we have the seeds going, and hopefully something will come of it. Otherwise, we can always pick up seedlings at the market or from friends, but I like the idea of doing it ourselves. Not only do you save money, but it makes me feel more like a real gardener, and that's what it's all about, right?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Amy Urquhart for the pic.

Sigh of Relief

I realize every year it's the same neurotic pursuit of wood, but the fact that I'm a basket case when it comes to uncertainty coupled with the importance of securing wood before winter, I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to do.

This seems to play out year in and year out, and I guess I need to just lighten up and go with it, but I never can. I call the loggers, see if I can get wood, and then they don't get back to me. They've always come through for me, so I should rest easy, but the problem is, if they can't get me the wood and they let me know too late, then I'm out of luck. I need to know early enough to find an alternate source, which isn't always so easy when it comes to buying wood.

I now have three guys to turn to, and one is a pretty good friend, though he charges a little more. At least he'll sell me a half truck, which can be convenient, but more is better. Last year our regular source, TB, connected me with an associate who brought me a killer load, good hardwood in nice widths. I have the number of the new guy so at least I have some options, right? I ended up calling both and leaving messages, and neither of them got back to me. After about two weeks, I called TB one more time. I just wanted to know if wood was a possibility, and if I could take delivery later in the season, maybe late summer. In retrospect, that was probably my mistake. I told them I wanted it later, and maybe they figured they could blow me off because of it. I can't take the wood right now because I still have a pile of logs I need to cut and split. Whatever be the case, TB finally got back to me. I was lucky enough to be at home when he called, and he said he could get me wood in July/August, and to just hound him then.

Whew! All I needed was some semblance of confirmation and I could get on with my life. Sure, being the neurotic mess that I am, I can't rest easy until that pile of wood is sitting in our property, but I'm happy for now. My dream scenario is for the current supply to be enough to make two year's worth of wood. My second best scenario would be for it to make at least one year's worth, and that doesn't seem too unreasonable, but we'll see.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Thesa Chambers for the pic.