Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Winds

We had a bit of a storm on Sunday, December 28. Just a bit. Winds gusting over 100 km/h wreaked havoc with trees creating power outages in many areas, but we don't have that problem here; just the opposite. Years of deforestation have created a windy corridor and we're smack in the middle of it. The few mature trees that were left standing on our property were damaged during the great ice storm of 1998; suffice it to say the state of our trees is in sad repair. We're busy replanting to create a wind break and otherwise replenish the landscape but we won't reap the benefits for many years to come.
This is what the southern side of our barn looked like after the last storm. The roof has peeled back before, and Eric did a hasty patch-job, but this time it's a goner. This will definitely expedite the destruction of this section, so once again we are being told by Nature what our priorities are.

The wall shown in the above photo was the original exterior wall, before the dairy cow section was added decades ago. When we tear down this section, this will be the outside wall again. We have a lot of work to do on this old barn, and are having trouble finding workers willing and able to do the repairs. We are seriously at the point of doing the work ourselves.

This door is big and heavy. And the hinges were solid, so it must have taken quite the gust to get it where it finally landed.

The warm winds melted the snow on the field across from us. It was more like a lake complete with white-caps by the time the front finished moving through. The snowmobilers won't be too happy with the condition of their trail - those little signs in the field mark it - so until we have another substantial snowfall things will be quiet. (Yay!)

Howarnator was watching "Squirrel TV" from the bathroom window. He got so excited that I decided to open the window, and he jumped right out into the snow. He sunk into it and plowed his way to the tree he saw the squirrels in, then proceeded to climb up high. The squirrels were long gone, but that didn't stop the Howarnator's imagination. He was enthralled.

Meanwhile, BobCat had the right idea: nab the best spot in the house, namely a big sheepskin rug I brought out of storage. Add a sunbeam, and all's right with the world!

Here's to a wonderful 2009, may it be full of warmth and happiness for all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. Cranky is here!

Today turned out to be Christmas for me! My new Auto Knitter circular sock machine (CSM) is finally here!


I had been emailing back and forth with the seller for 2 weeks to coordinate payment and delivery for my new toy. I don't know how long I have been after one of these, in fact, I can't even remember where on the web I saw one first, but one thing was sure: I needed to get my hands on one!

I've been watching Ebay auctions, calling antique dealers and watching auction web-sites for a few months now, but through a stroke of fate, I snagged this machine in a classified ad all the way from Calgary, Alberta. If you have ever been to Calgary, you must have noticed how bone-dry it is there; if this baby was half-decently stored there would be little rust on it, and as it was, it is in fantastic shape.


And it came with a bonus cat! (Just kidding, Howard "The Howarnator" Hughes is our cat, and a curious little devil he is. He has this marvelous way of looking so innocent, as in, "What? Me? What did I do now?" as the Christmas lights dangle from his fangs).

Back to the machine: the seller promised me it works, and that he actually knit socks with it. I am skeptical by nature, but part of me was screaming: JUST BUY THE DAMN THING ALREADY! And that's what I did: I threw caution to the wind and bought it. The seller was kind enough to take it to a local UPS store who packaged and shipped it for me, and before I knew it, the courier truck was in our driveway!

You remember when you were a kid and got a really cool gift you'd been coveting and begging Santa for? Well, this is my proverbial Red Ryder BB gun. (Just hope I don't lose an eye!) I even got up extra-early the next morning to check on it: was this real or just a figment of my overly-active imagination?


I had been following the shipment across the country and had planned a stay-at-home day for it's arrival. I was disappointed when I called the courier company that morning and was most positively assured that the delivery would be postponed a day or so because we are in a rural area. I figured I might as well make the best of the day and do some Christmas baking: the cookies were in the oven, and a batch of roasted almonds was caramelizing on the stove top when the courier truck arrived. I was too engaged to give the box the attention it needed, but once my kitchen duties were under control, I attacked the box with my trusty Olfa knife.

Everything was gingerly wrapped and padded; I quickly clamped the CSM on the kitchen counter and gave the handle a turn or two (okay, mebbe 5 or 6, okay, I wasn't counting!), it runs smoothly and literally purrs. This is a good sign.

A really cool detail (besides the original box and lid) was the original "Old Tyme" Auto Knitter sock that came with the machine.

Despite a few moth holes, this sock is a piece of history. I can hardly believe I own it! The wool is so soft, it dispels my preconceived notion that all old socks had the texture of a Brillo pad.

So, the next few days will be spent documenting the parts and how to take it apart and clean it. I have downloaded a lot of useful information from the web, and I will be happy to share all these details at a later time.

I hope this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship!

Knotty Pine Purgatory

This is not a suspicion of mine. I have long since known that hell is paved not with good intentions, but with knotty pine. However, one proverbial quality of hell was absent on the morning of December 8th, and that would be heat:
Yes. That reads 45°F. That’s 8.5°C, but just as cold whether in F or C. And please note, this is not the great outdoors, but a room in our very own Knotty Pine Purgatory. This was a little experiment I conducted as the outside temperature plummeted to -20°C with a wind-chill prohibitively howling at around -29. (At those temps, you’re frost-bitten in about 20 minutes, Celsius or Fahrenheit, who cares, what matters is that you have multiple coatings of thermonuclear polar fleece on every square inch of your body.) To conduct this little experiment, however, all I needed to do was close the door to the guest room for the night and watch the temperature drop.
Well, it was 45°F in our guest room that morning, the much heralded and much loved room that all our guests comment on. It also proves my point, that if I had “too much wool” or “too many clothes” the room would have better insulation and wouldn’t be this cold, but once again, I am digressing.
It is glaringly obvious that we need to renovate our upstairs, and the day that we will start the tear-down is fast approaching. We have a deadline of next May to have the work completed, or we forfeit the rebate we will receive under the EcoEnergy Retrofit Program sponsored by our federal government. We pay enough taxes, so it would be nice if some of it actually went back into our pockets, and not out the window like our heat.
You see the vacuum-cleaner in the above photo? It NEVER gets put away - I think if it did, we'd suffocate on dog and cat hair. And the Rubbermaid bins? They are for my wool collection that is currently housed in the guest room and needs to be moved out at all costs. And the post made of 2 x 4's? It serves no purpose, and there are 2 of them. I can just picture the space we are going to gain when these come down!
Guests think our upstairs looks "so cozy", (I think they're being polite, after all cozy is just a euphemism for unbelievable mess)...they love the knotty-pine look (so do I, but I don’t want to live in it), and think it feels just like Grandma’s house. On some points, they are right. Knotty pine is nice when you’ve rented a ski chalet in Vermont, and it is cozy when it’s insulated, but there is exactly no insulation behind the pine whatsoever. That this house has been standing 150 years and no one has thought about this detail concerns me a bit. Although we replaced the windows with high-efficiency argon-filled thermal panes, the walls are bare: from the inside, we have knotty pine, some furring strips, and great spaces of nothing but space. Cold Space.
We aren’t exactly sure how long the knotty pine has been up, but one thing is for sure: whoever did the job was a “weekend warrior” when it came to home renovation.
In some places, the boards don’t even join, the doors have such major gaps, I can literally stick my hand under one door, and generally, just the fact there is no insulation warrants a major renovation.
So this winter, we are going to tear down all the pine, get right down to the outside exterior wall that is comprised of 1) horizontal pine (Eastern True Fir or Hemlock) , 3” thick by 12” high joined by tongue-and-groove, clad on the inside with 1½” thick vertical boards, some up to 14” wide. Due to water infiltration, years, mice and rot, some of these boards will have to be replaced, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Eric is going to put up 2”x6” studs and insulate with 6” Roxul Flexibatt (fireproof) to give us a R22 rating, the same as the insulation in the roof (after we removed the sawdust and re-insulated!) We will probably use the Ayr-Foil barrier again, because we are convinced that it makes a huge difference in heating and cooling based on its use downstairs, even if it is a bitch to install. (I am sure some of these R&D types have never held a hammer before, but again, I am digressing…)
Right now we are having trouble getting the insulation; it seems Roxul is behind in deliveries, and with the up-coming holiday and maintenance shutdowns, who knows when we will be able to get what we need. None of our home-renovation big-box stores that carry this product have it in stock, nor are they able to tell us if they even have some ordered. Bullsh!t is all I can say; I've been on both sides of that coin, and I know when to cry foul. We even wanted to PRE-PAY 40 bags' worth - that's a $1200 order - but no one seems to be capable of taking an order like that. Cash and carry is nice when the product is in stock...but really...40 bags is nearly a truck-load and no one can place an order? Wow. And have you ever tried to contact any one at Home Depot? Talk about the royal run-around. When you finally do get someone on the phone, don't expect any semblance of precise information, just be thankful you actually managed to get through to a live human being. Eric ended up going to the store with a friend's pick-up and trailer to get 10 bags that were "in stock" (ha ha), only to be told that, "Oops, we are so sorry, it seems we don't have any at all!". Gee, thanks for the heads-up! Grrrr...don't get me started. Seems no one wants to be accountable for anything, anymore.
So keep tuned. All I want is Gyproc, all over…then we’ll talk about paint, paneling and what-not. Some insulation, a sink and toilet, and of course, a bit more closet space.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Dog's Tail

All of us have days that we fondly remember, days that we replay time and time again, and never grow weary of. For me, one of those days is December 5, 2002. That was 6 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

The time was 7:20 am, I was on my way to work, and it was unseasonably cold. The engine turned over slowly, even the car radio took a while to wake up, and once again I cursed as I settled into the hard, frozen seat of my car.  As I turned to take the access road that runs along the highway that morning, something at the side of the road caught my eye. A little heap, covered by a dusting of fresh snow, yet still visible as a black and white lump.

A creature, perhaps a skunk, I thought as I drove past?

“But skunks hibernate, don’t they?” opined the other voice inside my head.  I slowed down. It was snowing, but from the condition of the freshly-fallen snow all around me, I knew no-one had driven by here in quite some time. It was just getting light, and my curiosity had been piqued, so I had to investigate.  I promptly turned around, parked the car, and walked over to the lump in the snow.  A little head popped up, a pink tongue unfurled as it let out a big yawn, and the black and white creature piddled a puddle, shook the snow off its back, and then excitedly walked over to me and licked my chin as I stooped down to pick it up.

Love at first sight is not an adequate expression.  Remember the infamous scene in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, when the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day”?  Well, it was the best way to describe the feeling I had in my chest that fateful morning.

What I found that morning can only be described as one of the greatest gifts a person can get.

The little dog, the vet guessed, must have been 7 or 8 weeks old. He weighed in at 10 pounds, and was a healthy, happy mix of what we could only guess was Labrador and Border Collie.  In my na├»ve mind, I was sure that someone had lost him and I valiantly checked pet stores, vets, and on-line forums for someone’s desperate plea for their lost dog.  Slowly, the realization that this little dog wasn’t lost, but had been deliberately abandoned, started to dawn on me.  As the days unfolded, I started to read about rescue organizations, dog adoption societies, and the statistics behind dog abandonment.  What I read staggered me.  So many dogs, great dogs, abandoned each year.  Left in boxes in front of the vet’s office. Chained up in front of SPCA’s, or worse, chained in forests and left to die. Thrown out by the side of the road in the country.  Sad?  You bet, and just another indication that our society is headed for demise, if we maintain the current path we’re on.

But I was on my way to work, and I needed a plan. Well, actually, I needed dog food, so I went to my elderly neighbor’s house with my new friend in tow.  He offered to babysit and house the pup in the wood-working studio where he spent his days, and I in return promised to come back after work with a solution.

Although Eric does not believe me, I called everyone I knew from work that day and tried to find a home for this little black and white pup. And everyone greeted me with the same answer: nah, thanks but no thanks, it’s like…weeks... before Christmas, lemme see what I can do…

It was only when I arrived at my neighbor’s that evening to pick up the little dog, who was by now nestled in a crate by the wood-stove, with a chewed pine stick between his paws, that I fell madly, deeply and irreversibly in love. The little dog woke up, promptly wiggled his way towards me, tail circling in that unmistakable floppy-puppy way, and piddled another puddle on the cold concrete floor.  He jumped up as I knelt down and licked my chin once again, and at that moment, I knew I could not part with him.

But my neighbor had other ideas. Mr. Lefebure loved dogs, and his dearly-loved and recently-departed Bijou was the dog by which all other dogs were judged. “That dog is smart,” he said. “A good dog”. Silence fell over me. “I’ll keep him”, he replied, and for an instant, I thought my problem was solved.  I looked around, the flames were glowing inside the wood stove, and the shop lights flickered over-head.  I felt the cold of the concrete floor through the soles of my boots, and looked over to the old flannel shirt that lined the wooden box.  The little black and white dog would have a good home, lots of love and space to run, but my heart would be broken.

“I have to show him to Eric”, I said, straightening myself up. “Eric will be home tomorrow, alright?”, as I cradled the pup in my arms. “Just one night, okay?”, I queried, and with that, I sauntered home, making a mental check-list of doggy supplies I’d be needing.  Trust me, Mr. Lefebure knew that it wouldn't be "just one night".  He knew I was down for the count.   I called dog-owning friends again, and begged for a crate. Blanket, check, collar, check, dog leash, check, dog food, check. I was on a mission.

Our first night was a disaster. He cried, I cried, and we cried together. We had a little philosophical talk. I placed him on the kitchen counter, and he sat down, head cocked quizzically. I was on the stool at the breakfast counter, and we were eye-to-eye. “Look”, I said to him. “I’m not the problem, but the big guy who’s gonna walk through the door tomorrow night will be. You need to be on your best behavior, no peeing or pooing in the house, no chewing on carpets or furniture. Put your charm on, and work your puppy-ness to the max. Got it?” The little dog cocked his head again, and stood still. He looked at me, and so help me, he understood every word I said. To this day I can’t explain it, but someone was looking over us that day.

And so it came to pass, that when Eric, a self-confessed “cat person”, walked through the door the next evening and set his luggage down, did the little dog sit perfectly at attention. Eric looked at me across the living room, looked down at the dog, and said, “I guess we have a dog”. A big grin crossed my face, and I said a silent thanks.

That six years have passed since that cold December morning is hard to believe. Cooper remains our faithful dog, and sometimes, when the lights are out and the dog is happily settled in between us in bed, Eric’s hand resting on Cooper’s chest, and Cooper’s paw in my hand, one of us breaks the dark silence. “We have a good dog, eh?” someone offers. The answer is always the same, “Yeah, the best dog ever.” Cooper lets out a big sigh and squirms into place, his chest slowly rising and falling, and thumps his tail in reply.
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