Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fun with Bloggers, and Amelia's Best Day Ever

Well our meager vacation this year was a trip across state lines to visit some old friends, as well as some new ones.

It was a fantabulous trip. We got to spend some time with the Traveling Bosleys (fourteen moves in ten years they tell me). We got to meet Suzer and her family. The kids got to play (and argue a little) and play and swim and play. Amelia experienced probably the single greatest day of her young life. E5 had fun too, playing with Rose and Maya and who knows how many other kids. But then again, he has fun everywhere.

On top of all that, we went home with a car so full of baby stuff that e5 and Amelia could not see each other in the back seat. (THANK YOU MORGAN AND SUZER!) We now have literally everything we could possibly need for a baby, except a crib.

Amelia's Best Day Ever started with a swim in the hotel pool. She actually tried to drown herself when I took a step and a half to set her glasses on a nearby table. She and Daddy both learned valuable lessons.

Anyway, not much gets Amelia more excited than water. Her as-yet-unspecified condition makes her crave stimulation - touch, sound, visuals, etc. - and water gives here all of those.

But we found something that was just about as good. A nearby mini-golf / bumper-car / arcade place (Fun Fore All, I think it was called?) had so many blinking lights and spinning displays and flashing things and buzzing noises and beeping sounds that Amelia could hardly contain her glee. She ran from one to the next, staring, grinning, laughing, running, giggling. Eventually she wore herself out and had a little siesta in one of the booths.

Then that night, after filling our bellies one more time, we went back to the pool for another swim. I tell you, if only we could communicate the necessities to her, she'd be a natural swimmer. she's got the arms and legs going, the breathing (or not as appropriate). She couldn't get enough trips around the pool.

Anyway, here's a selection of photos from the trip. Sorry, no pool pictures. I didn't want to leave the camera unattended while we were swimmin'...

No, I'm not a Drama Queen.
Whatever do you mean?

This is the best vacation EVER!

Can we get one of these for the house?

Look Daddy, I found a new friend!

How you play is... that you push the button,

and... you see the thing, and it does something...

and then you win!

I don't need no stinkin' fork.


What in the world is that thing?
How does it work?

Is there anything cuter than a baby in a swimsuit?
Other than possibly a baby in a swimsuit
holding a stuffed chicken...

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The over-engineered clothesline

So Feliz Navidad or whatever. Bonne Année too, as long as we're here.

Okay... I know it's winter. But there's no snow, and it's not even all that cold, so I haven't really made the transition yet. So I'm talking about clotheslines. That's just how I am.

Our original clothesline, installed earlier this year, just kept sagging and sagging and sagging. We kept tightening and tightening and tightening. But there's only so far you can take that progression.

I'm sure the constant wind (which was great for drying clothes) was the cause of the stretching. Plus it's a pretty long run - about 50 feet. Even so, you'd think that something sold as clothesline would hold up for at least a summer. But everything's become disposable at this point I guess.

So this fall, I upgraded. We now have coated heavy gauge wire strung between two pulleys. (I stole the pulley idea from my grandfather. For a long time I thought all clotheslines were on pulleys. Clip-clip-slide, clip-clip-slide...)
This one's even got a ratcheting fence tightener built into it. It shouldn't sag much, but if it does, a few clicks should take care of it.

(That's my still-unfinished grape arbor in the background. I just need a helper who is not pregnant and who is over three feet tall. So it may be a while yet...)

I actually made several attempts at getting this line up, only to have it come apart almost instantly. The in-line tightener in combination with several wire crimping sleeves seems to have finally done the trick.

The only downside to the new line is that it doesn't provide the cool 1960's spaceship sound effects that we used to get from the old line when the wind got it vibrating just right.

So that's how you overdo it with a clothesline. We'll see how this one holds up. Remind me someday to tell you about my extremely under-engineered yet perfectly functional indoor clothesline...


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Super-efficient "chest fridge" (with pictures)

Okay, since this keeps coming up, I thought I'd explain how we converted an old chest freezer into an amazingly efficient refrigerator. Now just to be clear, this was not my idea originally. I can take zero credit for any part of this concept. I'm just following in the footsteps of smarter people than me. The original concept came from here, and honestly, I've lost track of where I heard the suggestion for using the homebrewing thermostat instead of doing the wiring yourself.

Before I get to the pictures, let me tell you how "amazingly efficient" it actually is. Our "efficient" bottom-freezer upright refrigerator is rated at 594 kWh per year. This converted chest freezer should come in at about 55 kWh per year. To put this in perspective, that's about the same as two 15-watt compact fluorescent bulbs turned on for five hours a day. (Disclaimer: It's a good bit smaller than our conventional fridge, and has no freezer. But still...)

Okay, on with the pictures...

Here is the (former) freezer. It's a 5.5 cubic-foot GE, rated (as a freezer) for 242 kWh per year.
As you can probably tell, it's in our basement. The basement air will always be cooler, giving this little guy less work to do. It's also in close proximity to the area that we hope will become a root cellar, which, if we can enclose it and give it an outside air vent, will give the chest fridge almost no work to do. At least in the cooler months. (And if you look closely, you'll see our worm bin off to the side.)

Here is the external thermostat (purchased here for about $60). For the record, the thermostat is mechanical, not electrical. It consumes no power.

(this photo borrowed from HopTech)

Here's a close-up of the thermostat itself. Couldn't be simpler...

Here's a photo showing how the fridge plugs into the thermostat's cord (which then plugs into the wall).

Here's the temperature probe, held precariously in place by duct tape. It's best to keep the probe out of contact with the inside walls. After all, you want to control the air temperature, not the surface temperature of the wall.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but some condensation does form on the inside. We alleviated this by opening the little drain plug in the bottom of the freezer (used for defrosting). No water drips out, but it seems to reduce the amount of condensation inside.

That's it. Five minutes to hook it up. No tools or expertise required.

It was using about 0.18 kWh per day in the summertime, and it's down to about 0.12 kWh this winter.

(And a big thanks to my camera for working. The little pocket one wouldn't have been able to cope with our basement at all.)



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Monday, December 17, 2007

At long last...

Once upon a time, I got a huge bonus from my employer. The huge bonus just happened to coincide with the release date of a really nice digital SLR camera. This digital camera was the one I'd dreamed of owning since the first time I heard of digital photography. This was the last camera I'd ever want. So I bought it. It's still the last camera I ever want... when it's working.

Sometime last spring, it started having problems. I'd take these pictures, and I'd be dying to see how they turned out, and I'd pull the memory card and pop it into the computer, and WHAM. Corrupted photos. At first it was just one or two. But it kept getting worse. Take a cool picture. Go back to look at it. Nothing. Soooo depressing.

Especially the time I went Gene Logsdon's farm so he could show me around and generously spend several hours chatting with me. You should see the awesome photos that I don't have. In my head at least, I got some beautiful shots. What I actually ended up with were two or three throw-away pictures and the rest were toast.

So I called the manufacturer, and they gave me some line about using the wrong brand of memory card or something. I dutifully got one off their "approved" list, and... same damn problem. More tech support calls, more suggestions. No dice. Finally I boxed it up and sent it to them. (Aside: I've already sent it to them once a couple years ago for a somewhat similar problem.)

The good news was that a couple days after I sent it, I got an email from the service center saying they'd fix the problem for free.

The bad news was that the necessary part was back-ordered. So after a week of waiting, I asked them how much longer. They told me one more week. Well, it took a month.

But as of today, I have it back. And I am very happy. We have a little pocket digital that can take decent pictures under favorable conditions, but it's just not the same.

So get ready for some pictures. Of what? I couldn't say. But I'm sure I'll find something...


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Monday, December 10, 2007

And yet...

I'm feeling mostly human again, and yet, I apparently have nothing of interest to say here. It was cold and snowy for a couple days, and now it's cold and rainy. The snow melt plus the constant rains have made quite a mess.

The chickens wanted nothing to do with the snow, and stayed in the barn for about 48 hours straight. They've also decided that it's pretty much too miserable to lay eggs. At the end of summer we were getting upwards of 15 eggs a day. Now we're down to about three a day.

A wandering cat has adopted us. Our neighbors were (and perhaps still are) feeding it, and named it Kiki. But his heart is apparently with us. Or at least the warm soft hay in our barn. He's very friendly, and I've got no problem whatsoever with a cat in the barn. The mice and rats seem to have moved on. Thanks Kiki.

I planted some sunchokes over the weekend, as well as a few dozen trees. Well, okay, I buried some apples that were way past their prime, some hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts from a bag of mixed nuts, some acorns and a chestnut that e5 collected from various places, and some apricot pits from somewhere or another. I'll be shocked if they amount to anything - especially the mixed nuts and apricots since they are from parts unknown. But what the heck...

Other than that, we're mostly just hunkering down and waiting for some non-icky weather. Maybe I'll have some good stories by springtime!

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Monday, December 03, 2007

I'm nearly human again!

More or less, anyway. Probably more less than more. If I was to begin with. Er....

Let me start again.

Way back at the beginning of September, I broke my wrist. Thanks to the orthopedist, extremely long waits in the lobby of said orthopedist, and some physical therapy, I mostly almost have full use of my wrist again. If you offered me a million dollars to do ten pushups, I'd probably lose, but I'd say it's 90-95% usable.

And, for the past five or six weeks, I've been coughing continuously. At least it seems continuous. Have you ever coughed so much it made your head hurt every time? That's been me, at all times of every day. I thought about taking up smoking, just so I could quit smoking, in hopes that the cough would go away. But thanks to two rounds of conventional antibiotics, as well as something possibly magical and slightly mysterious called colloidal silver (do not try this at home!), I am only coughing once every five or six hours.

Somewhere in all of that I lost a cuddling match with my daughter, which resulted in my wearing an eye patch for a day. That healed up very quickly, but it was pretty painful for a day or so. (On a side note, the coolest thing about having an eye patch was the ability to try out the Pirate Eye Patch theory. The idea is that pirates wore eye patches not because they'd lost an eye, but to preserve night vision in one eye, so when they went belowdecks, they could lift the patch and see in the dark immediately. It works as advertised! And yes, I am a nerd.)

So while I'm not entirely healed, I'm close enough to do pretty much everything I need to.

In short, I feel vaguely normal. For me.

If only there were more gardening to be done...


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