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Tuesday, April 20, 2021 No comments

Action shot

A few weeks ago, one of the other parents on Mason’s soccer team sent some pictures they took during the game to the group text. I cropped some extraneous stuff to get this great shot of Mason booting one:

Here it comes!

His team is now 3-1 on the season, after the two-week Spring Break hiatus. We went to Blue Ridge (about an hour’s drive) on Saturday, and they did pretty well. This is the first game that they dominated when the other team had girls (I don’t know why, except that I’d guess that any girls in the boys’ league are solid team players, and these girls were no exception). As goalie, Mason let a ball get by him in the first half (one that he should have handled), but his team was up 5-1 at the half. Coaches like to put Mason in goal in the first half, and striker in the second half (he’s fast, and not worn out in the first half), and he scored three more to make up for it (they won, 8-1). It’s amazing, how much better they’re playing this season. For the players that left, the replacements brought a chemistry that makes them all a better team. They’re passing better, defending better, working together better. We’re seeing improvements even from game to game.

One of the more hilarious moments of last weekend’s game: both teams had kids named Avery and Cash. “What are the odds?” the opposing coaches joked. Our own Cash joined the team just last week, had one practice, then played his first soccer game on Saturday. He’s a natural in the backfield as a defender. His primary sport is competitive swimming, so stamina isn’t going to be an issue! (We also have a Mason, Grayson, and Kason. All we need to round out the team is a Jason.)

The only low point was when Charlie (not my Charlie) got an elbow to the head in the first half. He had banged his head the day before, so this was the first time I’ve personally seen the league’s concussion protocols invoked. He sat out the rest of the game, with an ice pack on his head—a pity, because he was doing pretty well up to that point. He was better today at practice, but said he didn’t feel 100%.

The head coach is giving the team a “clinic” on Friday evenings, for the guys who want to try out for the middle school soccer team. Dizzle told me the team is “not very good,” but I think Mason and several of his teammates would definitely be assets. They might surprise the rest of the league this winter, the way the Sounders are surprising the rec league this spring.

A couple of team quirks: first, they sing “Happy Birthday” to any teammate who arrives to practice late. Today, while practicing penalty kicks, a few of them started singing the national anthem. The head coach and I decided that it might be worth trying during a real game, if the opposing team gets a penalty kick against us. Worst that could happen, the ref tells us to knock it off.

So yeah, we’re having some fun this season. I think we have a rematch against the team that beat us, and we might even surprise them.

Sunday, April 11, 2021 No comments

What I did on my Spring Break staycation

Mason was out of school, this last week, and I’ve decided to try taking days off when he’s off—just in case we get the chance to do something together. But I had a week, and there was no rain forecast for the first half of it, so I decided to try getting as much stuff done outdoors as possible. I had seriously considered taking the Starflyer down to the pond for the first half of the week, but realized it would clash hard with all the stuff I wanted to deal with.

First, this year I wanted to have a container garden (mostly). The farm has plenty of plastic tubs laying around, the containers for minerals given to the moofers. There are several places in the back yard where dirt piled up against trees, and much of it is loamy stuff with some clay deposits. I dug out enough to fill four tubs, drilled drain holes in the tubs, and stuck container-friendly tomato plants in them. A late frost whacked them pretty hard (despite our covering them with plastic sheets and leaving buckets of water underneath as heat sources), so I got replacements and stuck the frostbit ones in the ground… along with two jalapeƱo plants. The bottom shoots, that were covered in mulch, survived the frost. Maybe if this happens again, I’ll just pile mulch over the plants as well. Or, I’ll just wait for that first April frost next year.

Buried treasure
Next, I tackled The Boy’s old car (a black Integra, which inspired the name for the Blackuras, a street racing gang that draws Blink’s attention). The left rear brake caliper was stuck, and the car had sat in its spot for several months. When I put it there, the stuck tire picked up a piece of gravel, and you can still see the arcing “chalk” mark it left behind. So I bled some brake fluid out of the caliper, and tried prying it apart with heavy-duty screwdrivers and a prybar, without luck. What worked was smacking the moving part of the caliper with a hammer until it loosened up. After cleaning it out, and finding some interesting stuff (including a portable charger) I moved it to the new equipment yard and made a mental note to replace that caliper. Like my old Civic, the floor of the trunk is rusted through, so some Dremel and pop-rivet work is in my future. I hope I can get Mason interested in fixing it up a bit, then when he’s old enough to drive I’ll give him the car. (Although he’ll probably want my Miata instead.)

Good as new!
With the car out of the way, there was plenty of room to roll out the worn out washer and dryer that we replaced earlier this year. But first, the landscaping trailer the wife had bought some years back needed some serious electrical work. The plug was gone completely, both taillights were smashed, and so were two of the four marker lights. Fortunately, Tractor Supply had me covered. A $25 kit included taillights, two marker lights, a license plate mount, and the entire wiring harness—in other words, everything I needed for the electrical part. The marker lights were stud-mount, which meant I had to drill a 1/4" hole in between the old mounting holes. Since I live in the South, I learned that WD-40 works quite well as a cutting oil. I spent much of Monday afternoon hacking on the trailer. Once I finished the road (driver’s) side, the curb (passenger) side went pretty quickly. I plugged it into the farm truck, and realized the reason I wasn’t getting taillights was because the truck had a broken wire. The kit included some splices, and I didn’t need two of them, so I used one to fix that.

Tuesday, we loaded the washer and dryer onto the trailer, plus the furnace we replaced last year and a lawn mower with a bent crankshaft (I hit a small stump… it’s FAR Manor, why are you surprised?), plus the aluminum cans we’d let pile up for years, and took it all to the scrapyard. Mason and Dizzle rode along, and had great fun launching the lawn mower off the edge of the concrete. The only snag we hit was when they went to cut the check—it turns out that The Boy (who shared my first name, although he mostly went by his first middle name) had brought loads to the scrapyard. When they said, “Lawrence?” I assumed the wife had used my name for whatever reason. But she had been there as well, so I had them re-cut the check in her name. It all goes into the same accounts, after all. So we returned to the Manor, $41 richer (and more importantly, less crap laying around). They promised to set me up with my own account, next time.

But the trailer was not quite finished. It has a mesh ramp, that doubles as a parachute when towing it. When it was new, it had spring-loaded pins that would hold the ramp up for traveling, but they broke. Bobcat just flopped the ramp onto the trailer when empty, and used rope to hold it up when loaded. I used ratchet straps, but I really wanted it to be properly functional. Back to Tractor Supply… I found some long 1/2" pins that would do the job. To get everything back into alignment, I used a four-pound maul (the flat end) to bang things into place. Yes, percussive maintenance is a valid way of fixing certain issues, and quite satisfying. It was even more satisfying to have two such opportunities in one week. “This is how we fix problems at FAR Manor!” (Or as one of my college friends was fond of saying, “Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer.”)

By Wednesday, I was pretty stiff. Monday had included soccer practice, even though Mason’s team had two weekends off, and the head coach (I'm the asst. coach this season) knows exactly what motivates his players: a scrimmage. Last season, we did a series of scrimmages against the parents, and the parents pwn3d them because they weren’t passing. Something must have clicked between last season and this one, because they’re mostly holding their own now. They’re passing better, and are 1-1 vs. the parents and 2-1 vs. the real teams. (They were like 1-7-1 last season, and never beat the parents, so this is already a huge improvement.) To toot my own horn, I took the assistant-coach position so I could advocate (guilt-free) for more passing drills… I’ve observed that, at least at this level, the team with the better passing game wins at least 85% of the time. The head coach came up with some drills that emphasize passing, and it has helped a lot.

Mason’s team has practice on Mondays and Thursdays, and we were planning a parent-team scrimmage. I was slightly less stiff, but there was still a lingering muscle pull in my right leg (just under my butt). Monday, I pulled the left side, but slightly less. I joked about needing a butt replacement, but mostly held up my end. Of the three who played goalie on our side, I was the only one who didn’t let a ball get past (OK, that was mostly luck). Now the rain was supposed to come in by Thursday, but retreated to Friday except for an occasional sprinkle.

But when Friday came around, the rain retreated again. Now I have to admit, Charlie thought this was wonderful. It meant he could spend more time outside, and we did some “throw disc” long after I figured it would be far too wet. I didn't do much, but that helped a lot with the stiffness issues.

Yesterday morning, our friends came by with more chicken. Last time, we got six. We gave two to Daughter Dearest and Sizzle, two more to the preacher (who returned one smoked, yum), and the others went into the freezer. This time, they brought about two dozen. Since this was a freebie, and there was no way we could deal with that much, the wife started making phone calls while we broke out the vacuum sealer. She hit upon a great idea, to stuff a couple of them in the Instant Pot and then de-bone them. I found some suggestions online, and we bagged up the rest for both us and several others. We had chicken casserole for supper, and at least two more chicken-based meals bagged and frozen. Meanwhile, I have to figure out where I put my beer-can chicken stand. I used it once, and it turned out very well.

The rain finally arrived, and pretty much went all day. I had planned for more rain days, and a few improvements to the homemade worker’s paradise, but there was one I knew I could tackle: I wanted a shelf above the coffee station, to keep things that didn't need to be on the table all the time. I’d found some shelf brackets a few weeks prior, and a wrecked bookshelf provided the actual shelving. A nail head poking out of the paint told me where one stud was, and I measured to find the others. I had to run across to the detached garage, during (of course) one of the heavier rain periods, to grab a pack of wood screws. I had to reposition brackets a couple of times—I think the studs weren’t placed evenly—but eventually all the screws found something to bite. I only had to take off and flip one bracket, that I’d put on the wrong way.

A little yard work today wrapped things up. I went after the smaller (diameter) stumps that dot the back yard; I focused on those because they’re not so easy to see. Some I sawed out, some we dug up, several got the loppers. There are a couple dozen larger stumps, but they’re easy to spot and shouldn’t give a lawn mower a fatal surprise. If next weekend cooperates, I’ll rent a stump grinder and have at 'em.

So, back to work tomorrow. I’ll probably spend most of Monday weeding emails.

Sunday, March 21, 2021 No comments

Take our best shots

Fire away!

Charlie and I have been chucking our golf discs around the house when weather permits (and it permitted much of the last couple weeks). Of course, Charlie is a fiend for going outside, and he realizes I like doing this, so he tries to entice me with “throw disc?” Not when I’m working, unfortunately, although I should probably take a short health break in the afternoons. The problem with taking Charlie outside for a short break, though, is that he doesn’t want to have a short time outside. If I don’t have a call right after lunch, though, we might do a round.

He’s improved a LOT in the last couple of weeks. It used to be, he could barely get five feet out of a throw. Watch him now:

Meanwhile, I started taking a serious poke at getting the wife and I vaccinated, so we can Say No to the Ro for good. The Georgia Dept. of Public Health has a page that helps. My first attempt was fruitless, but on the second try (last Thursday), I got an appointment for this Thursday! The only drawback was, it's in Marietta. Oh well, people have been driving to Alabama to get vaccinated, as they had some looser requirements than Georgia for certain segments (teachers and clergy) until recently. Mississippi and the Cherokee Nation are both offering vaccines to all comers as well, which leads me to wonder if vaccine tourism is going to be a thing for a while.

I put both the wife and myself in pre-registration, thinking we might end up at the mass vaccination site in Clarksville. The wife pointed out that we should stagger our appointments, in case we both had to spend a day in bed with two kids running loose, and told me to get mine first. But she never got an email, so I ran her info through again. I immediately got her an appointment for tomorrow afternoon, in the next county over! So although I got my appointment first, she’ll get her shot first. I took Thursday and Friday off work, one day for the drive down (wow… I’ll be going somewhere!) and the next in case I need to rest up for the day.

We spent much of yesterday digging through the stuff stacked in the garage. Wife was getting inconvenienced at the narrow clearance between the stuff and her van. I found many things she was missing, filled a large garbage bag with trash, and stumbled across a cooler full of Caffeine Free Coke Zero and Diet Mountain Dew. It must have been The Boy’s, which means it was sitting there for well over a year. Several of the cans had lost pressure, and the cooler had a couple inches of yuck-colored fluid in it. I kept the good cans and put them in the fridge. The Coke Zeros are Mason’s, the others are mine.

With the van backed out, Mason decided to take up his dad’s skateboards. I showed him a video of how to do an ollie, and he was “that’s gotta be CGI or something.” I assured him no, I’d seen his dad do it, and explained the physics of it as best as I could. After an hour or so, Mason was able to get at least a little air!

So everyone is taking their best shots at FAR Manor. And I tell you, I will never be so happy to be stuck with a needle as I will be this Thursday.

Friday, March 05, 2021 No comments

Up too soon

Image source: openclipart.org
As Daughter Dearest has to be at school at way-too-early a.m., she drops AJ off at our place through the week. Wife gets the baby, she squawks on and off—sometimes waking me up, sometimes I integrate the noise into my morning dreams.

So the wife arbitrarily decided that I would get AJ on Friday not-quite-mornings. I didn't agree to that, or anything else, but whatever. Not that I would have said no if I’d been consulted about AJ in the morning, but nobody bothered to ask.

Thus, her 6 a.m. alarm went off. Some mornings, she’s in the living room recliner (having been put to sleep by the Hallmark Channel). Some mornings, she fumbles for the phone in our bed. And… on occasion, the phone goes off in the bathroom, while she’s in the living room, and I have to silence the mofo and give it to her.

But this morning, she was in bed, with her phone within easy reach. After a few minutes, she said, “AJ will be here any minute.”

Dropping plenty of F-bombs, I threw on a pair of long johns and a T-shirt, and staggered into the living room as I saw headlights drift by the window. I flipped on lights and got to the door in time for DD to bring Granddaughter Dearest in.

After Mama, AJ’s favorite person is Grandmom (but not by much). Granddad is down in the long tail, especially at 6-effing a.m. So when DD handed her over to Granddad, she started howling. DD’s hasty exit did nothing to settle the situation… fortunately, I did have a bottle handy. After some continued howling, she decided to chow down on the milk.

But it was too late. Rosie, aka Doofus, aka Stupidog, decided something was WRONG and hustled down the hall to jump on the wife. Charlie, who had staggered into our room some time during the night (which is unfortunately typical), was already up and around (“Hi, AJ! Hiiiiiiii!”). So wife got to sleep in for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. AJ immediately started howling again when Grandmom didn’t get her right away, but she was busy getting breakfast ready for both AJ and Charlie.

Wife turned on my coffee maker, but I opted to flop back into bed once she had AJ. I could always reheat my joe in the microwave, after all, and that’s what I did. Then I made espresso, and that got me through the rest of the morning.

To be honest, I hope that’s the last 6 a.m. wakeup call for me. I’ve never been a morning person.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021 No comments

A glut of meat

As I’ve said, there were a few upsides to the pandemic (for us, anyway). Avoiding restaurants, for one thing, meant we made a dent in our overloaded pantry and freezers. So there was space… fortunately.

As Mik Dragonrider observed, cattle are born knowing all profanity, and gladly teach it to anyone around them. Like people, adolescent cattle like to test boundaries. In their case, the boundaries are usually physical (i.e. fences). Younger calves can (and often do) slip between the barbed wire strands—the grass is always greener on the other side, after all. Larger calves, and full-grown cows with a taste for adventure, have to probe for loose (or broken) wires. The SOBs are always finding—or making—holes in the fences.

But one particular bull calf took a different approach. Instead of finding loose spots, he just jumped over the fence. Whenever he pleased.

Devolved T-rex
A digression: the parents of the Evil Twins have a friend who works in a chicken processing plant (a magical place where evil chickens become good chickens). Over the weekend, they brought us a box of whole (processed) chicken—seven in total, around 30 pounds of bone-in poultry. Fortunately, we have a vacuum sealer, and bagged the bounty. Three of them went to Daughter Dearest. I offered one to the preacher, and he said “Bring two, I'll smoke them and give you one back.” Works for me!

Back to the calf. We have a holding pen, where cows going to market get diverted, and somehow the wife got Jumpy in there. With grain and alfalfa pellets, he decided he preferred it to jumping out to the pasture. The family who re-roofed the manor, and generally hangs out with us, went in halfies with us on the calf. It helped that they have a trailer and a 4x4 pickup (it has been seriously soupy in the pasture, with all the rain this winter). The wife wielded a stick, and Jumpy found himself in a trailer. He tried to jump out a couple of times, but only banged his head against the lattice over the trailer.

While we were waiting for the processors to do their thing with Jumpy, the other family gave us a few packs of venison. Most of it is ground, but there are some tenderloin “medallions” in there. I refer to the latter as “douche steak,” because the wife uses a vinegar/water marinade (then rolled in bread crumbs and pan-fried… it’s really good stuff).

We have steak!
Yesterday, while Charlie was at his therapy session, the processor let the wife know Jumpy was ready to come home. We had anticipated this, and I chucked all of our coolers into the back of Moby Yo (the great white minivan) before she left. Of course, the processor had already boxed up the packages, so the coolers weren’t necessary, but better to have and not need than to need and not have, right?

We ended up with two boxes. One was all the really good stuff: brisket, ribeye, strip, filet, flank steak, one roast, and a few other cuts. The second box was ground chuck, still good stuff, partitioned into one-pound packs (perfect for us).

So, Jumpy’s last jump landed himself in our freezer. I did half-and-half venison and ground chuck yesterday evening for tacos, and the wife kept raving about how good it was (she was really hungry, but still). There are leftovers for my lunch, which is even better.

With all the beef and chicken in the freezer, I expect the wife will be craving pork before too long…

Friday, February 26, 2021 1 comment

I want to ride my Franken-trike

With near-incessant rain earlier this month, we brought one of Charlie’s tricycles inside for him to ride when it’s too soupy to ride outside. He has a Radio Flyer “Fold and Go” (it folds up quite nicely for transport) and one I got off the Zon (it has a push/steering bar for a parent). Encouragement and getting bigger means he doesn’t need to be pushed quite so much, and he’s quite happy to hop off and push his trike around just for grins. The Fold and Go is the inside trike, when one is needed.

Lately, the wife has been requiring me to go with her to take hay to the cows. This usually involves a huge roll of hay, and it’s more convenient (for her) with someone else to cut the twine holding it together before she rolls it out in the pasture. Charlie comes to watch. I really ought to get video of her hay-dispersal technique; it takes quite a bit of coordination. The tractor has an end-loader attachment, except there's a five-foot spike in place of a scoop bucket. She spears the hay on it, takes it out to where she wants it in the pasture, and drops it off. Then she uses the spike like a huge fingertip to flick the roll down whatever slope is convenient (this is Georgia, flat ground is a rarity unless it’s been leveled).

But I digress. Earlier this week, after returning from a hay-dispersing session, Charlie jumped on his trike and began riding. “Uh,” he said, then spun the pedals. The trike didn’t move.

I pulled the front wheel off the fork, and had a look…

It’s broke, Jim.

“I’ve been expecting that,” the wife opined. “He keeps running it into things.”

Charlie was going “ride?” and making his sign for cycling, so I thought things over. Back in Mason’s day (or maybe earlier), we picked up a Mongoose trike at a yard sale. It was fine until one of the rear wheels broke, then it got put aside. I used the good rear wheel when Charlie parked his Zon trike too close to the edge of the driveway and Big V’s widower caught a wheel. So my first thought was maybe I can pull the front wheel off the Mongoose and Frankenstein a working trike. No such luck—the mounts are completely different. I briefly considered an entire fork swap, but that would require both the Radio Flyer and the Mongoose to have the exact same fork tube diameter. They’re close, but it would be a lot of work to verify…

But hey! Why not pull the rear wheels off the Radio Flyer and put them on the Mongoose?

Sparks fly!
Like pretty much anything else at FAR Manor, easier said than done. Fortunately, both of them have a 3/8" axle, so swapping wheels was no problem. Push nuts are common on walking-speed rolling things, and they are one of the rare exceptions of being easier to put on than take off. I tried prying it off with a screwdriver, yanking with pliers… and finally decided to order some new ones and get out the Dremel.

The Dremel already had a metal cutting wheel on it from the last job (and I can’t for the life of me remember what that was), so I let 'er rip. I was very careful, and put only a small notch in the plastic. It wasn’t necessary to cut all the way through the push nut; just grooving it was enough to weaken it to where I could pull it off with pliers. The axle was in a frame tube, so it slid out and I got the second wheel off for the price of one.

With the wheels off, I put the big wire wheel on a drill and skimmed the surface rust off the Mongoose’s axles:

This, of course, took longer to get the drill and mount the wire wheel than to do the actual work. I sprayed some lube on the axles, more to prevent re-rusting than reduce rolling resistance.

With the axles ready to go, it was time for a test fit. OOPS, the inside of the wheels rubbed against the step. Fortunately, it required only a pair of thick washers to add the needed space:

Just a little extra space was all we needed.

The second test fit left me satisfied, and I waited for a box of push nuts I ordered off the Zon to arrive. Then, I had to re-assemble everything after I turned my back and Charlie tried to ride it. Fortunately, I managed to find the outside washers (one outside the garage and one in the gravel driveway), and Dizzle (Sizzle’s #2 son) found the missing bearing.

The new push nuts didn’t want to cooperate—it was afterwards that I remembered a reviewer saying to use a socket to even out the force—so I found the old Mongoose push nuts and popped them on instead.

Ready to ride?

Yup! I moved the seat as far back as it would go for Charlie, but a little time with a drill press might let me move it back a little farther. The Mongoose’s pedals have a longer… throw? moment arm? than his other trikes, so he seems to be able to get a little more power out of it, letting him get up the driveway a little better.

I wonder how long it will be until he realizes he can stand on that back step and push with one foot…

Sunday, February 14, 2021 1 comment

Got root?

Life on a farm—or FAR Manor—is a constant hack-fest. Sometimes, heavy equipment is required (and at other times, the heavy equipment is the subject).

A few weeks ago, I talked about the yard expansion (and roof work). The driveway loop/guest parking/equipment yard was most of what the wife wanted… except for one little thing. There had been a gigantic white pine, almost straight out from the front door. The same lightning strike that fried our light switches (and DSL box), 3.5 years ago, also nailed that tree. It was still green, but dying from the top down. So, while Bobcat was working general mayhem on the scrub and other flora, I finally relented and had him drop the big pine.

All well and good, and I rented a stump grinder to level it out, but Bobcat “forgot” to deal with the roots. Several of them were as big around as a decent-sized tree in their own right, and made humps in the driving area. This did not please the wife at all, and she complained about it off and on pretty much all the time. Finally, I realized that she actually wanted a solution, not just a gripe-fest.

“Maybe we can dig up the roots and pull them out with a tractor,” I suggested at last. She dismissed the idea at first (it was my idea, after all), but then warmed up to it. And so, a semi-dry evening found me outside with a shovel and a crowbar, loosening dirt around the offending roots and tossing it out of the way, until we had room to slip a chain underneath.

A tractor pulls up a large tree root.
It has been raining a lot in the last week, and more was on the way (and more yet is to come). But the wife went and got a tractor, and I dragged the chain out of the big garage. We started with a smaller, “practice” root, only as big around as my upper arm. I used a chainsaw to disconnect it from the stump, then wrapped the chain around it and hooked it to the tractor. Hoist… and up it came!

Now for the main event… um, nope. I couldn’t get the chain to stay around the bigger root, because there was a small branch diving deeper into the ground right where I’d cut it loose. I dug around it, then chainsaw’ed the branch away (but left about an inch to help keep the chain in place).

As the root started coming up, the rain started coming down. We got the thing out of the ground, I slid the chain toward the middle, and then raked a mat of dirt and gravel off it. Finally, she carried it out of the way.

The rain got close to being a downpour, and the wife put the tractor in high gear to get it back to its dry garage as I bolted inside and hit my head with a hair dryer.

Root has been got
So we got root, at least part of it. There's another one, almost this big, still attached to the stump. If we get a few dry hours, I’ll get that one dug out and cut away. At that point, we might be able to pull up the rest the stump with the tractor.

Too bad it’s pine… it would have been great firewood.


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