Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

Today is a blue moon day. It is the second full moon in one month. Concept2 Rowing had a Blue Moon challenge. You had to row two 5,000 meter sessions. I decided to split my marathon into two consecutive half marathons.

It was harder than the marathon I did back in late October. The last 5K was tough. I had some leg cramping and my hands were getting sore, but I did it.

The snow stopped and I plowed out the driveway. The wife and I will be sitting back, drink a little mulled wine, and enjoy the rest of the day.

Happy New Year's Everyone!

Night Visitor

I awoke early. All was still, dark and quiet. I turned up the heat, ate some breakfast and went back to bed.

I awoke again around sunrise. I got out of bed and started to get ready for my rowing marathon today.

I walked out to the barn to get a fews things. The snow had just started. The shoveled areas were coated. There was no wind. It was beautiful outside. I really love such times.

I saw that a deer had come across the yard. It made its way over to the holly bushes. It left tracks in the older snow, but not the new powder. It probably was roaming around at the same time that I first arose. I wonder if I startled the visitor when I got up early. . .

It was a magical morning.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shopping Day

The tests of our well water showed it had very high iron levels, was hard, and slightly acidic. We have been getting serious iron staining in the tub and toilets. Keeping them clean is getting to be a pain.

We had water treatment company come in and give us a recommendation. Looks like we will be putting in a sediment filter, iron extraction system, and a softener / neutralizer. Its will run around $3200! Our yearly softening salt and filter replacements will run us around $150/yr. You never realize how expensive and precious clean water is until you have to put out big bucks to get a system installed. We will be getting the new system installed in 1 week.

On a more fun note, I bought a small band saw from Home Depot (thanks to my daughter and son-in-law for some gift money which helped to defer the costs). Its not a big bandsaw (9 inch throat with 3.5 inch depth), but it is good for the types of projects I work on. It will be nice to have a saw that will allow me to make precision cuts very quickly! I also bought a small hatchet to help with roughing out large pieces of wood. The blade needs to brought to a keen edge. I'll be setting up the saw this weekend.

Tomorrow I will attempt to row my second marathon for this season (26.2 miles or 42,195 meters). Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nearly Done!

We were visiting our daughter the last few days for Christmas. Our visit was too short. I miss her so much!

My wife and I got back late last nite and opened a few gifts we left behind. I now have 3 more decoys to work on (a mallard decoy, a generic small shorebird, and a puffin)! The shorebird and puffin will not be too hard. The mallard has a cork body (it is a real working decoy) so it will take a little more care.

And . . .

I finished the major painting of the merganser.

I still need to add some eyes, accent the piece with black accent lines, and distress it.

Pretty good for a first try. I learned a lot from this decoy. I hope to improve over time. It is nice to work with my hands instead of punching keys on a keyboard and scribbling on a whiteboard (PowerPoint gets old fast...)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merganser 3.0

As I looked at the merganser decoy, I decided to square up the tail somewhat, add more curve to the neck, and reduce the height of the body somewhat to make the decoy a little more streamlined. I then finished the fine sanding of the merganser decoy and gave it a coat of grey primer.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the carving. The texture on the bark helps to define the wings. The lines are pretty good, though next time I would flatten out the tail more and reduce the size of the breast somewhat.

I used a grey primer as the wings on the female merganser are a dark grey. The head will be a rusty red, while the belly feathers are a lighter grey. I still haven't decided how I will do the eyes, or whether I will distress it some more. The body did check somewhat as it dried, so it is starting to have that whithered look.

I won't be working on this until after Christmas. I hope to be finished by New Years. Keep on the lookout for a final photo.

200,000 Down!

I just finished this years Concept2 indoor rowing Holiday Challenge. I had to row 200K meters between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was not planning on doing it this year at first as I have had a lot of travel, keeping me from rowing. We were going to go to Gettysburg last weekend, but as my wife was not feeling well, we stayed home. I did 53K meters last weekend, and another 65K meters this past week.

With all the holiday preparations and travel I always find it hard to get the time in to do the Challenge. The distances aren't the issue - it is the time.

I am glad I got this one done. Now I can focus on a marathon row on New Year' Day (42,195 meters in one effort). Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ghost Signs

We went to visit my sister for a pre-Christmas lunch, a little shopping, and a few drinks. Outside the restaurant was a 'ghost sign' painted on an old brick building.

I've always found ghost signs to be interesting. This one was particularly interesting to me as I think the building now houses shops and apartments. There is a story behind such signs. I wish I knew the story behind this one!

Let me know if you know of any others . . .

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Barn Decay

This part of the US (Finger Lakes and southern tier NY) has some of he highest densities of barns anywhere. There was a lot of timber in the area to build barns. As railroads came through in the 1800s, this was the dairy capitol of the country. Barns were everywhere, being used to manage small herds, collect milk, and ship it west and east.

As I drive around, I see a lot of barns slowly decaying. As an owner of an old post and beam barn, I know first hand that they require a level of care to remain solid and useful.

While I was out to get the Sunday paper (yes, I am one of those people that still reads the Sunday NY Times), I took a few photos of barns in various states of decay.

The story is always the same . . .

First, the windows and doors fall into disrepair. Animals get in. They nest and chew. The elements also find their way in. Water is the ultimate enemy of all structures.

Without stain or paint, the siding weathers. The barn board dries out and cups. Nails start to pull, and the siding begins to loosen and fall away. More rain then can get into the barn, allowing flooring and corner posts to rot.

Once the roof is compromised, then the days of the barn are numbered. Once the roof is damaged, more water can get in, further accelerating the decline.

In time, some barns start to lean. Some just start to fall down in sections. In either case, there will be nothing left but a pile of lumber. In time, this will rot away, and the foundation may be all that is left.

It's a pity to see barns in decay. There is a lot of history in such structures. I'm glad I can keep my barn usable - even if I don't farm or raise livestock.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Cold Day

It was unseasonably cold this morning. We have about 4 inches of snow on the ground. It was around 14 degF last night. We got about 1/2 inch of new snow. Though it wasn't much, I decided to plow it so the sun would hit the driveway and dry it out. I don't want any icy patches.

Speaking of ice, the recent cold spell has started the creek freezing. I like to walk down to the creek in the winter and listen to the water. The chickadees will usually be about, curiously watching me as I watch them.

I rowed 20K meters this morning. As you might know, I row indoors on a Concept2 rower. I try to row1 million meters in a year. I hit my million meter mark on December 5th. I'm working towards rowing 200K meters between Thanksgiving and Xmas (its part of a yearly challenge the Concept2 company hosts). Right now, I am at 120K meters. Barring any last minute travel, I should be able to finish this by the 21st of December.

I made good progress on the merganser decoy. I started the rough sanding and fitting the head to the body. I was going to mortise it in, but it is easier to just nail it in. I'm pretty happy with it so far. The body needs to dry quite a bit more. I've decided to bring it inside and keep it near the stove. Hopefully, it will dry in a few weeks. Then I can finish the shaping / sanding and then tackle the paint job.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chilly Workshop Day

It was cold this morning (low 20s degF) when we got up. I made a pot of coffee, enjoyed a cup or two with the wife, and then rowed 20K on the indoor rower.

I put the kerosene heater in the workshop, filled it, and lit it. I went back inside for some lunch, and then went to work.

I sprayed the ark toy with clear coat. I also continued on with the merganser decoy. I shaped the body some more, and started to work the head. I'll carve the head a little more, then mortise it into the body. After that, I will finish the carving.

I want to use a distressed paint scheme. Anyone know how to do it?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

We Couldn't Help Ourselves . . .

Anyone who knows us well knows my wife and I love glass ornaments. We have been collecting them for a very long time. We set out to do some shopping. We had a light snow, Xmas music was playing in the car, and we found ourselves in one of our favorite antique stores.


We found a bunch of nice glass ornaments (and had to buy them)! Quite a few were contemporary (mainly the Santa ones). There were a few mid-50's vintage Shiny-Brite type which we picked up. Shiny-Brite was the maker of a lot of the common glass ornaments in the 50s and 60s. We have as smattering of Shiny-Brite ornaments from my parents. Most were simple glass balls with basic paint schemes. We found a few different shapes which we did not have. When I told one of the shop owners that we 'collected' glass ornaments, she pulled out a box of larger, older glass ornamaments. They appear to be older German ornaments. A few were very nice (interesting indented shapes and really good paint). We just had to have them!

When we were putting up the tree, it seemed like we had no room for any more ornaments. Well, we found room. I posted a video below of some the ornaments on the tree (a special thanks to our daughter for the rotating tree stand - we can see all the ornaments easily as the tree rotates)!

And what would this blog be without a few photos of barn ornaments. The round barn ornament was one we picked up at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. The other barn was a common one we picked up in the last few years.

Enjoy the season!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's a Gusher!

Whew! We are nearly there.

We had a bit of a setback on the well. We had water at 35 feet - but just before the driller was going to hook the well to the house, we got a letter from the health department. It seems they decided to implement a new procedure to get a well put in for all of us in the town. Previously, you worked with the well driller. You picked a location which the driller would review. You sunk the well. Got it hooked up, had the water tested by the health department, and were good to go. Now we had to send in a request to the health department. Even though the health department had already been to our place and had given us a verbal okay, they now were going to inspect all the steps of the well installation process. Would be okay if they were responsive, but the engineer was never around. Finally, the driller told them we were moving forward and was not going to wait for them. He was getting backed up with all the people in the area trying to get wells put in. Once he got a backhoe in, they finished the job in about 3 hours.

We had to let the well sit for ~ 6 hours, and then draw water from the well for about 2 hours till it ran clear. They shocked the well with chlorine, so we don't want to wash our clothes or drink a lot of water for a few days. It was running pretty clear after 1 hour. I let it run for over 2.5 hours to be safe, then ran all the faucets in the house to get the air out of the lines. Still has a strong chlorine smell, but we notice the water seems clearer without all the little calcium floaters we had with city water.

I'll have to clean up the yard. One of the sweet woodruff beds was tore up as they ran the water line to the house. They also tore up some of the yard near the shutoff valve for the city water line. I'll need to clean up the yard before the ground freezes. I don't want to look at this mess till next spring.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Merganser in the Making

I roughed out a merganser decoy today. As I previously posted, I had some wood from my mother-in-law's property which I decided to use for my carvings. I finally got to use my shaving bench. I roughed in the body with power tools and the draw knife. I saw a picture of an old merganser decoy on the Internet which I used as a pattern for the head. I roughed out the head from a piece of 2" pine board. Like the primitive decoys I saw at St. Mary's City, I left some of the bark on the body to give texture to the wing feathers. The wood in the body is very green. I will have to it dry out before I can take this project any further. Once the body dries out, I will mortise a slot in it for the head, and then jump into the shaping of the body and the carving of the head. I will report back in a few months . . .

Tractor Time!

Yep. Its nearly that time. I dropped the mower deck, pumped up the tires, put on the plow blade, wheel weights and chains. Okay Ol' Man Winter - we are ready!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Primitive Decoys

We visited family in Southern Maryland this Thanksgiving. I stopped by historic St. Mary's City to look around and visit the gift shop at Farthing's Ordinary (an ordinary was a public house). St. Mary's city was settled in 1636. The historic city is a recreation of the original colonial city which is run by St. Mary's College. It is an active archeological site. There was a lot of history here. We love these type of historic villages (more on some of the places we visited in a later post).

I was looking for books on old barns and structures, woodcrafts, etc. in the gift shop. I came across some folk art primitive decoys. They had a variety of duck carvings, some geese, and a merganser-like bird. They were very simple, and still had some remnants of the bark on the bodies to suggest wing feathers. My mother-in-law had had some trees taken down to clear the woods by her driveway. I grabbed a few pieces of the green hardwood for a few projects. One will be a primitive decoy. Wish me luck.

By the way - one of my draw knives came in! I can start to use my shaving bench now!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Gift from Papa Claus and Christmas Carole

Noah's Ark Toy

My sister suggested I make an ark for my granddaughter. She has some little Noah's Ark figurines she had collected over the years that wanted to give to her niece. So as my first real project, I whipped up this toy over the weekend.

It is about 14" long and 5" wide. The sides are 3/8" plywood, while the base and the frame for the cabin on top are 3/4" pine. The roof is also plywood, but the deck is made of a piece of Pergo flooring. It is simply screwed together. I looked for pictures of ark toys on the Internet. I saw a few like this. I didn't have any plans, but the design is pretty straightforward.

The deck lifts off to allow one to store the ark figurines. I still need to add a coat or two of clearcoat. I also need to fashion a ramp for the animals to go on.

While rummaging around in the garage, we also found a box of small plastic toys that were our daughter's. In it were all sorts of animals. We will equip the ark with these animals. The figurines from my sister may be a little to fragile for our granddaughter, so the plastic figurines my be a good substitute for now. Maybe our daughter will recognize some of these toys.

We'll be bringing this gift at Christmas time. I hope the little one likes it. Now that I have the workshop up and running, there will be more toys from Papa Claus . . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

It Works!

I finished the lathe. I used a few bar clamps to hold a piece of 1x3 against the poppets to make a simple tool rest. It works great, but takes a few more steps to set up the piece you are going to work.

I ripped a few pieces of pine 2x6 down into square cross sections and started to turn them. The pine is very wide grained and prone to checking. I can see where rounding over the piece takes a lot of time on a lathe. I ordered a few draw knives, so I will be able to round over square stock on my shaving bench soon. As pine is a soft wood, the poppets have a tendency to slowly enlarge in the piece I was working as it was spinning.

I'll probably get some hardwood soon and give it a go. For now, I'll keep practicing on the pine.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I ordered a set of gouges from Amazon. They were a bargain. 8 gouges / chisels for around $45. They came in a decent wooden case. Good beginner tools. Nice long handles. They seem pretty sturdy. I bought some clamps and a 1x3 for the tool rest for the lathe today. Tomorrow I hope to try some wood turning. No - I won't be making anything yet. Just trying to get used to the lathe and tools. Still, it will be fun to work with my hands (working in front of a computer or a whiteboard gets real old . . . ).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Has Started

Last week I was driving to the airport, and one of the local radio stations was already playing Christmas music. Given it was only November 8th, I thought it was a little early. However . . .

Today I made my famous Christmas fruitcakes. I know, most people don't like fruitcake. But I have to tell you - everyone who has tried mine likes it.

I use a recipe from Jeff Smith (aka the Frugal Gourmet). It is for a bourbon fruitcake recipe that has some melted chocolate in it. This is a real fruit cake - it has liquor in it (not like the store bought junk). The dried fruits marinate overnight. When the fruitcake are done and cooled, you dip each side in more liquor. I vary the recipe. Fewer walnuts and raisins more dried fruits, double the chocolate, and triple the liquor. Instead of bourbon, I use rum to marinate the fruits, and Grand Marnier for dipping the cakes.

You need to let the wrapped fruitcakes rest a few weeks before you cut into them. So I started this Christmas tradition today. The cakes will be ready by early December.

I guess the season has started! (We also signed over 6 dozen Christmas cards - we'll start addressing them this week so we can mail them right after Thanksgiving).

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Spring Pole Lathe

Base pieces (left), rails (top-center) and side supports (right).

I have a new addition to the workshop. I've wanted to build a spring pole lathe for years after seeing one on the Woodwright's Shop on PBS. I found a simple plan here which I used. Unlike actual spring pole lathes which use a green pole as a spring to let-out and take-up the cord which spins the work, this design uses a piece of bungee cord. It takes less height and uses somewhat less floor-space.

The plan is pretty simple. You get an eight foot 2x6, 2 eight foot 2x4s, 3 six foot 1x3s, two 4 x 5/8 lag bolts, some wood screws, a 4' bungee and some thin cord (~ 10 feet). Cut the 2x6 into two 4' pieces to use as rails. I figured I wanted the work height at 41". I wanted the poppet centers to be 8" from the rails. This meant that the supports would be 41" - 8" = 33".

I cut a 2x4 to give two 33" pieces. I also cut the 2x4s to give me two 29" bases. I notched supports to allow each base to be recessed into the support. I then screwed the bases to the side supports.

Base pieces attached to side supports.

I put the rails on my workbench and flipped the support bases upside down. I then assembled the rails to the side supports using screws, making sure the rails were square to the side supports.

Rails being attached to the supports.

I had some leftover 1x2s from another project which I cut down to act as diagonal bracing for the side supports. I had to leave some room for the 1x3s to act as the uprights which hold the bungee. I cut the angles into the bracing and screwed them to the rail assembly.

The poppets are the working part of the lathe. They sit on the rails, and have sharp points on which the material to be worked spins. The trick is getting the poppets designed correctly so that the system is rigid, but adjustable.

The poppet height (the height from the rail to the point the material spins on) is to be 8" (i.e., the biggest piece I could work is an 8" diameter - I'll never work anything that big!). I have to leave 1" of material above the poppet point. As the rail is a 2x6, the height of the rail is then 5.5". The poppet has to extend down below the rail so I can mortice in a slot for the adjustment peg, so I left an additional 6". The length of the center part of the poppet is then 1" + 8" + 5.5" + 6" = 20.5". I cut two 20.5" pieces from 2x4 material, along with four 9" pieces from the 2x4s to act as the "shoulder's" of the poppets.

I drilled a 1/4" hole thru each poppet piece 1" from the end. I counter-bored the holes 5/8" thru most of the poppet pieces. I then screwed the lag screws through the poppet holes to act at the turning points (aka centers).

Center pieces for the poppets with lag bolts inserted.

I cut two 6" sections from a 1x3. I ripped these pieces at a slight diagonal along one edge and sanded them. They will act as the pegs to hold the poppets in place.

Pegs to be used to hold poppets fixed on the rails.

I measured the width of each peg at their midpoint, and used that distance (2.25" in my case) to establish the bottom of the mortise which accepts the pegs. Given the poppet is 9" above the rail, and the rail is 5.5", and the mid-point peg height is 2.25", the bottom of the mortise is then 9" + 5.5" + 2.25" = 16.75" from the top of the poppet. The top of the mortise has to be above the bottom of the rail (at 9" + 5.5" = 14.5"), so I put it at 14" from the top of the poppet. I mortised out a 1" slot in each poppet between 14" and 16.75".

A peg loosely fitted into a poppet mortise.

Nearly done. I took 2 of the 9" shoulder pieces and screwed them to each side of the poppet center. I then had a T-shaped piece which drops between the rails. One slides the poppets along the rails, and then lock them in place by hammering the pegs into each mortise.

Poppets with shoulder pieces attached and fitted to the rails with the pegs.

I attached the six foot 1x3 uprights on each side of rail assembly. They extend above the rails by ~ 4 feet. The bungee is stretched across the end of the uprights and act the the spring for the lathe. The cord is tied to the middle of the bungee, and then attached to a ~4' section of 1x3 (or 2x4) which acts as the foot treadle. I filed the lag screws down to remove the screw threads leaving them as simple points.

The final lathe (with support bracing, uprights, bungee, cord and foot treadle attached).

To use the lathe, the cord is wrapped around the piece to be worked. The piece is positioned between the poppets, and then the pegs are pounded into the poppet mortises.

Now you are ready. You step on the treadle board. It pulls on the cord, spinning the work, and pulling the bungee down. As you let up on the treadle, the bungee retracts, spinning the work the opposite direction. You only cut on the down stroke.

I still need to fine-tune the treadle. I also need to add a rest to the lathe (a rest is a rail which supports your tool when turning). I need to get some gouges and chisels to actually do anything. I'll start looking . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's a Well!

And the answer is . . .

35 feet!

The well is dug and it is running clean. Geologically, the area here is glacial moraine. The drillers found gravel all the way down. There are hills right across the street and on the other side of the creek, so they were worried that they may hit rock ledges. Luckily, the pounding went easy.

The well drillers were able to pump 10 gpm for 2 hours with no problem. The drillers have capped the well for now. They will be back in the next few weeks to trench the line to the house and run the plumbing and power.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Well, Well, Well . . .

It started today. The well driller setup up the rig yesterday and started to drill the well. Actually, they are pounding the well (aka as a driven well). Pounding tends to be somewhat easier and better (you don't have the drill tailings and the pounding operation packs the walls tight). We have a lot of gravel here, so I hope the well drillers can move fast. We were both away from the house today, and when we came back the rig was still there. Not sure how they are doing. I'll get a few pictures and post them. I hope they are making good progress!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Bodger's Bench

The original 8 foot 2x10 used as the base for the bench.

I've wanted to make a shaving bench for a few years. A shaving bench is a type of vise where you can sit and use your feet to hold the wood you are working while keeping your hands free. Typically, it is used with a draw knife to carve spokes, furniture spindles, etc. When working such items, you are constantly flipping the work over, so a regular vise is very cumbersome. Shaving benches are also known as bodger's benches. A bodger is an English term for a traveling woodworker. They would travel around and carve furniture on demand. Portable versions of such benches would be used as the bodgers would travel. Look at the blogs I follow to see various 'bodger blogs'.

I am not planning on a portable shaving bench, so I found a plan for a more adjustable one using standard size lumber. I also want to carve decoys, so a larger bench for holding larger blocks of cork and wood is needed (you will see below that I also opted for a particular design of the 'dumbhead' in the bench for larger items).

I started by getting an 8 foot 2x10, an 8 foot 2x6,two 8 foot 2x4s, a 4.5" door hinge, two 7" angle brackets, two 1/4" x 5" lag bolts, four 1/4" diameter washers, and 1.5" and 3" wood screws.

I cut the 2x10 down to 6 feet. The 2' remnant from the 2x10 is used later. I then chiseled a slot in the 2x10 for the 2' remnant to act as the front support for the bench (more later).

The slot for the forward bench support.

I ripped the 2x10 down to 22", and also cut a 2x4 into two 25" lengths for the rear supports.

The pieces for the supports.

I cut notches in the two 2x4s pieces and the 2x10 base. After figuring how high I wanted the bench, I then cut the 2x10 and 2x4 pieces to give an 18" height.

I attached the forward 2x10 suppot into the slot in the 2x10 bench and 2 2x4 supports into their notches. I added some additional 2x4 pieces tothe 2x4 supports to keep them from splaying using 3" woodscrews. I used the brackets and 1.5" woodscrews to secure the forward supports.

The base with the supports.

I cut the 2x6 down to ~ 50" as the bridge for the bench. I attached a door hinge to one end and also attached the hinge to the front of the 2x10 base. I wanted the bridge to be hinged as I can then adjust the height of the bench for different height pieces.

The bench with the hinged bridge piece.

I sat on the bench and determined where my feet would be located and the height I wanted to have my arms at when I worked on the bench. For me, that meant I needed the dumbhead-support (i.e., the vise part of the bench) around 27" long.

Some dumbheads are mortised into the base. Such dumbhead configurations looks like a 'T". These types of dumbheads are good for spokes and spindles, but not good for larger work. I went with a English dumbhead design. In this design, the dumbhead is supported on the the sides of the bench - not in the center of the bench. The English variant allows a greater work area which is better for larger work, like decoy carving.

I estimated the pivot point for the dumbhead would be at 14". I cut a notch in the bottom part of each dumbhead-support to accept the foot brace, and then put a 1/4" hole at 14" for the pivot point. I used a few washers and the lag bolts to affix the dumbhead-supports to the base.

I then attached a section of 2x4 as a foot rail to the bottom of the dumbhead-supports, and put a 12" piece of 2x4 to the top of the dumbhead-support as the actual vise head.

The English-styled dumbhead and riser block.

I cut three 8" pieces from the remaining 2x6 and nailed them together in a block. This gave me a block of wood which was 8" x 5.5" x 5.25". The block then becomes the riser to support the bridge.

The finished bench!

Voila - my bench is done. I can adjust the riser height using the 8" side of the riser block, or flip the block around and use the other sides of the block to adjust the opening size of the bench. One sits on the bench, puts the work in the bridge, and then pushes on the foot braces to firmly hold the work still.

Using the foot braces to use the dumbhead as a vise.

I can't wait to get a draw knife and see how well such a bench works! I've already ordered a few duck decoy kits. While I wait for the decoy kits, my next project will be a spring-pole lathe . . .

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Times They be a Changing

I came across a website which overlays house tax and sales data onto aerial maps ( When I put our address in, I was surprised to see that the aerial photos could be viewed from the north, south, east and west. The photos appear to have been taken just a few months after we moved into the house. I can see the original location of the arbor. I have since rebuilt it and moved it across the yard. The birdbath was also moved over by the east side of the yard. The barn still had missing siding and missing glazing. The south-eastern side of the yard once held a double-wide trailer. The footings are visible in the photo, but you can see the large dump truck bringing clean fill in. This part of the yard is now a large grassy area. Lot of changes since we have been here. There will be more . . .

What Church? - Part 4

I got a copy of the 1904 topographic map showing the house of worship down the street which no one seems to know about. I gave a copy of the map to my wife. She goes to a history meeting with Ray S's wife. She gave it to Ray. Soon after, Ray called here to let us know who the property used to belong to. When he contacted them, they knew nothing of the house. Their family was not religious, nor was there any type of burial ground there. Ray suggested I look to see where the other churches are on the map. He thinks they have misplaced one of the churches when the map was drawn up . . .

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Tamarack - American Larch

We have 3 tamaracks (also known as American larches) on our property (we had a fourth, but had to have it it removed this year as it was dead).

Tamaracks look like evergreens. They have needle-like leaves and seed cones. Unlike regular conifers, they will drop their needles in the fall.

I never paid much attention to the tamaracks in our yard. They are somewhat non-descript in the summer, and I always thought they looked a little weak in the winter without their needles. Today, I noticed their fall colors. They were clad in a mustard yellow. Strange - I never seemed to notice their needles on the ground. I never seemed to catch them changing color. I need to pay more attention to the trees, their names and their lives.

The New Man Cave


General Workshop Layout

As promised, I moved my workshop from the main barn into the second floor of the old milk shed. I am really happy with this space. It gets a lot of light, it is not too big, and the new flooring is smooth and easier to sweep than the old barn floor.

I moved the work benches to the new space, ran the power, set up the tools, and arranged my tools.

I enter the workshop from the first level of the milk shed. Though bringing wood up from the first level could be cumbersome, there is a door from the main barn that is perfect to bring raw material into the workshop.

Work Area with Access to the Barn through the White Door at the Left

Unlike the main barn the space is smaller and gets a lot of light. It will be much warmer. It is not heated, but a kerosene heater is perfect to warm it for work in the winter. It has great views of the creek and the driveway.

Creek View

Driveway View Looking to the South

I already have plans to build a few woodworking tools (a shaving bench, spring-pole lathe). I hope to start on a few fun projects soon (I always wanted to do some decoy carving, and I need to think about a doll house for my granddaughter!).

It has been a lot of work to get this space ready, but I am very happy with the results. I hope I make good use of it.


wonder [ˈwʌndə]
1. the feeling excited by something strange; a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and sometimes awe
2. something that causes such a feeling, such as a miracle

Yesterday was an exciting day. My nephew and his beautiful wife had their first child. We went to see them and the new one in the family. One of these days Great-Uncle Tractor will have another little one to drive around the yard.

A cold front was pushing in, and we drove through scattered rain. As we crested one hill and an opening in the clouds revealed a piece of a rainbow. As it was a grey and dark day, the bit of color was quite unexpected. As we drove back home past the northern end of Seneca Lake, we drove by stately homes and vineyards. One stretch of the road was lined with maples. They were all yellow. The cold front brought strong winds, and the ground was covered in yellow leaves. It was a beautiful sight. As we drove further, we came across one vineyard whose vines were a deep red. I had never thought about the leaves of grapes changing colors like the other leaves during the fall. As we neared our house, we encountered another rainbow.

It amazed me we can experience wonder. Each of these scenes is readily explainable and a logical progression of the conditions. Of course you see rainbow when weather fronts collide, yellow-leafed trees will drop yellow leaves, the leaves of deciduous plants change color in the autumn. Still, we find wonder and awe in such occurences.

Of course the greatest source of wonder was the new baby. I watched my sister at her amazement of her grandson. I thought about the birth of my granddaughter and remembered how I felt. Right now there are now 6 billion people on this world, yet the addition of a single little one is still a wonder!

I hope we all find something wonderful each day of our lives.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


It seems there is always 1 tree in the yard that holds onto its leaves much longer than the others. We have a pair of small maples by the trellis. As in other years, the larger of them was the last tree in the yard to change colors. It was a brilliant red and orange color. Its time was up. Yesterday was a dark and windy day, and the majority of the leaves finally fell. I raked them up, and finished filling the compost bins. Now, the raking is officially done. I then mowed the grass one more time. I'll be taking the mowing deck off soon and getting the plow blade on the tractor in a few weeks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


"A little whimsy now and then, practiced by the wisest men."
- Willy Wonka

As I promised in a previous post, I thought I'd show you some whimsical items in our yard left by the previous owners. We had 2 'birdhouses' over in the shade garden (the shade garden is a garden by the driveway which has mostly hostas). I recently moved these items over to the 'wildflower' garden by the east side of the yard. The wildflower garden has an assortment of irises, lilies, and other easy-to-care-for plants. We already have a white birdbath and a little white religious statue in the wildflower garden, so I thought some more white items would fit in.

These birdhouses are made with old table legs and craft-style miniature birdhouses. You can see they were painted white, and are now pretty worn. Still - they are fun and add a bit of whimsy. I will keep an eye out for white statuary for this part of the yard.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Morning Comes to Spook Hill

Even at 7:00 this morning, the sun had yet to rise. As I looked out the window across the road I could see the morning fog over Spook Hill. It is a cold and rainy day, one for sitting by the fire, listening to music, savoring a cup of coffee.

I am not sure what the hill across the street is actually called, but if you follow the road by the hill there is a house with a sign in the yard saying 'Welcome to Spook Hill'. We liked the name, and now that's what we call this view. As the day progresses we watch the fog swirl down the hill and then fade as the day brightens. The wild flowers of summer have now given way to browns, blacks and dark greens. Soon, the hill will be white.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Visitor

I was a cold morning. We had a hard frost, and there was a cold fog coming over Spook Hill. As I was walking out to my car, I saw a movement out behind the old maple tree near the barn. I stopped and saw a doe walking near the creek.

We don't see a lot of deer. There is fencing on one side of the yard, and the creek is about 4 feet below the bank. It is a natural barrier that hinders deer movement. Besides that, there isn't any significant browsing near us. Across the street behind the neighbor's is a large field. We see deer there on occasion.

To date, I've only seen deer in our yard three times. They've always been down by the creek. The first time was a doe, the second was a doe and fawn, and this time, another doe.

We see tracks in the winter. They will be behind the barn, moving through the yard as they browse. In the late winter, we see tracks up near the house, feeding on our holly bushes. Surprisingly, we've never had problems with deer eating our vegetables or flowers. In the winter, we leave old apples out for the deer to eat. When my niece and nephew come to visit in the winter, they've come with me to see if we have tracks and feed the deer.

It was a treat to see the deer. I'll look around to see if I can find tracks. Maybe we'll have a frequent visitor this fall!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Keeping Busy

The weather forecast was supposed to be cloudy with mixed rain and snow showers. Needless-to-say, the weather forecasters were wrong again. It has been sunny, cool and dry - a good day to work outside and around the barn.

Last weekend I cut the old lock off the door into the first level of the dairy shed. We used to enter this area from the gym, but I like to block off the gym entrance in the winter as we heat the gym but don't want to heat the dairy shed. Once this door was opened, I went and opened the entrance from the first floor of the dairy shed to the second floor. I thought it was going to take me a long time, but, to my relief, the blocked stairway just had a piece of plywood resting on the framing. It wasn't even nailed in. I went up the stairs, and I found the door was just latched shut.

Today, I added a new latch and spring to the dairy shed door. I took the easy way out and just ran a 14 gauge extension cord from the first level up to the second level for my future workshop. Opening the workshop took me a lot less time than I expected. I'll get to moving the tools and workbench in a few weeks. I am excited about the new space as it is very sunny, is bat-dropping-free, and has a smooth floor which is easier to sweep.

Since it was sunny, I decided to finish the raking. I raked out the garden beds (the shade garden and the two planting areas in the front of the house with Sweet Woodruff in them). I put the Sweet Woodruff in last year. It is really filling in this year. When I raked the leaves, you could smell the Sweet Woodruff.

My compost bins were running out of room, so I moved two dump wagons of compost into the vegetable gardens. I turned it over and covered it back with black plastic. Though it was not a good year for tomatoes, it was a good year for compost. It was rich and black. I finished most of the raking, but have a little room for some more leaves. As it rains and then snows, the compost will settle down to give up more room. I'll need it next spring.

I then mowed the grass around the barn (I did not get to it last weekend), cleaned out the gutters, moved some rocks near ramp wall by the barn, and fixed a few 'yard sculptures' (more on them in a future posting). I started around 9:30, and was done by 2:00. Pretty good progress. I guess it's easy to keep busy while the sun is out. Not much left to do before winter hits . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Co-ops are for People, Coops are for Chickens

The Chicken Coop

Remnants of the Foundation

I've mentioned we have a shed on our property which used to be a chicken coop. It was a large coop at one time. The concrete foundation is around 30 feet long and 9 feet wide. It had a concrete floor. The present shed sits on the first third of the foundation. There is still the remnants of the door the birds would enter / exit through. There are 2 large doors on the front, one I had to build. I don't think such doors would have been original. I put some metal roofing on the coop a few years ago as the rolled roofing and sub-roof were started to let water through.

The space makes a good place to put the lawn furniture in the winter. It is dry, and the hard floor means its does not get muddy.

We have a picture that a neighbor snapped in the 60's. The garage was not in the photo at it was not built until 1974. You can see the entire length of the coop in the photo. The neighbor noted that when much of the coop was knocked down (my guess was to make way for the garage), the smell was quite awful.

Chicken Feed Trough

I have come across a number of chicken feed troughs in the barn. They all look to be 8 feet long and approx. 7 inches wide. I believe I have about 6 of these. They look to be in good shape and would make good flower boxes if they are cleaned up. I'm not sure what I will do with them.