Saturday, August 30, 2014

One of the unexpected trials of retirement

If you're like me, as retirement approaches you plan and spreadsheet and imagine and worry and anticipate, so that by the time it arrives you think you've either got it figured out or know what bits you're going to have to learn as you go.

All except one thing.

After retirement; when you're living the good life; when you're waking up in the morning grinning because you no longer have to join the daily rush to the office; what the hell are you supposed to do with all your used batteries??!!

At the office there was a small recycling can in every break-room. You killed a battery, you just threw it in the can and forgot about it.

When you retire you expect them to take away your paycheck, and your badge, and your parking spot, but you forget that they're also going to take away that small can.

One person from the old office has been threatening to come visit ever since the day of my retirement party. I warned her that the price of admission is taking our stash of dead batteries back to the office with her and dumping it in one of those small cans.

So far, two and a half years later, no visit.

But don't think too badly of her. We're just not the kind of people that generate visitor traffic. In that same two and a half years we have had less than a half dozen people other than ourselves come through the gate, and to get to that number I had to include the two guys that delivered our new mattress and the woman that came to fetch her dog after we found it wandering in the woods. . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes the camera rests

About a month ago my brother was commenting on this blog and, talking about some of the projects I've posted here, he wondered at my ability to stop along the way and take photos.

Well I don't always remember, and this is a case in point.

Quite some time ago I carved a couple of pieces that I wasn't entirely happy with. Actually that happens quite often, me not being happy with something I've done, but this time I eventually went back to the pieces, and reworked them. Stripping the finish and doing quite a bit of additional carving to eliminate some of the chunkiness and reshape them for better flow.

This is a photo of one of the pieces as it came out the first time I did it.

And here's the same piece after re-carving and the addition of some tinted epoxy in the larger defects to create a little sparkle.

I wouldn't go quite so far as to say I'm ecstatic, but I do feel better about them; for now anyway.

Unfortunately I can't seem to find a 'before' photo of the other piece but I had the same issue with it's original 'form' as well.

But through the process of making them 'better' I didn't think to pick up the camera until I was just about finished,

As in getting ready to apply the finish.

Since adding epoxy to a curved surface such as this means that some sanding is going to be necessary to get the two surfaces, wood and epoxy, to blend, the original nice shiny finish on the cured epoxy is lost. And I know from experience that no amount of sanding and polishing will restore that shine without damaging the surrounding wood.

So the fix for that is to take a fine brush and coat the epoxy with some sort of gloss clear-coat or varnish. Here I've coated the right side of one of the larger patches and the left is still the raw surface sanded to 600 grit. The trick is to use the brush sparingly, to flow the finish on but then just leave it alone. Otherwise you're going to leave surface irregularities, brush-marks, and the more you mess with them the worse they get.

Here's a bit of almost useless trivia. The difference between a gloss finish and semi-gloss, egg-shell, or flat finish is the addition of increasing amounts of little bits of clear minerals, (With pigmented finishes these bits might be neutral instead of clear.) and by little I mean little.

As the finish cures the resins shrink, and as they do some of the little mineral bits get left on the surface, like tiny rocks right at the edge of the water. These rocks are a couple of ten-thousands of an inch in size which is too small to see but larger than the wavelength of light, so they scatter it, the light, and break up the 'gloss' of a purely reflective surface.. The more rocks the more the light is scattered.

A couple paragraphs ago I started with 'almost useless'. Ever notice that a can of gloss varnish will not have anything about stirring before use in the instructions, (Never shaking!! That just introduces bubbles and bubbles are our enemy!) but the can of semi-gloss will?  So if you happen to have a can of semi-gloss that's been sitting on the shelf for a while, (Weeks at least.) and you pick it up very carefully and handle it gently as you open it, the resin sitting on the surface will have few if any of those little rocks in it because they've all sunk toward the bottom. By carefully dipping finish only from the surface the resins will actually cure as a gloss finish.

This is what we locally call Red-Heart Cedar, which is actually a Juniper. But it doesn't matter what you call it, it's a soft wood with a very absorbent grain. To put a glossy varnish finish on it requires coats and coats and coats of finish, as it keeps sinking into the wood. For these two pieces, which I have frankly already put far too much time into, I opted for the natural finish of several heavy coats of mineral oil.

It's really sloppy work slopping the oil on thickly with a rag, so you want to make sure there aren't any other pieces laying nearby that could get splashed because once the mineral oil get on something no other finish will stick. After a few hours the oil will have soaked in, but eventually you get enough into the grain to get rid of that dry look. Then a little buffing with a clean rag and you're done. Relatively quick and easy.

Another couple advantages of mineral oil is that it is food grade so if someone uses one of these for candy or nuts there's no problem, and the finish can be rejuvenated, faster than you can clean the kitchen counter after making chocolate-chip cookies from scratch, with a quick swipe of additional mineral oil once in a while.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dog days of summer

The kids go back to school in a few days which means fall camping trips down here in Texas are coming soon! But it's still the dog days of summer around here.

August is typically one of our driest months and this year it's out to prove that! We had a few drops fall the other day, just enough to trigger the rain sensor in the van's roof vent and close it, but not enough to register in the rain gauge. We have 10 more days to go, but at this point rainfall for the month has been one big fat goose egg.

Fortunately we have otherwise had a pretty good year and are actually 3 inches ahead of normal since January.

So this August things are looking better than they have for several years now.

And looking back at Debra's barn, the white doors just peeking through the trees out there in the upper center of the photo, things are looking downright lush for this time of year. Of course the drought-killed cedar sitting out there is a stark reminder of drier times.

And we've been flirting with 100 degree days with high humidity and no rain for a couple weeks now, but even the sun flaring all over the lens can't hide the fact that I'm going to have to get out here on the dam this fall and clear out the saplings before they turn into dam-busting trees.

When it's this hot, even if it doesn't feel like it, it pays to take extra measures to stay cool, like this handy neck scarf soaked in water. It would be a bad thing to get a touch of heat stroke while up at the back of the property!

And I see there's a fair amount of trail maintenance waiting on me out here. This one is no big deal and I just step on over it,

but this tree which has come down across the trail is a bit more bothersome and requires a scrtchy, pokey detour into the brush to get around.

Up near the top of the hill (The highest point in the county is on our place.) even these fungi are looking a little crispy around the edges. They're growing on a chunk of fallen oak. Watching out for falling oak is something you learn quickly out here.

While some of the old hardwoods, I think this might be a Hackberry, stand tall and long,

When the Water and Post Oaks die they quickly get very brittle and start shedding bits, sometimes large bits, with no warning. Just a single crack followed by a ground shaking thud. We try to stay out from under them, and stay out of the woods altogether when the winds are high!

I see the fence at the back of the property could use some TLC

It was originally built using split cedar posts, but even cedar eventually rots in the ground and the posts end up just sitting on the surface, held up by the wire, like this one. But I don't worry much about the back fence. They run cattle on the property back there and cattle aren't too inclined to go wandering into our heavy woods, even if the fence is down.  And if they do they''re no big deal unless you happen to be carrying a bale of hay! It's the rescue horses and donkey on the north side that I pay attention to. They're a little spooky and have been known to just come on over after a storm has taken down part of the fence. It's a bit startling, for all parties involved, to run into one of them back there in the woods!

The 72 year old rancher to the south of us also runs cattle, but he keeps his fence in top shape.

Years ago when I was first cutting trails out here I discovered that that dark spot in the center of this photo under the log was the opening to a ground-bee hive, yes, with a few stings thrown in as I was preparing to chainsaw a chunk out of the middle just to make sure I got the picture! The trail still detours around that log today, but I haven't seen any bee activity for several years now.

I was distracted this morning while trying to catch the light glowing through this bit of seed fluff

and it took a moment before I noticed this guy sitting just a couple feet away. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure it's a Diamond Back Water Snake (We weren't too far from the pond.) which is not venomous, but they are pretty aggressive and will bite the crap out of you if you aren't careful.

Which is exactly why my snake boots come out every time I head up the hill.

Later in the day several young hawks were having a noisy rumble in and around the Live Oak at the base of the dam. Mostly they stayed pretty much out of sight but this one obliged by perching on top of a nearby dead oak for a moment.

And then this evening I stepped out and found this guy bedded down in some shade right out in the open a few feet from the barn!

In fact I just checked and she's still there. Ah the dog days of summer when nobody wants to do much of anything except ride it out to cooler days.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Three in the pond

I looked out this morning and saw this on the far side of the pond

Even with the binoculars I couldn't really make out the bird on the left, but it was standing there watching the one in the water and I figured a youngster watching mom or dad.

Until I took a photo at 50X zoom then blew it up to the point of grainy.

Then it was clear, sort of anyway, that the watching bird was a Green Heron and clearly the one in the water wasn't.  I guess the Green Heron was either very polite and waiting for the other bird to finish up, or was pissed that someone else was in his territory and was giving the stink eye.

But if that was the case it was having no effect on this guy

who I suspect is a White Ibis caught in the middle of morphing from juvenile to adult coloration.

At first glance I wanted to call the third bird in the pond this morning a Cattle Egret, but they're pretty much never seen in water up to their ankles let alone up to their knees like this and this guy has been hanging around for several days now, always in the water. So after some research I have decided this is a juvenile Little Blue Heron that will start darkening up later this year. Hope he hangs around so I can see that.

Though we are 100 miles from the nearest salt-water beach, near which many of these wading birds build colonies, we have been seeing more and more of them around our place. Since many of them prefer a diet of freshwater creatures I'm wondering if the extended drought is pushing their preferred snack further inland as saltwater starts invading the freshwater and brackish marshes closer to the coast.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Deer in the light

The sun coming up over top of the trees caught this deer down by the pond pretty well.

There were several deer down there but this was the only one standing in the right place for the 5 minutes or so the light was right and in that time she never did present me with anything except this rear-quarter shot.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A final recycling run

I know, I know, I haven't posted here in a while. That's because I haven't been around; the road beckoned, or rather insisted, and I went.

But I'm back now, in part because there was a new car in the works. In fact, we picked it up the day after I got back home. In a couple days the old car, with about 170K miles on it but still full of life, will be given to a family member to be driven three or four states away forever.

Which is what precipitated this last recycling run. We don't get our recycling picked up at the curb out here, instead we have to cart it to the recycling center over in in the county seat which is just short of 20 miles away. We don't yet have a hitch receiver installed on the new car so had to get one last run in now while we still had the old car in hand.

 Recycling starts at the 'trash station' that sits in the barn just outside the door to our living quarters.
This whole thing sits on casters so it can be easily moved around and, starting at the bottom center and working around counter-clockwise, consists of:

A small metal trashcan with tight fitting, odor-blocking lid. The can is double bagged and we keep a supply of small rags handy so there is always a relatively clean one to grab the handle with. The white trash bags are removed, tied off and dumped into the larger trash container that gets taken up to the road once a week.

A plastic shopping bag hanging from a hook for tossing small trash into without having to open the can. When it gets nasty or full, the plastic bag is tied off and dropped into the can and a fresh bag hung.

A shelf holding a bug cup and a CD. The bug cup is used to trap bugs and things that get inside where we don't want them, the CD is then slid under the cup and the critter is released to the great out-doors.

A lidded box sized to hold a one gallon plastic water jug with a funnel in it. Lift the hinged lid and pour any grease into the funnel. When the jug is about half full replace it with a fresh one. (We have plenty of those as that's where we get our drinking water.)

A series of small blue bins for sorting recycling into non-newspaper paper, glass and tin, and newspaper. These then get emptied into the recycling trailer.

Disenfectant for - well - the nasties.

Again, starting bottom center and working counter-clockwise, the other side of the trash station has:

A reusable shopping bag hanging from a hook in which we dump all #1 and #2 type plastic

A plastic shopping bag hangs behind this and is where we stuff all blown out or otherwise unusable plastic bags and other thin plastics for recycling at the grocery store.

A holder/dispenser for intact plastic shopping bags that we will use later.

 When the blue bins or the reusable shopping bag on the trash station get full,

they get taken around beside the barn to where the recycling trailer lives.

Of the three large bins on this trailer, the one at the front gets newspaper in one basket, magazine and other paper in the other and cardboard in the bottom of the bin. Using the front bin for this ensures that sufficient weight, about 10% of the total trailer weight, is always kept on the hitch. (Have you ever seen a trailer going down the road, tail down, nose up, wagging wildly side to side? That's probably because they have more weight behind the axle than in front of it where it belongs.)

The middle bin has one basket for glass and one for tin. In our recycling center aluminum foil goes in with the tin cans and only aluminum cans go in the aluminum bin. Since we don't drink from aluminum cans we don't have a basket for these.

And the last bin, the lightest bin, is for the plastic.

Here the recycling trailer has the bins strapped down and is getting the air checked in all three tires

before being taken to the car where it has been hooked up, lights tested, and is ready to go. At the recycling center, which can get busy at times, we can quickly dump the individual baskets, or entire bins in the case of plastics and cardboard, into the proper receptacles, strap them back down and be on our way.

The eagle-eyed may have noticed that the trailer is equipped with LED tail-lights. A bit of an extravagance perhaps but if there's one thing I don't like messing with, seemingly every time I hook up a trailer, it's those damn original equipment lights!

Now I guess I better do something about getting a receiver and light harness mounted on the new car before we need to make another run. . .