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Wednesday, May 30, 2012


We are blessed to finally live in a beautiful place that is rich in wild critters.  Unfortunately we are in outage at the power plant right now, and I am working nights.  Otherwise I might have been there for these sightings.  Corie and Grace saw a falcon in the back yard.  It pretty much had to be a falcon, based on its behavior, as it was chasing other birds around.

I was more unhappy that I also missed the first moose sighting, apparently an adolescent bull, about a mile from the house.
These are photos I found on the web.  Unfortunately Corie didn't have a camera with her when she spotted these guys.  Wish I'd been there, but that's how it goes some days!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


For Christmas I requested and received a home beer brewing kit. However, due to the recent move, I had no opportunity to get a batch going until this past days off. It was a lot of fun, and I think that I will be doing more of it! Since it took a fair amount of time to get everything set up and sanitized, I decided to make a second batch right after I did the first batch.

Here is a picture that I took while brewing my first batch.  (I really need to remember to clean the lens of my cell phone before taking pictures with it).   My first attempt was using a kit for an Irish Red Ale.  It called for steeping some specialty grains to impart a particular flavor into the wort.  At the edge of the boiling pot, you can see a paper clip holding a porous bag that holds the grains.
The wort is usually boiled for an hour. This accomplishes a few things: It converts starches to sugars for the yeast to feed on, it sterilizes the liquid, and it allows time for hops to bitter the sweet, sugary mixture. After that, the wort must be aerated and cooled to the point where yeast can survive, so that the yeast have a friendly environment to reproduce.

Afterwards the wort must be placed in a sanitized container and allowed to ferment.  Homebrewers often split the fermentation is split into two phases, a vigorous primary phase and a slower secondary phase.  The primary phase is fast, and produces a frothy foam so you need a large container to keep from blowing foam out the airlock.  The primary fermentation also produces a lot of dead yeast cells, which can create bad flavors.  After a couple of days the wort is transferred to a secondary fermenter, without transferring the dead yeast cells at the bottom.

Here is a photo my first two batches, freshy transferred to the secondary fermenters. On the left is the Irish Red Pale Ale, and on the right is Mark's Orange Peel Hefeweizen - a mildly hopped wheat beer.
The beer has to "condition" in the secondary for 2-3 weeks to complete the conversion of sugars to alcohol, and to reach its best flavor.  Then it can be bottled or kegged.

I know myself well enough to know that I would never wash and sanitize 40+ bottles every time I made a batch, so I decided to purchase equipment for kegging my home brews. Home-brewers use soda syrup kegs, because the lid opens up and they can be cleaned and sanitized easily, but can then be sealed and pressurized with CO2.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sidewalk improvement

The original walkway looked like this:

The new sidewalk looks like this: (That's Jerry Nash and his helper Luke from High Country Concrete - the guys who did all the work)
Note how the boulders are now placed in front of the house.  The grass will be replaced shortly, when the sod comes in.

Monday, May 14, 2012


So... As I rolled up to the gate for work on Thursday night and rolled the window down to use the gate key, I heard a funny squeak from under the hood of the truck.

"I'll have to check that out this weekend", I thought to myself as I parked the truck and went inside to relieve the other crew.  It didn't quite turn out that way.

On the way home, I heard the squeak again as I keyed out.  Then about 15 miles from home, hot air stopped coming out of the vent, the battery light came on, and it got really difficult to steer the truck.  I knew then that the serpentine belt had come off the engine.  Thats what drives the water pump, power steering pump and alternator. 

It also became nearly impossible to stop the truck, because there is a vacuum pump that helps run the brake booster.  The truck is a turbo diesel, so unlike a non-turbo engine, the intake manifold is not always under a vacuum.  Thus the need for a separate vacuum pump to assist the brake booster.

It was such a cold morning (28 degrees F) that I nearly made it home before the engine got too hot to continue.  It only took about 10 minutes wait with the hood up to cool the engine before I was able to complete the journey home.

When I got home, I got under the hood and a pulley was sitting on the engine.  It came from the vacuum pump.  Apparently the bearing had seized, and the shaft had dug into it, and eventually the shaft had tapered like a pencil until the pulley had snapped off!

It's kind of a cute pump with an eccentric cam on the rear side that pushes a plunger, which in turn moves a diaphragm up and down.  The diaphragm forces open and closed a one-way valve to pull air out of the brake system.  Kinda clever and Rube Goldberg.  I like it!

I spent most of Friday in town getting parts and repairing the truck.  It had been hard to start all winter and I decided to correct that issue as well.  So I replaced both batteries, the glow plug relay, the belt and the vacuum pump.  Now it starts perfectly in the cold and all the auxiliaries work.   Just cost me a day and $600.  Ouch to both.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

And Paint!

We have a house that is painted in identical color inside and out - kind of a sage/camo green color.  What looks pretty nice on the exterior is a bit dark inside - but particularly so in the basement.  Over the past week I painted one bedroom downstairs.  It took two coats of primer and two coats of paint over that to cover the green with a warmer buttercream color that brightens the room considerably.  However I still have a ton of basement remaining, as well as the main floor.  And doors.  It's an overwhelming job.

So... I bought a spray painting machine.  It says it's for the "entry-level contractor".  Hopefully that will work for an experienced but ovewhelmed home-owner :)


I am not a fan of gravel, either for walking or for driving.  I am definitely not a fan of using deep gravel for bringing a surface up to grade, rather than bringing in dirt and compacting it.  At the house we have massive area of driveway/parking space that is gravel-covered.  Whoever did snow removal last year didn't help the situation, scraping a lot of gravel into piles along with the snow. 

As a result of the gravel having been pushed away by snow plowing activities, it was quite a drop out of the shop and the garage.  For the garage, we had a special blend compacted in front of the skirt for a ramp.  For the shop, I decided to have a skirt poured.  I wouldn't mind having the entire thing paved, but I haven't priced that out, and suspect that it will be pretty costly.

We also had a walkway leading to the front door that was gravel.  The snow removal service managed to remove a lot of the gravel from the walkway and bury my grass.  It took several hours of work to get the gravel raked up and the grass uncovered.  Here is a Before photo of the front walkway, complete with show-shovel scoops of gravel on the grass:

Walkway Before (after photo coming soon!)

 Shop entryway before

Shop entryway after

While the excavator was at the house, we also had him change the grade on some of the soil so that it slopes away from the house, and had him bury some unsightly concrete things that the previous owner had left behind.  His assistant was interested in the automotive junk that was next to the shop:  A pickup bed full of broken parts, a transmission, a couple of bumpers, tarps, etc.  I told him that he could have it all.  It's kinda nice to have it gone and looking like a clean driveway rather than a junk-yard.