Pioneer Chronicles or More Reasons Why I Don’t Do Camping

Never underestimate a snow storm.

It sure isn't summer time.

It sure isn’t summer time.

I should know this by now.  Twenty years at Maywood.  We survived the Winter of 1994 when the stream froze and the ground was white with snow and/or ice from Christmas until the first day of spring.  We sledded groceries down to the house…when we could get out to get groceries.  We wheelbarrowed wood to the wood furnace to try to stay warm in the uninsulated Maywood House.

In ’96 we made the evening news when we were the last family in Baltimore County to get plowed out.  They needed front-end loaders to deal with all the snow.  That was the year we drank raw milk from Vernon Foster’s cows.  His grandkids didn’t want to drink it, but we were plenty glad to have it.  One mile of road and we couldn’t drive it.  The only way out was to drive over the corn fields where Robert Warns had plowed a path with some farm machinery.

In 2010 we survived Snow-pocalyse, two back to back monster storms and a snowed in family party that I thought would never end.

We got this much snow.  YOU go out and measure it.

We got this much snow. YOU go out and measure it.

So what’s a little prediction of 3-6 inches.  That changes to 6-12 inches.  Accompanied by single digit temperatures and high winds. Right?

First, my in-laws lost land-line phone service.  My father-in-law called on his cell phone to let me know.  Our land-line is with the cable service so it didn’t affect us.

Then the cable went out.  No phone, no internet, no TV.  No Pandora on my new wireless Bose speaker.  It was looking like hubby and I would have to spend the evening in scintillating conversation.  Fortunately, the smart phones still worked.  I could text and post to Facebook.   Cable service was restored amazingly quickly.  No small feat for Comcast.  Music was playing again within two hours.

No sooner had I finished cleaning up the kitchen and taken a potty break, when the power went out. No lights.  No water.  No heat.

At least the dishes were done and my bladder was empty.  Pottery Barn wickless candles all over the house provided soft illumination. The flashlight app on our smartphones guided us around the house.  We read by the glow of the Nook.

Now, we were relaxing by the wood stove without a fire because hubby said we were out of wood.  With no heat (although the house was still warm), it was time to get picky about what “out of wood” meant.  It did not mean “no wood.”  So the few pieces down in mancave were put to use in the fireplace insert.  Which, by the way, does not have a blower fan when the power is out.  Radiant heat is all you get.

When BGE updated the return of service from 11:15 pm to 6:45 am, it was time to call it a day.  Up to bed fully clothed in fuzzy sweater, fleece pants and socks.  The bed was piled high with blankets.  And hubby puts off a lot of heat.  I was rather comfortable.  Hubby was so comfortable that he slept right through the return of power at 1:55 am, at which time the bedroom was a toasty 56 degrees.

With morning we have lights, water, internet, phone, heat.  There is even a fire going in the fireplace. (“Out of wood” today means that there is wood but it needs to be split.)  It is time for Pioneer Man to get out there on Betsy the Tractor and plow us out.  Yeah, so it’s like 5 degrees out there with a wind chill.  Betsy is not cooperative.  She refuses to start.  Oh, she was quite willing to start two nights ago when it was 40 degrees out.  But now her hydraulic fluid is like sludge.  I don’t blame her, really.  I feel that way too on cold mornings.

Don't you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

Don’t you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

But how will we get out?  This snow is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Pioneer Man calls our neighbor who also has a vintage tractor like Betsy.  Neighbor and family are sick with the flu.  They hired someone to plow them out.

“How much?” asks Pioneer Man.

“Don’t know.  He’s going to bill me,” replies flu-stricken neighbor.

Whoa.  He’s really going to feel ill when that bill comes.

We ponder ways to warm up Betsy.  There is a torpedo-like heater in the  Room of Outer Darkness.  (“Which room of outer darkness?”the daughters may ask.  We have so many. The Room of Outer Darkness is the room off the shop underneath the side porch.  It would make an excellent wine cellar for someone organized and with an ability to not drink every bottle as soon as it enters the house.)  Anyway, this torpedo heater is like the ones you see on the sidelines of football games to warm up the players.  It was left here by a contractor once upon a time.  It runs on kerosene.

We don’t have any kerosene.

We have wine and whiskey, though.  I stocked up on important things before the storm.

Hey, Murphy, pass the hydraulic fluid

Q: What does one do the Sunday between football play-offs and the Super Bowl?

A: The things that didn’t get done while lolling on the sofa quaffing beers every Sunday since August.

One could watch TV–there’s a Barry Manilow themed ice-skating show on.  That’ll get a man outside doing manly things quicker than you can say, well, Barry Manilow.  It’s bad enough getting sucked into Downton Abbey, but ice-skating?  One has to draw the line somewhere.  And this is why Maywood Man is outside with his vintage Maywood equipment doing Maywood tasks.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

It’s good timing for a by-week from football.  Last week, just as the arctic chill sent Maryland temperatures into the teens, the furnace conked out.  The new furnace is being installed tomorrow, as the temperatures begin to climb this week toward the 50’s.  It hasn’t been too painful, though.  Like NASA, we have engineered redundancy around here.  We have two furnaces.  Bedroom doors stayed open while the downstairs furnace worked to heat the whole house.  The wood stove supplemented the downstairs furnace.  At night, we shut bedroom doors and kept quite comfortably warm with space heaters.

Murphy's Law #658--If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn't have to give up hers, your room will become too hot to need a heater.

Murphy’s Law #658–If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn’t have to give up hers, your classroom will be too hot to need a heater.

But we are now out of firewood.  Well, not out of wood.  We’re just out of pre-cut pieces ready to toss in the wood-stove. This afternoon, I type to the soothing buzz of the chain-saw in the “lumber yard.”  Tonight, I look forward to watching Downton Abbey in real time by a roaring fire.  Maywood Man will probably fall asleep from this afternoon’s exertions.  Maybe–just to get a rise out of him– I’ll jump up periodically and scream, “Come on, Flacco!” like our toddler grandson John.

It's a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen.   You think I'm going out in the  cold to take a picture of a tractor?

It’s a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen. You think I’m going out in the cold to take a picture of a tractor?

Big John would have cut firewood yesterday, but he was wrapped up with tractor repairs.  Well, of course.  Or as the French say, Mais oui.  Murphy’s Law #342:  The furnace will conk out when the temperature nose dives into the teens.  Murphy’s Law #572: The tractor will break down if it snows.

It snowed.

Not a lot.  I got a two-hour school delay for snow on Thursday.  Friday I got a two-hour early dismissal.  Mere dustings…just enough to cause massive traffic delays around the Baltimore-D.C area.  Just enough to tell the tractor to break down.

What this time?  Points and capacitor.  Don’t ask me what that is; I thought it was related to spark plugs.  According to John, they work together to provide spark to the spark plugs.  (I knew the spark plugs were connected somehow.  I’m learning bee-lingo; I have not mastered tractor mechanics.)  I suggested that he call before heading up to Shrewsbury–to avoid Murphy’s Law #690:  If you drive to Shrewsbury, they won’t have the part you need.  Ah, sure enough, he ended up driving to Hanover to get the part he needed.  While in Hanover, he looked at hydraulic fluid and thought, “Nah, I’ve got enough.”

Murphy’s Law # 691: If you think you have enough hydraulic fluid at home, you will discover that you do not.

This is where I find myself not believing that I’m actually saying what I’m saying:

“Dear, maybe we should just always keep a supply of hydraulic fluid on hand.”

Today, before bonding with his chain saw, Maywood Man took a ride to Shewsbury for hydraulic fluid.  The tractor is now ready to go.   Tomorrow the furnace will be purring and the firewood will be stacked high on the porch.

Pottery Barn wickless candles--great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Pottery Barn wickless candles–great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Dare I predict balmy weather in Baltimore for the Super Bowl?  I’m not going to get cocky.   A quick check at weather tells me that the furnace could be delayed by ice tomorrow.

Murphy’s Law #343: Ice storms will hit the day you schedule a furnace installation.

Now I have a real dilemma.  Do I wish for a day off school due to weather?  Or do I wish for clear weather and a furnace?

What I wish for is to watch the Raven’s win the Super Bowl in a nice warm house.  And Murphy is not invited.202380576976815018_hG09CAUH_b[1]

The busy beekeeper tries to tuck the bees in for winter

Fondant for the bees

A twenty-five pound bag of sugar is empty in the kitchen.  Dinner was delayed because the stock pot of bubbling sugar water was taking up most of the stove space.  All of my pyrex casseroles are filled with sweets that we won’t be eating.  A five gallon bucket and a paint stirrer are coated with sugar syrup.  And there are splatters of syrup everywhere–on the counters, on the (freshly mopped) floor, on the floor mats,  even on my bee hat.

All the evidence points to John.  He’s been making fondant for the bees.

We did nothing to prepare the bees for a hurricane.  And nothing happened to them.  That’s partly because they are on a sheltered hillside and mainly because the storm pounded north of us.  Winter, however, has often hit the bees hard, so it is important to tuck them in for the season.

A nice day for playing with bees or just wandering around the yard

Today’s goal was to winterize the bees with insulation and to stock the hive with a store of fondant to eat throughout the barren winter months.  Only half the task got done.  Ironically, this November day was so warm that the bees were too active for John to wrap the hives.  At least the floor and ceiling of the hives got winterized and the fondant placed in the feeder box.

A piece of insulation board is fitted to the bottom hive box.  This will help protect the bees from cold air coming in underneath the hive.

Feeder boxes fitted with insulation

On top of the hive, John puts a feeder box.  It usually has a tray for sugar water, but for winter John removes the tray and fits the box with a piece of insulation.  This will protect the top of the hive from cold air.

John  places a big piece of fondant on top of the honey frames.  The insulated lid sits on top of it.

Fondant sits on top of the honey frames

Insulated lid goes on top

Later, when it’s colder and the bees are staying inside, John will insulate the outside of the hive too.

Alas, insulating the bees is akin to having the tractor in working order—it’s one of Murphy’s Laws that if we are prepared for winter, we won’t get one.

The tractor is running great at the moment.

Last week I got my first dose of winter on a day trip to New York City.  I can wait for snow.  For now, there’s plenty of autumn left to enjoy.  Apparently the bees think so, too.

In another month, I’ll be decorating with evergreens.

Little man hands

Lesson 1 in tractor maintenance--he'll be working on this same tractor for the next forty years

It was too quiet Friday morning, so I looked outside and saw the little guy working on the tractor with PopPop.  From the upstairs window it was just the cutest thing.  Then I went outside to inspect closer.  Oh my.  Grandson was busy at work scraping gunk off the tractor engine.  This is a 1952 tractor and I know for a fact that no one has cleaned any gunk off that tractor since we moved up here in 1993, and who knows when before that.  But PopPop had the six-year-old happily at work.  The smile on kiddo’s face attested to “happy;” the automotive grease smeared all over his face, winter coat, and jeans attested to work.

And then there were his hands. We have countless pairs of disposable gloves around the house, but why would you give a boy gloves to wear to scrape twenty years of engine gunk off a tractor?   Hmmm????

The kid had man hands.  No, I’m not referring to the Seinfeld episode.  I’m referring to the man-sized grime on those little mitts.  He looked like a regular mechanic, and he was proud of it, too.  Well, before Mr. Junior Mechanic entered the house he needed a lesson on how to use the de-greaser.  It’s pretty cool for a kid to have hands are sooooo dirty that he has to use a pre-wash on them.  He dutifully used the de-greaser (twice, at my insistence) and rubbed the grimy glop off his hands with paper towels.  Then we went upstairs to the bathroom, with me opening all doors and turning all knobs.  Gobs and blobs of soap followed, with a soak in the sink and a nail brush loaded with more soap.  Grimy clothes were removed and deposited by the washer to await PopPop’s grimy additions later.

Cleaner than tractor grease, but dirt + water + boy still = needs a bath.

Earlier in the week, grandson helped PopPop with sawyering.  That was a cleaner project–even with the tumbles into the dirt.  His job was to hose off the logs and then each board as it was sawn.  When not busy with the hose, he climbed all over any logs or branches he could find.  He made an impromptu see-saw from a few pieces of wood.  Later, he practiced his balancing by walking across logs.  I pondered briefly whether he might break his arm or something if he fell, but  I still managed to get distracted by PopPop cutting down a tree just as the little guy fell from his balancing post.

“MomMom, I fell.”

“Are you hurt?”

He points to his chest.  A quick examination reveals a three-inch scratch.  We go inside to clean it and apply a band-aid the size of Montana.  I warn him that a band-aid that size will freak out his mother.  And sure enough it does, because he knows just how to present it.

“Mom!!!  I fell off a tree and hurt myself!!!!”

“Oh my gosh, honey, are you ok?”

He pulls up his shirt to reveal the band-aid the size of Montana.  I’m upstairs but can hear her maternal wail.  The kid is totally messing with her.  There is nothing wrong with him.  He is 100% boy.  And he knows his mom is 100% girl.  He has already figured out how to work that.   And after a day of hosing logs and falling over trees, he doesn’t understand why he might need to change and wash up before heading off to a birthday party.

Ah…little man.  And learning from the master of dirt himself–PopPop.

 

 

There’s hope for snow days…

For all of you who are dragging your weary bodies through this warm, snowday-less winter, hope is on the way.

The tractor is not running.

Last week, during all those balmy days that were perfect for taking a walker stroll around Hunt Valley Town Center, the tractor was running like a charm.  Smooth as silk.  Of course.  John had put on a new ignition coil, distributor cap, rotor, points, and spark plug wires.   (I don’t know what any of that is–I’m just quoting what he wrote on Facebook.) He even put on the snow blade.  Every day he took ol’ Betsy (Betsy???) out for some light exercise.  Everyday she purred her way around Maywood.

This morning, a dusting of snow coats the pavement.  The wind is whistling a cold song through the trees.  And Betsy will not turn over.  I don’t blame her.  She’s 60.  Who wouldn’t rather sleep in on a cold breezy morning?  But she’s more predictable than Punxsatawny Phil.  When will winter begin?  When the tractor won’t start.  When will it end?  When the tractor gets fixed.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“It’s too cold,” John replies.  “The starter won’t turn over.”

“Maybe you need a new starter motor,” I suggest.  Now, I know almost zilch about auto mechanics, but over the years I have learned that starters have motors and that they sometimes die.

John doesn’t think it’s the starter motor.  “I just put one on.  Remember?  That big snow in ’95?”

I do not remember.

“And I had to drive to Lancaster to get the part?”

Oh, now I remember.  It was one of those monster snow storms that had us snowbound at the end of Miller Lane for days and we were drinking raw milk from Vernon Foster’s cows while the county brought in front-end loaders to clear the road.  It was the storm where WJZ came back in 4 wheel drive to interview us for the evening news–the last house in Baltimore County to get plowed out.  John drove to Lancaster in eight inches of snow in the middle of that storm to get a part for the tractor.

“John, that was seventeen years ago.”

“Really?”

“It could be the starter motor.”

“I guess it could.”

So, for  all of you people who are desperate for a snow day, this is your chance.  Light your snow candles, put your pj’s on backwards, throw those ice cubes out the window, flush the toilets at 9 pm, and do your homework.  You have from now until John gets a new starter motor to work your snow magic.  Betsy is doing her part.  Now it’s up to you.

Comfort

matching tractors

“Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  So said Robert Frost.  A grandparent’s home, that’s where you go when you don’t want to go home.  A grandparent’s home is where they roll out the red carpet.  If you’re really lucky, your grandparents live next door to your great-grandparents who really know how to roll out the red carpet.   And then you absolutely, positively don’t want to go home. 

planting buckwheat

Last weekend our little guy was hanging out with us and he was in little boy heaven.  While helping PopPop set up the grill, he found a caterpillar chrysalis which he snagged as a pet.  Then he and PopPop rode down to the field in their matching John Deere tractors and planted buckwheat seed together.  He was such a good helper he even earned money.  Whoa.  The next morning, this

Harper's buckwheat after 5 days

four year old got to drive himself over to Nana and Great-grand-grad’s house all by himself.  Of course, Nana had just baked a fresh batch of cookies and he managed to eat eight of them while playing a round of Candyland before heading back to MomMom and PopPop’s house.   There he helped MomMom make Cornstarch Pudding, a total comfort food that her grandmother used to make for her.  After a romp around the house with Aunt JuJu, we took Cornstarch Pudding home to Mommy.

There are two foods that I crave in the summer–Peach Tapioca and Cornstarch Pudding.  My grandmother, Dooda, made them for me when I visited her in the summer.  Although I can–and do–make them anytime, it is summer when I most crave them.  Dooda has been gone for twenty-four years, but reading her hand-written recipes while I make her desserts is like having a visit with her.  I picture her kitchen: the yellow walls, the white metal cabinets and enamel sink, the formica table, cuckoo clock on the wall, the shelf full of Amish figurines .  The kitchen was small, but there was a set of steps in it that connected to the main stairway.  Those steps were the best spot to sit as a a kid and watch her cook.  A breeze through an open window over the smell of freshly chopped celery always reminds me of her.  So does the smell of vinegar.  I would sit on the kitchen steps and watch Dooda make her homemade mayonnaise.  The final product was delicious but while preparing it, the aroma of vinegar took over the whole house.  (FYI, Marzetti’s Cole Slaw Dressing tastes just like it.) 

Harper is most likely going to associate the taste of honey with MomMom and PopPop, but it was still nice to make for him what Dooda used to make for me. 

Dooda’s Cornstarch Pudding

1 qt. milk,divided

2 eggs, separated

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

pinch of salt

vanilla to taste (1 teaspoon)

In double boiler, heat 3 cups of the milk until scalded (steaming hot, but not boiling).

In another bowl, mix 2 egg yolks, beaten.  Then add sugar, cornstarch, salt, 1 cup cold milk.  Mix well and stir into hot milk.  Stir constantly, about 15 minutes, until pudding has thickened.  Add vanilla.

Save egg whites for meringue.  (When pudding has cooled, whip egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar til stiff.  Fold into pudding.)

The cornstarch pudding is actually a nice summer pudding because the addition of beaten egg whites makes it a very light pudding.  It’s also not too sweet.