Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grand daughter’s birthday

Visiting Spokane and enjoying time with two of our grand children (and their parents) who have recently moved here. The youngest has a birthday in a week’s time and so we had a sort of Mad Hatters tea party this afternoon. Not really an unbirthday party, but more of a slightly early one (just a week early). We shard the pizza she had chosen, and then came a gift unwrapping that involved the usual tearfest of coloured paper and then a slow examination of the goodies within.

We made it a double session as her brother was also due some bits and pieces.

We had made some of the gifts and these seemed to go down pretty well. Gabriella got the dolls crib with a sliding side that I put together in the woodwork shop. The mattress and blanket were also made to measure by Jo, my talented wife, so the thing was ready to roll. Here it is, with a knitted Teddy bear lying down for a nap. The one side can be lifted up or kept down. If you look closely you can see the pins, strings attached, that are inserted when the side is in the “up” position.

For Mathew I made a chair from walnut and Jo made the cushion for it. I also made him a wooden sword. Here it is. At least it was mostly wooden. The blade was cut down from an old piece of 2 x4 lumber. The handle came from a broom handle and the guard started life as the lid of a peanut butter jar. Mathew is going on his Halloween circuit as an orc, so the sword will be part of the outfit. He is deeply embedded in all things Tolkein and Lord of the Rings, so we have an order for a chess set from the stories. Don’t know if such a thing even exists, so now I have to dive into Google and see what is out there

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sewer piple nest boxes

Autumn, fall colours, migration of birds, with geese in their thousands honking and hooting overhead. Most of them are snow geese and in the early morning they seem to pour over in an almost continuous stream.

At a more home-based level I have been cleaning out the nest boxes from around our little plot. Most are for mountain bluebirds and tree swallows, and are very easy to make. One sees them all across the prairies. Often made of plywood nailed together they are usually fixed to fence posts, two boxes about 30 metres apart, and then another two a couple of hundred metres down the road. They have to cleaned out afresh before every nesting season. Ours are a bit different and have the potential to be much longer lasting than plywood.

Here’s how.

I take length of 4-inch (10 cm) sewer pipe, black by preference, and cut it into 15-inch (37 cm) lengths. Near one end I drill a 1.5-inch (3.75 cm) hole with a spade bit. The size is critical. Starlings cannot enter and the “boxes” are used only by those bluebirds and tree swallows. Then I put a cap on the thing, drill one small hole near the base and I’m ready to roll.

I walk round the garden and among the poplar tree searching for old stumps that are about 3 or 4 feet tall. I have even cut off dead trees at about this height and trimmed them so that the top is the right diameter. Here is one that has been in use for three years. The fact that it is not upright doesn’t seem to bother the tenants. Sometimes I use fence posts. I slip the pipe on to the stump and run in a single screw in the small hole near its base to secure it to the post or stump.

For my first efforts I made a mistake. I used white pipe and realized at once that this would not do, as the plastic glared in the sun. The solution? I roughed up the outside with a coarse file and then slapped on a couple of coats of grey exterior plaint. Before the second coat was dry I rolled the tubes in wood shavings gleaned from the sawdust collector in my woodwork shop.

When I do the rounds, either in the fall or spring, I can quickly see if the birds have found the nesting sites to their liking. It is simple. The used tubes are filled with little twigs – juts like the one in this picture. To clean them, it is simply a matter of undoing the one screw, lifting off the “box” and giving it a good shake. Now it’s ready for the new season. I’ll be making some more this winter as they have been a great success.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Of Moose and Men

I now have the front cover for my new book to share with everyone. It is due out in the spring – probably May 1.

You might ask how I got this picture. The story is told in full in the book, but here is a summary. The animal had been immobilized (obviously) and in order to get accurate data I had designed a sling made of old webbing material that had once been used to make visual i.d. collars for moose. We borrowed a scale from the vet college and using this technique we were able to gather data on weights of over 40 moose and tabulate them according to sex and age. Using a variety of body measurements we were able to get reasonably accurate data that would give others, who lacked a scale, a good indication of the weight of the moose by simply measuring head length, spinal length, heart girth and so on. From those data they could use an equation we developed to give a reasonable estimate of the animal’s weight.

Another way of viewing this is to link to my Youtube video. This was shot in the snow, and the book cover was not set at that time, so I selected a dramtic one that was unforunately too grainy to use in print as it came from a Super 8 footage clip.Here is the link.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fire in the house

A week ago today we had a bit of a disaster. A small pan containing wax was on the stove. The wax was to be used to seal a huge batch of tomato chutney that was ready to be added to the preserves we have been able to make from a marvelous garden this year.

As we sat and read after lunch the pan spilled over and the wax ignited. About 45 seconds later I had sprayed the entire stove area with a fire extinguisher. The fire was out, but the oven and microwave were not in good shape.

The Fire Department boss basically kicked us out of the house when the professional cleaning crew came in. This was because the ultra-fine dust from the extinguisher had coated everything and invaded the rest of the house. This is toxic stuff and the crew used masks for their work.

We headed north for four nights and stayed in a friend’s cabin at Little Bear lake, about 320 km northeast of Saskatoon, in the heart of beautiful aspen parkland country. This put us out of Internet and cell phone contact, which was, in some ways, a blessing.

When we got back we discovered that we have no clothes, no kitchen appliances (large or small) and only three rooms that we could occupy. The cleaners had use hepafilter machines to remove all traces of the extinguisher dust and they tell me that all electronic stuff is done for. Toaster, kettle, coffee machine, printer, etc etc. All must be replaced. The clothes have gone to be washed or dry-cleaned and we have no word on when we will get them back. I may not have any usable wool socks if they put them through a dryer, and I only use wool socks. Any food packets that had been opened are also dumped, so our larder looks a bit like mother Hubbard's.

On the bright side, the weather has been amazing. At the lake the temperatures were consistently above 20 degrees during the afternoons, and there was lots of sunshine. The canoeing was serene. The Northern Lights had a small show one evening and when we got home Oncidium orchids that have been blooming in series since about February have gone absolutely nuts, as if to welcome us. Gorgeous!

The bottom line? Don’t snooze when making wax for preserves. Don’t let your kitchen catch fire, but if it does, make sure that you have a handy fire extinguisher. Fire extinguisher dust is nasty, but no home would be a lot nastier.