Another busy couple weeks, but I did manage to finish John Brandon’s first novel, Arkansas. I wasn’t as impressed with it as I have been with many of the McSweeney’s books introducing new authors, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a good book. It’s about small time crime in Arkansas, and sitting here recalling the characters and plot, it suddenly occurs to me that the Cohen brothers could make a great film out of it. I hadn’t drawn that connection while I was reading it, but now that I’m done I realize the book has a genuine sense of place that’s part of the good Cohen movies, and the two main characters often talk right past each other in a way that reminds me of the characters in Blood Simple. Plus: odd violence that’s not necessarily expected at the time it happens.
It’s probably not going to stick with me the way Icelander or The Children’s Hospital did, but I can certainly recommend it. And not insignificantly, it’s a beautifully produced hardcover with a sewn binding and some nice gold leaf on the cover.
I managed to get a couple projects done this weekend, most notably, a new set of entry stairs for the house. The old stairs were a bit too steep, and the plywood treads were starting to delaminate. I built a new set from 2×12 and 2×6 lumber. The math works like this. You measure the distance from the top surface to the ground and subtract the thickness of material used for the stair treads. The basic rule to help determine the number of stairs for your distance is that the sum of the rise and run for each stair should be around 17". Since I used 2×6’s for the treads, with a small gap in between, the run of each step is 11¼". The distance from the deck to the ground divided by six (one more step than we had before) yielded a rise of 6¼", (6¼ + 11¼ is as close as I can get to 17). Once you’ve got the rise and run numbers, it’s easy to mark out the steps on the 2×12 using a square, remembering to subtract the tread overhang from the run you’re cutting out of the stringers (each notch in my stairs was 6¼" × 10¼" because I have a 1" overhang on each step). Finishing off the stringers means cutting off the top perpendicular to the top tread, and cutting off the bottom so the first rise is the same as the others minus the thickness of the treads. A couple hangers on the deck, a couple concrete piers buried in the ground, and we’ve got a new way into the house.
All hand tools, no electricity was used.
Last weekend I brewed my favorite beer, Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale. I’m sure the beer will turn out fine, but the brew didn’t go as planned. I’m still struggling to get my mill to consistently produce a good crush, and I think my low yields this time around is almost certainly due to the mill. It’s a three roller mill; the first two rollers do a basic crush at a fixed gap, and then the grains pass between one of the top rollers and a lower roller that’s adjustable. For some reason, the grains sometimes come out between the lower roller and the wrong upper roller and they don’t get crushed a second time. Strange.
The big change with this brew was using Creek water to chill the boiled wort down to fermentation temperature. I’d assumed the Creek would still be very cold, but after pumping up twenty gallons, I discovered it was a balmy 55°F. So I pumped up another ten gallons in the hope that it would be enough to chill the wort. Not quite. I got it down to 72°F, which is pretty amazing, but I would have preferred something between 64–68°F.
Still, it was a nice relaxed brew session, and thus far Piper’s has always come out fantastic. We’ll know in about a month.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that the red cabin is starting to get too warm for primary fermentation. At our old house the garage temperature never got much above 60°F even in the summer, so I’d always do the primary fermentation in my insulated box, heated with a light bulb on a temperature controller. Luckily, we kept the old fridge that was here when we moved in and it’s keeping a nice stable 65°F on the same temperature controller I had been using to heat the fermentation chamber. Now I can ferment in the summer, and even experiment with lagering, which is a whole area of brewing that I’ve never attempted in all these years.
Life kept interrupting me while reading this book, and I wasn’t able to devote the energy to it that I would have liked. But I did enjoy it. It was funny, crass, and gave me at least a flavor of what life in the Dominican Republic (or probably any Latin American country ruled by a dictator) was like. The text mixed Spanish slang, nerd-speak, and street language all together for a very conversational style that was easy to pick up and read. One character’s place in the world was prescribed as: “our boy wasn’t no ringwraith, but he wasn’t no orc either.” The world of the Dominican Republic during the rule of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina probably seemed like the time of Sauron and his all-seeing Eye in Middle-earth. Without the happy ending, of course.
In a better world I would have kissed her over the ice trays and that would have been the end of all our troubles. But you know exactly what kind of world we live in. It ain’t no fucking Middle-earth.
Good book, and one which deserves (but will probably never get) a second reading on my part.
In the month or so since I’ve written, the Creek settled down to it’s usual level, the road mostly dried out, and the leaves are out on the trees. We’ve been flush with birds (see my yard list for a complete list), including some ducks on the slough and a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting in a tree next to the back cabin. But summer means work, and that’s what we’ve been doing this Memorial Day weekend.
The list of projects is very long, and we’ve already started on the first large job: building a new shed to replace the “leaning” shed that was next to the red cabin. It wasn’t particularly stable, wasn’t completely water-tight, and wasn’t convenient to get to. I spent the last few days removing the siding, and yesterday afternoon finally pulled it down. It didn’t come down as easily as I’d hoped (the lower photo shows me pulling it with the 4-wheeler), and after all the work it took to get the siding off, I’m dreading the work it’ll take to disassemble the roof and move everything out of the way.
The next step will be to get a bunch of gravel to fill in the low spot between the driveway turnaround and the new gravel pad the shed will sit on. I’m picturing a 2x6 base supported by 4x6 rails resting on concrete piers or cribbing, ¾" plywood floor, 2x4 rough cut framed walls, and a sliding barn door for entry. I’m not sure what I’ll side it with, but ½" plywood, tar paper and then rough cut bevel siding would be a nice choice. I guess an alternative would be to let in diagonal bracing into the walls and forego the plywood, but plywood will do a better job of keeping the building solid if we need to level or move it later. Once the old building is cleared away, I’ll make up a set of plans and see who can mill and deliver the lumber to us.
We got our ATV last week, and it’s already come in very handy. I pulled a log up from the Creek with the winch, we used it to pull down the shed, and Andrea went and got the Sunday newspaper. Once our plow shows up, we’ll get another dump truck load of wood chips for the dog yard, and it’ll get some heavy use moving gravel around in the driveway and for the pad the shed will sit on. We bought it for training dogs in the fall, and for clearing snow, but I expect it’ll get a lot of use this summer too.
Other smaller projects include fixing the planking on the bridge, repairing leaks and cleaning the gutters, redoing the discharge pipe from the sewage treatment plant, and shoring up the roof supports on the other sheds. Once the ground thaws, we’re thinking about building a second dog yard on the west side of the house. This time I’ll dig the post holes by hand. The gas powered auger we used last fall was fast, but not something I ever want to use again if I can help it. We had hoped to build an arctic entryway onto the house and wrap a new deck around it, but I doubt there’s enough time in the summer for that project. We’ll see.
Time to make breakfast, bake some bread and get back out there. Happy holiday!