Monday, January 26, 2015

Let it Snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the hay is so delightful
The sheep have no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The harnesses all are drying
While the dogs do dream of flying
Down white trails they yearn to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

When we finally plow our drives,
Shovel gates and walkways clear
Then the snow is a lovely sight
Calling us out to play and good cheer.

Now the blizzard is far from dying
And my dear, the snow is flying
As long as we love life so
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

iPhone Swan Dive

My new GorillaPod arrived yesterday, with the new-fangled iPhone attachment.  I used a Glif with my previous GorillaPod to attach the iPhone.  The combination worked well, but I think I dropped them out of the van at a trailhead this fall.  These devices allow you to attach an iPhone to almost anything, like a dog sled.  Since the GoPro won’t be here for a week, I decided to video today’s run with the iPhone.  I quickly determined that the new attachment was not sufficiently durable to hold the phone in position, and then it dropped the phone entirely.  Poor Mr. Phone took a dive in the snow.  I waited till he cleared the back of the sled before tromping on the brake and risking annihilating him.  The dogs were not inclined to stop as we’d just gotten going. 

 4.9 miles today.  I was on the Mason rail trail which is groomed so the conditions were fine despite some rain and icing with little snow.  Halfway through our run it began to snow hard.  I love mushing when it is snowing, a Currier and Ives meets Jack London feeling.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Ike, sweet Ike, the most agreeable pup I’ve ever raised.  Cheerful, practical, gets along with everyone, a very easy pup, just 7 months old now.  Ike sits in the corner by the door, eagerly watching the preparations at meal times.  It is a good position, slightly to the outside of the pack with a panoramic view of all that happens around the counter.  At dinner time I just throw hunks of chicken to various dogs from a big tub.  I call the name of the intended recipient, then toss them their dinner.  Every now and then a dog misses, the meat hits the floor, and I bark out a warning to any would be poachers.  Everyone steps back from the prize, and this is when Ike makes his move.  This is when sweet Ike goes feral. 

I belt out another warning, which only spurs my little Canadian predator on.  A black and white blur, he scoops the prize from the floor and beats feet for the other room.  The other dogs scatter as I leap through the pack in pursuit.  The house is small so I can quickly corner the miscreant.  His defense is to try to swallow the meat whole, as quickly as possible.  Getting the food back from Ike is like trying to wrest meat from a hyena in the African bush.  He clamps his jaws down, inhibiting his attempts to swallow but also locking out my hands.  When I finally get my fingers around the contested meal, pulling it from his throat, he immediately tries to snatch it back from my hand while it is still in reach. 

I’ll often feed Ike first, breaking the oldest to youngest rule, to avoid potential mealtime adventures.  I watch him like a hawk.  He does not try to steal food from other dog’s bowls so breakfast, served in bowls, is generally uneventful.  This morning I had a lamb heart to add to their breakfast.  I put it up on the back of the counter in a bowl.  I stepped away from the counter, back turned for two seconds, when I heard a metal bowl hit the floor.  I turned around to see Ike, the feral Ike, running for the living room with the cellophane wrapped heart clenched in his primitive jaws.  It was small enough that I feared he might be able to swallow it entire with not a single moment wasted for mastication.  The thought of the vet bills to remove the lengths of plastic wrap from his gut drove me on.  Captured on the sofa, that round little heart was not easy to grasp from deep in his mouth.  Grab it I did, and so did he while it was still in my hand as I pulled it away from him.

He’s back to sweet Ike now, laying in his bed in the living room.  I like Ike.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Optimist

I went to the trails off Silver Lake in Hollis, NH this morning.  I decided to hitch the dogs in the parking lot and drive them through the narrow opening and take the left around the tree with the orange sign onto the trail.  The alternative was to take the sled up through and tie it off pointing down the trail, then bring the dogs up to the sled, a nuisance to manage getting the dogs hitched.   I always try to make my opening stretch as straight and simple as possible since the dogs are insane when they are first hitched.  I lined the team out directly towards the first narrow opening.  By this point I’d gained a small audience of walkers wanting to see the sled team start.    I pulled the release, stood on the brake, and immediately sailed towards the opening way too fast.  Bellowing “LIE DOWN”s shamelessly I held on and made the first opening, just clipping the left post.  The dogs then took a fast, tight left turn around the tree and up the trail.  This is where optimism and reality went their separate ways.    I chose a voluntary dismount, pulling the sled sideways so it hit the tree with the bottom of the runner and spun around it.  The closest I’ve come to pole dancing.  The sled continued down the trail, on its side behind my euphoric team, while I continued to bellow “LIE DOWN”s shamelessly as I got myself to my feet.  Perhaps the dogs noticed my voice getting further away.  They stopped.  With a non-stop stream of threats I was able to keep them still long enough to right my chariot and get back on the runners.  Fortunately the trail went a fair ways with only mild curves before I needed some control from my dogs again.


It is a lovely trail.  I did lose the services of my bar brake, but only a nut fell off so an easy repair.  Perhaps carrying some basic tools and parts would be prudent.  It was bitter cold so I was not about to take out the phone and remove my gloves while we were moving for pictures.  I did stop and get one picture.  The run was just over three miles.  No one was there at the parking lot to see me redeem myself, arriving back fully under control and trotting the team to the van.

Friday, January 9, 2015

First sled run of 2015

I took the dog sled out today.  Not ideal conditions, thin icy base with a couple inches of new snow on top, fast, bumpy, and not great cover.  I did not have time to drive to a groomed trail so I settled for a winding local trail with some hazards and rough spots.  I’m growing quite fond of the helmet I bought this summer.  I’ve learned to put it on as soon as I arrive at the trail head, otherwise I risk forgetting it.  Then I remember the helmet wistfully as the dogs are racing tight around a turn with a tree on the inside. 

The thaw last week made mud on the trails and 4 wheelers made ruts.   That was pretty miserable when one side of the sled was in the rut.  I managed to stay upright, which I think may be proof of miracles, or simply the power of desperation when you realize just how hard and lumpy the surface you are hurtling towards will be.  More snow cover will fill the ruts.

I finally made a 2015 New Year resolution while standing on the runners this afternoon.  I’m quite uncomfortable standing on the right runner and using my left foot on the drag mat.  I always want my left leg planted on a runner.  Sometimes I really need the right runner weighted while I’m braking, so I resolved to force myself to use that right leg, even on scary stretches when I want to go back to my trusted left leg support.  The sensation gives me new appreciation and forgiveness for dogs that choose their more comfortable side in a flank in a tough situation.

I’m getting a bit better at corners.  As a tight corner comes my base survival instinct coaches me to stand on the brake, but as I get to the corner I need to get off the brake and let the sled slide freely.  This way it travels deeper into the corner and if I ride the runners well it snaps around neatly on the new path.  By going deeper into the corner I miss the damn tree that always seems to be standing there on the inside of the corner saying “Make my day!”

I’m down to 5 dogs.  I’m running Marcus in single lead.  He’s doing well, though he tends to turn back to me when we stop.  He takes his job very seriously.  Young Ike, only 7 months old, is showing signs of being a lead dog when we go for walks.  He’s always out front and always wanting to go further while watching me to see what my choices are.  Next year I think Marcus will be able to share the lead with Ike.  

Mushing is marvelous and highly recommended for those of you with a few working dogs.  The snowy woods are lovely, the swish and creak of the sled flexing under your feet.  As you get the hang of the sled the corners are not unlike downhill skiing, an exhilarating excursion of centrifugal force.  Or you can just go slower.  Either way you ride the trails on the energy of your dogs like a magic carpet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Bouncing Baby Dishwasher

Having the dishwasher die on Christmas Eve was not one of the highlights of the holiday.  I’m singing Silent Night at church while the dishwasher was apparently taking the words literally.  This is not the first time this machine has failed.  It is at least 15 years old.  About 5 years ago it stopped functioning correctly.  I started reading reviews to pick out a new dishwasher then.  My overwhelming impression was that there was no dishwasher that a significant number of people did not hate.  So I ordered some parts online and repaired the existing dishwasher.  For about $40 in parts, 5 hours of work and a heaping helping of expletives I got a dishwasher that worked very well and a sense of accomplishment.  Somehow the battered old dishwasher did not seem worth the investment this time round.

Since the reviews dissuaded me before, I simply picked one of the “recommended” dishwashers from Consumer Reports and declined to read the reviews.  Apparently no one likes dishwashers anyway.  I tried to order the machine on Christmas day, but the web site would not save my billing address.  The next day I managed to place the order.  Several days later I got the notice that my dishwasher was waiting for me at Sears at the Pheasant Lane Mall.  I hitched up the trailer and drove to the mall.  After an unsatisfying experience trying to communicate with an electronic kiosk, a human being finally appeared to tell me that my dishwasher was actually at a warehouse on the other side of the river.  The kiosk had already tapped into Ms. Hyde so this news did not elicit a cheerful response.  I did not mind picking it up at the warehouse, which was no further from home than the mall.  I did mind going to the mall with the van and trailer to be told I needed to wind back down some small roads to where I could cross the bridge to the warehouse.  I tried to be nice to the polite and efficient warehouse people.  To do this I had to forget that I was not going to have time for other errands now.  The dishwasher stayed in the trailer parked in the sheep paddock, both victim and perpetrator of my mangled schedule. 

I went back for the trailer two days later, removed the old dishwasher, and prepared to install the new one.  My mind was thinking washing machine… put it in place, screw on the hoses, pop the drain hose in the pipe, plug it in and start doing laundry.  Hah!  The water supply for my dishwasher comes in a 3/8 inch flexible copper pipe.  Flexible such that it is difficult to bend, particularly if you don’t want to put in a permanent kink.  This pipe comes up from directly over the water heater in the basement, with maybe 10 inches of room between the top of the water heater and the rafters, and the dishwasher feed behind a labyrinth of other pipes.  Another wrinkle, the valve that shuts off water to the dishwasher feed would not close completely, leaving a persistent drip from the line as I worked.  This all convinced me that there would be no changes to the piping below. Fortunately I found a nifty little connector at Home Depot.  The push on connector, a little pipe cutter, and some very careful work pushing the pipe into shape to get to the feed on the new machine, and we were connected. 

Which brings me to the installation directions... they instruct you to connect the water and electrical with the dishwasher out from under the cabinet, and rolled on its back.  Of course neither the copper pipe for the water nor the line for the electrical will reach the connections until the damn machine is under the counter.  At this point you are working on the connections lying on the ground, squeezing your arms together to fit into the restricted space under the machine where all the various connections are cleverly interlaced with hard edged sheet metal, various sharp objects, and other wiring and hoses.  The simple act of squeezing a set of pliers to hold a hose clamp open becomes a combination of art and torture. 

Almost done, I decided I should use the new drain hose supplied with the dishwasher since the old one could be 20 years old.  The old hose needed to be sawn off the connections.  The nipple to hook the drain hose on needed to be shortened for the new hose connector.  Then, the pipe below the kitchen sink broke (crumbled).  I AM NOT A PLUMBER!  My brother tried to convince me it would be easy to fix.  My brother says everything will be easy.  Fortunately in this case he was right (don’t tell him) but of course this required another trip to Home Depot.  I did use the plumbing work as an excuse to buy two lovely channel lock pliers.  I even managed to use both of them while re-assembling the drain on the kitchen sink and finishing the dishwasher drain. 

Water feed and drain in, machine leveled, fastened to the cabinets, I only needed to make the wiring connection.  I discovered that the part that holds the wire in the circuit box was missing.  I thought perhaps I could jerry rig something with electrical tape and a pipe clamp.  It did not turn out well so I took yet another trip to Home Depot for the correct part.  I finished the wiring connections, a simple thing except the position of my hands required me to crush my arms together in a way that left me almost completely manually incompetent while simultaneously sending shots of pain through my shoulders.  Finally done, a quick trip down the cellar to turn on breaker 3, confirm the water feed is fully on, then back up to try the new machine.

As advertised this dishwasher is very quiet.  It is also very pretty, with the controls on the top of the door so that once you close the door you have no clue what cycle it is on.  There is an eerie glowing blue bar of light on the door.  It provides no information that I can tell, but it looks cool.  Ooh, it turns red when the dry cycle starts!  You have to get right up to the dishwasher to hear that it is running, until it starts to drain.  You can hear it running the drain water through the drain in the kitchen sink, sounding like a dog or cat yorking up some inedible prize.  It will take me a while to not want to grab for the paper towel when I walk by.

I’m not sure I’m up for installing a dishwasher again, but it is done and now full of dog bowls, blue light glowing as it washes away.