Hannah and I drove in around 6:20 pm with a pickup bed full of tools and other goodies. She ran some laps around the yard while I quickly unloaded the truck. I wanted to get right to my first project.

Let there be (night)light!

Lyssa got me a pair of really nice network cameras for Christmas. They’re PoE, 720p, have IR blasters, and are IP66 rated. Translated: they don’t need a power cord, have four times the clarity of the old ones, come with night vision, and they’re waterproof. One of them has replaced the driveway camera back home, but the other one will serve as the new bird feeder cam.

I had already configured everything from home, so I installed it to the roof overhang on the keep, plugged it in, and tested it out. There was the expected major increase in image quality, but I was surprised by just how much wider of a field of view it has, too. This is a very welcome improvement.

Seemed a waste to point the new camera at empty bird feeders, so I took a minute to fill them all up. We’re fairly low on sunflower seed, so I’ll grab some tomorrow while I’m in town. I put some corn out while I was at it, hoping to draw in some deer. Also, while there was still some light out, I filled in four of the holes left by Peter’s stump grinder. Hannah was content to watch me work from the comfort of the deck.

Hannah: Stalwart guardian of Outhouse 2.0

Around 8:00, I made a run into town to grab some snacks and beer. Hannah waited in the truck. I was surprised to see a Bare Bones IPA variety pack in Pig’s craft beer aisle and I snatched it up along with some Stone Arch Vanilla Stout. I grabbed some chips and salsa (so there was something for the beer to wash down) and I headed back to Puckaway. The deck lights look really inviting as you pull in the driveway; I’m glad they were able to survive the winter.

It was getting cold in the keep, so I kicked on the infrared heater. I was going to work on moving the various Puckanet equipment into the front closet, but got sidetracked when I went to wash up and wasn’t getting any hot water. I headed out back to check on the water heater and noticed the rain shield had blown off. The internals were soaked and the burners wouldn’t light. I unhooked the plumbing and propane line and carried the water heater into the pole barn for a better look. I popped off the front cover and, thankfully, nothing was actually damaged. I fired up the air compressor and used the blaster nozzle to blow everything dry. After reassembling and reinstalling the water heater and turning the pump back on, I finally had hot water again. I’ll have to work on a better means of securing that shield.

Work juice.

I put the “server closet” project on hold and instead worked on tidying up the place a little more. I got out the six Menards coffee mugs I brought up over winter and washed them all. They each have a different logo on them, so we’ll finally have enough decent coffee mugs to go around for Puckaweekend and no one should get theirs mixed up. I also cleaned out the kitchen trash can and scrubbed the linoleum.

I spent the rest of the night drinking beer and working on my backlog of log posts at the kitchen table. Hannah was passed out on the couch and dreaming. I think she approves of the keep. It was well after midnight before I finally went to bed.


Woke up a little after 8:00 and let Hannah out. Still plenty cold outside. I hung a new shower curtain in the bathroom and washed up. I took my time getting ready and cleaned up around the keep for a bit.

I headed into town at 10:30 for some Aunt Judy’s breakfast. Hannah tagged along but waited in the truck. After breakfast, I shopped the Pig to stock the keep: frozen brats, cheddar sausage, chili cheese sausage (couldn’t resist), tortilla wraps, condiments, butter, and canned veggies. That should be enough for a few ready-to-go meals. I was going to hit up J&A Archery for bird seed, but they’ve closed up shop. Guess I’ll have to go back to buying that at Menards or Fleet. I went across the street to Dollar General for some candles to keep the keep fresh, and ran into Rick Jacobson from West Side/Cliff’s. He’s got some family property in the area and had stopped in to check on it. We caught up for a while, but Hannah was starting to get antsy and I had a truck full of food, so we parted ways and I headed back to camp.

Hannah was happy to get out and run again. I unloaded the groceries and got right to mowing/mulching. I followed last year’s strategy of starting at the edges of trees/buildings/other structures and blowing the discharge chute into a few central lanes. This makes it much easier to collect with the NASCAR trailer later. I was making good progress until around 2:00 when the mower deck just gave up on spinning. I drove back to the pole barn and found the secondary belt was absolutely shredded.

Mowing progress! Note the shredded belt on the truck.

This is where being nerdy pays off. I have PDFs of all of the operation and service manuals for the equipment up here in a folder on the pole barn laptop. I looked up the part number for the belt and called Kitz & Pfeil in Berlin, the closest place i could think of that might stock it. I was in luck; they had a few on hand.

While this was going on, I got a text from a guy I had talked to earlier in the week about taking some of the blue firebricks. He was on track to be here by 3:00. I delayed my Berlin run and hung around to help him and his two friends load their substantial two-axle trailer. He was pretty particular about which ones he wanted, leaving all of the slightly curved or bull-nosed ones, but there were still plenty for him to choose from.

Hannah was way too interested in what these guys were up to and I was worried she was going to catch a stray brick, so I put her in the keep. I shoveled all of the dirt out of the big metal barrel in the brick garden (it must have been for compost?) and rolled the barrel over to the scrap piles. I pulled the ATV around with one of the small yard trailers and collected as much of the broken bricks as I could while the guys dug through the stacks. I dumped these all in a low spot at the edge of the property out toward Peter’s woods. I kicked dirt and leaves over them and they pretty much disappeared. Once the marsh dries out more, I want to dump the rest of the crumbling bricks into the low areas by Steve’s deer stand.

Sleepy puppy.

About an hour and a half into brick hauling, I wanted to get back to my own projects. I put away the ATV and locked up the keep and pole barn, and told the guys to just keep going until they had enough. I had their license plate and they seemed like decent enough folk, so I wasn’t too worried about leaving them here. After waking up Hannah, she and I made our way to Berlin and I noticed four different county squad cars making traffic stops on the way. Must be an enforcement day or something.

I grabbed the mower belt ($45—bummer) and a 50-lb bag of black oil sunflower seed at Kitz & Pfeil, then got some McDonalds to eat on the ride back. Hannah got her own burger. At 6:00, just as I was turning on to Roeder Rd., I saw my brick guys on their way out. Their trailer looked like it was sitting pretty low, which seemed promising. I pulled back into the yard to find a significantly depleted brick pile. There was no time to celebrate, though. I needed to get the mower working so I could make some more progress before dark. I was very glad to have a belt routing diagram; it would have taken me forever to figure it out on my own.

A little after 6:30, I was back to mulching. I was able to finish around the keep, pole barn, driveway, big trailer, and as close to the marsh entrance as I dared to get given how wet everything is. Tomorrow I’ll start collecting all the leaves I rounded up this afternoon. While I still had some daylight and with chainsaw in hand, I squished through the muck near the mouth of the marsh trails. I chopped up the large fallen tree back there and hauled the limbs and branches back to the burnpit. There’s plenty on the pile now that we should be able to have a bonfire tomorrow night. Feeling tired but accomplished, I packed up the pole barn and headed into the keep for the night just as the weather started turning cold again. Time to jack the heat.

I had read an article on “shower beers” and it struck me as odd that I’ve never tried one. Today seemed like a perfect day to change that. Well, a Bare Bones IPA makes for an excellent shower beer; I highly recommend it. I spent the rest of my night being lazy and watching How Its Made while Hannah dozed on the couch. I fell asleep in the recliner at some point and ended up stumbling back to bed for the night around 11:30.

The view keeps improving.


Woke up around 8:00 and was prepared to slowly start the day until I got a text from Lyssa around 8:30 that she and the boys were on their way. I hurried to finish getting dressed and ready so Hannah and I could head out to meet them at Aunt Judy’s. I thought I heard some sirens earlier that morning when I let Hannah out, but just figured they were from some vehicles going by out on Hwy D. Nope. Just a few houses down on Wicks Landing, half the road was taken up by three fire trucks and a squad car. There was no sign of smoke or fire damage to the house, but a bunch of people were out in the driveway talking to the police and firemen. Wonder what the heck went on there.

I pulled into Aunt Judy’s and parked in the back. I didn’t want Hannah to see the boys, get all excited, and then have to stay in the truck. I got some big hugs from my buddies, and we all sat down for breakfast. Afterwards, Hannah finally got to greet her guys in the parking lot. We decided to check out the flea market quick but didn’t find anything that was a must-buy. We drove back along Hwy T which was a nice change of pace. It had been closed all summer and fall last year for repairs. The river looks extremely high from all of the rain we’ve been getting.

With everyone back at Puckaway and the boys marveling at the missing bricks, I continued to clean up around the diminished pile. I used the big lopper to flush cut the little tree trunks I had sawed last year. No more ankle-turners in the garden! I used both ATVs, one pulling a trailer, the other one with the winch, to get the rotting decorative plow out of the garden. It’s well beyond repair, so I dropped it off back by the scrap piles behind the pole barn. The boys helped me out by collecting all of my chopped up roots, limbs, and branches and hauling them over to the burnpit. Lyssa took a cue from Hannah and relaxed in the sunshine.

Little by little…

I grabbed the chainsaw and cut the maple stump in the brick garden flush to the ground line. With that out of the way and with the plow gone, it’s a lot easier to get in and out of there with equipment. As long as the chainsaw was idled up, I went down the driveway and trimmed some of the newly fallen trees to size. I put away the Husqvarna and the boys and I loaded the ATV trailer a few times with all the branches. We’ve got enough for a nice fire tonight.

I filled in all the stump holes around the east yard and big house trailer and had Lyssa help me move the swing and picnic table. I could now finish mowing that part of the yard, so I set out to do just that. Lyssa took the boys (not big fans of the noise from the mower) back to the deck to do some watercolors. I helped her get the patio umbrella set up before finishing my lawn maintenance.

This trailer makes the impossible possible.

After the last bit of leaf corralling was done, it was time to start collecting. I hooked up the NASCAR trailer (it only turns left, remember?) and tested it out in a patch by the pole barn. Still works like a champ. I started doing strafing runs on the finely chopped leaves between the brick garden and pole barn, but was quickly flagged down by my wife. I was kicking up a ton of dust and it was all blowing toward them and their paintings, so I waited until they were ready to go inside.

I spent a few hours collecting mulch. With the marsh entrance basically underwater, I had to find a different place to unload the trailer. The ATV path along the scrap piles behind the pole barn seemed like as good of a place as any, and I was able to smooth out a few low spots. The NASCAR trailer is an incredible new tool to have up here. I’d say it holds at least ten times as much as a standard “bagger” load. And with all the oak leaves to suck up around here, it still fills up pretty quick. Trying to collect leaves with a regular mower setup would be an exercise in frustration. I was done around 5:00, significantly dustier than when I started.

My kingdom.

Jake and Josh were getting hungry, so Lyssa called in a delivery order from Christianos. I took a well-deserved and welcome hot shower and our food arrived just as I was getting dressed. We enjoyed a family dinner out on the deck and watched the birds. Hannah gorged herself on table scraps.

Well, this is a first: deck view of a bonfire!

The boys really wanted a bonfire, so I took a half-gallon of old gas/oil mix to the pile of branches and leaves in the burnpit and lit it up. I guess I gave the fumes a little longer than usual to propagate and the initial FWOOSH was a bit bigger than normal. This delighted my sons but startled my wife and sent the dog running for the safety of the deck. She wanted nothing to do with the bonfire whatsoever, even after it died down.

The kiddos were fading fast, and we got them dressed and ready for bed around 8:30. They’ll be sleeping out on the futon together so Wifey and I can get some decent rest in the back without getting kicked by tiny feet. Hannah was still a little shaken from the bonfire, but her night only got worse as I tried to corral her out of the bedroom and off of the bed. She lurched forward as I was reaching for her and ran into my shoulder, causing her head to snap to the side. She started yelping and crying something fierce. I was worried I just killed my dog, but things seemed less dire after she calmed down for a bit. She was moving her head around just fine and nothing seemed out of place or like it was painful if we touched it. That poor dog. I hope she’s not turned off to this whole place forever.

After the excitement of the accidental attempted canicide faded, the boys were quick to fall asleep. Hannah passed out curled up at their feet on the futon. I went out to check on the bonfire and make sure it was dying down safely, and Lyssa and I were both asleep by 10:30. Big day for everyone.


The boys did pretty good at letting us sleep; it was 7:00 by the time we were all up for the day. Hannah seems to do be doing OK, but I told the boys to be very gentle with her just to be safe. We made our way to Aunt Judy’s around 9:00, leaving Hannah behind in the keep. The staff seemed happy to see the kiddos two days in a row. On our way back to Puckaway, we saw Peter riding his bike and I finally got a chance to thank him for grinding all of those stumps for us. He brushed it off, saying he thought it was a waste to rent the grinder for a whole afternoon and only use it for a half hour, which is why he got all of ours, Danny’s and Joe Turk’s. I’m glad Peter’s on our side.

We let Hannah out and Lyssa started packing things up and cleaning. She and the boys headed home around noon while I finished work on a few projects. I finally moved the APC UPS battery backup, 4G router, WiFi router, PoE switch, and PuckaPi server into the closet. Everything is either mounted to the wall or out of the way on the far left of the shelves. It’s a lot better than the previous setup where everything was strewn about the living room, and it should be much easier to keep the batteries in the UPS from freezing this winter.

Dad wants the blue utility trailer hauled home, so I used it as an opportunity to get rid of some scrap tires. I filled that trailer completely full. There are about a dozen tires left to get rid of, but this takes a significant bite out of the pile. After loading my tools up and packing up the keep and pole barn, Hannah and I were on our way home by 4:30. We’ve got this place looking pretty good for April.