Like colorful leaves caught up in an autumn breeze, fall often comes and goes quickly. This was certainly the case for us this year, due to a fast-approaching major life change.
Long-time readers will know that it has been several months since I published the last article. During this hiatus Mrs. FFP and I have been hurriedly preparing for the onset of winter, akin to twin squirrels frantically scampering about the forest floor as Old Man Winter approaches.
Now that winter is officially here to stay, it’s high time I provided all of you loyal readers with an update regarding our activities and whereabouts over the course of the last few months. So without further ado, feel free to indulge in this sneak peek at fall life in the FFP household.
Table of Contents
- 1 August — Heat, Flies, & DIY
- 2 September — A Labor Day Getaway
- 3 October — Grape Juice Galore
- 4 November — Voting, Venison, & A Chest Freezer
- 5 December — Focusing On Family
- 6 January — And Then There Were Four!
- 7 Turning The Page
August — Heat, Flies, & DIY
August in our neck of the woods here in Michigan was sweltering, with temperatures approaching or topping 90 degrees on seven different occasions. The addition of a few heavy rains made humidity skyrocket, resulting in time spent out-of-doors feeling akin to a sauna.
Then there were the dang flies. Apparently the rain and heat formed ideal breeding conditions, which resulted in the greatest outbreak of biting flies known to man since Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.
We literally wore out a flyswatter in this month alone, and had to resort to the drastic measure of hanging flypaper in the garage just to make working within it bearable. The silver lining was that our 1 1/2-year-old picked up a new skill through his powers of observation. Patrolling the house with flyswatter in hand became one of his favorite pastimes.
Unfortunately, we found that he derived as much pleasure from pursuing two-legged victims as he did those of the winged variety — much to his mother’s dismay.
A Carburetor Cleansing
On top of my list of projects for this month was identifying the cause of a crank, no start condition in our secondary lawn tractor.
The old girl had been sitting in the garage for too long awaiting my attention, and I needed to clear some space for other projects prior to the onset of winter.
My initial testing indicated the most likely cause of my issue was fuel-related, possibly due to the jets in the carburetor being fouled. While I’m normally pretty comfortable under the hood of most vehicles, I’d had no experience to date working with carburetors. After some initial online research, I tackled the project with gusto in order to remedy this deficiency in my mechanical knowledge.
The project wasn’t as complicated as I had feared, and before long the carb was clean as a whistle and I’d identified the underlying issue.
A spring-operated solenoid designed to eliminate backfiring by shutting off fuel to the carb when the tractor is turned off had seized in the closed position, acting as a permanent fuel shutoff.
A little lubricant and working of the mechanism back and forth to free it and the tractor fired right up. This repair cost all of $2.09 in the form of a bottle of carb cleaner from our local Wal-Mart. A small price to pay for a life-long lesson in carburetor operation!
Troubleshooting The Truck
With the upcoming whirlwind of fall activity just around the corner, I took the opportunity this month to troubleshoot the cause of an issue with our third vehicle, an old 1991 Chevy S10 four-wheel-drive pickup.
While the truck had served me faithfully as my daily driver during my college years, we use it only sparingly these days for tasks such as hauling loads of wood and mulch or breaking a trail down our drifted-over driveway in winter.
I’d noticed earlier in the summer that the truck would turn over, but no longer start. After ruling out a host of potential causes ranging from bad gas to fouled spark plugs, a failing ignition switch, or even a bad fuel pump, I was finally able to identify the culprit as the distributor, thanks to my trusty multimeter.
Replacement proved somewhat challenging due to the (quite devious) placement of the distributor on the very back side of the engine, virtually under the base of the hood.
Suffice it to say that I had many
choice words kind thoughts directed towards the Chevy Engineering Class of ’91 as I lay prone on top of the engine during the replacement whilst being eaten alive by biting flies.
After the usual mechanical trials and tribulations, the new distributor was installed and the engine was re-timed successfully thanks in no small part to the generosity of a neighbor who loaned me his engine timing light.
Total cost for getting the truck back on the road came to a grand total of just $38.99 in parts.
A Renewable Rooftop?
Mrs. FFP and I try to reduce our environmental impact as much as we possibly can. While this is a wide-reaching effort spanning many different areas of our lives — the focus of more than a few future articles — the arena of energy efficiency constitutes a personal passion of mine.
My fascination with the concept of renewable energy in particular dates back all the way to my adolescent years, when my Dad and I drew up (since abandoned) plans to construct a small windmill for household energy production.
Since purchasing our current home, I have long intended to research the logistical requirements of installing a rooftop solar panel array capable of offsetting 100% of our electrical consumption.
Ads for rooftop solar installations in our county began popping up all over the internet in mid-summer 2018. This piqued my curiosity enough that I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and nail down a cost estimate for this project.
Developing a rough draft project plan took several trips to the roof, the creation of several spreadsheets, studying up on terms such as roof azimuth, insolation values, tilt orientation, and de-rating factors, and taking a week-long deep dive into a slew of zoning regulations, scientific papers, solar output calculators, and vendor catalogs.
While mentally straining, the effort was well worth it. By the end, I had not only a project plan and cost estimate in hand, but a renewed sense of confidence in the feasibility of this as a DIY project based on my newfound knowledge.
While the installed cost of a solar system sized appropriately for our needs checks in at north of $20K, I believe we can do it ourselves for approximately one-third of that total.
I’m currently seeking some clarification from our local municipal utility provider regarding permitting, but have plans to proceed with this project as soon as possible. Stay tuned for updates moving forward!
Garage Sale Success
We wrapped up the month of August with the first garage sale we’ve held in years. It ended up being a success, despite the local road commission conspiring against us by scheduling some untimely road right-of-way mowing which resulted in the unfortunate demise of several of our garage sale signs.
While we didn’t strike it rich, we hit our primary goal of recycling the clothes and furnishings which we no longer had a use for, rather than throwing them away. We also cleared out some room in the garage by selling our old lawn tractor, which I had recently brought back to life.
September — A Labor Day Getaway
September brought a welcome relief from the scorching heat of August. As the first hint of the crisp fall air to come teased our nostrils, the FFP clan celebrated with an extended weekend trip with family to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
We stayed in a large, open concept rental cabin bordering a lake, where we enjoyed numerous campfires, conversations under the stars, and heated battles of wits over many a board game.
Other trip highlights included eating some of what surely must have been The Largest Burgers In The World at a drive-in diner in Sault Ste. Marie, holding an impromptu rock-skipping competition on the shores of Lake Superior, and searching for the always-coveted Petoskey stones.
After this enjoyable reprieve, the remainder of the month saw me return to my August role of grease monkey, with additional automotive and small engine repair work on tap.
Open Heart Surgery For The Beloved Chevy
September marked the launch of a rather ambitious auto repair project involving the removal of the bed from the aforementioned Chevy S10 in order to replace the fuel tank, which had developed a leak some time ago when near full.
Removing the bed would also enable me to perform a few other needed repairs I had been putting off, including work on the exhaust system and a rear brake line.
Although I’ll never be accused of being an optimist, I’m afraid that even I may have underestimated the scope of this project. Pulling the bed involved the removal of six hard to access, highly-torqued bolts which were frozen in place by no less than twenty-seven years of dirt, rust, and corrosion.
Not to be outdone, I turned to my trusty impact gun. But I still had to battle each bolt for about an hour and a half, all while lying on my back with my arms over my head and dirt, rust, and debris raining down on me with each pull of the trigger.
Thanks to this project, I had the unique privilege of experiencing one of the most incredible combinations of gravity and Murphy’s Law that I have ever witnessed. Namely, the ability of a large flake of rust to nefariously slip around the safety glasses which were strapped tightly to my head and lodge itself securely in my right eye.
As I wearily dragged myself inside the house to clean up after a long day spent under the truck, Mrs. FFP cracked a joke of sorts regarding the NASCAR race that she’d been hearing out in the garage all afternoon, courtesy of my impact gun.
The look I shot her from across the kitchen — my eyeballs filled with equal parts rust and disgust — only seemed to provide her with even more mirth regarding the situation.
Preparing To Live In The Woods
Whitetail deer bow-hunting season opens in Michigan on October 1st, making September the time for last minute scouting, stand preparation, and equipment organization.
Whether it’s raking tree stand access trails, trimming brush to open up sight lines, mowing and maintaining food plots, or studying deer activity and patterns, there’s always more to be done than there is time in the month.
September is also when I usually ramp up my target practice and begin packing my compact car hunt-mobile with all of the clothes and equipment I’ll need to virtually live out of it for the next two months. This year was no exception! With a goal of bringing home three deer this year on account of our growing family, I couldn’t afford any shortcomings in my preparation.
An Education In Chain Saw Chicanery
On one of my scouting trips to “The Woods” — our affectionate term for the 10-acre parcel which we’ve hunted for three generations — I discovered that a major logjam had conveniently enveloped one of my tree stands, along with the deer trails surrounding it.
Not to be discouraged, I returned home to my trusty chainsaw only to find that it had joined the ranks of resistentialism and was no longer operable. A close inspection revealed that upon last use the built-in bar oiler had apparently ceased to function, leading to the chain heating up and then rusting in place over time due to a lack of lubrication.
So began yet another small engine repair job. Thanks to some YouTube instruction and shopping via the interwebs, I was able to locate a replacement bar oiler and identify the process for swapping it out.
Once the chainsaw had returned to form as a lean, mean cutting machine, the logjam was reduced to a pile of wood chip and sawdust has-beens.
Growing up in a household that used a wood stove as a primary heat source made me a fairly seasoned weekend chainsaw operator as a teenager. However, this experience and my research regarding it taught me several things regarding ideal chainsaw care and maintenance that should pay for the cost of the replacement bar oiler many times over in future.
October — Grape Juice Galore
We’re blessed here in southwest Michigan with a huge variety of fruit grown within driving distance. Local u-pick orchards, vineyards, and berry farms abound, thanks to the temperate climate along the shores of Lake Michigan.
As September gave way to October, harvest season moved into full swing. This month was full of fruit picking for us, including grapes, apples, and cranberries.
We kicked things off by picking 130 pounds of grapes (that’s 6 1/2 five-gallon buckets, for you city folks) at a local u-pick vineyard.
Mrs. FFP then worked industriously to turn our 110 pounds of Concord grapes into exactly 52 quarts of delectable grape juice.
Meanwhile, our 1 1/2-year-old son spent the remainder of the month channeling his inner raccoon by stuffing his face with the vast majority of our remaining 20 pounds of Niagara grapes.
The Best Applesauce I’ve Ever Had
Close on the heels of this massive haul was the apple harvest. One of our favorite experiences — likely a new annual tradition — was picking and sampling multiple apple varieties from a local u-pick orchard for the purpose of making homemade caramel apples.
And while our own orchard of 18 dwarf fruit trees are not yet in full production at just four years old, we harvested 3 1/2 bushels of apples at a local u-pick orchard with the intent of making a year’s supply of our very own applesauce.
We scored a huge discount by waiting to pick the after-harvest “gleaning” apples, priced at just $5/bushel. This put our total cost in fruit for a year’s worth of applesauce at just $17.50, a substantial savings from the usual $84 we would have paid at the full price of $24/bushel.
Our 3 1/2 bushels of apples churned out a total of 44 quarts of the best applesauce I’ve ever had. Mrs. FFP tried a new apple variety this year and we found that it tastes very sweet, eliminating the need to add any sugar at all.
I’ve been (unsuccessfully) trying to talk Mrs. FFP into sharing her applesauce-making process and recipe in a future article here on the blog. If you’re interested, you can bolster my case by dropping a comment below to that effect!
Cranberry Harvest Fest
Cranberries constitute one of the more unique crops in our area, represented by only one grower to my knowledge. We’ve been meaning to take a day-trip over to attend their Harvest Festival for several years now.
Free of the time constraints that have held us back in years past, this year we finally made it happen. The weather was great, the tour was extremely educational, and our son greatly enjoyed wading about in rubber boots within the made-for-kids “cranberry bog” pool while bobbing for cranberries.
A hay ride, multitude of outdoor games, and of course, cranberry juice and all sorts of cranberry-infused baked goods and snacks made our day-trip a smashing success.
Archery Season At Last
October 1st found me in the woods, enjoying the view from 25 feet above the forest floor as sun rays penetrated the leafy canopy above, slowly awakening the sleepy forest inhabitants.
This is a view and a feeling I eagerly wait for 11 months out of every year. Witnessing the crisp, pink sunrises and glowing orange sunsets of October from a tree stand has a unique, restorative power on the soul. And watching innumerable scenes of forest life play out beneath my feet never fails to bring a smile to my face!
I spent a large portion of October in the woods, leaving poor Mrs. FFP behind to
party hard mourn my absence in her role as a “hunting widow”.
Thankfully, my preparation and patience paid off in a big way. I was blessed with the opportunity to ethically harvest two deer with my compound bow this month, ensuring a plentiful supply of free range, antibiotic-free meat for the FFP household in the coming year.
November — Voting, Venison, & A Chest Freezer
A gusty, wet, and snowy November blew in with a fury, stripping the trees of their colorful canopies just as they had reached peak color. The transition from fall to winter was an abrupt one this year, making me thankful that I was able to hang up the bow for good by mid-month.
I tagged one more deer in early November, meeting my ambitious goal for the year and setting a new personal record in the process. The 110 hours I spent imitating a tree over the course of 32 hunts this season provided 168 pounds of free range, antibiotic-free meat for the FFP household. And while venison won’t be in short supply, this presented a bit of a new problem.
168 pounds of meat consumes nearly six cubic feet of freezer space. This unexpected surplus put us in the market for a (long overdue) chest freezer.
Thankfully, we were able to locate a highly-rated 10 cu. ft. model at a 50% discount due to a Black Friday sale.
We spent the remainder of the month informing our right to vote, performing a volunteer trash pickup along the streets within our neighborhood, holiday shopping, and spending time with family over Thanksgiving. We certainly had plenty to be thankful for in 2018!
December — Focusing On Family
December was the polar opposite of November in terms of weather, marked by a return of mild temperatures and a lack of snow cover. Sunny days with temps in the mid-50s practically beckoned us to go on mid-day walks around the block, which we gladly did.
Our annual tradition of selecting and cutting our own Christmas tree went off without a hitch this year, a stark improvement from our adrenaline-crazed experience the year prior which consisted of driving home in a blizzard and nearly losing the tree strapped to our roof in the process.
Mrs. FFP gave the house a holiday makeover this month while I focused on some household reorganization, the cause of which is explained in the January update below.
We spent much of December simply relaxing and winding down from the busy fall season by spending quality time together, both as a family and with our extended families as well.
A Grinch-Like Maneuver
Unfortunately, December wasn’t all gingerbread houses and mistletoe. In a very Grinch-like maneuver, the daily driver belonging to Mrs. FFP’s college-aged sister did its best to rob the season of joy by going kaput within mere days of Christmas.
I volunteered to take a look after hearing the news, and was able to diagnose the likely cause as a failed fuel pump. Unfortunately, replacement by a mechanic would be quite expensive since it involved removing the vehicle’s fuel tank.
horrific ordeal recent experience with our truck paid handsome dividends here. My father-in-law and I audaciously chose the path of trial by (hopefully no) fire and tag-teamed the repair in a long day’s work, getting only temporarily high on gasoline fumes in the process.
All things considered, saving my sister-in-law several hundred dollars over the cost of a shop repair and salvaging what was left of her Christmas break made the experience worth it.
January — And Then There Were Four!
We marked the turn of the year by snuggling on the couch and watching a John Wayne western. The days of late New Year’s Eve nights and boisterous parties are now long gone, a testament to the effects of child-rearing and — perhaps — our advancing age as well.
We had spent much of the previous month slowing down and focusing intentionally on spending quality time together as a family for one simple reason — our lives were about to change, in a big way. As of January, Mrs. FFP was nine months pregnant with our second son!
This was the primary reason for the above-mentioned reorganization. We had to shuffle furniture about in the course of transitioning our twenty-month-old son from his crib to a mattress and preparing the nursery for the arrival of a new inhabitant.
I woke up at 3:34 a.m. on January 8th to soft moans coming from Mrs. FFP lying next to me. No longer a clueless rookie in regard to labor and delivery, I knew this likely marked the final hours that our family would consist of only three members.
Sure enough, our second little he-man was born, healthy and whole, a mere 11 hours later.
And as I held him in my arms for the very first time, I couldn’t help but think that just as the changing color of the leaves in autumn signals the change of one season to the next, this new addition to our family marks the end of one chapter in our lives, and the start of the next.
Turning The Page
So there you have it — an illustrated guide on what the FFP household has been up to for the last several months. Hopefully you found it somewhat entertaining!
Now that winter is upon us and life has slowed down once more, I am looking forward to returning to our regularly scheduled programming of achieving financial freedom and will be posting much more regularly in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, our (growing) family wishes you and yours a Happy New Year!