7 Skills Every Mainer Should Have
Here are the seven most essential tasks that every Mainer should be able to do- for safety reasons, to save money, and to get the most out of life here.
1. Dry a Flooded Basement
Hopefully you have a drain down cellar. If so, make sure it's unobstructed. If you don't have a drain, pumping is your next step. Before you begin, though, be sure that the water outside has receded - you don't want to remove the water on the inside of a wall if water is pressing on it from the exterior or it may collapse.
To begin: bail at the rate the water outside is draining. You can use a sump pump, but only if your electrical panel is not in the area of the basement that's been flooded. Otherwise, use a carefully vented gas-powered pump or an electrical pump getting juice from your car. (A bilge pump from a dinghy also works in a pinch.)
Once you've removed water, the next step is to shovel out any mud - this will be much easier if you do it before it dries.
Then you might want to rinse walls with a garden hose to flush out any remaining silt or dirt and use a biodegradable cleaning agent and bristle brush to scrub the walls as clean as you can.
After everything is spic and span, open whatever windows, casements, bulkheads you have and allow the moisture to escape - fans help, as do dehumidifiers and space heaters.
When things seem back to normal, have an electrician check your electrical panel if need be.
Note: Cleaning the basement should always include a wipe down with bleach to kill mold spores. It's also a good idea to wear a mask during this process if you're especially sensitive to mold and mildew.
2. Get a Car out of the Mud
Only Maine has an entire season devoted to the stuff. And if you've ever driven on a dirt road in March, you've probably become stuck in it. Spinning your wheels in slop is about as helpless a feeling as there is. You need to give those spinning tires some purchase, something solid to find traction on.
First, stop gunning the engine. Causing the tires to spin will only dig you a deeper hole.
Use a stick to determine how far you're in.
If it isn't very deep, begin looking for something that you can put between the tire and the mud. There are many items that might work - sticks, logs, straw, a blanket, a coat, or even the floor mats of your car.
Place these directly in the path of the tire and then try and rock the car back and forth until it manages to get up onto them. (Some experts suggest letting air out of the tires, but that could seriously impact your drive home, so it's only recommended when you know you can get the air back in easily - i.e. by stopping at a nearby garage - or as a last-ditch effort.)
If the tires are down deep, you'll need to get the car jack out and find some place solid to rest it and lift the wheels so that you can position your traction underneath.
Put the car in as low a gear as you can because the tires will spin less. Then rock out.
3. Cut Down a Tree
How serious a business is felling a tree? Maine licensed forester Didier Bonner-Ganter, who cuts trees for a living with his Belfast-based Woodland Management Progressive Forest & Tree Care, prefaces his advice with this disclaimer: "Neither I nor my company endorse having the general landowner/chainsaw novice take any tree down that requires the use of a power chainsaw." This just goes to show you how hazardous dropping an oak in the backyard can be. Having said that, and assuming you have all the proper personal protection equipment (hard hat with screen or safety glasses, hearing protection, chaps or chainsaw safety pants, chainsaw protective boots, and gloves), and are using a sharp chainsaw with a chain brake and all safety features working properly, here's how you begin.
Be sure you want to do this and keep in mind the old homeowner "saw": If a tree is big enough to climb, call a forester to cut it for you.
Look for any hazards - dead limbs, leaning trees, electrical lines - in the crown or main stem of the tree or in nearby trees that might be affected.
Assess the lean of the tree - which way will it fall? When you're sure of the conditions, make your face cut, a downward angled slice followed by a straight cut that meets it at its base - removing a triangular-shaped wedge that represents about 80 percent of the body of the tree - on the side of the tree that's in the direction you want it to fall.
Then, from the rear, ready to make your hasty retreat, and making sure that no one else is around, make a boring cut with the saw level so that it meets the face cut at its apex. The tree will fall before you get through to the other side.
Yell "Timber!" for your own amusement.
4. Deal with a Power Outage
Mainers who lived through the 1998 ice storm [February 2008] know that being prepared for a power outage means more than stocking up on candles and canned soup. "The biggest thing people can do to help themselves is to think about what they would need if they were stuck in the house for three days," says Lynette Miller, a spokesperson for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "That will take them through all of the important questions: `I don't have any food in the house; I don't have an alternate source of heat; I don't know how to drain the pipes.' " Being mindful of those basics - food, heat, water - is a good beginning. With that in mind, here's a useful list to tack to the fridge (thankfully, the list will still work even if the fridge is dead).
Having a small section in the pantry filled with canned goods and bottled water is a smart idea.
Having a woodstove or some sort of non-electric space heater on hand is also important - but can be potentially hazardous. "The two biggest things from a safety standpoint are carbon monoxide [from generators] and the alternate source of heat, which can also carry carbon monoxide and can pose a fire danger," says Miller. Making sure any gas heaters and generators are vented properly is absolutely critical.
Heat sources should be placed well away from curtains, paper, and any other combustible materials.
Your home disaster kit should include flashlights with fresh batteries, a battery- or crank-powered radio, a telephone that isn't dependent on electricity, a first aid kit, blankets, a multi-tool, Ziplocs and plastic storage containers, and garbage bags with ties in case you can't use your toilet.
Think about withdrawing some cash - stores without power can't take credit cards.
Make sure you have necessary medicines.
Don't forget cat and dog food.
When you hear about a potentially harmful storm, fill your bathtub with water. It will allow you to flush toilets for a few days.
For more ideas click over to the Maine Emergency Management Agency's disaster readiness site: www.maineprepares.com. (Before the power goes out, of course.)
5. Cook a Lobster
Houseguests demand it, parties require it, the in-laws will stay until they finally get some. Luckily, cooking lobster is a simple affair, based on the age-old New England habit of boiling dinner until it changes colors. Here's what you do.
Take a large pot, fill it with seawater or homemade saltwater - one tablespoon of salt for each quart of water - and bring it to a full boil.
Add your bugs, making sure they're completely submerged. Cover the pot, and keep the water boiling.
Cook for about eighteen minutes for lobsters that weigh less than two pounds. If they're larger than that, add six or seven minutes. David Duda, one of the cooks at the legendary Cook's Lobster House on Bailey Island, where they serve hundreds of thousands of pounds of lobster a year, says there are a couple of simple ways to check if your crustaceans are done. "If it's ready, it'll turn bright red and start to float. Another easy way to test it is to pull on one of the antennae. If it comes right out, it's done."
Serve with melted butter.
6. Thaw a Pipe
Whether in our camps or in our homes, frozen pipes are an unfortunate reality for many Mainers. The problem is that water expands when it freezes, and most of the plumbing in our houses doesn't, which leads to cracks and leaks and all kinds of headaches for homeowners. It might seem an easy thing to simply heat a pipe to melt the ice inside, but you have to do so cautiously. A cracked pipe can split if excessive heat is applied, and you can run into many problems depending upon what you use for a heat source. "The average homeowner shouldn't be crawling around in difficult places with an open flame," says Jim Witherow, president of Silver Line Plumbing & Heating in Windham.
The first step, says Witherow, is to try and identify the draft that is causing the pipe to freeze and to get it taken care of.
Turn off the water to the pipe.
Open the downstream valve nearest the blockage, which will allow water to drain and will let you know when you're successful - you'll begin to see a drip.
Apply heat slowly. "You want to try and thaw with a hairdryer," says Witherow (but be sure you're careful with any electricity near water).
Move the hairdryer back and forth to avoid overheating one area. Another idea is to apply warm towels, wrapping them around the pipe and changing them as they cool. Some people like to use heating pads, but again, there's always the electricity issue. Something as simple as a light bulb can also do the trick. But always use caution.
7. Build a Fire
Humankind may have conquered fire eons ago, but it's surprising how hard it is for many people to build a simple campfire. "I have to do everything for some people, including hold their hands," says ranger Bruce White of Baxter State Park, who witnesses many a camper's attempt to kindle a blaze. Common mistakes include not enough paper or kindling and kindling or wood that is too large or too wet or placed so that none of the necessary air gets to the spark. And oftentimes people are too lazy to split the wood into pieces small enough to use - don't be afraid to use tools. Some would-be Prometheans get frustrated and resort to ill-advised techniques. "I've seen Coleman fuel used as lighter fluid," says White. "All of a sudden it looks like a volcano." No need to get this drastic. Making a fire - whether in a nice safe camp ring or in a woodstove - is really straightforward, and there are as many methods as there are trees in the forest. But it's hard to beat the tepee, which places the burnables right in the path of the heat and flame.
Begin with newspaper crumpled tightly and don't skimp; putting down more than you think you need - at least five or six sheets.
Take small pieces of softwood - think cedar shakes snapped two or three times - and place them in tepee fashion over the paper.
Move to a thumb-sized stick for the next layer, leaning it against the kindling.
Strike your match and let the flames do the rest, adding larger pieces of wood gradually.
Note: You can make your own kindling by taking a piece of old pine and splitting it down to thin strips, or by taking a knife to the core of a piece of wood and peeling away twig-size pieces by following the wood grain. Firewood should be the driest log you can find - standing deadwood is your best bet.
- By: Andrew Vietze