Friday, November 30, 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Living in a Vacuum - DIY Dog Hair

If you have a pet - with resultant pet hair and treat crumbs, you likely own a vacuum cleaner..  It's one of those appliances that seem to sit in the corner when not in use until they don't work at ALL, then get thrown out and another purchased.

Every one has different standards of what they are comfortable with, cleanliness wise.  I am perfectly fine coming home to a Triumph TR6 carburetor disassembled on my dining room table as long as the bathtub sparkles.  Some folks aren't happy unless one can perform brain surgery on their floors while others are perfectly happy not getting out a bottle of Windex and the paper towels until the bacteria in the kitchen is big enough to enter a tractor pull.
Personally I like to keep a reasonably clean house, both my own and my elderly Dads (I redecorated his bathroom with new paint, curtains, cabinets and a sign!) I also like to do so economically, even making up some of my own cleaning solutions. (Note to readers:  Do NOT clean your toilet bowl with Diet Coke and Mentos.)

So I noticed how expensive vacuum cleaners had gotten.  Then after going through a couple in about as many years I did two things.

I ignored the urge to buy another cheap one.  This is one appliance where paying a little extra is worth it. Mine gets a pretty good workout between dog hair and that Christmas party where someone made a glitter bomb and we're still finding the stuff 87 years later.

I then learned how to to do basic upkeep and read the owner's manual.
If it  doesn't turn on:

First make sure the outlet it's plugged into isn't controlled by a switch on the wall (now don't I just  feel stupid now?)

Next, check the connection and make sure it hasn't blown a fuse.  When that happens, no one is happy. Fuses are like safety valves, if a circuit overloads then its fuse or circuit breaker triggers and the electricity is automatically cut off.  Resetting a blown circuit breaker is easy (though I learned you need to think about WHY it blew first, especially when at 40,000 feet) while that blown fuse needs to be replaced.  That in itself is an easy fix, and ladies, if you can do this without help, your man WILL be impressed.
(1) To turn off the power to the house at the fuse box, pull out the main fuse block, which looks like a rectangular block with a handle. It is usually located at the top of the panel. Tug hard and straight out on the handle. Use caution; the metal parts may be hot. (Your power company may well have an online tutorial for this, which I'd highly recommend.)
(2) Screw out the blown fuse in a counterclockwise direction (it's it the cartridge type, pull straight out)
(2) Replace the blown fuse with a new one of the same capacity.
(4) Replace the main disconnect panel to return power to the residence.

Isn't he impressed?  Now don't do this while coming in from a rainstorm, all wet -  you may end up with a perm where you really didn't want one.  Electricity and water do NOT mix so be careful of standing water in your basement or laundry room if there's a breaker box there.
The power source is good, but still no power?

Check the electrical cord.  If it's frayed and not connecting properly, re-splice the wires together and patch the splice with lots of electrical tape. (Please unplug it first unless you want your new nickname to be "sparky). This is a temporary repair only, but it will work.

If the motor has simply conked out, there's not much you can do but take it into a repair place or replace.

It just doesn't suck properly.

You've all done it. Vacuumed over that tiny little corner of paper, again and again, and it just stays there on the floor. With a sigh, you bend over and pick it up, only to throw it down and try and vacuum it up again.

Yes you have.
If your vacuum isn't picking up properly, there are a few simple things you can do before pitching it.

If it's old it just might need some minor adjustments.

First check the bag.

Make sure you have the right type for your vacuum.  Not just any bag will do.
Then see how full it is.  You know the "honey not now, I'm in a meat coma" after dinner at Fogo De Chao?  Well, overstuffed bags (or clogged filters) don't operate very energetically either.  Operating with a full bag also reduces the life of the vacuum.  Replace the bag when it's 1/3 to 2/3 full.

 If you have household pets, also buy a small flea collar and cut it into small pieces (wearing gloves) and put one into the bag (sealing the remainder in an air tight baggie) the night before you replace it.  That will kill any fleas before you remove it and put it in your trash (some recommend leaving a bit of one in there all the time but I'd rather not have the insecticide fumes in the house with all the air that moves through it).
Barkley - The Original Flea RV, in Park

Check that the hose doesn't have any holes in it. Holes in Swiss Cheese are good, your vacuum, not so much. Aren't you glad you bought that electrical tape.  Tape should be just a temporary fix until you can replace. Don't drape the disconnected hose up over a nail to store it, this is often the cause of the damage.

If it is the type that has a tube, make sure there's nothing clogging it (Hey - it's Mr. Squeeky!)
Though little kids love to go for a ride astride a canister type vacuum while you pull it, it's best to say no (look, the ice cream truck!).  Such vacuums aren't designed for that kind of weight, and you'll soon find yourself with a very expensive hose replacement.

The round spinning brush under the vacuum cleaner (basically an agitator) should spin freely.  If  it doesn't, there might be hair or small debris wrapped around it, keeping it from rotating and doing its job.  Use a small pair of scissors to cut through the build up, gently pulling it free. If it's finer hair or a piece of string, remove with a seam ripper (available in hobby stores or where sewing supplies are found).  If it's your better half's favorite bore snake for cleaning their squirrel hunting firearm, hide the remains quickly and distract them with a pie.
If the rubber belt attached to is is broken, you can replace that by removing the bottom place assembly with a screwdriver. Belts will need to be replaced every 6 months to 1 year, depending on how much it's used. Compare your belt to a new one to check its quality. It should be tight, without worn spots, cracks or unevenness.

I didn't think they still MADE shag carpeting? 

Some vacuums with agitators and brushes need to be adjusted for the height off of the carpet.  Too close and there won't be adequate suction to really pick up anything. Too high and they merely wave at the dirt.

And finally - 
It's not a vacuum cleaner.  It's a Dalek from BBC's Dr. Who and when you removed that bottom plate and poked it in the rear with a pair of needle nose pliers, you pretty much sealed your fate.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Reindeer Warnings

Won't play any reindeer games with me?  Then I might just forget to preflight the equipment!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Dram of Whiskey and Some Scones

It has rained or sleeted all day. Just not a good day to go out. So after church and before finishing a book, I made scones. The recipe is below.  If you wish a mix - go to World Market (and some Safeway stores) and get the Sticky Fingers brand of scone mix that they carry. Excellent. Mine was simple, a basic recipe with wild Maine blueberries and glazed with butter, whiskey, cream, and sugar.

Scones are usually best on those cold grey mornings, when children trudge sullenly off to school, when the buildings creak strangely and dark shadows shiver and scratch on the walls, days when your body aches for the strength of another and the smell of the sea. Days of a fire upon a cold hearth, warmth in the kitchen, and perhaps a drop of Jameson's. In this case, a little Jameson in the glaze.

Scones
2 cups All-Purpose King Arthur Flour
1/3 cup Sugar
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pinches Ground Nutmeg or Cardamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (the peel)
6 tablespoons Unsalted Butter (well chilled)
1 extra large egg
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons Penzey's Mexican vanilla

Vanilla Sugar
(I use Penzeys brand or you can make your own by putting a whole vanilla bean, sliced in half with the insides scraped out all of which is stirred into 2 cups of sugar in a mason jar and let it sit week).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well. Thinly slice the chilled butter into the bowl and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter until the flour and butter look like coarse meal.

In a clean medium-size bowl, mix all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing as little as possible, just enough to incorporate wet and dry together.  If you like, add in a handful of wild blueberries, just at the end of the mixing.

Place the dough onto a flour-dusted pastry board (or another clean surface) and knead a half dozen times. Shape it into a round that's about 10 inches across. Place on cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  In my oven at 375 F oven, it took roughly 30 minutes to bake to a light golden color. (check it at 20).You can also deeply score the dough before cooking into 8 wedges. (reduce cook time 10 minutes though). Cool on a rack.


click on photos to enlarge

No recipe for the glaze, just a couple of teaspoons of butter, melted. Stir in a teaspoon of cream, a drop of vanilla if you like, a good splash of whiskey and enough powdered sugar to make a glaze. Put it on the scones as they come out of the oven, they taste like a melancholy moan of a Celtic tune, best shared with a friend, or a loyal dog.

The day is already getting brighter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Pet Cams - The Latest in Canine Technology

If I'm stopped for a train or slowed for traffic I tend to notice roadside advertisements more. One billboard was for a Pet Cam which caught my attention with

 "What is YOUR pet doing during the day?"  

Most of us leave our pets at home as we work.  Some of us have dog walkers that come over, or there is a doggie door to a fenced yard so the dog can get outside and sniff the trees and the grass. Like a baby monitor/cam, the Pet Cam can be set up with multiple cameras so can see your pet both inside and outside - with a live feed so you know they're safe.

I thought about getting one for Abby. I try and make sure there is plenty to drink and the home is pet safe, nothing toxic in reach, extra TP out of the way as Abby (like Barkley) loves to snag the extra toilet paper rolls.  But I wonder if I'd really see anything worthwhile if I got one of those "pet cams".

I'm off to a meeting I have to go into the office for.  Let's see what the doggie cam has to say.

8 a.m.
10 a.m.
12 p.m.
2 p.m.
4 p.m.


the truck pulling in the driveway
I think I'm better off without the pet cam.  Sometimes it's better not knowing :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Fishing Spots

My dad bought me my own little fishing pole when I was barely big enough to hold on to it and they would watch with loving patience up on the bank to make sure I didn't fall in. So last night, when I discovered a forgotten little cherry rod during a recent clean-up in the shed, I walked on down to the river that cuts through my Village and sat down to think about it.

I have invited numerous people I have known over the years to join me in fishing local rivers, lakes, and streams. Many have taken me up on the opportunity. They are safe, quiet places where the kids can fish while the adults wait "safely in the jeep, as they used to say on the Wild Kingdom, with a cold ice tea or beer, listening to the laughter of kids used to city homes, tiny yards. It's a quiet spot away, for just a moment, from the exhaustive clamor of the city. It's appreciated and they often reciprocate by doing something to help me around my place. Though I appreciate the thanks, just the wide smile of a kid who has caught his first "big" fish is all the thanks any of us might need.

As I walked down to the water tonight, the sun was setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; clouds moving up from the Plains, wispy strands through which I could glimpse was the phase of the moon. The bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? I saw one huge fin slicing the water when I first moved in; it was either a giant carp or Nessie. I was tempted to jerk the line, to see what I had, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding, rather than yank up the line to see what's at the other end. Patience is what I needed. I've been going full tilt for so long that when it all pulled into one moment of pain, I realized I needed to take a break. That's why, as I sat, I prayed for some quiet, I prayed for acceptance and patience. Patience isn't stressed, it isn't unhappy, its a steady strength we apply to each experience we face, be it life showing its fangs, or a quiet weekend in a simple household.

As I waited, the call of what sounded like a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought about all the things I needed to do at home. Iron clothes in prep for a couple days on the road while I'm a guest speaker at some conference, cook dinner, call Dad and Tam back. And I stopped. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to Barkley, sitting by my side, tail wagging, poised to strike in case I reeled in a slab of hickory smoked bacon. "That" being the sound of a small bass jumping on a small span of water on a planet spinning through space. This is what fishing is all about, not catching anything, not putting a meal on the table, but for me, like flying a little tailwheel airplane, simply a time with nature to be savored when the whole body is one sense with the water and delight imbibes through every pore with the gossamer cast of a line. I really don't care if I catch anything, frankly, I'm not that enamored with that part of it, I just enjoyed the communion of elemental waters.

The crickets began their chorus to usher in the night, and the note of the sparrow is borne on the wind from over the water. And from the water's edge, a salamander crawled out, that traveler of both the water and the land, equally at home in both. We're all born of water, as we emerge from the watery landscape of the womb, we discover we can breathe, and we leave behind the comforting water world of our mother's body, to become searchers of the land, seekers of adventure. What caused that first being to emerge from the womb, from the water of life? The pull of nature, or something more primal? There was a Disney movie of a redheaded mermaid, half human, half fish, who gave up the freedom of her watery home for the love of a man. What is that primal urge that drives us out and up, away from our comfortable origins to a land that can often be dry and barren? Perhaps we simply leave the water searching for that love.

As the last of the daylight seeped back into the sky, I thought back to what has been troubling me, but only briefly, for my mind now, like the lake, is rippled but not ruffled. These small ripples of water raised by the evening's wind are only a hint of turmoil in a slowly calming stream. As the day pulled out of the sky taking the wind with it, I cast back out into the now still center of the pond, the moment causing me to hold in my breath. There it was. Utter and complete stillness. I wanted to hold my breath because even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The trees were absolutely quiet, the animals of day hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not yet stirring. There was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything. It felt like all life…and my future…and beyond was contained in one space, and I was not just casting into it, I was part of it. It's one of the most peaceful coherent moments I've experienced. A heavenly spot of time.
Poets talk about "spots of time," but its only been flying and on the water where I've experienced eternity compressed into a moment. A moment where in an instant you can see your whole life and make a choice. No one can even explain to you what this "spot of time" is until your whole horizon is a fish and then the fish is gone. I thought of one salmon off in the great North. I shall remember that fish when I'm an old lady. After fighting him until my arms groaned, I brought him up. For a moment, I saw the sun glinting off his 30-pound back, rainbow diamonds of light dazzling my eyes. I was so enamored of him I couldn't even take a breath and in that instant, before he was gone, the line snapped, it seemed as if time had stumbled. Then as the clock picked itself up again, I looked at the bare expanse of water while others patted me on the back, consoling me and urging me to try again. Only then did it hit me what it was that I had lost.
I thought back to fly fishing in Gunnison while I went back to Colorado to visit family, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water making the most beautiful movements, a ballet of line and wind and hook. A ritual of the chase, the cast like a tease to the unsuspecting trout, placid in their world, until he pulled them into his. As the trout took the bait, the man would smile, that quick knowing smile, and pull with a quick flick of his fingers and hands, like light strokes on a keyboard, and plant the hook. Then after reeling the trout in, he gently pulled the hook from the mouth, gently cradling the fish in his hand as a way of speaking his peace. Without a sound and a quick unemotional tickle of her belly, he said goodbye to her as she headed back downstream.
Catch and release.

With my neighborhood passing into shadow, darkness falling, I decided to head back. I didn't catch anything, my true catch was as intangible and indescribable as the twilight playing on the water. I think of what Thoreau said, "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". For to fish is to flirt, with dancing water and surging life, warm lips to cool water, we reach for a transparent kiss of the unknown. We willingly bite the secret barb, to be brought to shore barely breathing, gasping up into somewhere unknown, searching upward to catch a glimpse of who it was that wanted us.

Tonight I have no choice but to pull the hook of that fly out of my lips and swim away safely downstream.

Catch and release.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thank a Veteran - Then Go Make Some Biscuits

They honored the Vets at church today, we still have 3 WWII Vets attending service every single Sunday.  I made sure I thanked each and every one on this Veterans Day.

That being said - since we are busy coordinating things in CA for my family that lost everything in the Paradise fire, writing will be short - specifically a recipe.

For those of you poor folks who eat your biscuits out of a CAN, this is what a real homemade biscuit looks like (this was just half of one).  I lived in the South for almost 10 years, so one thing I got a lot of practice with was making biscuits so I'm included some tips.

The picture above is just the "stunt biscuit".  This is the whole thing.
Brigid's Biscuits (y'all better  not make any jokes about that, my Dad reads my blog).

2 c. self-rising flour (use White Lily brand, it makes a tremendous difference in the height of the biscuit as it's a soft winter wheat, low protein - if you live up North and your store doesn't carry it, you can buy on Amazon which is what I have to do because one thing you never hear anyone say in Chicagoland is "I hear this city makes a mean biscuit!". If you don't want to buy from Amazon use pastry or cake flour but DO NOT use all purpose flour.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup lard (don't even think of using Crisco)
2/3 cup cream to which you've added 2 Tablespoons lemon juice or use 2/3 cup buttermilk.  You may need an additional Tablespoon or two as it comes together.
Step by Step Instructions:


Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.  (I've also cooked at 475 F.which works fine, the biscuits are just a little paler).

Let liquid sit while this happens, you want the liquid and butter to be warmer than icebox temperature. Cut the butter into the self-rising flour with a fork until it is in small flakes or balls. Don't mix the butter in completely if you want a really flaky biscuit. 

Stir in the liquid, stirring JUST til it pulls away from the side of the bowl. If it hasn't pulled together as a soft dough, add another Tablespoon or two of liquid and very gently mix with a fork

Turn out onto a floured cutting board and, with hands dusted with flour, knead very gently 3-4 times. No more than that. 

Gently pat out about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick and cut using a 2-inch biscuit cutter or drinking glass, dipped in flour. Cut straight down, do NOT twist the biscuit cutter and put them top down on your baking sheet.  This will ensure that you don’t seal the edges any more than necessary and that the most sealed edge–the side you cut from–will be at the bottom so they will rise as much as possible. Put them closely together on an ungreased cookie sheet, even touching if you like. Biscuits don’t spread, and they feed off of one another’s heat so I put mine very close together, even touching sometimes for the highest rise.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, checking at 8 minutes as they are usually done then. 1/2 inch thick dough will give you about a dozen biscuits. I make mine a little thicker and get about 8 biscuits. This easily cuts in half for two people

NOTE:  If your flour is NOT self-rising add 1 Tablespoon of Baking Powder and 1 teaspoon of salt to the recipe (based on two cups of flour).

Friday, November 9, 2018

Prayers for Paradise

Please, everyone, send prayers and/or healing thoughts to the people of Paradise California and other parts of the state hit by the fire.

A member of my family lost their home, and being out of state at the time was not able to take out ANY items of sentimental value or any financial records.  My cousin lost a winter's supply of hay for the horses she boards and cares for that is stored there for the winter, and the Aunt of my cousin's better half lost her home as well.

All are at my cousin Liz's up in the Sierras, including a Paradise neighbor that simply had no other place to go as she's quite elderly. The Aunt has a sister in Portland, they can take her there to live.  The elderly neighbor will be with them as long as she needs.  That's the kind of person my cousin Liz is.

But they are in total shock so any prayers are appreciated.  Partner in Grime and I are tweaking the budget to replace the hay.  The horses and I sort of have an "I won't ride you if you don't bite me" detente thing going but she just doesn't have the means to replace that much hay, especially with the post-fire price gouging that will likely go on.

We're family, that's what we do.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Look a Squirrel ! - Holiday Gift Giving


With Christmas coming up there's often a package on the porch when I get home as I do almost all of my shopping online.

I wasn't sure what the one box was - maybe it's the toy I got for Abby.

It's the Outward Hound squirrel puzzle tree with squeaky squirrels.  Abby's going to go BONKERS when this arrives.


It wasn't that today though. It was a collection of little travel size (1/2 ounce each) fragrances from Demeter which are fun little stocking stuffers.  They have some UNIQUE scents, is all I can say.  Many are really lovely, some are just odd (if your boyfriend wants you to smell like Paint, Turpentine or  Lobster, I don't want to get invited to the wedding).  Of course, there are some that make me laugh AND smell good.

I got Cinnamon Bark roll-on skin oil, an old standby that is spicy but not sickeningly sweet.  It's my best friend's favorite.  I also added some others.  The RHIB was just like the cocktail it's named after, very strawberry scented.  I like my Victoria's Secret Strawberry and Champagne spray better but it smelled nice. The Marshmallow was a light sweet fragrance, one I think my daughter. would like.  The Honey was sweet and pretty but I pictured swarms of Africanized Bees (Beebonics! Oh No!) swarming after me.  I may pass on that one.  The Gin and Tonic -  nice, subtle lime undertone and very crisp. This is going in my husbands stocking as that will make a very nice man's fragrance.  The Butterscotch - OK, I was caught huffing my wrist.  I'm going to keep that one for myself for date night.

Riding crop smelled like worn leather but my cousin who has horses may get a smile out of it. The only one I did NOT like was the Thunderstorm, which I expected to.  I was waiting for a crisp rain smell with perhaps some pepper added to the oils to make it sharper.  Nope, it smelled like something electrical burning from behind the dash.  I've smelled that smell in a Sherpa transport aircraft, late it night over a hostile landscape, and, trust me, that is NOT a good smell.  Thunderstorm isn't the right name.  They really should have named this one Lucas. (Any of you who have a British car in your garage - ever notice that Lucas and Lucifer start with the same three letters? Just saying).


What to do with it?  Hmmmmm. (insert evil laugh here)  I think I will make little air fresheners out of cardboard, cut them in the shape of a fuse, douse them well with Thunderstorm perfume, then stuff them in the vents in the current Triumph project and see how long it takes my husband to start looking around for the Lucas Replacement Wiring Harness Smoke Kit. :-)

For now, I can come up with something that smells much nicer than any of this. 




Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate hazelnut frosting, topped with crumbled Cadbury Flake candy. I made up a batch of these for a friend with a black lab that needed a little holiday cheer.

The cake has extra vanilla and the tiniest hint of almond and the creamy chocolate hazelnut frosting recipe has been a big hit with those I've shared it with on the blog before.


It must smell good - doggie photobomb!
Now what's that burning smell?