Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Marshmallows

So this last week, my hero Alton Brown made marshmallows from scratch. I didn't know that such a thing could be done, but not only did he do it, but he explained in painstaking detail how it could be done by me in my own kitchen! I figured that if things went horribly wrong that I'd be out about $.50 in materials tops, so I figured I'd give it a try.

How did they turn out? In a word: Heavenly. Fluffy, white, and heavenly.

Here's the recipe from the Good Eats episode I saw:

Homemade Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks...(if they last that long!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

125 Pushups - Week 1

Last week was the first week of my new goal: 125 consecutive push ups in one set. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I used week 4's workout from hundredpushups.com thinking that it would be a good place to start from.

I had assumed, since I made it through week 6 of the workout, that week 4 would be relatively easy--boy was I wrong! I must have forgotten to eat my Wheaties all of last week, because that workout kicked my butt! Granted, on 2 of the 3 days, I was working to find my new max bench press weight which may have contributed to my overall feeling of butt-kickedness...but man! I'm (once again!) not looking forward to week 2 (which equals week 5 of the hundredpushups.com routine).

I figure that in perhaps 4 weeks I cann hit my goal of 125 by doing week 4, 5, and 6, then repeating week 6. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Halloween Costumes

Kara told me in no uncertain terms that this year, costuming the boys was my job. Mike would be a pumpkin (again). The other two were in my hands.

Spence wanted to be "an Army Guy." Okay, I can do that. J wanted to be a chicken. "A chicken?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Definitely a chicken." Great.

So I took Spence out shopping and found camo pants, a camo jacket and an olive drab t-shirt. I found some insignia at an Army surplus store and tacked it onto the jacket. One of my buddies from work loaned me his Army cap and duffel--the duffel made a great goody bag for Spence to put his stuff in at the Trunk or Treat!

J's costume was a bit tougher. Last year, he was a crow. (I readily acknowledge that there are things I do to mess up my kids--just because I'm their parent. I want to make it clear that this bird fetish is not my fault, nor is it from my side of the family.) I made black construction paper "feathers" and stitched them onto a black sweatshirt. Sounds like a neat idea, but they tore off at the lightest touch, so I knew that I'd need to use real feathers if I was going to use feathers at all; however, I couldn't find a bag of plain white feathers! I found a couple of long, white, quill-type feathers for $1.99 each...and that wasn't happening for this costume. No Halloween store in the Greater Metropolitan Lexington area sells a child-sized chicken costume--plenty of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Power Ranger costumes. Not so much with the livestock. So it was DIY or not at all.

I knew we could reuse the orange tights from last year's crow costume...but I needed a white ensemble for him to wear. I found a long-sleeved white shirt at Wal-Mart, but no white short-type things for the lower body. Then it hit me: whitey tighties! Yes, I had him wear clean white underwear on the outside of his costume. I cut then spray adhesed several layers of thin felt together to make the tail, then stitched it to the underwear to attach it.

Lower Legs: Check.
Upper Legs: Check.
Torso: Check.
Head: TBD.
Beak: TBD.

Then I remembered that we had some white flannel sheets that came in a drawstring bag. Perfect! I put the bag on his head with the opening facing forward and the drawstrings at his chin. I pinned the back to roughly fit his head, stitched it on the sewing machine, then trimmed and fine tuned it until it fit him well. While we were at Wal-Mart getting the shirt, I eyed a pair of little stretchy red gloves that I knew would be a fantastic comb for the top of his head. (I initially planned on using red felt, but I couldn't pass the gloves up when I saw them.) I cut up a soft plastic folder to fit inside the glove (for stiffness) and sewed the glove to the hood.

For the beak, I cut an orange plastic folder into triangles, spray adhesed them together (same adhesive I used to make the tail), punched a few holes for elastic, and trimmed them to fit his face. He complained a bit that the lower part of the beak was uncomfortable since it was digging into his lip, so I attached a small piece of leftover felt to help cushion the beak where it touched his face. Since he really wanted to have a two-part beak that moved when he opened his mouth, I made a smaller beak to go on his chin.


Will Nothing Help The Burning Stuff??

My church held its annual Trunk or Treat tonight--the parents park in the church parking lot and kids go from trunk to trunk and get treats instead of from house to house. (We'll go house to house Trick or Treating on Halloween, too!) One unique thing added this year was a chili cook-off/dinner. And I can't resist a good chili cook-off.

I have a standby chili recipe that I've used for a few years now that really does the trick. It's usually pretty hot, but not habanero hot; it's more of a delayed, three-seconds-after-the-bite-you-feel-the-tingle kind of heat. I stumbled across Dixie Johnson's recipe when I lived in Denver and have made it about 4 times since then; I've never made it strictly according to the recipe because I'm not willing to special order the precise spices called for. However, I readily substitute ingredients and I fiddle with the amounts of some of the spices as the mood strikes me. (I never substitute Sazon Goya--it gives its own pretty unique flavor. Find it in the Mexican aisle at your local grocer.) Here's how it goes:

Dixie's Championship Recipe Chili

Gray 3 pounds of cubed beef chuck tender (or chili grind) in 1 TBSP Crisco (I used 5 lbs of chopped stew meat, from which I trimmed the fat and cut into smaller cubes.)


1 Can - 8 oz Hunt's Tomato Sauce
1/2 Can - 14-1/2 oz can Swanson Chicken Broth
1/2 tsp - Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp - Wylers Chicken Instant Bouillon
1 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder
2 - Serrano Pepper (seeded) (I used 3 jalepenos)
1 Can - 14-1/2 oz Swanson Beef Broth
1-1/2 tbsp - Onion Powder
2 tsp - Wyler Beef Instant Bouillon
1 tsp - Pendery's Cumin

Bring to a boil and cook for about 1 hour (depends on whether you are using cubed or ground meat). Remove the peppers and add the following:

3/4 tsp - Pendery's White Pepper
1 Packet - Sazon Goya
1/4 tsp - Salt
3 tbsp - Gunpowder Foods Texas Red Chili Powder
1 tsp - Garlic Powder
1 tbsp - Pendery's Cumin
2 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder

Adjust liquid with remainder of chicken broth or water. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the following:

1/4 tsp - Brown Sugar
1 tbsp - Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chili Powder
1/4 tsp - Gunpowder Foods Hot Stuff
1 tsp - Pendery's Cumin

Reduce heat and simmer/cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust chili final taste for salt and front and back heat.

I didn't win anything, but was told by a couple of people that it was good and that it was a "jump out and grab ya" hot.

Now, the family that sat at the table with us had a young girl (Wendy) who happened to procure a large bowl of my chili. I warned her dad that it was hot, but he said that she really wanted it and that if she didn't finish it that he'd gladly finish it for her. So I watched her take a bite, chew, and swallow.



Then it hit.

She grabbed her water glass and took a big drink. Apparently, that didn't do much to calm her fiery tongue because she exclaimed, "Will nothing help the burning stuff?" Her dad and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

(Just to clarify, we were laughing at her exclamation, not her pain and sorrow. Besides, it wasn't all that hot.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Six Random Facts About Me

I've had my first ever meme tag! M at Random Misfires tagged me to give six random facts about myself:

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself (but since she did three, that must mean that this one's flexible!).
4. Tag six people at the end of your post (same deal as #3).
5. Let each person know they have been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

The Facts
1. I am addicted to my Palm Pilot (currently a Palm TX). Without it, I couldn't tell you what day today is, what I'm doing tomorrow.... Heck, I probably couldn't even tell you when my birthday is! But with it, I can tell you the phone number, address, email, etc. of pretty much anyone I've met in the last 10 years.
2. I love fixing things, especially really broken things. The brokener the better, since if I don't fix it, it can't get any more broken. :) I fix laptops, dining room chairs, cars, vans, PCs, trampolines, you name it.
3. I can do 100 push ups in a row.
4. I know how to lash--not the kind with a whip. I can tie logs together and make a tower or a bridge or a flagpole or whatever.
5. I shattered my right kneecap while rock climbing in Phoenix, AZ. I had reconstructive surgery on New Years Eve, 1997. Then I cracked it again (while it was healing) about 6 weeks later so they had to re-reconstruct it. The pins, screws, and wire came out in August of '98. If I don't keep it moving it tends to stiffen up, so long car rides can get rather uncomfortable for me.
6. I have always wanted to play an instrument--the clarinet, piano, guitar, flute, and harmonica to name a few--but I don't have the patience or the stick-to-it-iveness to ever be more than a novice.

The Peeps
1. Kara
2. Rob
3. Julene
4. Shauna
5. Lulu

Y'all have been tagged. Git to it.

More Backyard Photography

We had a few ripe tomatoes out back, so I thought I'd see if I could make an interesting shot of them...

...and of our measly basil.

And while I was walking on the lawn, there was a swarm of little hopping bugs flitting around me. This was one of them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Amish Friendship Bread - Chocolate Bread Recipe

If you are *ahem* "lucky" enough to have an Amish Friendship Bread starter, you can make a yummy chocolate bread with it. This is only a slight variation from the recipe included with the chain letter.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

1 cup friendship bread (sourdough) starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 large box instant chocolate pudding
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (or more, if desired)

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl, add bread ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

In a small bowl, combine crust ingredients. Grease bottom and sides of 2 large loaf pans. Dust the sides and bottom of each pan; reserve remaining crust mixture.

Divide batter evenly into the 2 pans and sprinkle remaining crust mixture over the top. Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until a tootpick comes out clean. Cool until bread loosens from the pan easily. Turn out onto a serving dish.

Amish Friendship Bread - Banana Bread

This is a banana bread that uses the Amish Friendship Bread starter. This is only a slight variation from the recipe included with the chain letter.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

1 cup friendship bread (sourdough) starter
3 eggs
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
2 large ripe bananas, smashed
1 large box instant banana pudding (optional)

In a large bowl, add all ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

Divide batter evenly into the 2 pans and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until a tootpick comes out clean. Cool until bread loosens from the pan easily. Turn out onto a serving dish.

Amish Friendship Bread - Plain Old Sourdough Bread

This is another variation on the Amish Friendship Bread, using one cup of the starter.

This recipe calls for bread flour, which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. You can use AP, but your bread won't be quite as good.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup starter
6 cups bread flour

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Oil bottom and sides of a large bowl and put dough in. Let stand overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, punch dough down 4-5 times and divide into 3 equal balls. Knead each ball 8-10 times; use additional flour to keep dough from sticking. Place dough into 3 greased and floured loaf pans. Brush tops with oil and cover loosely with oiled foil. Let rise at room temperature for 4 - 8 hours.

If dough has not risen sufficiently, put a small pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven, heat oven to 200 degrees, then turn off the oven. Put dough on the top rack for 1-2 hours or until dough has risen.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. While it is baking, and after the top has lightly browned, you may cover the bread with foil to slow further browning.

Amish Friendship Bread

Many of you have either received or know someone who has received "Amish Friendship Bread." I think that this is a horrible misnomer; it should be called "Chain-letter Obligation Bread." I doubt its origins have anything to do with the Amish aside from they fact that they also use sourdough to make bread. And a true friend would bring over the bread AFTER it had been cooked, not while it's still a lump of bubbly goo.

Nomenclature aside, I received a bag of this sourdough starter from my next door neighbor 11 days ago. When I received the starter, I had no idea how much work it would be! Roberta from my work--the one I built the fence with--had mentioned that she never liked dealing with "friendship bread" unless it was during the Christmas holiday, and now I know why.

Days 1-5 are easy: just mush the bag and release some of the gas if the bag gets too big.
Day 6 is not too bad: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk, then mush the bag.
Days 7-9 are easy too: mush the bag some more and release gas so the bag doesn't pop.
Day 10 is a different story altogether.

You feed the starter some more flour, sugar, and milk, and mix it up some more. No big deal.

Then, you split the starter into four 1-cup batches. Put one in a bag and care for it for 10 more days for your next batch of bread. ("If you don't save one batch," the chain letter cautions, "you'll have to wait until you receive another starter from a friend, as the Amish are the only ones who know how to create a starter." Not true at all; you can make a new starter with about 2 cups of water, 2 cups of flour, and a week of time. Just Google "Sourdough Starter.") Put another starter in a bag for a "friend." Use the remaining two cups of starter to make your bread.

Not having made this kind of bread before, I figured I'd try it out myself before subjecting a friend to a potentially bad recipe, so I had three cups worth of starter to work from. Little did I know that each recipe delivers 2 to 3 loaves of bread.

So I got to work on the first cup of starter using the recipe in the chain letter, but I committed the #1 worst mistake when baking with a new recipe: I didn't read the whole recipe through before I started. When I got to the very end, I saw that this bread recipe calls for 1 large box of...instant vanilla pudding? Huh?

I scrounged in the cupboards for the pudding mix that I knew I didn't have, and after a fewe minutes came up with one small box of sugar-free chocolate instant pudding mix. Well, it would have to do. So I added it and a 3/4 full bag of chocolate chips I found in another cupboard, and hoped for the best. Into the oven went the first two loaves.

For the second batch, I used two smashed bananas in place of the pudding. It went just fine.

For the third batch, I didn't have any pudding or bananas left, and all I had was a scant 1/2 cup of oil, if I used up the rest of both my vegetable oil and olive oil. (Time to go shopping.) So I found a recipe online for plain old sourdough that is started with this kind of starter. This morning, I punched down the dough and divided it into 3 loaves...and it didn't look good. The dough was thick and sticky, and did not look at all like it was going to end well. I left them to rise while I went to work.

When I got home, the three lumps were exactly the same size I left them. Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad.

Hammock Camping - Minor Setback

Unfortunately, my hammock ingenuity was too good to last. This last weekend, I set up my hammock between two trees that were about 10 feet apart. That left a lot of slack in the hammock, which is good because you're supposed to lay in them slantwise (this kind, at least). The problem is, that I'm 6'4". Most things just aren't built for my height, including hammocks. So when conditions are IDEAL, I just barely fit slantwise in the hammock. This weekend, conditions weren't ideal.

I unknowingly tied one end of the hammock about 6 inches higher than the other end, which meant that when I layed slantwise about 10 inches of my legs and feet were hanging off the hammock. :( Not exactly comfortable.

The difference between this time and last time was that last time, I set my tripods at exactly the length of the hammock, and tied the hammock tight. Since the tripods were only 5-ish feet off the ground, I needed to have the hammock tight so that my hindparts wouldn't drag on the ground...

It's seeming like every hammock setup is different, so I get to learn something new each time. This time, I learned to either pick trees spaced a little further out or tie both ends at the same height. Last time, I learned that you shouldn't pitch your hammock within a half-mile of train tracks unless you've got really good ear plugs. (I'm a light sleeper.)

100 Pushups - Back to Week 4

After I hit my 100 consecutive push ups two weeks ago, I don't think I did a single push up--until today. I was feeling pretty blah again (post-goal letdown?) and needed a new goal. So the new goal is to start from week 4 and go through to week 6, then do 125 push ups without resting.

So today's set was 21, 25, 21, 21, > 32. When I first went through week 4, I was barely able to get the max. Today, I maxed at 45. (The sets have changed a bit since my first time on week 4, but the level of effort is about the same.)

I was curious about what these last few months of push ups had done to my benchpress ability. About 6 months ago, when I was working out with a couple of guys at work (Pete and Will) during lunch, we would bench 2-3 times per week. My max was about 185 on a good day. Today, I ate 185 for lunch and hit 205 with only the barest of help from my spotter, but that was after doing 145 push ups in about 5 minutes. So I'd say that fresh, I could certainly get 205. A 10% bench press improvement? Yeah, I'll take that.

Oh, and now I can officially say that I can bench press more than I weigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I May Not Be Entirely Right (In The Head)

This weekend, I'm going camping with the Boy Scouts. We had planned this trip for September, and things just kept popping up to put it off later and later...and this is about the latest we could possibly get away with doing it. We're going water skiing. In October. The middle of October.

Now I may not be the brightest bulb, but I know that 65 degree air temp plus 72 degree water temp plus me equals one Brigsicle. Am I going to risk it in order to ski? I'd like to think I will...but I'll have to wait to see how cold that water actually feels. I may just spend a lot of time fishing instead. It'll be chilly enough just sleeping...but getting up early on Saturday morning to get in frigid water, just to be either dragged through the frigid water if I can't get up on the skis, or sprayed with frigid water if I can...

On the bright side, the Scouts picked some good-sounding meals: Mac and Cheese (from semi-scratch), apple crisp, omelets-in-a-bag, and rolls-in-an-orange are some of the ones I'm looking forward to (I'll post the recipes for the ones that turn out okay). But for some reason, they kept on trying to have hot dogs for a meal. What's the deal with that?? Don't they know that the stuff that's in hot dogs will kill you?


So will hypothermia.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hammock Ingenuity

Okay, I'll admit it. I have a rather high opinion of my cleverness, it's true. I don't quite live up to the old Scout Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan verse, "Oh we're not a bit stuck up about the clever things we do / Most everybody likes us and you hope you like us too." I apologize to those of you who have to bear through my detailed explanations of intricate details that mean nothing to you *coughKaracough* but smile through it anyways. I've been trying to reign it in...

...but I really think I outdid myself on this one.

Camping with the Cub Scouts two weeks ago, I brought a hammock and planned on sleeping in it overnight. I find it to be much more comfortable to sleep in a hammock than to sleep on the ground, but maybe that's just me. But when when we got to the camp, I found that we were camping in the middle of a field. I don't know about you, but I often find it difficult to keep a hammock suspended when it is attached to nothing but grass. ;)

Luckily, I take the Boy Scout motto to heart: Be Prepared. I brought along several lengths of rope and 6 "Scout Staves," a.k.a. thick broom handles that Scouts can use for lashing practice. With three on each side, I tied each set into a tripod (using a tripod lashing, of course!), then strung over each tripod a rope I had tied an eye splice into. Why an eye splice? Because I had previously hooked climbing carabiners into my hammock ropes so that I didn't have to actually tie a rope into my hammock every time I use it. I just hook the carabiner into the eye splice and then tie spliced rope to an anchor.

Aah, the anchor. I relied on my Pioneering Merit Badge work from eons ago to anchor the hammock in the same manner in which you would anchor a monkey bridge.

You drive a stake and attach the main weight-bearing line to it, then you drive another stake close behind it and attach the top of stake 1 to the bottom of stake 2. This prevents stake 1 from pulling out of the ground due to the tension leveraging it out.

To top things off, I added a tarp suspended from the tripods. This prevented my sleeping bag from getting wet with dew overnight--and a dewy bag is a cold bag. Oh, and I laid my sleeping pad (Thermarest Z-Rest) in my hammock but underneath my sleeping bag. That helped keep my bottom side warm through the night, and also seemed to help make things even more comfortable. The icing on the cake would have been if the earplugs I wore would have muffled the sound of the trains clacking by every half hour, all night long.

My anchors worked all night long, and kept my butt off the ground for the whole night...once I made a slight modification to the staves. See, broom handles are smooth; they're supposed to be smooth. Their smoothness helps your hand to slide up and down the handle while you sweep, and prevents splinters and blisters. Their smoothness also helps ropes to slide down the handle when weight is put on them. I had to get out my hatchet and chop a channel near the top of the staves, and lash inside that channel. Once I did that, the sliding terminated and the sleeping commenced.

I'm planning on hammock camping this weekend with the Boy Scouts, too. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Little Macro Photography At The Farm

Here are a few shots I took of the rose bushes when we were out at the farm this weekend:

And two shots of goats, and one of a fowl little creature:

Apple Dumplings

While we were at the farm this weekend, we bought a small bag of Gala apples. I was plotting their cullinary demise from the moment I laid eyes on them. The first batch succumbed to my recipe for Apple Dumplings. I was going to make an apple coffeecake too, but I don't think I have enough apples. No swooning girls for me, I guess. I know, it's so sad.

Apple Dumplings

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and core 6 apples--I used Gala apples.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups water

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup apple cider)

6 small apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

For syrup, in a saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 2 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir just till all is moistened. Form into a ball. On a floured surface roll out into an 18 x 12 inch rectangle; cut into six 6-inch squares. Place an apple in the center of each square. Sprinkle apple generously with a mixture of 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg; dot with additional butter. Moisten edges of dough; fold corners to center atop apple. Pinch the edges together.

Place in a 13x2x9 inch baking dish. Pour syrup over dumplings. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until apples are tender.

Happy Birthday Mike!

It's little Mike's birthday today. He's 2. My how the time has flown. After his favorite dinner of spaghetti--actually, his favorite part is the meat in the sauce--he had his birthday cupcake. He was much more interested on the candle than on the chocolate cupcake.


Down On The Farm

On Saturday, we went to a nearby farm with another family. This farm is set up specifically for kids, with a hay ride, play areas, a petting zoo, a corn maze, and other fun stuff so we thought it would be fun to get out for a while.

Overall, it was pretty fun. Mike's reactions to some of the animals and baby animals was fantastic. He was so excited!

The older boys really got a kick out of this suspended pipe that they could crawl through.


And while we were there, we picked up some apple cider (my favorite!) and a few pumpkins. The two older boys kept grabbing HUGE pumkins and asking "Is this one okay?"
I'd tell them that the one they picked out was "Dad-sized" and to pick another.
"Is this one okay?"
"No, that's Dad-sized, too."
I finally aligned their expectations with reality and we left with two large, orange pumpkins.

The instant we got into the van they started asking, "Can we carve these when we get home?"
"No, that'll be a job for later. Mom and Dad are tired."

The instant we got into the house, they started asking, "Can we carve the pumkins now?"
"No, we'll do that later."
Sigh. "Monday. We'll carve them Monday evening for Family Night."
Guess what I'll be doing tonight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

100 Pushups - I DID IT!

I started a *ahem* 6 week program on June 22nd, with the goal of doing 100 consecutive push ups. In the subsequent 3 1/2 months, I had a brief hiatus and ended up redoing several of the weeks several times. I wanted to do things right, and just wasn't hitting the max sets so I kept repeating that week until I either hit the maxes or got really close.

But this morning, I did it. I hit 100 consecutive push ups! And you know what, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The week 6 really helped build up the requisite strength and endurance to get through the trial. The mental strength was a bit more difficult to come by, but I'll say that looking at the blogs of some of the people who were also working the program, and the difficulties they had along the path to their hundred really helped me to know that I wasn't alone. The encouragement of you, my friends, and my wife, were also instrumental in the mental preparation to make this happen. So thank you, all.

So what's next?

I figure I'll take the rest of the week off, then next week I'll start on week 4 again. I'll go to week 5, then 6, then try another hundred. Something like that. Something to maintain this strength and--okay, I'll say it--I really like what this program has done for my physique and I want to keep that. And being on the back half of my 30's now, I think that feeling good about the way I look is a good thing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

100 Pushups - Week 6 Day 3

Today was the final day of the final week in the program. The sets were ridiculously high: 26, 26, 32, 32, 26, 26, 22, 22, > 60, with a total of 272 push ups! With a rest of 1:30 to 1:45 in between sets, I hit every single one, including the max set!

I amazed even myself, and that's no small feat!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Cubmobile

Holy Speeding Cub Scouts, Batman!

One of the long-lost traditions in Cub Scouting is the construction and use of a Cubmobile. What's a Cubmobile? Why, it's good, clean, Cub Scout-powered fun on wheels, that's what it is!

There are several different styles of Cubmobile, and in fact, you can really make it however you want to as long as you meet the minimum specifications:

Limited steering radius (for stability in turns)
Brakes (usually a drag brake)
Seat belt (you know, for kids!)
Hard rubber wheels (the inflatable kind were not recommended for some reason or another)
A handle at the back (to push with or pull from? Not sure on this one...)
Every driver wears a helmet (that's a no brainer)

We followed some easy-looking plans we found on the web. I purchased some wheels (those were half the cost right there!), a 2x4, and some bolts, washers, screws, and nuts. I had a bit of plywood laying around, and some scrap 1x2; the majority of the seat cushion was a donation of an outdoor seat cushion, to which I added some plastic grocery bags for added bulk and the leg of one of my old pairs of khakis as a covering. To augment the stopping power, I cut a 6" section out of an old bicycle tire and stapled it to the bottom of the brake lever.

I had about 2" of blue paint left over in the bottom of the can from when we made the Electric Current sailboat with the Boy Scouts two summers ago; I had to break through the crust that formed on the top in order to get to the paint, which was so thick that I had to add some water in order to make it usable. The orange paint was a donation from one of the parents, and the black and white paint I had just laying around.

Yeah, I know. It seems like I've got a lot of stuff "just laying around" at my house, but that's what enables me to do these kinds of projects!

I wanted the Cubs (and remember, these are first graders,) to have the chance to take part in the building of this thing, so I brought the parts and some tools to a Den meeting. Before the meeting though, I cut all the parts to size, predrilled all holes, and preassembled the cart in order to ensure that it would go together smoothly. So yes, I built the Cubmobile, then took it apart so that the Cubs could build it. And at the risk of giving away the ending too soon, I took it apart again in order to paint it, then put it all back together again.

After we assembled it at the Den meeting, we gave it a test ride out on one of the side streets in the neighborhood. Here are a few safety rules that I learned that seemed like common sense, but apparently aren't common sense to Tiger Cubs:

Don't stand in front of the Cubmobile, especially while it's moving.
Only one person on the Cubmobile at a time.
If it looks like you're going to run into the curb or a tree or a car, turn the Cubmobile away from that object.
If you're pushing the Cubmobile, don't push so fast that you lose your footing and fall.
Don't taunt the Cubmobile.

Okay, that last one I borrowed from SNL's Happy Fun Ball disclaimer, but you certainly shouldn't taunt the driver of the Cubmobile because "the Cub Scout gives goodwill."

Oh, and those rules made me think of one other thing: pushbars. The Cubs were pushing the Cubmobile from the rear axle, which had them hunched over almost touching the ground, and made it pretty tough for them. So J and I took a trip to Lowe's with a vague idea of what I wanted, and a determination to do it cheaply.

We looked at PVC, but I thought it would be too flimsy and breakable. We looked at plumbing black pipe and at copper pipe, but both would be too expensive. Then we looked at electrical conduit, which would have been perfect but it didn't have the right kinds of connectors to do what I was envisioning in my head...so I changed my vision. I had in my mind a T-style handle, with the bottom of the T anchored to the Cubmobile and the arms of the T angled out for easy pushing. Instead, I settled for two upside-down Ls, using two-eared conduit straps to anchor them to the Cubmobile. The problem with that was that the conduit started to twist in the brackets, which I corrected by drilling through the strap and the conduit and putting a screw through the strap and conduit and into the wood.

There's another whole post that I should make on the Tiger Cub insignia that I painted on...that was quite a feat in itself, and I daresay it took longer than putting the Cubmobile together in the first place.

A movie of the Cubmobile in action:


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hammock Camping

Two weekends ago, I went camping with the Boy Scouts to a local farm in order to work on some of the advancement requirements for the younger Scouts--it's a regularly scheduled, semi-annual campout that we call the "Baden Powell" campout, named after the Father of Scouting.

I knew that there would be a large number of Scouts together--larger than what I normally camp with since there were several L.D.S. Troops meeting together--and I also suspected that they'd be noisy at the time that I wanted to sleep. And stupid me, I forgot to bring earplugs. So noise, added to the fact that it would be a relatively warm night, equalled hammock camping in my mind--hammock camping in trees a few hundred feet away from the bulk of the campers.

Being a farm, there weren't very many trees around, and the trees that were around were either on the (barbed wire) fence line or 30' apart. Neither of those two situations are conducive to hammock camping. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one with the hammock idea.

One of the other Scoutmasters apparently frequents a few Yahoo lists: ultralight backpacking and hammock camping. Interestingly, these two groups are rather complementary since with a hammock and a light tarp or poncho, you can effectively leave your tent at home when camping...if you have something to tie your hammock to. He apparently thought ahead, knowing the tree situation on this farm, and brought galvanized fenceposts.

When he set up his campsite, he drove 8 fenceposts into the ground in a pyramid shape, then had his handful of Scouts and leaders set up their hammocks by tying them to the posts. Each post had at least two hammocks tied to it. I must admit, it seemed rather ingenious...until I was invited to join them for the night.

When I gently rolled into my hammock at around 10:30, I saw that it worked like a dream. When the two leaders from that Troop gently rolled into their hammocks, all three of us were unceremoniously dumped on the ground. The post that we were tied to bent right where it entered the ground. Aww nuts!

Fortunately, one of their leaders had a handful of those mini ratcheting comealongs--those pulleys with webbing that you use to tie down loads. He backed his truck around, looped one hook around his trailer hitch, the other end around the post, and ed it tight. It worked like a charm...for about 30 seconds. A post on the other side started to sag then, too. *sigh*

So we pulled out another comealong and another vehicle and anchored that post too. And while we were at it, we anchored the third post that was holding leaders on it to a trailer.

By then, it was almost 11:30 and we were tired. Fortunately, all the rest of the posts held. Unfortunately, any time someone rolled over, got into a hammock, or left a hammock that night, everyone bounced a bit. And since I'm such a light sleeper, it was a rather sleepless night. Oh, and the fact that we were about 300 yards from a major freeway--remember that forgotten earplugs thing?--didn't help my attempts at sleep either.

But overall, it was a good campout. I think I'm going to try to hammock camp this weekend at my Cub Campout too. With earplugs. Maybe double earplugs.

100 Pushups - Week 6 Day 2

I'll admit that I was feeling a bit down on Monday at not being able to hit the recommended max reps in my last set. But I've been thinking on that a bit and came to realize that it is rather silly of me to lament not being able to reach 210 push ups in 5 sets, and instead only reaching 200 push ups in 5 sets. I know, it's rather silly when viewed in that light isn't it?

Today's sets were lower in volume but higher in reps: 22, 22, 30, 30, 24, 24, 18, 18, > 57, for a total of 245 push ups. It was tough, that's for sure, but on my last set I reached 60. That's 60 push ups after having done 188 push ups--I call that a pretty fair job! In fact, I have some confidence that I can reach that hundred in two weeks when I give it a shot!