Saturday, September 30, 2023

Advice for boot camp

I received a comment as follows: "We have a family friend (one of our sons' buddies) who will be joining the Navy next month. He is a great young man – a solid Christian and very driven in whatever he sets his focus on. I wondered if you might ask your Navy daughter what items she wished she had had or were useful when she went off to boot camp? Or if not practical during basic, what sorts of things would be good for a care box later when he is deployed or in special training? (I believe he is going "nuclear reactor school" to learn how to maintain the power plants on large aircraft carriers and/or subs.) Any feedback would be most appreciated! Best Regards, TimfromOhio"

The photo above is a screenshot from Younger Daughter's boot camp graduation in 2017. I also put up a blog post about the things recruits were restricted to bringing when going to boot camp (here).

Anyway, I sent the query from "TimfromOhio" to Younger Daughter, and this is her response:

"Don't send anything while he's in boot camp, except letters – care packages will get him in trouble. He'll be in school for a long time, so he won't really need much since he'll be at a shore command, but nice socks are always a plus, homemade snacks, etc. I'd say maybe a nice boot camp graduation gift like a watch or a wallet, something small that he can take with him while he travels."

Oh, and I remember Younger Daughter saying when she got her penicillin shot in boot camp, she spent some time scooting around on her rear end, sort of rubbing it in. Apparently it's a lot more painful if you don't do this. (Further advice along these lines can be found online at various forums, apparently.)

Hope this helps!

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The private lives of slugs

A couple mornings ago, Don and I leashed up Darcy and went for our usual morning walk. It was chilly (44F), lightly raining, and very misty.

Sniffing his way along as usual, Darcy paused to investigate something caught in the grass. Thinking it might be a tangled bird, I started to pull him away, but he didn't seem inclined to be overly interested.

But I was. A closer look revealed two mating leopard slugs. I'd never seen such a thing before and was fascinated by this glimpse of the private lives of slugs.

Slugs, as you may or may not know, are hermaphrodites. They have both male and female organs. Rather than self-fertilize, however, they find a suitable partner and each exchange sperm to fertilize their eggs.

Additionally, leopard slugs have a courtship of sorts. When they find a partner, they climb to a higher spot and suspend themselves from a thick rope of mucus. This was the stage where we found them.

The slugs then wind around each other. Apparently leopard slugs always twine around each other anti-clockwise. (Any "clockwise" slugs can't mate properly and thus die out.)

At this point they each everted their male organs.

The organs themselves then entwined.

The entwined organs sort of fanned out to form a flower shape.

It's at this stage that sperm transfers from one slug to the other.

With the weather being what it was, and winter on the way, my first thought was it was a foolish time of year for slugs to be mating. However it seems they can store the sperm for months or even years, until conditions are optimal for fertilizing their eggs.

Here's a video on the mating habits of leopard slugs narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough. I feel amazed I got to witness such a thing in person.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023


We have a small lamp on the kitchen counter.

The other day, a small movement caught my eye near the base of the lamp.

It seems a tiny spider, living in the crevices on the lamp, had caught a fruit fly almost bigger than itself. I grabbed the camera, turned on the macro lens, and tried to capture the battle.

I wanted to cheer the spider on. Eat all the fruit flies you can! Please!

It was quite an epic (if tiny) struggle, and sometimes the spider had to pause and retreat a bit.

But in the end he succeeded and hauled the fruit fly away.

Micro (macro?) drama in the kitchen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

A question of heat

A couple days ago, our home's forced-air heating system died.

This heating system was in place when we bought the house (there was also a pellet stove, which we de-installed and sold when we installed our wood cookstove). It was a convenient heating system when the temperature was cool-but-not-cold in the house, usually the transition times in spring and fall, and occasionally on those winter days where the temperature spikes.

When the heating system died, it died suddenly. You know Don. He can fix just about anything. He studied the system's owner's manual, did some research online, watched YouTube videos, and concluded it needed an HVAC expert. When he draws a conclusion like that, I'm not inclined to doubt him.

We were never overly crazy about the forced-air heating system anyway. It was NOISY, and it used a lot of electricity. Our electric bill would always spike in cooler months when we used it. So ... we decided not to go through the expense of getting it repaired immediately. There are other options.

Today, Don ordered a ventless propane wall heating unit similar to one we had in our old house, and we'll install that when it arrives in a few days. Fortunately, last year we put in a much larger propane tank, so we have plenty of propane.

But for the next few days, with the weather getting cooler, we're down to a single heating system: our wood cookstove. Time to get it ready for use.

Don climbed up on the roof and used the chimney brushes to scrub the stove pipe.

This is the brush with its detachable rods. They're stored in the barn between uses.

Then I cleaned the stove itself. Tools of the trade include a metal (never plastic! or wood!) bucket, as well as a flashlight.

Other tools were an ash scraper and a handle for turning firebricks (which I'll demonstrate shortly). Both these tools were custom-made and came with the stove.

The first thing to do is remove this little plate from the front of the stove, held on with wing nuts.

This reveals a little hole into the lower portion of the stove below the oven box, where ash tends to accumulate.

I tried to get a flash photo of the ash accumulation, but it didn't turn out too well. Still, you get the idea.

Anyway, the ash scraper is designed to fit right inside this hole. It allows me to reach alllll the way to the back of the stove and scrape the ash toward the opening.

Must have gotten a good quart of ash from this area. It's exceptionally fine stuff.

After that portion was done, I turned my attention to the firebox. First I scraped off the ash from the top of the oven box.

Next, the firebox itself needed cleaning. Notice the gap in the center floor of the firebox? Keep that in mind a moment.

The floor of the firebox consists of two fire bricks that rotate for easier cleaning. To rotate them, notice the square knobs below the firebox, above the ash box.

That's where this other tool comes in. It fits over the square knobs.

Like this.

Rotating the firebrick above drops ash from the firebox into the ash box below. Notice the left-hand firebrick is turned on its side.

I use the ash scraper to pull all the ash through into the ash box below, leaving the firebox reasonably clean.

My hands were pretty dirty by this point, so I didn't want to soil my camera for every step of the process. Let's just say this ash box was quite full. I pulled both it and the bucket outside, and dumped all the ash into the bucket.

Then I scraped any overflow ash out of the box into the bucket as well.

After that, I laid kindling in the firebox, ready to start a fire.

The very last thing we did was lean this piece of green sheet metal against the right-hand wall as a heat guard. Originally we were going to install a permanent heat guard, but somehow we never did, and this sheet metal works perfectly. We simply tuck it away in the barn each spring when not in use.

Now we're set for the winter. Even if we didn't have the propane wall heater, we can use the woodstove just during the chilly hours (say, early morning or late afternoon) and then let the fire go out.

And you know the lingering thought in my mind after the forced-air heating system died and we prepared the woodstove for the season? I thought how much better low-tech is than high-tech. Our cookstove can never die.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Frugal beef jerky

I took a deep dive into our chest freezer last week, inventorying as I went. It's too easy for things to get lost in the bottom depths.

Which is why I was surprised to find four five-pound bags of solid beef, left over from the last cows we butchered before we moved. Twenty pounds! The butchers had pulled these extremely lean chunks aside (at our request) for beef jerky. After the chaos of moving, we forgot all about them.

Don loves beef jerky. He immediately pulled out two of the bags, ten pounds of meat, to make into his favorite treat.

After (mostly) defrosting it, he realized the meat wasn't sliced. So he got to work cutting it thin. I hadn't planned on turning this project into a blog post, so I didn't think to get a photo of the slicing process. Suffice it to say he kept the knife very sharp. (It also helps to slice the meat when it's still slightly frozen.)

After slicing, he marinated the beef in two different sauces (one was a basic sauce made with Worcestershire and soy sauce, the other was mostly the same except he used teriyaki). He marinated each bowl of meat in the fridge for about ten hours.

We have two dehydrators, but he opted to just do one batch at a time. He started with the regular jerky.

Before putting the meat on the trays, he sopped up the extra liquid with towels. (Good thing they're washable.) On some of the slices, he sprinkled red pepper flakes for a bit of extra zing.

The meat can be touching, but is not supposed to be overlapping on the trays.

He set the dehydrator up on a table on the porch and set it at 165F for six hours.

It took, oh, about ten minutes for the yellow jackets to find it. We were swatting at the nasty beasts for the duration of time the meat was dehydrating.

When the first batch was finished...

...he transferred the meat to cookie sheets and baked it at 275F for about 10 minutes, until the meat was sizzling. This "finishes" the drying process and renders the meat safer.

This is the first batch. Now double the quantity (after the second batch was done) and that's a lotta snacks! He got about three pounds of jerky from the original ten pounds of meat.

Interestingly, Don had just purchased a bag of jerky a couple weeks ago. The bag cost about $5.

This bag contained the curiously precise amount of 2.85 oz.

This meant three pounds of this commercial beef jerky would cost about $84. We calculated the cost of making three pounds of our own (from our own beef) was about $35 (based on original butchering costs, electricity costs for running the dehydrator, and ingredients for the marinade).

But of course since we paid for the butchering many years ago, essentially the batch was free. Hard to beat that price.

By the way, a yellow jacket somehow made it into the dehydrator and got dehydrated itself. I found it when I was washing up the trays.

Look at the stinger on that critter! No wonder they hurt.