A Birthday Tradition Revisited

In this day and age, it seems that traditions are receiving a bad press.  Many traditions provide a sense of comfort and stability in a world that is filled with chaos. The tradition I started for my wife’s birthday is now over a decade old, and it is a tradition that is now rooted in our family.  Hopefully, this is a tradition our son will carry with him into his marriage, and it will become generational.  What traditions have you started in your family? What have you been doing for years?  What stability have you brought to you and your family’s lives through your traditions?

The following video… I filmed last year, but I was finally able to edit it the way I envisioned these past few weeks.  I hope you enjoy our continued tradition to celebrate the most important person in our household.  After the video, I included the first post I made about this birthday tradition 3 years ago.  Enjoy the flashback.

For the past eight or so years, I started a tradition for my wife’s birthday.  Before this epiphany, I would ask my wife what she would like for her birthday cake?  I would then, like most husbands, go hunt down the desired cake and purchase it from a bakery or sometimes an ice cream parlor.  One year my wife said, she didn’t feel like having a cake or anything.  She was reading about how unhealthy processed cakes were due to all the additives and processed ingredients.  I don’t blame her; I am not a fan of food coloring in my food either.  But, I didn’t have a problem;  she always made my cake from scratch.

My wife knew I was not a good baker, but I felt the gauntlet had been cast down, the challenge had been made, and I needed to step up as a husband and respond in the only dignified way I could and that was to don an apron and start a bake’n. Thus, a new tradition was born.

It is a Woman's World... I love this cook book from 1939.

It is a Woman’s World… I love this cook book from 1939.

I found a book with the most natural ingredients I could find at a Robert’s Bookshop selling used books in Lincoln City, Oregon.  The cook book is pre-WWII, and I figured the war was a definite trigger for over processed foods in our diet as the military rations found commercial labels and entered our grocery stores soon after.

I began searching through the cake recipes and I tried several for my wife over the years.  The first cake I made  was almost a brick, and from then on I got much better.  The cakes from this cook book are not fluffy, light cakes.  They are dense, rich, thick cakes that stick to the roof of your mouth and to your ribs.  They truly are good.  However, three years ago I made Krista the Zesty, Orange Cake, and now I am not allowed to bake a different type of cake or change recipes.  This is the birthday cake that has won my wife’s heart, and so  I have dedicated the past few years to perfecting the recipe and the cake’s presentation.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it's all good... Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it’s all good… Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

When it rains, it pours… The week of my wife’s birthday this year; I had meetings scheduled every night after school, the snow plow truck broke down, and the propane stove and oven quit working.  At least the wood cook stove, was available to make the cake without any problems.  In fact, I prefer the wood cook stove to the propane one when baking.

The icing on the cake... I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake so it has time to chill.

The icing on the cake… I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake, so it has time to chill.

I usually make Krista’s zesty, orange cake in stages.  On the eve before making the cake, I make the orange icing.  After I grated the peel for the orange flavor, I squeeze the fresh orange for the half cup of orange juice needed.  I also grate a lemon for the icing and add the juice of the freshly squeezed lemon for a little more zing.  Once the icing is cooked and thickened, I set it out to cool before placing it in the fridge overnight.

The apprentice... My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The apprentice… My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The next day,  which was luckily the weekend, I began making Krista’s cake.  This year I had help from my son.  He did an excellent job cracking the eggs and adding the ingredients to the mixer to make the cake batter.  He also learned how to juice the oranges and lemon for the batter as well.

In this next shot is our Juice King, which is our citrus juice squeezer.  Krista found it at an antique sale, and it has worked great ever since we brought it home.  I require the use the juicer three different times.  Once for the icing, then for the cake batter, and last for the frosting.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze... Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze… Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

When the batter is ready for the cake pans, I have the wood cook stove revving up to cooking temperature.  The key is to not overheat the oven because waiting for it to cool is time consuming.  I close the flue and open the oven vent.  I also open up the ash tray drawer below the fire box and when it approaches the 350 degrees required, I shut everything down except the oven vent.  I tend the firebox making sure it has enough fuel to cover the baking time of 25 – 35 minutes.  Once I have the fuel and the temperature needed, I place the cake pans into the oven on the same rack.  The oven temperature was so even and the cook time so short, I didn’t need to re-position the cake pans once they were in the oven.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man... I could not help but to feel rush a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, "Bake me a cake as fast as you can."

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man… I could not help but to feel rushed a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, “Bake me a cake as fast as you can.”

The finished product this year was great, except I hate to waste anything, so I added way to much orange icing to the center between the layers of the cake.  I must remember when it comes to presentation, less is more.  However, when it comes to flavor and taste, I still tend to get carried away and put as much frosting and icing on the cake beyond surface allowance.  Good thing I’m not an architect.

Almost finished... All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.

Almost finished… All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.  The toothpicks held the top layer in place to add the frosting.  I placed way too much icing in between the 2 layers, but it was worth it.

Here is Krista’s beautiful, zesty, orange, double layer cake made with orange, lemon zest icing between the layers and drizzled on top of the orange and vanilla butter cream frosting.  Now, my wife has to wait another 366 days for her birthday cake; it’s a leap year.  Unless, our son or I request it as well.



Off Grid electricity is NOT free.

Out with the old… The T-105’s are being retired.

I believe I am guilty of promoting free energy on the off grid homestead, and during the summer months it appears that way.  However, during the winter months cloudy skies make solar energy creation improbable, and it’s the battery bank that keeps the home’s electricity going from day to day.  When the fog and inversion continues throughout the week, a 5 gallon jug of fuel is added to the generator. The generator is fired up to produce the home’s power and to fill the battery bank for a few more days.

Winter is the time of the year when an off grid home realizes they are not living “free”.  Perhaps a nice sunny equatorial home would provide the energy the home needs and less reliance on a large battery bank.  But even then, a home close to the equator has a constant 12 hours day and night. In which the daylight begins at 6 and ends at 6 in the evening.  If only we lived on the equator… but I really like the 4 seasons, so that’s out for now.

If you are thinking about going off grid, depending on where you live and what your winter is like as far as darkness and climate, you will want to size your battery bank accordingly.  Our new bank, if we conserve, can get us about 4 days, without direct sunlight.  We have added so many new systems that require more power and we added to our family another person, so power usage has naturally increased.  More lights are on, our fridge runs more often, and the phantom load of the Internet and the propane tankless water heater begin to add up over a few hours.  If I remember, like I just did, I shut them off.

As seen in the video,  I crunched the numbers and our new battery bank (basic electric bill) is estimated at $25.00 a month over a 10 year period.  That’s not bad, but that doesn’t include the generator maintenance or the fuel for it.  A 5 gallon jug is required to charge the battery bank from 50% back up to 100% and to equalize them.  Without equalizing, it’s about 4 gallons of fuel needed.  I am keeping tabs on our generator usage this year with the new bank and tractor generator; it will be nice to be able to prepare a constant monthly budget by spreading the winter expenditures year round.

Off grid electricity is NOT free!

If my wife and I lived on the grid in this area and had solar panels that covered our electrical usage, the power company would still charge us a $25.00 minimum monthly hook up fee.  That doesn’t seem fair, but with many people trying to save money with increasing electrical bills the power companies do not want people wiggling out from their profit margins, plus someone has to pay for all those linemen who repair the down wires after a devastating storm.  Either way off grid or on, you will have to pay someone for your electricity.  As electricity bills increase, so does the price of batteries. The T-105’s I first bought were $155 each in 2011; this year they are $180 a piece.

If you are thinking about supplementing your on grid home or building an off grid power system, now is the time to start because prices are always going up.

Snowplow Success!

This is my final post on the snowplow this year.  It has been a battle with the carburetor, battery and electrical system, as well as a replacement of the entire pump and motor assembly.  I am happy to say the snowplow truck functioned the entire season without a major break down unlike the 1st and 2nd season of ownership.  I was not only able to plow our quarter of a mile easement, but also the lower portion of the private maintained road we live on.  I was able to add a third plow truck to the road and ease the burden on the 2 gentlemen who have maintained it, one for the past 20 years and the other for the past 10.

For the first time, my wife and I did not have to rely on the kindness of our neighbors or Craftsman snow thrower to be able to leave the property after a major snow storm.  It still takes about 3 -4 hours to clean up our property, driveway, easement, and road using the snowplow. On the plus side, I’m able to sit in the warm cab of the truck listening to music as I run the course, which is far better than walking behind a snow blower for a 1/4 of a mile.

In this episode, I hook up the plow to the mount on the truck and also remove the old hydraulic fluid from the power angling cylinders.  I discuss some of the issues we’ve had with the plow truck that I haven’t shared before, and  I celebrate by using it during one of our snow storms.

One thing not mentioned is that our area is having the warmest January on record.  When we first moved here eight years ago, a typical high in January was in the single digits, now we are seeing 40 degrees F easy on most days.  This warm system has caused much havoc on melting snow and slush on the back roads.  If we didn’t have the plow truck running this year, we would be in serious trouble getting in and out of the property.  Our 4×4 Suburban on worst days, gets me out to work, but without the plow truck I could even have issues on high melts days if the road was not at least cleared.  If you are thinking about locating in snow country, you need to consider your snow removal system and cheap these days does not equate effective.  So, if you have a plow truck you know exactly what I am talking about, and if you don’t, you should before you buy one.  And, if you don’t live in snow, count your blessings and enjoy our adventures.

Did I forget to mention the plow truck’s oil leak?

Easy Do-it-Yourself Mousetrap (Very Effective)

Our battle with the chicken coop seems to be unending.  When the mice moved in and discovered the chickens had a bountiful supply of food, the battle began.  First, we removed our chickens’ food at night to prevent the mice’ thievery.  But, they still seemed to propagate.  I began setting mouse traps and competed with our farm cat over a summer, and together we eventually dwindle the population to a minimum.  However, this past fall season the mouse population exploded in our area.  The complaints about the mice were far and wide as everyone in the area began to purchase traps to stop the population boom.

I decided not to do the placement of individual traps in the coop anymore.  It seems traps would disappear by the time morning came. This is why I came up with the better mouse trap concept.  It localized all the traps in one area and drastically impacted the population in that area. And yes, not one trap would disappear.  In fact, in the first week of using the new trap I caught thirty mice.  The coop has quieted down some and the chickens seem less restless and able to peacefully lay eggs again.  Once the mouse population started to become more manageable, the chickens stress level seemed to drop as the egg production began to climb.

In the process of capturing mice, I have discovered that mice are cannibals by nature. When they see one of their own in a trap they do not offer to help, but instead turn on their own kind and devour them as a more enticing meal than the bait in the next trap.  I noticed with this localized trap I am capturing mice that pillaged their own friends and relatives for food and wander across the trap next to their pal they just ate.  I used to care about the mice and consider live traps and the like, until I discovered their dirty little secret.  One night I caught four mice in an empty 40 gallon trash can.  I decided to set it aside the next morning for an hour or two while I did the chores and made breakfast.  The family of mice were fine and had only been in the bottom of the can for a few hours.  Two adults and two younger mice looked up at me sheepishly as they awaited their fate.  I decided I would turn them loose in the forest.  When I returned,  the two larger mice had devoured the two smaller ones.  I was appalled. There was no way those mice were on the brink of starvation or threatened by the younger mice.    I know how the world works, I’m not that naive.  Perhaps, the Disney cartoons of my youth never prepared me for the systematic, cannibalistic, death squads within the mouse community.   Anyway since I have lived in the country, my view of mice have changed drastically and if any of them are caught in my traps, they will perish and become the bait for their family and friends.

Please share your mouse story and battle with us.  Maybe you have a “tale” we would all enjoy.  Yes, pun intended.

Man vs. Snowplow (Season 3, Episode 2)

For those who have watched the war wage on between me and my used snowplow, this is perhaps the armistice between us.  This year, I did not mess around with the motor and pump assembly.  I purchased a “new” rebuilt Meyer E47 standard assembly.  This has made a world of difference.  The plow system is functioning at the best level I have ever seen it.  The plow truck has already removed quite a bit of snow and has allowed us to be more independent and not rely on our neighbors to be able leave our property.  Even though the truck still has some electrical and mechanical issues, it still runs well enough to remove the snow.

My wife and I for the first time since we bought this snowplow truck feel we may make it through an entire season without it breaking down.  However, there are still several issues that need to be resolved before next year.  The main issue is the dramatic oil leak in which to run the truck means adding almost 2 quarts of oil each time.  The other issue is the mythical gremlin that causes the dashboard, roof, and backup lights to pulse on and off without any warning of why or when they will return.  This has made night driving very difficult and a couple times, I had to just park it and begin again in the morning.  The other issue is the mysterious floating gas tank that likes to shift from side to side.  I may drop the tank and start over with a new tank because the neck of it will not accept a gas nozzle without spilling gas when filling at half speed or above.  The other issue is the hubs on the full wheel drive.  The truck is permanently in 4-wheel drive and this will need to be fixed eventually.  Also the truck’s gas gauge doesn’t work and the engine has died so often, I do not know if it is out of gas or if the gremlin is also wreaking havoc in the coil or distributor system.

That is our plow truck’s dirty laundry list of problems that still need to be worked out and hopefully the truck will not implode before the end of this season.  Creating a priority list, I have decided the engine leak, 4-wheel drive, and electrical systems are top priority.  The gas tank though difficult to work with still functions.  I will probably hire out the oil leak and 4-wheel drive system while I chase down the electrical problems and rewire the entire truck if I must.

Old Farm Truck New Radiator Warning!

For years, I have done most of my own mechanical work on my vehicles.  Since I moved to N. Idaho and the shop/garage keeps getting put off for other priorities, I have taken my vehicles to the mechanic in town.  However, when it came to the old farm truck radiator, I couldn’t justify seeing a mechanic and paying twice what it would cost me to install it myself.  So, I figured easy removal and patch job and be done with it by the end of the weekend.  Not so, the radiator shop in town said a patch job would be well over the price of a new one since my 41 year old radiator needed a complete rebuild.

I purchased a brand new plastic radiator matched all the hole patterns and easy install, right?  Not so again.  The radiator installed and fit fine, but the fan shroud which protects people while working on a running engine could not be installed because the bolts that connect it to the radiator would no longer fit and hold it in place.  What does that mean?  Fan shroud doesn’t fit leave it off?  No, I wanted my fan shroud installed back where it belonged to protect myself and tools; especially, when adjusting the carburetor while the engine is running.

I purchased some bolts, nuts and washers, which was another trip into town, and created my own hanging mechanism for the fan shroud.  What upsets me the most is the company that decided to change the hole size on the radiator for the fan shroud to be more “universal” specialized the radiator to no longer work properly for the fan shroud.  No tips were provided or instructions on how to remedy the problem, just any experienced mechanic should devise a system to work or purchase a new fan shroud that has specialty hook up system to “universally” fit several radiators.  I haven’t done mechanical work on the automobiles for a while.  I have been building an off grid home, pretty time consuming.  Plus, without a garage to protect me and the vehicle from the elements while I work on it, is personally too demoralizing unless the day is picture perfect.  With this in mind, I had to get my own brain back into the game to figure out a solution.

For those who have landed on this post, I would really appreciate your thoughts on what is happening to after market parts.  I posted a while back that my RIDGID generator does not have a pull start assembly that will fit it. The after market part has been designed so cheap; it will not work on the machine after 1 pull.

I would like to create a buyer beware list, so others can see what is happening out there.  Perhaps, companies will be shamed into fixing their design department.  Perhaps, not.  At least the buyers will be more informed in the future.