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Monday, January 13, 2020 No comments

Holding a… garage (door)

Back before Christmas, Panda was at the manor, and backed up his big truck to turn around…


I was working at home that morning, and ran out to see what had happened. To be honest, the only surprise was that it hadn’t happened years ago. FAR Manor has a treacherous driveway. Someone, and it turned out to be Panda, finally hit the garage door.

You really couldn’t see any problem from the outside, and you had to be looking for it to see it from the inside. One of the panels was pushed in. “I’ll come by tomorrow and put it back in,” Panda assured me.

But he didn’t.

After he left, I hit the lift button. The Orange Crate was parked in there, and I would need it. The garage door went up, but made one h3|| of a racket, squealing like a Republican who had been confronted with its lies. I told the wife about it, and we agreed to leave the door open until we could get someone to deal with it.

So the holidays went by, and a brief Winter #2 came around. The garage door isn’t awesome insulation, but it’s a lot better than nothing (especially when it’s windy, which is typical of Planet Georgia’s five winters). The wife dug around, and found the number of the guy who had installed our replacement garage door opener (that I got from Freecycle). He said he could come by on Thursday, and I agreed to work at home that day.

Gotta love maintenance windows… I had an urgent bathroom appointment, and somehow I missed hearing him come up, but heard him leave. Thinking he had arrived, I forced an early finish and ran out to the garage. All there was, was a sticker saying he had come by.

Since I had to move my cube at work on Friday, there was no opportunity to work at home then. Wife figured she would hang out, and arranged a second-chance visit… and he never showed up.

Sunday afternoon rolled around, and I realized the garage door was still in the same shape it had been. After confirming that the garage door guy never showed up Friday, I decided to tackle the issue myself.

First, I backed Moby Yo (the great white minivan) out. If I got the door down, and it wouldn’t go back up, at least we wouldn’t have a trapped vehicle. Then I hit the button. It wailed, stalled, and went back up. Maybe I’d been overly cautious, but at least I had room to work. I got a stepladder, hammer, and wood block, and got pounding.

Back in place… mostly.
After dorking around, I was able to get the door down. I attacked the panel in earnest, pushing it out and banging the framework down enough to get it back into place.

I didn’t address the bent metal beams, but hoped I’d straightened things out enough to get it going. Hitting the button was encouraging… the door went up without drama. Down, it howled and stopped again.

“Huh,” I thought. I know the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting a different result, but I hit the button again anyway. This time, the door went down like nothing had ever happened. There’s a reason I call this place the free-range insane asylum.

Given that Spring #3 seems to be really wet and not all that cold, we might not restart the firebox until the end of the week. We’ve had plenty of the “cool/warm and wet” part of Planet Georgia winters, but only (so far) brief spates of the other part, “cold and dry.” More will come, and at least now we can put the garage door down to keep the worst of it out.

But we have wood on the rack, and a little more in the shelter. Maybe I’ll get a chance to cut more firewood in the weekends ahead. Winter is coming… and going, through March anyway. Dry weekend days, and we’ve been lucky to get one for two the last few, means tackling those maintenance issues while you can.

Friday, January 10, 2020 No comments

Turkey slow-cooker chili

Eating Season is finally behind us… maybe. A lot of us still have a metric eff-ton of meat in the freezer, we’re trying to ditch those holiday pounds, and maybe we’re tightening the financial belt a little after blowing the budget on presents. It's still cold out, at least for most of us.

Gotta have those toppings!
We need something hot, cheap, and reasonably healthy for supper, but still tasty… so here you go. I based this on an AllRecipes version, and found it spiced well enough that I wasn’t reaching for the jar of ghost pepper sauce The Boy made for me a year or so ago (a half-teaspoon takes anything from mild to wild, so it will last a while). Like the turkey tacos recipe I posted, this is a good way to rescue dry or undercooked turkey. I ate all of this over a week, except for one bowl, and the wife thought it was pretty good. My second batch used some thawed leftover chicken, from a September church BBQ, and it worked fine as well.

Turkey slow-cooker chili
1 lb turkey (or chicken), diced
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp olive oil (more if the turkey is dry)
1 T minced garlic
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp oregano (dried, or 1 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (ground)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp No-salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper (black or white)

2 c water
1 can (14oz) white beans*, drained and rinsed
1 can (28oz) diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 T unsalted tortilla chips, crushed (optional)**

Sliced jalapeños
Crema (or sour cream)
Shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, Colby-Jack, etc)

Pour water, beans, tomatoes, and crushed tortilla chips into a lined slow-cooker. Set on High.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and garlic; sauté until the onion softens. Add turkey and remaining ingredients, stir until turkey is heated and oil is absorbed. Transfer turkey/onion/spice mixture into slow-cooker, stir.

Cook on High approx. 3 hours or until simmering, stirring occasionally; then simmer for 1 more hour. Serve hot with toppings as desired. Leftovers can be reheated in a microwave.

*I usually reach for black beans, but found that they tend to “stain” poultry-based soup/stew/chili. White beans don’t discolor the meat. Red beans also seem to work okay, if you drain and rinse them, at least.

**The crushed tortilla chips thicken the broth a little. Alton Brown came up with the idea, so don’t blame me.

Do you have a favorite recipe for turning leftover meat into chili? Comments are open!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020 1 comment


Wife observed: “Now that Charlie is four, he’s entering his Terrible Twos.” He’s definitely four, Terrible Twos notwithstanding. He’s curious about everything, he can reach the top of the dressers in our bedroom, and he’s trying so hard to talk. He invented a sign for Play-Dough, hands inverting over each other (I should probably post a video). Daughter Dearest got him to make the “d” sound, and the “oh” sound, but he just can’t quite seem to put them together. Hey, at least he’s starting to use consonants. The rest will come.

Bread with pizza sauce… perfect!
We had a sort-of pizza party for him this evening, to mark the occasion. He can’t actually eat pizza, but he’s fine with the crust and sauce. So one of the pepperoni pizzas I made this evening had a fourth of it missing cheese and 'roni. Sauced bread was just fine with him. We also had a veggie pizza, but that didn’t last the night. I’d have liked one with 'roni, ham, and bacon, but hey… it’s not my night.

There was also bowtie pasta (Charlie’s favorite) with marinara sauce. Instead of a birthday cake, we had assorted doughnuts. Charlie likes plain ones, and I think he got two of them. (“Hey, it’s his birthday.”) As we’re working on the theory that he sleeps better on a really full belly, we were okay with letting him eat. Besides, there are a few doughnuts left over for tomorrow morning, and I fully intend to grab one to enjoy with my coffee.

After the food (and cake, or cake doughnuts in any case), what comes next with a birthday? Presents!

Charlie got the hang of opening presents during the Christmas craze, and he obviously doesn’t have a problem remembering how. His favorite was a Play-Dough activity set (have I mentioned he loves his 'doh?). He got a set of Baby Shark puzzles and games, and only got interested in that once we put up the Play-Dough.

He’s not really into the Grand Acquistion of Stuff phase just yet, and Mason didn’t get there until he was six or so. If he has attention, cars, or Play-Dough (roughly in that order), he’s fine. Mason complains about him being annoying, but the two of them aren’t all that different. Mason gets massively annoying when he wants attention from us, and Charlie gets massively annoying when he wants attention from Mason (or us). Both of them torment the dog, and I think Charlie learned some of that from Mason.

Anyway. Big news might be coming in slightly less than a month. Stay tuned for the latest from the free-range insane asylum!

Friday, January 03, 2020 No comments

Goals vs. resolutions

A new year has arrived, and perhaps people are asking you if you have any resolutions.

Perhaps you reply, “I don’t do resolutions,” and add some variation of “they never work out.” The reasons they don’t work out could be greater than one per person, but here’s a couple common ones:

Too vague. “Lose weight” or “Have a cleaner house” are things many of us can aspire to, but where’s the finish line? Being one pound lighter on December 31 is technically losing weight, but is that really going to satisfy you? Do you really have a cleaner house if you binge-clean twice a year and otherwise let it go like usual?

Impossible. You might try biting off too much. “Lose 40 pounds” or “get out of debt” aren’t vague, anyway. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know what the odds are of achieving something that big.

Maybe this year, instead of making sweeping resolutions you’ll blow off before February, set goals. I wrote about setting goals on my writing blog a couple years ago, and how much they help. But your goals should be SMART:
  • Specific (I would say Short-term is as important)
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-oriented (I would add Rewarding)
  • Time-bound
(Yes, you may give this an epic eyeroll. I know I do.)

Some of these run together. M and R especially can be variants of S. To me, they’re not as important as the other three. Let’s run with the examples I used earlier.

“Lose 40 pounds” checks most of the boxes, but is it achievable? The implication is “by December 31,” and that’s nothing like short-term. These days, our attention spans are eroded by all the input we’re bombarded with, and focusing on a goal for an entire year might not be achievable. If you’re not 40 pounds overweight, it might not be achievable in any case. So, lower your sights and go short-term: Lose 7 pounds by Feb. 15. Don’t forget your reward; you want an incentive to stay focused on your goal(s). There’s nothing wrong with wanting a pat on the back or an effing cookie, even for doing what you know you should. If you’re too demanding of yourself, never satisfied, you could end up asking yourself “What’s the point?” and giving up.

Once you’ve achieved that first 7 pounds, reward yourself and then set your next goal. Just keep it realistic, and remember, it takes longer to lose less as you go.

“Have a cleaner house” is results-oriented, but how do you measure it—in other words, how can you tell if you’ve succeeded? It’s certainly not specific. Maybe it’s achievable. It’s an end, and your goals are the means. Develop the habit of putting stuff away this month is a goal. You can measure it by the lower amount of clutter. It might not be your only cleanup-related goal; things like give away kitchen stuff I don’t use this March or install shelving in the garage next week are short-term, achievable, and will help get you to the cleaner house. Break things down into smaller chunks whenever possible.

“Get out of debt” is a noble aspiration, and it’s even specific and measurable. But is it achievable? Besides having sufficient funds to do it, can you stay focused on that for an entire year? If you have a partner who likes to splurge, you’ll need to get on the same page, too. I actually had a three-year plan to get rid of everything but the mortgage, and of course things happened in the second year.

Some credit bites your wallet harder than others. You might have one card with a 12% interest rate and other with a 30% rate. Get more specific, and get achievable: Pay off RipOffBank Visa by March, then cancel it. If you don’t think you can pay it all off by March, specify the goal balance; once you’ve reached it, set the next goal.

Big resolutions have a place—they guide the goals you set—but they aren’t what you actually do. Do the goals, and the resolutions will come along for the ride.

What are your goals for 2020? Sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 No comments

FAR Manor paninis

I got a panini press for Christmas, a fairly fancy one that also has electric griddle and grill (open or closed) functions, Mason and I made pancakes on it a couple of times already, but what’s a panini press really for?


The wife was hungry, and gobbled hers right down, but even picky Mason liked his. Personally, I think it's better than Panera’s by a long shot. A family friend brought us a ham, and I expect I’ll be pulling out the FoodSaver and chucking a bunch of it into the freezer (joining the pound or so of ham left from Thanksgiving). But until then…

FAR Manor paninis (makes four)
8 slices Italian bread
12 oz sliced ham
Asiago cheese to taste, sliced
2 T butter
1/2 onion, sliced thin
4 mushrooms, sliced thin
8 sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted and chopped (about 5 chunks per tomato)
olive oil

Pre-heat panini press (to 400°F if it has temperature controls).

Melt butter over medium heat in a small skillet. Add onion and mushrooms, sauté until onions are soft and mushrooms lose their white color.

Layer four sandwiches thus, dividing fillings equally: bread, cheese, ham, onion/mushroom/tomato, cheese, bread. Brush bottom of sandwich with olive oil, lay on panini press, brush top with olive oil. Press one or two sandwiches at a time, adjusting position if needed to make the top sit even. Grill for 4 to 4-1/2 minutes, until bread is browned and cheese melts.

Cut in half and serve with salad, chips, or soup.

What do you like in your paninis? Comments are, as always, open.

Monday, December 30, 2019 2 comments

Upgrade marathon

Kahuna, my late-2013 iMac, has been really laggy as of late. Running EtreCheck suggested the hard drive might be failing, although it gave no evidence for that conclusion, and checking system logs turned up no obvious disk-related issues. Still, the computer is 6 years old, and has been running almost constantly that entire time. System Monitor showed the 8GB of RAM was getting used up, and that’s probably the biggest issue I’ve been having.

Back when my daily driver was a 2008 MacBook, I maxed out the RAM and put a SSD drive in it, and it felt twice as fast as before (I still use it for vacations and other out-and-about things, although now it’s running Xubuntu). An iMac is a somewhat more difficult beast to upgrade, because there’s no handy hatch to access the RAM and hard drive… but iFixit provides parts, tools, and detailed instructions for doing the deed. So I ordered the parts and tools.

And there they sat, on my dresser, for months.

I knew that it would take a fair amount of time and effort to dismantle my beloved iMac. Between it running all the time, and not having a big block of time to do the repair, it languished. I seriously considered paying someone to do the work for me, but things finally came together. Rainy afternoon, nothing pressing, wife was present to watch the kids. I made sure the Time Machine backup was current, shut Kahuna down, and disconnected all the wires. As I usually do with these things, I pulled up the iFixit manual on my iPad so I could see what to do next.

Turns out I’d made a mistake on the memory upgrade. I knew the iMac had two RAM slots, and it had 8GB total. I ASSumed it had 8GB in one slot, and had an empty slot for another 8GB, so that’s what I ordered. WRONG. It had two 4GB sticks instead. This I learned, after pretty much taking the whole computer apart. Hey, 12GB is better than 8, so I swapped the new stick for one of the old ones. While I was at it, I replaced the 1TB spinny hard drive for a 2TB SSD. I also cleaned out 6 years worth of accumulated dust. I didn’t realize the iMac had a fan, and I’m not sure it could have pushed much air anyway, given the dust choking the airways.

There were a few glitches in the repair instructions, and that slowed me down quite a bit. Between several rounds of going back and fixing things both I and the manual had missed, and wiping up dust as I went, it was a good 5 hours before I put the display (“big, heavy, and glass” according to the instructions) back on. I had new adhesive strips (Apple uses a lot of double-sided tape to hold their products together), but the instructions wisely suggested checking your work before sticking the display back onto the frame.

Fortunately, the upgrade had gone according to plan. I restored my backup onto the new SSD, and it finished while saying it had an hour to go (I hadn’t emptied the trash in like forever). Once the system booted, launching apps was significantly faster, and everything is more responsive. Yeah, it was a hassle, but I’m going to get all that time back and then some with a snappier desktop. I’m writing this post on the upgraded system, and I haven’t seen a single beachball or lag.

Now the question is: do I go ahead and button it up, or order another 8GB stick and completely max it out? I’m kind of leaning toward the latter. It’s not going to kill me to have the display held on by tape for a while longer, after all.

Saturday, December 28, 2019 No comments

Garlic-Sriracha party mix

I promise TFM won’t become a cooking blog, but eating is a big part of life here. I’ll be posting one or two more recipes in the coming weeks.

Let’s say you’re like me, and party mix is one of your weaknesses, but you long for a little extra bang in your snack. I got ya covered.

Everyone has their own variant on party mix; some add pretzels, some add Cheerios, and the wife prefers to use Crispix and lots of cashews. Personally, I think Wheat Chex is essential, because it does an awesome job of trapping the flavorings. Anyway, here’s my variant, which brings on the flavor but is less loaded with sodium than some:

Garlic-Sriracha party mix
2 c (each) Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Wheat Chex
1 c Cheerios (regular or multi-grain*)
1 c (each) Brazil nuts, unsalted almonds, unsalted peanuts
6 T butter or margarine
2-1/2 T Sriracha chili-garlic paste
1 tsp “Italian blend” salt-free seasoning
3/4 tsp No-salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cloves garlic, pressed

Preheat oven to 250°F.
Combine cereals and nuts in a large roasting pan; set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour the mixture over the cereals and nuts, and stir until evenly coated.

Bake 1 hour at 250°F, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool before putting in an air-tight container.

Flavors seem to strengthen over time, so make this on the 29th for the New Year’s Eve festivities (if you can stand to wait that long).

*Multi-grain Cheerios adds a little sweetness, taking the edge off the heat. But adjust the dry ingredients as you please. Make it your own. Maybe leave a comment and tell me how you like to do your own party mix. You never know, I might adopt a couple things!


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