Keeping butter without a refrigerator…

…has always been something of a problem for me.

For several years I grumped along on the cheapest margarin, on the assumption that most would be thrown away in summer when it melted into vegetable oil and promptly went rancid. A visit to the city in early 2017 reminded me of what I was missing, taste-wise, and an experiment demonstrated to my surprise that butter actually keeps in the summer heat better than margarine does. Still, it can go rancid and grow mold before you can use up your supply, which is a problem for a refrigeration-challenged desert hermit. I hate waste – I especially hate wasted luxuries.

Aware of the issue, Landlady gave me a gift a couple of months ago. I admit that at first it perplexed me…

It’s called a French butter dish, and its function is counterintuitive to say the least. Here’s how it holds the butter…

Yup – the actual butter cup is upside-down, sealed by about an inch of water.

According to my vast, exhaustive research the French butter dish is an idea that’s been around for over a century, in rural France, but it only became a commercial product fairly recently – which may explain why I’d never heard of such a thing.

Dealing with it in February or early March I had trouble getting it to work at first. You’re supposed to load it with softened butter, which commodity is not that easy to achieve in winter. I can melt butter, obviously, but convincing an entire stick to assume an even soft consistency was difficult so I just tried cutting a not-rock-hard stick into little pieces and smooshing the pieces into the cup. Turned upside-down, the cup promptly plopped the lumpy ball of butter onto the counter. When the instructions (yes of course there are YouTube videos, don’t be ridiculous) call for softened butter, they really mean that. A softened stick smashed into the cup really will adhere to the sides and stay inside when you invert it.

And in theory, that inch of water on the bottom of the little crock forms a seal around the outside of the cup, helping preserve the butter longer in the summer heat. We’re going to test that in a couple of months, but at present I’m already sure that a: it can’t help but be a preservation improvement over a little plastic tub, and b: in all weathers it really is a lot easier to use than a little plastic tub.

Low-tech solutions to low-tech problems! I love it.

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Big Brother came to visit yesterday!

On a long road trip west. We agreed we should have planned it better and will next time, because while he was willing and indeed looking for an excuse to stay a couple of days, there’s just no project going on right now that works with two people. But I got to meet my new SIL for the first time, a delightful lady I’d heard a great many good things about.

They arrived in what he plainly declared to be the most impractical road trip vehicle commercially available…

A genuine Tesla! This is the first time I ever actually saw one. Pretty little thing but it was kind of the problem, because I gather you can’t just plug one of these things in to charge on house current unless you can stay a month or so. The only place they could overnight that could also accommodate their Tesla is so far away it qualifies as a pretty fair road trip in itself. So they’re back on the road now.

We did have supper in town together, and just for a lark…

…he used the car’s two trunks to help me with concrete for the solar panel rack repair. 🙂

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The Ammo Counter of Futility

In the crappy little town nearest where I live, the only drugstore is also the only ammo retailer. In theory.

According to the lady I talked to yesterday morning they actually do move some ammo – it’s just that the paltry weekly shipment they receive comes on Tuesday – and my one regular town trip is Monday. So to me, the counter always looks like this.

Fortunately an earlier ammo panic taught me the virtues of planning ahead. So while my supply is limited I’m not as empty as that display counter.

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A visit from the official bird of Joel’s Gulch…

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Books and simple pleasures

Here’s something I wrote 16 years ago on an old moribund forum, and just rediscovered today…

One of the pleasures I used to share with my wife, when she was my wife and when we shared pleasures, was reading aloud to her. Many years ago, very shortly after we were married, I started off with Door Into Summer, my personal favorite Heinlein. She was skeptical at first, not being interested in scifi. But it’s a delightful light read, intricate without being crazy making. It’s not really scifi at all except in the most technical sense, has some great dialogue, and a prologue that for me defines the art of prologue-writing. But I digress. She liked it.

There were many books over the years, but our favorite was The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I must have read that one three or four times, often just doing scenes. “Read the duel on the Cliffs of Insanity.” “Sure thing.”

Around the time Daughter was hitting toddlerhood, my reading-to-wife years were coming to a close. But that was sort of all right, since my reading-to-daughter years were just beginning. And next to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, TPB was her all-time favorite. When Mom brought home a copy of the movie, daughter drove me crazy with it for months.

But that was a long time ago. Daughter is nearly grown now. She spends most of her time working, or out with Ari the Boyfriend and friends, and I don’t see much of her any more. Soon she’ll be off. My days of reading to ladies are pretty much over, and it’s the least pleasant part of my transition to solitude. Daughter still loves TPB, and has a ratty hardbound edition that I asked to borrow a few days ago since I hadn’t read it in some time.

Last night daughter got home around 8:30 and came into my room, while I was sitting in my PJs watching an old movie. She seemed reluctant to leave, and I certainly wasn’t going to shoo her off even though I was getting sleepy. (I’m an early riser.) She saw her book sitting on my nightstand.

“How’s the book?” she asked, nonsensically.

“Wonderful as always,” I said. “I’m just starting the beginning of Fezzik’s story.”

She sat for a moment. “So how come the book tells Fezzik’s story, and Inigo’s story, but not Vizzini’s?”

“I don’t know. It just goes straight to the battle of wits.” I turned off the TV and picked up the book. Opening to the marked section, I skipped a few pages ahead.

“Vizzini was waiting for him,” I said. “Indeed, he had set out a little picnic spread. From the knapsack that he always carried, he had taken a small handkerchief and on it he had placed two wine goblets. In the center was a small leather wine holder and, beside it, some cheese and some apples. The spot could not have been lovelier; a high point of the mountain path with a splendid view all the way back to Florin Channel. Buttercup lay helpless beside the picnic, gagged and tied and blindfolded. Vizzini held his long knife against her white throat.”

Daughter sighed and stretched out on my bed beside my chair. All too soon Vizzini breathed his last and the Man in Black revealed the secret (well known to us both, of course) of how the battle of wits was won before it ever began. Then she said good night and went to her own room.

For those few minutes she was little again, and I was happy.

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It may seem an incongruous thing for a desert hermit to say, but…

…right now I have access to an awful lot of driftwood.

It washed down from the canyons in those big floods we had in 2017 and 18. Near the cabin the wash takes a big U-turn, and when it overflowed the space between the branches of the U acted like a driftwood sieve.

Some of this stuff looks like it’s been drying in the sun for an awful lot of years, too remote in the canyons for anybody to use.

A lot of awfully straight-grained – by juniper standards – wood made the trip to my doorstep.

And it’s been on my mind all winter, since the day I cut up the last of my scrounged firewood pallets.

So this morning I tramped out there, pulled some of the easier snags apart, plotted ways to get the Jeep in there…

…and then this afternoon before chicken chores I made a couple of experimental trips in and out to see how much of a hassle it would be to gradually haul a winter’s worth to my woodlot.

If I do it just a couple of trips a week as the mood strikes and other work permits, I can easily have all the juniper-hauling work done before woodcutting season, and without the hassles and hazards involved with cutting deadwood off living trees.

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Happy dog!

Got some visitors at the watering station a few days ago…

Even with the few stills the game camera gave me – which prompted me at last to come back yesterday afternoon with the manual to re-adjust the camera settings – it was clear these little guys were having a really good day. Put me in mind of…

Don’t know who the guy on the horse is but from the rig and the dogs I’m thinking he’s most likely involved with the cattle operation that holds the grazing lease. Also he came back the next day…

…along with wide truck tracks right to the station. So maybe our cattle-free period is coming to an end. Or maybe he was just checking the infrastructure. The pump’s still turned off as of yesterday afternoon.

One brief coyote shot…

And some old guy passing through.

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Random windy spring moments

Spring at last! There’s no doubt we’ll get random wintry nights – in fact since the pear tree is in bloom it’s almost guaranteed within the week – and I haven’t done anything as hubristic as putting the woodstove to bed, but days will increasingly be in the seventies and nights haven’t required the use of propane in over a week.

Here’s the new floor for the Secret Lair’s main room, some assembly required. I also scrounged their used underlayment but it seems that’s not a commodity that does well second-hand. I’d probably go ahead and use it anyway, except that by happy coincidence Big Brother is coming for a brief visit on a trip across the continent and has promised to bring me some from a big-box in the closest city on the Interstate.

I won’t be procrastinating on this project – it’ll be the first major thing done this Spring but I do have to haul a bunch of stuff out of the main room – including the woodstove and some furniture, so I probably will wait until I can comfortably go without those things and the sky won’t suddenly decide to snow all over them while they’re out on the porch. April’s not as bad as March, but you still can’t trust it.

Speaking of the porch, I did push the “spring” thing a bit too much for comfort at mid-day…

Cleaning primer pockets is one activity I like to do out on the porch, and having a whole bunch to do I decided it would be nice to celebrate Spring in that way. Alas…

…though I did finish just out of stubbornness, I was shivering into a jacket by the end. Not so much from the temperature, which would have been comfortable under other circumstances, but because the wind is gusting to 30 mph even down in my hollow. Another sign of Spring, though not the nicest. I’ll take it.

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The Secret Lair’s new floor!

Serendipity! The Lair’s main room is getting a new floor, earlier and with less hassle than feared.

Two weeks ago some neighbors asked me, “Hey, can you use some laminated flooring?” To which I did not reply aloud, “This is a cruel joke, right?” All last summer I was guilt-stricken over my failure to overcome the logistical issues involved with purchasing, paying for and then transporting enough floor laminate to replace the Lair’s failed attempt at a tiled floor. Money wasn’t even the issue, it’s just that Lowes is 60 miles away, I don’t have regular transport to that town, and it refuses to come to me. I ended up replacing a bunch of crumbled tile just to get me through the winter.

And now suddenly some neighbors are replacing the perfectly good flooring in a room that’s bigger than the Lair’s main room, and want me to just haul off the old stuff! All I need now is some underlayment and I’m in business.

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Sigh. I’m an out-of-touch boomer.

So I scored 300 .44 magnum cases from some guy, as one does. Dumped them in the tumbler. Brought them into the reloading shack and started sizing and depriming them. And stuck inside one of the cases I found one of those tiny little 9mm cases … as one does. They’re such wimpy little things…

Okay, look. I’m old, okay? I learned centerfire pistol when there was Only One. And it was designed by Browning, and Cooper was his prophet. Y’know, when IPSC started you couldn’t even compete major caliber with anything but a 1911. I’ve owned other pistols, off and on, but never took them seriously – they were just range toys. If I anticipate actually needing to shoot someonething with a semiauto, I don’t holster a plastic nine. Yes, yes, I know. I know.


I pried the 9mm case out of its big brother, and just before dismissively tossing it into the Bowl of Junk Cases I noticed something about the primer that seemed…weird. Off. Dare I guess…exotic? Hell, you never know where an old 9mm case has been, right? So many guns have been chambered for it. Some of them are cool.

So I took a picture of it…

…and then I proceeded to embarrass myself. I sent the pic to Ian McCollum, he of Forgotten Weapons, Gun Jesus Himself. I figured if anybody else on earth could tell me what gun made a rectangular print like that on a primer, it sure wasn’t anybody I know. I hoped he’d come back with a cool answer, you know? A touch of strange.

He answered very promptly.

And he said,


Sigh. I probably should have known that.

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T-shirt weather! Loving life.

On Thursday I took the bike to town, didn’t even wear a jacket. Just a loose shirt for a gun burka.

Didn’t feel so hot yesterday, and anyway yesterday it was cloudy all day though quite mild. But today it’s sunny and mid-seventies! Loving it.

I decided to try something different baking with that little bit of millet I bought a few weeks ago…

Continue reading

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I relocated the new game camera several days ago…

…on a tree at the cattle waterer, higher than an elk might find convenient to rearrange. Certainly higher than I find convenient. Been waiting with anticipation to see how they’d react, but unfortunately the elk have made themselves scarce for the past week or more. Just got some mule deer evening before last…

…and they always notice the camera but never do anything about it.

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Warm breeze! Open windows!

It’s been a pretty cold March overall. This is the first time we’ve hit seventies in the shade. First day this year I’ve opened the cabin windows.

And I’m loving it. Warm wind makes me think maybe we’re actually creeping up on Spring at last.

Every year I spend most of the winter sitting around being grumpy. I want my fun desert back. Today after Monday morning water run I tried to do something a little – a tiny bit – creative…

A week ago I got a pound of millet, in hopes of doing something different with my bread. Millet is this round little grain, like #12 birdshot. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Grinding it seemed kind of unnecessary, if it was even possible. One online recipe said soak it, another said toast it and that sounded better. Toasted millet smells good – and it stays crunchy throughout the bake, though not danger-to-teeth crunchy. I had warm millet-and-wheatflour bread for lunch and it was really good, but not startlingly different from usual.

Once I had the dishes washed and put away it began to dawn on me what a beautiful day I was spending indoors. I cast around for something useful to do outdoors other than walking back and forth to the chickens, and remembered that horribly dirty jacket that’s been out on the porch for three weeks…

I have a couple of light jackets but this is my favorite because it’s easy on/off and so ragged I literally don’t care what gets smeared on it. But by the end of February it had become so horrible with stove soot that it was an active danger to the one piece of indoor furniture capable of being ruined by soot. I exiled it to the porch because it’s too bulky to wash in the sink, in hope that someday a mild enough day would come that I could tub-wash it. Today was finally its day.

But first I had to deal with the yard spigot…

My well water is damn near a thousand PPM dissolved solids, mostly calcium and iron oxide. After five months of no water running through it, that really shows up in the winter-inactive plumbing. So the first thing I have to do every Spring before I can use the spigot is let it run for several minutes until it runs clear. Normally I hook up the yard hose and let the water run into a ditch for 10-15 minutes, but this time I got impatient because I wanted to fill a laundry tub, and ended up lugging the tub back and forth to the ditch until the water was clear enough to wash a terminally-filthy jacket without making things worse. So that’s out of the way as well.

Not quite porch-sittin’ weather, but by far the nicest day in over five months.

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Haven’t written lately, because…

…there’s been nothing worth writing about. I took that pic Wednesday morning – it snowed ALL day off and on. The weather was supposed to improve yesterday and drastically improve today – I’m going to find that miserable excuse for a weatherman and feed him his own liver because the big improvement is pushed back to Monday now and I’m probably being lied to about that. It’s no longer snowing, in fact the sun is shining at the moment, but I’m surrounded by mud worthy of one of those old Tarzan movies where the bad guys get it in quicksand pits. I hate mud.

So my life’s adventure is pretty much reduced to bingewatching old TV shows on a hard drive somebody gave me a few years ago, and occasionally glaring at the window. Not terribly blogworthy.

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Wow, glad I didn’t wait.

I just got back to the cabin from taking care of T&S’s dogs and horse, and…

…for once my timing was pretty good. This suddenly turned into the sort of morning that makes you wish your Jeep had windshield wipers. And a rear window.

Yesterday was in the sixties – today it’ll do well to straggle into the forties. March is schizophrenic like that. I used to say, “March is the month that breaks your heart,” because by the equinox I was really emotionally invested in winter being over. Really tired of the drama and the mud, tired of my ten fingers and five toes hurting all the time. Even for me there are times when pavement and central heat have their charms.

But for the past going-on-several years, with the cabin being complete at last and much more comfortable, winter isn’t the big emotional event it used to be. So I can look at days like this a lot more philosophically – make a mocha and watch the snow from a cozy chair by the window.

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Joel eavesdrops on skinnydipping couple. Elk take revenge.

I left the new game camera at the cattle watering station for most of the week. Mostly just got thousands of pictures of migrating robins…

On one occasion a pair of ravens decided to take a bath, not heeding my voyeurism…

And then the following evening, very briefly after showing up, some elk decided to deal with the situation in their own capable way.

The elk aren’t the only wildlife that notice the camera, but they’re always the ones that take action. I need to scout a better (ie less vulnerable) location.

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Home again…

It was only two nights and parts of three days, but being away from my own hermetic routine always seems like it’s taking forever. I’ll still be going up to T&S’s place twice a day at least through Monday but that’s okay, that’s just something to do. I like being back in the cabin.

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New Official TUAK Game Camera!

It arrived over the weekend as the result of a very generous gift from a friend of the blog. I left it up a few days to see what adjustments needed to be made in the settings – I see for example that I managed to set the timestamp 12 hours off. But other than that it looks like it’ll work well!

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Simultaneous caretaking gigs. This is gonna get weird.

I have two sets of neighbors going for trips. D&L are going to the city for some surgery that’s been put off due to all the weirdness – between their animals and the peculiar needs of their heating infrastructure, their maintenance is so constant that I’m just moving into their house for parts of three days.

That’s Coaltrain the horse, who likes to lick the inside of empty feed bags. So we’re not dealing with spoiled pets or anything…

Anyway – I had to meet them at their place at eight this morning for detailed instructions on animal feeding and hygiene schedules and rigorous pellet stove maintenance. I was there for over an hour, during which the promised morning snowstorm moved in and broke with a vengeance…

…of course reminding me of yesterday’s bad thing…

Good thing proper Jeeps are made to operate in all weathers, inside and out. Because things are going to get damp.

As soon as I was done at their place – at the height of the snow, of course – I had to drive up and across the plateau and then up T&S’s mesa to get instruction on taking care of their animals and plants. Twice a day starting tomorrow and through Monday. That gig usually pays really well, by my standards, plus their dogs are sweethearts. The feeding schedules at the two locations actually fit together really well so as long as things go according to plan nothing will be a big rush – but between the two of them my workdays will start at six and not end until after eight till the weekend.

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Huh. That wasn’t supposed to happen…

Came home from the Monday morning water run. Backed the Jeep into its usual spot. Recalled that a hinge bolt on the rear window had come loose and decided I should tighten it while it was on my mind, because otherwise I was going to have trouble – it was the bolt that held the window on the left hinge. And apparently I had something fatally misaligned, because I went to give the nut one last twist, and…

…it was raining safety glass. The rear window didn’t hit the ground and shatter, it shattered and hit the ground in a million pieces. I have no idea how I’m gonna clean it all up.

And since my right hand was first to the scene of the accident…

…”safety” is relative.

How in the world am I gonna get a replacement for that?

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