Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doin' the Garden Gnome

My friend and fellow blogger H. Bruce Miller, a "Bend Treasure" and Bend's pro tem Goodwill Ambassador, has pointed out to me that some of our local older gentlemen have adopted a look which he describes as "garden gnome":

A rotund figure and full white beard is pretty much all that is needed.

It's a good observation. And now I see it everywhere. 

I reckon that it's time to take some pictures of the better examples and create a gallery of Bend's Better Garden Gnomes, along the lines of Men Who Look Like Kenny Rogers.

Better hope you don't find yourself in it. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Cord Is Cut

Six weeks ago, Mrs Elliott and I discontinued our cable TV service. We cut the cord.

Our cable bill was absurdly high for the amount of entertainment received. "Not a good value," was the reason I gave the nice lady at Bend Broadband when she asked for a reason.

We kept the Internet, though. And got ourselves a Roku. 1080p output, HDMI.  We have already have a Netflix account, and we signed up for Amazon, and Hulu Plus. For cheap, compared with cable, like $8 a month for these services.

Pros: Cable bill went from around $150 to around $50; no more DVR filling up with crap that we somehow felt compelled to watch. Deep catalog of movies and TV shows.

Cons: No HBO shows,* no NFL,** no local TV news. I'd watch KTVZ [Edit: for local news] but we got this butte between us and the transmitter, tried that back in 2008: been there, done that. I think that $100 a month savings is worth this.

Our current watchlist is: Boss, Louie, Breaking Bad, Alphas, Children's Hospital, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Copper, and Episodes. With some Frasier and Cheers thrown in. Mrs Elliott probably has some ladyshows she watches when I'm not around,  I'll let her comment about that.

All in all, I feel less stupid because we're saving money, watch less TV, and what we do watch is IMO better quality.

* HBO produces some damn good shows. But not $100/month damn good.

** I'll be forced to sponge off friends or hang out at Sidelines--my favorite sports bar in Bend--to watch the games. Boo hoo.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Smoky Out There

Fire season, whatcha gonna do?

What I'd like to know is whether the air is considered safe or risky for folk, like Mrs Elliott, who have respiratory difficulties. Down in the SoCal basins of crappy air, the AQMD issues advisories about air quality.* I can't seem to find anything like that for Central Oregon.

*  Generally along the lines of "people should stay indoors."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Brings a (quelle surprise!) Camping Trip

With a large son watching the house, Mrs Elliott and I are taking off for a camping trip in a couple of days.

This will be a longer camping trip than we've taken before.

We plan to head in an easterly direction, bearing toward Redfish Lake in Idaho, and though we don't care whether we make the destination or just find a sweet spot along a river or lake or meadow and decide to just park there, I know that we need to be prepared for (a) very hot weather and (2) mosquitoes.

I drove to Home Depot this morning (they open at 7 a.m. -- "man stores" open early), then Target, Big R (Redmond), and then the Columbia Sportswear Outlet. I was hunting campin' necessities and tackle.

Back home, I treated our outerwear with permethrin, a mosquito and tick repellent that, when applied to clothing and allowed to dry, stops mozzies in their tracks.

(Funny story: two weekends ago I was hiking in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness area and I encountered fewer than a dozen mosquitoes; I wasn't bitten once. In the evenings, when the mozzies were feeding, I wore permethrin-treated clothes: a hat, a bandana, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants; and a little DEET on the neck and wrists and face. So last week, on First Friday Art Walk downtown we ran into someone who told us that they knew two people who, as it turns out, were in the same area on exactly the same days I was, and that they were "eaten alive" by mozzies. So I know that permethrin works and it works big time.)

Wet, the stuff is nasty: it's an insecticide, and is toxic to mammals, including us primates, but dry it looks to be harmless [at least when compared with West Nile disease -- Ed.]. 

If you buy permethrin spray in the camping department of your basic Walmart or REI, it's expensive: one can with enough of the stuff to do one outfit costs $7.

So at Big R I picked up some concentrate, the stuff sold for livestock use. It's a 10% concentration (the spray sold to campers is 0.5%) so I diluted the stuff to 0.7% and dunked our "evening wear"in it.

It's smelly (essence of Raid) and one needs to wear rubber gloves when handling the wet solution. But when dry it is odor-free. It says here.

Hung the clothing on a line in the backyard, let it all dry out (cotton takes ages to dry), and we now have seriously anti-mozzie toggery.

I bought a spray bottle we can use to keep cool with by spraying each other with water while driving. The van does not have air conditioning, and we learned from last year's trip down to East Park Reservoir (a camping trip with elder stepson and his redneck friends at one of their favorite "loud engine" rowdy places, it's south of Redding--a hellishly-hot part of the world) that simply spritzing each other with water while driving was perfectly sufficient for keeping cool. I expect the drive to Idaho to be hot hot hot, so this should help help help.

From Target I snagged some C9 underdrawers (on sale) that are far more comfortable than cotton in hot and damp climate.

For the van (1984 VW "Westfalia" poptop camper) I'm a gonna bring some additional spare mechanical parts: When I was driving back from a summer trip two years ago (H. Bruce Miller and I rented a cabin at Flathead Lake in Montana for fishin' and kayakin') I encountered hot hot weather and drove some nasty long long steep desert passes and the engine in the van cut out every couple minutes, for several seconds (causing High Anxiety) repeatedly (but dependably). I was unable to determine the cause, but high temps and long climbs both seem to be required to make this happen.

So this time I am bringing a spare engine Electronic Control Unit, a spare ignition coil, and hoping to get my hands on a spare Hall-effect sensor for the distributor, as all three of these are apparently susceptible to "heat soak," i.e., failure under high temperature.

I'll keep those on hand and if the hot-weather behavior reoccurs, I'll start changing out parts.

Mrs Elliott-specific gear which needed to be added: a banana lounger for lounging on the ground, an inflatable air mattress for lounging on the water, and a hammock for lounging between trees. Get the picture of what camping with Mrs Elliott is like?

Me, I like tinkering with camping gear, reading, looking at maps, and cooking. Maybe catch a trout. Cook 'em if I got 'em.

Her? She likes napping when we camp. 

Which is fine, I do like her company, and Happy Wife, Happy Life!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Secrets I Cannot Reveal

I've mentioned that Big Troy (Troy Fox), a barbecue expert, before (here and here), and had the good fortune to run into him downtown last Friday evening during the First Friday Art Walk in downtown Bend while he was setting up his barbecue trailer in the alley between Minnesota and Oregon between Bond and Wall Streets. 

"Troy," I said, "I've made some pretty good ribs," (see: here , and here), "but I have never been able to cook ribs that fall off the bones."

Troy set down a 14-lb sack of mesquite charcoal and asked how are you doing it. 

I described my method of slow-cooking the ribs over a cool fire or in a cool oven for hours, mopping (glazing) them every 30 minutes then finishing on a hot fire.

He listened, nodding in all the right places, then laid it out for me. Step-by-step. Big Troy, with discursage into barbecue arcanea, explained how to get ribs that fall off the bone and invite another bite. 

Trade secrets, he told me, insider tricks learned from other barbecue chefs (carbonated soft drinks are involved), learned from chefs at some of Bend's restaurants, things that only barbecue geeks talk about.

What I learned, I cannot pass on. My limps are sealt. 

But everything I had been doing was wrong. 

Today I applied what I learned and I made the most delicious lip-smackin' chewy and soft ribs I've ever made. The texture I've been looking for, with a depth of flavor that I've never achieved before. My seasoning was off: too many hours brining led to an overly-salted taste, but I can adjust. 

A-and, doing ribs this way is much easier than I had been doing before. 

Knocking About

Mrs Elliott and I went to the Deschutes County Fair on Saturday night. Never been there before. It ain't San Diego's Del Mar Fair, but it's a perfectly adequate and satisfactory fair. I got no gripes, and found access to be far easier than dealing with the horrific traffic we used to have to wade through on the I-5 in Del Mar.

We got some indifferent barbecue, we got to the rodeo too late to get a seat in the bleachers, we watched a dog competition of some sort (I was kind of baked so it seemed more interesting than it probably really was, but I loved the childlike energy of the dogs), and we almost paid $40 ("This normally sells for $60! But the `fair price' is only $40!") for a decent-seeming floor mat that can be found on the Webbernetz for $15.

I didn't find a ride I wanted to go on. Our tradition, since we first started dating, is to take a ride on the Ferris wheel at sunset, and smooch at the top.

There was no Ferris wheel.

I had a sad.

But since I was baked--did I already mention that?--I had a lovely time anyway.

Anyway, moving into the much-anticipated photo event.

 We visited a photo booth:
Automated Photo Booth
Mr and Mrs Elliott
Mrs Elliott looked pretty cute so I snapped a shot:

Jack Elliott
The Swell Mrs Elliott
Rack courtesy of setting sun's tasteful side lighting

And my entry into the "Photos of the Fair" category is here:

Jack Elliott
Deschutes County Fair, 2012

When we left, we took the wrong exit from the expo and found ourselves wandering about the parking lot, convinced that nefarious personages--evildoers!--had stolen the car. But we found it, and laughed at our mistake.

On the way back to Bend we stopped by Maverick's, a country bar and grill on Bend's NE side. Why? Because our goofy 26 year-old son, Brian, has taken up some kind of cowboy line-dancing or Texas one-and-a-half-step dance activity there and we hoped to see him and act all old parents-y with him--but he had other plans. So we went to the Brickhouse restaurant at the Old Mill instead.

I ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio, which was terrible, and requested the Prosecco to replace it. It was barely any better. But the cheese and fruit platter was quite satisfactory. Call it a "mixed review."

Back home for an hour of reruns, then to bed.

We rode our bikes this morning. Used our sweet little Specialized road bikes. Up Shevlin Park to Mt. Washington Drive, west until we ran into the road closure, then back home via the same route. I let Mrs Elliott set the pace and route because she was torn between going to Zumba class or going on a bike ride. I knew she wanted to feel like she'd burned off last night's fair food, so I wanted her to feel like she got all the riding she wanted. 

This afternoon, after I put some ribs into the oven, we (Mrs Elliott, son Brian, and I) loaded up our new kayak hauler, hooked it to Mrs Elliott's (Bend-mandated) Subaru Outback, and hauled those kayaks up to a spot above Healy Bridge on Alderwood Circle and launched them from the Deschutes River Trail. There's a brief--far too brief--chunk of Class I or II river (I don't know the designations well) right above the bridge before it flattens out and becomes the classic Bend river float. 

Must. Find. More. Interesting. Chunks. Of. River. To. Paddle.

I could a used about two hours of river just like that short bit above the bridge. Anyone knows of a place like that around here, pls 2 advise.  

 BUT, the kayak hauler worked just fine! It towed like a dream. 

"Too bad," sighed Mrs Elliott,"that the hauler could also carry two bicycles on it."

Brilliant, that women. Glad I married her. 

I'll start working on it right away. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Our New Kayak Hauler

As I mentioned a few days ago, Mrs Elliott and I needed a way to easily bring our two kayaks on next week's camping trip. Mrs Elliott found a trailer listed on craigslist that looked interesting.

From the advert:
As purchased: this trailer had been modified with padding, a longer tongue and a crossbar.
Originally set up for a 14 or 15 foot Hobie angling kayak, it was going to need some work to carry two 10' recreational kayaks. But I saw that with some modifications and cleanup, it would work. So I bought it and towed it home for rebuilding.

First off, it was too long, and the tongue was not very strong. I wanted to build a new one which was stronger and shorter by 4 feet--a more reasonable length.

I disassembled the entire tongue assembly (and threw out my lower back in the process, ow), which consisted of two 2x3s set end-to-end and encased in thin-gauge metal rain gutter downspout stock with Erector set-style angle irons added for strength.

The new tongue needed a 10 foot 2x3, but what I found in town were only 8' lengths. So I had to buy a 10' 2x4 and break out my cheap-o Harbor Freight table saw (which had been gathering dust in the garage since we moved here in 2008); ripped the 2x4 down to a narrower 2x3, cut the downspout stock to the new, shorter, length, and braced the whole assembly with heavy 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 1/8'' heavy steel angle stock.

Then I gave the new tongue a coat of fire engine red paint. It looks spiffy.

Trailer with shorter tongue and new paint.

Second, because the turn, brake, and running lights didn't work I needed to clean up the wiring.
The wire harness itself wasn't a total mess, but the grounding was a disaster. I found that the plug that connects the trailer to the vehicle had its ground pin missing, and the chassis didn't provide good grounding for any of the lights. This due to the frame having been assembled using Nylok nuts, which are insulating, and heavy paint which prevented good grounding by insulating the frame members from each other. I could have replaced the nuts with plain steel noninsulating types and used toothed (star) lock-washers to cut through the paint, but it was easier to just add dedicated ground wiring. For the rest, I reused the existing wires, replaced some wire nuts with crimped-on butt splices, soldered some other connections, then secured it all with cable ties. 

Whoops -- looks like I published this post before it was finished! I have some more steps to describe.

Update: Once the mechanical and electrical bits were completed, I set a Rubbermaid* tub atop the frame; the tub will hold kayaking essentials like life vests, dry bags, and other stuff.
The tub holds all our kayaking gear and is strapped to the frame with nylon lashing straps. 
With the kayaks strapped in place:
The tub provides center support for the two kayaks.
This setup is not complete because I plan to re-attach the crossarm and mount two sets of "J cradles" to hold the kayaks more securely and make loading and unloading easier. Though the J cradles have been ordered from a vendor on eBay, they won't be here in time for the trip. Even so, with this setup the rig is quite stable and secure, and will suffice for our camping trip.

While I was at it, I bought a couple of bike hanger kits from Harbor Freight and rigged them up in the garage. Got the damn kayaks up and out of the way!
Update the second: Here's the kayak hauler on Mrs Elliott's Subaru:

Here, the kayaks are held down with three lash straps; a simpler rigging both easier and as secure as my first try. I I added a trailer hitch and your basic 1-7/8ths-inch ball to Mrs Elliott's car. (Parts courtesy Jerry's RV on SE 3rd.) 

* "Rubbermaid" is a word that both arouses me and fills me with terror. 
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