Pete's random thoughts

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why can't people read the FAQ page?

It baffles me every time I have to answer the same question over and over again.

I spend a disproportionate amount of time answering email, and so much of it is the same old stuff: How do you ship? Can these be fired with shot? Is the touch-hole drilled?

All of these questions are answered on the website. Most of them are answered on the FAQ page. It is standard Internet stuff. FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions.

On the "contact" page, where you have to go in order to click on the link to send us an email there is a note, in big letters, at the top of the page that says:

"Many of your questions are answered on our FAQ page.
Please click here to read our FAQ page!!!"

The second past of those instructions are in FLASHING YELLOW LETTERS. There is no way that you can miss them. Amazing.

People that can't follow simple written directions like "Please read the FAQ page" probably lack the discipline to read and understand other things, like owner's manuals and gun safety rules. In addition to that concern, much of my time is wasted answering the same questions over and over again when the answers are right there on the FAQ page.

Why haven't I updated the website in a while? Because half of my day is spent answering questions like "how do you ship?"

Hot Cross Buns

This morning I had a pair of 'hot cross buns" for breakfast.

I don't really like them because I don't really like sticky, gooey, sweet stuff. That sort of thing sticks in my teeth and gets on my beard.

Nonetheless, I get excited every spring when I see them for sale for the first time in the store, and can't pass them up. This year, I first saw them at Market Basket, a chain grocery store in the next town. I couldn't help myself, I grabbed a box of them and I wasn't the only one to do so because the checkout girl said that she had seen a lot of people buying them that day, but was not familiar with them and had never seen them before.

It's a holiday thing. One of those little things that brings back memories and really makes me miss my family. I remember my Mom getting excited about seeing them in the stores for the first time in the spring. She used to sing the little song about them:

Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
one a penny,
two a penny,
hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons,
one a penny,
two a penny,
Hot Cross Buns

It's an old street-hawker's song from centuries ago. These sticky little breakfast rolls have a very old history. They can trace their lineage back to the 1300's in a different form, and the current form that incorporates a cross on top made out of frosting goes back at least to the early 18th century in England.

For the past year, I have done a really good job of sticking to my 18th century diet. I've lost roughly 35 pounds. This is one of those times where I make an exception and buy something store-made. Not that I'm looking for a loophole, but buying a specialty pastry that is documented historically is certainly keeping within the guidelines of my dietary experiment.

Experimental diet aside, I'll eat them because they remind me of my Mom. The way we ate them in my family is to cut them in half, butter them and heat them in a frying pan until the frosting "cross" just starts to melt on the edges. As I put them onto my plate to carry them to the table, I can hear her voice singing "Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one-a-penny, two-a-penny..."

I'm the only one in my household that eats them, which is sad to me because it is a tradition. I'll do it every year, carbohydrates, sugar and white flour be damned! Without our family traditions and cultural eccentricities like only eating certain foods at certain times, life would be pretty boring, wouldn't it?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Makin' bacon

We've been pretty busy this week. Last week a snowstorm dumped a couple of feet of white stuff on top of us. We were snowed in for a few days as three separate plow guys failed to show up. Ultimately I shoveled out enough of the driveway to get my truck out, went to Home Depot and came home with a 9hp snowblower.

Over the course of the weekend, we had a pig mishap. Two of them who were on the runty side and on the lower end of the pecking order managed to get a little squished one night as they wiggled their way to the bottom of the pig pile. They survived, but had prolapsed rectums.

A prolapse can be pushed back in and hopefully would heal, but nothing is ever that simple with pigs. Their penmates, who never miss a chance to eat anything that move slow enough to get eaten, apparently did some nibbling on the exposed organs and the way I discovered the problem was by noticing one morning that everyone was sorta blood-streaked.

At first I considered killing them myself, but as I thought it through I realized that after killing them in the pen I wouldn't be able to lift them over the fence by myself to get them to where they would be butchered. It had to wait a couple of days until the Millers came home from Maine.

First, Jeff rigged up a pole that is attached to the 2nd floor of my shed. It is lagged to the pole frame and can hold a considerable weight. From the end of the pole, we rigged up a small block and tackle and a gambrel hook. Under it is a pair of pallets to stand on. Pretty good set-up!

The next day, Wednesday, we put all other tasks aside and set about butchering. We went into the pen and separated the first injured pig from the herd. Jeff tried to keep the others grouped together in the corner while I herded the victim over towards the pig shed so I could get a clear shot with nothing living behind it. A shot from my Walther PP roughly between the eyes, sort of in the middle of an imaginary X drawn between the eyes and ears dropped it, it's brains scrambled.

The critter flopped onto it's back, body convulsing. I switched the safety on, stuck the gun in my pocket, and dove forward to grab the pig by it's front legs and steady it on it's back. Jeff jumped in with a razor-sharp skinning knife and stuck it just above the breastbone, angling the knife down under it, then pulling it forward, using the sternum as a fulcrum to slash all of the arteries to the heart in one pass. Blood poured out. Even though the brain ceased to function as the shot was fired, the body keeps on running on it's own briefly. Cutting the arteries allows the blood to get pumped out by the heart that is still beating, all by itself.

We jumped back to keep from getting any blood on our clothes and the rest of the pigs surged forward to gobble up the blood that was pouring out. Pigs have no respect for each other when alive and even less when dead. Without digressing, I have seen many instances that prove that humans aren't a whole lot better.

While the herd was thus engaged, we cut the other injured one out from the herd and repeated the process.

Then we lifted them by the feet, one at a time, and tossed them over the fence. After dragging them over to the hangin' pole, cuts were made in the hind legs for the gambrel hook, the critter was hauled up to a comfortable working height, and we got to work skinning. With two people working with sharp knives, it went quick. There was a bucket full of skin, followed by a bucket of guts. The head was skinned out and cut off, put aside for later cooking down to make head cheese. We cut the carcass in half down the middle of the spine with a sawzall, then carried each half to a folding table set up right there. The feet are cut off (these are for Buster the Dog), then the bacon cut away, the ham and shoulder cut off, Boston butt cut away, ribs cut off with the sawzall, then the chops sliced to the spine before being separated with the sawzall.

With Jeff and I working and Louise helping out, we had both pigs killed, skinned, cut up and packed in bags by early afternoon. (then a truckload of guns showed up and the REAL work began)

We split up the meat. The Millers will make hams, shoulders and a bunch of sausage. I'll do hams, shoulders, ribs and chops. The meat sat out in the shed, which is colder than the fridge, for a few days until I had a chance to "put down" the meat that would be cured. Meat that will be smoked first sits in a box covered in salt and molasses (following directions found in The Foxfire Book). The curing phase takes 12-14 days, then it is smoked.

Tonight I trimmed away any dirty parts of the fat that covers the meat, washed it down, and packed it in a mortar mixing pan (clean, brand new and sterilized with bleach). In doing so, I retrieved one of the slugs from the Walther, a bit flattened by it's being slammed through a thick pig skull. Now, except for the smoking process, the meat is all cut up, bagged and frozen and the meat to be cured is all nestled down in it's box of salt and molasses.

All that is left to do is cook the foreshanks that I cut off of the shoulders before putting them down in the salt. It is quarter of midnight, I figure that they'll be ready to eat by one. This will be the first of my pigs that I get to taste!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rough snow day

As cool as it looks and as fun as it can be, snow can be a big pain sometimes. It all comes own to equipment, pretty much like anything else humans get involved in. We just seem to need gadgets to get by in this world. The ducks don't seems to be having too great a time of it either, but at least they have down jackets on when waddling through waist-high snowdrifts.

Problem #1 with snow today: The plow guy never showed up. Yeah, I've got a plow and a Jeep, but it needs an engine. I'm shopping for a rebuilt one, but it just didn't happen in time for this winter. Oh well, we'll have someone come in tomorrow and hack their way through the 4' high berm that blocks the driveway entrances. (I have to do it, I need to go out for feed tomorrow)

Problem #2 with snow today: I went out to take care of the critters with my snowshoes on. Half way to the pen, the strap on my left foot broke. Oh well, I guess I've got some leatherwork to do.

Problem #3 with snow today: my pile of downed trees that is at the end of the yard is now under a couple of feet of snow, and probably will be until April. To get wood, my plan B was to go and cut down some more standing deadwood with my chain saw, slice it up into stove lengths, and haul it back to the house in our handy-dandy sledge.

The sledge is built out of a musket crate and sits atop a pair of skis that I salvaged from the dump. It will haul a week's worth of firewood in one trip. Here is a picture of it the first time I used it. In the picture, it is loaded with a bale of hay and a bag of dried corn for the critters in the main pen and a bushel of fresh corn for the pigs. A couple of days later, I managed to break off the tip of one of the wooden skis when it bumped into a piece of wood that was frozen to the ground. Time for it's first revision...Jeff swapped another pair of wooden skis that I had for an aluminum and fiberglass pair that he had, and mounted them to the sledge.

Today was it's debut with the new aluminum skis. Snow depth ranged from 2-3 feet. The sledge sunk right in, and the cleats that the skis are attached to acted like anchors, making moving the thing a Herculean task. I was pretty mad at it by then, so I moved it anyway (only half full of wood, plus the chain saw). I dragged it, wood and all, right through the door into the shop where it is sitting to let the snow melt off of it. Revision #2 will involve adding 3 more skis to the underside of it to give it more flotation. My plan is to mount them along the arc of the cleats that the two main skis are attached to, so that the new ones will only contact the snow when it sinks into the deep soft stuff. I'm hoping that doing it this way will keep resistance down when it is sliding over lesser amounts of snow or ice.

I'm not going to let a musket box outsmart me!!!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Valentine's Day bluster

It's February 14th: Valentine's Day.

For gun-history people, the name conjures up the infamous "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" where a roaring 20's mob hit went down in history. A group of mobsters, dressed as police officers, lined up a group of rivals against the wall as if they were to be searched. Instead of searching them, they gunned them down with a pair of Thompson submachine guns and a shotgun. Must have been a real mess. See the current issue of "Small Arms Review" for a detailed history of the event and info on the guns that were used.

The Tommyguns used were the 1928a1 model, which could be loaded with a 50 or 100 round drum magazine. Click here to see a photo of a 1928a1 Thompson (on top) and the military version called the M1 (this particular M1 is the civilian version with 16" barrel instead of the original 10.5" barrel).

A historically significant aspect of this particular crime is that it was the first major case that what we would call "modern forensics" were used to analyze the evidence (shell casings from the scene and the slug removed from the bodies).

Interesting stuff, especially if you are snowbound due to a blizzard.

Which brings us to the real topic of this post.

As we checked the weather reports yesterday, we made sure to keep Caleigh informed. She was pretty excited to have a real snowstorm, the first one this winter. When we told her that we might get as much as 3 feet of snow today, she really lit up because we "are going to have a real bluster!". OK, technically it is a blizzard, but bluster sounds cute and brings up images of "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day", so "bluster" it is.

I went out to feed the critters. All of the chickens that are too stubborn to go into the chicken house are lined up in the back of the goat shed, along with the goats, guineas and steer. The ducks are sledding around on their fat bellies to get from place to place, and when they aren't moving,t hey curl up to sleep in the snow, only to wake up under a few inches, shake it off, then start all over again.

Caleigh and Buster the Dog went out to play for a while, but came in covered in snow. I snapped a picture of her at the door, coming in from her first real "bluster". Click here to see her, rosy cheeks and all!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cleaning my office

We are waiting for a big shipment of guns to arrive in a few days, so in the meantime efforts around here get focused on straightening up and getting ready for the next week. I am a very disorganized person when it comes to my desk and my "things to do" file. If it weren't Louise and Wendy, I'd be buried in paper and completely unable to function.

Last Friday, Louise gave me a lecture about all of the wreckage on my desk and told me that she was going to whip me into shape. That's kind of funny to me, because I know what her desk looks like at her office and it isn't any better. "Physician, heal thyself!" I thought. Nonetheless, I decided to make an effort to rake things up in here and surprise her when she comes in on Tuesday.

The first step was to clear away the stack of books on the "hangout" chair next to my desk. The hangout chair is where folks like Paulie sit when they come here to hang out. Since it is the closest flat spot to my overflowing desk, it is where books from the shelves end up when I need to look something up to answer a customer's email. Of course, when Paulie shows up, he just scoops up everything on "his" chair and plops it onto something else, regardless of the number, age or frailty of the objects on "his" chair. His behavior (moving stuff to random places) mixed with mine (being lazy about putting referance materials away) leads to total chaos of paper items and makes it hard to find certain books when I need them.

Weekends are slow here, most of our customers seem to call from work during the week so their wives don't catch them. Therefore, the phone hardly rings at all on Sundays and I can work uninterrupted on a task like this. The only time I had to stop so far was to go feed the critters.

I'm making some big headway at the moment. My current task is to clear a set of shelves on which my collection of 17th, 18th and 19th century clay pipes was diplayed on. (I've got well over 100 clay pipes, the oldest being circa 1580) It's not that I'm tired of looking at my pipes, it's that I need the shelves that they are displayed on to house books.

As we unpack more "stuff" that had been stored in the garage, I'm finding more and more militaria stuff, books etc.. I've also been accumulating more as time goes by. From my chair I can see no less than 28 historic hats and helmets ranging from WW1 to the Gulf War from 11 countries. Most of them are displayed on styrofoam heads. The oldest are a French Adrian helmet from WW1 and a Camo-painted Doughboy helmet said to have been worn in the Ardenne forest, the newest is an Iraqi National Guard hat. There are flags ranging from a bloodstained "meatball" flag with a prayer wishing for the success of the Japanese soldier who owned it, to the 48-star flag that graced my uncle's casket, to a Kuwaiti flag from Desert Storm. There are representative shels and ammunition ranging from an 1884 dated .45-70 cartridge to a 25mm shell casing from the bushmaster canon of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq.

It's pretty cool to think that all that is left to do to get the museum built is to build the structure as we've already got the artifacts to fill it. I guess cleaning your office can be fun if every pile of "stuff" to sort contains another treasure.

All I know is that Louise will be pretty surprised when she comes in on Tuesday and can actually find my desk! OK, back to work...