2014 Christmas Gift Ideas

cgifts1Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin Laid an egg... That's right, I am back with another edition of last minute gift ideas! There is always someone hard to find a gift for on your Christmas list. This is my lame attempt to give you some ideas. Some are top sellers while others may be a tad out there. The important thing is to jar your brain a bit to try and shake out an idea.

Last year I warned you away from electronics. This year I am all for them.  I can be wishy-washy like that. Actually, advances in tech over a couple of years has made a huge difference. Services and apps have become pretty interchangeable. Amazon's "Fire" tablets are good choices for those who consume media. Let me restate that. They are great for those who have a Prime account and unlimited downloads. There are "Fire" tablets ranging from cutting edge, down to the toddler who has everything (except a tablet). As long as we are on the Amazon subject, the top seller this year is (drumroll please) the GoPro Hero 4 video camera. If you are going higher end, you will be impressed with Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 - 12" tablets. Low end? Search for key finders and cooking thermometers with apps that work on your particular phone.

Let's Play! In family friendly games, I am going with Bounce Off. This is a table-top game where teams use different colored balls in an attempt to make a particular pattern on a grid. It is very similar to beer pong, but your kids don't need to know that. Top selling video game this year goes to Super Smash Brothers. As I warned you last year, kids get new stuff faster than adults. Ask parents if the kids already have this particular game. For my next pick, I am going out on a limb. I cannot recommend the next game to  those easily offended by anything. Cards Against Humanity goes beyond obnoxious and into hilarious. The card game (rated for 17+) is played much like the old mad lib game, but the answers you give are limited by cards you have in your hand. I recommend you look up videos of this game being played. It is one of the biggest sellers of the year, but far from appropriate for all.

holysocksSocks again! Before I start on clothes, I must ask a question of today's parents. How do teenagers decide what size inseam they wear? OK, enough picking on the future leaders of society. North Face is still around, still fashionable, still expensive. Columbia zip up fleece is my choice for both men and women. If you happen to work for a living, Carhartt is a safe choice, along with Berne and other similar work wear. Stay away from branded work boots. Caterpillar makes some rough, tough construction equipment... and boots. That is just the manufacturer that came to mind. John Deere and many others are guilty of having their names attached to painfully constructed footwear. Off the beaten path and my pick for sports fans is Busy Block Ugly Sweater. Yes, it looks like a team affiliated ugly Christmas sweater. Who, other than sports fans, would appreciate such textile audacity? For the gals, check out Solemate Mis-Matched Socks. Yep...socks again.

Books. What are books? It is getting to the point that presenting a book as a present is similar to gifting a milking stool, or some lantern wicks. "To bad", says I. Some of you are getting books. How about a Knock-Knock Joke book for kids? They are going to try to tell them anyway. Why not give them the benefit of some reference material? Someday you will catch them repeating that "Man from Nantuckett" limerick and wish you had intervened! For the grown-up reader, I would go with "Unbroken". Not only is this a touching and classic tale of endurance, the movie comes out Christmas day 2014. Look who just became a timely gift giver!

Diamonds are a girls best friend. Sorry ladies, that is sexist language today. Besides, you've seen "Madmen". You know how the advertising game works sweetie (puffs on cigarette, drinks highball, eyes secretary).  In case you didn't notice I am going retro with this pick. Guess, Fossil, and Michael Kor are on the watch list this year. By that, I mean list for watches. A sad note for the guys who have been buying one Pandora bead per holiday for the last few years... Alex & Ani Bangle Bars are the next new thing.

Before I run off to wrap more presents I have one that was on the list last year, but you may want to avoid in 2014. The fabulous Kuerig coffee machine that took the world by storm a few years back is attempting caffeinated suicide. The new Kuerig 2.0 line of coffee makers has a sensor that only allows the use of Keurig branded coffee pods. Ba Humbug! Since ovthCITLWGH6er 50 percent of Kuerig's buyers use third party coffee pods, this cannot turn out well. I would avoid the 2.0 machines.

There you go. Definitely not a full list, but maybe something to help you out on some of your gifting. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Dove Hunting

dove1Of all the crazy things that sportsmen do, dove hunting has to be one of the most idiotic. Dove hunters get up too early, and hunt when its too hot. They buy guns that are too expensive, and blast too many shells at birds that are too fast. They sit in fence rows, brush piles, corn fields, lawn chairs, deer stands, and stickery trickery berry patches. This is all in an attempt to bag a bird with a breast the size of a walnut. To make matters worse, this year Missouri's dove season started on the last day of a 3 day weekend. You would be a fool to give up sleep to pursue such trivial creatures on a holiday.

muddybootsMy friend and I skooched (that is correct English in Missouri) our way up the dirt path that farm equipment had left through the bean field towards some old grain bins. Our footprints grew larger as the brownish clay soil gathered on our boots. We had started at daybreak next to the grain bins along the edge of the field. Another farmer had cut silage in the next field over. We knew the doves would be meeting there for breakfast. What we didn't realize was mosquitoes eat breakfast long before doves do.

Looking straight up into the gray morning sky, I could see the mosquitoes had entered a holding pattern over my head. The smaller ones would dive-bomb me in the shoulder every now and then to distract me as the big ones were cleared for descent to aim for my face and neck. I tried to focus on the doves flying a route along a power line an eighth of a mile from us. "Holy crap!" says my hunting partner, "You have a huge mosquito on your hat". As a kid, I don't know how many times I saw Alan Hale - "The Skipper" hit Bob Denver - "Gilligan" with his skipper's hat, but I agreed to play Gilligan's role if it would stop the attack. Since the mosquitoes and my buddy were having all the fun, a relocation down the slick path to the power lines seemed like a good distraction.

Once we got situated closer to the power lines the doves decided to change course, and fly an eighth mile to either side of our new location. We discussed camo, and why the doves kept avoiding our area. I sometimes laugh at our inability to think as wild animals. If I can pick out a hunter in camo at a quarter mile, I am sure that it is much more simple for a dove flying overhead. Our new location was a bust. At least the mosquitoes didn't follow us. They were probably just too heavy at that point to fly.

Skootch - to sneak as quietly as possible from on spot to another. We skootched through the clay back toward the grain bins. As we approached our previous location, we noticed doves gathering in a dead tree just beyond the bins. A plan was quickly formed where my hunting buddy would sneak along one side of the bins, then I would walk out the other side, spooking the wary quarry towards him. I gave him about a minute before I walked out nonchalantly singing, "The movie star, the professor and Marie Ann"... Blam Blam Blam! The doves had acted as I predicted. As they passed my hunting buddy, he slung $5 down the barrel and successfully knocked one down. As he returned victorious, he tossed the bird into the bed of my truck. "You can have him", he said.

I headed for home. It felt like my truck had lost power, or that I had a greater load than when I had arrived to hunt,  A mysterious object had caused a rapid decompression in a rear tire on my toy hauler. That, combined with the weight of the dove in the bed of my truck, caused my fuel gauge to drop a little as I lumbered the 3 miles home. I would need to fix that tire tomorrow... and refill the LP tanks... and put more diesel in the truck. As the calculations went through my head, I determined that dove hunting must be the most expensive way to satisfy ones desire to put meat on the table.

I remember a humorous piece by Jeff Foxworthy where he explained that his wife should be more appreciative of venison. With all of the expenses figured in, he calculated that deer meat was the most expensive meat on the planet.  I beg to differ. The same 4-wheeler, trailer, pickup, an other accoutrements that were used on Jeff's deer hunt were employed on our dove outing. The difference is in the return on investment. Since I was shooting a 20 gauge, I was only throwing an ounce of shot bear6down the barrel at a time. This was done with the hopes of earning a one ounce dove breast per shot. That is close to a one-to-one ratio. With that calculation in mind, Jeff would have had to fire a round from a battleship to knock down a 250 pound buck to be in the same ballpark. Larger game / more meat can be obtained with a comparatively teeny bullet.

So, there you have it. This article is not intended to make light of those who take their dove hunting seriously. Consider it instead as a plea for my wife to exult in my value-mindedness when I discuss another elk hunting trip to Colorado, or bear hunting expedition to Minnesota. After all, i am just trying to save us some money... comparatively.

Irish Lore

Want to seem full of Irisirelandmaph knowledge this St. Patrick’s Day? This article may not help much, but it can’t hurt!

Ireland’s population has not yet rebounded from losses during the Great Potato Famine. The famine was responsible for much of Ireland’s emigration. While the population of Ireland was roughly 6.8 million in 2012, there are nearly 35 million U.S. citizens of Irish descent. This may explain the Americanization of St. Patrick’s Day. Much like St Nicholas and Christmas, we have gradually separated the reason from the season. Let’s look at some facts that may not fit with your understanding of Irish lore.

St. Patrick was NOT a leprechaun, nor is St. Patrick a myth. Saints are real people. Whether or not you choose to believe they performed miracles is up to you, but the person is real. Did St Patrick drive the serpents from Ireland and into the sea? According to scientists, there is no evidence of any serpents in post-glacier Ireland. So, if you are a realist, the answer is no. If you believe scientists are a bunch of know-it-alls trying to ruin a good story, then yes… yes he did.

leprechaunThe leprechaun has become a symbol for St. Patrick’s Day, but we have even warped the perception of these little troublemakers. In Irish folklore, Leprechauns wear red. What? You read that right. Our stories often involve the granting of wishes and pots of gold.  This may glamorize the little buggers as friendly and mischievous. The first fables of leprechauns involved the kidnapping and ransoming of a king by dragging his royal highness into the ocean. That’s not very friendly!

If you happen upon a leprechaun, you may notice he has a short cane. Stay back! This is actually a Gaelic weapon known as a shelale. Depictions often make the stick look like a cane, but it has a heavy, bulbous end used to whoop knots on your head. Keep that in mind if you try to capture a leprechaun. Why would you attempt capture? When captured, a leprechaun will offer his treasure in trade for his freedom. Beware the single gold coin he carries. It will disappear as soon as he does. Hold out for the good stuff. I am not BlarneyCastleBlarneyStonea leprechaun hunter, but if you would like to try, I offer this advice… The only leprechauns I have ever chanced to witness myself were behind pubs and bars in mid-spring, at around 2 A.M.

If you are leaving a bar at 2 A.M., I would advise kissing the blarney stone before driving. Kissing the Blarney stone is said to give one the gift of eloquent speech. Don’t fall victim to someone wearing a “Kiss My Blarney Stone” tee shirt. The actual stone is mounted permanently in Blarney Castle 5 miles from Cork, Ireland. Over 300,000 people a year make the trek to kiss this stone. Just remember, you are not just kissing the Blarney stone, but everyone else who has kissed it as well.

guinnessLet’s see… What have I forgotten? Shamrocks have 3 leaves. Corned beef is actually salt cured beef. Before an individual piece of salt was called a grain it was a kernel, before that a corn. Lucky Charms were created in 1963 as a way to sell more Cheerio ingredients. Originally, the cereal had 3 marshmallow shapes, but now has 8. Guinness is brewed in several countries, including Nigeria, Canada, The Bahamas, and Indonesia.

That should about cover it for this year. By no means all of the information about St. Patrick’s Day, but enough to keep you ahead in a water cooler conversation. Remember not to pinch anyone larger than yourself. I leave you with an old Irish saying.  Drink is the curse of the land. It makes you fight with your neighbor. It makes you shoot at your landlord, and it makes you miss him.”

Celtic Woman - Amazing Grace

Frozen Pipes on the Farm

frozenpipes2Have you ever been on vacation, and encountered hard water? Depending on where you live, you may have hard water at home. The kind of water that leaves towels stiff and won’t let soap build suds? We have been experiencing extremely hard water for the last week. Our water has gotten so hard that, at times, it has refused to flow through pipes or into cattle waterers. I am pretty sure the change in our water’s viscosity is due to the negative temperatures, and not mineral contaminants.

If you have a modern, well-thought-out structure, chances are low that your water lines will freeze.The chance is there though. Any cracks or gaps where cold air can infiltrate your house can result in a frozen pipe. Despite my efforts, we have frozen up twice at our house, once at my mother’s, and had one block of ice previously known as a cattle waterer.  It would seem that my poor record would disqualify me from giving advice on keeping water pipes thawed and running. Not so, my friends. Any experience you can walk away from is a chance to learn. Here is what I have learned so far.

Start looking for trouble areas when temps drop to the thirties and forties. Stick your hand into your livestock waterers.Is the water really cold? The heater may have burned out since last winter. Replacing it before a hard freeze will save you a broken water pipe later. Ice sculptures are beautiful. Unless your want to install some free-form, modern ice art in your feeding pen, I would suggest you check the heaters in your cattle waterers.frozenpipes1

Well and pump houses can be above or below ground. This is where your water gets pumped to and directed from. If you don’t have heat in a well house, at least add a heat lamp. One of our old water systems has a pressure tank and water valves below ground under a large trap door. After adding a heat lamp I layer old carpet on top of the door to stop cold air from flowing down. Make sure nothing flammable is close to the hot lamp.

Water pipes have frozen at my house where the new addition connects to the old structure.The problem did not come from cold air seeping through the walls. The cold air sneaked in from above. A little under-sight on my part caused the problem.When I connected the addition, I left the insulation in the connecting wall to act as a sound barrier. At the top of the wall are my pipes. This left them well insulated from much of the heat from the interior rooms, but inadequately insulated above. I have blown in 3 feet of insulation in my attic, making it look like a winter wonderland. This did not stop cold air from seeping down the old roof line and into the wall. I added a vent to the interior wall to allow warm air into the cavity, and stuffed more insulation into gaps above the pipes.

frozenpipes3If you are unsure whether or not your pipes can stand the cold, you can use an old standby. Leaving faucets dripping or dribbling, will keep the water flowing. Yes, it is wasteful, but how wasteful is it when a water pipe bursts and sends a few thousand gallons of water into your house? When the crew from “This Old House” is knocking on your door with crowbars in hand, a few nights of faucet dripping will seem cheap. As soon as possible, the cold areas around your pipes should be insulated to ward off problems in the future. As long as we are on the subject of house damage, let me give you a little tip many don’t think of. Take your family around the house and show them where utilities shutoffs are located, and how to operate them. When you are an hour from the house and get the kitchen-floor-is-covered-with-water call, you will thank me for that little piece of advice!

Do hot water pipes freeze first? Only if they get below 32 degrees before the cold water pipes. I believe this theory comes from the wastefulness I mentioned above. I grew up in a farm house with wood heat. Straw bales were stacked around the foundation on the North facing walls during the winter month to ward off air infiltration. Drip, drip, drip was heard all night long in an attempt to stave off freezing pipes. To let the hot water drip was more expensive than the cold water. The water heater would have to heat more water. This is why the belief still exists that hot water pipes freeze more often than cold water pipes.

frozenpipes4Before I get into the art of thawing frozen pipes, let me say one thing… Don’t burn your house down! There are commercial (aka “salamander”) heaters that can melt the insulation off of your wiring. Often, there are flammables where you wouldn’t expect them to be. Pay close attention to your surroundings, and don’t rush it. If you can determine where the pipe is frozen, a hair dryer is all that is needed to thaw things out (please note that a hair dryer can be hot enough to ignite flammables). If you cannot access the area, or cannot locate the frozen section, a larger heating unit, and possibly professional help, is needed.

For frozen livestock tanks and outdoor piping, you can turn up the heat. The kerosene and diesel “salamander” area heaters work well.There is still danger of too much heat. Of the 6 frozenpipes5older metal cattle waterers left on the farm, only one has all of its thermal and wiring insulation.The others have all been scarred by heaters placed to close in an effort to speed thawing. I still have a large kerosene, blower-type heater, but I prefer to use a smaller LP version when possible. A ten pound tank and an inverter in my truck make this a much more feasible option for one person than the heavy kerosene model.

In extreme temperatures, remember to use your noggin (that’s your head, for the younger readers). Your safety and well-being is more important than any equipment. Don’t leave open flame heaters unattended. Don’t place heaters to close to materials that can melt, or catch fire. Above all, don’t risk your safety in extremely cold temperatures.