Saturday, May 21, 2016

How to Solve a Cemetery Puzzle Geocache Without Actually Visiting The Cemetery


Two of my biggest hobbies are geocaching, and genealogy.

So when a cemetery puzzle cache comes up, it's always one of my favorites.  And yet, as much as I love searching for both geocaches, and for find a grave entries, driving around a cemetery to look at another cachers families stones, and then doing math and entering new figures into the geocaching app is just not my favorite thing.  In general, I prefer to solve puzzles at home and use geochecker before heading out.  Unless they are really fun field puzzles, like actual PUZZLES (Mr Data Goes Caching) at the stages, not just math problems. :-)

Most cemetery geocaches can be solved without stepping out my door.  

Step One:

This applies to most puzzle caches.  If you know the basic location (in this case, exact cemetery) and the puzzle is completely letters, it's pretty quick to solve the first few.



AB & HIJ are easy solves.  They are probably the same as the fake coords listed in the puzzle cache.  In our area, that means they are probably 41 & 076.  Often, in smaller cemeteries, you can even sole CD & KL really quickly.

So we know already A4 B1 H0 I7 J6.  And possibly C, D, K, & L.

Step Two:
In almost all puzzles, although not ALL, you won't find the straightforward A-O scenario in my example.  In most cases the letters will repeat, as there are only 9 one digit numbers and there are 15 numbers in most coordinates.

So if the coords look like this:

Having, using the step 1 method, already solved for C, F, B & H, there are only 5 one digit numbers left. 

Step Three:

Find A Grave. 

Often you won't have a full name given in the puzzle hint.  Sometimes you will.  Even in a REALLY large cemetery you can search by whatever name is given, and often find not only all of the information from the stone, but quite often a photo of the actual stone.

A clue in a recent nearby cemetery cache is "How old was Louise when she passed away 10F"

So I know her first name is Louise, and that she was over 100 years old.  I know, from the "fake" coordinates, which cemetery she is buried in. (use google maps if you need help figuring out the cemetery name. Just type the fake coords into the google maps search bar and see what cemetery is really close by.)

  Even in a VERY large cemetery, I could narrow that down really quick by searching for all the Louise's in the cemetery and skimming down through the list to find one over 100 years old.  Even if there is more than one Louise over 100 years old, if I find one with the same surname as someone else in this puzzle, I usually try that one first.  I can also go to my list of 5 remaining one digit numbers, and make an educated guess from there.

When we are looking for geocaches in cemeteries, I almost always attempt to fill any find a grave photo requests while we are there.  These are such a huge help for genealogists!

Step Four
If there is a full name given, and no find a grave listing, I will check and google.  Often birth and marriage dates and even obits with further information can be found that way.  It's basic genealogy research at that point.

Usually those steps give me all the information I need.  In some cases I may have one digit I'm not sure of, but in caches that use geochecker, that just means plugging the options in one at a time until I see the "success".

Sunday, April 24, 2016

We spend WAY too much time digging through piles of rocks.

Lately, it feels like all of our date nights are on the rocks.  Or on the rock piles at least.

We've been spending a lot of time geocaching lately.  And it's pretty amazing how many ways there are to turn a rock into a geocache.

Dan has made a few of the real rock caches - rocks he drilled holes into to insert bison tubes into them.  He bought two drill bits  - a pricey diamond encrusted one ($20) and a regular mason bit ($3.50). The diamond one did not work well. The $3.50 one has been great.  Go figure.  A 5/8 bit works well for a half inch bison tube.

My least favorites are the "needle in a haystack" caches.  A rock, in a pile of rocks.  These are a couple of my logs from one needle in a haystack rock cache near us:

Didn't find it 04/02/2016
Day #683. Spent another evening skulking behind a convenience store sorting through trash strewn rocks. The container continues to elude us. Our children believe we've gone mad. We may have. Gave up the search at dusk, but am certain we'll be drawn back by a force we cannot withstand.

Didn't find it 04/15/2016
Day #710. Some basic research & mathematical calculations confirmed that at our age, having us committed to a psychiatric facility would cost more than our children will benefit from their inheritance.

With that fact settled, we set out to dig through more rocks, determined today would be the day to get this off our list!

But we forgot to calculate in my attention span. About 40 rocks later, I got bored. That might actually be progress for me.

I'm now contemplating a rock flipping citgo event.

We will return....


We probably visited this cache 6 or 7 times.  We used three different apps on two different cell phones, AND a handheld gps unit.  All put us in the same basic location every single time.

Finally another cacher, after reading my logs, sent me a hint.  We stopped by and found the cache "in minutes" just as others had posted, leading me to believe that the others had the same type of hint we received. I don't think we would have ever found it without basically being told where it was - it was too far away from where our gps units were directing us.

But not all rock geocaches are a needle in a haystack type.  Some are just rock containers.  You can buy a fake rock cache - a hide a key shaped like a rock. Or make one out of cement.  Or use a drill bit to put a bison tube in a real rock.   You can even make a fake rock out of expand a foam, with a little bit of paint to make it blend in. 

 Below are some of the different rock cache hides we have found.  Some were a lot of fun.  Some, like the one above,  I had more fun logging DNF's for than I did looking for.  




It's hard to explain to friends why we sort through piles of rocks, or search guard rails, or look under lamp post skirts..  it's like the dirty secret of geocaching.  We'd rather tell them about the caches that take us to cool overlooks, historic sites, or caches that are puzzles or gadgets.  But we still search through piles of rocks, guardrails, and lamp post skirts.  Why?  I really don't know.  We always think it's not about the numbers for us, but we keep going to find these, rather than ignoring this type of cache.  While we prefer the unique, the scenic, the historical.. the fact is,when we head out to cache, we usually go after every cache in the area, no matter what it is.  It's all part of the game I guess.  :-)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pulled Pork, Using the Aldi Fresh Meat deal

I'm transitioning to shopping more at Aldi, now that we don't always need the bulk amounts from Sam's club.  So of course I started this week by buying a 10lb pork roast.  Because everyone scaling back on the amount of groceries they buy should buy a 10lb pork roast....

But it was $1.49 a lb!  How can you pass that deal up?  I looked it up online to type up this post, and found this:

"Every Wednesday, look for our incredible Fresh Meat Special Buy* item. When you see the sign, you'll find an extra-low price on one of our very best cuts of meat. But hurry…because at these low prices, our weekly supply is extremely limited. "

I usually shop on Wednesdays, because I'm already in this area for BSF on Wednesday mornings.  I can't believe I've never noticed this before?  I really should be more observant.  :-)

A few months back I had made this recipe, from Kevin & Amanda.  It's called Perfect Roast Pork.  And it was good.  But I didn't think it was perfect, or really worth all of that effort. Ok, so it's really not THAT much effort, but it involved mixing spices, and brining the pork...  basically, more than 3 steps, so it exceeded my attention span. :-)  If it has truly been our idea of perfect (Did you know that 40 years ago students were taught never to use the word perfect when writing? Because nothing is truly perfect, therefor it was an improper use of the word.   some older women in my BSF group shared that they were taught never to use that word.  My, how times have changed...)  I'd have repeated the steps. But although it was good, we just weren't wowed by it.  (It's apparently one of the most popular recipes on their site, and they have a LOT of great recipes, so my opinion is obviously different than that of many others.  Nothing new there.

I put my 10lb pork roast in my crockpot, dumped in a jar of Lefty's BBQ sauce (I found it cheap at Wengers, but apparently Wal-mart carries it), refilled the bbq sauce bottle 3/4 full with water and shook it up good, then dumped that into the crockpot too.

I set the crockpot to cook on high for 4 hours. Before I went to bed, I  switched the crockpot to cook on low for 10 hours. In the morning before I left, I switched it to warm.  At lunch time I shut it off completely, but let the roast sit.

At 4pm, roughly 24 hours after I started cooking the pork, I pulled the meat from the juices in the crockpot.  It looked a lot like soup- the liquid came almost to the top of the crock.  The meat fell apart as I pulled it from the crockpot into a large bowl.

Using two forks, I "Pulled" the pork.  

It was so moist, so flavorful, and so good, that I really didn't have to do anything else.  For me, this came out SO much better than the brined recipe.  

It made a LOT of pork.  I filled one gallon bag, and one half gallon bag, for the freezer, and still had about half a gallon or more that I added Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce to to make Pulled BBQ Pork sandwiches for dinner.  (Served on Ciabatta rolls, also from Aldi)

This is really, really good. I won't call it perfect. But it will be my go to recipe for pulled pork from here on out.  :-)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How to Make a Chalkboard Graphic

I'm going to assume you already have a basic knowledge of some sort of graphics program.  Gimp is free.  I use Paint Shop Pro - because I have used it for many years, and I lack the attention span (& budget!) to keep up with photoshop.  

First, The Background.
  Thank you google image search....

These sites also offer free downloads - 

Next The Fonts:

This site has links to all of the fonts on the poster above
(most of my favorites are on her list, so I didn't see any sense in replicating it. Plus, she did it better than I would have.)

I personally recommend going to Dafont and downloading just about everything ever created by Kimberly Geiswein.  I can't believe all of these gorgeous fonts are free.
Some of my favorites:

Installing new fonts is super easy.  In most cases, you can unzip them, open 
Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Fonts 
or in your windows start menu, search "fonts"
Then copy the fonts and paste them in the font folder
If you have a graphics program open, you'll probably have to close it and restart it for the new fonts to appear.
If you need more detailed instructions:

Then, The Dingbats:
All those banners & frames?  Even mustaches and animals, or cars, or whatever... they can be found in dingbat fonts.
I'd start with:

KG Flavor & Frames
That will give you all sorts of banners and buntings to work with

But the options are pretty endless.  Use google and search for things like "snowman dingbat font", etc.  KG has several varieties of frames. I've downloaded them all.

Those who are pretty serious about this stuff use software to organize their fonts, or they print them into a binder. Me? I google the dingbat font I'm using to remember which letter/number = which graphic.  Probably not the best way, but it really is the easiest.  :-)

Organize with Software:

Organize In a Binder:

The graphic above, for KG Flavor & frames, does not show all of the options - just a good sampling of them.  

Some Examples:

(Have I gone 10 minutes without mentioning that I have a gorgeous new grandson?  Let's rectify that quickly!!)

Not A Pinterest Baker Makes Lemon Blueberry Cake

Working from the recipe found here:

Step 1 - Check the Ingredients

  I don't have buttermilk, but that's easy to make.  (I do have fresh from the dairy milk, and a bag of lemons from Aldi)

Find that our daughter does not like the cherry cream cheese I bought at Wengers, because it was super cheap, on her bagels, she she used some of the plain cream cheese I bought for the icing.  

Check the pan cabinet.  I have a collection of stackable wedding cake pans that I bought for $1.50 at a yard sale and keep, but will likely never, ever, use.  None of them are the same size.   I have two wilsons cake pans from a cake decorating class my daughter and I took for fun 7 years ago.  I know it was 7 years ago, because facebook just showed me the reminder photo this week.  I didn't need facebook to remind me that we really, really sucked at cake decorating.  And that these pans probably have not been used in the 7 years since we took this class, because I really didn't like them.

It may be time to re-evaluate my idea that I am not a hoarder, and that I'm really good about getting rid of things we do not use.  Another day.  Today I am thankful for the pans, and that my cheesecake pan is roughly the same size.

I wonder if pie pans would work in a pinch? Do normal people have 3 cake pans? 

Remember that we just gave away all the eggs.  Go out to the hen house to collect the eggs (by the way, there's 3 inches of snow on the ground.  April 9th, 2016, in Central PA.)  Feed the chickens & peacocks while I'm out there, throw some scratch grain for the ducks and guineas.
Come back inside, find that both the sugar and flour canisters are empty.  Refill them from the huge sam's club bags of sugar and flour that I keep in the pantry.  Wonder if I could start buying smaller bags now that the kids are pretty much grown?  How much money am I saving, especially when you calculate how much I spill all over the counter while refilling the canisters from these huge bags?  Thoughts for another day.

This cake is TIME consuming. :-)

The oven was preheating, I set the plastic lid to the flour canister near the back burner of the stove while refilling the canister, and melted the lid. Just a little.

Step 2 - Mix the ingredients

Zest the lemons.  I like zesting lemons.  I don't like squeezing the juice from lemons.  Especially when I don't think this through, and attempt to squeeze the juice right on top of the zest.  Its harder to find the seeds in the zest.

Squeeze the rest of the lemons into a second bowl, separate from the zest.  Find cheesecloth, find the scissors that belong in the kitchen drawer, but are not in the kitchen drawer.  Attempt to strain lemon juice, with seeds, into the zest.  The cheesecloth slips, seeds go in the zest.  I kid you not, I'm that bad at this.  I think I got all the seeds out, but there's  possibility my version of this cake will include at least one lemon seed.

Manage to mix all the rest of the ingredients without any real incident.  Although I should have softened the butter a bit more.

Toss the frozen blueberries in flour. Gently fold into the batter, using a spatula.  Huh.  She's right, my batter isn't blue.  (Don't worry, I'll screw that up later)

Step 3 - Prep the pans, Pour the Batter, Bake.

The instructions say to lightly grease and flour the pans with nonstick baking spray.  Huh?  Grease and flour OR baking spray, I understand..  is there a nonstick spray that comes with the flour in it?  Or do I grease the pans with the nonstick spray, then flour them?  That's the choice I went with.  It is easier, faster, and less messy then greasing them with crisco then flouring them.

Pouring the batter evenly into 3 pans was not fun for me.  It is really thick.  I find it highly unlikely I poured evenly.  And when shaking the pans to cover the bottoms with the batter didn't work, I used the spatula, and turned the batter blue.  (Told you I screwed that up later)

Put the pans in the oven, and then realize I should have taken a photo of the blue batter in the pans.  Take one back out to take a photo.

Spend the 21 Minute baking time typing this post.  How can it take that long to type this?  I haven't even added any photos or anything yet.

When the oven timer goes off, look for toothpicks.  Why do we have toothpicks? When did I buy these?  Nevermind, just be happy I have them.  They come out clean.  Cake is done.

Pull pans from the oven - this does NOT look right.  Tiny,super thin, dense layers. Read over instructions.  I obviously over mixed.  Apparently it does not take much to over mix.  I should have read this recipe with a little more care before beginning.  Especially the part at the end where she says this cake could be made in a 9x13 pan.  (Of course she's never made it that way - she always makes it in layers. But theoretically, people like me could learn to mix it a LOT less and pour it willy nilly in a 9x13 pan.  If we ever master the lemon juice straining through cheesecloth)

The Icing
The icing recipe calls for 1-2 T of heavy cream.  What would you do with the rest of the carton?  We have milk straight from the dairy, it's about 5% fat - and it will have to do.  :-)  Honestly, after seeing how the cake turned out, I wasn't going to stress over the icing.  Had the layers been all nice and fluffy, I may have pulled out the cake decorating supplies and piped the icing and made this pretty..  but today, a spatula was good enough.

The Verdict:
It has a good taste. The icing is a bit much, but that might be because my layers are so thin.  I've made crepes (poorly) that were almost this thick...

 If I make it again, I will not use the kitchenaid at all - and hopefully that will solve the texture issue.  Honestly, I'd be tempted to make this with a boxed cake mix.  And I'd definitely use a 9x13 pan.  

1. I know it's terribly hard not to confuse us, especially after seeing this cake, but I am NOT the family member who is featured in wedding and cake magazines, and competes  on  (and WINS!) baking shows on tv.  That's my husband's cousins wife.  We don't share the same last name, but we're both married to descendents of the same set of grandparents..  so I don't know why I didn't inherit her cake decorating skills.  Life's just not fair.  :-)

2. My baking process does in no way reflect on the quality of the recipe.  It does however, accurately reflect my attention span and attention to detail.  Unfortunately.

3.  I'm really not completely incompetent in the kitchen.  I cook pretty well. I made things like pasta and pierogies from scratch. I even bake regularly. Really.  But I'm better with things that do not require precise measurements and exact detailed instructions.  See note 2 on my attention span.

4. Yes, I do know how footnotes are supposed to work.  No, I don't particularly care that I used them improperly here.  See Attention To Details under note 2.