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Riding the New Texrail Train

Tuesday afternoon we wanted something fun and cheap to do, so we decided to ride the new Texrail train. Instead of going to Sundance Square like usual, we decided to head east instead. The end of the line is DFW Airport. Rather than go there and have nothing to do for forty minutes except sit on the train and wait for it to head west again, we decided to get off in Grapevine.

Waiting for our train home.

The historic part of Grapevine around the train station has a blacksmith’s shop, a glassblowing shop, and some informative landmark plaques to check out. They also have a lot of boutiques and wine shops. While we were there, the blacksmith was closed. I’m not taking two of my three children into a shop filled with glass, so we mostly hearded cats walked up and down Main Street.

Skating statues in Grapevine.

We did stop in to  Kilwins for fudge and ice cream. Later down the road, we came across JudyPie, an adorable little pie shop. We were excited to see that JudyPie even has gluten-free pies. Since we had already had dessert, though, we settled for coffee and hot chocolates, one of which spilled in their lovely shop.

JudyPie

All in all, though, it was fun. Thadd has begged each day to ride the train again. Today is the last day to ride the Texrail for free, so I’m contemplating doing it again. This time, though, we might take it all the way to the airport. Sitting on a train for forty minutes doesn’t sound so bad.

Thadd on the train.
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Heating a Rice Pack Without a Microwave

Hot rice packs are wonderful tools for easing muscle aches, cramps, and just comforting to use in cold weather. I prefer rice packs to electric heating pads because you’re not tied to an electrical outlet.

About six months ago, though, I got rid of our microwave. I have some concerns about whether they are healthy, and we rarely used it anyway. Even if the potential health risks are exaggerated or non-existent, I don’t like having things that don’t get used taking up space. Since it was summer in Texas, I didn’t really miss my rice packs. Now that it’s cold, I wanted to find a way to heat them without caving and getting another microwave.

I’ve seen some things that say anything other than a microwave is a fire-risk, so if you try to heat a rice pack in an oven, please use caution. 

Basic oven method

When researching, I found many people say to use an oven set to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes. They also said to put the rice pack on a metal tray or roasting pan, and to have a pan or oven-safe dish of water alongside it to keep it from getting too dry.

My method

I was a little concerned that I may forget about it, and my oven doesn’t have a window so keeping an eye on it would be difficult. I do have a counter-top convection oven, so  that is what use. I like that the door is glass, so I can see in. It also has a timer that turns the unit off once time is up, so even if I get distracted I don’t have to worry about it over-heating. 

I always place the rice pack on a tray and put a dish of water in with it as others have suggested. I also make sure any rice packs I heat in the oven are made with 100% cotton fabric and thread. Synthetics melt easier and burn faster, whereas cotton can withstand a pretty high heat and burns slower, so cotton seems like a safer choice. 

I started with 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes. It worked, but I needed it hotter. I upped it to 300-325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. At that temperature, sometimes I have to let it cool for a minute or wrap it in a towel, but it works better for me than the lower temperature. I tend to push the limit with heat, though, so 200 degrees for thirty minutes is probably plenty for most.

Probably safer method

One other method I’ve seen is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, TURN IT OFF, and place the rice pack (on a tray with heatproof dish of water next to it) in the preheated oven. I haven’t tried this yet, but having the oven hot but turned off seems like it would minimize any risk of the rice pack overheating and burning. If I didn’t have the convection oven, I would probably use this method. 

The standard microwave method

Using a microwave is still the recommended method. To heat rice packs in the microwave, warm it in the microwave in 15 second intervals until you reach the desired temperature. Some people recommend placing a cup of water in the microwave as well.

Basic safety

Whether you use a microwave or an oven, be mindful that they can vary in power. ALWAYS test the temperature of the rice pack before using and never leave the microwave or oven unattended while heating. You should never use heat packs on individuals who are unable to let you know if it feels too warm on their skin.

Lavender rice packs at SubEarthan Cottage

SubEarthan Cottage now offers large 100% cotton flannel rice packs. These are filled with a blend of rice and lavender buds for a pleasant hint of lavender. I sewed channels in the flannel to help keep the rice evenly distributed. They can be heated as described above, or kept in the freezer to use cold. Find all of my rice packs here.

 

Lavender rice packs at SubEarthan Cottage.
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Sunbeam Mixmaster Update

Last Thanksgiving I bought a Sunbeam Mixmaster to help with all the gluten free baking. This Thanksgiving, I broke my Sunbeam Mixmaster by sticking a plastic spatula between the beaters while it was mixing blueberry muffins. Broke as in pieces fell out of the machine and the beaters stopped spinning. It’s probably a good idea to turn off a mixer before scraping the bowl.

A quick internet search told me I probably broke the plastic drive gears, and the remedy for that was a dumpster burial. At that point, I figured it wasn’t going to get worse, so I had nothing to lose by taking it apart and seeing for myself if it was reparable.

When I finally figured out how to open it, everything looked fine. No sign of anything broken, and the plastic gear that turns everything had minimal wear. The part that latches the beaters in place looked fine. I couldn’t find anything that looked like it was missing the tiny broken pieces. Little pieces that, after thinking more about it, looked oddly like the little tabs on the beaters…

At that point I grabbed the the beaters and compared them to the rarely used dough hooks. Sure enough, the tabs were missing from the beaters but not the dough hooks. Yay! Replacing beaters is cheap and easy. The only problem was now my mixer looked like this:

Luckily I reassembled the mixer without breaking anything. I tested it with a loaf of banana bread mixed with the dough hooks, and it worked fine. Amazon had replacement beaters for about $10, so it should be fully functional in about a week.

My guess is that those tabs are designed to break under pressure if something gets caught in between. While the drive gear is plastic, it’s pretty thick. Even with my mistake and a year of using it almost weekly, it looks to be in good shape. It makes me wonder if some of the people who thought they stripped the drive gear actually just needed to replace the beaters.

In the long run, if money allows, a mixer with an all-metal drive would be better. From my year of use and seeing how little wear there is on the inside, I do think this Sunbeam Mixmaster is a good budget-priced stand mixer. It has mixed everything I’ve thrown at it, including a double batch of banana bread and a meatloaf (separately, of course) with no trouble. Everything, that is, except for spatulas.

Don’t forget: this holiday season, take 30% your SubEarthan Cottage order with coupon code “ShopSmall18”. Valid through December 10, 2018.

 

 

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Cloth Gift Bags are Available Now

There’s a new batch of Christmas gift bags at the SubEarthan Cottage Shop. This year, you can choose between jute twine like I use for wrapping my soaps, or white satin ribbon for the drawstrings. 

You can find all the Christmas gift bags here: https://subearthancottage.com/product-category/holidays

That is all the fabric I have in those prints, so if you like them, get them quickly before they sell out. Right now, coupon code “NewSiteSale” is good for 30% off your entire regular-priced order.

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Sewing machine repair: Hook timing

Hook timing is a fairly common problem that sends many sewers running to the repair shop. When it happened the first time on my older Kenmore, I decided to try to repair it myself first. My thinking was, since it’s a mechanical machine with mostly metal parts, as long as I was careful, I couldn’t really hurt anything. I probably would have thought twice before attempting it on a computerized machine.

All machines are a little different, so what worked on mine may not work on yours. Something I recommend to everyone who wants to work on their own sewing machine, is getting a copy of the service manual. Honestly, I still need to do this. There’s tons of info online, but having the actual service manual is even better. You should have an owner’s manual on hand, too. It  covers basic care and maintenance. For repairs, though, the service manual will give you technical instructions and confidence. 

Hook Timing?

Before taking things apart, determine if hook timing is causing the problem. If the needle (top) thread isn’t picking up the bobbin (bottom) thread, hook timing is a prime suspect. It’s always a good idea to rule out simple problems first, though. Try swapping the needle, rethread the machine and sew on some scrap fabric. If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted the lint out of the bobbin case or you’ve been sewing on linty material, give it a good cleaning.

Once you’ve tried the easy fixes, if it still isn’t working right, look at how the needle and the bobbin hook intersect. This page, https://tv-sewingcenter.com/general/sewing-machine-timing-hook-timing, has illustrations, photos and descriptions for where they should meet on both rotary and oscillating machines. 

Taking a look at my oscillating hook.

My machine is an oscillating machine, so the hook tip should pass just above the eye of the needle. Mine was passing below the needle’s eye, so clearly the hook timing needed adjustment.

Open it up

The first and honestly the hardest step was figuring out where all the screws were that I needed to remove to take off the casing. (Actually, the first step was to turn off and unplug the machine. If you’re attempting this at home, do not skip this step!) On my Kenmore, I have to take off the side by the hand wheel, a plate on the bottom, and the front panel. 

More cleaning

While I have my machine open, I like to take the opportunity to clean it out and oil it. Oiling a linty machine, using the wrong oil or putting it in the wrong places can cause tons of problems, though, so if you’re not sure, stick to dusting only.

Find and adjust

Next, I tilted the machine on to it’s back so I could get a good look at the mechanism that rotates the hook. Once I had isolated that, I found a hex head set screw. Loosening that allowed me to gently adjust the hook position so that the tip passed just above the needle’s eye.

About in the middle, just above the motor is a silver piece with a round, black screw near the top. That is the set screw I loosened to adjust the hook timing.

When I was sure I had it properly positioned, I tightened the set screw. I turned the hand wheel a few more times, making sure everything still looked good before I put the casing back. A quick test run showed everything was working properly again.

Done!

It’s so satisfying to be able to make simple repairs to my machines myself, especially when most repair shops start around $75 and go up from there, depending on what needs to be done. 


Hook timing