Ciambella Deliciousness

We got Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as a wedding gift over three years ago. Until recently, the only recipe we had tried from there was her pizza dough recipe. Yes, in three years, the only recipe we had even attempted from quite possibly THE Italian recipe woman was pizza dough… (but it’s damn good pizza dough)

Well, we were out all day, ate a late lunch, so by the time we finally got home it was after dinner time and we really weren’t all that hungry for a meal, but still needed something in our bellies. I knew I didn’t want to be up all night preparing something, and we didn’t really have a whole lot of stuff in our pantry, so I knew just who to turn to.

I dusted off our copy, found the desserts section, and started reading through the various recipes until I found one I felt like attempting. That one was her grandmother’s ciambella recipe. Pretty straightforward, not a lot of ingredients, and not a whole lot of time. Perfect. L got the boys bathed, and I got to cooking. An hour-ish later, the boys were in their PJs, the counter was covered with flour, and we were eating delicious cake. It is now going to become one of our regulars, and we’ve made a decision to actually open up her cookbook and try some new things. Recipe is below, permanent link lives here. I’ll post a photo when I make it again… we dug into before I could snap a quick pic.

Ingredients
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 c flour (preferably non-bleached, all-purpose)
Skin of 1 lemon, grated
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 c milk
2 eggs

Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients while melting the butter (but don’t let the butter get too hot – 10 second increments in the microwave and stirring until melted does the trick, or putting it in a pan over low heat works too).
3. Add the butter, milk, 1 egg, the white of the other egg, and all but about 1 tsp of the other yolk to the dry ingredients and mix together.
4. Transfer everything to the counter and knead, adding more flour/milk as necessary to get a good dough that is dry but still holds itself together.
5. Make the dough into a roll about 2″ in diameter, then try as best as you can to make it into a circle.
6. Smear a baking sheet with butter, sprinkle with flour, then put the dough ring in the middle and brush with the leftover 1 tsp of egg yolk (and maybe a little bit of water).
7. Stick it into the oven and let it bake for ~35 minutes.
8. Marcella says to let it cool, then wrap it up in foil or store it in a tin bin and enjoy the next day. Do what you want. It’s delicious.

St. Paddy’s [Snow] Day

March in VA is pretty unpredictable. The other day, it was a balmy 70 degrees, this morning we awoke to an inch of snow on the ground! But, since we do live in VA and our state isn’t as good as others in handling snow “emergencies,” my work always operates under a delayed opening to give VDOT a little more time to clear the roads. Which is great, since it gives me a few more hours in the morning to do farm chores!

I normally don’t get to feed the chickens in the mornings during the week because they’re “lazy” and don’t come out of the coop until the sun comes up. And if I throw food out to entice them to carpe mane (not sure if that’s a thing or not, but just roll with it) the pigs eat it instead (they know how to carpe mane). So this morning I was able to give the kittens and pigs food and fill up watering apparatuses, come back inside and eat my own breakfast, and then feed the chickens after the sun finally came out. We were also able to get some more seeds started!

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So here’s to small victories, in hopes that spring will be here to stay! Enjoy a shot or two of whisky (as opposed to green beer) in celebration and remembrance of the “saint” (technically was never canonised, but he was still a good dude).

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Replacing the Air Filter(s) In the Civic

Time for another automobile maintenance post for those who are following along. Was able to get this done before starting my new job and before the “heavy” snow arrived. This one is a two for one – the air filter AND the cabin air filter replacement. As most of my auto maintenance posts are, this one uses our 2009 Civic as the example, but this procedure is pretty straightforward and the same basic steps can be followed for most other vehicles.

Different manufacturers recommend different intervals on when to change your air filter. But the easy answer is to replace it when it gets dirty. I’m ashamed as to how long I waited, you can see the pictures below. The reason you need a filter is so dirt, dust, and other particles don’t get sucked into your engine, acting as abrasive little demons shortening the lifespan of your engine. The reason you need a clean air filter is because your engine needs a certain ratio of air (oxygen, really) to gasoline to operate efficiently. If your filter is too dirty then the flow of air is reduced, therefore making your mixture more rich with gasoline, causing you to use more gas than necessary to run your engine. So you want a clean filter.

If you don’t know how dirty the filter is, then take it out and look at it. If you don’t know where the filter is, crack open your user manual, check google, or just look for the tube that looks like it is sucking outside air into the engine. Here is where it is in the Civic:

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A zoomed in look shows the clamps you have to unclamp:
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Remove the filter housing, look at the filter, and decide whether it’s dirty enough to replace:

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Put the new filter where the old one, put the housing back, re-clamp, and you’re done. Take a look at this side by side:
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The second part of this post involves the cabin air filter replacement. This is important because it keeps harmful particles out of your AC system and also out of your lungs. Check your manual for where it is; it’s normally behind the glove box. Here is the step by step shown in pictures:

Press the sides where the glove box connects to the dash. Some cars you need a screwdriver or socket wrench:

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Ensure you have emptied the contents of your glove box or else they will end up on your floor. Behind the glove box is the housing for the cabin air filter. In the Civic, just press these side tabs and pull out.

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Here’s the old one next to the new one:

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Make sure your filter is installed properly (look at the arrows on the filter and the housing):
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Pretty simple stuff, huh? Took me about 5 minutes, mainly because I had to stop and snap pictures.

How To Change Your Motor Oil

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Ok, I know this might be rudimentary for many of you readers out there, however, with the unexpected popularity of my post on changing the third brake light, I figured why not? My reason for writing that post was to reach at least one person to save him or her from unnecessarily spending too much money, so that same reasoning applies here.

If you have never changed your oil before, fear not! This is one of the easiest jobs to do yourself, there is very little risk of screwing things up, and you’ll be able to save yourself a bunch of money! All you need are a few tools, some elbow grease, and about a half hour and you can be a back yard mechanic too. It’s also a great father/son bonding experience (my dad taught me, his dad taught him, I’m sure Sr. taught Jr., and I’ll teach WV when he’s a couple years older).

In this post, I will show you how I change the oil in our 2009 Honda Civic. Different manufacturers (and even different models from the same manufacturer) will have things moved around a bit, but the basic principles still apply. Bottom line up front, here are the steps (explained in further detail below):

Step 1: Elevate the front of the vehicle.
Step 2: Remove drain plug, let oil drain into pan, replace drain plug.
Step 3: Remove filter, let oil drain into pan, replace filter.
Step 4: Refill engine with new oil.
Step 5: Clean up.
Step 6: Check for leaks.

P1070581Here’s a list of what you need:
Ramps or jack stands
Oil pan (that can handle the volume of oil in your engine)
Socket wrench (our Civic takes a 17 mm socket)
Towels/rags
Replacement filter
Replacement oil
Funnel (optional)
Filter wrench (optional)

If you’re not sure what weight/volume of oil or filter type your car needs, consult your owner’s manual. If you cannot find your manual (or the information), then Amsoil has a pretty good app to find out what you need (assuming your vehicle is a 1980 or newer). You don’t have to go with Amsoil for your oil and filter, but the site tells you what your car needs so you can get whatever brand you prefer. Plus, it gives you the option to choose metric or not, so you normal people who use a base 10 measuring system and us silly Americans with our nonsense measuring system can all get the right volumes (1 qt ≈ 0.946 L).

Step 1: Elevate the front of the vehicle. I use ramps. You can get a good pair for around $50, check your local AutoZone/Advance/Pep Boys/etc. Some people prefer to use jack stands, but I think they’re too much of a hassle for changing oil; it’s much easier to set out ramps and drive on up. Heck, you could drive one side of your car onto the curb if you feel like it (and you have a curb). Whatever you do, make sure that the car is secure (parking break on ramps!) before you go crawling underneath it. DO NOT CRAWL UNDERNEATH THE CAR IF IT IS ONLY SUPPORTED BY JACKS. Get yourself some jack stands or ramps, it’s not worth the risk to save a few bucks and be crushed by a car.
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Step 2: Make sure the engine is warmed up, but not hot. If you’ve been driving around, put the front end up and let it sit for a while. The oil can get really hot and burn your hands. On the other hand, if it’s really freaking cold outside and the oil has just been chilling (literally) in your engine, then you want to crank the engine and let it run for a bit so the oil flows a little better. Position your oil pan underneath the drain plug, keeping in mind that the laws of physics (gotta love fluid dynamics!) will ensure that the oil will initially shoot farther in the x-direction (using the ground as the x-axis, x = 0 is the point on the x-axis directly below the drain plug) and the stream will gradually move back towards x = 0 as the engine drains. It doesn’t matter which way you define as positive, you don’t want the oil to overshoot the pan. Loosen the drain plug with the socket wrench, and then slowly twist it out with your fingers, keeping pressure against the plug so it doesn’t shoot out and get lost in the oil pan.
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Once the oil is done draining, clean up the drain plug, clean around the area where the drain plug goes, and screw it back in there (you can use a torque wrench, but a normal-strengthed person with a normal socket wrench will most likely not over-tighten the plug). Some peoplemanufacturers recommend replacing the drain plug each time you replace the oil. Some cars also have a crush washer that goes between the oil pan and the drain plug that crushes (hence the name) when you tighten the plug and prevents the plug from getting even tighter. Manufacturers also recommend to replace these each time*. The first time I changed the oil in the Civic, I threw away the crush washer. I am still using the same drain plug. See any evidence of leakage in the picture above?

Step 3: Using the filter wrench (or a leather belt, or your hands if you’re Paul Bunyan), loosen the filter, then slowly twist it out using your hand(s). Be sure to keep pressure in the opposite direction, though, otherwise as soon as that filter comes free of the threads, it will slip out of your oily hands and plop right into your oil pan, splashing oil everywhere (yes, I know this from experience). Let the oil drain out of there, wipe out around where the filter screws in, then dip your finger into the used motor oil and spread it around the new filter’s gasket (to ensure a proper seal), and screw the new filter into place. I normally go hand tight (not so I’m straining) plus 1/4 turn with the wrench. Look at all that nastiness from the winter roads on the filter…
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Step 4: Double check that you put the drain plug back in (again, speaking from experience). Locate on your engine (under the hood) where the motor oil goes, and unscrew the cap. Using a funnel (or very steady hands), pour the new oil into the opening. My grandfather (and father, and now me) always said “You pay for the oil in the bottom of the bottle,” so I let the bottle sit there and REALLY drain. Screw the cap back on, close the hood, and you’re good to go.
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Step 5: Clean up. I transfer the used motor oil into an older container (you could even use the oil bottles you just emptied), stuff the old filter with paper towel, put it back in the box, and put it in a plastic bag with the hole facing upwards so residual oil doesn’t come out. Most shops and municipal waste collection facilities can recycle old oil and filters for you – call around and check. And look at how clean that new oil is compared to the old!

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Step 6: Bring the front end of your car back down to the ground, crank it up, check for leaks. I normally let the engine run for about 10 minutes, check underneath for leaks, then check the level with the dipstick. If I did it right, I’ve got the exact level of oil I need. If I didn’t, I either need to drain some or add some (it’s a lot easier to add, so better to undershoot). Take it for a spin (or just leave it running for a few minutes) and come back and re-check for leaks.

I will say, I’m so glad that I finally have my own garage. For the past few years I have had to change the oil (and do all other car maintenance) completely outside. And it always seemed like I chose the windiest day of the year to change the oil. Now I can do my work INSIDE A GARAGE and be somewhat protected from the elements. And eventually I’ll insulate it so I can stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer!

It’s entirely up to you whether you want to use conventional or synthetic oil in your vehicle. I use synthetic, since the Amsoil synthetic is good for 25k miles or 1 year, whichever comes first. A little more expensive up front, but the savings do add up. For full synthetic and the filters (the Amsoil filters for the Civic are only good for 15k miles, so I get two), the total cost comes out to about $60. That’s it. For the entire year. Most shops (at least around here) charge between $20-$30 for a conventional oil change, which has to be done every 3,000 miles. If you drive 15k miles in a year, that’s between $100-$150 you’re spending a year on oil changes. If you’re driving 24k miles a year, you’re up at $160-$240 a year. Even with the up front cost of buying ramps ($50) and tools ($10-$20) you’re spending less in that first year, and the savings add up for each subsequent change. Not to mention saving you the hassle of dropping your car off, waiting, or getting someone else to pick you up and bring you back, and losing the whole day.

So if you’ve never changed your own oil before, go ahead and give it a try. It’s not terribly difficult, and it’s really hard to screw it up. It takes less time and money than taking it to the shop, and it gives you that nice sense of accomplishment of doing something yourself and sticking it to the man!

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*I have a hypothesis that stealerships and garages just take an impact wrench to the drain plug and the crush washer prevents them from torquing (not twerking) so hard that the oil pan cracks. This is also why manufacturers recommend replacing the washer and drain plug, because they know people will torque the hell out of them and render them non-reusable. The first time I changed L’s oil in her car when we were dating, I was doing pull-ups on the breaker bar trying to get the dang plug to turn! The manufacturer recommendation is about 30 ft-lbs. At the time, I was about 180 lbs, give or take 5. My breaker bar is 18 inches.

A New Week + Coffee Cake

What a busy week/weekend! We had the gas company come hook up our new stove, our counter tops came in, our dishwasher came in (although it was the wrong one, so really we got 2 dishwashers last week), and we moved our fridge back across the kitchen to its rightful spot. I also laid some brick to support a light post that had fallen over years before we bought the house (with free bricks) and upgraded the lanterns on top of the posts. The last time I did any masonry work was about 8 or 9 years ago when I was helping a coworker build his house out of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) bricks. So, for a software developer who is extremely inexperienced at laying brick, I think the job is acceptable:

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We hadn’t used the oven to cook anything yet since the inside still smelled like the oils used in production, so after many vinegar/water wipes and running the oven for a couple hours at a time, then finally mixing up a throw-away batch of bread to cook and try to absorb the rest of the smells, the oven was finally ready! And the chickens (and kittens) got nice, warm, yeastless, probably flavorless, bread!

Saturday I whipped up a batch of chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, and by Sunday they were all but gone. So after dinner Sunday evening, we needed something to satisfy the sweet tooth. The choice was between oatmeal cookies and coffee cake. The coffee cake won. I took it out of the oven around 9:30 in the evening, then just let it cool overnight and when we woke up we had fresh and delicious coffee cake!

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The recipe is below, modified from this one. I fully intend to make further modifications, maybe sprinkling the pan with cinnamon sugar before adding the batter, or using brown sugar instead of white sugar for the filling, or adding a sweet orange glaze. You can also add nuts to it if you want, I’m not much of a nuts-in-baked-goods type of guy.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c white sugar
3/4 c butter, softened
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c yogurt
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 c white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease a 10-in bundt pan (I just use the reside left on the butter wrapper).

1. Beat the butter and sugar (keep the 1/4 c out) with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Finally, add the yogurt.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then add to the wet mix.

3. Combine the remaining sugar with the cinnamon in another separate bowl.

4. Pour about half the batter into the bundt pan. Then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the batter. Then cover the cinnamon sugar mixture with the rest of the batter.

5. Bake at 400° F for 8 minutes, then lower the temp to 350° F and bake for another 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

6. Let the cake cool completely, then slide a silicone spatula into the large grooves to loosen it up, flip the pan over and jiggle the cake onto a plate.

7. Enjoy!

The hair is gone!

For months, I had been toying with ideas in my mind. Buzz it all off? Take a couple inches off? Let it grow forever?

We had just finished a marathon of packing boxes, loading the trusty Blazer (and other vehicles our helpful friends and family provided), unloading into the storage unit, all in the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August in southeastern VA. We were still living in a house with no central air conditioning, crappy old window units, and little to no insulation to keep whatever cool air we could generate inside the house. I was pulling out wads and wads of hair every time I took a shower. L kept complaining that the drain was getting clogged by my hair (I can neither confirm nor deny that my hair was doing any clogging – I don’t wear my glasses inside the shower and thus cannot see clearly below my my armpits). I was ready to come to grips with the fact that my youthful days of frolicking around and rocking out with long hair were coming to an end. Plus, there are plenty of people who were/are still successful after chopping off their locks – Andre Agassi, Jon Bon Jovi, Randy Johnson (although he did it because the Yankees paid him to), James Hetfield, etc.

We were up in DC, living with L’s cousin while waiting to close on our house, so I figured there’s got to be someone in DC who can take me from looking like a dirty hippie to a somewhat respectable gentleman. Google once again came to the rescue! I googled “best places for men’s haircut DC” and got a much smaller list than expected. I researched them all. Read reviews, looked at prices, looked at location. All of them had great reviews, most of them had crazy prices. I was expecting a little bit of price gouging, being DC and all, but there’s no way I’m dropping $60 (some places were charging even more!) just to get my hair cut. (Beer prices were a little inflated as well, but that’s a different rant…)

Based on good reviews, decent price, and the salon being within walking distance (about a mile), I decided to go with Bang Salon in NW DC. The woman cutting my hair was actually more nervous than I was but she was nice and did a good job of making me not look too ridiculous. I may not have the long hair anymore, but that will never stop me from rocking!

There was one thing, however, that I did find strange, which was how many short hairs were incredulous as to why I would cut my hair – nobody with long hair gave me a hard time about chopping it off. All you short hairs trying to live vicariously through us long hairs?

Enjoy some pictures of the hair in action for the past 8 years, and here’s to [hoping] at least 8 more years of hair:

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I can no longer call myself a long hair, but I’m ok with that. I don’t miss it, at least not yet. And I still have the pony tail if anyone wants a wig or two. Any takers?

Three Gigs and a New Heater Core

P1060133What a busy past few days. Thursday was spent finishing the job I had started almost a month ago (tough to find time on the weekends, weekday evenings are too buggy) of replacing the heater core in the Blazer (thanks to my good friend and band-mate TB for helping me find screws and bolts I overlooked). It was a royal P.I.T.A. Chevy did not make the dash removal process very user friendly – no wonder it costs an arm, leg, and your firstborn child to have the stealership or a mechanic do the work. Unfortunately, I did not take pictures from the get go, but I did include a few that I snapped throughout the process. The Haynes manual was pretty good on this one. I decided not to put EVERYTHING back together… it was way too hot outside (don’t have a garage), the bugs were getting bad, and I really don’t care that much about the plastic crap covering up the underside of the dash. I use the Blazer for hauling band equipment to gigs, garbage/recyclables to the dump, transporting large items such as sofas or tables, storing things in it because we have zero closets, and occasionally towing a trailer. Do I really need that plastic crap covering up the underside of the dash for these purposes? The above pic is what the inside of the Blazer normally looks like (it is our storage unit… bass amp, chicken feed, and a jogging stroller can be seen in this image). Here is a quick step-by-step process:

1. Remove the dash (including the underside plastic crap, and lower the steering column). I disconnected the battery and also disconnected the connection to the airbag. Don’t want a surprise deployment… There are about 943,051 bolts and screws that need to be removed, and when you think you’ve removed them all you probably haven’t. I think we used Torx, 7mm, 5.5mm, 5/16″, 1/2″, and 17/32″ bits for this process.

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2. Drain the radiator. Getting to the drain plug is a bit of a chore, so I just disconnected the lowest hose and let it drain from there.

3. Disconnect these 2 hoses going to the heater core (I got the first one, and L got the second much more quickly since she has a Ph.D. in hose connecting/removal).
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4. Remove the plastic cover inhibiting access to the heater core (I think it was only 6 bolts).
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5. Remove the metal bars holding the heater core in place, and put the new one in. Put everything back together (or as much as you want to put back together), re-connect all the electrical connections in the dash, put the steering column back in place, fill the radiator, and you’re good to go. Easy, huh?

It was good to spend some time with TB fixing the car, gave us some good old fashioned male bonding time. And L made us delicious sandwiches with tomatoes and cukes from the garden. Thursday evening was a nice night of playing music on the Crab Deck and watching the fireworks across the river from Yorktown (mere feet from the location of the British surrender, essentially guaranteeing American independence – are we really free though?). I love doing outdoor acoustic gigs – L and WV can come and not be blasted away by the walls of speakers, it’s a lot less physical energy expended on my part, and I don’t come home at 3am smelling like an ash tray (although this is rare since Virginia banned smoking in most bars/restaurants in 2009). Don’t get me wrong, I love cranking my amp to 11 and watching drunk people dance the night away at bars, but I’m not as young as I once was and I have responsibilities that I didn’t have 6 or 7 years ago.

GloucesterYorktown_But just because we were playing a low key acoustic gig at a fancy yacht club restaurant, don’t think it was all Sperry shoes, khaki shorts, and white/pastel Polo shirts. We had a little bit of everything there: Drunk dude showing up around 7:00 (by boat…), trying to keep himself somewhat perpendicular to the floor, loving every minute of us playing, tipping us quite well), and then getting into his boat to weave his way around $1,000,000 yachts docked and the families coming back from watching the fireworks on the river. Thankfully, management handled it well and didn’t let him drive his boat home. Salty old owner telling us we were too loud (turns out we’re not special, he acts the same towards everyone). Standing room only crowd in the parking lot to watch the fireworks (the Gloucester crowd doesn’t like to deal with the traffic and tourists in Yorktown on July 4… I don’t blame us/them). I wanted to get a couple pictures, but L accidentally left the camera at home charging. Oh well.

Friday, I got my hours in, then met up with the rest of the band for a 3 hour drive down to Lake Gaston for another gig. Outdoor rock and roll with Key’d Up. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere. My droid couldn’t find it. TB’s iPhone couldn’t find it. But for some reason our drummer’s “dumb” phone was able to find it. We rocked for about 4 hours, and the cops only came out twice!

P1060203Saturday we finished our little mini tour right where we started. Another acoustic evening on the Crab Deck, watching the sun go down while enjoying a cold beer or two (or three). No crazy shenanigans this time, although the salty old owner was having a discussion with the manager (manager is totally cool, btw) about how he thought he had kicked us out last time… Anyway, we weren’t kicked out, and we rocked the place again (albeit at a slightly lower decibel level than on July 4). Here’s a pic of WV enjoying a lime and another one of L and WV enjoying the music:

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