Recent weather with overnight lows in the 40s signals the coming end of Summer. However, with 90s still in the forecast, we’re not quite there yet, so sweet frozen treats are still on the menu. One of out favorites is frozen custard. In our town, there have been a few places that have offered this desert, though only two, to our knowledge, still exist. Both are chains. Still, we like the stuff, but what is it? defines custard as “a dessert made of eggs, sugar, and milk, either baked, boiled, or frozen.” The word originates between 1400 and 1450 from late Middle English “crustade,” a kind of pie; from Prevencal “croustado.”

When it comes to frozen custard, defines it as “a smooth-textured, soft, frozen-food product of whole milk, and sometimes cream, egg yolk, etc., sweetened and variously flavored, often served in an ice-cream cone.” We think of it as rich-tasting ice cream. Perhaps it’s the egg yolk that gives it character.

Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium prefer plain vanilla or chocolate, while the kids prefer a topping. Most recently, the favorites were M&M’s over chocolate and Nestlé Crunch over vanilla. We’d love to hear about your favorite flavors and toppings in the comments.



School is back in session, but it’s still summer and it’s still grilling season. In the Family Trivium household, this means that we’ll have hot dogs about once per week until the grill gets put away for the winter. One or twice a month, Mr. Family Trivium will be in the mood for chili dogs (hot dogs garnished with chili). Admittedly, the chili usually comes from a can as he doesn’t usually whip up homemade batches until the cold weather has arrived.

We’ve already looked at common hot dog condiments, such as ketchup and mustard, but what is chili? According to, chili, referring to a chili pepper, is defined as “the pungent pod of any of several species of Capsicum, especially C. annuum longum: used in cooking for its pungent flavor.” The first known usage of the word came between 1655 and 1665, coming from Spanish “chile” and Nahuatl “chīlli.”

When we think of chili as a meal, we are really referring to what calls chili con carne (Spanish for chili with meat), which is defined as “a Mexican-style dish made with chilies or chili powder, ground or diced beef, chopped onion and pepper, and usually kidney beans and tomatoes.”

In its definition for chili, also indicates that the word could refer to a meatless version of chili con carne. To meat eaters, such as our family, this doesn’t sound overly appealing, unless you also take away the beans and don’t cook it – that leaves you with chopped onion, pepper, tomatoes. That sounds like salsa, which we’ll consider in a separate post.

The International Chili Society is a non-profit  organization whose rules are commonly used for chili cookoffs. They specify four types of competition chili:

  1. Tradional Red Chili
    • Defined as “any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden. No garnish is allowed.”
  2. Chili Verde
    • Defined as “any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with green chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden. No garnish is allowed.”
  3. Salsa
    • A definition is not given, but the rules state that salsa “must be homemade by the contestant whose name and ICS # appear on the Contestant Application. It may be brought to the site that day or it may be prepared at the Cookoff.”
  4. Homestyle Chili
    • Defined as “the cook’s favorite combination of ingredients resulting in a dish seasoned with chili peppers and spices.”

When it comes to chili, Mr. Family Trivium likes them all. Mrs. Family Trivium does not like any. Half of the Family Trivium kids will eat eat salsa or homestyle chili.

Mr. Family Trivium’s favorite chili dish, aside from his own homemade homestyle chili, is a traditional red or a mean green smothering a beef burrito at a good Mexican restaurant. We would love to hear about your favorite chili in the comments.

Road Trip

Recently, we had a couple of days where Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium took turns taking a day off from work to spend with the kids before the start of another school year. It seems that we’ve all been yearning for a road trip – due to various factors, we haven’t had a real one for a couple of years.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “road trip,” coined in 1953, as “a long trip in a car, truck, etc.”

Our most recent road trip was a week-long-plus journey to, through, and from Yellowstone National Park. So far, hands-down, it has been our best family vacation. If magic is real, it certainly exists in Yellowstone. Perhaps it was this wonderful experience that has us wanting to hop in the family car and head for the mountains.

Not only can a trip through a place like Yellowstone be soul stirring, it can also be quite a learning experience as the Family Trivium kids found while completing the Junior Ranger program. This trip changed us in ways that can’t be put into words. To know it, it must be experienced.

Since Yellowstone, we’ve certainly had other, shorter drives of a few hours to visit family and to accomplish tasks not possible to do at home, but none of these were particularly life-changing (no offense Aunt Jane). We’ve had our share of out-of-town weddings where our budget ruled out four plane tickets, so we packed up the family car and took an extra day or two to take in diversions while on the road. Watching good friends take the vows and celebrate,  these trips ended up being quite fun, but a vacation with firm appointments and formal clothes is no where near as relaxing as one spent taking in the beauty of nature at your own pace in a fleece, wool socks and hiking boots or, perhaps later the same day, shorts and sandals.

On our recent days off, we had no grand adventures, but we did get out to local parks and nature preserves to take in some beautiful weather, reconnect with nature, and learn a thing or two.

Please let us know about your favorite road trip in the comments.


We’ve been having some insomnia lately, and it’s weather related. We’ve now broken into a stable dry pattern, but the last week has been rainy, with much of the rain coming late night or early morning, in thunderstorms.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary succinctly defines a thunderstorm as “a storm with lightning and thunder.” It’s first known usage was in 1652, as a compounding of “thunder” and “storm.”

We have fairly good shades on our windows, so we can’t really attest to how much lightning was in the air, but a true as it is that where there is smoke, there is fire, we’d say that where there is thunder, there is lightning. Judging by the amount of thunder we heard, there was plenty of lightning. Over two nights, we received about 10% of our average annual precipitation, during what is usually a dry time of year in our area. It seems that each night, we also received about 10% of our average nightly sleep.

On the other hand, our area received no major damage – oddly enough, a less severe complex, which moved through earlier in the week, caused major power outages. In the latest storm, we only experienced a couple of relatively brief outages. Aside from this, and our insomnia, the biggest impact that these storms seemed to have was creating grumpy coworkers who were suffering from their own lack of sleep.

As we do quite a bit of camping and hiking, we were glad to have been home when this weather moved through. Typically, if this type of weather is anticipated, we will cancel outings, whether as a family or as part of a larger group. Lightning is something outdoors people should take seriously. We’d refer you to the National Weather Service’s tips for safety when these conditions occur. If your outings take you into the back country, be sure to follow the link to the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Lightning Safety Guidelines.

We hope that thunderstorms, won’t scare you away from spending time outdoors, but we do think you should be informed on how to cope with them if, and when, they do appear.


Our last post, about the transmission, considered the first component after the engine in a vehicle’s drive system. In this post, we will look at the differential, which, depending on the type of drive system, may be the next component. With front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, a differential is likely the next component after the transmission – with these systems, it is actually, generally, part of the transmission (or transaxle – more on this later).

In the context of machinery, defines a differential as “an epicyclic train of gears designed to permit two or more shafts to rotate at different speeds, as a set of gears in an automobile permitting the rear wheels to be driven at different speeds when the car is turning.” Not specifically referring to its usage as part of an automobile, the word came into usage between 1640 and 1650, from Medieval Latin “differentiālis.”

As noted in the definition, the differential is important when a vehicle is turning. If a vehicle was not able to have the inner and outer tire rotate at different speeds when turning, the inside wheel would need to slip. Generally, we don’t want our tires to slip – we want them to maintain traction.

In a front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive vehicle, the differential goes between the two drive wheels, allowing the the outside wheel to rotate at a greater speed than the inside wheel while cornering. The other two wheels (we’ll assume that we’re talking about 4-wheeled vehicles) are “just along for the ride.”

In an all-wheel drive vehicle, there is a differential between each pair of drive wheels, the front pair and the rear pair. Traditionally, there is also a differential between the two pairs of drive wheels. That is a front-to-back differential that allows the front wheels to rotate at a different speed than the rear wheels. This can be useful as the vehicle navigates a road where traction conditions change linearly, such as might be found in wet or winter driving.

In a four-wheel drive vehicle, there isn’t usually a center differential, so the front and rear pairs of drive wheels are somewhat forced to rotate at the same speed. Rather, than a center differential, a four-wheel drive vehicle will have a transfer case, which we’ll examine more closely in a future post. There are some transfer cases with an all-wheel drive mode which does introduce a center differential – it is likely to also have a traditional 4WD mode which would lock the drive wheel pairs into rotating at the same speed.

Our family Subaru has AWD with three differentials: one between the front wheels, one between the rear wheels, and one between the two pairs. Our Toyota has 4WD with two differentials: one in the front and one in the back, and a transfer case in the middle. When not in 4WD, it is, functionally, a rear-wheel drive vehicle, with all of the power being sent through the transmission, through the transfer case, through a drive shaft, to the rear differential before being distributed to the two rear wheels.

With transmissions, we’ve developed a solid preference for automatics. When it comes to AWD versus 4WD, we don’t have a clear preference. AWD takes no human intervention to activate, but 4WD gives the feeling of control. Either way we’re certainly glad to have a differential, or two or three, for routine driving conditions.


Lately, we’ve looked at the SUV, AWD, and 4WD – the conveyances we use to take us on our weekend adventures as well as through daily life. Earlier this year, we looked at the engine, but between that and the road are a few other components that are part of automobiles, whether they are AWD SUVs or front-wheel drive coupes.

The first component after the engine is the transmission. In the context of machinery, such as an automobile, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the transmission as “an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a live axle.” As part of a motorized vehicle, the Online Etymology Dictionary dates the use of the word to 1894.

One particular thing of which to be aware, with respect to transmissions, is that there are two basic types: manual and automatic.

With a manual transmission, the vehicle driver must change the gears. In this process the driver will typically manipulate the clutch using a foot pedal to modulate the input of power from the engine into the transmission. Using their hand, the driver will move a shift lever to select which gear is being used. It may seem like an involved process, but it really only requires basic hand-eye coordination (actually hand and foot coordination – your eyes should be on the road) and it can be fun.

An automatic transmission takes care of the gear shifting for the driver. It used to be that the compromise that came with the convenience of an automatic transmission was that a vehicle would achieve lower fuel economy. With modern automatic transmissions, this compromise no longer exists; in many cases, a given vehicle with an automatic transmission is now achieving a higher fuel economy rating than the same model equipped with a manual transmission.

It has been quite a while since we have had a vehicle with a manual transmission in the Family Trivium household. They are increasingly difficult to find, and, as noted earlier, can no longer give a good argument with respect to fuel economy. While Mr. Family Trivium used to be a serious manual transmission devotee, he has slowly been pulled over to the Mrs. Family Trivium’s side of the automatic. If you have a preference, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.


In the Family Trivium household, we all like biscuits. We like them with butter. We like them honey. We like them with fruit spreads – jam, jelly, preserves, marmalade, etc. Mr. Family Trivium even likes them with sausage and gravy. We don’t eat biscuits often, but when we do, we savor them.

A biscuit, to Americans anyways, is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “A small, typically round cake of bread leavened with baking powder, baking soda, or sometimes yeast.” The Oxford Dictionaries further explain the word’s origin:

Middle English: from Old French bescuit, based on Latin bis ‘twice’ + coctus, past participle of coquere ‘to cook’ (so named because originally biscuits were cooked in a twofold process: first baked and then dried out in a slow oven so that they would keep).

The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the Old French usage to the 12th Century, while first U.S. use, in reference to the “soft bun,” which we know and love today, was made in 1818.

These days, we generally have biscuits while dining out. Occasionally, on a lazy winter morning, Mr. Family Trivium has been know to wake up before everyone else (he actually does that part almost every day), then fire up the oven and put together the ingredients for homemade fresh biscuits. Though simple, these fresh out of the oven biscuits are some of the best.If you have a favorite biscuit, feel free to let us know about it in the comments.


Our family recently replaced an older car with a new sport-utility vehicle, or SUV. Our other automobile is also an SUV. In this post we’ll look at this vehicle type, of which we have grown so fond.

Looking for definitions and etymology for this word, we found quite a variety:

a rugged automotive vehicle similar to a station wagon but built on a light-truck chassis
Merrian-Webster Dictionary

 a rugged vehicle with a trucklike chassis and four-wheel drive, designed for occasional off-road use.

Merriam Webster indicates that the phrase was coined in 1978, while the Online Etymology Dictionary, not necessarily disagreeing says that the abbreviation, “SUV,” was in use “by 1988.” puts the phrase’s origin between 1990 and 1995.

What we take from all of this is that the phrase generally refers to a rugged automobile built on a truck (or “trucklike”) chassis. It is likely to have a body similar to a station wagon and be equipped with four-wheel drive. The phrase, and its abbreviation, was likely coined between the 1970s and 1990s.

By this definition, it turns out that only one of our family vehicles is actually an SUV. Our Toyota has four-wheel drive, is built with a station wagon-like body bolted to a separate truck-like frame. On the other hand, our new Subaru has all-wheel drive, and though it has a station wagon-like body, it is based on a car chassis. While our Subaru seems more rugged than the Focus it replaced, it’s difficult to argue that it is as rugged as our Toyota.

In his article, SUV – Sport-Utility Vehicle at, Jason Fogelson notes that modern SUVs are sometimes based on a car platform referred to as a unibody chassis – this is were there is no separate frame and body. In some circles these vehicles may be differentiated by calling them crossovers, crossover-utility vehicles, or CUVs.

Whatever they’re called, we’re found of our rugged, station wagon-like 4WD/AWD vehicles. Relatively new, both provide satisfyingly good fuel economy. The Subaru even does better than the old Focus that it replaced. The thing that we like the most is how well they facilitate our frequent outdoor endeavors camping, hiking, cycling, and more.