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.

Cold Cut

In our last post, we talked about the picnic and how we were planning to take one. We did, and it was a beautiful July day: low 80s, a light breeze, a blue sky punctuated by a few clouds, and a desert-like, for us, 30% relative humidity (wow). The main course was, as planned and mentioned in yesterday’s post, cold cut sandwiches. defines cold cuts as “slices of unheated salami, bologna, ham, liverwurst, turkey, or other meats and sometimes cheeses.” It is thought to have originated as an Americanism between 1940 and 1945.

Our ingredient choices were hard salami, turkey pepperoni, thin-sliced provolone, and slices of American cheese to be put on Italian bread hot dog buns – we called these “slider subs.” They weren’t exactly Jimmy John’s #5 slims, but they were a far cry better than the bologna on white sandwiches that Mr. Family Trivium remembered eating on childhood family road trips as cars whizzed past the interstate rest stop at 60 MPH (yes, the national speed limit was 55 MPH back then). There were sides of baby carrots, snap peas, and, yes, potato chips. Dessert consisted of M&M’s left over from Easter.

Let us know about your favorite cold cuts in the comments.


July is typically a pretty uninviting time to spend outdoors in our neck of the woods. Too much heat. Too much humidity. Too little breeze. We’re accustomed to days with heat index values in the 100s.

July of last year was an anomaly, with uncharacteristically low humidity and many sunny days topping out in the 70s. While  today is not forecast to be that nice, it is starting out in the low 60s and expected to top out in the low 80s with a light breeze – nice. To celebrate this reprieve from the heat, and indoors, we’re planning a picnic. Given our love of food and outdoors, we’re surprised that we didn’t cover this topic earlier. defines picnic as “an excursion or outing in which the participants carry food with them and share a meal in the open air.” The word was first used between 1740 and 1750, being attributed to German “Pic-nic” or French “Pique-nique.”

In the past, Mr. Family Trivium has been know to pick up the kids from school and spontaneously stop for a Little Caesar’s pizza before heading off to one of the many local parks or nature areas for an outdoor meal and a hike.

In a throw back to Mr. Family Trivium’s childhood days where lunches on vacation road trips were eaten out of a cooler at a rest area – not a place with golden arches, we’re planning cold cut sandwiches on Italian bread.

We’d love to hear about your favorite picnic meal in the comments.


With our love of French toast, pancakes, and other breakfast sweets, it should be no surprise that, from time to time, we get doughnuts on our collective mind. A few times each year, we crave them so much that we actually go to Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme or Winchell’s or, better yet, a local bakery for these sugary, fatty treats.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the doughnut as “a small usually ring-shaped cake fried in fat.” The Online Etymology dictionary indicates that the word is from American English as a compounding of “dough” and “nut” in 1809, and was first used by noted author Washington Irving. The fact that this word was coined by the writer who brought us Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as well as popularizing “Gotham” as a reference to New York City, adds a whole new layer of whimsy onto this delicious treat.

Most of us here at Family Trivium don’t have a particular favorite doughnut, though none of us are fond of those filled with jelly. Mr. Family Trivium is particularly found of sour cream doughnuts, crullers, and cake donuts. Let us know about your favorite doughnuts in the comments.


In our last post on chiggers, we discovered that Mr. Family Trivium has been using a course of calamine to treat the itch caused by bites from these creatures.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines calamine as “a mixture of zinc oxide with a small amount of ferric oxide used in lotions, liniments, and ointments.” The Online Etymology Dictionary, indicates that the word originated in the 1590s, from French “calamine”, Thirteenth Century Old French “calemine” or “chalemine,” Medieval Latin “calamina” which it thought to be a corrupted form of “cadmia” (zinc ore) or “calamus” (reed) in reference to the shape of the mineral.

WebMD suggests that calamine can be used for pain/itching/discomfort caused by contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. As children, Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium also remember calamine being used on bug bites and chicken pox. Mr. Family Trivium has been having good results using it on his chigger bites.


Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium went their whole lives, until last summer, without having been bitten by chiggers. We’d heard about them, but had never experienced them. Last July, we traveled to a family wedding and were introduced to the experience. We thought “oh, they must be more prevalent in other parts of the country.” Then, over the weekend, Mr. Family Trivium developed the tell-tale itching and handful of tiny red bumps on his ankles.

According to, chiggers are a juvenile form of a type of mite and they can be found in all parts of the world, preferring moist areas. It is a myth that they burrow into the skin and stay there. When a chigger inserts its mouth parts into the skin, an enzyme kills the tissue, which hardens into a “feeding tube,” known as a sylostome. Undisturbed, chiggers can feed through these tubes for several days, but they do not actually burrow into the skin.

Mr. Family Trivium did a couple of unusual things over the weekend. He mowed the lawn wearing shorts – usually, he wears long pants, though he does plenty of other yard and outdoor housework wearing shorts. He also worked most of the day Saturday, wearing shorts, at a garage sale for one of the kid’s youth organizations – he didn’t even think to use bug repellent. Regardless of where he picked them up, Mr. Family Trivium learned that we do, indeed, have chiggers in our area. It has been a rainy year, so there are plenty of moist areas to support these pests.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to never have experienced chigger bites, the best way that we know how to describe them is like REALLY itchy mosquito bites that take much longer to heal. We’ve found the best remedy for the itch to be calamine lotion, applied with a cotton swab,  a little before dressing for work, after getting home from work, and a little before bedtime.

Have you ever been bitten by chiggers? If you have, what is your favorite remedy? Please let us know in the comments.