Ol’ Fashioned Apple Goodness

Have you ever made a recipe that is easy, yet at the same time awkwardly hard?! For me that would be my Grandma Peterson’s Apple Pie Bars. Maybe I just went into the first round of creating the recipe with perceived notions of how it would be. Momma MisHappenings had really talked up the ease with which Grandma used to just whip these all together….it’s so easy…. Let me tell you, that wasn’t my experience but I’ve adapted, concurred, and overcome!

Momma sent me the recipe that Grandma had submitted to the church cookbook, or the county cookbook or some other small town cookbook collaboration. I submit it here as evidence that what my Momma and Aunt remember her doing maybe isn’t correct. They both claim that instead of rolling the first layer of dough, Grandma simply smeared it into the pan with a spoon. I just don’t see how it can work the way they remember! I tried it once and couldn’t at all get it to work for me at all. I’ll guide you through my “new” way, and it comes together fairly easily once you know what you’re in for.

In a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on low. Slowly add the margarine, or butter, in small cubes to the mixer. The fat should be cool but not cold. If it’s soft enough to smear on bread that’s too soft. I’ve made the recipe with both butter and margarine and I don’t see a marked difference between the two…..just use what you have on hand.

Let the fat combine with the flour and sugar until it reaches a grainy, small pebble consistency. While that works away in the mixer, separate your egg. Add the yolk to a measuring cup and save the white for later. Break up the yolk a bit, then add milk up to 2/3 of a cup. Add the yolk and milk mixture to the mixer and let it work until it comes together as a dough. Shouldn’t take long. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and give it a knead or two to just ensure it’s all together.

I would recommend splitting your dough in half, and then steal some from one half and give it to the other. The bottom crust liner needs to come up and a bit over the sides of the cookie sheet, so give that ball a little bit extra dough to get the job done. Grandma calls for using an 11×15 cookie sheet. I don’t have one of those. I have 2 different sized cookie sheets, a 10×15 and a 12×18. I used the large 12×18 for my first batch because I was afraid of overflowing the pan. This created very thin bars and really there wasn’t enough dough to make it work. This week I used the smaller pan and everything came together much better.

Roll out your bottom dough to the approximate size of the pan, and carefully transfer into the bottom of the cookie sheet. I find that using the rolling pin to help pick up the dough and move it. This bottom crust, according to my Momma, Grandma used to use a spoon to just spread the dough into the pan. I tried this once, but for the life of me I can’t get it to spread. The dough isn’t sticky like a cake batter, it’s stiff like pie dough. If you try this and figure out the secret for spreading the dough be sure you let me know!

I don’t measure out the cornflakes, but just do 3-4 handfuls of cereal and crunch it up a bit in your fist before you add it to the top of the rolled dough. I’m not sure the function of the cornflakes. You can’t taste them, but maybe they help absorb liquid from the apples and keep it from soaking into the crust?! Who knows….I just do it cuz Grandma says you need to. I’ve attempted changing Grandma’s recipes enough to know that they only work the way she says they work…..so I just do what I’m directed now!

You’ll add your apples in on top of the cornflakes. The recipe calls for fresh, but if you’re like me and went a little overkill at the apple orchards this fall….you can also use frozen. I have several quart sized bags of prepped apple pie filling in the freezer so that’s what I use for this recipe. You’ll need 1.5 quart bags for this recipe so just be sure you have the bags thawed in advance. You might notice some liquid at the bottom of your thawed bags, just carefully add that to the apples….don’t worry it won’t make the bottom crust soggy. If you’re not using pre-spiced apple filling, you’ll need to sprinkle a layer of cinnamon over the top of the apples at this point.

You’ll now roll out the top crust for the bars. This needs to join with the overhang of the bottom crust, so you can make it a bit smaller than you did the bottom. You want enough to join the two crusts, but you can’t want too much crust piled up along the edges. Again I find it helpful to use the rolling pin to pick up and move the crust onto the top of your apples. Then just carefully work your way around and pinch the edges together till the whole thing is sealed up. You might get a leak or two, but you don’t need to worry about that too much.

You’ll need to find your egg white at this point….hopefully you still have it sitting there! Add a small splash of water to the white and whip it up a bit using a fork. You don’t have to whip it into stiff peaked merengue, just till it gets a bit frothy. If you have a pastry brush, use it to brush the white across the crust to help create a golden crust. I don’t have a pastry brush, so I just drizzle the froth across the top and then use my fingers to carefully spread it evenly over the crust.

Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until it’s golden brown. The top crust might have puffed up a bit at this point, it will be fine you don’t need to worry about it too much. You don’t need to glaze the bars if you don’t want to, but if you’re going to you need to do it when they are fresh out of the oven. You’ll need to add a bit more lemon juice or water to the powdered sugar than Grandma says to make a glaze. I find it easiest to use a large spoon and do several haphazard passes of glaze drizzle across the top of the bars. Then, gently use the back of the spoon to spread the glaze….or leave the messy drizzle if that’s more your style. You’ll need to let the bars too before you cut into them, otherwise the apple filling won’t set and you’ll end up with a little bit of a mess. True life story….the slight messiness is totally worth it to eat one of these babies warm!

The Christmas Come Down

Now that most of the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season is behind us, I thought I’d share some of my favorite gift items from this year! I know it’s maybe a little late to be giving you gift ideas, but I can’t be spilling the beans to my family and friends! 🙂 Plus, some people are really organized and are probably already starting to shop for Christmas 2019!

My big crafting project of the season…..which I didn’t even get finished until the last moment….was a set of decorative pillows for my Sister’s condo. The pattern came from the lovely ladies at Knit Collage, although I did make some modifications. I decided to do both sides of the pillow in the herringbone pattern, it just seemed fancier and more inline with my Sister’s decorating style.

I ordered 4 skeins of Sister Yarn in Dusty Pink and got to knitting. Apparently I can’t read a pattern correctly, it turns out that 4 skeins of yarn is not enough yarn to make both the 18×18 pillows I had planned on. Alls well that ends well though, it turns out that rectangular pillows were on the list of home decor things my Sister was looking for. So, 4 skeins of yarn turned into a pair of 12×18 inch pillows with some decorative pom poms! I had a little tiny bit of grey sister yarn left over from a previously project, so that’s where the grey in the poms came from. The pattern doesn’t call for pom poms, but if you’ve got the yarn you might as well pom it!

Since I planned on doing both sides of the pillow in the herringbone pattern, I just knit one large rectangle instead of 2 separate 12×18 pieces. So I ended up only having to stitch 3 sides together, and the top of the pillow is nice and seamless. If you’re looking to modify the pattern to make the 12×18 pillows I will tell you it took me 54 rows not counting the cast on and bind off. For the rest of the pattern you’ll have to snag yourself the pattern….it’s not mine to share.

My favorite purchased gift is a handmade knife for The Engineer. It was made by David Maple of Tuckamore Custom Knives, and then I had it sent off for a custom sheath from J Sylvia Handcrafted Leather. It’s beautiful, feels good in your hand, and it’s truly a one of a kind piece. If you ever have a chance to get your hands on a Tuckamore knife, I would 100% recommend it. They are great knives, he’s very responsive to any questions you have, and I’m constantly drooling over all of his designs on Instagram. Give him a follow…you’ll be totally in awe!

Totally snagged this picture off the Tuckamore Custom Instagram page, but he takes better pictures than me. I snagged one of the black handle beauties in the middle!

The custom sheath totally pulls the whole thing together. Now the knife is all set for hunting or camping….wherever our journeys take us the knife will be set to go. I also snagged a leather stroping block from Tuckamore. It’s useful and so much more beautiful than anything you can buy in store for the same purpose. All we need now is some good knife oil and a sharpening stone and we will be good to go for a long time to come.

If you need some other gift ideas but knitting and handmade knives aren’t really doing it for you I have a few more ideas to toss at you.

  • O-Venture Key Rings – One of Oprah’s favorite things, and so handy for any busy women on the go who are on your nice list!
  • Souped Up Fleece Robe – Zips from the top or the bottom to keep you cozy while also letting you move around. Momma Mishappenings even started wearing hers as daywear around the house. Long and cozy!!
  • PooPourri – Truly a gift for everyone on your list! Smells for you, your girlfriends, the men in your life, and even special Holiday season smells! Remember to use it before you go!!

Maybe this will give you some shopping ideas for the loved ones in your life….but don’t forget that sometimes you just have to love yourself too.

No shame at all if you pick of some of these awesome products for yourself!

Old Enough to Know Better, Too Diva to Care

Yesterday, The Engineer and I spent most of the day at the emergency vet clinic with Scout….it was not necessarily how I had planned to spend the 2nd to last Saturday before Christmas.  Not that any weekend is a good weekend to take your fur baby to the vet, but I was already feeling slightly stressed on the Christmas project time line.

The morning started out normally enough.  I got up and went to the gym while Roo and The Engineer napped.  I got home, showered, and had a coffee FaceTime date with Lil B.  The Engineer finally dragged himself out of bed after nursing his first hangover as a 29 year old.  We were just getting dressed to go run some errands and grab lunch when I spotted it……..a large section of torn up carpet next to the bathroom.

Exhibit A…..the carpet

Now…..Scout-a-Roo has a long. lengthy, and impressive history of eating things she isn’t supposed to, but carpet has never been one of those things.  While I was attempting to google how we might go about fixing the carpet, we discovered something else.  She had eaten the wings and legs off her beloved duck toy.

Now, her beloved duck is several years old, and he’s needed some emergency surgeries of his own.  I’ve repaired and patched several holes but mostly they have all been due to use and abuse…..and the occasional severe whipping around.  Scout likes to make sure he’s dead before she gives him to you, she’s considerate like that.  I had recently just had to apply a large patch to his whole abdominal area, but he was living to see more play days.

It seemed like 2 wings, 2 legs, and all that carpet was too much for Scout’s tummy.  Occasionally when she was little and would get into something I would induce vomiting at home.  I was hoping I could do that now and I could get the bulk of the material out of her before it started into her little intestines.  Normally, we wouldn’t know she’s eaten something until she either decides to puke on her own….or we find bright decorative chunks of fabric around the backyard. :/  If it had maybe been one thing or the other I might have just left her to her own devices….she is semi professional in this capacity after all.

We dosed her will a round of hydrogen peroxide and then we waited.  We waited through the loud tummy gurgles, and I sat near by with a garbage bag and hoped for the best.  Sadly, the best never came.  The gurgles came and went but no wings or carpet ever arrived.  I couldn’t find anything online about what to do if you attempt to induce vomiting but it doesn’t work, so I finally caved and called the vet.

We ended up needing to take her in to the vet, initially because hydrogen peroxide can cause ulcers if it isn’t treated and neutralized.  The vet took some X-rays, I think mostly because they didn’t believe me when I told them that these random things she eat tend to hang out in her tummy for really extended amounts of time.  Sure enough, a whole little puppy tummy full of “stuff”.  We were assured that one round of nausea inducing medicine ought to do the trick, so we waited and sorta listened while they worked on her in the back.  At one point I think they sort of inverted her to try and get gravity on their side….the force was not with them.

When the vet is scary, you feel pukey, and you’ve brought great shame on the family.

15 minutes later they came back to inform us the medication hadn’t had a strong effect on her, but that they would try it again.  Apparently a single dose of the medicine is suppose to make them vomit until they dry heave…..Scout was having no part of that.  They can only dose the medicine once an hour….and we still hadn’t eaten…..it was around 4pm by this time so we left to come home and eat and then said they would call.

About an hour later they called…..tummy still had something in it, but they had gotten “a large amount of carpet”.  “I’ve never seen a dog with this level of iron stomach, but I think we should try one more round again in an hour”.  Clearly this guy has never met my dog….she’s the pukiest dog I’ve ever had, but she never pukes multiple rounds in a sitting.  So, we sat at home another hour, and waited for a good phone call.  Finally, they called and said they thought they got everything out and the x-rays were clear.

The list of items they got out of her stomach–

  • A large amount of carpet
  • A sock……that we didn’t know was missing
  • Maybe 10……1x6inch rag stripes from my entry rug….that we didn’t know were missing
  • 2 duck wings
  • Anything else potentially wrapped up in the carpet ball

Several hundred dollars and some hours later, she came home and is generally fine.  I’m hoping that she’s learned her lesson, but honestly that seems unlikely.  We did leave her for a few hours today with the torn up carpet and rug booby trapped….everything was undisturbed when we got home.  Hopefully she ate something and it didn’t feel good, so she kept eating things to try and fix the first thing but who even knows with dogs.

Winter Has Arrived

It’s officially that time of year!!

  The wind, freezing rain, and snow have arrived and brought with them a sense of winter and Christmas.  The Engineer and I weren’t even planning on being home this weekend, we were hoping to go down to Momma MisHappening’s to spend the weekend trying to fill my turkey tag.  That just isn’t going to happen.  Nothing about sliding down an ice coated interstate for 80 miles and then sitting in a blizzard waiting for a turkey to waddle on by sounds like a good time.  So instead…..I shall be catching up on laundry and crafting!  I’ve got several craft projects I’m working on, and some I can’t share until after the holiday….but there is one I can share and maybe you can use for some Christmas decorating!

CRAFTING TIME IS HERE!  

(Best said in the Charlie Brown sing-song style) 

So, let’s say that hypothetically you’ve been hunting , and that those hunting trips have been successful.  Let’s also assume that you’d like to take a more nose to tail…I prefer snoot to toes….approach to using the animals you bring home.  Top that all off with seeing some expensive feather spheres and wreaths in shops about town (Here’s looking at your $70 foam wreath at Scheel’s :/ )….and you’ve got yourself a full blown holiday crafting project on your hands!

You may or may not have noticed, but pheasant feathers are frequently used in boujee arts and crafts.  I happened upon some expensive pheasant feather spheres while we were on vacation in Virginia, and instead of paying I decided I could make my own.  Nothing like some feather decorations for The Engineer’s upstairs man loft!  Sadly, the only pheasants that have made it home to me have already been cleaned and vacuumed packed breasts.  While delicious, pheasant breast doesn’t contribute a ton in the crafting department.  So, I used the next best option….duck feathers!  The ducks have been arriving at a fairly steady rate, so I’ve had my choice of some nice feathers.  They are a little bit more work then pheasant feathers, but they get the job done nicely.

To start, you’ll need to prep your feathers.  I plucked the bellies of 2 gadwalls and 1 northern shoveler specifically, but any variety you have that you think looks nice will work just fine.  I kept the species separate as they are slightly different colored, but feel free to mix if you like that look.  It would be better if you have some early season ducks before they become fully plumed and downy soft for winter.  

Duck feathers are very oily, and that oil can slowly degrade the feathers once they are removed from the ducks, so you’ll need to clean the feathers.  This is the hardest part of the project honestly.  I filled the kitchen sink with some warm water with a few drops of regular Dawn dish soap.  Place a colander down into the water, and slowly and carefully add handfuls of feathers and swish to clean.  Pull the colander up and rinse the feathers well with clean water.  

Now…..to dry the feathers……ugh.  I placed the feathers into grocery bags and then used my hair drying to blow the feathers dry.  You’ll need to maintain a firm….but not too tight so the air can’t escape…..grasp of bag around the neck of the dryer.  Also, make sure that the air hole you leave isn’t too large.  If it’s too large, the feathers will shoot up and out of the bag as they dry….which will lead to feathers floating all around you bathroom…….been there done that!  Honestly, this isn’t a great method for drying feathers, but it got the job done.  It’s annoying and VERY time consuming, but it works.  You’ll probably want to leave the feathers sit for a couple days and stir them occasionally to make sure they dry completely.

So fresh and so clean clean!

Now that everything is clean and dry, we can officially get crafting.  You’ll need to pick up a few supplies from your local craft shop.  Some good craft glue, tan or brown paint, a cheap foam brush or two, and some floral foam spheres of whatever size looks good to you.

Start by painting your foam.  If you can happen to find foam that is already dirt colored feel free to skip this.  I didn’t want to risk any of the green foam poking through so I gave them all a rough coat of paint.  It doesn’t have to be pretty or even, we are just looking for some camouflage here.

I recommend using a good tacky craft glue to place the feathers.  There are some cons to such a thick glue, but the pros greatly outweigh them.  You’ll want to start placing feathers from the center top and work down.  Begin by smearing a layer of glue on about the top third of the sphere.  Start layering on the feathers working in concentric circles around the sphere.  If you find that your feathers aren’t sticking, or if portions seem to be lifting, it might be helpful to put a tiny amount of glue on each feather before you place it.  I found that putting some glue on a foam brush and dragging the feathers carefully across it worked to smear on a very thin layer.

If the bases of your feathers are especially downy…or quill-y….you might want to gently trim them.  I ended up having to trim every single one of the gadwall feathers, they were just too fluffy.  It can be hard to cover up all the downy fluff, although if you don’t mind some fandom fluffy tuffs then just glue the feathers as they come.  

Every 3 circles around the sphere you’ll want to apply another ring of glue.  Use the foam brush to carefully dab on the glue.  You’ll want to be carful not to get too close to the previous row of feathers.  If you snag one it’ll pull bits of feather in weird directions, or maybe even pull the feather off depending on how recently it was placed.  Just use your finger or a toothpick to smooth the feathers back down, and if that doesn’t work just layer another feather or two on top.

Continue until you reach the bottom of the sphere.  You’ll end up with a quill end or two visible at the bottom of the sphere, but it’ll be alright….no one but you will ever even know.  Plus, just put that side down!  Let your spheres dry and then use them however the wind takes you.  Mine are destined to be nestled into a garland upstairs in the man loft!  I didn’t apply any sealant to mine, but depending on your intended use you might want to hit them with a thin spray coat of a sealant.  I wouldn’t recommend anything you’d need to brush on, it will just disturb the flow of the feathers.

Lab Queries: How Low Can You Go??

Welcome back from Thanksgiving Break!! 

This week we will crack open the analytical textbook and cover more math!

We are going to figure out how to go low.  I’m not talking about dropping it low on the dance floor….or limbo, although if anyone is interested in some friendly competition I’m sure we can arrange for that to happen at next year’s FELC.  Any takers!? 😊

How Low Can You Go??

Sure, I know those instrument companies are big on posting lower detection limits for all of their instruments, but you can’t take that answer as the gospel truth.  Those posted detection limits are created under the most ideal operating conditions.  It’s the same as car companies who post that their brand new, super shiny, fresh off the production line vehicle has an average 48 MPG HIGHWAY…..we all know that’s not true! Maybe it’ll happen once if the wind is blowing in the right direction….but it really isn’t a fair indicator of how your vehicle is going to operate day in and day out.  Standard detection limits on instruments are the same way,it might happen, but it probably won’t. 

Setting detection limits is a journey you and your instruments are going to have to go on together.


It’s after Thanksgiving….I have no Christmas shame!

IYou may or may not have noticed, but several of the tests we run on ethanol, at least finished product ethanol, are searching for an answer very near to 0.0…..or as close as we can realistically get.

  • Methanol
  • Copper
  • Chloride

These are all test results that typically you’d typically expect to see very low-levels on.  How do you know that your instrument is capable of seeing levels that are that low effectively?  Low level detection is one of the most difficult things we ask of our instruments, so it’s important that we know exactly what we can and cannot expect.

Calculating your Detection Level, or DL is a pretty easy and straightforward process.  First things first you’ll need to run a good calibration curve, but let’s assume you’ve read all the blogs and you’ve already got that step done!  Find a standard with low values, similar to where you hypothesize your DL might be.  You’re going to analyze that standard 7-10 times.  I don’t recommend doing this over time, just run them back to back.  Unlike Control Limits which are calculated based on instrument shift over time, DL can be calculated based on a snapshot of the instrument.

For the math portion, start by taking the standard deviation across all injections for all the components.  My table also shows the average, but you won’t directly need that for DL calculation, but it is good practice to check your repeatability recovery….the average over the known value*100 will get you there.  If your repeatability recovery isn’t inside of your control levels we discussed in Common Calibration Conundrums and Other Laboratory Queries Part 4, you’ll want to rerun the study with a higher standard level.  It could be that you’re too close to your instrument’s detection level.

The Detection Limit is then calculated as the Standard Deviation value times 3.143.

There statistically are several ways of calculating a DL,but this is the easiest and for most laboratory purposes will work just fine.  In my above example, my IC can see sulfate peaks down to 0.0026mg/L and chloride peaks down to 0.0084mg/L.  Now, that’s absolute bottom low as you can go level on my instrument.  Do I routinely analyze samples at that level….no.  There is a practical level for using your instrument.  In my case, I don’t consider my instrument practically capable of analyzing samples below 0.25mg/L, and I wouldn’t report any levels lower than that.

Hopefully this will help you dial in the lower limits of your instrument systems, and guide you toward some practical levels of analysis and reporting.

Catching Up

It’s been several weeks since I’ve had time to just sit down and write!  Seems like between work, vacations, and social events I just haven’t been home with nothing to do but talk to you guys in quite some time!

I thought maybe I’d just catch you up on a few things that have been happened recently!  

First things first, The Engineer survived his first long distance, week long vacation with Momma Mishappenings and my Sister!  We took him to what might be our favorite vacation destination….Colonial Williamsburg!

Williamsburg really is one of my favorite places.  The smell of boxwood shrubs and gingerbread cookies fills the air and oyster shells give a particular crunch under foot that can’t be created or mimicked by anything else.  Don’t even get me started about the magnolia trees.  I can technically plant a magnolia tree here, but they aren’t the same variety as those large southern plantation magnolias that have come to be a system of southern living.

While in Williamsburg we made a day trip to Monticello.  In all our trips to Williamsburg, I’ve been maybe 13 times…..we’ve never been to Monticello.  Sometimes it’s discussed, but we always just end up staying the extra day in Colonial Williamsburg.  While the house and lawns were impressive, I have to say the tour left some things to be desired.  Tour groups run continuously at 10 minute intervals….so they really have to rush you through the house.  It’s hard to take in all the furnishings of the rooms or see all the custom architecture, and there really isn’t even time to ask questions.  While I’m sure the gardens are lovely in the Spring and Summer, fall trips to Monticello’s extensive gardens are a bit lack luster.  I can’t say that I regret going, but I’m also not sure that I would recommend the visit….if that makes sense.

We also celebrated The Engineer’s birthday last week!  It really did turn into a week long celebration, mostly because I managed to snag us tickets to a 4 course Beer and Dinner pairing at one of the boujee-ier restaurants in town.  You know you’ve had a good night of eating when the dessert course was the least impressive of all the courses!

Smoked scottish ale and a porkchop on a bed of parsnip puree….yes please!

We took Friday off work to scout some public land for turkey and pheasant. We found both, but unfortunately the turkeys waddled through a thick windbreak into a private field, and the only pheasants we flushed up were hens.  Never the less it was fun spending the day driving around and trudging around all the land that’s open to the public.  I do love me a good trudge!  I’m really not much for blaze orange, but now I have a hat and sweet matching vest.  Safe to say I think I’ll mostly stick to turkey hunting so I can leave the neon colors at home!

Birthday week wrapped up with maybe the worst decision I’ve made in a long time.  

In early September I found out that The Engineer’s alma mater was playing a rivalry game on his birthday weekend.  I got really excited and snagged 2 tickets.  I know how he feels about football, and how he feels about being a Jackrabbit, and I thought it would be a fun birthday surprise!

Ahhhh, inside drinking beers before we were forced onto the frozen tundra.

What I failed to consider when buying the tickets, was the drastic change in temperature that occurs in South Dakota between September and mid-November.  

IT WAS FREEZING!

I don’t know that I could tell you the last time I felt that cold.  We were sorta okay until halftime. Two blankets, hot chocolates, and a pretty eventful game kept us going until the action stopped…every minute from halftime through the 3rd quarter felt like hours.  Minutes move much slower in frozen toe time as it turns out.  By the time we left the stadium and checked the weather from the relative warmth of the un-started car, The Weather Channel informed us it was 10 degrees and felt like -1 due to wind.  Even with the seat warmers on high for the hour drive, my booty was still an ice cube when we got home!

Never again will I buy tickets to an event in an outdoor stadium anytime after Halloween!

This was before our faces felt like they were going to crack and fall off!

Lab Queries: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

I’m sure you’ll all be happy to know that this week on the blog we are leaving calibration curves and math behind us!

Don’t worry, if you still have questions about instrument calibrations, or a new issue arises in your lab, I’m always here to help you address those.  In talking to some of you at FELC a few weeks ago, the issue of troubleshooting came up a few times.  I know this can be a hard topic and really digging into a broken instrument can be an intimidating idea for some people.  But I’m going to let you in on a secret….it’s maybe one of my favorite activities to do!

I’m weird….I know…..I’ve accepted it and moved on. 😊

What to Do When Things Go Wrong

We’ve all had that moment….we started samples on an instrument, left for the night expecting to come back in the morning to a nice, completed data set, and return to find that our instrument malfunctioned!  Now results are behind schedule and you have the added issue of an instrument that just refuses to cooperate.

squirrel

Troubleshooting can be a frustrating and tricky activity to complete, especially because instruments never break at convenient times.  If I had a dollar for every time an instrument broke when I had rush samples to do, I wouldn’t have to work anymore!  But, because instruments will always continue to break, and I need to keep my job, I thought I’d fill you in on some of my favorite troubleshooting tips.

  • Follow the Path

A good way to make sure you don’t overlook any parts of your instrument is to start at one end of the instrument and follow the sample path through to the other end.  It’s easy to jump from place to place first, maybe checking your sample loop before jumping up to check your eluent filters.  Odds are that you’ll over look something, and your issue will be in the place you over look.  Following the path helps ensure that you give every section of you instrument it’s due investigation.

  • The Tubing Checker

One of my new favorite troubleshooting tools is a spare autosampler syringe!  When I need to troubleshoot one of my instruments with a large amount of tubing, I’ve found that using the syringe to carefully inject DI water into each section of tubing is a quick and easy way to look for the source of the problem.  Maybe a section of tubing is plugged, maybe it’s cracked, maybe there’s a dust bunny lodged in the end (true life this has happened to my IC!!)  It’s so hard to tell sometimes by just eyeballing the sections, but this technique has yet to fail me!

  • Look Beyond the Science

Sometimes the source of an instrument issue isn’t related to the “science-y” components we would typically focus on.  Sometimes exhaust fans wear out or autosampler screws fall out or sheer off.  Don’t be afraid to look into the more mechanical parts of your instruments.  Think of them as support systems.  If your autosampler syringe housing is loose and wobbly because a screw is loose, maybe the syringe isn’t being held firm enough to puncture the vials.  If you’re lucky, your instrument will be smarter than you.  Sometimes the software might notice that something is wrong and stop the analysis run.  If it’s not….you’ll come back to a broken syringe plus a lack of data.

screw

If you have any fun or interesting troubleshooting tricks that have never steered you wrong let me know!  I’m always on the hunt for new ideas, and if I get enough, we might do a part 2 later.  Having as many tools in your troubleshooting tool belt as possible is so beneficial, and it’s one of the areas that we should all constantly be striving to improve.