Thursday, September 30, 2010

Halloween Costumes

With October only a day away, it seems like Halloween will sneak up on us before we know it. I guess that can mean only one thing… it’s time to get our costumes made.

For a while now we’ve had a rough idea of what we’re doing for costumes but as of yet haven’t actually gone to a fabric store to get the required material to put them together. Of course, this year my partner wants a quite elaborate costume, which will be both fun to see him in and terrifying to actually put together. And no, I’m not saying what it is just yet. Mine, on the other hand, isn’t as terrifying, but more just trying to figure out the logistics of getting both of these costumes complete before Halloween weekend.

Costumes are only fun if others get to see them. Okay, so sometimes it’s fun just to dress up when you are all alone and prance around the house in character, but really when you get to show off your handiwork it is way more gratifying. What? Nobody else does that on Tuesdays? Huh… Anyway, so with a group of friends we are planning on going out a couple nights to celebrate, arguably, our favorite holiday. I mean, we could only do one night, but really, aren’t two in a row twice as nice?

However, if we don’t get our asses to the store to get the fabric we need, these costumes just aren’t going to get made. Perhaps soon we will make a trip. Perhaps. Maybe to get in the spirit I should start decorating?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Leftover Quilting: Baby Mobile

So, I realize it has been a while since I last posted about what I’m going to do with the rest of the leftover quilting fabric from the ladybug and daisy selections. Yesterday I finally finished the project… a mobile.

Unable to figure out a simple pattern to use for a toddler’s carry-along blankie or car seat quilt, I decided I would still have enough fabric to also make one other project if I so wanted to. I decided to make a mobile, like the ones seen above cribs or changing tables. I knew this would require a lot more hand sewing than either the baby blanket/wall hanging or crib quilt I had previously done, but figured it would be an excellent way to make something else that could coordinate in a nursery while at the same time use up more of the cute fabric in another way.

I knew right away I needed to locate my stash of vintage buttons to see if anything would work for the spots on the ladybugs as well as the capitulums on the daisies. Unfortunately I only had one yellow button and three daisies, so I decided to use it and find a green and a blue that work with the fabrics for the other two. It turned out perfect.

My original thought was to hang the ladybugs and daisies, which I stuffed with Polyfil for a plush look, using rick-rack, but wanted something more substantial. Racking my brain, I figured I could use some coordinating green fabric, but wanted it slightly bunched so I pulled out of my sewing box a package of elastic I’d bought years ago, and sewed it into tubes I had sewn while keeping the elastic pulled just a little. The result was exactly the look I was going for; not overly bunched, but more like a loose hair scrunchy.

I used an embroidery hoop as the base, gluing a piece of fabric the same circumference as the inner hoop after sewing the five hanging pieces on. I also made an extra fabric and elastic scrunchy, sewed one end into a loop and used that as the upper part to hang the mobile from the ceiling. It turned out super cute, even if it took way longer than I had anticipated.

Alas, once finished, I snapped a few pictures and posted it on my Etsy shop. I’ve learned quite a few things about making mobiles that I can take with me on future projects if I so choose to make another. Now I just need to use up the rest of that fabric for a carry-along blankie and then maybe, just maybe, I can get back to my Uninspired Quilt again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Autumn is the perfect time to plant most spring blooming bulbs. Tulips, for example, are waiting to brighten your spring after a cold, dark winter.

While I was at a friend’s house helping with yard work, planting shrubs and summer blooming bulbs that had been in pots on the front porch, she also had me plant more tulips in one of her flower gardens in the front yard. Now, this bed in the spring is filled with a delightful arrangement of colors and flowers, but what I remember most every year is the abundant display of tulips. She says with her soggy soil they are one of the few bulbs that do extremely well.

Well, this got me thinking. Our tulips are probably in need of a bit of attention, mostly in the way of digging up and dividing, but also it might be helpful to prep the bed a little better this time. You see, when we transplanted them from one bed to another we just dug up the area, put them in bunches, added a few more types, then covered it all back up. We didn’t loosen the soil or amend it in any way, which is probably why they don’t do well in their current location. Okay, so it has been their current location for seven years. Still, a hefty dose of compost could go a long way in feeding these bulbs so they can produce a flurry of flowers in the spring. Then again, in their current location they probably don’t get enough sun, so if we want a showier display, we’d have to find a sunnier plot.

So, how do you choose a location for your tulips? First and foremost, full sun, as these bulbs require a lot of light. Anything else can be dealt with, such as poor soil can be amended with compost and dry soil can be amended with a moisture control potting mix. Yes, I know it says on the package for pots only, but whatever they use in there makes a difference when combined with the native soil to keep dry areas moister longer. The same moisture control potting mix will also work for extremely soggy soil too, keeping the dirt at the perfect moisture level. Then again, some people prefer to keep them in pots, which they do quite well in.

What I did in my friend’s yard was dug out a circle about 18 inches wide and 4 inches deep. I then filled it partially with compost and lightly mixed it in with a shovel. After that I planted a dozen bulbs, putting them in a circle around the inside base about 3 inches apart and the remainder in the center using the same measurements. Approximate here, there is no real need for accuracy. If they are spread too far apart it will look scarce but within a couple springs will fill in nicely, but if they are too close some may not bloom at all. Larger tulips will need to be spaced further apart than smaller ones, so keep that in mind as you plant them.

Tulips are not only pretty to look at outside, but make excellent cut flowers for inside as well. Just make sure they are cut in the morning before they open up all the way or right before they fully open to extend their vase life. They also will help reduce formaldehyde from the air. But alas, we have at least five to six months before the little beauties will bloom, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cat Door

So the other day my partner decided to install a cat door leading out to the garage. Our cat is not amused.

We’ve been wanting to put in a cat door to the garage for quite some time now, years actually, but haven’t done it yet for one reason or another. We even bought a pet door I think four years ago now that, well, was big enough for a medium size dog to fit through. Okay, so maybe not that big, but larger than necessary for our regular size cat. Okay, so maybe Tuesday is not a regular size cat, but still, she’s not the same size as a medium sized dog either, so a smaller cat door would suffice.

After picking one up from the hardware store, my partner bravely began the arduous task of using the jigsaw to cut out the appropriate size hole to fit the new door. Let’s just say that sawing through solid wood nearly two inches thick is easier said than done. And cutting a straight line is definitely much easier said than done. I’m just glad the garage side is the one that is all marred from the jigging and not the laundry room side, which is where our garage leads into. It took a couple tries to actually get it to fit, having to take the door off and saw down areas a little more, but eventually it was in place and the door could swing back and forth.

With the door in place, my partner immediately put our cat’s food and water dishes out along with her litter box. Prodding the cat to go through the door is still a work in progress, but I’m sure eventually we’ll be able to train her how to use it. That, or just have to open and close the door every time she wants in or out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Oh, Coffee, my Coffee, how I have missed thee! Let me discuss the ways…

First off, I normally don’t mind most other coffees, so long as they aren’t weak or bitter or so old they taste like urine. I can handle most anything else. However, after yesterday’s coffee fiasco with my machine deciding to go to Coffee Maker Heaven and my failed attempt at using the same grounds (I know, I’m cheap and should’ve ground up a new batch of beans a bit coarser) for my espresso maker to brew a cup of Joe, I stopped by a large retail donut chain and picked up a substandard coffee. It wasn’t undrinkable, it just wasn’t my coffee, and my coffee was really what I was craving.

Much research led me to believe that any attempt to fix the old coffee maker would be futile, so I put the old girl out into the garage… and got a new one. While I would’ve really liked to simply get the newer model of the one I had so that I would have a backup carafe in case of breakage, twice the price of the next step down is quite the inhibitor. Plus, after reading up on the two models, the cheaper version was given a consumer’s best buy and had excellent reviews. I figured I can live with that.

And the verdict? Well, after cleaning it thoroughly and running a straight batch of filtered water and rinsing it out again, this morning’s cup of coffee is delicious and just as good as the other coffee maker. Of course, the beans may make all the difference, but alas, I am in a happy place right now… until I freak out about this rain that doesn’t look like it will ever end and I have to deliver a cake in a few hours that is WAY too large to box.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Quality" Appliances

I was all set to take you on a spiritual journey filled with peace, serenity and hope. That isn’t going to happen now that my coffee maker has decided to go defunct.

Irritated as I am at spending an hour trying to figure out why my coffee maker won’t work, I am more irritated at the fact that it is barely two years old and apparently worthless. Well, not completely worthless… the clock still works, because God knows we need another clock in that kitchen! Seriously, we have four. So as a last resort I used my espresso maker, which, well, really is not the same thing. I like my coffee strong and black and preferably free of fine particles, something my espresso maker thinks is perfectly acceptable. Oh well, at least I’ve had a few barely tolerable drinks of the elixir of life.

When did it become the norm for appliances, small or otherwise, to have such a limited lifespan? Do we blame the big box stores for luring us in with their low prices or ourselves for demanding more and more disposable products that soon the market is flooded with everything from disposable diapers (which, don’t get me wrong, they are awesome) to disposable cell phones. Is this really the best use of our resources? Could this be partly why we are in an economic depression, in that we have bought so much crap that requires annual and biennial replacement we could no longer sustain our “quality” of life? (On a side note, the chickens are all staring at me through the sliding glass window in our dining room right now instead of, I don’t know, digging up weeds and eating bugs like they should be because, c’mon, I actually let them out of the damn coop! What the hell is going on around here?!)

I firmly believe you get what you pay for, but when one spends $70 on a coffee maker (which, let’s face it, in the world of coffee makers, this is still in the baby prices) one should expect it to last longer than a couple years. I’d expect that much or shorter from a $10 model, but a name brand at the high end of the price range? Grrr… Trust me when I say I’m not a brand snob, as The Sunbeam Corporation’s Mr. Coffee coffee makers are far from high end, but I’ve never known one to stop working. Break the carafe on a fairly old model which is difficult to replace? Yes. Simply up and die? No.

Before I break down and get a new coffee maker, which yes, I’m going to probably end up having to do because nobody needs to see me sans coffee as it would be like putting a plate of French fries in front of Chris Farley in drag while on a diet, I’ll do a little research. Maybe there is a quick fix I can do to get it up and running again, but knowing my luck it’ll cost more than a new disposable coffee maker.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Insufficient Funds

Nothing brings home the fact that being unemployed sucks big floppy donkey dicks like not having enough money to pay the bills. Hopefully one of the many positions I’ve applied for over the last couple weeks will at least get me an interview.

In November it will have been two years since I was let go from my previous job with The Most Evil Corporation in the World. I’m sure my mere calling it that isn’t helping my chances for future employment, assuming anyone besides you reads this blog, but the sheer fact is that when a company focuses purely on profit and away from the customers and associates who make that profit possible, it becomes a self-serving entity. However, this isn’t a rant about evil, it is a rant about money… or should I say the lack of it in our household.

It seems odd to me that while the cost of living increases, wages seem to decrease. Our current economic depression has made it possible for living wage jobs to suddenly become minimum wage part time jobs and have that be acceptable. Benefits? Health insurance? Paid time off? Those are so last millennium. The current job market is seeking qualified applicants with ten or more years of experience in [a certain field] with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) in [that field] for a part time position starting at $9 an hour. This would be funny if I didn’t take this directly from a local job listing.

Fortunately there are employment services offered by the government that work with employers to help people find jobs, but I’m afraid that with the current rate of over 14% unemployment in our county alone, the job pool to qualified applicant ratio is still a little skewed. I just hope that the optimistic news I received from the local state employment office actually holds true that I have an elevated chance of getting one of the positions I applied for through them.

In the meantime, with our bank account dwindling and the threat of foreclosure looming, I will try to keep a positive outlook on the situation. But I must admit, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Okay, so sad news here at Sunnysideupdale Farms… we lost another chicken. This time, however, it was one of the babies.

It was obvious from the get-go that Joyce was going to be the runt. Her incredibly small frame was exacerbated when we brought home the three new chicks back in June as day-olds and she was half the size of the other two. Nothing changed much over the last three months in that regard, as the other two were nearly twice her size at all times. I contributed part of it to the fact that the other two, a Cuckoo Maran and a Rhode Island Red, are big birds, where a Speckled Sussex is a medium bird.

But yesterday as I was changing out their water and letting the girls free-range for a while, I noticed one absent. When I opened the door to the henhouse there she was, looking as though she had died in her sleep and fallen off the roost. There didn’t appear to be any obvious signs of trauma, but the poor girl did have huge breasts and because of such had a little trouble walking every now and then. Perhaps this was all just a defect and was bound to happen, but I sincerely hope it wasn’t caused by something we did (or didn’t) do.

With Joyce gone, that brings our flock of ten down to nine. I can’t say this is a bad thing, but I am saddened that of the three new birds, she had the most curiosity towards us and reminded me a lot of her adoptive mother, Kendra. I think Kendra thought so too, because while Harmony and White Witch Willow (the other two chicks she raised) were weaned early on, Joyce was by her side most of the time while they were in the coop. Even after they all went to roost in the henhouse last night, Kendra came back out as if she was looking for something for about ten minutes before finally heading back inside. Part of me wants to believe that she was looking for Joyce.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Miss Scrapbooking

The other night while we had friends over we got on the subject of Disneyland and Disneyworld, which in turn brought up scrapbooking. Or should I say, the vast amount of stuff I have yet to scrapbook.

Let’s see, with an entire area devoted to scrapbooking in my craft room, one would think I’d be able to simply sit at the desk (yes, even a desk and stool!) and work on a few pages here and there. However, my craft room is in a nearly constant state of chaos, and the desk is usually covered in random unrelated crap. I could blame my scrapbooker’s block on having not printed pictures in nearly four years, but I have so many pictures already printed, many in their own box with the paper, album and other scrapbookables, that this excuse is bullhonky.

So perhaps today after I finish the ladybug mobile I’m working on for my Etsy shop, wash the dishes, go grocery shopping, make a pirate ship out of Rice Krispie Treats and cover it in fondant and make fondant pirates for a cake order this weekend I can work on a page or two, probably from our wedding. I know that once I start that will be all that I need to gain momentum and finish one of them at least.

Of course, my partner came up with an excellent way to scrapbook our random collage of crap (greeting cards, plays and programs, funeral programs, newspaper clippings and pictures) which is to separate everything by year and make a scrapbook for each year. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this. I will still make the special scrapbooks, like big vacations and life events, but by making yearbooks so to speak, it will not only give a purpose to some of the random stuff I like to keep (even the not so pleasant stuff) but also reflect our lives together. Isn’t that the purpose of a scrapbook anyway?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall Television Season

I admit that we don’t watch nearly as much TV since we traded our cable box for an antenna, but we do still watch it. However, I have mixed feelings on how invested I want to be with the lineup.

There are shows I will resume watching this year; Chuck, Parenthood, Community, Bones, Desperate Housewives and finishing off Brothers & Sisters. But I don’t see much promise in many of the new series broadcast TV has to offer. With the original Law & Order off the air, and yet another incarnation taking its place, albeit set in Los Angeles, I don’t know if that would be a draw for me. We may check out an episode or two just for good measure before making a decision, especially since Terrence Howard is in it. While neither of us were impressed with the one episode of Glee we watched, which, admittedly, I didn’t understand the appeal until Jane Lynch’s character had a tirade, we still plan to catch the season two premiere tonight before making any final judgments.

Honestly I think the problem is that too many programs are reality based, I remember when cooking and game shows were the only Reality TV on the air. I also remember the original draw to Real World, which faded quickly because you could tell that every season beyond the first was contrived in some way or another negating the raw interest the show held. Now it seems every channel on broadcast and cable television has some reality show or their entire lineup is filled with people being complete asses of themselves because they have an audience. I mean, c’mon, if I wanted to see that I’d simply go to The Most Evil Corporation in the World and people watch. But that would also require me to break my code of ethics.

I don’t think that reducing the offerings available on television is necessarily a bad thing, as I remember a time when every night but Saturday was spent in front of the TV for hours. Oh wait, Saturday was reserved for the shows that overlapped during the week that I recorded. However, I wonder if the networks have decided to cater to the lowest denominator in their programming efforts. This also seems true in their marketing campaign. The Event, for instance, had the hokiest campaign to make the show seem mysterious, but came off corny at best. I can’t imagine any show’s producer feeling like that was a good idea, so it must be studio execs using their status to influence program marketing, which, let’s be honest, how many executives have a clue how to be relevant to an audience?

Then again, if we want to watch something interesting, we usually watch OPB, our local PBS station. History Detectives, Nova, and Ask This Old House just to name a few of our favorites. I guess my point is that television simply doesn’t hold the same interest it once had for me. If any of the shows I mentioned were cancelled I wouldn’t mourn them because, honestly, some of them are barely pulling me in as it is.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cleaning Microfiber

While there are surely plenty of chemical cleaners to sufficiently lift stains away from your sofa, household laundry soap will also work. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Our sofa gets dirty. We can blame the dog for most of it, but seriously, we’re slobs. We eat on them, spill stuff on them… we use them. And for the first year we didn’t need to clean them. Years two, three and four we’ve had to because, well, they get gross, mostly because of the dog. She leaves body oils and drool wherever she lays down, both of which discolor the microfiber microsuede fabric that covers our sofa. Makes you want to come over and sit on them, doesn’t it?

Originally when the sofa would be soiled I used actual cleaners made specifically for the type of fabric it had. However, they must be quite harsh because it wore the fabric covering the seats so thin that they began to tear… again, mostly because of our dog. It had gotten to the point that we had taken out the head and armrest covers that came with the sofa and chair-and-a-half from the closet and put them on to cover some of the stains, and put an old department store quilt to cover the rips and tears on the seats. Well, eventually those head and armrests needed to be washed, so with the rest of the dog bedding, I threw them into the wash (even though it said not to on the tag) and sure enough, they came out of the dryer looking like new.

Figuring that if Tide in the washing machine could clean them that well, what would it do if directly applied to the stains on the couch? Mixing a few drops of detergent with about a quart of hot water, I tested out my theory on a section of the couch using an old white rag. Sure enough, the stains started coming off, so I continued cleaning the rest of the couch. I took a dry white rag afterwards and went over the areas I had washed to wipe up any excess liquids. Once dry, I used the vacuum cleaner upholstery brush to fluff the fibers back up.

When on a tight budget it is sometimes necessary to use what you have on hand. However, sometimes those fixes you find actually work better than the products designed for that specific purpose.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Being Flexible

When planning a night out with friends doesn’t go according to plan, the best attitude to have is to adjust the plan and move on. You’ll end up having a better time rather than focusing on the negative.

For our friend’s 40th birthday party, he wanted to go to Steakburger to play miniature golf at their Golf-O-Rama (yes, this place is quite retro and reminiscent of a bygone era), however the rain sort of impeded on our plans. Another friend of ours said that she called the local bowling alley ahead just in case the rain was an issue, and it was having league day (on a Saturday no less) but had the number to one of the others. My partner called and they were open to the public so we went to Crosley Lanes for a game of bowling. With six of us on one lane we figured we’d be able to get one full game done in an hour and so we went the hourly rate to save a few bucks. Just for reference I think I bowled one of the worst games I’ve ever bowled, but we had fun.

After bowling we headed into North Portland to McMenamins Kennedy School for dinner and drinks. While none of us were prepared for the Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Celebration going on, we all were prepared for a wait at the main restaurant. It was, after all, a Saturday night. In the interim we went to one of the many bars within the school to order our first round of drinks and decided to get up and wander the school… with our drinks in hand, of course… to look at the various paraphernalia from its former days as an elementary school, as well as all the artwork, murals and many different rooms to explore. Eventually our table was ready and we enjoyed a great meal together, but the company always makes it better.

During dinner came up the fact that the birthday boy had never seen Aladdin, so it was decided that when we all went back to our house for cake that we would also watch the movie. And we did. Sometime after midnight. After I had made a pot of coffee for those us coffee drinkers. And yes, there was sing along during the songs for those of us who’ve seen the movie, which I hope didn’t make the birthday boy feel inadequate. Anyway, after a long night that seemed to be played by ear, it was definitely time for bed. And I was pretty sure we were skipping church as it was only a few hours away.

While it isn’t necessary to have a backup plan in place before going out in case things don’t work out, it helps. But more importantly it helps if you don’t get so stuck on doing a particular thing, and rather have fun with the people who are there to celebrate with you. For this, I hope our friend’s 40th birthday was memorable, even though it didn’t go according to how he had originally envisioned it. And yes, my white cake with lemon curd filling was delicious, in case anybody wanted to know.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lemon Curd

Few things in life are as delicious and simple as cake, but making lemon curd is one of them. And of course, it is a perfect complement to a white cake.

First of all, a white cake is simply a yellow cake without the egg yolks. Basically any cake recipe that calls for whole eggs can be made with just the whites if you wanted to, but I have my opinions on why you should limit your choices. Besides, separating eggs can be difficult (cold separate much easier than room temperature) and really only makes sense if you are on a restricted diet or planning on using the eggs yolks for another part of the cake, like, say, a lemon curd filling. Since this recipe for lemon curd takes 4 egg yolks, I suggest going ahead and making your cake with 4 egg whites. No waste and a better cake. Trust me.

The lemon curd is a very simple combination of egg yolks, sugar, butter, lemon juice and zest. Some people throw in a little salt too, but I just prefer to use salted butter (going against the grain of my baking colleagues here) because, well, that’s what I use for a majority of my baking anymore after discovering my results improved with it rather than unsalted butter and adding salt. If you only have unsalted butter, just throw in a pinch of kosher salt.

Lemon Curd

4 egg yolks
1¼ cups sugar
5 tablespoons butter
Juice of 3 medium lemons (about 3 to 4 oz)
Zest of 3 medium lemons

Zest the lemons with a microplaner into a small bowl or airtight container before juicing. In a noncorrosive stainless steel pan, beat sugar and egg yolks until thoroughly combined; a good vigorous stir with a wooden spoon for a minute will do the trick. Add butter (a little more or less won’t hurt, like, say, as little as 2 tablespoons or up to a full stick) and lemon juice and turn the heat to medium-low to medium, stirring constantly. The mixture will start out opaque, turn slightly translucent, then back to opaque before it is done, and the process can take only a few minutes to almost fifteen depending on a multitude of factors. Do not allow to boil or the eggs will curdle! When the mixture starts to thicken noticeably and coats the back of the spoon, stir more quickly to prevent curdling. Of course, one way to do this is to allow it to boil then press it through a strainer to remove any curdled egg bits, which is foolproof because then you know the eggs are completely cooked and the mixture will have thickened properly. The other is simply to not let it happen. Anyway, when it has thickened well, pour into the bowl or airtight container with the zest and stir to combine before wrapping it with plastic wrap or a lid. I sometimes find that pressing the plastic wrap directly onto the top of the curd prevents a skin from forming and recommend this to people with food texture issues. Allow to cool completely in the fridge.

For filling a cake, especially a white cake, I like to tort the cake layers for a more generous filling to cake ratio. A regular batch of cake will make two 8 inch round layers. Cut each layer in half either freehand with a knife or a specialized cake torting tool (a couple bucks at a craft store) and start layering the cake onto a plate. Divide your curd into thirds, spreading it from edge to edge on each layer before putting the top on and frosting and decorating.

Of course, lemon curd is delicious on its own, or used in place of jams for scones and biscuits. Or again, on its own… maybe topped with some whipped cream.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Snails in the Fish Tank

For years we didn’t have a case of snails in our tank, the only incident when we received a few fish and some plastic plants from a friend. A few months ago when we bought a couple live plants there must have been a drifter.

We have a rather large chocolate plecostomus who doesn’t do a very good job of cleaning the algae on the sides of the tank. Instead, he hides under a piece of wood we have on the bottom. So when I saw a snail in the tank cleaning rather efficiently, and only a few days after getting some new live plants, I thought, “that’s nice, but I don’t think so,” and scooped it up and put it in the whiskey barrel pond on the deck. Every day for a week went by and I would find one or two dutifully eating the algae, and every day I would scoop them up and put them in the pond. Eventually my partner got tired of them and decided to simply squish any that he saw, with the argument that it would be good fish food. Sure enough, the fish seemed to love escargot as much as I do, though I still prefer mine with butter and parsley.

It got to the point that we were both squishing a few a day or every other day and so my partner decided to do a little research to find out what predator fish he could put into the tank that would be okay for the other fish, but eat the impending snail population from getting completely out of control. Certain types of loaches and frogs will work, but it may take a while for them to get up to the size needed to control the breeding population. And breed they do… constantly. It seems that the day they become mature enough to do so they are. You can tell your kids they’re giving each other piggy-back rides because that is what it looks like if you’re not comfortable talking to them about sex just yet. Anyway, my partner picked up a loach that would work alone (we have another loaner loach of a different species) rather than in a school and a frog.

Meanwhile, the snail population continued to grow little by little, and so we would squish a few now and then too keep the population in check. It wasn’t until the other day that I saw our new loach actually take an interest in a snail, and he looked as if he was trying to suck the snail right out of its shell before the snail lowered its shell closer to the glass. A little more research later, I found that this is what these loaches do when they eat snails, so hopefully we will be able to do a little less squishing and watch a little more of nature at work. Now I just wonder if that frog will start doing his part?

So in conclusion, I’m all for a few snails in the aquarium. They certainly help keep it clean by not only eating the algae, but also decaying plants (they don’t actually eat the healthy stuff) and the inevitable dead fish every now and then. This will produce a much healthier tank that requires less chemical additives in the long run, but too many are most certainly a problem. Having a few predators will help control the population, but once in a while it might be a good idea to give a few a good squish if it looks like there are too many. Your other fish will thank you for it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Planning Halloween

While some of you are just in the “Thank God school is back in session” mode, I’m thinking about what to do for Halloween. Honestly, I should’ve started planning this months ago.

For years we’ve been the house that handed out full-sized candy bars because, well, we live on a street with no sidewalks or streetlights and only get the diehard trick-or-treaters. And yes, a lot of those trick-or-treaters are teenagers, but my feeling on the matter is if you dressed up for Halloween and are going to go door-to-door, I don’t care how old you are. Besides, I was 18 the last time I went and was only turned down by one person who was giving out stupid spider rings anyway. This year we will probably have to do something different. We’ll see. Usually we only get one box of candy bars, so we might be able to continue the tradition.

Then there is the costume area. Friends of ours are planning on dressing as a couple of Disney villains and were thinking it would be fun to all dress as such. I love the idea. I don’t know how we would be able to pull it off with our finances being the way they are. And with the costume my partner wants to do we would have to start work on it soon. I still don’t know what I would want to be, but am still deciding between two. One would definitely be easier to pull off, but the other would be much more fun.

The only part we wouldn’t have to stress about would be decorating the outside and inside of the house, as we have a rather large collection of Halloween décor. So large, in fact, that it is equal to our Christmas decorations in the amount of space it takes up on one of the shelving units we have in the garage… and we have a lot of Christmas stuff! I wonder when is too early to start decorating?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brand Names vs. Generics

I’m not saying that I’m a brand snob, but there are certainly items I will not purchase a generic version of. Then again, there are also a large quantity of items I will not purchase the brand name version because it is too cost prohibitive.

Okay, so let me get this out of the way. My dishes I only trust to Dawn because, well it works the best out of every dish soap I’ve ever tried. My laundry I only use Tide High Efficiency because it cleans the best for our front loader washer, and is always a top pick for best buy, even though the cost is higher than a generic or other brands, you use less and it cleans better. Other items I will only purchase by brand are C&H sugars (because I prefer cane sugar over beet or corn), Downey Fabric Softener, Cheerios, Quaker Oats, Colgate toothpaste and Coke. There. I got that all off my chest.

So what items will I not purchase the name brand version of? Prescription pharmaceuticals, for one. If the generic is available, take it. Also the same for cough syrups and cold medications, allergy pills, pain medications, and vitamins (Costco carries nearly all the major brands in generic form for up to 85% less.)

Then there is the grey area of the Brand vs. Generic War, which is when the cost fluctuates sometimes making the generic more expensive than the brand. Yes, a rare occurrence, but it happens, especially in the soda, bread and canned goods sections. I’ve actually found some store brands of breads to be better than most name brands and will purchase them even if their price is slightly more than a name brand. For the most part these items are usually relatively close in price as it is, so I go with what tastes best… except for soda, which I am a stickler for Coke and Diet Coke and refuse to take my chances with the generic offerings.

Basically, if the item is cheaper and equally comparative, go that direction. If the item is superior and not comparative, go with the superior product. I mean, seriously, why spend the extra money just for the packaging which will get thrown away in the garbage anyway?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bathing Lucy

Okay, so there are few things as difficult as bathing a dog who is afraid of water. Unless, of course, that dog is the size of a small horse like our Lucy.

Lucy needs a bath. The last few baths she’s had have been using baby shampoo, very gentle and cleans okay. However, with the return of her skin flare-ups due to chronic allergies of the environmental kind (she’s allergic to grass, weeds, trees, mold, mildew… basically the Northwest) I need to give her a bath with her prescription antifungal/antibacterial shampoo, which is not so gentle but does the job.

It usually requires a good fifteen minutes just to get Lucy into the bathtub because, well, she doesn’t want to go in. And when her ass is firmly planted on the floor it is quite difficult to move her. I usually lure her into the bathroom with her favorite treat in the world, cheese, but she gets a little leery of my intentions and runs back into the living room to lay down on her bed in an effort to distract me by being a good dog. This usually ends with me picking her up and putting her in the tub and blocking her every move to escape. But this isn’t the hard part. The hardest part is leaving her prescription shampoo on for ten minutes after lathering before rinsing it off. Hey, you try keeping a Great Dane in the tub for that long!

Of course, bathing the dog would be pointless unless I washed all of her various bedding, which includes her two bed covers, the two seat covers on the sofa and an old quilt for the rare instances she gets to sleep on the bed with us. I usually have a temporary blanket on the sofa for her to sleep on during the interim. It all needs to be done. I just don’t know if I’m up for the challenge today.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Autumn Flowers

When we think of fall, many of us instantly think that it signals the end of the flower season. However, there are many varieties of flowers that will bloom right into winter (and some even throughout.)

The obvious flower choices that come to mind for autumnal planting are mums, sunflowers and alliums (otherwise known as onions and garlic.) This blend of yellows, oranges, reds and purples sets off a fiery display to showcase what the trees around them are doing. And all of these choices are certainly welcome to replace some of the spring plantings that may have gone the wayside during the summer, but they are not your only alternatives. Many of the summer blooming flowers planted, or in our case that reseeded from the previous year or years, will continue producing blooms well into the fall, and some even after a few frosts. Cosmos, roses and daisies come to mind, but even petunias, lobelia and alyssum will still be in bloom as long as they aren’t allowed to go to seed. Now is also a good time to be on the lookout for winter pansies at your local nursery.

While we think of autumn as a time of plants dying off for the winter, many plants will continue to thrive if given the chance. By chance, I mean water. A common mistake many gardeners make is not watering their flowers in the winter. While it is true, there are a few varieties that don’t require much water, a lot of them still do. The cold air dries out the leaves of fall and winter flowers about as fast as a hot day in summer causes them to wilt, so keeping your plants well watered will ensure a profusion of blooms. A little fertilizer and/or compost every now and then won’t hurt either.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Yes, laundry is one of those words that feels dirty, probably because dirty is usually put before it when discussing unsavory topics. However, I have a few tips not discussed in my previous laundry day post that can turn dirty laundry into clean laundry.

We all know to separate like colors when doing laundry, but why? Well, dyes from some clothes can leach onto others and make them seem muddy. This is especially true of blue jeans, which when washed with a pink shirt can make the pink shirt look dirty. Yes, I know this from experience. So what are like colors? Jeans, greys, greens, purples and blues all seem to do fine together. Khakis, greys, greens and browns seem to do fine together too. The exception is pastels of these colors, and I’ll get to that soon. Ideally, I’d only wash our blue jeans with other blue jeans, but since we simply don’t wash them often (yes, I admit to wearing my jeans for a week in a row before washing them) but just having one pair in a load of greys and blues won’t harm anything, as long as the zippers are zipped and buttons buttoned. And by the way, reds should only be washed with reds or other red colors like burgundy and maroon, at least during the first few cycles.

The color spectrum of laundry seems to go light, medium and dark. I tend to toss out the medium spectrum and reassign the clothing to either the light pile or the dark pile. Lights in our house mostly consist of whites in the form of T-shirts, socks, towels and wash cloths. I also like to wash my pastels with the whites because it keeps them brighter and doesn’t muddle up their colors. Also, it adds to the load of whites, since this is usually the smallest load of the week. Another way I ensure brightness is by adding a scoopful of Borax with the detergent.

There are also times when it is necessary to wash clothes by the dryer cycle. It may seem silly to do a separate load of laundry just by how they have to be dried, but if you already have them separated it will make it easier to just toss everything into the dryer on that setting rather than pulling out what needs to be on one setting over another and drying two loads.

Separating your laundry may not be for everyone. However, if you do, you just might prevent that favorite pink polo shirt from becoming a pinkish-bluish polo shirt. And never underestimate the power of Borax in the laundry to not only soften your water (if you have hard water which doesn’t clean as well as soft) but brighten whites and boosts the cleaning power of your detergent.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Patriotism and Rank Jack-Assery

I understand patriotic people. I don’t understand people who claim others are not because they don’t show their patriotism in the exact same way as they do… that is just rank jack-assery.

I know exactly where I was when the planes hit the towers in New York… sleeping. My partner, on the other hand, was listening to the radio at work when all this started to happen, as he worked the graveyard shift at the time, and I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to be listening to all this take place as it was happening. Naturally, he called me to find out more, which on our local stations was barely a blip on their radar until the second plane struck. Of course, by this time two other planes had crashed and it wouldn’t be long before the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

My partner desperately tried to talk me out of going to work, even going so far as calling them himself, but being The Most Evil Corporation in the World, they wouldn’t allow it. Of course, being one of the only retailers open for business that day, they brought in the big bucks, so the strategy paid off for them. Looking back, there was really no reason to freak out as we are on the west coast, but at the time there was no way of knowing that these attacks were all targeted to specific east coast sites.

So when I hear of people claiming that if we don’t fight back by declaring a war on Islam and every Muslim, or I hear of people shouting that the government shouldn’t allow the building of a Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero, we as Americans are being unpatriotic and doing a grave disservice to those who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, I want to scream that is the most un-American response. I do, however, find it ironic that these are the same people who claim the government has too big of a role and wish to shrink the power it has. Must be something funny in the tea they’re drinking. Or perhaps they feel that if they disguise their blatant racism under the semblance of patriotism nobody will notice. A lot of it is the fear of the unknown, and so in that case, pick up a copy of the Quran and make your own decisions. You’ll likely want to have a copy of your Bible to compare, and may even be surprised by the similarities they share.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Seasonal Décor

Some people like to have the same décor all year round, except maybe a few holiday decorations during those periods. Why not make a few small changes with the seasons?

I must admit, I’m not really one to get all crazy about changing out every piece of decoration every few months, but I do find that having a rotation of a few select items will keep not only your home looking fresh, but also might even get you motivated to do those cleaning jobs you might otherwise put off. Like, say, dusting. For myself, I’ve found that making a quilt with coordinating seat covers is one way to bring a little color to an otherwise blah living room. Of course, the seat covers are really there to cover up the rips and tears in the sofa and act as a washable pet bed since that is where our dog, Lucy, sleeps most of the time. This may not be an option that works for you, but is one I’ve been well pleased with and can’t wait to get my autumn quilt and sofa seat covers started for the new season quickly approaching.

Artwork is another area where rotating can have a big impact. I know for us, we have a lot of prints from various artists… okay, mostly Van Gogh… and for a while had everything up at once. However, the look was a little cluttered so we kept a couple pieces out. Of course, the two we kept out are not only the best looking prints, but also our favorites of the ones we have and consequently we haven’t gotten bored with them. Framing children’s artwork is a great way to really personalize your walls or a side table, and you can simply put their latest work in front of the previous one in the frame… that is, until the frame fills up! Also included in the artwork section of home decorating are photographs. It’s easy to keep updating a family picture wall with new pictures and one of the most economical ways to add new interest often.

Some people have pillows on their sofas and chairs, and this is probably the easiest way to freshen up the look of a room with almost no effort at all. Simply swap out pillows that fit the season; bright, cheery colors for spring and summer, and deep, rich colors for fall and winter. This is most certainly not a rule that must be obeyed, but generally in the spring we play off the extra light and in the winter we play off the more cozy color wheel because of the extra darkness. Another way to save space, especially since most of us don’t have room to store pillows for every season, is to have base pillows, either just the form or a light pattern, and make or buy covers for them. When I was decorating our guest room I bought four matching solid pillows that went with the bedspread I made and for two of them made covers. I made one that zipped at the bottom and another that simply had an overlapping fold in the back center. It was a quick and inexpensive way to get a designer look on an off-the-rack budget.

Vases, candles, flowers and even knick-knacks can be changed out to create a new look without breaking your budget. While it might seem like a neat idea to display everything you have all at once, why not have a select few pieces out at a time. You’ll not only notice them more but appreciate them more as well, and your house won’t seem so cluttered too.

These are just a few options out there. If any of you out there have some advice on easy ways to freshen up your home’s décor, please leave a comment to share with others. Happy decorating!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Leftover Quilting

While I wait for inspiration to arrive on The Uninspired Quilt I’ve been working on for several weeks now, I decided to raid my stash of leftover fabrics from other projects. So far I’ve gotten two baby quilts out of it and enough for a third project.

The first stash I came upon was from a baby blanket I made for my second cousin Stella. The fabrics are adorable, featuring ladybugs and daisies, and I felt completely ready to make another blanket using these fabrics. This wasn’t just because there was so much leftover, but because the simplicity in the color scheme, the cuteness of the patterns, and the type of blanket I was going to make all seemed to come together effortlessly. My first project was going to be a small baby blanket or wall hanging, or as many of the recipients have done, both… in that order.

Now, these projects were from the beginning going to be put into my Etsy shop for sale, so why I was able to work on them so quickly is beyond me, unless, of course, The Uninspired Quilt just doesn’t have the same pull. I don’t know, maybe I need to not worry about trying to finish that one for sale and possibly make it for one of my sisters. That might just be what I need to get it done and out of the house. For the wall hanging I made a stencil, cut out the pieces for the front appliqué and started piecing the quilt together. I’ve made quite a few baby blankets in this manner, so it went together rather quickly. I’m sure if I would’ve worked on it continuously it would have been done faster. These wall hangings are super cute and I’m sure if I put my mind to it could get at least two finished every day.

For the second project from the ladybugs and daisies fabrics, I wanted to make a crib blanket, and I knew I wanted it to be blocks, with every other one in the blue background fabric. This took longer than anticipated, not for ease of simply strip piecing and cutting the blocks down to size, but because I decided to hand tie the corners of every square to give it a wonderfully puckered look after it is washed. It’s not that I don’t trust my machine to do quilting stitches on it, I just really like the look of hand tied baby blankets. It gives this crib quilt character and a genuine handmade touch.

I know I can squeeze one more project out of the leftover fabrics and I’m thinking of making a tagalong blanket for a toddler, which will probably be machine quilted for extra durability. I’ve also been toying with the idea of making a mobile or puffy ladybugs and daisies, but haven’t really gotten to the planning stages for that yet.

So what is my goal from this endeavor? To go through my leftover fabric stashes and make new projects from them. And hopefully sell them. I’m pretty sure I know which fabric stash I’m raiding next and can’t wait to get started on a set of baby boy stuff too. Of course, ladybugs are bugs and daisies are arguably one of the most masculine flowers, and the color scheme or blues, red, yellow and green are quite gender neutral, so there is no reason this couldn’t be for a little boy too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Friend Nikk

Nikkolas was 4 when I first met him, a tall, lanky kid whose mother was pushing him to work for me. Understandable, as arguably, I was the best boss to work for. His sense of humor bordered on sadistic, so naturally we got along from the start. I was especially amused by the fact that I asked him to straighten up my department as I conducted a faux interview and he complied. Excellent…

So the boy applied for The Most Evil Corporation in the World, and naturally I did not even get a chance to get him into my department because, while my department was the only one he applied for, they put him in another because, well, they’re evil, made of evil parts by an evil corporation for the sole purpose of committing evil. It’s true. Anyway, Nikk’s career at The Most Evil Corporation in the World didn’t last long as he decided to join the military and was of course sent to Iraq.

Now, I’m also friends with his mother, so to say that she wasn’t thrilled with his decision would be quite an understatement. I could always tell which days she got to talk to her son because there would be a slight grin on her otherwise stoic face. I say slight, because it would be practically unnoticeable by most anybody else.

Okay, so you are probably wondering, what is a 4 year old doing working for The Most Evil Corporation in the World and then going into the military? Well, you see, he was born on February 29th, 1988 and since that date only happens every 4 years, at the time I met him he only had 4 birthdays. He turned 5 in 2008. Does this clear everything up? Good.

Anyway, so while away in Iraq, we kept in touch through Facebook, and I would keep him in my thoughts and prayers to make it out of there unharmed. However, yesterday he was shot and killed. Not by a suicide bomber or sniper attack, but by our local police while he was on the phone with his mother. I don’t know all the circumstances that led up to this, whether it was indeed the results of post traumatic stress disorder or if it simply was a misunderstanding, but the world lost a great man yesterday. He was a brave soul who put himself in harm’s way to fight for our country. He was a funny, caring and generous guy who would drop whatever he was doing to help if you asked. He was simply, my friend Nikk.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


With our garage finally cleaned out, we went over to our friend’s house to pick up the treadmill. I wish I could say that the task was a simple one.

After hooking up the trailer to the Blazer, we drove to our friend’s house. This part was rather uncomplicated. Getting the treadmill down a staircase that seemed to have more twists and turns than the Terwilleger Curves was quite a feat. Fortunately the treadmill had a couple things that made the task slightly easier; it had wheels and it folded up.

With me going backwards and my partner on the opposite end, we brought the treadmill down one step at a time. More amazingly, we did so without popping out any of the spindles of the staircase rail or putting any holes in the wall. However, I can’t say that we didn’t almost pop out a whole section of spindles or nearly take out a section of wall. Once loaded into the trailer, we thanked our friend and made our way back home.

All set up in the garage, we both tried it out and just for kicks decided to see if our dog could be “walked” on it. Let’s just say she wanted nothing to do with this contraption and did everything she could to get away from it. Quite amusing, to say the least. However, it is here now, so that is one more thing off of this summer’s to-do list.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chicken Chores

The chickens were looking a little restless as I looked out at them this morning, pacing back and forth. This usually means they are out of food and/or water.

During the main growing season, our girls don’t get to free-range as much as they do during the winter, mostly due to the fact that they are all Destructicons and will devour anything in their path. A majority of their free-ranging is supervised, which basically means while we are outside to monitor them. This morning as I was feeding the dog, I noticed them all pacing the front of the coop’s run, a sign that they want out because something that should be in the coop isn’t. Going up to the chicken coop and letting them all out for a while, I noticed the waterer was empty.

Okay, so for some, this may not seem like a big deal, but I remember when we only had to fill that waterer once every five days or so. However, with ten girls in the coop, three of which are quickly becoming full sized hens, that number has dwindled down to every other day. I know this shouldn’t be too alarming to some, but perhaps this means I need to get back to my daily attendance to their chores. This doesn’t entail much, but rather doing a head count and checking the inside of the coop and henhouse for any problems that may have arisen, and of course checking their food and water daily.

And so now, even though it is technically still growing season, I’m becoming quite upset that we have a plethora of green tomatoes on the vines refusing to ripen (although not too upset, as this means a plethora of fried green tomatoes!) the girls are out free-ranging, unsupervised, and figure whatever they get to is theirs to eat. Of course, the first place they go to in the vegetable garden is the strawberry barrel, which I’m quite certain they’ve eaten more of than we have. Then again, if I were a chicken, I’d want to go after those delicious strawberries myself!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Operation Clean Garage: Complete

Yesterday my partner had one goal; to clean out the garage. And yesterday he did, with a little help from me.

It amazes me how the gradual accumulation of stuff can increase the amount of crap a space can physically hold. I’m speaking of our garage, which whenever we have a project anything leftover from said project usually gets placed in the garage, usually unceremoniously and usually including the garbage associated with the project as well. Why? Uh… we’ll get to it later?

The thing about most homes’s garages is that they are the rare location in a home that most consider out of sight, out of mind. Due to this thought process, many of us feel that as long as we keep the rest of the house in order, a little chaos in the garage is acceptable. Of course, I’ve been to houses that would qualify for any number of television shows about hoarding, and yet they have the most immaculate, organized garages. But I know with us, it is simply not putting stuff away when we’re finished with it, especially tools. The half bath project we finished back in May? Yeah, even the box the toilet came in was still in the garage, bearing practically every tool we used for the project on top of it.

So when my partner actually went out into the garage and started the cleaning process, I let him. Oh, I helped a little, but really I didn’t have anything to add. A lot of stuff was garbage, a few things could be stored on the side of the house under the eaves, and even more stuff didn’t need to be stored on the shelving units and could simply be stacked as they were already in Rubbermaid totes, making room for other items that had been just sitting on the floor, like our tile saw and everything we used in the half bath project and all of my partner’s fishing stuff.

Is the garage better? Yes. Is it as organized as we’d like? No. However, with a much cleaner space, our next order of business in the garage is to get a treadmill from a friend who offered it to us months ago, which was the main objective during this particular operation. After that we have to go through each shelf on the two shelving units and throw out or donate anything we don’t want or need. Considering one whole unit contains just our various holiday decorations, it may be time to pare down some of that as well. Then again, some of the stuff may just need to be put back where it belongs.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Really Dislike Dusting

It’s 2010 people. Why haven’t they invented the automatic dust remover yet?

Of the chores I despise the most, dusting tops the list. While yes, it is quite related to vacuuming and I do not abhor that chore so much, dusting requires getting into the nooks and crannies and lifting things up and it seems to get into places it shouldn’t. Vacuuming is pretty much all done on a flat surface with minimal moving of the objects in its path.

Of course, dust is nothing more than a majority of what I am already vacuuming anyway, so why does it gross me out more too? All those tiny particles of dead skin and hair from the various two-legged and four-legged creatures who occupy our household mixed with pollen and soil particles from outside mixed with clothes and paper fibers inside to create the whitish film we call dust creep me out. I’m sure it is because on the floor I’m stepping on it with my feet which are covered like 99.9 percent of the time, where as my hands are uncovered 99.9 percent of the time.

Sure, there are gadgets out there to make the job “easier” to do (like those quotes?) but really, the dust still seems to be there. Even the most heavy duty HEPA filter system can only filter what actually passes through it, and yes they help, but will not eliminate the problem. Our vacuum cleaner, a Filter Queen Princess III, is a HEPA vacuum, but the duster attachment only works for the big stuff and is great for soft surfaces and books, but not so much for wood and “wood.” Ugh. I guess I’ll just have to hunker down, grab an old rag and some Endust, and attack it while it is still fresh on my mind.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pantry Basics

To be ready for practically any baking or cooking project, there are a few things everyone should have in their cupboard. Because nothing sucks more than realizing you’re out of a key ingredient while making a cake.

We all pretty much know the basics of flour, sugar and salt. These three ingredients alone account for the bulk of baked goods from breads, cakes and cookies. However, where would a cookie or cake be without the assistance of baking soda and/or baking powder? While yes, there are a few exceptions, such as pound cake which uses eggs alone as the leavening (and liquid if you make it traditionally), most cakes and cookies would be flat, tough, and dense. Cream of tartar is also a good one to have on hand. A small container is usually enough to last a year for most people because it is something so rarely used, but a necessary component for making snickerdoodles. Add corn starch to the list too. You’d be surprised just how many recipes call for it when you really start cooking.

What about spices? We all know that spices tend to lose their flavor after about 6 months, but nearly all of them are still quite usable for years, so don’t just throw them away! We’ve all been to an elderly relative’s house and found tins of spices that by any standards would be considered antiques, yet they are still usable, you’d just need a little more to get the same flavor punch. Cinnamon and black pepper are the obvious staples every home should have, but where would a gingerbread be without ginger? What would macaroni and cheese taste like without cayenne and paprika? And how many dishes are enhanced with the addition of onion and garlic powders? The list really could go on and on in the spice category, but to round out the flavors, the herbs thyme, basil, oregano and sage should be added to the list.

Now onto the liquid portion of the pantry. Vanilla extract tops the list as most useful, but isn’t alone in the flavoring category. Keep a small bottle of almond extract as well and you’ll be able to enhance everything from cobblers, cakes and cookies with it. White vinegar has a ton of uses in the kitchen and can be used not only for cooking, but also for sterilizing equipment when making anything gluten-free as the vinegar wipes away any residual gluten which can remain even after a thorough washing. Three other items to consider having on hand are honey, light corn syrup and molasses.

So to recap, here is the list: flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, corn starch, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, cayenne, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, vanilla extract, almond extract, white vinegar, honey, light corn syrup and molasses.

Yes, this list is small, but armed with these basics, you can make practically dish or baked good. The four herbs listed… thyme, basil, oregano and sage… offer a wide range of flavor and can easily be substituted for another herb listed in the recipe. With the exception of most basils, these herbs can be harvested year-round from the garden for fresh versions. A couple basils that are perennials are Greek and Cuban, both of which do not flower. However the Greek will need to be treated as a houseplant during the winter so make sure it is potted appropriately so it can be brought indoors when the daytime temperatures drop below sixty degrees. Happy cooking and baking!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fixing the Water Heater

So yesterday morning we woke up to no hot water. Guess the water heater smoke signal was trying to tell us something.

After realizing that the day after having super hot water we suddenly had none, I went into the garage to investigate the tank further. Turning off the power supply at the breaker first, I then took off both of the access panels where the thermostats and elements are located. The top looked perfect and showed no signs of wear, however the bottom was quite obvious that something overheated and burned. I also hooked up the garden hose to the bottom valve and drained the tank, turning on all of the hot water faucets in the house to help push the water out.

And so with a pair of pliers and a screw driver I took off the wires, and attempted to remove the thermostat which had fiberglass insulation and plastic melted over it. When it was finally removed, I tried to remove the element itself, but no tool I used on it would help. A little internet research led me to find that they make a unitasker tool specifically for removing and tightening water heater elements. The same research also led me to the conclusion that as long as the wattage and voltage of the new element matched the old one and was the screw in hex type it would work.


Off to Grover Electric and Plumbing I went, armed with my melted thermostat and on a mission to replace that, the element and get a hex tool. I grabbed the parts I needed and consulted with a professional to make sure my efforts weren’t in vain, which, for those interested, the response was that if the element overheated and went out it would’ve caused the issue we had, but so would faulty electrical work, so I had a 50/50 chance. I figured $20 worth of parts was worth a try rather than spending $400 to replace the heater as my partner wanted to do.

And so for the next several hours (yes, hours) I spent trying to repair the water heater. The hex tool seemed to make little difference, mostly because it almost definitely requires three hands to operate. So a grabbed the hammer and a chisel to lightly tap around the edges of the old element in an attempt to loosen it from the tank. I then used the hammer to pound a metal rod I had put through the hex tool until it loosened up enough to simply unscrew it by hand, a feat easier said than done. After taking the element out of the tank it was quite obvious too much gunk had formed on it and, well, it simply couldn’t take it anymore. So I shoved it back in, barely hand tightening it and flushed the tank to get out as much sludge at the bottom I could and when the water seemed to come out clear, I replaced the element, put in the new thermostat, reconnected all the wiring, cut a new piece of fiberglass insulation as the old one was either burned or wet, put the access panel on the bottom, flipped the breaker on, pressed the reset button on the top and replaced the access panel to it and prayed to God I didn’t screw up.

About a half an hour later, with no smell of smoke or burning, we checked the faucets and allowed the air to plop out, along with the usual nasty water buildup, and found that the kitchen and bathtub faucets seemed to have low pressure. The kitchen eventually fixed itself just from running it for a while longer, but the tub might have some larger gunk trapped in the hot water pipes somewhere leading to it so I guess another project has formed to fix that issue now. But hey, at least we have hot water again!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hot Water Heater

We always joke about getting a tankless hot water heater when ours finally goes out. Of course, we always expected to have money to buy one when that happened.

A couple days ago I noticed a funny smell coming from the garage. Upon opening the door, the smell of burning rubber and a faint black smoke swirling through the air like a low fog were signs that something wasn’t right. My first thought was that it was the extension cord leading to the pond on our deck, so I quickly turned the power strip off and searched for the offending wire. No luck. Everything was cold and the smell didn’t seem to be coming from that direction. So I opened up the garage to let the smoke air out.

Minutes later I thought, oh crap! What if it is the gas furnace? So I ran back into the garage and flipped the switch off on it when I noticed the hot water heater that sits next to it had leaked a little water out of both the top and the pressure release valve. Because of where our hot water tank is located it is difficult to see, so I grabbed a flashlight to investigate and sure enough it died. So I grabbed another one and within a couple seconds it died too. So I grabbed yet another flashlight and it wouldn’t turn on. Fortunately it is a windup kind, so I wound it, turned it on and pointed it where I needed to. I could see signs that something burnt from inside the vent. Of course, I assumed that some of the water that escaped the pressure release valve splashed back up into the vent since they are literally only a couple inches away from each other, and the only noticeable difference in our hot water was that it was hotter than usual.

Internet research lead to two different conclusions, with one being more obvious than the other. Either there was an electrical issue and the wires melted, or one of the heating elements went out, causing the other to overcompensate which overheated the water which then began to leak out of both the top and release valve. Not a lot of water mind you, but enough to notice. The further I got into my research, the more it sounded like the element burnt out. So I further investigated to find out if this indeed was an issue that can be repaired by me, or if we have to go without hot water for a while until we magically have enough money to buy a new tank. Apparently if it is indeed the element it is easily replaced. If, however, it is electrical, an electrician is required, and we all know that they are not cheap. If, and this third option scares me, the tank has died (it was installed in 1995) I don’t even want to know how much it will cost to replace.