Tuesday, July 31, 2012

House Update July 31, 2012

 All other work is pretty much suspended as we race to finish the den. The deadline for having the walls finished, the floor laid down, and the TV installed (not to mention the futon carried down) is August 27, the start of the Republican National Convention, thus providing (hopefully) conclusive evidence on the raging debate in our house, "Is the Republican campaign strategy more motivated by cynical manipulation or by blind arrogance?"

We lost three days due to paint already. Lowe's house brand, Valspar, has worked for us so far, but when we tried to paint the trim a dark color ("La Fonda Earth" aka melted chocolate) the paint came out thinner than milk, ran everywhere, and stained everything. What should have been a one-day job turned into a four-day job, and ruined any chance of us buying more Valspar paint. The trim that hasn't been installed yet will be painted beforehand, and we're reconsidering painting some of the installed trim.

 Instead of building walls for the pantry and then adding shelves to the walls, we built extra-sturdy floor to ceiling shelves whose extra-thick backs form the "walls". After much searching, we finally found someone who would sell us a skinny door for the pantry; for a while we thought we'd have to make one. We finished the cabinet facings at 2 am.

Next up is the pantry door frame, then the pantry walls, the cabinet drawers and doors, the upper shelves, the book and DVD shelves, the trim, the paint, and deciding what to build for the TV: table, shelf, or frame? Then the flooring, the TV installation, and we're done. Knock on wood.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Discovering Smoothies

I finally got everything together to make yogurt. Since the new kitchen is bigger than a postage stamp we now have a blender for the first time in 15 years, which means we can make smoothies. I haven't had very many smoothies, as there's been a lack of: a) smoothie bars in the area, b) money, and c) blenders, so I'm only vaguely acquainted with the process. Blending the fruit to a pulp before serving fruit yogurt seems to help most of the family eat it faster, although the two youngest children are resisting. So far I've experimented with fresh blueberries from the neighbor's garden, leftover sauteed apples, bananas, cantaloupe, and fresh peaches. So far so good, although there's still some pulp left over; it doesn't blend smooth. Oh, and grapes. I found if I add a handful of white grapes I don't need any sugar even with the tart yogurt.

I'm not sure how exactly I'm supposed to get it really cold. The recipes say, "Throw ice, fruit, and liquid into the blender and blend it smooth." That doesn't work. If I blend it at the top speed to pulverize the fruit pulp, the ice is crushed to nothing. If I don't blend it at top speed, I end up with a lot of pulp. Obviously I have to add the ice later. Apparently some people prefer frozen fruit, both because it's colder and because the ice crystals break down the pulp in the freezer. That's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't do anything about melons (which shouldn't be frozen) or grape skins.

Hmm. I'm told smoothies call for three main ingredients: liquid (to protect the blades), ice, and smooth-blending fruit. Obviously some people are doubling up with the frozen fruit. If I use yogurt for the liquid I don't need liquid fruit juice. What if I freeze the fruit juice and use that for the ice? I know lemonade freezes at a lower temperature than water; I bet it's true of fruit juices as well. I'll try that. I'll also try adding some chocolate milk powder to the smoothies of the two youngest children. That might improve their opinion, as they belong to the "everything is better with chocolate" camp.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Life, With (Optional) Video Games

It's so hot I've largely ceded the computer to my children for gaming, but that and the fact that we should have the Wii hooked up in another month* have me thinking quite a bit about computer games: my own past with them, what my children think of them, and how they'll fit in our homeschooling household.

(*The target date for finishing the den and installing a TV is the Republican primary.  My husband wants to see just how much they think they can get away with up close.)

I loved computer games in the 1970s and 1980s but my coordination is lousy, and it was even worse as a teenager.  I could handle the "shoot" button, although I'd never be a high scorer.  Then Nintendo invented the "jump" button, and I washed out of arcade-style games.

That left PC puzzle games which I preferred, up to a point.  The entire trajectory of my life as a abuse survivor had been about realizing I don't have to do what other people want me to do.  It's served me well in general, but not in puzzle gaming.  I'd get stuck in a game and think, "Why am I expending all this energy pleasing someone who isn't even here?  This is not who I am.  This is not what I do."  At that point it was easy to walk away.  I still liked the concept of computer games though, and I got excited over the developments of RPGs and motion controls.

Our children have no such hangups, and enjoy playing PC games.  When we moved into a bigger house and prepared to get an up-to-date TV it only made sense to pick up a Wii.  Now I'm wondering how I can incorporate this console into our homeschool.

Turns our other people are wondering the same thing.  New Mexico University has an entire department researching how to integrate games in education, especially exercise games.  They summarized their findings in a video, the presentation drags but it has some useful ideas.

And since schoolteachers put everything online, it didn't take long to find free exergame lesson plans.

Indoor exercising in the only way to go in this heat, that's for sure.  And it might be a good idea to keep a dance game pulled up for between-lesson breaks to help "get the sillies out."
The temperature is finally staying below 100F most days, but the rains have  moved in.  While this is good for the garden, the air is so super-saturated with moisture that the air conditioning can't remove the water.  The air flowing from it just blows on the sweat on your body, but it doesn't remove it.  We're going outside as little as possible during daylight.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

House Update July 2012

I haven't posted much lately largely because I've been tired out from remodeling.  (Dh just told me to write, "My husband has the summer off, so no one got a vacation."  It's true.  Last-minute Pell Grant "reforms" killed over 2/3rds of the summer school classes and left him little to do but carpentry.)  It's been over 105F for two weeks now, so we're doing a lot of the outdoor prep work between 9pm and midnight.  Here's what we've finished since the last house update in January.


The electrical outlets have been refurbished.  The facings of the upper cabinets are complete except for the decorative bit and the tricky bit.  The paint's been retouched.  The vent hood is installed, so now we can fry food for the first time in almost 2 years.  The drawer slides are here and hopefully we can get on to making the drawers soon.  I need a safe place to store my candy thermometer so I can make homemade yogurt. It's too hot for anything but a cold breakfast, cornflakes get old fast, and it's even too hot for homemade baked goods first thing in the morning.

(Have you seen what yogurt costs in the stores?  Yeah.)


My husband has taken great delight in turning the gloomy former mancave into a sunny playroom.  ("Mancaves are for pathetic losers who can't do anything.")  We finished priming the walls and painted the ceiling.  Extra outlets were added.  The pantry floor is in place right over what was apparently once the garage shed, and the framing has begun.  The built-in cabinets are framed, floored, and have their sub-counters on.  We saved the doors and drawers from the former kitchen lower cabinets, scrubbed them out good, and we'll recycle them here.  Still, the cost of the lumber to finish the room was the biggest expense after the mortgage this month.

I'm slightly annoyed by the work, as I use the den to exercise in and all the commotion has thrown my schedule off.  The 12yo is extremely annoyed that we haven't made the den a priority since we're going to wait until it's finished to buy a new TV (our first since 1995, and our first flat screen) and set up the Wii we got last Christmas.  I pointed out that the delay has given us time to round up extra games, remotes, nunchucks, and a charger, but that only placates her so much.

We haven't been able to buy anything else for the new house or to bring anything large down from the old house, except for a bookcase full of baby and children's books that is now in the girls' room.  They were happy to become reacquainted with old favorites and to introduce them to the 3yo.

The sheds

Much of the outdoor work has been spent finishing one shed and refinishing another.  One shed was left unfinished over a decade ago.  The material to build it was piled behind it and left to weather outdoors for at least 12 years.  Only one wall was completely finished; it held a warped but intact set of 1950's knotted pine upper kitchen cabinets taken from a neighbor's house during their remodeling.   We finished the outer facing, the wiring, the insulation, and the inner facing.

The other shed looked like it had been set up at one time for children's crafts, probably during the house's "day care" era.  It had since been turned into a storage building for at least one other damaged set of upper kitchen cabinets (and possibly part of another set), some lower cabinets, and a huge pile of interior finishing remnants at least 12-15 years old that don't match anything we've seen in the house.   We've cleaned and sorted it out,  The damaged sheetrock was chopped up for Predator bandages flat casting molds. The walls are being prepped so we can install the upper cabinets and return it to it's former function.  If necessary we can run pipes out to it and turn it  into a cabin, should we find ourselves needing to house extra adults in a few years.  We've also scraped the carpet off the ceiling (a 70s fad) and painted it.

The gardens

Last  year's site for the vegetable patch turned out to be a bog, so we're trying a dryer place this year.  Of course that means we're having a drought.  Still, the site has been a good one.  We're just growing enough to eat fresh this year.  We don't have time to can anything.

The flower beds are doing good.  The 11yo likes to birdwatch, so I've pitched the flowers towards butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds, with a lot of red and pinky-purple wildflowers all arranged in drifts according to height, just like they would be found in Nature, provided Nature had the aesthetics of a school photographer.  It's produced a bumper crop of butterflies and dragonflies, and one tiny hummingbird.  The bird feeders we cleaned up and set out, and the bluebird houses the girls made, have also brought us bluebirds and cardinals to watch.

One odd bit came from a cheap bag of "daffodils" we planted out last fall that turned out  to be giant ornamental alliums instead, a much more expensive plant that I never had any fondness for.  (I love to look at alliums while thinking how good they'll taste on my plate.)  Still, we've got them and the butterflies like them, so I'll find a place for them in the back row this fall.

The azaleas are on Year 2 of a 3-year plan to prune them into shape.  They can only be pruned by 1/3 at a time, and they started out as monsters threatening to eat the house.  This year I've got them down to the right height, but they're still spread out everywhere.  I've also started pruning the rest of the shrubs this year.

The floirbunda rose we planted last year did well, so this year it was joined by 15 David Austens:  Harlow Carrs, Braithwaites, a Sharifa Ousma, and a Scentimental.  The Scenitmental and one of the Carrs died, but the rest are doing fine.

We also planted a pear tree and a Japanese persimmon this year.  The persimmon had been sitting in it's pot for two years when we bought it, and had naturally acquired a "bonsai look".  It's doing fine and has even set fruit.

The herb garden has long since outgrown it's spot by the kitchen door and spread out in all directions.   Depending on how you count them, I've now got between 30 and 60 different varieties, including 9 different mints, 6 or 7 different thymes, and IDK how many different dianthus and bee balm.  The regular lemon balm I planted last year is now "golden leaf" lemon balm, which doesn't seem to take the sun as well unfortunately.

While pineapple sage loves my yard, regular sage doesn't.  I've planted three different varieties so far, and two have already died.  Grey-leaved plants don't take to the South, so I'm currently trying a gold variegated sage to see if that will do better.  I wish someone would make a green or golden leaved lavender that would do well down here.

Everything else is doing well, by which I currently mean "hanging in there in spite of the heat".


The people who had this house before us knew a lot about wiring and about heating/cooling installations, but not so much about plumbing.  One problem took out the entire front half of the house (including the laundry and kitchen).  The plumber took one look at it and disappeared for three weeks.  After three weeks of doing dishes and laundry in the bathtub I called him up and fussed at him because I'd had to cancel a talk I was supposed to give at (the UU) church.  He came out to fix them the next morning.  No service provider can afford to be bad-mouthed at church.

Immediately after that the bathroom sink stopped up, and while trying to fix it we found that the house had extra pipes for nonexistent rooms that had never been properly capped -- when it started raining inside the house.

In between those two mishaps the stove element blew, and in the process took out the rest of the wiring in the stove.  (Remind me why we need a computer in a simple appliance.)  After a week of trying to fix it we realized that the cost of all the new parts we needed exceeded the cost of a new stove, and replaced it.

The good news is that it looks like we're about to get a break in the weather.  The forecast is saying that we'll have a big storm next week which will knock the highs down to 95F, which is currently the temperature at midnight.  It's due to arrive on Thursday, the same day the lumber gets here.