Saturday, November 28, 2009

A time to build

What a difference. What a difference a day makes. And new countertops (budget IKEA butcherblock). And a new faucet (Hansgrohe Metro from Costco). And a new fridge (Samsung from Lowe's). The kitchen looks fantastic. Well. Okay. Ignore the duct tape/aged sheet vinyl patchwork flooring. Other than that. And the halfway demolished cabinetry on the refrigerator wall. Maybe somewhat improved is a more accurate term.

The countertop hasn't been permanently affixed yet. It needs multiple layers of Waterlox, and the sink needs to be caulked. But the fridge is cold and full of food. The water is running. And I am beyond thrilled. So thrilled that I'm about to slap on a white subway backsplash, get the abatement people to just cut around the existing cabinets, and call it a day. Not really, but for now, I'm going to enjoy.

Some photos:

The old version. Note the metal-framed insets of some flimsy plasticky material. The frame trapped crumbs and would allow some to fall through to the drawers below. Ewww.


Friday, November 27, 2009

A time to tear down

"a time to tear down and a time to build..."
- Ecclesiastes 3:3

At our house, we seem to be mired in the "time to tear down" phase.

I don't usually quote the Bible, but this seemed appropriate today. I'm feeling a certain amount of Biblical wrath.

The delivery men from Lowe's are in my house as I write this. They're taking out the too-small washer, dryer, and refrigerator, and bringing in their new, larger replacements. Over the past couple of days, Will tore down the cabinets surrounding the fridge. The enclosure was too small for the larger refrigerator. More duct tape on exposed asbestos tile flooring. Discovered in this process: a newly revealed scrap of very festive wallpaper between two cabinets.

Then the news. The fridge is too large to fit through the narrow doorway to the kitchen. And before I could even say, "Jehosaphat," (I'm feeling Biblical today), Will was tearing out the molding on that doorway.

I'm sick at heart.

Now that pretty molding is chewed up. The one and only entrance to our kitchen is surrounded by splintered wood (can we say, "not safe?"). Never mind that it's original to the house.

Further, Will is going to have to spend more time tearing out trim. Longer than the delivery guys are willing to wait. So we can't even get the fridge today. Talk about a lose/lose position.

I realize that you have to have patience during renovation. Especially during a renovation where money is tight, and one is not just handing the reins over to a general contractor and saying, "Go to town." But this is just one piece of splintered wood too many.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why is it so hard to give?

And I mean this literally.

We're replacing our refrigerator, washer, and dryer. They work perfectly, but are too small for our needs. They came with the house so I don't know how old they are. I bet that they aren't the youngest, shiniest things on the block, but they are completely, fully functional...down to the icemaker in the freezer and the moisture sensor in the dryer.

So we called a nonprofit to pick up the appliances. We don't want them to clutter a landfill before their time. Someone in need could use a refrigerator, washer, and dryer in perfect working order, right?

The first nonprofit is closing.

The second nonprofit...well, a guy actually...isn't taking them.

The third nonprofit, the Salvation Army, won't take any major appliances unless we can guarantee that they're under five years old. Seriously. So according to the wisdom of the Salvation Army, it's better for people in need to have nothing rather than perfectly functional, older appliances. Also, who donates nearly new appliances? I'd guess the very wealthy and folks who're getting rid of problematic, troublesome appliances. I guess it's better to take young lemons rather than older, functional models.

This isn't the first time that I've run up against this. During Katrina, I tried to donate my children's outgrown clothing for Katrina victims. These were name brand (and I'm talking Hanna Andersson and Gap here), perfectly good clothes. No stains. No holes. Hardly any wash wear, if any. Nonprofits working for Katrina victims would not accept them. They only wanted brand new.

I'm not saying that folks in need should accept and be grateful for shabby, run-down, barely functional things. Absolutely not. But it seems that even the world of nonprofits has been bitten by the consumerist bug. The idea that one should eschew the ten-year-old, beautifully tailored coat made of the very best materials for the au courant style, no matter its quality. That only new or nearly new is acceptable. Sad. And wrong.

And for those who wonder, yes, my children wear hand-me-downs. I gratefully accept them from my sister-in-law and friends with older children and even purchase from second-hand sources.

So. Does anyone know of a person who needs a refrigerator, washer, and dryer? They need to be able to transport them. We'll help load. Anyone?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Summer camps

You heard me. Summer camps. Yes. S-u-m-m-e-r.

There's something very wrong with researching summer camp before Thanksgiving. But that's the way things roll. A very popular (and a wee bit spendy) day camp opens to new campers December 15. And apparently fills up very quickly. Lest you think this phenomenon is limited to the hyper-competitive northeast, the ever popular Camp Half-Blood in Austin is already sold out for summer 2010. I was thinking of sending the big guy to Austin for that camp. Oh well. Not an early bird. No worm.

So I'm researching summer camps. After awhile, they all start to look alike. Slick websites filled with images of gleaming, bright-eyed, grinning children. All so happy with their camp experience. And the language promising intellectually stimulating projects, lifelong friendships, nurturing environments, energizing sports and activities. Fun. Fun. FUN! And...the subtext goes...a healthy, balanced, happy child with a posse of good, healthy, balanced, happy friends who will all go to an excellent college of their choice and make their parents proud.


I don't know what I'm looking for, but I don't think any of these camps are it. These camps full of sanitized, carefully honed experiences. Maybe I'm just feeling jaded. Or maybe I'm tired of excitedly typing in a website for a program that sounds oh-so-cool only to find that it's a branch of a national chain of "experiences." That the oh-so-cool factor had been carefully crafted and marketed. Where's the authenticity? The individuality?

I'm going to ask the big guy what he wants to do this summer. Or maybe I should resist signing him up for the ultra-shiny camps for thousands of $$$, and just have him be bored at home. Some articles I've read recently say that boredom is good for kids. These articles seem to subliminally suggest that boredom is the fertile soil from which sprout amazing things. The only amazing thing sprouting from my child's boredom seems to be whining. But maybe that's just us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Butternut squash soup

Another foray into fall veggies. The roasted beets went well. So gathering courage, I attempted butternut squash. They're rather daunting...large and heavy and firm. The recipe I chose was a butternut squash soup gleaned from an online kitchen forum I frequent. It seemed very simple with the minimum of steps and ingredients. I'm trying to stick as best as I can with slow foods/whole foods, and this met the bill.

So here's the recipe:

2 med butternut squash
1 pound cooking apples
2 red onions
2 T butter
1 to 2 T grated fresh ginger root
dash cayenne
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper

Topped with:
maple syrup

Cut the squash in half and place on parchment paper cut side down. Roast in a 400 oven til the skin is collapsing in. Cut the apples in quarters. Core, but do not peel. Peel and quarter onions. When squash is done, remove from parchment w/ a spatula and put the apples and onions on the same paper. Roast till the apples are collapsing. Cool all and pull off the squash peel. Using a rubber scraper, remove the apple peel. Coarsely chop the red onions and saute them in 2 T butter til very soft. Add squash, apple pulp, and enough water to make it soupy. Add juice of a lemon. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Grate 1 to 2 Tbsp of fresh ginger root. Add a very tiny dash of cayenne...a little goes a long way ! Let simmer for about 30 min. Stick blender. Serve with yogurt/maple syrup blend swirled on top.

First thought. Cutting butternut squash in half isn't as simple as it seems. The squash is large and quite firm. It took multiple maneuvers with a chef's knife to accomplish. Perhaps this goes easier when one is more experienced.

Hmmm... problem. I had to use my largest cookie sheet to fit the squash. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a rim, and it looks like there are pools of squash liquid. How to get the sheet out without spilling boiling squash liquid on myself or the oven?? Oh goody. The liquid is now dripping onto the oven floor. Ultimate solution would be get a larger cookie sheet with raised rim.

It took my squash less than 30 minutes for their skins to start developing large bubbles. Very creepy/X-Files/Fringe-looking. Maybe several minutes past this to collapse.

The apples/onions took about fifteen minutes to collapse. This may have been a tad too long. Second thought. Roasted red onions are very difficult to chop because they're soft and slippery. You're supposed to coarsely chop, but I hate large bits of anything in my food so fine mince (or an approximation thereof) it is.

Question as I saute. How soft is "very soft"? The onions were already quite soft from being roasted.

The question I thought I'd have (how much water to add) was actually a non-issue. It seemed relatively easy to eyeball the mixture and add enough liquid for it to seem soupy and not stewy. We'll see in the end if it's the right amount. Added about four cups all told.

Result? Delish! I topped it with a dollop of Fage yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. It was sweet and a bit earthy with a very slight bite from the cayenne. And it was very, very good for you. Hardly any added oils at all. This is an almost perfect late fall soup, and would be great paired with pork chops or a game bird. Mmmm...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turkey Day Dilemma

It had been all set. We were going to experience living in the little states by driving through five of them. MA to NJ or bust. For those who are geographically impaired like me, that's MA - RI - CT - NY - NJ. What a difference from Texas where one can drive and drive and drive and still end up in Texas. We were looking forward to seeing family and surviving Black Friday in New York City. We had to take our budding scientists to the American Museum of Natural History!

Best laid plans etc. etc. A hosting family member will be going through surgery on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The prognosis is good, but somewhat undetermined. So we were suddenly on our own for our first Turkey Day as yankees.

And now. I'm at a bit of a loss. We're not used to doing the turkey thing ourselves. Before kids, we'd usually travel, either to see family or to just travel. One of the very best Thanksgivings I can remember was spent at Estes Park, hiking the Rocky Mountains. We'd spent another Thanksgiving hiking the Guadalupe Mountains. Talk about driving and driving and driving through endless West Texas!

The arrival of children put an end to the hiking holidays, but we'd still go to someone else's home for turkey. Usually one set of parents.



For some vague, undefinable reason, I'm resistant to doing the whole turkey thing this Thanksgiving. Not that I'm not thankful. I am. And not that I don't love holidays. I do. Perhaps it's because we're new to the turkey thing, and the whole turkey/stuffing/sides preparation seems daunting. Perhaps it's because our kitchen is held together by duct tape. Perhaps it's because it seems silly to spend hours lavishing care on a bird and assorted yummies for the five of us (three of whom would be more likely to appreciate a thin cheese pizza).


Is it so very wrong to just order a premade Thanksgiving dinner and call it a day? No slaving away. Just some reheating and perhaps making one or two things from scratch? And spending the rest of the day watching football and playing Uno and redoing our kitchen countertops if the spirit moves us?

We'd better decide. I think the order deadlines are coming soon (if they haven't already passed).

Thursday, November 12, 2009



Lou telling her big sister (now five!) that big sis can sit in the front of the bathtub because it's her birthday. Who sits in the front of the bathtub can be quite the bone of contention.

Big awwww...

That's huge generosity from a 3.75-year-old. Especially one who watched the birthday girl choose lunch and dinner, select a cake, and open presents.

Love when they're sweet to each other. Which happens fairly often.