Thursday, September 30, 2010

There are days...

Pearls Before Swine 

There were a couple of days earlier this week, when this was exactly how I felt. (Click the comic to go to the original, larger version).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

35 pounds of peaches

A fraction of the box of peaches
This past weekend I bought a box of peaches. As you may recall, from previous posts, I love peaches. My dad used to buy boxes of peaches every fall to slice and put in the dehydrator.  They would be set out on the dining room table, and the kitchen counter, and any other flat space, to ripen, filling the house with their lovely perfume.  Then they would all ripen at once, and the kitchen became an unsafe place to be in the evenings, as he peeled and sliced peaches like a madman (well, OK, and time he is in the kitchen he is kind of like a madman, even if he is only making a sandwich), laying them out on dehydrating trays and dripping peach juice down the stairs and through the hallway to the dehydrator hidden in the storage room. Peaches bought directly from the farmer, as these were, and as were those long ago peaches, taste nothing like the mealy, rock hard one minute, over-ripe the next, peaches that you can buy at the store. As a result, canned peaches, dried peaches, and any other peach products all taste that much better.

Raspberry vodka, brandy, and rum
Anyway, I bought this box of peaches, and now I had to think of what to do with them all. I didn't really want to can them, although I like eating the results in the middle of January and remembering that winter doesn't last forever (especially not in Arkansas). Cobbler is always a good option, but wouldn't use enough peaches to make a noticeable dent in the box. Then our friend Taine mentioned a recipe she had just seen for making boozy fruit - fruit marinated in sugar and hard alcohol. Canning without some of the fuss and mess of canning. Perfect. I found the general recipe at the New York Times and decided to give it a try. After a trip to the liquor store, I made six jars, two each, of boozy peaches in raspberry vodka, brandy, and rum. You will have to wait until December or January to hear how they turned out, since they have to marinate for 3 months before they are ready to eat (or should that be imbibe?). I also made a batch of peach frozen yogurt, which was divine.

From several years ago, but the scene will be similar tonight.
 Of course, six jars of peaches and a half gallon of frozen yogurt also hardly make a dent in a 35 pound box, so I did the sensible thing and ordered a dehydrator. Well, maybe it wasn't entirely sensible - would have been cheaper just to can the darn things and be done - but I have wanted one ever since I moved away from home, and I do so love dried peaches... Excalibur (hey, that's the name on the box) arrived yesterday, and I will be spending my evening peeling peaches, slicing peaches, and getting peach juice all over the kitchen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday diversion

I thought I would post this picture to show how well we are blending in here in Arkansas. We too can park on our lawn!  No, we don't really. I was getting ready to wash the car, and figured I could water the lawn at the same time this way. And it was the only shady spot at the time. But many people do park on lawns around here. I am not sure why they prefer the lawn to the street, but they do.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I give you shelves

Using hard-earned sanding skills
Sorry about the lack of posting last week - things, days, got away from me somehow. Anyhoo, here are a few promised shots of my shelf making project. A few months ago (maybe as early as April?) I bought two pieces of red oak to make into shelves for Kirby's room. What with one thing err, excuse, and another, I didn't get around to doing anything about the shelves until after Kirby's room was painted. This was actually a good thing, since I didn't have to try to paint around them or re-hang them.  

First coat of stain, check.
 In college, I spent a summer working for a contractor/furniture maker as a finish sander. This meant that I spent 8 hours a day using an orbital sander to put a nice smooth finish on pieces of cabinets that would then be stained and installed in clients' homes (and inhaling lots of sawdust.  You would would be amazed where that stuff can get, even with a mask and earplugs). So I definitely know how to wield a hand sander. And I put those skills to use on these boards. They didn't turn out as smooth as the ones I used to work on, but only because, in the end, I was too impatient to get these up to do three or four levels of sanding. I chose a light, natural stain/topcoat to enhance the color of the red oak, rather than obscure it. After two coats of stain, some drying time, and a contentious half an hour, the shelves went up. A little crooked (thanks to a defective laser level. Mom, you get what you pay for with those things), not quite level, but up. 

When I was getting pictures off the camera, I preferred this picture, taken without the flash, because the color is a little richer, but now that I am seeing it on the blog, I think I should have used the other one. Oh well, you get the idea. They are on the wall in Kirby's room, and at last I can put out some of my cute breakable decorations. Yay.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We're not in Phoenix, so cut it out!

While at the gym this morning, I caught the following factoids on the morning news: 
  • The latest that Little Rock has had a 90+ degree day was October 23, in 1989
  • The most days of 90+ weather was 115, which occurred in 1998
  • This year, so far, we have had 110 of 90+ weather, and it is sure to be 111 after today
Blech. C'mon autumn!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Projects and bread

A brief update - I did indeed get the shelf project well underway this weekend. I broke out my brand new orbital sander and sanded both shelves to a nice level of smoothness; not as silky as when I worked at the construction company as a finish sander, but pretty good.  And the first coat of clear stain was applied - the boards are a lovely red oak, so I decided to enhance that color, rather than apply a different color.  Now they just need one more coat and some drying time, and they should be ready to hang.  That will probably have to wait until next weekend.

I also baked a loaf of my favorite three grain bread, washed my car, bathed Miikka, hung pictures, played tennis, picked out a custom frame for Benjamin's PhD diploma, made pancakes, and roasted a chicken. Whew.

There will be pictures from some of these activities later in the week - I didn't have time after doing all those things to actually get the pictures off the camera. Ah well, gotta stop somewhere.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bread and projects

Last weekend, after finishing the painting job, I had a need to bake. We were out of bread, it is true, but that really wasn't my motivation. When we were in New York, and I was unemployed, I baked almost all our bread. I kept baking almost weekly for a good while after we moved to Arkansas, until this summer.  It has been too hot to justify firing up the oven (well, turning on the electricity, since it isn't a gas over), and I was a little burned out. But on Sunday, I made these delicious loaves of French peasant bread. So tasty and crackly, right out of the oven. Ahh...

Now that the painting project is done, I have to decide which home improvement project to work on next.  I don't think I am ready to start another painting job yet, and it is supposed to be hot again this weekend, so I probably won't want to work outside much. There is a project sitting in the garage that I initially thought of way back in early spring : shelves for Kirby's room. I bought a length of board and planned to sand and stain it, but it was too rainy, or too hot, or I wanted to wait until I had repainted the room... Well, now those excuses aren't valid, so maybe I will get moving on that. Maybe. I am pretty good at procrastinating on projects unless I set a firm (although completely arbitrary) goal. Should I do that? OK. By Monday, I want to be able to report progress on the shelf project. There. Hold me to that, will you?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where are you from?

Skeptical Oliver doesn't believe the statistics - prove him wrong!
Google Analytics reports that I had 404 absolute unique visitors for the time period of August 15 - September 14, for a total of 608 visits.  Over 400! Now, the majority of those were first-time visitors who probably stumbled upon this blog one way or another and didn't return, but 37% of you were returnees. Supposedly, you live in 50 countries and territories. If you are a regular or semi-regular visitor, I'd love it if you would leave a comment about your location. General is fine, if you don't want to be traced - I don't know how anyway!  I usually figure that only my mother and a couple of friends read the blog, so I would be very interested to see who else is lurking around.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Puppy Pool Party!

Don't know where all the dogs went during this photo, but there were a lot of them.

On Saturday, the Maumelle Community Center pool was transformed into a puppy pool for a puppy pool party, benefiting the Maumelle Friends of the Animals.  Since Miikka loves playing in water that comes from a hose, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see if he liked swimming.

Mama, what have you done to me?
Short answer: no. Long answer: still no.  He was somewhat intimidated by all the big dogs and their outsized exuberance - at one point, he and Benjamin were vaulted by a Great Dane - and water deeper than his toes.

OK, you made me swim. Can I get out now?

He followed me into deeper water where he was forced to swim, and he was actually quite good at it (I also took him in to the deeper water and let him go - he streaked back to the side of the pool) but did not enjoy it.

I'd rather just watch from here, thanks.
Too bad.  The retrieving dogs seemed to be having a lot of fun, jumping in after tennis balls.  Benjamin and I decided that, had the pool been filled with mud, then Miikka might have enjoyed the swim more. Ah well. Guess he will have to stick to chasing the hose and digging ankle traps in the yard.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making it mine

When we moved into our house last summer, I declared that I couldn't stand the paint color in the kitchen or in the second guest bedroom, which became Kirby's room. I was going to paint them both as soon as possible, along with all the wood trim in the house. Never happened. Partially, the extent of the work involved in those projects was daunting. Partially, I just couldn't pick a color that I wanted.  Now, I hardly notice the mustard-colored walls in the kitchen, and although the trim still bugs me, I can live with it for now.  A few weeks ago, however, I decided that I had had enough of the odd argyle pattern on the walls of Kirby's room and the white patches where Kirby had chewed off all the paint.  It was time to paint.

See, this is what I had been living with! Notice the white patch at the bottom.
The underlying blue-gray color wasn't that bad, but the room just felt like a boy's room, from the 70s. I chose Labor Day Weekend to begin the project, figuring that it gave me time to do my regular weekend activities, as well as some recovery time.  After filing 6 months worth of receipts and bills, moving out Kirby, clearing off the bookshelf, and generally discombobulating the room, the first step was to spackle all the little and not-so-little holes in the walls.

Here's where it is weird - the pattern isn't complete.
There were a lot of holes.  Each diamond had holes at each corner, there were big screw holes left from a shelf that had been removed and from the curtain rod holders I removed our first weekend in the house, and there were several Kirby patches. Good thing my mom taught me how to spackle when I was a kid!

Starting to look much better, even with only one coat of primer.
Then the spackle had to be sanded, as did the edges of the diamonds, to make sure there would be no funny ridges in the new paint job.  Next up came washing down the walls, since they were now coated with a layer of spackle sand and chinchilla dust (chinchillas have to bathe in a very fine volcanic dust - pretty cute to watch, but also very messy). I also had to tape off all the trim, since I decided to leave it for now, since Kirby is likely to chew on it from time to time.  Then, and only then, could I get down to the "fun" part of actually painting. After just one coat of tinted primer, everything started to look much better.

Of course, I had to stop for a snack of bagel and a Pimm's Cup - only a little booze while painting...
The priming took about 3 hours, and since it had to dry, and it was then end of Labor Day weekend, the room had to wait until the next weekend for the rest of the painting.  So, this Saturday I started nice and early, and got one coat done before lunch. That coat took about 2 hours and then needed a 4 hour break to dry and set before I could finish.  I had better things to do than watch paint dry, like grocery shopping, eating lunch and watching an episode of Leverage, and taking Miikka to a puppy pool party (pictures from that tomorrow), so I welcomed the break.

Voila - an entirely new room!
Benjamin helped a bit with the final coat, which cut the time down to an hour and a half.  Yay! On Sunday I was able to remove all the tape from the trim, clear out all the painting gear, vacuum, and start moving stuff back in.  I decided to rearrange a little while I was at it, so my desk could be under the window.  Kirby hasn't seen the room yet, since I am waiting for the paint smell to dissipate a little bit more - he is a delicate creature, don't want him to go all canary in the coal mine on me! That said, I used low VOC paint and primer from Sherwin Williams, so there really was almost no smell, which was great! I used a box fan in the window while painting to keep air moving, but I don't know how necessary it was.  Anyway, I am very happy with the way the room turned out, and I am starting to think about painting other rooms, although the kitchen will probably have to wait until I can get my mom to come down and help!

Friday, September 10, 2010

On getting out of bed

Don't want to get up!
I've been getting up at 5 AM to go the gym for a while now, and it really isn't getting any easier, especially by Friday morning. I do it, but the discussion in my head after the alarm goes off is something like this:

"But I don't want to get out of bed - it is warm, and horizontal, and I could be cuddling."
"You always say that. And you also don't want to be flabby and out of shape."
"But it is dark out."
"So what. There are lights. You always feel better after going to the gym."
"But it is nice in bed."
"Yes, but the dog needs to go out to go potty."
"I could go back to sleep and more rest, so I won't be tired at work."
"You are already awake. You won't really go back to full sleep, so you'll still be tired. Better to get exercise than lie here fretting."
"But, but, but..."
"Just get your sorry, whiny ass out of bed! No more excuses."

At which point I usually manage to drag myself out of bed (where I have usually returned after turning off the alarm so it won't wake Benjamin) and put on my exercise clothes. The dialogue sometimes continues in the dark of the closet, ("But I haven't turned on any lights yet, so I could easily go back to sleep." "In your sports bra? Ha!") and on into the living room, where the couch is a decent stand-in for the bed - being horizontal and all ("I could just curl up on the couch and catch a little nap." "Miikka will just lick your face and bark at you. Get up!"). Once I have made it to the living room though, I am pretty much assured some form of exercise. Leaving the house for the gym helps too - once I am in the car, I feel stupid backing out.  This is one reason that a home gym doesn't seem all that useful to me - I could just ignore it, or make excuses, or procrastinate.  Instead, we have paid a membership fee for the community center gym, and I feel guilty if I don't use it, and if I go, I have to make use of it. Not really great logic as I am describing it in the middle of the day, but it does work on my still-sleepy brain at 5:15.

There have been days that I just could not face the gym, but then I try to substitute a walk, or 20 minutes with an exercise video, or tai chi. And I do always feel better. Getting up and moving makes my blood flow, unlike going back to sleep, which, unless I was up way too late the night before or I am actually ill, just tends to make me groggy and grouchy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


We are actually having rain today, and even yesterday! Real rain, that I as a Northwesterner identify as rain. This means it falls continuously for longer than 15 minutes, isn't just from a thunderstorm, and actually has a chance of soaking into the ground. This summer has been so hot and dry that such rain is almost like a miracle. Not really, because it is the remnants of Hurricane Hermine (does anyone else think they meant Hermione and just forgot the o?), getting spun off in our direction. But however it got here, I welcome it. My garden welcomes it. My commute does not, but that is something else entirely, and I will accept a lengthened, aggravating commute in exchange for some real rain for a couple of days.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weekend of Laboring

I certainly made use of my long weekend this time. No relaxing or lolly-gagging for me.  Friday night we had a friend over for dinner; Saturday morning I had my hair done, and did the grocery shopping.  Saturday afternoon, I ran around Maumelle and Little Rock, picking out a paint color for Kirby's room, buying painting supplies, returning something from my shopping trip last weekend, and buying storage bins for all of Kirby's supplies (they've been in a cardboard box since we moved). Sunday, we took Miikka down to the local lake park for a 2 mile walk - the weather was heavenly - and then went to the brand new tennis courts in town to "play" tennis for an hour. We are so very bad and out of practice; the only reason we aren't worse is because we both know how to hold and use racquets! After tennis, I worked on cleaning up Kirby's room in preparation for painting. *Short digression: My desk especially needed the work - I haven't filed anything for about 5 months.  Every time I file, I promise myself that I will file monthly from now on, that I will immediately attach the check to the bill, that I will only keep receipts until they have cleared and I am sure that I will not be returning anything... But every time, I do that for a month or so, then let everything pile up until the pile threatens to take over the entire desk. Thank goodness I haven't ever actually lost anything important that way!  End of digression, back to endless list of stuff I did this weekend, because I know you really want a minute by minute break down.*  We also had a philosophy department get-together that evening.

And then came Monday, the day off.  I spent most of Monday in Kirby's room - vacuuming, moving Kirby to the guest room, spackling holes, sanding the edges of the hideous diamonds on the wall, washing the walls, taping the trim to keep the paint off, and finally, priming the walls. Whew. I haven't painted a room in maybe 15 or 20 years, and then I was only helping my mother. About 6 years ago, Benjamin and I painted the entire outside of my parents' house, but exteriors are very different from interiors.  The paint I am using is a low-VOC paint, which means it has fewer nasty chemicals in it, and hardly smells at all. I chose to use it partly because it is better for the environment, and partly because I am worried about what regular paint might do to Kirby - he is rather delicate.   Anyway, the room is primed, and I should be able to finish the job next weekend.  I am just so pleased that I finally started the project, because I was beginning to doubt that I would ever be able to prod myself into movement and decision. There will be pictures, but not until I make time to take them off the camera.

Of course, there were lots of other things I wanted to get done, but didn't, like washing my car, baking cookies, laundry, vacuuming (apart from Kirby's room)... Benjamin did mop the kitchen floor and clean out the fridge on Saturday, and he spent a long while on Monday working in the backyard, so that is very good. There just wasn't enough time - could I have another few days off?

Friday, September 3, 2010

It is amazing...

This morning, I woke up with a migraine. I had to force myself to go to the gym (after spending 5 solid minutes petting Cleo, and another 20 giving belly rubs to Miikka), and I was sure I would not make it through my workout. But I did, and by the time I finished my weight workout, the headache had receded. Now, I am feeling fine, chipper even. It is amazing what modern drugs, exercise, and a fabulous pair of red shoes can do for one's mood. All that, and the Dodge Charger with the license plate "NSFW" that I saw on the commute in. (Mom, that means "not safe for work," commonly used on naughty or icky pictures online.)

Creamy, in a totally safe for work picture.
 And now, it is Friday, with a long weekend ahead of me. The weather is gray, with a chance of more rain - yes, I said more. We actually had a measurable amount yesterday! And it isn't supposed to be hot - only mid-80s. I plan to work on redecorating Kirby's room, and taking walks, and maybe doing some yard work. Whoo! Maybe I will even bake something - bread, Snickerdoodles, who knows.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This is turning into the summer of trying to can new things. First pickles and now pears. Not that pears are all that different from peaches, but I have never canned them before. Anyway, my CSA/farmer's market had pears for sale a week or two ago, so I decided to purchase a batch and can them. Canned fruit is just lovely in the middle of winter, especially if you are trying to eat locally as much as possible.

I used the reliable Joy of Cooking for my instructions, which were much the same as for peaches.  Peel, boil in syrup, can. I managed to do it in about an hour on Sunday afternoon. Now, I was only doing about 5 pounds, or 3 1/2 jars, but still, pretty simple.

Here you can see both my canning pot, on the left, and the pears boiling in their light syrup, and my canning funnel - best tool I have for canning (although I could definitely use one of those grippers for wide neck bottles...).

Close up of the pears. One difference from the peaches is that I used an anti-browning powder to keep them a lovely white color. I could have used it when I canned peaches (Dad always did when he dried apples), except that I didn't have any on hand. This time, I made sure I was properly prepared.

Love the steam coming off the top of the funnel in this shot. It was all swirly in the air-currents from the boiling water and the air conditioner.

And the final product. I had a small amount left that wouldn't fit in the jars (but not enough to make the little jar into a big jar) so I stuck it in the fridge and at it for breakfast this week. Yum.  There may still be peaches available at a market or farm stand, although this summer has been so hot and dry that isn't a given, so I may have more canning to do this month.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Miikka Cuteness

Miikka says "You are too late, I gave it all away already."
 I'm feeling a bit draggy and out-of-sorts today (instead of going to the gym, I ended up sitting on the floor of my closet for 10 minutes, petting cats and dozing, before I went back to bed for a while). So, you get a cute picture of Miikka, the beer delivery dog. He loves him some cardboard boxes, and six pack holders are perfect for carrying and tearing to pieces.