Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Under the Wire

Bless his heart, Hubby remembered I needed to have my "Impossible Challenge" finished by the end of the month, so he came home and installed the top trim on the bigger bookcase tonight after work.  He boasted that he'd gotten it completed for me, just under the wire!


It wasn't quite in time for the grand unveiling, but it's still quite a big deal for us to have a project completely finished, trim and all, well past "barely functional."  Hubby says he's changed and his new practice for 2012 is to finish things.  This is a great start!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Challenge is (Mostly) Met

Today I am happy to unveil my new family library.  (See previous related and progress posts here)  I have to admit I could have used another couple of days... I can't say it's completely complete, as Hubby is still working at getting the top trim on the larger bookshelf (3 sections of 7 shelves each at 21" wide).  But I gladly forgive that, since he was so nice to build me a whole other unit (1 section of 7 shelves each at 24") to add on the other side of the room when the first one was filling so fast. (And he's been busy working on the legs for our island.)  Added 2/1/12:  See finished pic at Under the Wire

Labels thanks to our
Brother PT  Labeler.
I hope to change to transparent labels
with the black lettering.
Also, since the new shelf section was installed just this weekend (its top trim included), I just painted the shelf edges yesterday (Sunday), so I can't label the book sections it holds yet.  

Still thinking... Along with those 2 minor issues that could already keep it from being considered 'finished,' I am noting some foreseeable challenges that means this project will likely continue to evolve over the next few months.  
First of all, I have noticed that we could use a few more categories, namely Business, Finance, Humor, and Politics.  I'm also not convinced that I like the flow of the categories, or that I have room to add even one more book to some of the shelves, so any new purchases or discovery of other stored books will require changes.  Like with our kitchen, I'll use it for awhile and make changes, as needed.

As a functional tool... I have to say that this is the most and fastest we've ever completed a project from beginning to end.  Our books are reasonably organized by category, and we can now use or read many books I'd forgotten about or couldn't get to in cramped and crowded storage.  
The "Before"

This is much better than having a haphazard mixture of books on the floor lining the walls of our dining and sitting rooms, while others were crammed under the stairs.  I am happy.

As home decor... First of all, it's good to have our dining room table back, as it's been
 mostly covered in books, shelves, and tools for the last couple of weeks, so our family dinners have suffered, as has the overall neatness of the house!  

My original vision for the bookshelf was to make it as 'invisible' as possible, since its necessary 9 foot height could easily overwhelm the smallish room.  I kept the lines hefty and simple, and thought painting it the color of our walls (Benjamin Moore Gettysburg Gray), but in BM's Satin Impervo alkyd enamel, would help.  

I originally wanted the whole cabinet in the gray, with the shelves in wood, to give an appearance of floating shelves.  But it was easier for Hubby to lacquer the whole inside, so I settled for gray on the exterior and shelf faces.  I think I might still like to have the back wall of the unit painted, so I can always go back and do as Kristin of My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia showed in her post, My Bookshelves are dressed!  A very lovely result.

I'd always viewed paint as a quick and wonderful way to change the personality of a room.  I've now made it a little more difficult to ever change the wall color of our dining room, since it will mean the bookshelves will contrast, or need to be repainted, too.  One thing to think about before you decide to match built-ins to walls for this monochromatic look.

I am happy to link this post to the "Imagine the Impossibilities" party graciously hosted by Thistlewood FarmEclectically VintageA Sort of FairytaleThe Space BetweenIt All Started With Paint, and The Cottage Market, who also challenged us all to accomplish a difficult project in the first place.  I can't wait to see ALL the different kinds of daunting tasks taken on by many, many different bloggers.  Should be fun, and full of great inspiration for the many-more challenges awaiting completion around here!

Party on!!!  --I'm also joining the Link Party at One Project Closer!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gadget Report

I guess I should've waited a day, and I could've given you a fuller, new-gadget report all in one.

Today we needed bread, so it was a good time to try out the larger bread pan, and I decided to use part of the dough for buns, so that I could try out and compare the pastry brushes, also.  I had the opportunity to use the OXO cleaning brush set, too, of course, on our grain mill's flour bin, and the crevices of my bread mixer's bowl and dough hook.

Cleaning Brushes:  These simple tools did a fine job.  I was able to scrub out the most difficult areas and feel better about the cleanliness of my tools awaiting the next batch of dough.  I really liked the larger brush, but like the pointy, flexible tool on the end of the smaller brush.  
Since I need to keep one dry to deal with the flour bin, as anything damp turns the coating of flour into glue, I don't really want to use it in washing the mixer bowl and dough hook.  The pointy appendage of the smaller brush is helpful for the tiny dough-collecting spots, but the smaller brush means more work to clean the broader areas.  I will need a larger brush, or will end up using a combination of small brush and wash rag to clean the doughy items.

Bread Pan: For the bread, I decided to make one of our usual-sized loaves and one in the larger pan.  First I had to determine how much dough to put in each.  Since the new one is referred to as a 1-1/2-pound loaf pan, and it's counterpart, sized similarly to those I usually use is labeled as a 1-pound loaf pan, it was easy to figure that I needed 1 1/2 times the dough in the larger pan.  So for this maiden outing, I put 41 oz of dough in the new, large pan, while I used about 27 oz of dough in my old pan.  
I ended up with very tall loaves in both, so I will have to try this again with smaller amounts to try to get the wider, lower loaves that might be easier to slice.

The other thing I wanted to see, just for sharing my recipe with those who don't have an oven probe that will help judge doneness, is the difference in baking time.  After 15 minutes of baking, I placed the probe through the end side into the center of the loaf in the smaller pan, figuring, of course, it would reach 200 degrees first.  When the temperature was reached, I put that loaf on a rack to cool, and moved the probe to the larger loaf to see how much longer it needed to reach that same, done temperature.  

I'd set the oven a little lower than usual, at 330 degrees instead of 350, so the larger loaf's exterior wouldn't cook too fast for the heftier interior.  The smaller loaf was done (reached 200 degrees) in 37 minutes.  At that point the internal temperature of the larger loaf was 160 degrees.  In 13 more minutes, it was done, too... So it took 50 minutes to bake.

After use
For anyone concerned about ordering an uncoated pan instead of the non-stick version, I can certainly put your fears to rest.  I greased my pan using shortening instead of the usual Pam, thinking it might take some time to season and would need a little extra help this first time.  I don't think I should have worried, as the bread lifted right out and the pan looks sparkling clean inside.  
The 2 bread sizes.  Not sure that this new pan is as wide
as Hubby was hoping for.

I wipe out my bread pans with a paper or clean towel after using (no soap or scrubbing unless absolutely necessary), so expect that over time, this pan will darken a bit as some grease bakes onto it, forming its own seasoning and only getting better with age.  

Pastry Brushes:  Both of my new brushes were better to use than my curled and somewhat stiff Kitchen Aid brush.  (I know it's been through the dishwasher and otherwise somewhat abused, so it's probably not it's fault that it's as bad as it is now.  I still feel the bristles are too long for the control I'd like, though.)

I grabbed the OXO Silicone Pastry Brush first.  As I said, I was happier with it, compared to the Kitchen Aid.  However, it seemed to apply the egg wash in lines, consistent with the width and pattern of the silicone 'bristles,' and I felt I had to kind of push the liquid around the tops of my hamburger buns to get an even and thorough coverage.

For the 2nd pan, I used the Ateco 1" Flat Pastry Brush, and was much happier.  The egg wash spread smoother, thinner, and easier with this brush than with the silicone.  I didn't have to go back over areas I'd already brushed as I had to with the OXO.  I'm not crazy about the large "Made in China" sticker that graced its packaging, but the OXO was likely made there, too. (I already through out the package, so can't check.)  

The silicone brush is dishwasher and hot-pan safe, while this one is not.  Will this last like the silicone?  Will it begin to retain odors?  Will the bristles someday start shedding onto my food?  I can't know any of that right now, and there may be pluses and minuses for each that I'm not thinking of at the moment.  It will probably be nice to have both.  Today I can only say the Ateco brush performed better for me on this task.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gadgety Things

One of my goals for this month was to stock my kitchen adequately with small tools... Actually addressing the minor frustrations that, together, add unnecessary time and effort to many kitchen tasks.

First on the list was can openers.  We have an electric can opener, but it lives in an upper shelf, and with nowhere to reside on the counter, where it would be convenient to use, we usually grab a manual option.  We had a great one we'd found at IKEA, but it suddenly started to fail us on a regular basis.  I couldn't see why, but it was a definite struggle to keep it in place and cutting.  After a bit of research, 
I decided on the OXO Steel Can Opener.  I was surprised that a manual can opener would cost this much, but I guess with as much as we use it, and after the aggravation of others that did a lousy job, it was worth it.  We do like this one a lot.

We also had an ancient church key type of can/bottle opener, which I think was passed down from my mom or one of my grandmothers.  I don't know from whence it came, but it is so useful.  The problem was having only one.  
The new one... I can't find the old
favorite, all metal one, which is
always the problem
It was always somewhere else or dirty when I needed it.  It's such a simple tool, so I figured it'd be simple to find another to add to our utensil drawer... Nope.  I found one option on Amazon, which was available from an outside seller.  It looked like it was made of foil, and the reviews backed up my fear of its low quality construction.  I found another option at the local hardware store for a couple of dollars.  It seems sturdy enough, and works OK, but the angle of the point must be different, as the triangle cuts it makes are a shallow shape - as wide, but shorter from point to base than I'm used to.  My rating is an indifferent "Eh."

One of the most boring gadgets (or two) I've been excited to get was the OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set.  My bread mixer has some tiny, odd little places that dough likes to lodge and never wash out.  
And my flour mill gets a fine coating of flour after each use that is a little greasy and gets held to the plastic bin by static electricity.  A dry brush will do wonders about cleaning it up after each use.

Speaking of brushes, I was also aggravated with my old Kitchen Aid pastry brush.  The bristles are quite long, and after time, have curved and seem to have lost their flexibility.  
OXO Good Grips Silicone Pastry Brush
Ateco 1" Flat Pastry Brush 
When I'm trying to brush the egg yolk mixture on risen, but unbaked dough, the brush stays curved and so stiff, I'm afraid I'll apply enough pressure trying to spread the egg wash, that I'll collapse the buns or loaf.  Researching Amazon again, I found that silicone brushes are 'the thing,' but being uncertain I'd agree, I also got a more standard, bristled brush.  I'll let you know which I prefer after the next batch of buns.

The last of my recent kitchen tool purchases may not really qualify as a "gadget."  Around Christmastime Hubby was oohing and ahhing at the large breadpans in the kitchen section of a gourmet grocery store.  He dreamed of homemade bread the size of store-bought multigrain loaves, and the nice, big sandwiches it would make.  
Lately I've been using the whole wheat, formerly Challah recipe for bread, with ground walnuts and various seeds added.  It makes enough for 4 loaves, just barely too big for the 9" x 4" pans I've been using, leading, once again, to taller, "Cartoon Bread"... And since taller is not better when it comes to cutting homemade bread, I thought I'd try a 5" x 10" Chicago Metallic Commercial II Traditional Uncoated 1-1/2-Pound Loaf Pan.  I could afford only one, as a start, and haven't tried it yet, so it's another item on which I'll have to report later.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Out of Touch...

What we all looked like in our
internet withdrawal state.  ;-)

We were without power Tuesday evening 
(-Thankful that was so short) and without internet until this morning, because of Tuesday's wild wind storm.  Hope to be back on track here soon!

I'm also busy spending much too much time communicating with our medical insurance company.  We were supposed to be within $49 of meeting our family's maximum
deductible, per the benefits status report printed and mailed to us on January 4th.  But on January 11th, they left approximately $350 in claims unpaid, marked "Applied to the deductible."  Does that make sense to anyone?!  Apparently it does to the insurance company...

And, by the way, I recommend against getting pneumonia.  Hospital charge for 3 hours in the ER and 1 night in the hospital with IV fluids and standard antibiotics... Oh, and some ibuprofen: $21,700.  
(Our part is approximately $3K.)  This does not count doctors' fees/charges, or the cost of the ambulance ride, which are bills still to come...  Yikes.  This is not helping my quest to get us out of debt and overspending...

In other news, Prince CuddleBunny's and Princess Eager's toes were to the ends of their respective sneakers, and grown out of their jeans.  Life goes on.  ;-)

Monday, January 23, 2012

One Week Down, One to Go

The, time-limited "Impossible Task" I introduced last week has been a little difficult!  Not that the "impossible" wouldn't or shouldn't be expected to be...

Can't have snow without taking a
break to enjoy it!
It's just that life still insists on happening.  Snow, ice, and wind storms with all 9 of us home for a week,  literally 24/7.  Hubby and I trying to work on things in the same area at the same time.  A birthday.  Football playoffs.  A higher than usual demand on baked goods and food, in general.  And, of course, who could turn down requests for snow fun, sledding (makeshift sleds made of ski sets) and viewing the snow fort construction that gave way to snow-baseball-turned-snowball-fight?

Add to that we are trying to refinance, and the appraiser was due here at 11 AM last Wednesday, so there was lots of cleaning and projects underway for days before.  But he couldn't make it here that day, and finally called to let me know 2 1/2 hours after the appointed time.  He rescheduled for 11 AM Friday (so the troops dove in to house-neatening again), but called, at least early that time, saying he still couldn't get here, and rescheduled for 1 PM today.  
--Today, during yet another bout of industrious spiffing, he forgot that we'd agreed on a later hour, and showed up at 11.  :-/

Anyway, I have managed to continue to make progress, and still plan to have my home library complete for sharing, on time, next week.

Shelves on the right LEFT, all the way to the
back wall housed (& hid) books of all types
There have been lots of physical aspects to this task, including having and finishing the bookshelf, crawling into and through the under-stair storage to extricate a lot of them from shelves hemmed in by various and sundry items, and shelving and reshelving the tomes (some heavy!), as required for organization and fit.  But a big part of this adventure was the mental challenge of deciding on an organizational system.  

I researched home libraries on the internet and came across Organizing Books - How to Organize a Library on GoodHousekeeping.com.  GH can be a great resource for home-related issues, but not as much this time.  I didn't find the suggestion to consider organizing all of our books by color or alphabetically to be of much help, and they didn't offer any suggestions about how to organize by their 3rd suggest method, genre... So I moved on to consideration of a more official system.

At first, I thought I'd probably 'go big.' and would label and organize like our local library, using the Dewey Decimal system.  In researching that, I found that some people prefer the Library of Congress system, of which I had heard, but was unfamiliar.  I printed out the categories for both and compared.  Dewey has a smaller number of categories to help separate things, but was more familiar.  Both seemed too complex for our needs, and I had other things I needed to consider, such as having most-often used books within a reasonable reach in a unit that's almost 9 feet tall.

I ended up grouping books into sections that would work for us, and placing them in an order that seemed the most natural for how we'd need and view them.

As a result, here are our categories (and sub-categories) I decided on,  and the approximate sequence.  I flexed and adjusted as I loaded the shelves :

  • Bible and Bible-related (devotionals, commentaries, children's Bibles)
  • Parenting
  • Reference
  • Homeschooling (guides, references)
  • Language Arts (reading, handwriting, grammar, writing, vocabulary)
  • Math (early, general, algebra, geometry, business & practical arts-related)
  • Science (general, earth, biology [humans, animals, plants], physics, engineering)
  • Geography
  • Pacific NW
  • History
  • Biographies
  • Antique Books and Classics   They don't necessarily fit the sequence, but they provide an attractive focal point in the upper center section.
  • Crafts
  • Art (history, painting, drawing, drafting)
  • Architecture 
  • Construction
  • Home Decor
  • Recreation
  • Foreign Languages
  • Textiles and Sewing
  • Fiction (picture books, early readers, young adult, adult)

I ended up with more books than shelves, so my hero, Hubby, is working on another section of shelves to place across the room in the spot he'd suggested beside the dining room door.  That one will hold the first 3 sections shown above: Bible, Parenting, and Reference works.  The rest are happily at home in the bigger shelf, awaiting labels, and the final unveiling.  Please tune in next week for that!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vive la Différence

Our kitchen island until 2010:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Original vision - I thought the island storage was a spot
where I could sacrifice some function for character/appearance.  

Island, 2010-2012, when I'd decided the function of drawers was more important than the classic, symmetrical look.  Also, we didn't need all that overhang, and could use more storage, so Hubby built a couple more cabinet boxes, and more drawers.  

I gained 5 drawers in place of the doored cabinets, 2 on one side, 3 on the other.  In place of the overhang, I now have one set of open shelves for my scale, a box of cake decorating supplies, and a basket of cookie cutters, and on the other side, have a drawer for ZipLoc bags with a pullout below for vertical storage of cutting boards and rolled goods, such as plastic wrap, parchment paper, and foil.  These are only 12" deep so that there is still space under the counter in the center. That remaining overhang is, honestly, for me, more important as a spot to keep the stool in easy reach, but it's used as a seating spot fairly often, too :                                                                                  

The end is gold (Benjamin Moore Waterbury Cream), because I was 2nd-
guessing my original choice (BM Lancaster White)... but it wasn't right.

And... Ta-Dahhh!  Our island, now:

So this week's changes were Hubby's addition of drawer fronts and pulls, and my repainting the cabinet ends to the original color.  I prefer the beefy, big-island look to the initial appearance, and it functions so much better, which is, of course, what I appreciate most.

The goal:  

Some trim, the legs, and the very-important towel bar, and we'll be there!  I think that to anyone else walking into the room, it'd look complete as it is... Just I know better.  I was going to wait until then to share the progress, but I was too excited not to show the interim improvement.

Linking to  I’m One Project Closer! {DIY Link-It-Up #4} at One Project Closer, where there are so many great DIY projects of all types shared. Have a look and be inspired!                                                                                                                                                       
One Project Closer

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Fun

Not as much snow that day, so a lot of leaves and grass in the men!

The kids made giant snowmen on Sunday when it first snowed, so they were looking for other sorts of snow fun today.  

Prince CuddleBunny asked to 'be in a big snow pile'

The junior high/high school aged set went off to play with friends in the large school playfield... and, against instruction, didn't take any pictures.

The newlyweds and decided on a cross-country adventure around the neighborhood.  Prince Steadfast and Princess Sassy got out the cross-country skis, which were without boots, so they had to get creative.

Prince Cuddlebunny donned a pair of snowshoes to go along.                                                                                                                                                                               
Ready to go...

...as soon as they all practiced turning in their extra long 'feet'

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