Friday, April 27, 2012

Sun and Progress

Not that we can tell by looking out at the rain the last few days, but we had beautiful weather over last weekend.  Friday (the 20th)  the truck came with a bundle of framing lumber for the first floor of the garage.  Yay!  A promise of major progress.

Saturday, Hubby worked hard on his own (the princes had prior plans... Sports events, etc.), sorting and moving material around.  It was ready for the real work.  

Sunday that started. I have to say I was impressed and overwhelmed.  I thought they could frame the walls and tip them up like we did for the house.  But with the slab floor and working off the mud sill instead of the more perfectly level engineered floor joists, it was a lot more work...  And Hubby was nicely patient in explaining to me why they were framing so differently than I'd seen before, and answering all my questions.  He's learned that when I ask, I just want to learn... I'm not challenging his decision.                                                                                                                                        
This new-to-me method meant standing the studs up one at a time, measuring to a line stretched where the top of the wall will end up.  This gets the tops perfectly lined up, then the top plate is nailed across them all.  Phew!  Glad it wasn't me.  It is amazing to me Hubby's willing to do all that to do the best job.  I'd have felt overwhelmed and likely given up.  But he is all about plumb, level, and square... and whatever it takes to get there.  It's his way of being "lazy smart," so that the subsequent tasks are all much easier.  

Prince Inventive was in his element, too, handling the tools and the job with efficiency and finesse.  As a 12 - 14 year old he was a great junior framer on the house, and I guess the skill is like riding a bike.  Prince Go-for-It, only 8 - 10 when we built the house, doesn't have that kind of experience under his belt and was just learning.  

Prince Steadfast got out there as he could, but also had college homework to finish.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

I caught Prince CuddleBunny in what is, apparently, becoming one of his traditional building poses... 
2006 and 2012

Then he found himself another job.  He helped wash my car and volunteered to scrub the rims.

Now we have our first wall, and she's a beauty.  Something that will make each of the other walls easier to build.  Something that will motivate us to get going on the rest, to see it all take shape and become useful.

Hubby also took advantage of the sunny weather and sealed the concrete floor.  He can envision the saw dust from future projects sweeping up swiftly and easily over the smooth and almost glossy surface.  The daydreaming of fun to come!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Finding the Flavor, Part 2

Continuing from Coaxing the Flavor out of those Beans!...

My coffee-roasting friend was a tremendous help in helping me out of the confusion of trying to figure out what contraption might get me the most coffee for my daily treats.  She listened to what I wanted to accomplish and said I'd never do it with a drip pot, like what I was using, because what I wanted was something full-bodied, like espresso.  She also didn't think I wanted a French press, but thought she might know the answer... A Moka Pot.

She wasn't sure how the flavor would compare to an AeroPress, and thought she might have the opportunity to find both and compare.  --She did, and let me know that the flavor produced from a Moka Pot was much closer to what I wanted.

I wondered, what is a Moka Pot?  You may be asking the same.  It is a comparatively tiny and simple, stovetop espresso maker, apparently popular in Italy. 

Basic 6-cup moka pot
I trusted her judgement and was intrigued.  I was additionally excited to find that 3- and 6-cup moka pots sell for about $25 on Amazon.  My friend told me that the "cups" referred to in a moka pot description, are the size espresso shots (1.5 to 2 oz), not actual 8 oz cups, so she recommended I go for the 6-cup.  I filed this all away on my mental wish list, waiting for the day I felt I could make that splurge.

Meanwhile, as previously promised, my friend sent me a pound of her personally-roasted coffee beans... Yum!  We could smell what was in the package before we opened it.  Another thing I noticed is that the box had a notation:  "1 of 2."  She let me know she was sending something else... I thought maybe it was another type of beans to try.

I was so pleased and surprised to open package 2 a few days later and discover a Bialetti 6-cup Moka Pot!  It is a pretty little thing, with a bit more style than the basic model I'd chosen for myself on Amazon.

First I had to figure out how to use it.  My friend recommended I watch this video.  It was helpful to refer me to the internet, where I found a few videos to watch.  The included written instructions were a bit brief, and used interesting word phrasing.  It sure didn't seem to be written by someone who speaks English as their first language.   

The videos helped me get started, but I still wasn't sure if I was supposed to grind the beans fine, like for the electric drip pot, or coarser, as for an espresso machine.  I stumbled along for the first few tries, trying different sizes of grind.  Since my Cuisinart bean grinder doesn't allow any adjustments, it was always a guess.  It was fairly easy to get a consistent, fine grind, but with anything coarser, I always had pieces of varying sizes.

In finding the answer to a question from Prince Steadfast, whose engineer's curiosity needed to know how the moka pot worked, I found an excellent diagram and helpful explanation offered by, and also some great written directions.  These let me know that the finer grind was what I needed.  It also let me know that the gurgling sound was the end of the process, while the written instructions said only that it's finished 'when the pot is full.'

My opinion of this little pot is that it's great!  Our coffee drinks, hot or blended with ice, are much richer and tastier.  

Click to see larger

It's easy to operate... Fill the base with water up to the steam valve, put in the coffee filter/basket and fill it with fresh-ground coffee (starting with a rounded 1/4 cup of whole beans), then screw the top to the bottom, 
and heat over medium flame (just enough to heat the bottom without flames coming up the sides).  

It takes just under 5 minutes until I hear that wonderful little gurgling sound.  

I use about 1/4 cup with about 1 cup of hot soy milk, a splash of cream, and a bit of honey, almond milk "creamer," or coffee syrup (my favorite is Hazelnut Torani Syrup) to taste.  It's so much better, that it's more fun to make my daily cup, so I broke out my AeroLatte again to add some froth and do it up right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Being the youngest, and often the only ones left around home, they can sure bicker up a storm, and sometimes it seems so constant.  But sights like this are fun to see.

Not usually what you expect to see when 2 kids are playing on the Wii "together!"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coaxing the Flavor out of those Beans!

Coffee beans.  --I have always loved the smell of coffee... rich, warm, comforting.  But never the taste.  It seemed so watered down and bitter whenever I tried black coffee, so I long ago decided it wasn't for me.

My favorite drinks came
from Tully's Coffee Shops.
My niece used to manage
some of their stores, and
she let me know this was
 the blend used in all their
drinks.  So I thought it a
great place to start.
With the birth and growth of our locally-grown Starbucks and then Tully's, however, I was introduced to "coffee drinks," starting with blended delights topped with whipped cream.  I was still leery of hot coffee of any kind until Princess Bossy talked me into trying an Eggnog Latte.  I wasn't sure of it, but was struck with the flu a few months later and when I had to be out running kids around, it seemed just the right thing to soothe the savage throat.  After that, I was hooked.  Plus, I had occasional hormone-induced migraines, and the amount of caffeine in those fluffy drinks was just enough to contract my blood vessels, apparently, and reduce the misery.  It became quite a good reason to indulge.  :-)

The price and the sugar load were daunting, though, so I started trying to make the treats at home, hot and cold.  I could get 'sort of' close to the taste of the coffee shop drinks, and was fairly satisfied.  But one day I walked by the grocery store coffee aisle and the great smell wafted over me, making me suspect I just wasn't getting the richness out of the coffee beans I thought they could give.  

I knew that some of the coffee shops did better, but also knew they used expensive and probably complex espresso machines that I wouldn't be able to have.  I searched the internet, trying to find other options.

Bodum Chambord 8 cup French Press
One of many highly rated
French Press coffee makers
I found lesser expensive, but still pricey, espresso makers with not so great reviews.  I found French presses and AeroPresses, that seemed they might be an answer.  Those had some rave reviews, but which one, and will they do what I wanted, which was to add the rich coffee goodness to a drink consisting mostly of soy milk and a bit of flavoring and/or sweetener?  
Aerobie AeroPress Coffee
and Espresso Maker
Most of the people reviewing were straight coffee drinkers.  I felt at am impasse, unwilling to spend money for something, or maybe multiple things, that wouldn't do what I needed, especially when coffee confections aren't exactly a necessity of life.

Thankfully, I remembered my friend who roasts her own beans.  Maybe she would know...  Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Prince CuddleBunny and I were just beginning dinner prep, and Princess Eager was upstairs... I knew she'd been showering.  We heard a tremendous crash and things if a whole wall of glass shelves fell and broke, dropping also breakable contents.  Since we have nothing like that, I was clueless.

But, the last time I heard a loud crash upstairs, it was Prince Go-for-It crashing into the vanity on his way to the floor, passing out because of dehydration due to an undiscovered sinus infection... So we RAN upstairs, hollering Eager's name.

I was thankful to see her emerge from her room.  We asked her what happened, and she asked, "What do you mean, I thought that was downstairs?"

My mind was spinning, trying to figure out what may have made that type of noise, and where it might be.  The princess made the discovery.  One shower door was in billions of pieces!  

She thought the glass shower door had somehow fallen out of the track and broken, but upon inspection, I could tell it had broken in place.  For whatever reason after dealing with the heating and cooling of 20 - 25 showers a week for the last 4 years, it gave up.  A weakness in the glass or some other kind of stress point, I guess.  

I sure never expected this, and I am certainly very thankful that Princess Eager was not in the shower or the room when this happened!  I often dry off within the shower stall, then stay in the room to lotion, dress, etc.  She does most of that in her bedroom, and had been out of the shower room for at least 5 minutes.   There is one door remaining in that shower, and 2 for our shower.  Are all 3 just waiting to explode?

It was a huge mess to clean up, and I'm sure there's still glass in the track, and I wouldn't want any of the kids stepping into the room or shower stall with bare feet.  A friend tells me wiping with alcohol will somehow help attract the glass shards and make sure it's clean.  Not sure of the science of that, but it's worth a try.  

I'm also not sure if the manufacturer has any responsibility for this after 4 years, or if it's another expenditure to add to our long list...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Other Weird (New) Stuff (Food)

On Monday night I'd started meat and sauce for spaghetti, then looked in the cupboard to find we had no noodles.  But we did have this forgotten little bag of pasta and seed mix I'd discovered several weeks ago when we visited Central Market to pick up bulk bags of wheat and oats.                                                                                                                                                     
I can't remember what they called the combination, and I only wrote the instructions on the twist-tie, not the name. (1 cup of the mix into 1 3/4 cups boiling water, return to boil, then simmer/cook for 18 minutes.  --For us, I used 5 cups of the mix and 8 3/4 cups water.)  

After a look on Google images, I think it may be pearl couscous --with additions that look much like assorted bird seed.  :-)

The texture is a little weird, and it didn't quite come off as regular pasta in the spaghetti sauce.  The pasta balls are a little mushy compared to the seeds, some of which are a little starchy when bitten into... Actually, I think maybe that starchy texture is due to some lentils or split peas in the mix.  I decided to spread it all into a couple of 10 x 15 pans, and topped it with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, then popped it into a 400 degree oven in an attempt to achieve what I hoped would be a "Who-Could-Resist-Anything-with-this-Golden-Yummy-Cheese-On-Top" dish.

It was somewhat successful.  Everyone ate it... 2 days in a row, in fact.  Tuesday Princess Eager, Prince CuddleBunny, and I spent the afternoon visiting my mom, and as soon as we got home, I was off to Bible study, so that 2nd pan of Monday's dinner came in quite handy.  

No one complained, and actually said they thought it tasted good, but still weren't certain enough to say they liked it.  I think I wrecked it, and served it with the wrong sauce.  I'm pretty sure this pasta-seed-legume combo would've shown itself better with something like olive oil, cherry tomatoes, other tender-crisp veggies, marinated chicken breast pieces, some great spices, and a splash of the right vinegar...  But unlike the black rice, I don't think anyone will care if I never buy this again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Project Went to the Dogs

Henry, Prince Steadfast's and Princess Sassy's puppy, is energetic... A chewer, and just generally "busy."  Having toys around helps, or he makes toys of things we'd rather he not.  The princess made a very successful trip to Petco several weeks ago, picking up quite a few toys for $1 - 3 on the clearance aisle.  But they are pretty much demolished by now, so I stopped in to restock.

This time, the only clearance chew toys started at almost $10, and went rapidly up in price from there.  I looked at some, thinking about items he'd shown a preference for... Things that are longer and skinner and furry.  The dogs aren't really picky about cute details... I'm sure those are for the people buying.  I thought I could make something the dogs would find interesting enough.

Rosie, our lab, also likes toys, but as a retriever, she has a "soft mouth," and carries fabric toys, rather than chewing.  She takes socks, stuffed animals, towels... and they may end up outside in the mud, but she doesn't chew them up.  She became particularly fond of a stuffed monkey one of the kids had and made it her baby.  It occasionally disappears, and usually we find it outside somewhere, very dirty and stinky.  But she loves it, and knows it by name.  ("Monkey"-- Very creative, don'cha think?)  She has been willing to share things with Henry (including, generously, his own toys - haha), but she gives me a very pitiful and sad look when he tries to take Monkey and pulls back a little more earnestly than her usual, "If you want it that badly, here."  One does just not share one's own baby!

Anyway, in the quest to keep them both happy, I pulled down my small supply of fake fur, and started by tearing narrow strips of the smallest piece (about 2 inches by 30 inches).  I thought a braid would be more durable than a single piece, and give them something substantial to sink teeth into.  Fur is nice to use, because, first, it tears in straight lines along the grain, and second, it won't unravel, so there is no need to hem it.  It also rolls under in the edges, so it looks nicer in a braid without working at all to keep the fur outward.

I overlapped 3 strips and secured them by sewing across about 2 inches from the end.  I then braided about 2/3 of the length.  I stopped here, and sewed across the 3 layers again, leaving "legs," sort of like Monkey's, to hang free that would be easy for the dogs to grab in a game of fetch, or in tug-of-war with each other.                                                                                                                                                

Cost:  $0.  If I hadn't had the fabric already, I could probably make 2 toys out of 6 inches of fur fabric... So that might figure out to $1 per toy if the fabric was $12/yard and not on sale.  

Time: 10 minutes, tops.  

My kind of price and very suitable to my patience level... at least for dog toys.

This afternoon I told Rosie to "Find Monkey!" so I could include a photo of him here.  She looked around a little outside, then went in and grabbed the toy I made today... So, if it can do in a pinch for beloved Monkey,  I guess it's a hit!   

I'm headed in to make another, though, as having only 1 is causing a bit of trouble...

For a no-sew project, tear an approximately 2 or 3-inch by 54 - 60 inch piece of fur.  Tie double knots along the length, leaving 2 or 3 inches in between each.  It's good for fetch or tugging, but doesn't seem to be as popular as the braided toy with the flailing tails.

Once again, happy to share at the every-Friday share party on The Better Half!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Black and Blue

Am I among the last to have heard of Black Rice?  It caught my eye at Costco, and Princess Artiste said it had been mentioned in her nutrition class and was supposed to be very good.

It's very black when dry and turns a purply blue when cooked.  It still looks almost black, and so actually, pretty gross looking.  I heard reactions like 'completely burned,' 'blackberry jam,' and other descriptive terms.  It has as many antioxidants as blueberries, but without more complex carbs instead of fruit sugar.  Each serving has 2 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.

I cooked ours in chicken broth... a 1 to 2 ratio (2 cups rice and 4 cups broth), like for white rice.  It cooked for 35 minutes, so between white and brown for cooking time.'

Meanwhile, I stir fried chicken breast pieces, celery, green onion, and carrots, and mixed a sauce of water, soy sauce, garlic powder, dried ginger, a bit of cayenne pepper, plus splashes of rice vinegar, blue agave nectar, and sesame oil.

Not the most attractive meal!
The family was leery of the appearance.  It was like eating blind, because the chicken and veggies were mostly masked in the blackness, and we never knew what might be hiding in each bite.  As it was all good, it was a little fun.  We all had bluish teeth for the rest of the evening, but there wasn't a morsel left over.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Hurdle Down

What is it about getting on the phone and actually committing to things like a mammogram and the dreaded colonoscopy?  I finally ignored my pounding heart, and made an appointment this morning to have a mammogram next week.

Original Image Source
It's been 2 years since my last one.  Why?  Because almost every time I have one, I am 'invited' back for mysterious 'further views' and sometimes an ultrasound.  How much radiation from mammograms before they start causing problems instead of finding?

And I've had 4 separate biopsies.  Some of those biopsies, I'm pretty certain, resulted in some of those extra views to look more closely at 'troublesome spots' and also the cyst I had 2 years ago that created a very scary lump.   A lot of anxiety and adrenalin stirred up for what turned out to be nothing... So many times!!  While I'm aggravated about the false alarms, I'm certainly thankful they were false.

Time to put that all behind me and face the test again.  No use risking my life because I'm tired of being aggravated.

Now for the colonoscopy.  That's so much tougher, as I have to plan to give 2 days to it (neither sounding too fun), and will have to rely on another person of driving age to give up one of those days with me, so scheduling that is challenging in addition to nerve-wracking.  

I'm sharing all these jitters and blather to possibly let someone know they're not alone in their fears, and to encourage anyone in a similar situation to join me in catching up with those tests that may have been put off...

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Day in the Sun

The kitties didn't mind the messy bed

I pretty much took a lot of the day "off" today.  The grass is too long, the garden's a mess, the bread drawer is getting empty, and I made a very feeble attempt at making our bed...

I spent the morning hours awaiting news of my mom's pacemaker implantation, which went well, and is supposed to improve her previously tough recovery.  
She needs to rest the remainder of the day (I sure hope my dad and sister are able to do the same), and I decided to do a little of that myself.  

Prince CuddleBunny and I took a walk around the yard with Henry, enjoying the finally-arrived spring weather, buds, and blooms.

The prince even cut me some spring to bring inside.

It was a lazy day for many

After lunch, the tasks needing attention called to me, but the blue skies and the lounge chair in the sun called louder!  

Ignore the raggedy lawn and dandelions... I did.

The phone had to go with me, just
in case there were any Mom-updates

I gathered my pillow, a notepad, and the book I'm reading and planned to head out.  I stopped to snap a couple of photos, and Princess Sassy asked what I was doing. 

Prince CuddleBunny abandoned his bike riding for some
quiet time in the tree, enjoying the day for himself

I said I was taking pictures of my day off for a blog post, and she asked, "Doesn't that mean you're not taking it off?"  I suppose she's right that I might be a little addicted to multi-tasking...  But I was tired of the stagnant blog, and I did manage to spend a little time just closing my eyes and enjoying the warmth, too.

Now it's time for Pizza Night, and to make sure there's bread for the weekend...  I'll be visiting my mom, hoping to see her energy build.  

Have a good one!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birthdays, Surgery, Garage... Just an Update

Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes for my busy week last week and my mom's surgery.  I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to be with my parents, and home to tend to birthday celebrations, sports physicals, and the 2 who are still fighting major symptoms of their latest respiratory virus. 
I still need to get back there often, of course, although life has kept me home for a couple of days in a row now.  I feel badly about being away from Mom and Dad, but it's a slight respite... An opportunity my parents and my sister, unfortunately, don't get.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Hubby and I missed the egg coloring and next day's hunt,
but we had a nice Easter morning with Grandpa, and look
forward to years of egg hunts ahead...

Mom's surgery went fine.  They replaced the valve and carved away some overgrown muscle tissue that would interfere with healthy operation.  All good.  
 - But her recovery has not gone as hoped.  She was supposed to be up and walking by last Thursday, but that hasn't happened yet.  The heart, so far, anyway, isn't taking over like it is supposed to.  This probably means she needs a pacemaker of her own to hit the ground running walking toward recovery, but the doctor is in the process of making that decision.

Hubby is happy that he met his big goal for his Spring Break... The floor has been poured for the garage floor.  Because of using a somewhat beat-up, rental power trowel, it's not as sleekly smooth as he might have liked, but he's proud that it's flat and will very much do the job as a very nice garage/shop project floor.  It'll be a few weeks until we can drive on it.                                                          


I'm glad that Princess Sassy reminded that we should write in it. 

The dogs have already made their marks in it, too, which raised a few hairs on the back of Hubby's neck, but it's beautiful, and means we can start framing soon.  YAY.

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