Tuesday, October 30, 2012

4th Annual XC Pizza Feed

I'm learning.  The first time we did this, it was a spur of the moment idea of Hubby's.  I got a call about 3 PM, while, thankfully, I guess, I was at Costco:

"We just got finished previewing the course for tomorrow's district meet, how about if the team comes over for Pizza Night?  I already asked them... We'll be there in about 2 hours."  

But the crowd was pretty small and things went well... so I let him live.  ;-) 

That initial time, it was only the cross country team district qualifiers, and they had so much fun, the next year, we decided to include the whole team.  Mistake.  The crowd was too big.  Even a double oven couldn't cook fast enough to keep up (especially the Monogram oven, which was NOT good at reaching or maintaining a consistent temperature), and being very unpracticed at baking for crowds of over 40, I wasn't properly prepared.  I had to make new batches of dough twice during the evening, after vastly underrating the eating abilities of teenaged athletes during a feeding frenzy.

For last year's event, we went back to hosting the post-district-course-preview dinner, which meant cooking 'only' for 26.  As shared at that time, I partially precooked the crust to save time, and hopefully, keep hungry hoards from lining up at the oven.  That was certainly better than the previous year's fiasco, but it was difficult to get the pizzas cooked properly, as it was so different from my usual routine.  But, thankfully, made notes of how much crust dough I needed for this year, which was helpful.

This year I meant to make 3 large batches of dough several days ahead.  However, I had neither the time nor the fridge space.  So the morning of the feed, I divided the dough I'd put together the previous Friday, and created 3 plus-sized batches, plus the 1 inter-mixed. (Mixing in the dough which I take from, then add to, every week, would mean better, more sourdough-like flavor.)  1 dough recipe usually uses 2 3/4 cups water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp instant yeast, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 6 1/2 cups of flour.  Each of these started with 4 cups of liquid and ended with approximately 8 2/3 cups of flour.  I wanted to be able to make 18 to 21 pizzas.

I skipped the pre-baking, and just made sure we had all the other ingredients prepped well ahead of time.  

Also, my priceless helpers thoroughly cleaned the kitchen between prep and pizza making time.

I started forming crusts just after 4 PM, and my helpers assisted with the toppings.  Our first guests arrived as the 2nd pair of pizzas finished at 5:30.

We were able to stay ahead of the team, getting pizzas on the table well before they were clamoring for more.  

The Wolf ovens kept up very well until the last 6 or so pizzas.  Those were a little lighter on the bottom than I would've liked, but I can't blame the ovens, which had no recovery time and lots of door-openings.  

As the baking wound down, we were able to wipe up, meaning the kitchen wasn't a disaster by the time the team vacated and we were ready to collapse into chairs.

I was surprised to see that by the last of the teens drove out of the driveway, it was only 6:30!  They'd only been here an hour, but it seemed like much more.

Not that they were at all a problem.  It was just that every 8 minutes it took to bake another couple of pizzas seemed like 20 minutes, in my stress to make sure we never ran out of food.  Maybe next year I'll know to relax, because this plan seems to work!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Torn Between Two Covers

Floor Covers...  OK, Floor Coverings.  Schmaltzy, but close enough.  ;-)

This was the sheet vinyl pattern that was the best.
Great colors for our room, but too busy and 'demanding.'
A couple of helpful people recommended I look at the floor tiles that look similar to ceramic, but are vinyl, and can be installed with or without grout... Which I did.

I wasn't sure about dealing with groutlines for the next few decades, but the bigger reason I had to X-out this option was the patterns.  These seem, like the sheet vinyl I considered, to come only in faux stone designs.  The style on one that had the best colors for us was referred to as "Tuscan," which my kitchen is really not.  The stone-looks tend to have more contrast, with splotches of white, which looks busy in our room.

During one visit to the flooring store, while I was collecting samples to bring home to look at in the kitchen, a particular piece of luxury vinyl planks kept catching my eye.  I, in turn, kept eliminating it, because I just knew Hubby would immediately reject it.  But it was a nice gray, what I thought would be the perfect shade in our kitchen... And it had a nice, authentic look to it. In the end I grabbed it, and figured there was no harm in taking it home for a day...

To my extreme surprise, my woodworker, wood-obsessed Hubby had no objections to the 'faux' oak flooring, even though it would meet our real, hardwood floors in 2 places.  The family much preferred its look to the ceramic tile and other vinyl patterns I'd brought home.  That sent me back to look at other brands of similar flooring in the wood look.  Plus, this sample came from a line the salesman hadn't thought to recommend to me, and I wondered if there was a reason why.

That reason was that the DevineLock flooring I'd been drawn to was a new product, and he didn't know of an installation they'd done with it.  But, he explained, it was essentially the same type of flooring as the brand he'd recommended, so he has no reason to believe it won't be good.  Still, I decided to look more at Invincible, the brand they'd had plentiful experience with, and brought home their grayest offering.

It's actually a golden brownish with a grayish tint and some grayish streaks.  Mostly, it's brown... Almost the look of bare, slightly aged wood.  In the store it looked pretty yellow, but thankfully, not so much in our house.  

My family is torn.  Not that everyone likes both, but that half the family seems to decidedly like the gray, and the other half like the brown.  I love both, and would have been happy with either, had I seen only one or the other.  But now that I've seen both, I'm stuck.

The gray is the safest.  It's nearly the same color as the Marmoleum Click we have, but barely lighter, which is a good thing.  It's the lesser known brand, and Hubby feels like it looks a little too much like old, white-washed oak, of which he was never a fan.  I think it looks stained light gray, so that's not as much of a worry to me.  

The brown is new and interesting.  The color intrigues me. But is that a reason to switch?  I have made the mistake of choosing 'new' over a 'known success' before, with disappointing results.  Should I stick to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" strategy?  

I had originally wanted a wood-toned flooring, but the Marmoleum Click didn't offer any browns, so I settled for gray.  But now I can't remember if I just decided gray would fit in my other choices 'OK,' or if I made other selections after having the gray flooring in mind.  So I'm not altogether sure that brown floors will 'fit' now.  

Some of its detractors here say that with the Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba), and all our Douglas fir in cabinets and millwork, that we don't need another wood color.  

This is the gray.  I don't know why it
looks yellowish here, when not in real life

The brown selection really connects with the stone behind the stove.  The gray connects with the stove cabinets... maybe a little too closely, and is a different gray than the laminate countertops. (It's also presently different than the stove-cabinets' gray, but I think I've found creamy gray paint the color I'd originally intended for those, and will repaint.)  

I like the interplay of the goldish tones of the wood color with the burgundy cabinets.  (Please ignore the still unpainted drawer!)

I think, though, that the almost bare wood look is a little rustic, and I'm not sure that fits the rest of the house.  The gray is a little more sophisticated, while still casual and comfy.

I'll let you know whenever I decide something!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

These Floors are Made for Walkin'

To replace the Marmoleum Click flooring in our kitchen, we want to make sure it's right for us in a few important ways.  These include...

Durability:  I didn't really mind too much that the Marmoleum scratched and scuffed, as any of these problems hid well in the pattern, and suited the old-fashioned essence of linoleum.  But I sometimes wondered how its "patina" might look in 5 more years.  As long as we're starting over, I hope to have something a little tougher and less prone to minor damage by normal busy-family wear. 

Significant Water Resistance:  I want to know that if we have another minor leak, another unseen spill, or if we want to give the pets water indoors, that it means simply wiping up a mess and not replacing flooring.  

Reasonable Affordability:  Since the Marmoleum flooring extends from the kitchen to our back door, and covers the sewing room, too, it totals over 1200 square feet.  Any dollar amount multiplied by 1200 is a lot of money!  There is also the question of installation... Is it DIYable?  With Hubby's limited time, we'll also be weighing costs of having it installed.

Comfort and Appearance:  I've liked how the Marmoleum feels to walk on, and the cork on the underside makes it friendly to feet, legs, and backs.  Of course, the flooring should also suit the decor, style, and quality of the kitchen and our home.  Especially in the kitchen, which has a lot of things going on already in colors and textures, the floor needs to be pretty, but also pretty (visually) quiet.  --A background that's an integral piece of the whole room design, but not a scene stealer.

Upon visiting our local flooring store, we immediately eliminated any with wood fiber core, as the Marmoleum Click has... The part that swelled when exposed to water.

The salesman and I narrowed to 3 options, each with their own pros and cons.

Based on these pros and cons, I am strongly leaning toward vinyl tile planks, and am having trouble choosing between 2 of them.  I'm actually surprised by one aspect of my choices.  I'll show you those in the next post.... and opinions will be welcome!  :-)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Having the Marmoleum Pulled Out from Under Me

As it went in.  It's quite DIY friendly.   Ours was
mostly installed by, then 18 year old, Stoic,
and his 12 year old helper, Inventive

Issue #1:  The salesman warned me that I couldn't put the dog's water dish on our Marmoleum Click kitchen floor.  But I did it anyway.  I wasn't totally stupid about it, I didn't think, because I put a larger baking pan underneath to catch the slops. 

I have loved the retro look and soft sheen.  The pattern has
interest, but doesn't demand attention.
It's been comfortable to walk on, and is fairly easy to clean.
I'm OK with a bit of 'patina,' as this scratches & scuffs a bit,
but I don't think it ruins the look.
Unfortunately, at some point, moisture got underneath and condensed on the metal pan, keeping the floor damp, and expanding the seam just a bit.  Not noticeable by anyone but Hubby and me, so no biggie.  We moved on and moved the water dish outside.

Issue #2:  Princess Sassy and Prince Steadfast's puppy, Henry, liked to chew.  He especially liked to play with and chew water bottles.  Empty or full, they were tremendous fun to him, either rolling or crackling.  We stored the extra cases of water from the wedding receptions under my little desk.  From an open end of a partial case, he would occasionally get hold of a bottle, chase it around the house, and grab it in his mouth.
  Eventually, it would break open and we'd have a frustrating, but harmless, puddle to clean up.  (It was better than his other puddles!)

He made his way through that partial case of bottles and it was the end of the problem.  
We thought.  
Until we found that he'd tried to get into the remaining, sealed case, biting through one of the bottles, which leaked a lake trapped under the box.  (We'd underestimated how tenacious he could be.) We discovered that when the flooring started to swell in front of the desk and across the doorway between the back hall and entry.  It wasn't a large hill, just a bubbled up spot that was springy as we stepped from one area to the other.  Over time, it dried and shrunk.  Not completely back into place, but it was ignorable.

Wetness on the underside of the flooring planks
Issue #3, AKA: The Last Straw:  One morning in September the floor in front of our main sink seemed a little springy.  Day-by-day, the springiness grew along with the height of the floor.  The mountain of flooring got high enough that we were tripping over it.  (Being an incompetent blogger, I neglected to take it's picture for sharing.)  The flooring in that spot was obviously ruined, and I pulled it up to find that it was quite wet underneath, the wettest place situated between the sink cabinet and the dishwasher to its right.  We, of course, quit using the dishwasher, which caused a whole 'nother set of aggravations in a household that produces a LOT of dirty dishes.

You can see the water stains on the pad.
This messy-looking exposure only got worse,
as it's tough to not have flooring in the messiest part of the room
Hubby said we need to replace the flooring.  Of course, we 'abused' the Marmoleum Click in a way that no wood-fiber-cored material could handle.  It wasn't technically the flooring's fault.  But they were just things that happen in a busy household and kitchen, and we need a floor that can take it.  We have kids, dogs, 2 dishwashers, and a set of laundry equipment all sitting on that flooring.  It's very likely it'll face water again... Besides, replacing a section of click-together floor means tearing it out to an edge and replacing a large section.  We probably don't have enough flooring on hand, and they don't make our color any more.

We seem to have 3 options for replacement to consider.  I'll leave that discussion for another post.

By the way, like our van's mysterious metally-scraping sound that disappeared as soon as it was in front of the mechanic, the dishwasher, when pulled out as far as we could while still being hooked up, so we could watch it while running, refused to leak.  --Unless it's underneath or behind, where we still can't see it.  Before we replace the floor, we have to pull it out all the way, so that's when we'll do more sleuthing about that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

There Must Be a Lesson in this Somewhere

I've told you previously (here) that our nice and always-reliable 2002 Toyota Sienna van made a horrible, metal-grinding/scraping noise upon trying to start it the evening of Princess Bossy's wedding rehearsal.  Hubby tried it a few time a couple days later, and had the same issue.  He quit trying, as, from the screeching cacophony, he was sure he was ruining something. 

 It's been sitting in our yard, dead, ever since, awaiting funds to fix it, as any financial flexibility to do our usual...pay, then play catch-up... was absorbed by the 2 summer weddings

We meant to take care of it "soon," but time flew by, and it was suddenly past a year.  

We'd spent all summer inconveniently sharing vehicles to cover errands, activities, and 2 kids with jobs, and we needed it back in the line-up, especially with another kiddo about to get her license.

Letting a car sit for that long, ignored, is not a good plan.  --Unless you like to clean mold/mildew from virtually every surface and relish a musty odor.  Ewww.  The discovery of colorful and strangely textured things, like former oranges that had rolled under the seat and a cup from cereal left in one of the back storage trays, didn't exactly add fun to the adventure, either!

During a hot, dry spell, I opened all the doors and let it air out for a few days.  Then I went after the hard surfaces with a white vinegar solution, and scrubbed the carpets and upholstery with help from Resolve Carpet Triple Oxi Advanced Carpet Stain Remover, which has proved itself over and over again to us when the newlywed's puppy soiled our house carpets and for other stains.   It did a good job in the car, too, and soon it was looking pretty clean.  
After some further airing, I sprayed down all with Lysol Neutra Air sanitizing spray, hoping to kill off any remaining mildew (which it seemed to), and in an unsuccessful attempt to clear the air. (I think I was asking too much of it.)
I am now hoping that Auto Vaccine ClO2 car interior odor eliminator will take care of the remaining smell.  --It's on it's way and I'll let you know how it works.

ANYway... We finally had it towed to the garage for repair.  

Of course, after all the time, and because it was the original, the battery was dead.  The mechanic wanted to see what he was up against with the starting issue, so he jumped the battery.

Then he started the car.  Then restarted the car.  And started the car again!

No grinding.  No scraping.  No hiccups at all, just purring.  So he replaced the battery, changed the oil, and did other timely maintenance.  It still started fine every time and still does.  That's nice, and it was cheaper, I'm sure... But it also would've been nice to know the problem was found and eliminated.

So WHY did it sit, worthless, in our yard all that time?  Was it a blessing in disguise?  Were we supposed to learn something?  I do have a renewed appreciation for the smooth-running, reliable machine, which handles a trip to Costco for our family with ease, and allows 7 of us to go to church or Grandma's in one car.  

So, I guess,
Ours is not to reason why... Ours is but to thank and drive!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Here are the artistic creations made during The Great Power-Outage Pumpkin Carving Party of 2012...  
Princess Eager's 'Volleyball Beast,' back

The player, net, and ball, front

Princess Sassy's artistic fish

Princess Artiste and Prince Go-for-It worked together
on this homage to Pre, the famous runner and Go-for-It's idol

Let's say, Go-for-It was the idea man, and Artiste was the
one who made it happen

Prince Steadfast's ambitious project

The initials of Prince CuddleBunny's favorite college
adorn almost any project he does

And it was completed with a soccer player...Work was still underway
to get the little man a soccer ball.

When Prince Inventive was finally off his phone, his carving reflected his current favorite sport, weight lifting.
The machismo of the piece may be slightly diminished by the peeking eyes of
the 'glow worm' lantern used to light it for the photo.  ;)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


With our first blustery storm came our first power outage of the season yesterday afternoon/evening.  It went out just as I was gathering ingredients to start dinner.  Thankfully, I was planning clam chowder, which only required the use of the gas rangetop, which I can use without electricity.

It was about 5 PM when it went out... Still light outside, but pretty dark inside.  We are always woefully low on working flashlights and battery-operated lanterns.  The one Princess Eager found for me didn't put out much light, and I was getting pretty desperate to see what I was cooking... or possibly burning.

That desperation helped me remember the battery-operated, LED under-cabinet lights I'd purchased at Costco months ago, but never even opened.  Because of their hangers, I was able to twist-tie one bar to the filter pulls on my hood vent, and Voila'!  There was light!  Additionally cool was that the lights have a movement-sensing, automatic setting, so the light would go off when no one was at the stove, and come on again when someone came near to serve themselves some dinner.

Our kids used to love power outages, when, in former houses, it meant gathering around a fireplace with games and books.  Now, without a fireplace, and with everyone more technology-addicted, power outages don't have the same appeal.  

The camera's flash makes this room look light...
But the kids created some fun during the darkness this time, thanks to a generous and timely purchase by Princess Sassy.  She came home earlier in the afternoon with enough pumpkins for a group carving party.  It's always so great to see them all enjoying time together, with all the talking and laughing.

...but it wasn't!

Prince Inventive had to stay in contact with
the outside world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Techie (Not Wanna Be) for a Day

Speaking of favorite Apples, I can't believe I almost forgot to tell you about my most recent DIY project...

My iMac, whose hard drive died the same hectic week Princess Artiste got her concussion and my mother-in-law went to be with the Lord, now has a new hard drive and is up and running!  It's okay if you're surprised, because I actually thought there was a better than good chance I'd spend the $130 ordering a new hard drive, only to have it not work for some other tiny, electronic, highly technical reason that I could never hope to understand, let alone diagnose.

The first step was to try to read all the tiny numbers and letters specifying the model and other special designations on the bottom of the foot under the monitor.  This took some interesting maneuvering to heft the awkward beast.  It also required sharper eyesight than I have at this age and time.  
This is pretty much what it looked like to me...
but darker

I tried a flashlight, but that wasn't enough help, and I even tried to take photos, but the display was too small and I obviously couldn't upload the photo to the computer to see it!  Thank goodness for young, healthy, eagle-eyed children on the premises.

With the help of iFixIt.com, based on some of those numbers I'd collected, I was able to determine what hard drive to order.  (Of course I paid a little extra for expedited shipping, only to let it sit on the table in its box for a week, while I got the nerve to do this job.)

At that point I followed the iFixit instructions (complete with photos) for getting the hard drive swapped out.  They also had a video on YouTube that, although dealt with another model of iMac, filled in the blanks when questions arose about the written instructions.

It took some crucial, but mostly basic, tools to do the job:

Detached screen with 'suction cup thingies' still holding on
in the background
New hard drive.  More storage and faster, so helping make lemonade out of lemons.

Towel for lying the computer on its back.

Laptop with page open to iFixIt.com instructions.

Suction thingies, size large, to remove the screen, which, who knew, attaches to the computer/monitor face by strong magnets.

Torque screw drivers, size tiny and tinier 
(specifically size T8 and T10) for the several small screws that need to be removed and replaced during the process.

We should probably have started with a clean work area.... but we didn't.  Life is like that around here sometimes most of the time.

Vacuum cleaner for sucking out amazing amounts of dust that somehow found it's way into the tight quarters-- probably via the fan system?

Screen cleaner so dust isn't caught between the display and the screen during reassembly, forever aggravating all users.

And the most important...

Intelligent, mechanically-minded teen with keen eyes and knowledge of where torque screw drivers live.

I actually did my share of the work.  My smaller fingers and existence of fingernails came in handy.  Some of the connections were so small!

Hard drive identified at the top of the list.  Phew!

It only took us about a half hour, I think.  Then it was time to turn it on.  

The sign of success was, while trying to install the operating system, that the new hard drive was recognized.  

It wouldn't let me rename it, so it still tells me the startup disk is called "Untitled."  Since that's the extent of the problems I had, I'll deal with it!

Oh, and I want to remind you... Back up your hard drive!  Thanks to my recent external hard drive purchase, due to Prince Stoic's encouragement, I was able to have everything on the new drive just as it was on the old... Only the operating system and a few odd programs had to be updated.  But the rest... my desktop, my photos... everything... all back in place as if nothing had happened.  YAY.

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