30 April 2008

We've got bathtub!

We've made progress on our bathroom again. We cut two holes in the floor. One for the toilet and one for the bathtub. They are lovely, which I just realized is kinda funny since technically a hole is a non-entity. But it doesn't matter because holes are progress. They are a step forward towards having a non-basement bathroom once again.

In the words of an As Seen On TV info-mercial, "But wait! There's more!"

We also put our super-sweet, six-foot whirlpool tub in place!

Now when people look through the kitchen wall into the unfinished bathroom space they'll see a bathtub and I won't have to say, "This our bathroom. We're re-doing it."

They will see it and say, "So, you guys are redoing your bathroom, eh?" And I'll just have to say, "Yes." Less explaining the same things over and over = happy Tricia. Although it doesn't explain why there isn't a wall between our bathroom and kitchen. Oh well, I just have to remind myself, Baby steps.

Our tub is in place but it didn't go exactly as planned. But then again, does it ever?

First, we had to get the bathtub into the bathroom from its temporary home in our basement. It was a straight shot, so that was good, but we bought the largest dang tub that would fit in our tiny bathroom. It had to be turned onto its side and took three of us to get it up our very steep-very shallow basement stairs. That coupled with the fact that as whirpool tub it is wrapped around with tubes that state explicitly "DO NOT LIFT FROM TUBES!" made the whole process that much more difficult. There are tubes all the way around it. Where they heck do they expect me to grab it from?

Moving it into the bathroom used all my muscle reserves, but now we had to position it. Dug is over six feet tall and not what you would call 'lanky'. He never took baths because our previous bathtub was so shallow and short that the water didn't even cover his thighs when he sat completely upright. Nor could he lay down without his legs completely sticking out of the water since the tub was roughly the equivalent length from his head to his bum. He had had enough of this height discrimination so he bought a six-foot, really deep bathtub. A six-foot bathtub to fit in a space six-foot and one-half inch long. Yep. We had one-half inch to spare.

Let me see if I can illustrate with words how things were situated. Our new bathtub was now sitting in our 6'1/2" x 9' bathroom perfectly diagonal. Dug on one side, Chris on one end, and me on the side opposite Dug. Our goal was to get the bathtub parallel with the end wall. The six-foot one-half inch one. We first tried to get it in place by lifting one tub end really high so we could turn it and then lower the end in place. Our whirlpool pump stuck out too far and caught against the wood. We could only get the end to lower down to within two feet of the floor before it got stuck. Uh oh. Did we buy a tub that was geometrically impossible to set in place? I was instantly reminded of the "grandfather clock" word problem from eighth grade.

"Can a nine-foot grandfather clock be placed in a nine-foot room?" (The answer is 'no' because in order to get it through the door you have to tip it on its side and
once on its side you can't tip it back up again. The hypotenuse (or diagonal from one corner to the other corner) will be longer than nine feet. The clock corners would hit before you could stand it on end.)

I asked Dug, "Is it physically possible for us to get this tub in place?"
Dug, aka Mr. Physics, would have already calculated this with his astute gray matter. I thought the question was rhetorical but he answered, "I hope so."

Hmmm...not the reassurance I was looking for. Needless to say I was having to control the anxious thoughts shooting like popping corn into my brain. "How long will it take to get a new one?" "How much money will we lose since this was a special order?" "Does this screw up our calculations on how the room would be plumbed/tiled/etc?"

Our only hope was that the other end of the bathtub, the end without the pump, would be sloped enough to allow us to drop it into place. We unstuck the pump-end, rotated the entire thing back into a diagonal, then lifted the drain-end up while turning the bathtub in parallel with the end wall again. Apart from a few fingers getting pinched between the tub and the studs, it was gently lowered into its correct orientation with no hassle. *huge, anxiety-ridding sigh of relief* Thank God!

Second phase:

A tub usually has runners built onto the bottom, which the tub sits on. Dug studied up on tub installation and found that if you set the tub in a pool of cement, the cement hardens in contact with the entire bottom of the tub, not just the runners, and shores up the entire bottom surface. A person's weight is thereby displaced over the entirety of the bottom of the bathtub.

We had decided to apply this method to our bathtub installation. We put a sheet of plastic on the floor and after mixing up a bag of quik-crete, dumped it into the middle of the plastic. After letting it thicken up a bit, we took a trowel and piled it onto itself, making a good-size mound.

Somehow between the three of us we lifted the bathtub up and onto the mound, nestling it up against the back wall and into its soft-cushy pillow of quik-crete with one-quarter inch to spare on each end. Unforeseen problem #2: The runners are too tall. Our plan was to have the entire bottom of the tub shored up by the concrete, right? Well, we didn't measure the runners...oops! Our particular bathtub has three-inch tall runners. That means that we would have needed a mound of cement three-inches tall if it was going to be able to even touch the underside of the tub. The runners sank into the mound only an inch or so.

So what is the downside to this? Well, luckily it is only expended time and money. Nothing is gained, but nothing is really lost either. It's just an extra step that we didn't need since there was no way we were going to lay a 3" bed of concrete for that tub! Oh well! Live and learn. At least that's what we hope we are doing...

For now, I've got a bathtub in place and I see progress. That's all I care about.

Next step...plumbing time!

27 April 2008

cheesecake pops *or* no catastrophes for once

This month, Elle at Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah at Taste and Tell hosted the Daring Bakers' Challenge of Cheesecake Pops from the cookbook Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Basically, frozen balls of cheesecake, dipped in chocolate, on a stick. My husband was ecstatic! (He's a cheesecake nut.)

This was definitely going to be a challenge as I had never attempted a cheesecake in my life. My friend, Bethany, and I decided to undertake the first part of the task together: Make the Cheesecake. (This is her first month as a Daring Baker, hooray!) Armed with five pounds of cream cheese, we began. It was nice to bounce ideas off another live person during a challenge as opposed to just reading other's posts with their tips/comments. The cheesecake came out beautifully and was probably one of the best cheesecakes I've tasted.

All in all, the whole recipe was pretty painless (good recipe Jill O'Connor!) and, unfortunately, that makes for a pretty bland post. The most crazy parts were having to cut the top crust off the cheesecake so harder bits weren't in it and rolling the balls with my hands since the cheesecake refused to be scooped.

After the cheesecake cooled, I molded the balls. After the balls froze, I needed to dip them in chocolate. And here's where I got creative: I made carmelized sugar decorations to give them a "gourmet" look. Believe it or not, they were super easy to make.

You take about a cup and a half of sugar and over medium heat melt it until your pan is filled with a puddle of brownish goo. Cool the outside of the pan with a plunge into cold water (careful not to get any inside with the melted sugar) and stir until it thickens just a bit. Once you've got it here you need to work quickly before the caramel stuff hardens into something akin to enamel. Use a spoon and drizzle the goo onto wax paper. Get crazy with it.

Once you've got out as much as possible, put the pot into the sink and fill it with water. (If you let it soak, changing the water every 10 minutes or so, the sugar will dissolve completely on its own. Good luck trying to clean it any other way.) The sugar will harden and you can break it into decorative pieces. If you're way better than me you can drizzle specific shapes. I just went for the "general chaos" method.

Caution: Once the sugar has completely melted, quit cooking or else it will get a burnt marshmallow taste. (Can you guess how I know that?) Personally, I'm quite the fan of burnt marshmallows, but no one else in my family cares for them too much. Also, the flavor overpowered the entire pop so we had to eat the decoration and pop separately to really appreciate the cheesecake.

After I made the caramel thingies I proceeded to dip the balls, then quickly smoosh a decoration onto it. It was fun. But since our little town didn't have lollipop sticks, I had to use bamboo skewers. This gave it quite a kitchen-weapon sort of feel as I let the dipped pops harden by stabbing the skewers into a block of styrofoam. I quite enjoyed it.

But nothing was enjoyed quite as much as eating those little suckers. Talk about the perfect amount of cheesecake. More than a bite, but not too much that those little thoughts of "this is a lot of cheesecake" creep into your mind. For the next three days or so, after lunch and dinner we'd all reach into the freezer and grab a pop. So good. So delicious. So now a part of my go-to recipe collection.

All in all it took three days, start-to-finish. But it could have been done much shorter than that. The nice part was that it didn't have to be. Of course, leaving the cheesecake pops sans chocolate in the freezer for a week might develop odd flavors, but it's not like bread where you have a specific window of time for the work to be done or it's bye-bye end product.

Here's the recipe and it comes highly recommended by me (my comments in red).

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls (Mine were about the size of a large walnut but they only weighed one oz. I think it was the perfect size though. Two ounces would have been pretty darn big.) and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety. (I melted the whole amount at once and working quickly, having enough time to dip them all while the chocolate was still dippable. (Yeah, that' s a word I just made up. I had a bit leftover that I mixed with some almonds for some chocolate-covered almond bark stuff. Don't let good chocolate go to waste.)

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

25 April 2008

Eighty percent sounds pretty good, right?

Want a difficult quiz? Play the Paint Game. I got an eighty percent. Wrong, that is. The quiz is based on names of paint colors. You match the name to the correct color. Sounds easy enough until they throw out names like Pebble Mosaic and Russian Velvet. I mean what color fits both Shangrila Silk and Delhi Bazaar? (answer in comments)

Try it out, it's pretty fun (or frustrating, depending on which side of the personality spectrum you fall on.)

23 April 2008

For the reader who doesn't think they have enough information on "Who Tricia Is"

Sometimes I am blown away by how narcissistic blogging is. "Hello world! Here I am. I am so important in my own eyes that I think my contemplations are significant enough to share with the world. I expect the world to read my compositions and care enough to comment on them."

But I digress...

The following information is what I really wanted to disseminate. (Isn't disseminate a great word? I learned it while working for the National Weather Service in college. I love that word.)

In case you didn't notice, I put an About Me page on the blog. (The link is right under the blog title on the left hand side.) Just in case you want to know a bunch of Tricia trivia, like how I have an affinity for the words trivia and pediatrician because one is almost the same as my name and the other has my name in it. (Consider that a bonus, it isn't on the list.) Just in case you care...the option is available.

(I read somewhere on some blog that it is a good idea to have an About Me page. Lets readers know who you are. This is the product of my obedience.)

Choice Goods Wednesday?

I've been thinking...you know that whole 'quantity vs quality' issue? I've been thinking about it. And this is my conclusion: I don't know if I can recommend 52 items every year. That's a lot of stuff to really love. And I don't want to put stuff up that I like right now but am hoping I find something better. I want things that are so good I would be pretty darn surprised to find something better. So my conclusion? I'm going to have Choice Goods days. Not Wednesdays but Days. That way I can write about the things that truly are extraordinary. Do you agree? I hope so.

I'm glad I got that off my chest. I'm sure you're just as relieved.

So with that in mind...no choice good this week. But I promise you, when I have one, it will be choice!

21 April 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 5 - Beer, Waffles and Chocolate Minus the Beer

I promise I'll finish the Kruger safari post at some point, but I'm having trouble accessing the pics. Something is wrong with our CD-ROM drive. (Who knows what the kids did to it.) For right now, I'm going to move on to Brussels.

On our return trip we had a 24-hr layover in Brussels, Belgium. Since Dug practically lived in Oklahoma last year, he has amassed quite a hefty sum of Marriott points. We decided that we would spend the day in Brussels, sleep in a hotel and then catch our flight home the next day. By using his Marriott points, we were able to book a room in the Brussels Marriott Hotel right in the middle of Brussels in the Grand Place. (This is the central market square and major tourist spot of the city.) We didn't even know how much it cost because we used his points and since he's a platinum member they upgrade our room automatically. (Later we found out the cheapest room was 489 euros a night! That's 773 US dollars, baby!) Anyway...

From the airport, we bought a ticket into the center of Brussels. Unfortunately we didn't know which side of the platform we were supposed to catch the train from. (There trains on both sides.) And of course, everything is in French and Flemish. (I only know rudimentary Spanish and it didn't help. The people who say Spanish and French are so similar are either big, fat liars or pretentious linguists who want you to know how smart they are.) Lucky for us a friendly English-speaker pointed us to the right train.

After getting off at our stop we come out of the railway station into the sun only to realize that we didn't get the address of our hotel before we left. Well, to be totally honest, we thought that since the website said it was located "at the Grand Place" that it would be somewhat easy to find. Right? (Keep your laughter to a minimum please.) Nope.

Undaunted, we started walking towards the tallest steeple we could find. (The Grand Place has these huge gothic buildings surrounding it and we knew that if we found them, we were at least somewhat in the right vicinity.) Before I go any further, I need to explain to you the nature of the streets of Brussels. Imagine a wagon wheel. Every intersection was like a wagon wheel and when you walked to the end of the "spoke" you were at another wagon wheel. And every spoke had a different name. That was Brussels. Even if we did have the address it was of no use since the roads didn't extend far enough to be followed for any sizable distance. I'm thinking that if you mapquested an address you would need about two pages to get you a mile.
Turn left onto Rue A. (0.1 m)
Turn right onto Rue B. (0.1m)
Turn right onto Rue C. (0.1 m)
Straight onto Rue D. (0.1 m)
Sl right onto Rue E. (0.1 m)
Are you starting to understand?

After asking a very friendly guy trying to sell us a guided bus tour we were pointed in what we hoped was the right direction. We did reach the Grand Place and it was breath-taking. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a European theme park but it was the real deal. Although most of the people were tourists, I knew that some of these people really lived here, with the beautiful buildings and uneven but beautiful cobble streets. Seriously, the buildings were amazing. I thought the ones in DC were gorgeous, but they paled in comparison with Brussels.

We saw two policemen and asked them if they knew where the Marriott was. (Traveling tip: Whatever country you are in, try speaking English in their accent. They understand you much better.) Dug asked, "Do you know where the Marriott is?" *blank stare from policeman* "The Marriott? Hotel?" *policeman's brow furrows, head tilts and leans forward slightly* I ventured with my best French accent, "Meh-dee-ote?" (I know it doesn't look like it, but try saying it quickly out loud.) *suddenly comprehension dawns on his face and he nods in agreement* "Yes," he says. "Marriott!" I know at this moment Dug was thinking, "Yeah, that's what I've been saying the whole time!"

Now the policeman are giving directions in tandem. You know when one says something and then the other agrees and then gives their input which the other corrects in which they both agree that that one was right and then one gives the next direction...and the whole time they really aren't looking at you but having a conversation about the best way to give directions. Luckily Dug was here, because I really didn't get a lot of what they said. I just tried to remember important words. I heard one that sounded like Bus. I'm assuming we should look for a bus stop. And then they said the kicker, "Eet is next to zee MacDonald's!"

Of course it was next to McDonalds! We're Americans, why would they put any other kind of restaurant next to an American hotel? Even if you shell out over $700/night for the cheap rooms. Oh well, it is a good landmark you must admit.

So we followed what we understood of their directions and found that we were darn close to our hotel already. We walked a few "blocks" and we saw a sign that said "Bourse/Beurs." Aha! Our "bus." We were on the right track. And then, there across the street, we saw them. Those dang-blasted golden arches. And right above them, the word Marriott. Our search was at an end.

After checking in and showering off the filth of the last twenty hours of air travel we talked to the concierge. He suggested a few sites we could see and armed with a map, we were off. The first place he suggested we visit was the Grand Sablon. It was also the farthest so we thought we might start there and then hit the other sights on the way back.

The streets were so fascinating. The shortest buildings were five stories and all were squished together, and the road itself was quite narrow. That coupled with the seeming random angles of the streets made you feel like you were in a maze. We had almost made it to Sablon when I took the time to read the "Use This To Not Only Feel Like a Tourist But Look Like One, Too" map. Uh oh.
"Um, Dug."
"I don't think we want to go to Sablon."
"Why not?"
"Let me read the description to you: 'This is a veritable Mecca of antique dealers...'"
I didn't have to read any further. I like browsing almost any type of shopping venue, while Dug is not so keen. But that wasn't really the big deal. Dug is not a fan of antiques. And since I'm not a huge antique person, either, we knew this wasn't the best use of our few precious Belgian hours. Now to form a new plan of attack.

But first, some energy! We had been smelling this amazing aroma and to our left and right, people were passing us with delicious piles of whipped cream and chocolate in their hands. As we turned a corner, there on our left was a waffle vendor. What are the three big Belgian favorites? Beer (yuck!), Chocolate and Waffles! We stopped and ordered a waffle with whipped cream and caramel. I can't even begin to describe how delicious it was. I don't want to know what it was made with, either. Something that rich and mmmmm can only be made with exceptionally high quantities of fat and sugar.

Our bellies laden with supreme deliciousness, we decided on the new target: Museum of Modern Art. We found it, but it was not easy. Our map said it was "there" but when we got "there," no museum. After a bit of "Let's Try This Way." We stumbled, quite by accident, upon the entrance. There were two options: Ancient and Modern. We decided to attack chronologically. Ancient.

In the first main atrium-type room we saw this beautiful shimmering green globe-like thing. (This ended up being my favorite piece.) When you got up to it, you could see that the entire thing was covered in beetles. It was beautiful and yet disturbing. The colors were amazing and yet they were dead beetles. (To be accurate, it was just their exoskeleton.) I was fascinated and yet repelled at the same time. If you will please forgive me, I forgot to note its name and artist, but after a little research, I'm fairly confident it was done by Jan Fabre.

We spent a few hours there and had only made it through the Ancient section when we decided to wind our way back to the hotel. By the time we got back it would be about right for some din-din. (That's 'dinner' for those who don't know.) More or less, the route back went past one of the main landmarks in Brussels: the Mannekin Pis. It is THE little statue of a young boy peeing into the fountain basin. I wasn't especially excited to see him, but since he was on the way...we did. Unfortunately he was dressed up as some sort of neon leprechaun, but we can check See Mannekin Pis off our Things To Do Before We Die list now.

We also stopped at this chocolate shop called Planete Chocolat. (waffles: check! chocolate: check!) We had just missed the Tasting Session, bummer! The two salespeople were super friendly although they barely spoke English and we didn't speak French, but they gave us some hot chocolate and some samples while we shopped. I was asking the main guy if they had almond but he didn't understand "almond." So I found this bag containing disks of chocolate with a variety of nuts sitting on top. I pointed to the almond and asked, "How do you say 'almond' in French?" He said, "Ohhh, that is ahl-mahnd." I almost laughed out loud. But once again, proof that if you speak with a French accent, French speakers will understand you better.

Our hotel was just a few blocks from this area called St. Catherine's which apparently is home to a well-known street of restaurants. As we walked around a corner, suddenly this huge gothic silhouette dominated our view. (It was the darker side of evening.) Aha! This must be the area's namesake, the church of St. Catherine. Walking past the church we were greeted by the restaurant district. There were two streets in parallel; a large cobblestone open area nestled in between the streets. Restaurant after restaurant lined both sides. How were we to choose? Especially since all the little chalkboard signs put out on the sidewalks were written in very foofy, French cursive that I couldn't read. Luckily, about half the restaurants were closed since it was late Sunday evening but that only narrowed our choices down to about fifteen. There was another problem, as well. The concierge didn't tell us that this was the famous "fish" row. Dug, although the chap was raised in Alaska, doesn't like fish. And that was the dominating feature of every menu. We crossed over to the other street and started checking those out as well. One stood out to us, something "d'or."

We had tried to look up good Belgian restaurants before we left the hotel but it was too difficult. Dug wrote down a few from Lonely Planet.com and we decided to put our trust in the concierge. I remembered one of the high-rated ones was something "d'or." (That restaurant and the one we were at were not the same, by the way. But that's how we finally made our decision.) That and the fact that its logo had a pig on it led us to finally choose this restaurant. If it has a pig, it probably has more choices than just fish, right? Wrong. Dug pretty much had his choice of three types of steak, that's it. I chose the Sole, but in hindsight I could have just eaten the bread and been happy. It was sooooo good. The butter was even delicious-er than any other butter I've ever had. Dinner was absolutely yummy.

The rest of the trip was uneventful except that Dug misread our flight departure time by 40 minutes and we were almost late for the train back to the airport which, although one leaves every 30 minutes, we would have been too late to catch our flight. But we weren't and we didn't.

One more "memory": As we were in the train, passing various Brussel streets, right off the track was what I thought was a lingerie store mannequin in the window. But it moved! And then I saw there were more! There was a whole street of store fronts with scantily-clad women in the windows advertising their "wares." I was unable to take my eyes away. Dug and I whipped our head towards each other, silmultaneously asking, "Did you see that?!" Ahhhh Europe.

endnote: Thank goodness we were only in Brussels for 24 hrs. We bought one bag of chocolate and ate one meal. The grand total for those two things? $200! The chocolate alone was $70 and what we bought could have fit in a lunch bag. (It was soooo good, though. Dang! It was good!)

18 April 2008

Tools of the Trade - Reducing Sibling Fighting

I've decided to discontinue Factoid Friday. If I run into super-interesting facts, I'll just let you know, instead of having a feature. What I thought would be more helpful would be to post the things I've learned that have made my life easier. My 'tools of the trade' so to speak.

Something I found on the internet that I've tweaked so much that I can rightly call my own is "Kid of the Day." How it works is this: Each day is a different kid's "day." This means that if there is a decision to be made, they get to make it. Things like who gets the middle seat in the van, what kind of sandwiches we have for lunch, what movie they get to watch or who gets to sit by Mommy at dinner time. They will still argue, but when the all powerful phrase, "It's MY day!" is said, the argument is over. The trump card has been played. Each day it rotates, crowning the next kid decision-maker of the day. Of course this doesn't get rid of all fighting, but it does reduce specific recurring instances of fighting and whining. They know that their day is coming and they will get to choose what they want.

I've also added this philosophy to chores. There are certain chores that must be done everyday. I've divided them into four groups and each kid is assigned one group a day. It rotates with the "day's" kid getting the easy stuff. For example: If it's your day you get 1. clean the table off after meals 2. pick up toys/sweep the kitchen 3. day off of unloading dishwasher (we have 4 kids and 3 dishwasher zones) 4. pick up hall/stairs/landing.

Other kids get:
  • kid #2 - 1. wash table 2. pick up/sweep dining room 3. unload top of dishwasher 4. set napkins/silverware for dinner
  • kid #3 - 1. switch laundry to dryer 2. pick up/sweep back porch 3. unload bottom of dishwasher 4. set plates/cups out for dinner
  • kid #4 - 1. make couch pillows look nice 2. pick up/sweep living room 3. unload silverware 4. set condiments etc. out for dinner
At left is our old chore list. (I'm currently working on the new one. This list has been in use for a little over a year and needed to be updated.) The "kid of the day" is upper left. I have four copies of the list attached to that ring. The only difference between them is that the names are rotated one spot on each subsequent copy. I also use a different color for each kid so that the non-readers can tell when it is "their day." The one in the photo is colored blue for my youngest boy. (The names are colored out to protect the not-so-innocent.) Each morning, I flip the page revealing the new "Kid of the Day" as well as everyone's daily ration of chores.

The kids have really taken to this and not only keep impeccable track of whose "day" it is, but have memorized what chores go with which day. (i.e. If it was my day yesterday, then I unload the top of the dishwasher today.) The chart itself is almost superfluous as we rarely have to consult it anymore.

If you're in need of a kid chore-management system or want a trick to help make kid decisions, try it out. If you already have something that works, let me know. My philosophy on this whole home-management job (as well as life in general) is that I use whatever works best...until something better comes along.

16 April 2008

(Un)Choice Goods Wednesday!

I figured I would change things up a bit. Today I would like to warn you against an item. My goal is to keep my fellow Earthians from making the same purchasing mistakes I've made.

I would like to advise you against buying super-cheap torchiere lamps. I'm not saying torchiere lamps in general are bad, just their cheap-butt piece-o'-crap wannabe buddies. A good quality fella adds a lovely indirect light to a room as well as acting as a vertical decorative object. One that costs you, say ten bucks, is not going to treat you so nicely. Believe me. I know.

In a moment of desperation and low financial assets, I ran out and bought the cheapest little guys I could buy. Big, BIG mistake. Let's examine the picture at left.

1. Notice the green/beige corner in the background and then look at the leg of the lamp. Problem number one: The manufacturers could really care less about the definition of the word perpendicular and certainly do not apply it to the lamp base/leg relationship.
2. Now that we've compared upright vs. angled. Let's discuss the concept of straight. If you look at the lamp leg at the area halfway between the mirror reflection on the wall and the white baseboard you'll see a little bend. Yes, that is where the two joints connect and once again, the manufacturers really could care less about joints that line up. It's apparent that their only concern is standing. Apparently if it is standing, they consider it success.
3. From this angle you can't tell, but when looking from the other side the light bulb sticks up over the diffuser (that white shade part). That's classy, I can tell you. I think this is really related to problem number one, but oh well.
4. The switch is temperamental. It will spin and spin until you get it juuuuust right. Then, and only then, will it grab hold to whatever it's supposed to grab hold of and switch it on (or off). But I'm sure that since the manufacturer's main goal for the lamp was to stand successfully, they would consider the actually turning on and off of the light an extra bonus.

One could say that I just got a bad lot. But I don't think so. I think this is just the quality you can expect from cheapo lampage. Consider yourself warned.

$10 Torchiere Lamps...they are completely not choice!

15 April 2008

I couldn't help myself.

I've done something. It's kinda bad. Especially since I'm not the most responsible of people with regards to time management.

I started playing Lord of the Rings Online about three days ago. I'm a level 13 Burglar. A cute little hobbit named Saffa. Now, level 13 in three days is nothing in the gaming world and it will, at most, incite a unenthusiastic "Yay for you." But in the real world, amongst people who can't understand the concept of trying to master a pretend world with a pretend person for no real benefit to real mankind, it means I've been logging in more hours than I care to admit.I just felt that I needed to come clean with y'all. So if you're running around on Arkenstone and see the cutest, freckliest little burglar named Saffa, say hi! Maybe we could chop down some spiders or bears together...

14 April 2008

The Unsuspected

I hadn't planned on posting about dinner tonight, but it was so amazing I had to. The dish pertneer (I love that word.) begged me to photograph it in all its lusciousness. After it was all assembled, it was so beautiful I was nervous to eat it. What if it just looked pretty and tasted, well, not so pretty? In the end, I had no reason to be nervous. It was delicious. What is IT you ask? Well.....

I recently bought the book Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Moskowitz. I have a hunch that we have some lactose-sensitive peoples in our domicile and I'm trying to use less dairy as well as cut down on meat. After looking at a lot of the Vegan/Vegetarian book lists on Listmania at Amazon.com, I found that most people recommended this book. So...tonight's dinner was (almost) straight out of that book: Cold Udon Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Seitan.

I say 'almost' because I used the Homemade Seitan recipe from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas. And to toot my own horn, I also sprouted my own beans! They were so cute!

This dinner, heaped on one plate, fed my entire family of seven people. Three adults and four kidlets. It had:
1. udon noodles
2. peanut sauce
3. sesame seeds
4. cucumbers
5. bean sprouts
6. red peppers
7. green onions
8. seitan
And it didn't just have a little. It had a lot of each. A whole package of the noodles, 1/4 c of sesame seeds, are you getting the picture?

That's it. That's what I wanted to tell you: This beautiful dinner was gorgeous, tasted delicious and fed a small army. I guess I was just excited.

P.S. My kids set the table without any guidance from me. They never set it this nice and/or matching. The one day I want to take a picture of the entire table, they decide to line things up and match. Who knew they were capable of such things? It's like backwards Murphy's Law. This never happens to me! (Of course, I did have to catch the painting-prep taped-off windows in the picture as well, didn't I?)

11 April 2008

Factoid Friday!

If the Earth is the size of a golf ball, the largest star that we know of, Canis Majoris, is so huge, that the amount of golfball Earth's that would fit in it would cover the state of Texas three feet deep! This image is just a comparison of it with our sun. Don't feel bad, I can't quite fathom it either.

I learned that watching a video by Louis Giglio. I think it was called Indescribable. (Dad, help please?) This video is different from the one I saw, but it is impacting. Take a moment to watch it. It starts out slow, but doesn't end that way...

EDIT: The one I watched was called Indescribable II. The one linked above is Indescribable I.

07 April 2008

February...check! The Bluest Eye

February's book in the Reading Dangerously Challenge, was The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Saturday morning I finished Anna Karenina - the behemoth - and started The Bluest Eye. I finished it Saturday night. It was such a quick and gripping read.

I'm not sure how I feel about it though. The book is about young Pecola Breedlove, a very poor, young black girl living in Ohio in the '40s. Although she is the central character, you only meet her from everyone else's point of view: her parents, her classmates, her neighbors. Morrison gives each a chapter or so and we are allowed to see their painful lives in intimate detail. And even though Pecola is the connection between all these people, the author purposely keeps her from being the focus of everyone's attention. Because that's who Pecola is. She lives on the fringe. The book is about her and yet it doesn't feel like it. She's the result. Not the intent.

It's dark. Very dark. The ever-present racism and discrimination of that time pulls all the characters into this mire that they can never escape. There is no hope.

And this is where I'm stuck. I don't know how to respond to this book. On the surface, it is a fictional piece about the truth of racism. But what is its purpose? Why tell me this dark story including everything from death, rape and incest (Think "the dad is his grandchild's father" kind of stuff.) when there is nothing I can do about it? Why craft a story that leaves me feeling that I'm impotent to reverse anything, especially considering that this is all taking place sixty years in the past?

Anyway, that's where I am. Morrison is a very talented author and her writing is incredible. The Bluest Eye was superbly written and almost impossible for me to put down (I think I only did twice.), although saying I enjoyed it wouldn't be entirely accurate. I just wish I knew what to do with these thoughts and these feelings she left me with.

Any ideas?

06 April 2008

It's something about the word "challenge"

I can't help myself. I love books and I love the world. I'm taking on one more challenge and then I'm done. Two challenges plus a book club is pushing the envelope of available reading time. My buddy, Bethany, over at B&B ex libris is hosting the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. Nine books by nine authors from nine different countries in nine months. It took me a little longer than I'm willing to admit to find my choices, but it was a ton of fun looking for them. This is what I found:

The Dubliners by James Joyce (Ireland)
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (Holland)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Australia)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Russia)
A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan)
The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy (UK)
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (Canada)
The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes (Mexico)
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (Italy)

January...check! Great Expectations

In February I signed up for "The Year of Reading Dangerously" Challenge. Unfortunately the challenge had started in January so I was already behind a month and a half. The good news was that my trip to Africa included about 40 hours of flying. During the trip I was able to finish January's book, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I'm just now able to get my review in.

What did I think of it? If you have not read it before, you must! Dickens was amazing. I love his characters. I had watched the movie years before(you know, the one with Gwyneth) and knew some of the storyline, but I was so unimpressed (and subsequently forgot a lot) with the movie, and the book was so much more complete in its story, that I enjoyed and was surprised by most of the plot twists.(I just reread that sentence and I'm not sure it's intelligible, sorry.)

I've read quite a few of Mr. Dickens' novels and I don't know if I just missed it before or if Great Expectations just had an extra handful, but it is so sarcastic. I found myself laughing out loud on the plane in a few parts.

I'm not going to critique the book or offer any sort of literary discussion. If you want a literary study, google "great expectations analysis" and you'll get 1.8 million hits.

I'm just going to say that I loved the story. I loved the quirky specifics he gave to the characters. I closely followed the choices of the hero, Pip, finding myself smiling at times, wincing at others and even wanting to smack him in the head with one of Joe's blacksmithing tools (or at least wishing Joe would). I even loved the ambiguity of the ending.

With Great Expectations, you can read one of literature's classics and thoroughly enjoy it. You don't have to "power through" or skulk in the knowledge that you just couldn't finish. It's an enjoyable read and I hope you give it a try!

04 April 2008

Factoid Friday!

It would take 1,200,000 mosquitoes, each sucking once, to completely drain the average human of blood.

At least, so I've heard...

03 April 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 4 - No, This Isn't a Zoo!

One of the highlights of our trip was our safari in Kruger Park.

[Insert History Lesson] Because of rumors of gold and subsequent destruction of wildlife due to skins and ivory trades, Paul Kruger, president of the Dutch East India Company, persuaded the Transvaal parliament to establish a reserve in 1898. This was Sabie Game Park, which is the southern part of today's Kruger Park. Subsequent efforts at increasing the protected area resulted in a grand total of over 2 million hectares. (That's over 7700 square miles.) After World War I, the government of South Africa took over responsibility for the park. [History Lesson Over]

We spent three days in Kruger. It was amazing. (I've noticed that I use that word a lot in my posts.) We would get up at 430 am, get ready for the day and hop into my parents' Pajero to be at the gates when they opened at 530. It wasn't that difficult since the sun would be up with us. Then we would literally drive all day until the park gates closed at 630pm. We would stop for food and walk breaks, but in general we were driving along, staring into the bush. The anticipation of seeing any wild animal was what kept us going. The longest we would go without seeing anything wasn't more than ten minutes. I had to keep reminding myself that these animals weren't in a zoo. This was "the Wild." It was awesome.

Here's a little glimpse into what we saw. And yes, we took all the pictures in this post! Incredible, no? You've got to click on the pictures to really appreciate them. (especially those hidden little guinea fowl)

Babboons weren't everywhere. But they were common enough that by the end of the three days, we wouldn't stop unless they were doing something real picture-worthy. This mom and babe were just off the road. They were fun to watch since the young ones would chase each other and the older ones would watch us watching them as they cleaned each other. And boy are they big, with huge teeth. They were right outside our windows and we had to keep the windows up. They can be agressive if they think you have food.

These are helmeted guinea fowl. They are my favorite bird. I love their polka-dot feathers and blue heads. It was actually very difficult to get this picture since they are so skittish. We saw them at three different times, but they would always scatter before I could get a good picture.

The elephants were breath-taking. The males were all musking, which means they were all ready for some feminine attention. That also means that they were much more volatile and easily upset. This huuuuuuge bull was on the road as we turned a corner. My dad stopped, backed up and pulled over to the side. Even inside the car, we had to move really slowly when taking pictures and keep quite still so as not to startle or upset him. He walked towards us, checked us out a little, and then walked to the opposite side of road from our vehicle. Then he proceeded to rip a tree out by its roots, eat a few bites, then turned and stared us down. We were stricken dumb. Deciding we weren't interesting enough, he continued to saunter down the road. Later I found out that my dad had his foot poised right over the gas pedal and the car in gear just in case the elephant decided to charge. It was totally scary, but afterwards, completely exhilirating.

We saw so many hippo ears and eyes in the water, but never out. I was losing heart that we would get to see one and finally, on the last day, we saw, across a river, two hippos having a snack. I was so happy!

You've all seen giraffes before, so I hope you'll forgive me for not showing you his face. This picture is just to give you an idea how big they are. They were just incredible. We saw everything from babies to grand-daddies. This one was a big one. It was so close and so big, this was the most I could fit in my viewfinder.

My only shot at a hyena was when this one decided to walk across the bridge we were driving on. He never made it across. About half way something in the grass caught his eye and he was off to investigate. But not before I snapped his picture.

When we first came into Kruger, we saw Impala. We stopped and took a million pictures. They were right on the road. By the third day, we had grown so used to these numerous little deer-like guys that whenever anyone saw one, they would just say, "Impala." and we would all just nod our heads. They were everywhere. But gosh darn it, they were cute little guys.

This large girl is a Kudu. They have beautiful white stripes on their backs and the males grow these gorgeous spiral shaped horns. Their silhouette is the emblem of South African National Parks. (Go to the website link and look to the top left corner.) On her back is an Oxpecker. You see the oxpecker on all sorts of animals, eating ticks and bugs.

On the last night we were there, we went on a night drive. Since the camps/gates close at 630pm, the only way you can see animals at dark is during a guided tour. This is because some of the more dangerous animals become hunters at night. For instance, a lion will more than likely leave you alone in the heat of the day, but if you stumbled up on one at night, it would attack. Our sole purpose, besides seeing animals that you usually don't see in the daytime, was to spot the elusive Leopard. During the day, he usually sleeps and really only likes to hunt at night. Our tour guide made sure that we understood there were no guarantees. We understood. But about halfway through the drive, we saw him! It was only for about thirty seconds, but we saw him! I managed to get three pictures before my camera battery died, but it was okay. I got the mighty leopard! There are only about 200 in the entire 7700 square miles of park, so this really was a big deal. Some friends of my parents have lived in Swaziland their entire life and have never seen one!

That's all for now. I'll give you the other half later. We've only made it to L and in Africa, the alphabet doesn't end until Zebra!

02 April 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

This choice goods story starts with our dishwasher. Our house originally had no dishwasher. We found someone willing to give us a free one and so we managed to squeeze it in our existing kitchen footprint. This freebie had only one problem. It leaked. Just a little bit, but you couldn't run a load without first putting a towel under the door. We didn't have high expectations. That little guy did his job and that's all we asked of him. As time went on, though, I noticed he wasn't doing his job as well. And pretty soon he wasn't doing it at all. The dishes as a whole were emerging just as dirty as they went in. It was time to fork out some actual moolah.

After some discussion, we decided to buy a top of the line dishwasher. (Ours looks like the one at right but has the features of the linked one.) We have a large enough family that we run up to three loads a day. We didn't want to waste money on something that couldn't hack that kind of abuse. So what does that mean? Well, my dishes can not get cleaner with another dishwasher. We bought the best so the only variable that can increase the cleanliness of our dishes is the dishwasher detergent.

And that is my choice good for today: Trader Joe's ...Next to Godliness Environmentally Sound Automatic Dishwashing Detergent For Sparking Clean Dishes. Whew! That's beyond a mouthful.

I had read a Consumer Report's article on dishwasher detergent and found that dry detergent works better than liquid. This is because the enzymes that eat away the food are activated by water. They are in suspended animation in the dry powders. The liquid detergents just can't keep the enzymes from releasing their mighty powers before they are in the dishwasher.

Trader Joe's was ranked excellent in cleaning power and at only 19 cents a load, was only slightly more expensive than Costco's Kirkland Signature. But Kirkland Signature doesn't have the environmentally friendly aspects like being phosphate- and chlorine-free, no added fragrances or dyes and having biodegradable surfactants.

Before I used Trader Joe's I had been using Kirkland Signature's Liquid and when that was gone I had splurged on the Cascade Complete Gel. They both worked fine, but nothing spectacular. Finally, I finished the Cascade Complete bottle and got to try my new Trader Joe's. It was amazing! I could immediately tell a difference. The dishes were cleaner, especially the glasses. Even the copper bottoms of my pots are getting more copper-y again. They used to be really darkened but Trader Joe's detergent is reviving the copper a little more with every wash.

For me, the cleaning power, the lesser environmental impact and the relative inexpensiveness are a perfect combination for me.

Trader Joe's Automatic Dishwashing Detergent...it's choice!

01 April 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 3 - What to Expect When You're Expecting (to travel to Southern Africa)

I thought it would be fun to do a "what to expect" about South Africa and Swaziland. Granted, both are independent countries, but due to their close proximity and shared tribal peoples, there are a lot of similarities. Also keep in mind, these observations are made by people who grew up in the United States. So without further ado...

  1. Don't drive after dark. I have no statistics on it, but it is obvious that many, if not most, people do not have a vehicle. They walk everywhere. Busy highways have people walking right along the fog line. And in the dark, you don't see them until you are right on top of them. Cows, too, are a hazard, as they are allowed to roam wherever they please. Guess how easy it is to see a black cow on a dark road. There are also some safety issues, concerning carjackings. Especially if you are white. Because as we all know, the whiter you are, the more money you have. (Yes, that was a teeny-tiny bit sarcastic.)
  2. Be careful when you drive in the daytime. Same things apply as above but now we add kids to the mix. The kids in Swaziland walked to their schools right on the road. The roads were in pretty bad shape and the pavement ended right at the fog line. Tall, two- to four-foot grass grew right up to the road. So the kids would walk in the lane until a car came and then move into the grass. It was pretty scary. Some of these kids were little. I'm talking three year-olds right on the highway. Not a rural road, but the highway. I held my breath every time we went by a group of them; I was so afraid they would not pay attention and jump out in front of the car. And the kombis! (pronounced comb-bees) They are van-taxis. They are crazy! They race each other to get the fares and...let's just say that they didn't pay attention during the Defensive Driving section of Driver's Ed. (That's assuming they even went, which I don't think they did.)
  3. When you use your credit card they will ask you, "Straight or budget?" Your answer should be, "Straight." Budget is some sort of payment plan option, but straight is the "normal" way. Trust me, just say, "Straight."
  4. People do not say, "Excuse me." They say, "Sorry." A tour guide trying to get everyone's attention will shout, "Sorry! Sorry!" If someone doesn't understand what you just said (which is really, really often), they ask, "Sorry?" When you want to squeeze by someone in the grocery aisle you say, "Sorry." I always would say, "Excuse me. Dang it! I mean, 'Sorry.'" Luckily, they would just ignore me and pretend I didn't say anything. Whether they meant to do the nice thing or didn't know how to react to me, I appreciated that lack of response.
  5. Everything is To The Left. Cars drive on the left side of the road. (Although the drivers sit on the right.) The up escalator is to the left, down is to the right. The general movement of the people in the mall is to the left, while people are moving toward you on your right. You know in movies where the person is trying to get through a mob of people and everyone seems to be running into them? That was me until I realized that everyone moving in my direction were where? To the left! It's hard to remember, but once you get it, suddenly life is much smoother.

  6. The plugs for electrical stuff are much different and way bigger than we are used to. Also, remember that they run on 240v where we are on 110v. So even if you get an adapter for your hair dryer, just because you can plug it in, doesn't mean you should. You most likely need a transformer as well, unless your power cord has one built in. If you think they get hot normally, run them on twice the juice! One more quirk. The outlets have their own switches. It's right above the plug-in. Kind of a pain in the butt as far as I was concerned. Great! One more thing to remember!
  7. The soda cans are weighted on the bottom. I don't know if it's to prevent spilled sodas (you know, like those punching clowns that keep coming back up no matter how hard you hit them) or a dishonest let's-make-them-think-that-they-are-getting-more feature. Either way, I felt like I was part of some cruel practical joke. I always thought I had one last drink and when I brought the can to my lips...nothing! This would happen over and over until I removed the can from my presence. Beware the empty can!
  8. One more thing about soda. There are very few fountain machines. I only saw one the entire two weeks we were there. When you order a soda, it comes in cans. When you drink it all, you have to buy another one. They have never heard of the term "bottomless." Much to my camel-like husband's chagrin. Pepsi-lovers be warned, we only saw Coke products.
  9. Little vocab lesson. There's a huge British influence because of colonization and it shows up in their vernacular. Some common words that we might not recognize: bakkie (pr. bucky) = pickup (small truck); lorrie = large, usually commercial truck; traffic robot = traffic light; pudding = dessert; biscuit = cookie. If you run into a situation where they don't understand you, try speaking with an British accent. Many times, they will then understand you.
  10. Languages to expect: The whites are Afrikaners and speak Afrikaans, a language with Dutch roots. The blacks are from different tribes and have nine different languages, with the largest number speaking isiZulu and isiXhosa. Due to this amazing diversity, English is the business language that most people of any native tongue speak. The funny thing is when we would go to restaurants in South Africa, they would initially speak to us in Afrikaans and when we would answer, "Table for four." they would instantly switch to English. It was really nice that we could travel extensively and have at least a common language, even though our vastly different accent posed some problems.
  11. Now that you understand that pudding means dessert, know that unless you ask for it, coffee and tea will not be offered until after pudding. In restaurants, you eat your meal, have your pudding, then finish off with coffee or tea. (The brand of tea is Five Roses. You can just ask for Five Roses and they will bring you your tea.)

  12. If you like cheesecake, don't order it in South Africa or Swaziland. The don't use cream cheese to make it, they use creamed cottage cheese. It tastes like spoiled American cheese cake. It's not spoiled, but compared to what we're used to...blech! Poor Duggy. I ordered the Malva Pudding (oh my goodness! delicious!) and he ordered the cheesecake. Poor, poor guy. Luckily, I was stuffed and it wasn't too much of a sacrifice to share my deliciousness with him. Just remember: No cheesecake!
  13. I am conducting this ongoing social experiment that I started when I walked to my classes in college. I purposely try to make eye contact with people and smile. It's interesting who smiles back. I took this experiment overseas with me and found that the Swazis are some of the friendliest people I've met. Almost everyone would not only smile at me, they would wave as well. I talked to one of the ladies I met and she says it is because I'm a smiler and if I frowned, they would frown back. I didn't believe her but I didn't have the heart to test her theory. I didn't want to frown at people. What if I was the only American they met and I was frowning at them? So I smiled. What can I say? That's who I am.
  14. The last thing I can think of to mention...handshakes. In Swaziland, when you shake someone's hand there are two things to notice. First off, the actual handshake. It's pretty cool. First you grab hands in the normal way, then both of you rotate your hands so your fingers are now on top surrounding their thumb, then you go back to the normal way. It's a three-parter and I thought it was fun. The second part is your left hand. In order to show that you are in a friendly way and not holding a weapon, you put your left hand on your right forearm. This is respectful and shows that both hands are empty. This goes for handing items as well. Whenever you get change from someone, like at a gas station and such, they will hand you your money with their left hand on their right forearm.
  15. Okay, I said the handshakes was last, but I just thought of this, truly, last one. This is a broad generalization and not true of every Afrikaner (white South African) child, but Afrikaner children don't wear shoes. Often times in stores, restaurants, on sidewalks, in malls, anywhere, you'll see a little Afrikaner kid with no shoes. It was the darndest thing. I made it a sort of game to find the shoe-less children. The adults wear them, and to be honest, most kids did too. But there was definitely a noticeable number that didn't. It wasn't that they didn't have shoes, it was that they chose not to wear them. Different cultures have different ways.
There was a ton more, but these were the big ones. Now, when you travel to South Africa or Swaziland, you'll be more prepared, right?