Staycation Halfway Highlights

This time last week I was looking forward to getting out of this house – the one we’ve been sheltering in place in since mid-March for a week-long trip to a BnB in the Flint Hills.

My original plan included dusting off my telescope in the hope of some dark sky observing, only I forgot to check the moon phase calendar before booking the cabin. Full moon occurs this week (tomorrow if I remember correctly).

But despite all the stress of participating (as a team lead) in a hackathon (and placing second), escaping our home however briefly just wasn’t in the stars.

Terry’s health has been a problem for several months now, including a trip to the hospital last month for a few days (that turned out to be a bad drug reaction and interaction). The hospital food also did a number on his digestive system and he’s still suffering weeks later. So at the last possible moment, I cancelled the trip (rescheduled it for the new moon in mid-April 2021) and resigned myself to a week of home improvement and maintenance projects.

Continue reading “Staycation Halfway Highlights”

Father’s Day Eve

Our weekend weather forecast called for sporadic thunderstorms, so I opted not to work in the yard yesterday.  Terry and I did make it out of the house in the morning, visiting the local farmer’s market and our favorite grocery store.  After we woke up from our lunch food coma, I got the notion in my head to relocate the plasma from the old bowed coffee table where it had languished for over five years.

Lexy watching Incredible Dog ChallengeSeveral months ago (yes, months), Terry had ordered a wall mount for the television.  He was prompted to pursue this avenue because when Lexy joined our family, she glued herself (and her nose) to the front of the plasma.  She’s the only pet we’ve ever had who actually watches television (myopically, like Mr. Magoo).  Keeping a clear view through the dog slobber became a daily household chore.

Thus began an afternoon of rearranging furniture, cables, heavy objects and lots and lots of dust.  Our new vacuum cleaner saved the day more than once.  Eventually, we found the wall behind the coffee table and plasma.

Plasma Up
Lexy sniffing around in search of her lost plasma.

Plasma Up
Ah, she found it.

Next, Terry and I had to find the framing studs behind our tongue-and-grove paneling in the great room. We could see one of them through the large return air vent.  Assuming, correctly we hoped, that the builder followed code and the studs were installed every sixteen inches, we got out our measuring tapes, levels and pencils and dredged up our elementary math skills to hunt them down.

Plasma Up
Drilling for studs

After finding three studs and drilling six holes, Terry and I positioned the wall mount, properly aligned and leveled.  I held it in place while he drilled the six lag bolts (and washers) into place.  This mount, properly installed, should be able to hold almost two hundred pounds.  Our current plasma weighs in between one hundred and one twenty pounds.

Plasma Up
Securely fastened to the east wall of the great room.

Terry was concerned that I would not be able to lift 50-60 pounds from the floor to shoulder height.  I wanted to argue with him, but I also didn’t want to drop a three thousand dollar television either.  Per Terry’s suggestion, I returned the coffee table to the middle of the room and we lifted the plasma from the floor back on to the table.  His reasoning was it was less distance (bending over) from the coffee table to the wall mount.

Plasma Up
Staging the lift

Six years ago this situation would have been a non-issue.  Derek at one time set a school record for bench press.  Had he still been living with us, he probably could have lifted the plasma by himself from the floor to the wall mount and not broken a sweat.  As it was, both Terry and I may have strained our lower backs getting the plasma from the floor back onto the coffee table.  I succumbed and gave my dad a call to see if he could spare a few minutes to help us wrestle the thing up to the mount.

Dad arrived just before the thunderstorm did.  Our power had blipped once already.  Lexy made a bee-line for the upstairs main bathroom, her ‘safe place’ when the thunder starts rolling.  I urged Apollo to take a nap up in our bedroom so that the great room would be Rottweiler-free during our lift.

While Dad and Terry lifted the plasma, I held the old base down so it would slip easily away from the device.  Then I moved quickly around the coffee table and took the center of the plasma to steady it and so that Dad and Terry could make sure the hooks on the back of the plasma found the bar on the wall mount.  They also needed to secure the safety latches.  Once mounted and adjusted, I re-installed the HDMI cable from the home theater system to the back of the plasma and struggled with the power cord for a few minutes.  Then I pushed our ancient rolling entertainment cabinet back against the wall and crossed my fingers, turning on the home theatre system first, then the satellite DVR and finally the plasma.  I heard audio first and then the plasma warmed up and we had a picture.

Plasma Up
Thank you Terry and Dad!

Things left to do:

  • New shelf for the center speaker.
  • Donate coffee table to Goodwill.
  • Donate entertainment cabinet to local dump
  • Purchase new furniture to house the electronics under the plasma

The first thing Terry and I noticed was that the plasma actually appeared smaller now.  Sigh.  Maybe it really is time to move up from fifty inches.

Bonus points to anyone who can guess what movie we found to test the new setup with?  Hint:  It’s one of my all-time favorites from the late 80s, but we only caught the last fifteen minutes of it.

Great big thanks to the two ‘Dads’ in my life a day early but never too late: 

Terry (father of my children)
Dan (my dad for nearly fifty years now). 

Apple Harvest Preservation: Strawberry Jam and Slightly Spicy Sauce

Photo1714.jpgIn addition to all the applesauce I created last weekend, I tried my hand at some strawberry jam.  I selected a recipe that used apples as well as strawberries, and a bit of lemon (and lemon seeds).  Here’s a link to the blog post where I found the strawberry jam recipe:  “Through My Kitchen Window: Strawberry and Apple Jam.”  I doubled the recipe, but should have refrained from doubling the water.  It took hours to reduce the strawberries, apples and water down to the proper jam consistency.  I also added a bit of low-sugar/no-sugar pectin, when I began to wander if the jam would ever, well, jam.  An entire afternoon spent babysitting the stockpot resulted in four half-pints of strawberry jam.  I guess I’ll find out later if all the effort was worth it.

Unlike the previous two Saturdays, I didn’t immediately jump out of bed yesterday and begin peeling, coring and slicing apples.  Instead, I threw myself into de-junking our garage.  My husband snagged some new(er) garage doors this week, rescuing them from death row and a permanent burial at the local dump.  Compared to our existing garage doors, they look nearly brand new.  With the time-table on the garage door project drastically moved up (we had planned to buy new garage doors next year, probably during the summer), we needed the front half of the garage cleared out.  Terry scheduled the installation for next weekend, and before then he needs to paint the doors to match our trim color.

I gingerly opened the southern side garage door, hoping it would hold together well enough to roll up and not fall on my head.  I needed that door open so I could get to twelve years worth of accumulated junk, some of which had not been seen or touched since we moved into this house in February 1999.  I set my camera up under my large oak tree in the front yard so I could take some time lapse photos of this endeavor (click photo below for slideshow):

Dejunk South Garage Bay

After spending all day on my feet, to the tune of over 15,000 steps (according to my pocket pedometer, which I accidentally reset by bending over and lifting too much), I decided I needed to stand around some more, this time in a dark field gazing up at the stars and planets.  I even invited my dad to come along for the ride to Powell Observatory (more on that outing in an upcoming post).

I laid my head on my pillow some time during the one o’clock in the morning hour.  I did first warm myself up in the hot tub with Terry.  I wanted to be able to feel my fingers and toes again before I fell asleep.  My back and knees thanked me, at least while I stayed in the hot water.

Sunrise brought stiffness and soreness.  I took it easy, brewing some Irish Blend tea to help wake up my brain.  Terry had been up all night, visiting the hot tub two more times thanks to his back.  Since he was up, I whipped up some sausage gravy and biscuits for breakfast.  He attempted to watch the Singapore Grand Prix race, but soon succumbed to a food coma and retired upstairs to sleep it off.

With Terry upstairs, I could move freely about the kitchen without worrying about making too much noise (and waking him up).  I began peeling, coring and slicing all the apples I had in the kitchen.  I filled my stockpot up about halfway when I ran out of already picked apples.  I grabbed my large basket and went out to forage for fresh apples.  I came back in with a full basket and selected eight or ten large good ones.  I set those aside to be used in the second apple pie of the harvest.

I prepared another dozen or two apples and filled the stockpot up nearly to the top.  I moved it from the front right burner to the back left burner, so I could put the water bath canner on the large front burner.  I selected nine pint jars and placed them in the canner.  I  began filling the pints with distilled water and then continued filling the canner with distilled water until all the jars were immersed and covered with at least an inch of water.  I turned the burner up to medium high heat to begin the long process of heating the water and jars to nearly boiling temperature.

I let the stockpot simmer for a half hour or more, taking the chance to relax, read part of a book and write a blog post.   I transferred hot mushy apples to the glass blender jar and pureed them four cups at a time.  When I reached the bottom of the stockpot I had nearly twenty cups of applesauce.  Success!  I had enough to fill all nine pint jars in the canner!  I returned the applesauce to the stockpot.  I squeezed a fresh lemon and added the juice to the stockpot.

I planned to spice up this batch of applesauce for my kids.  Derek and Rachelle both love cinnamon apple sauce.  I began with two tablespoons of cinnamon.  After I stirred in the spice, I tasted it, but couldn’t really taste anything different.  I took a spoonful to Terry and he agreed I should add more cinnamon.  I added another tablespoon and tasted again.  I got a hint of cinnamon.  I took Terry another taste.  He thought there was enough spice.  I added a half cup of sugar and tasted again.  There, I could taste the cinnamon with the aid of the sugar.

I processed all the pints in the canner, filling them as recommended, leaving a half-inch of head space.  I cranked up the heat to high and put a timer on for ten minutes.  When the alert sounded, I checked the canner’s interior to confirm a roiling boil, then added another ten minutes to the timer.  At the next beep, I turned off the burner and removed the canner from the heat source, leaving the lid off to help cool down the contents gently.  I came back an hour or so later and placed the jars on the rack to cool overnight.

Nine Pints

This week I plan to make at least one apple pie (the second one of the harvest season) and more apple butter.  I only have four pint jars left, but several half-pints are waiting to be filled with either butter or chutney.   My daughter called to let me know she tried the chutney with some pork and loved it.

The apple tree still has plenty of apples ripening on it’s limbs.  I’ll keep picking them until the tree is bare.  Unless I buy another dozen pint jars, though, I’m probably done making applesauce this harvest.

Back in Hot Water Again

One of my all-time favorite episodes of Mythbusters involves proving (or disproving depending on your optimism meter that day) the myth of explosive, even dare I say, orbit-seeking rocket-like hot water heaters.  Mostly I love this episode (click here to see an excerpt) because of the fantastic slow motion footage (aka high speed photography) in stunning HD (at least when I saw it ‘live’ the first time back in November 2007 on my plasma … the excerpt obviously isn’t available in HD via the web).

Having experienced the detrimental effects of water heaters gone bad, albeit vicariously through Adam and Jamie, I did not wish to be confronted with a similar circumstance erupting from our basement.  Never fear, as proven by the Mythbusters, it takes quite a bit of reverse engineering and removal of multiple safety features to convert your average water heater into a Titan want-to be.  Still, our old (twelve or thirteen years old as far as we can recall) water heater sprung a leak under the burner a few weeks ago, and this week began pooling water on top of the tank.  Terry and I decided it had to go and called in an order for a bigger and better unit.

The plumbing contractor for Home Depot must have been strapped for work, because they wanted to install the new water heater the very next day (Tuesday the 14th, which also happened to be Valentine’s Day).  Terry asked them to hold off a day, because we needed to tidy up the basement and deal with some minor electrical wiring projects we’d been putting off for months.  I asked my father, my favorite electrician, if he could spare a couple of hours on Tuesday afternoon to help Terry complete those projects.  He agreed readily.  By the time I got home Tuesday evening, they were finished in the basement.  Dad stayed for a steak dinner (with a side of freshly sauteed asparagus).

Terry called me the next day before noon to let me know the new water heater, expansion tank (required by city ordinance) and a pressure regulator had been installed and everything looked and worked great.  When I got home that night, I had less water pressure (previously, I had over 100 psi, but with the new pressure regulator, it throttled back the pressure inside the house to less than 80 psi) but more hot water.  I grabbed my camera (something I forgot to do when Dad was on site on Tuesday) and took the requisite ‘after’ photos of the newly installed equipment.  I had to dig way back in my photo albums to find a ‘before’ photo of the old water heater, taken in December 2010, when we installed the new furnace and air conditioning units.

Before Photo of Water Heater and Furnace (Way Before - circa Dec 2010)

New Bigger Better Water Heater
After Photo of New Water Heater (2/15/2012)

Terry and I hope this is the last (and really there’s nothing left to replace) large appliance or utility expense we make in this house.  Especially since we opted to buy a water heater with a twelve year warranty.  We are both looking forward to years of worry-free non-explosive hot water.

Off with the Old, On with the New … Roof That Is

The great escape (or is that escapade) began this week, auspiciously on Monday, August 1, 2011.  Our home remodeling project kicked off (finally) when the roofers arrived to strip off our old roof and replace it with a new one.  We waited in the roofing queue for several weeks, while the roofers kept busy basking in the balmy sunshine of the prairie cauldron that culminated in record temperatures Monday and Tuesday of this week.

But first, a stroll down memory lane, with a couple of cool before photos:

Rachelle (1st day of Freshman year at Lansing High - Aug 2003)
Rachelle (1st day of Freshman year at Lansing High - Aug 2003)

If you look past my daughter (and the ugly Ford pickup) you can see the six year old roof (new in 1997).

Groundhog Day (Feb 2011 Blizzard)
Groundhog Day (Feb 2011 Blizzard)

Snow covered the roof (for most of January and February this year), but at least this is a ‘cool’ picture. And I’ll duplicate these photos tonight or Saturday (when I have favorable light from the east):

Moss Home (looking northwest) Feb 2011
Moss Home (looking northwest) Feb 2011

Moss Home (looking northwest) Mar 2011
Moss Home (looking northwest) Mar 2011

But back to the project of the week:  Stripping off the old roof (click on the photo below to see the rest of the album)

Stripping Off Old Roof (First Day)
Stripping Off Old Roof (First Day)

And by sunset of the first day, the roofers reached the halfway point (click on the photo below to view the rest of the album):

Halfway Point by Sunset  (01 Aug 2011)
Halfway Point by Sunset (01 Aug 2011)

And by the time I returned home from work Tuesday evening, I saw a completed roof and all traces of the old roof (and the roofers) gone.  Terry managed to convince the crew to adopt Rachelle’s old bicycle, which escaped our earlier spring cleaning dump run a couple of months ago.

New Roof Done (Tues 02 Aug 2011)
New Roof Done (Tues 02 Aug 2011)

Next step in the renovation:  Driveway replacement

So remind me to get the Firebird out of the garage before the crew tears out the old concrete.  Terry promised he would call the contractor today.