Blog Archive

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spring Has Nearly Sprung

Although not officially until March 20 (the day after my birthday), it certainly feels as if it is Spring. According to my handy map (below), today is the last possible day for a frost in this area. The weather report predicted that it will reach nearly 70 degrees today (hallelujah!) I think it is safe to begin the summer garden preparations.

Yesterday I received my much-anticipated order of eight (that's right) varieties of heirloom tomatoes from the Seed Savers Exchange. I realize that no one really needs to have eight different kinds of tomatoes in their garden, especially if for a two person household, but no one should have to live with only red tomatoes, either. So I decided to buy at least one of each color, although I forgot to get an orange tomato. Maybe next year...

To commemorate my fur-children I bought a "Ruby" tomato and a "Potato Leaf" tomato. If you look carefully at the Hillbilly Potato tomato package, it actually says "Potato Loaf". I'm sure that's a mistake but it sure is funny, considering my boy-dog's personality.

For the last three weeks, Dave has been out of town on a business trip (but home on the weekends). Since I get bored at home all alone in the evenings I've been finding ways to keep myself entertained. One night I made myself a mini greenhouse out of plastic fabric, like your grandmother used to cover her floral couch, and two stackable shelving units, and huge zippers. I saw something like this at the local garden center and thought it was very cool. Except for the price! That one sells for $80 and it isn't as tall as mine is. In total, I think I spent like $40 on mine and spent about 4 hours making it. I love cheap and productive entertainment!

So I've sown some herbs (oregano, enough basil for all of Italy, thyme, dill, spearmint, and parsley), various lettuces (sweet, spicy, salad bowl), onions, leeks, and scallions. I planted onions back in the fall but very few made an effort at germinating. I thought I'd try one more time before it gets too hot for them. My lettuces have already sprouted!

As soon as I figure out how to use the soil blocker my dad loaned me I'll get my tomatoes sown, too. I'm also seriously considering splurging on an order of seed potatoes from Seed Savers. You can apparently plant them in a tire and just keep piling the soil/compost around them along with additional tires all season, until you eventually have a potato tower full of potatoes. I really need to try that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Rainy Weekend

Another room down! That's right, Dave and I (almost) finished the flooring project in the guest room this weekend. And it only took one weekend...rather than 5 like the dining room.

This past Thursday night I pulled up the carpet and removed the tiles in the guest room. Because that room is only about half the size of the dining room, it only took me about 2 hours to do (that's not including a break at 6:30 to watch Friends). Then on Friday morning I chiseled out all the termite holes (21 I think) and filled them with cement putty. I wanted to make sure they'd be dry by Saturday morning so we could start laying laminate right away. I also removed all the baseboard and the door casing. Because our dining room trim wasn't yet painted (and so the furniture wasn't positioned) I couldn't remove the tiles from the guest room closet since it was still full of all my china and other dining room paraphernalia.

Ugly tile:
You know how nothing ever goes as planned? For instance, I prepared the guest room so that we could start laying laminate FIRST THING on Saturday. Well, first we decided to sleep in (or rather it just happened that way) and then we decided to visit the brand new Costco that just opened in Woodland. We are deliriously happy about this because it is SO close to our house. We could practically (er, impractically since we couldn't carry anything) ride our bikes there! It turns out that grand openings of stores that give out free food samples on rainy days are PACKED. I swear, all of Woodland and Davis where crammed into that store. I even saw my Biogeochemistry professor and his kids.

We went as quickly as possible through the store, making sure to sample as many of the treats as we could. The only thing I really wanted to buy was a 50 pound sack of flour and a huge jar of kalmata olives. They didn't have that latter so I made up for it by buying about $100 worth of other things. Strange how that can so easily happen at a place like Costco. I think the real reason we went to Costco was to have a Polish dog and soda (for only $1.50!). We love those things.

So on Saturday afternoon I started painting the dining room trim while Dave continued to prep the guest room. We realized AFTER the fact that I should have painted the base board BEFORE installing it since it is very difficult (for me, at least) to avoid painting the floor and the wall. Dave helped me slide/jam paper under the baseboard and behind it so I could paint freely. That worked well until I had to remove it. Even with a razor blade to score the paint line it was hard to remove. We'll have to come up with a better plan for the other rooms.

Just to ensure that we actually get rid of our icky garage-to-dining room door I decorated it as I painted the door casing. Isn't it gorgeous? I'm quite the ar-teest.
Before Dave starting laying the laminate, we re-read the Ikea directions (and by read I mean "interpret their non-lingual drawings"). Surprise, surprise, we weren't doing it the way they recommended when we did the dining room. It turns out laying the laminate IS a one person job! Haha! So Dave got busy with the laminate and I got busy putting away all my china and crystal.

The third thing that kept us off-track was that our table saw blade suddenly went very dull. Dave was in the garage and I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I started to smell something smoky, which isn't too uncommon when you're ripping lengths of wood on the saw. Just like on the magic shows Dave suddenly appeared in the kitchen in a cloud of smoke. He said he'd have to go buy a new blade because the old one wasn't working well. He had me look in the garage and there was nothing but smoke.

When my parents were here last weekend my dad brought his brad-nailer gun for us to borrow, which uses compressed air to drive in these little nail-like brads. For the trim in the dining room we'd used a hammer and a nail setter to drive the nail heads down below the surface so I could putty over them and paint them. Bye bye hammer. Hello brad-nailer! This tool is wonderful for installing trim; it is fast and easy. The dogs don't like it because of the sound. While Dave was using it I was painting the window sills in the dining room. I had both dogs sitting on my feet, with their heads tucked between my legs. I'm surprised I didn't fall over. To them I'm sure the sound was confusing and scary. To me it sounded like the toaster popping up the bread.

Once he got started the floor-laying went very quickly. He trimmed-out the doors (which I will paint in place) and cut and coped all the baseboard. Hopefully I'll find time to paint the baseboard this week so we can install it this coming weekend. I have a physical chemistry midterm on Friday that I should study for instead...
Here's what the dining room looks like now. I'm still searching Cragislist for an oak buffet or dresser to place opposite the hutch and I have some shelving to paint for the other end of the room. But basically, it's done!

For the last 3 weeks I've made pizza on Sunday evenings. This week's was by far the best yet. To the dough I added black pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano, and thyme. Oh. My. Gosh. It was goooood.

The dough:

The pizza...perfect with a glass of Pinot Noir and a salad:
I added a few more pictures of the dogs to their slide show at the bottom of the blog. Make sure to take a look at how CUTE they are!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Levie Men and Lamb Legs...

My parents came up to Davis this past weekend for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, my cousin, his wife, and their darling baby boy were in the Sacramento area for the long weekend to visit with my aunt and uncle. None of us had met Conrad, the baby, yet. Second, my dad also wanted to get over to Woodland to buy about 200 pounds of urea for his very woody compost and to purchase a 325 gallon water tank. Third, my mom wanted us to (finally) celebrate my dad's 59th birthday, which was a month before.

On Saturday morning (while my mom was at a wedding) I dragged Dave and my dad over to the Farmer's Market to buy all the goodies I needed to my graduate group's wine and cheese party. While there we ran into my favorite undergrad professor, Carla. I bought oranges, pears, olives (which I actually forgot to even take to the party after all that--oops, I guess I'll have to eat them myself!), and LOTS of cheese. YUM. With only an hour before the fertilizer store was due to close, we loaded up into to Cliff (my dad's Big Red Truck) and shot down the highway to Woodland. Of course, we'd left the directions and phone number on the coffee table at home but since Woodland is a very small place we assumed we'd find the place. We knew it was on East Street but after confirming the address from a gas station phone book we still couldn't find the place! Oh well, at least we tried. We were successful at the Tractor Supply--my dad bought his 325 gallon water tank and I convinced Dave to let me raise some chickens in the backyard. (I spent a good amount of time flipping through chicken raising books and perusing all the feeders and waterers. It turns out my dad wants to raise chickens, too, so we've decided to order at least 6 chicks come Spring and he'll take half back to Livermore.)

When we got home and jumped out of the truck, my dad spied our nasty tree stump by the driveway and said "Hey, why don't we take the out this afternoon? It shouldn't take too long." I said "Go for it, " and left him and Dave with the pick-matic and shovels while I busied myself with rewiring some lights in the garage. It only took them about 2 hours to get the whole thing out. This is great, because now I can plant pretty things all along the driveway!

The whole was REALLY deep:
...just kidding!
The stump was large, but (luckily) it didn't have a major tap root so they just chopped off dozens of smaller roots and wriggled it free:
Later on my dad and I went to the Food Co-op and bought ourselves a whole leg of lamb to grill for his birthday dinner. Preparations went about the same as before, with him posing for pictures just like Edward did back in December. This time we used fresh parsley instead of dill and it was very yummy with couscous and yogurt.
I also made a red velvet birthday cake--I'm totally not impressed with this cake (or perhaps just this recipe). It tastes like sugar and butter, which I guess makes sense since the frosted cake contains about 4 cups of sugar and about that much butter. Ick. Can you believe it requires a WHOLE 1 ounce bottle of food coloring? I think Red 40 is carcinogenic...perhaps I should rename this cake Red Cancer Cake. At least it is pretty!

There goes the whole bottle of cancer into the batter:

The finished cake (I messed up my gel icing "5"):

On Sunday we went to Fair Oaks to visit with my mom's family--unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera and didn't get any pictures of baby Conrad. (Just imagine the most adorable boy with the best temperament and you've got the picture...) We went out to eat at a brewery and then visited at my Aunt Bev and Uncle Bill's house. (Uncle Bill is my mom's twin brother; Dave also has twins in his family and we're hoping we'll end up with twins of our own some day.) The visit was super fun (but too short), since I haven't really hung out with my cousin Mike (or his wife Delonna) much ever. I wish we lived closer to them... Hopefully I can get one of them to email me a picture from that day (someone took pictures of me and Conrad...) and I will post it here (hint, hint!).

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reincarnation As A Shower Curtain

Right after we became engaged in Paris, my mom bought Dave and I some Paris bedding from my favorite catalog, Garnet Hill. We had a queen bed then but upgraded to an eastern king sized bed once we realized there’d never be enough room on a queen for two humans and two dogs (who also require their own pillows, mind you). Since I gave Edward and Allison our queen bedroom furniture this past summer we’ve not been using these cute sheets at all.

This is what the bedding looked like (from the Garnet Hill catalog):

So I decided to turn them into a shower curtain for our hall bathroom. (If my mom is reading this, I bet she’s having a fit: “She did WHAT with those nice sheets I bought for them?! Tisk. Why would she go and ruin such pretty sheets like that?”) But I think she’ll be pleased to see how it came out and how it looks hanging in that blue bathroom. We already had Moulin Rouge prints hanging in that bathroom (that’s where Dave the Moulin Rouge, not in the bathroom...) so it all “came together” with this new curtain.

I used some neat trim and some ribbon I found amongst all the sewing stuff I inherited from my late Grandma so it wouldn’t just look like I hung an old sheet up.

The remaining material from the sheets and duvet cover will probably come back to life as curtains for our gray-walled office. We’re thinking of painting vertical stripes on the walls of the office to make it look taller—we’ll use the same color of gray but in a different finish (we have satin up now so perhaps we’ll use a semi-gloss).

I might also refashion a red king duvet cover I got for our bed so that the center of the duvet is Paris print. My intent for buying the red duvet set was to (try to) mask the dirt and grim the dogs bring into our bed everyday. Potatoes is the main culprit--right after he's done going potty after breakfast he runs straight back into the bed and snoozes in one of the human spots (it is still warm and he adores ANYTHING that smells like Mama or Daddy--yes, even our dirty clothes.) Because he's a boy (not because he's a dog...) his paws are especially prone to coming back in trailing leaves and clumps of dirt. The red duvet DOES mask the dirt, but not all the white hair. So it ends up looking messier than if I just used one our girly pastel floral duvets where the paw prints just sort of blend in with the flowers. I know some of you are probably completely grossed out, but that's just life with dogs. And when you know your dogs are angels sent directly from Heaven (as mine are, of course) then you just take it as your Earthly duty to deal with dirty paws in your bed. =o)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, But Finally At The Finish Line

After a whole month, Dave and I finally finished the dining room! Well, mostly.

I had loaned Dave's favorite, variable speed drill to his brother earlier in the week (he was going to try to repair their own automatic garage door) so Dave and I tinkered around with the door casings and rosettes until Michael could drop the drill off to us in the afternoon.

We put the casing around the door to the garage and it looks so nice! The rosettes posed a bit of a problem since our walls are so textured. After using a square to position the rosettte at the corner of the door frame, you're supposed to nail and glue it to the corner. We kept having to scrap away the texture so it wouldn't move. After the garage door we did the sliding glass door frame.

Here's Dave working on the rosettes on the door to the garage:

Once the drill arrived, I anxiously watched Dave trying one last time to get that darn transition stuff to work. It turns out I had just misunderstood him last weekend when he said that it wouldn't work. What he meant to say was that the cheesy blue plastic rail wouldn't work because he drilled it down too close to the sliding glass door frame. This meant that there was no "wriggle room" to slide and snap the faux laminate transition on. So I watched as he had to drill a whole new set of holes (again, using all his weight and a brand new masonry bit).

The problem with our house is that it is crappy--it is a run-of-the-mill 1950s insta-track house made of, at best, medium quality materials. The concrete slab has stones in it, which are harder than the surrounding concrete. So your drill bit can wander away from vertical if you happen to hit one of those stones. He had to be very careful to keep those holes vertical so that the rail would end up exactly where he wanted it. I suggested that when he met resistance, that he remove the drill from the hole and hammer down there with a long nail. That seemed to help get past those stubborn parts.

What a handsome transition piece! Davie does such good work:

He was able to install the transition piece under the pocket doors to the kitchen linoleum without too much trouble and he only had to let the drill cool off a few times. (He has this weird method of testing how hot the tip is with his lips...).

Before doing the casing around the pocket doors, we started fiddling with the pretty new baseboard we bought. We cut a little piece and put it next to the door casing to see how it would look. Ick. The baseboard stuck out away from the wall past the casing material. It looked baaaaad. We flipped through our new book from Home Depot called "Trimwork 1-2-3" to see what we'd done wrong. The book showed people also installing plinth pieces, with are decorative wooden pieces that go at the bottom of the door frame and meet directly with the baseboard. The last thing we wanted to do was to go back to Home Depot for more stuff like that. After another 15 minutes of playing with the piece and experimenting with angled cuts, I decided that there HAD to be a logical solution to this. I mean, this baseboard and the casing we bought are sold in "professional packs" of like 120 linear feet. Contractors buy this stuff by the ton and trim out entire houses with it. It is MEANT to be used together (we're just adding the rosettes because we're a) lazy with mitering and b) they look pretty). I finally realized that we must have installed the casing backwards; it is angled width-wise and we positioned it so that the thickest part was closer to the door, not to the baseboard.

Simple as it sounds, it wasn't much fun: we removed all of the casing (being very careful not to upset those rosettes) and reinstalled it the other way around. It still looks so pretty! The baseboard installation went pretty smoothly, once we figured out how to use our new coping saw to cope one part of each corner. It is truly amazing what a difference that large baseboard does to that room. The walls are still peach but it looks so nice with the new flooring!

The new casing around the sliding glass door. It will be mostly covered since I usually have curtains here to keep out some of the southern sun:

Look at how crappy our door looks now (we'll either hang a new panel door or just paint this a crisp white and get new hardware):
We raised our dining room table with casters to make it easier to clean the floors:I spent last night filling in all those nail holes with putty and I touched up the peach paint from where our hammer smacked pieces of tiles hit the walls. Hopefully I'll be able to get all the trim painted before my parents arrive this weekend. Then I get to put all the furniture back in (this is my favorite part--I LOVE arranging and rearranging furniture). I'm painting two little shelves a clean white to use in the dining room and am on the market for a used sideboard/buffet that I can also paint.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Recipe: Bean Soup with Greens

I modified a recipe I found on and made soup last night with some of our garden goodness:

Bean Soup with Greens
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
  • 4-8 large garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 4-6 cups chopped raw greens (I used a combo of turnip, collard, and mustard)
  • 4 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (don't waste your homemade stock on this dish...the other flavors will mask it so just use canned stuff from the store)
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini or navy, drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart chopped tomatoes (or a large can, undrained)
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb or Herbs de Provence seasoning if using the latter, also add 1 tsp orengano)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
Saute first 4 items over medium high heat until carrots are just softening, about 10 minutes. Dump in the greens and stir to coat. Let wilt. Add 3 cups of the broth, the tomatoes (with their juices), and 1 can of beans. Add seasonings. Let soup simmer while you puree the remaining beans and broth in a food processor, Magic Bullet, or blender. Add that to the soup and let the whole thing simmer until the greens are the texture you like. Older greens (like you'd buy at the store) will need to simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can use kale in this instead of the greens I used.

This soup is seriously fantastic! It has levels of flavor. Last night Dave and I were in separate rooms eating our soup (he was watching Smallville in the living room while I was watching Friends on the office computer...) when I got up to go tell him how good I thought the soup was. When I opened the office door he was standing right there. He was coming into the office to tell ME how much HE liked the soup. (Yeah, it's THAT good).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How does your garden grow?

We planted our winter garden back in late September and have been lucky to enough to eat from it since before Thanksgiving. The turnip and collard greens have been abundant in our kitchen. Since these are the young leaves they don't require much cooking; we prefer them lightly sauteed with cooked bacon or ham. They also work well in soups.

Here's a poem I wrote about myself. The only problem is that pole beans are not a winter crop. Any suggestions?

Julie, Julie, quite unruly
How does your garden grow?
With turnip greens, and blue pole beans,
And cabbages all in a row.

I took these pictures this morning:

Turnip, collard, and mustard greens:
Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts (Allison had better come for a visit to help me eat the latter):Beets of two varieties and carrots:
Cabbage patch kids--just kidding! Here we have Chinese cabbage and head cabbage:
A few weeks ago I also planted a few climbing roses near the gates and they've finally started to sprout. This is exciting because it means that I didn't kill them AND that we'll have some beautiful greenery to cover the arches over each gate come summertime.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hello, Lovely Oak Laminate!

After a week of allowing our sore bodies recover from the de-tiling of the dining room, we went to the floor store in Davis to look at our laminate options two weekends ago. The prices ranged from about $2/square foot all the way up to something over $5. The salesperson told us the latter is usually installed in places like bowling alleys. She also explained that nearly all of the lower-end varieties are the same in terms of durability and warranty (the price is purely a function of marketing).

We headed over to Ikea in West Sacramento to look at flooring there and see what the price difference would be. This monster store is known for testing the durability of it's products to an extreme level; in fact, they have sections of the different laminates all over the store to prove it's durability with 1000s of people walking all over it each week. (It may be a sales ploy, but it sure worked on us!) These prices ranged from $0.89/square foot to over $4. The cheapest stuff is only recommended for bedrooms (probably because it is SO crappy that it can only handle low-traffic locations).

We settled on the oak Tundra version, which is midrange in price (and slightly cheaper than anything at the Davis shop). We loaded our industrial cart with 11 cartons of Tundra oak laminate, rolls of moisture barrier and foam, and the lengths of transition covers (to cover the edges where the flooring type changes). I got an icky feeling in my stomach when we put that in our cart. It consists of a cheesy (and very brittle) plastic rail that you screw onto the original floor. The only slightly less-cheesy metal transition (covered in the imitation wood laminate design to match the laminate floor) is supposed to "easily" snap and slide into the grooves of the plastic rail. Yeah, right. I told Dave I wasn't sure that the plastic rail would work very well, considering that it would bear the brunt of our feet banging into the side of the transition and the pressure of feet stepping straight on top of it. At least at the Davis flooring shop they sold metal rails (much more durable) onto which you snap and slide a wooden piece as the transition. This option seemed better to me since the metal rail is more durable AND because the wooden piece is a bit more flexible in case you install the rail a bit crooked. Since the lengths of the transition were only $20 we decided to at least try it. We could always troubleshoot with the Davis floor store option later.

After we loaded Dave's tiny Saturn with all our flooring goods, we got home and were all excited to begin our first flooring project. I pulled out the directions and sadly realized that we had to let the flooring cartons acclimatize for 48 hours in the house before installing them. This about killed me! If any of you know me at all, patience is a virtue that I pretty much lack. It was hard for me to resolve to wait. With Dave's work schedule these days and my experiments ususally lasting until after dinnertime in the lab, we had to wait until the next weekend to start installing.

This wait period took me by surprise only because it was an Ikea product. When I think of Ikea, I think of "quick and dirty" solutions to home improvement and/or decorating. I understand the reasoning behind the acclimatization period; I guess I just figured that all of Ikea's products would be geared to weekenders who purchase on Saturday mornings and finish their project by Sunday evening.

First we laid down the moisture barrier and then covered it with the foam:

After cutting some lengths of scrap wood into 5/16" spacers to temporarily edge to room we began installing the tiles across the room. Two cuts had to be made for each section, which did make the process a long one. You'll notice that the above picture was taken during the day while this one was taken at night (and we were only about 1/3 done with the room):
It went much fast after a while because we figured out how to finesse the tiles together:

We gave up around 11pm when we were only 1 section away from the end of the room. That last section required some special trimming and we finished it on Sunday morning. Doesn't it look nice?

Once all the flooring was installed (after MANY trips back and forth into the garage to trim each piece) we attempted to install those crappy transition pieces. HA. There were a few issues: first, about every third hole Dave tried to drill in the concrete subfloor was unsuccessful. The masonry bit would go down about 1/2 inch and then stop, even will all of Dave's weight on the drill. (We think we must have been hitting pieces of the rebar in the concrete.) He finally got enough screws in to hold the plastic rail down. I stood back while he tried to snap and slide that metal-covered-in-wood-decoration transition onto the rail. Did it work? No! It broke the plastic in a few places and we decided (er, I decided) that we would just eat the loss of that transition and move on. We'll purchase some of the metal and wood transition stuff from the Davis floor shop later.

Even without being complete, the room does look much nicer now. It is much more echo-y in there and sounds resonate all the way to the back of the house. These new acoustics will take come getting used to once the house is done-up this way (or would it be "done-down" since it is the floor we're talking about?).

For the time being, we'll spend our time trimming-out the room with new baseboard and casing for the doors. We bought rosettes for each door so that we don't have to deal with anything except butt joints on our surly unsquare door frames. The pocket doors that separate the kitchen from the dining room will be swapped out with new panel doors from Home Depot. They will look MUCH better since last year the electrician accidentally put several screw holes through the current doors.