Friday, December 31, 2010

A Christmas of Disasters

You've probably have had your fill of Christmas miracle stories so sit back and relax while I regale you with my tiny tale of Christmas disasters.

I promise there will be no shining stars, no magic healing, and no ghosts of Christmas past...nor will I rely on family feuds as a source for Christmas disorder...oh Christmas disasters are on a whole other level.

It all began with a gentle snowfall that soon melted into rain. Shortly after that the sun shone through the clouds and a gentle stream trickled down our street.

That's quite a snowmelt, I'd thought to myself as I watched the water flow. I'd noticed it a couple of days before Christmas after the big snow storm. I'd even made a mental note to be wary of the water as night fell - it was sure to be a river of ice.

But it never did freeze.

Burst water-mains don't freeze...they just pump out water - hour after hour, day after day.

Because I am an alert observer of all things around me, I noticed the water flow at once.

Because I am an idiot, it never occurred to me to look for the origin of the water which happened to be a crack in the pavement right in front of my cabin.

I discovered my error early Christmas morning when there "arose such a clatter" tiny reindeer...just a large grumpy elf with a jack-hammer and three of his surly elf-friends.
You can see the spray of water over the edge of the truck - 10 feet in the air!
Another neighbor had called in the leak so I felt the least I could do was offer these worker-elves some Christmas treats. I'd just baked some old-fashioned oatmeal toffee (a treat from my childhood) that would be perfect...except that my lack of high-altitude cooking skills had somehow transformed my tasty treat into oatmeal concrete.

Just getting it out of the pan was a nightmare. Knives were useless so I employed a combination of chiseling and water.

It took me 3 hours to dissolve and scrape my way to the bottom of the pan.

To his credit, Dave stopped short of advising me to take it out to help the men PATCH the leak...he's well-aware that domestic violence increases around the holidays - no doubt due to cooking commentary from unthinking husbands.

I baked up another batch being careful to extract the oatmeal toffee right after it came out of the oven this time. Sadly, by the time it was done, the elves had completed their task and headed for home.
Yummy on round two!
All things good and bad happen in threes, right? Christmas disaster #3 was the Beef Goulash I cooked for dinner...

Looks yummy enough...
It smelled divine...and it looked divine...but the taste? What's the opposite of divine? So I set it out in the snow...

I was trying to cool it enough to refrigerate...maybe I'd had too many Christmas cocktails...
 Meanwhile back at the our parallel universe, the pavement was opening up and water began to leak...

This time I called the city myself...

Monday, December 27, 2010

I am at War with Sweden...

Or at least part of Sweden...most specifically Ikea...and particularly the woman on the helpline who actually laughed when I asked if they could replace a seat cover that had literally disintegrated in the wash the first time I cleaned it.

This looks like a cat had a panic attack inside the pillow case - no cats were harmed - it's just an expression.

"You aren't supposed to actually wash them," she'd chortled over the phone. I could just imagine her re-telling my story over lingonberries and meatballs in the lunch room.

"Okay, never mind replacing it - can I purchase another one?" I'd asked.

Another round of laughter...

After the hilarity died down, she was able to gasp over her giggles that I could purchase a new cover for $50. Now I'm not saying that $50 is a bad price but for a $99 chair it seems a bit out of proportion. Plus I just need a cushion cover...

After hanging up the phone (I may have forgotten to say goodbye) I re-checked their website. Yup - right under care instructions...the first line is "Do Not Wash". Dang. If my Swedish was better, I probably would have have known that "TULLSTA" actually means "Disintegrating". Why did I take French in school?

I was in a bit of a hurry because this is the chair the Chihuahuas use to get into bed. Their dirty footprints were the reason I'd washed the dang thing in the first place. So I was stuck with whatever upholstery fabric I had left-over...

So gold it was...and it kind of goes with the cream chair...

The first step was to salvage the old zipper.
Notice how the zipper is still SECURELY attached...figures.
It, of course, was ironically sewn in with industrial thread suitable for parachute seams. I was cutting each individual stitch to break the thing free.

Then I made a rough pattern from the pillow foam - I'd tried to use the old cover at first but gave up quickly. It was like trying to trace a hairball.

Ready to add the zipper.
I added in the old zipper and sewed everything together inside out.
Should have opened that dang zipper while I was sewing.
I'd forgotten to sew the zipper in the open position so there was some gnashing of teeth (mine and the zipper's) but I was finally able to get it open, turned right side out and on the cushion.

The finished cushion cover passed muster by the inspection committee.
Inspectors Golly and Huckleberry give their stamp of approval!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Squeaky Faucets and Other Tragedies

I think houses must age on a special scale the way dogs do. We bought the cabin back in 2002 and for the first three years it was shiny and new. Year 4 was like an awkward acne-filled adolescence - in fact we needed a fresh coat of stain to disguise the sun-faded blotchy appearance of the siding.

Years 5 and 6 were the fun-filled "college years" - we added fencing, a new deck, retaining walls, and solar lights.

Year 8 must be the early 40's in human years. Nothing horrible is failing just lots of minor things that add up to major irritation. For instance:

1. The skylight leaked this year (2x) and was fixed in 20 minutes by a skilled roofer and his handy can of goop (2x).

2. The sliding glass door has developed hot flashes (I can empathize) so has condensation between the panes. This was covered by the lifetime warranty but when the man came to fix it this week it seems they'd hired someone with dyslexia and our 31" wide door had been manufactured as a 13" window. The installer remarked that he thought it was a very narrow door when he loaded it on his we'll be viewing the mountains through mist until January.

3. The bathroom faucet squeaks. Not quietly either - loud squeaks that wake up people in other rooms. I knew I should call a plumber but after watching a couple how-to videos on the HGTV website I was convinced I could fix it myself...

I took a picture of the faucet with me to the hardware store.

The nice (and very patient) man sold me a tube of plumbers grease.

I squished the grease in and around every part I could get to.
And darned if it didn't appear to be fixed at first...
So I've ordered the replacement valve online...sigh.

4. The last thing is probably more a product of my 40's than the cabin's - I am having trouble seeing to cook in the evenings. My first idea was to eat out instead but I was placing my Weight Watchers lifetime membership in jeorpardy. The answer was to install undercabinet lights.

My first attempt was installing LED lights - but they just weren't bright enough and there was no easy way to link them together. So back to the hardware store (no Home Depot or Lowe's up the mountain). Luckily there are two hardware stores so I avoid the "back for a third time" embarassment by frequenting both.

This time I purchased the Xenon lights. They are bright enough - in fact they have two settings which is really a nice feature.

SO I drilled the holes to pass the wires through.

Then I accidentally knocked down the wallpaper I had installed on a whim when the cabin was a baby.

I did have a stash of wallpaper paste (I have no idea what teh original project was for that) but a few swipes with an old paintbrush and the wallpaper was stuck back where it belonged.

Screwing the lights into the cabinet bottoms went quickly. But I hadn't accounted for the loose wires connecting the lights so back to the hardware store (the other one of course) for wire clips...sigh.

Those of us in our 40's and now ready for a nap.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa Baby...It's COLD Outside!

Most of you know that we haven't celebrated family Christmas on December 25th in the last decade. What started as a way to get out of fighting over the kids with the ex's turned into a unique method for taking the stress out of the holidays.

Celebrating on a conflict-free day means treasuring all of the time together with family, food and fun (and the stores are open if I forget to buy brown sugar or batteries - not for use in the same recipe of course).

This year, it will be tomorrow so I'm writing to you on our Christmas Eve. Things are going to be different this year...since we sold the house in Encinitas, Christmas will be up at the cabin. We get to create a whole set of new traditions...not the least of which involves my inability to master high altitude baking...

On a more positive note - I wanted to share some of the decorations we hung this year:

For the first time in 8 years, Dave's childhood Santa (circa 1965) is out on the new deck (lashed to the spindles to withstand the wind that had him airborne when we tried him on the front porch). He doesn't seem to mind the snow...his single light-bulb does a pretty good job of melting it.

We went with window wreaths on the cabin windows - which is our way of avoiding borrowing an extension ladder to hang lights along the gutters - clever huh?

Part of moving was letting go of all the things that fit the last house including the 9 foot tree. The cabin is tiny so the new tree is a bit spindly but not quite to the Charlie Brown stage.

I found a spot for the Christmas village and should be able to vacuum up all the plastic snow by spring...right?

So tonight as we nestle all snug in our beds we probably won't be envisioning dancing sugarplums (I for one, don't even know what one is). But we will be keeping an eye out for make sure he's still on the deck!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fire hazards Make the Best Centerpieces...

We went out for a lovely and loooong hike on Gold Mountain the other day. Every time we stopped to catch our breath, Dave would admire the view - I was bent double with my hands on my knees trying to suck in oxygen(there's more of it at lower altitudes so I figured closer to the ground would help).

With my gaze fixed on the ground at each of these stops (all 123 of them in the 3 hour hike) I noticed that were a lot of really cool branches on the ground.

And really cool branches make really cool candle holder centerpieces...

I confess, I have probably been somewhat influenced by the 17 hours of HGTV Christmas decorating I have watched in the last week...they were all about bringing the "outside in."

As luck would have it, last winter a huge tree fell down in our backyard. I know most people wouldn't think that was lucky but I'm making holders.

A huge ice storm actually pulled it over exposing the root ball.

Now Dave wanted to hire someone to chop it up before we got a ticket from the county for the fire hazard. But we own a chainsaw and I wanted to do it myself!

So I did.

Then I removed the stump - which took 17 hours of digging.

The stump was out and I still had all my limbs - it's Miller time!

Then I set it all out by the street for the county chippers...except they didn't take all the big branches.

Back to our hike - by the end of it I was too weary to even pick up one branch to bring home - but I noticed yesterday that the chipper guys left some branches under the trunk pieces...and they were the perfect size for centerpieces!

The branch possibilities...

So a quick trip to the hanger for some quick chopping.

You have to love a good chopsaw!

Scratch the "quick trip" - since I locked my keys in the hanger, Dave had to walk down to the airport in 30 degree weather to bring me keys. He was less than thrilled.

Back home, it was time to drill. I don't actually have a vise so I had to hold the branch between my feet to drill with two hands.

If you don't have a vise - rubber rain boots work in a pinch.

But the results are lovely...and a fire hazard...perfect for holidays on the edge!
So pretty!
Another HGTV success story...assuming I don't burn down the cabin!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Red China - Red Chairs - Red Face

I've finally figured out what the acronym "M.A.D.E." IN CHINA actually stands for...

Oh sure, for years I, like many people, thought it was just the location of where items were manufactured...NOT SO!

After taking 2 days to assemble 4 red bar stools (that came half assembled so should have taken 20 minutes tops), I have a sore knee, bruised thumbs and clear insight into the real meaning of those letters...

M.A.D.E. actually stands for Manufactured Atrociously by Deranged Engineers.

Each box held two half-assembled theory, anyway.

Now don't think I hate engineers - I gave birth to one - well, actually she wasn't an engineer at first but thinking back she was awfully good with Duplo...hmmm.

And my best friend is an engineer (and she's half Chinese...more...hmmm).

But those other engineers?

The ones who painstakingly craft bar stools where the bolt-holes almost...but never...actually line up so you can screw them in without using super-human force and their stupid Allen wrench?

It's them I hate.

Case in point: consider that hole-bolt alignment issue. At first I was convinced it was simply a matter of shoddy workmanship - perhaps my stools were drilled on a late Friday afternoon after a liquid lunch in good old Gansu Province.

But lets do the math...2 bolts in each leg x 4 legs per stool x 4 stools = 87 chances to accidentally line up ONE hole! At least the way I drill.

But no, with the same level of attention to detail that produced the 8000 Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors, EVERY hole was slightly off so that I had to use the included Allen wrench (and my super-human strength).

It's a plot I tell you. A carefully crafted plot. Nothing overlooked in its execution.

Here's another example: At first I felt lucky that they had included the Allen wrench. After all, it would save me from digging through my tool box to locate one that fit.

Mind you, my Allen wrenches are actually long enough that I can get some real leverage.

This Allen wrench had been cleverly sawed off at just the right length to insure that not a single extra pound per square inch of torque could be applied.  Perfection I tell you...and extreme attention to detail.

I also had to use my super-human strength to detach the hardware bags from the seat bottoms.
Did I mention that all the bolts, screws, washers and wrench arrived double wrapped in a plastic bag stapled to the bottom of the seat?

I was impressed with the double bagging - particularly when I realized that the bolts had been soaked in oil. The plastic bags were no doubt intended to make sure that none of the oil stained the lovely red Ultrasuede during transit...of course, the same cannot be said for my greasy fingers during assembly.

Note to self: invite some small children over to blame for oily fingerprints.

The only thing in the tool bag not covered with oil was the doll-sized bottle of glue...scratch that, it's hard to picture doll-sized" these days...just imagine a bottle of glue you could actually take on a commercial flight - all three drops of it.

Notice the size of the "safe for air travel" glue bottle.

48 hours later, I had them assembled...and I was exhausted but proud of myself for tightening every last bolt no doubt beyond the manufacturers' recommended tightness.

Sure they were a little wobbly but with all those misaligned boltholes that's hardly surprising.

I proudly placed them at the kitchen desk and at the island.

And then Dave saw them. He didn't say anything about the wobble specifically he just held out his hand for the Allen wrench. I slapped it smartly in his palm and smiled smugly knowing those bolts were as tight as they could ever be.

Until Dave tightened them.

Dave in action correcting my assembly.

I was a little red-faced to discover that my super-human strength is more like ordinary-middle-aged-mum strength...but I blame the sawed off Allen wrench. With the right tool, I could have...

Well, at least they don't wobble anymore. I do love the color. They're super comfy and my bruised fingers are soooo happy it's done.

They are nice stools.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Short - It's Benchtastic!

Finally the bed to bench project is complete!!!

Seriously, this is nothing short of a miracle.

In fact, if I was forced to select a "theme word" for the whole project "short" would be the one. (Yes, I realize that only ex-English teachers are nerdy enough to select theme words).

Short...yup...that's the one.

I am short (5'2" and probably shrinking).

I shortened two beds to make them into benches.
Pine Bed #1

Pine bed #2 which I painted blue

I made short work of sewing some throw pillows.

I shortened some extra foam to make the seat cushions.

Pine bed #1 with the foam seat cushion

The fabric I bought to cover the dang foam was also...too dang...short.

Just an inch too short and since I paid $3 a yard for a remnant there was no chance to buy more.

I used short cuss words when I discovered this.

My final solution involved patching in some of the throw pillow fabric on either end of the main cushion fabric. It was either that or cut the foam and that would leave the chipboard exposed. Plus I like the tight fit for a seat cushion so it doesn't slide off when people sit or stand (or tiny dogs jump on it).

Pine bed #2 was lots less trouble and makes a comfy spot on the back patio.
In fact, I was sitting on the completed blue bench watching the boys take their "evening constitutional" when 12 (I counted them) fat and fluffy quail strolled by not 20 feet away.

Huckleberry (the white Chihuahua) ignored them while Golly watched them waddle past intently (no doubt weighing his options as they were just about his size).

A few of the middle ones (#'s 4,5, and 6 I think) stopped to take a detour towards Huckleberry which fowled up the whole line - tee, hee (more English teacher humor).

It was pretty cool to sit in comfort and watch the grand promenade.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dangers of Insomnia

My new soup cookbook
Standing in line at Kmart the other day behind some woman trying to cash a third-party, out-of-state check to buy jingle bells that she insisted were on sale (I'm great at picking lines), I'd read through all the decorating magazines and was working my way through the tabloids when I caught sight of this.


I LOVE soup! And now that I'm unemployed, I actually have the time to make some. So I bought a copy.

The first recipe I tried turned out great - it was a steak and potato soup (the cover recipe of course) and was I was feeling pretty good about my cooking skills which are a little shaky despite the fact that:

1. My one sister is a gourmet cook with an actual following...

2. My other sister bakes treats that bring grown men to their knees...

3. Even my niece can make a Yorkshire Pudding that causes arm-wrestling matches to break out at the dinner table...

4. Oh...and...yeah...I used to be a Home Ec teacher...not that that helps in the slightest.

I think my problem is that the gene that leads to good cooking skills has a partner gene for eating skills. So while I missed out on the former, I am loaded with the the latter.

And I get a little impatient (okay lazy) sometimes and decide to use what I have on hand instead of running to the store for actual ingredients (yes, Alex, I know the maple syrup instead of vanilla cookies I made for Thanksgiving are a prime example of this).

So anyway, I couldn't sleep last night. I was tired enough but just couldn't get it to "take" so I decided to watch TV.

No real shock to you I know, but I am addicted to two channels - HGTV and the Food Network. Now HGTV in the middle of the night isn't ideal because if you get inspired, you're not allowed to use any power tools until after 8 AM (don't ask me how I know that - and they never actually gave me the ticket).

But the Food Network is a whole other ball of inspiration.

And they make it look soooo easy. A dab of this...a splash of that...use some great phrases like, "the heat hides behind it and then blooms in your mouth" or "it's multi-layered spicing" and you're a chef.

So making my new recipe for "In a Hurry Chicken Curry" with only 6 ingredients should be simple...except we didn't actually have any chicken. But everyone knows (on the Food Network they know) that it is perfectly acceptable to substitute:

The frozen ground turkey for the chicken thighs
The frozen broccoli in cheese sauce for the frozen stewing vegetables
The heavy accent of late-night chef for the actual cooking knowledge

This is what it was supposed to look like:
Looks very yummy in the cookbook doesn't it?
I started with the frozen veg I had on hand and some leftover potatoes.

Frozen broccoli with cheese sauce lumps and potatoes

Then I added the turkey and some onions.

With turkey and onions awaiting the curry
I had a little trouble measuring the curry as I used my measuring spoons for my last hair color experiment and have decided that they are no longer "food safe". I used a regular kitchen teaspoon and spilled a bunch of the curry - a very Julia Child moment really.

The final result (with dumplings) didn't look too bad on Dave's mum's wedding plates...
I have a not-so-secret love for dumplings

Of course eating it was another matter entirely...

It needed more curry, more salt and maybe...more chicken.