Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home Repair Updates

I slept in this morning and hauled myself out of bed at 9:15. I washed the last of the dishes from last night's dinner and made myself a cup of coffee, then surfed Ravelry for a few minutes. I've just finished wiping down the stove. I am not a fan of cleaning, but it's satisfying to have a pristine stove or sink.

Mark and JB finished putting in the new front door last night, and JB also finished installing a new porch light. From the inside, it feels like an entirely new house; we bought a fiberglass door (tax credit) with an oval leaded glass insert. It allows so much light into the house that the foyer looks about a foot wider than it is.

Remaining to do today is more mudding in the master bathroom, installing the casing outside and inside the new front door, and packing up to go to San Antonio.

That's right, we went to Austin, came home for one day, installed a new front door, and are leaving again forthwith. Assuming the car is fixed.

That's the other thing. The car's battery light came on again. I called the mechanic, and he told me to bring it on out, but I told him no. I told him I was going to get a couple of second opinions, and I'd call him back and let him know what they said. He didn't answer when I called back. I'm sad because I've used this guy for over 10 years and really like him, but he really blew it on this repair. I told him it was more than just a loose belt, but he didn't listen. His loss.

The two mechanics I've talked with said it's either a bad/loose bolt on the alternator itself that shakes loose with the vibration of the car or it's a bad harmonic balancer. The mechanic we left it with said he'd look at it this morning and let us know the final answer. He couldn't guarantee that it would be fixed today, so we might have to rent a car for the trip to San Antonio. Not ideal, but do-able.

With the bit of day I have left to me before the packing and preparations begin, I'm going to take a shower. In my newly installed bathroom shower.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Home Again

We are home from Austin, thank heavens. I'm sure Austin was wonderful, awesome, and life-changing for everyone, but I spent half the visit in the motel bed moaning in agony. Absolute misery.

Sometime Sunday night, my poor tummy started to ache, and it all went downhill from there. I'll spare you the gory details.

Julia, Burgundy, Mark, and JB went to the Texas State Capitol Building, and then they went to the Texas Chili Parlor for lunch. I swear, I don't understand how those girls can stand to be vegetarians living in this state. I laid in bed at the motel with a fever of 101.9.

After lunch, they came back to the motel, and Mark took me to IHOP for Saltines and Sprite. I also wolfed down two pancakes without syrup or butter (but with the tiniest smearing of honey). Then I went back to the motel and went back to sleep. Mark, Julia, JB, and Burgundy went out again. I have no idea where.

Sometime around 7 I woke again. Fever was down to 100.0. I felt competent to resume knitting; it had been nearly 24 hours. I know, right? Too long.

I finished one of Julia's socks (I was on the toe already) and began working on the other sock.

The family returned to the motel. They had eaten at a Korean vegetarian restaurant with crappy service. My fever was down to 98.2. Mark took me to an Irish pub; I was feeling much, much better. I ate shepherd's pie.

Tuesday we woke, checked out of the motel, and the boys dropped Burgundy, Julia and I at South Congress. They went to art museums. I hung out at Hill Country Weavers, and the girls shopped their way down So. Congress.

After lunch, JB and Mark picked us up, and we all went to Alamo Drafthouse to see Sherlock Holmes. Dear, Sweet, Cuddly Baby Jesus, but I have a thing for Robert Downey Jr. I would LOVE to bite him. He needs to be bitten. Seriously.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Good Morning, Internet!

It's 9AM, and our brand new, beautiful German cuckoo clock just went off. It's the real deal, straight from Germany with beautiful pinecone weights for the winders and a tiny little bluebird for the cuckoo. And it goes off every hour on the hour. And every half-hour. We've had a little trouble getting the weight just right on the pendulum, but it chimed 9 times at 9:00 AM (and 10 at 10:00 AM), so I'm thrilled.

Of course, I am alone to revel in its beauty. Every other soul in this house is sound asleep. Scratch that; I think Mark just got up.

We had a marvelous Christmas. My mom gave Burgundy and I matching monkey slippers, and she gave Burgundy jeans and a dress and Julia some cute, pink scrapbooking supplies.

Julia had gifts sent over from Germany; they were so awesome and sweet! She gave me a fountain pen and refills (I raved over Burgundy's at the beginning of the school year), a beautiful necklace, and a jar of pear jam. I seriously considered hand-writing this entry before posting just so I could use the pen, but I realized my hand would be so sore I wouldn't want to type it later. Alas, the pen sits unused. For now.

For Mark, they sent a bottle of cherry liqueur (it's 80 proof, y'all!) for use in making a real Black Forest Cherry cake; if we weren't totally sugared out from the holidays, I would make one today! She gave him a magnetic desk toy and a really nice set of markers like the ones she brought over for herself. He'd been eyeing her marker set enviously because, like me, he's an office supply hound. Oh, and she gave him a triangular protractor. These presents (with the possible exceptions of the markers and the liqueur) would bore me to death, but My Favorite Nerd loved them. They were perfect for him, as mine were for me.

They also sent a gift to the family: the German cuckoo clock I mentioned earlier. It's so beautiful, and I've wanted one for so long.  I'm just thrilled.

We had two gifts that kept us in screams of laughter all morning. The first was Burgundy's gift to me: The first one opened. She gave me a miniature hazard sign with a motion-activated fart detection and warning system. Every time someone took a picture, the flash set it off; sirens wailed, the orange light flashed, and a loud voice would yell, "WARNING! DANGEROUS GASES DETECTED! FOLLOW-THROUGH IS IMMINENT! WARNING" There were seven or eight other messages, all of them equally hilarious, but that's the one I remember.

The second hilarious gift came from Julia to Burgundy. Early on, Julia asked what Burgundy would want for Christmas. I explained that Burgundy collects nutcrackers, and a genuine, German-made nutcracker would be enormously precious to her. Julia was really excited about this, and immediately called her parents and set them to work. Christmas morning, Burgundy unwrapped her first gift from Julia: a long slender package containing a really sleek, very sophisticated, and undeniably usable nutcracker.

And Burgundy compares last year's UT nutcracker to this year's Genuine German nutcracker.

Mark scored major points this year with jewelry. A stunning ruby and diamond necklace, earring, and ring set. Mark is really not a jewelry guy. Aside from my wedding ring, the only jewelry he's ever given me is a set of white gold hoop earrings. I think it really tears at his inner utilitarian to give people he loves things they can't really use. That makes me extra happy and honored to receive these from him. It means he not only saw what I wanted, but overcame his own urge to pragmatism to buy them for me. AND he bought them on Black Friday, which was when we were in the midst of huge Marital Distress. It was bad enough that we were talking divorce while crying with each other because we didn't want to. That he went out and bought me something so beautiful, romantic, and impractical in the midst of that hell and upheaval really speaks to my heart. I love that man; I really do. The chains around our necks were a gift of bling from Burgundy to Mark.

There were tons of other gifts, but I'll hit some highlights. The t-shirts I ordered for Mark and JB had not yet come in, so I printed the cartoons for each of them and put them in their stockings with a note that said, "You shoulda had this on a t-shirt." I bought Mark the Useless cartoon, and JB the woodpecker (the t-shirt only has the last panel).

Burgundy got a photo printer and scanner. Both girls got Doc Marten vinyl knock-off boots; Burgundy received bright green, and Julia received hot pink. I bought them both tights, and Burgundy also received  two more charms for her charm bracelet: a monkey (because I call her Rat-Monkey) and a music note. I tried to knit them both socks; Julia received two socks both knit to about the 3/4 mark, and Burgundy received one fully knit sock. They both received a pair of felted slippers, and I knit Julia a Giant Stocking of Doom to match Burgundy's.

Surrounded by their puddles of goodies, I said, "Okay, it's time to open your big gifts now." I waved Julia's smallest package in the air.

Julia said, "What? There's a big one after all this?"

Realizing I'd just potentially given something away, I said, "Yeah, we bought you a ticket home!" Julia huffed (she sounds just like Meryl Streep doing Julia Child when she huffs), and we all laughed; I told Burgundy to open her present, and she discovered the printer.

I handed Julia her gift. She said, "I can't believe there's more after all of this!" The terrible irony is that we paid nowhere near full price for any of the gifts. Burgundy's biggest gift was about 70% off. For Julia's we paid just over half price. She tore the wrapping paper off and removed the protective film and then just sat there with her mouth hanging open and said, "You're crazy! You're all just crazy!" We gave her an iPod touch.

We'd planned on spending about $170 on each girl. We originally bought Julia an iPod Nano for about $140, and then I picked up everything else she received in her stocking and in regular gifts for right at $30. I found leggings on clearance, tank tops on clearance, etc. About a week later, our friend Anthony came to us and asked if we still needed an iPod for Julia for Christmas. He'd received an iPod Touch - what Julia really wanted and had planned to buy for herself until I dissuaded her) - from the company he was leaving, and he planned to sell it. The Touch came with a package of protective sleeves and a $15 gift card. All together, the package was worth about $225. Anthony offered to sell us the package for $150. Off to Fry's Mark ran to return the Nano, which after tax had been $149. So we managed to do this HUGE Christmas for her while staying more or less on budget.

For Burgundy, we found her biggest Christmas present, the printer, for $30 on Black Friday. I picked up it and the biggest family gift, Beatles Rock Band, on three hours' sleep that morning. The Rock Band game was much cheaper, too, going for $150 instead of $200, if I remember correctly.

I know Mark got a deal on my jewelry, though of course, I won't ask him. The really exciting things are that once again, we've had a wonderful, fun, relatively stress-free Christmas with Burgundy's dad, and we did our Christmas on budget.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Bought the Mixer

I know, not frugal at all. Not a bit. Maybe I should reassess this blog's purported mission: One woman's online drive to justify buying whatever she wants.

Still, I now own the mixer to nix all mixers. Even now, it's in the other room whirring around beautifully, kneading a double batch of dough. I should get 16 mini-loaves out of this batch, but I'll limit myself to 12 mini-loaves and one regular loaf.
~~~~~~Time Passes~~~~~~
Well, I managed 14 mini-loaves and a regular loaf. The texture and density of the dough out of this mixer is phenomenal. I am completely, utterly sold. In addition, it took about 90% less effort than the Kitchen Aid did. Was this a need? No. Was this a Family Want? Yes. Was it worth giving up my sock club money? ABSOLUTELY.

We agreed that once our e-fund has recovered from the bathroom renovations, I can be paid back all my saved sock club money. I might join the sock club after that, but then again, I might just have a big shopping spree on exactly the yarn that I want.

Or maybe . . . juuuuuuuuust maybe you will beat me I will save it for a rainy day. Meanwhile, I will have the best bread ever.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Early Morning Web Surfing

This morning, as I do every morning, I dragged myself into the kitchen and set up my stovetop Bialetti to brew my cup of coffee. I love the Bialetti because it gives me more control over the final product than those fancy one-cup machines, but I can still brew just one cup. The result is a wonderful, high-flavor cup; I usually still see oils on the top, and it sometimes even has crema if I catch it before it gets too hot.

Anyway, while I wait for the coffee, I toast a slice of my homemade bread, flip open my MacBook, and begin perusing Ravelry. If you don't knit or crochet, don't bother clicking the link; you won't get it. If you do and you haven't been to Ravelry, I command you: Get thee hence and sign up. It's a spectacular way to waste time.

Ravelry has a robust and lively bunch of bulletin boards, and this morning I signed on to find I'd been magic linked (Rav term - they sent me a PM to head over to this thread) to a conversation about cooking from scratch and general DIY cooking and kitchen planning. The ladies on this thread run the gamut from, "I love my frozen ravioli! BACK OFF!" to "Oh my heavenly STARS, the other day I harvested milk from the goatling whose birth I attended for the nanny I bought last spring, and then I used specialized bacteria harvested from the back of a cave in Malaysia to make goat yogurt, and YOU ARE A SINNER DOOMED TO EVERLASTING PERIL IF YOU EAT PROCESSED FOOD!

I read the five pages of comments because I am turning into a zombie. I wanted to respond every third post, but I realized that I had the makings of a fine post kvetching about my current bread-making situation, so I decided to save it all for you. Am I not good and generous with you?

Yesterday morning, the house still was a shambles. JB had discovered Sunday night that the pipes in the attic leading to the master bath were around halfway clogged and had to be replaced. Not being a plumber, he needed Mark and I both there to help him with the replacements, which we were delighted to do. This involved a lot of standing around and waiting, so I decided to throw together a batch of bread for the Christmas packages I planned to mail out.

I have a very expensive Kitchen Aid Professional HD stand mixer. Two years ago, someone gave my husband two tickets to the Boeing Christmas party in Galveston. The tickets were valued at $20 a piece, so we leapt. When we arrived, they handed us two sheets of tickets - 20 tickets each - with which to enter drawings for prize packages at the front of the room. The mixer beckoned, and without having to discuss it at all, we entered and won. We made out with the mixer, a set of knives, and a nice, polished chrome buffet set with electric burners.

I use it the mixer to mix and knead my bread because the bread machine just does not understand when to leave well enough alone. Every attempt at breadmaking without a mix resulted in a dense, dry, inedible brick of yeasty wheat. After taking a class with Gail at Bethlehem Harvest, I decided to use the Kitchen Aid for kneading. She explained how it would work, what I should expect, and how to test the dough to see if it is adequately kneaded.

The quality of my bread improved immediately, and I began making two batches a week to keep up with the demands. Everyone eats it for breakfast, and the girls also make their lunches with it. We all munch on it constantly, so much so that I was running through about 15 pounds of flour each month.
So we looked at our budget and agreed: We bought the grain mill.

So yesterday during one of the lulls where JB didn't need me, I ran into the kitchen and threw five cups of berries into the mill and made flour. If you're interested, I use Prairie Gold White Wheat berries. I layered all the components into the mixer and let it go.

In order to get the proper consistency on my dough, I have to let it knead for about 10 minutes. Yesterday, at 9 minutes, 45 seconds, I smelled something hot and funky (not your mom), and the mixer stopped. Yes, it just stopped. I called Kitchen Aid, but it's out of warranty. It will be $32 just to have it shipped there and back to have them look at it, and the tech said I should expect the repair to cost half the value of the blender. I was so sad. We had figured we'd need to buy a more industrial mixer to keep up with the demands (and by need, I mean that I am a spoiled brat), and we'd decided we would save up next year and buy the Bosch Universal Plus Mixer. We did not plan to buy that this month. Especially not after spending so much on the home repairs.

Notice how this photo is centered and larger than the others. Can you hear the chorus of angels?

Then I looked at the math. Gail's running a special this month (because Bosch is) where I can buy the mill and the mixer together for $599. This is about a $30 discount, and Gail offered to honor it since I just bought my mill a week and a half ago. That would mean I need to come up with $360. I have some cash saved that I was planning to use to buy into the 2010 Rockin' Sock Club; it's all saved from my personal spending money, so I wouldn't be depleting the family account for my habits. I mean hobbies. I had a couple of relatively minor complaints about the 2009 club and had been thinking about joining the Woolgirl club instead, but balked at the $375 price tag. I decided I was willing to put that toward the mixer.

We also received a check for $50 from my grandmother for a family Christmas. That brings us to within $75 of the sale price for the mixer. It might be worth doing.

Mark and I took the Kitchen Aid apart last night and could find nothing wrong with it. No stripped gears and nothing appeared burnt or melted. It is really well made, though. Enlightening to open her up. I made a half-batch of bread last night with no problem, and I figure I'll make a full batch tonight and see how it goes. We think what happened is that it has an auto-shutoff feature that doesn't allow it to overheat.

Problem is, now I'm kinda jonesing for the new, fancy schmancy one. What do you think? Should I splurge? Could I sell the Kitchen Aid to make back some of the money? Would that be unethical? Obviously, I would explain what happened to any buyers. Should I butch up and be frugal? Oh! But I have moneys, and it's burning a hole in my pocketses!

Is anyone still reading? Are you asleep now?

Sunday, December 20, 2009


So a couple of people have twittered or left messages on my old livejournal blog that they are having trouble leaving comments here. I changed a couple of settings; please let me know if it works now.

Sometimes I've noticed that I have to click "preview" before "post", but it seems inconsistent. Anyway, if you still can't comment, you can e-mail me at

My House is a Shambles

But it's all for a good cause. First, the good news: JB finished hanging the cabinet and light fixture in the guest bathroom. And he painted it, and it looks good! We still need to do a little more trim work, but that's NOTHING compared to what he's accomplished.

In addition, he finished all the baseboards in the living room, foyer, and hallway in time for Burgundy's party. It looked SO good, and I feel so much better about my house having this theoretically little thing taken care of. Now I want to go paint the walls and the remaining trim in the hall and foyer so I have a completed, semi-polished look.

Meanwhile, yesterday he began demolishing our master bathroom. The tub is almost completely out now, and we're leaving in a few minutes to grab lunch and borrow Mom and Dad's big, scary truck. We're going to swing through Lowe's (or Home Depot; I haven't decided yet), pick up the bathtub, faucet and fixtures, and a new plumbing tree, and we'll be ready to go. I'm very excited about this. JB has warned us that it will probably take several trips to the store, and there will be some oopsies. I am AOK with this. I'm just excited that it's far enough underway that it has to be finished, no matter what.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chocolate and Birthdays

Posts like the one I have planned for today make me wish I had one of those magical cameras that can take a photo and upload it to the magical fairy unicorn land of the internet with a simple sneeze. Or that I had a camera built into my forehead like a third, all-seeing eye so that I never forgot to take pictures that I might need for a post, and then when I did take them, they'd all be right there at my fingertips when I'm ready for them.

Alas, even my most mundane wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled, so I'll just get on with it.

Happy Birthday Burgundy!

Fourteen years ago today, my beloved daughter was born. God has blessed her with beauty, brains, and good sense, and I am blessed and overjoyed to have the privilege of parenting her.

Yesterday after work I raced home to make cupcakes for her to take to school today. I had the (in my humble opinion) brilliant idea to fill the cakes with chocolate ganache, and on researching how to make it, I discovered that after it cools, you can whip the ganache into a frosting or icing consistency.

I used a basic chocolate cake recipe from Allrecipes to make the batter, but I substituted my fresh-ground whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. I used real butter, real milk, and real cocoa. The cupcakes are not especially pretty, but oh heavens, they are delicious.

The ganache was so painfully easy that I hesitate to post it. Not for long though. I chopped up nine ounces of bittersweet baking chocolate and heated one cup of heavy cream on the stove. Just as it started to boil, I poured the cream over the chocolate and whipped it for about 30 seconds. Voila, ganache.

I let the ganache cool in the mixing bowl, then whipped it until it was fluffy. I used a needle-like piping tip to fill each cake, then switched to a basic star tip to "ice" them. The are cute and incredibly tasty.

Julia made a delicious looking German cake with vanilla pudding in it. She wrote "Alles Gutezum ????" on the cake. I can't remember anything past alles gutezusomethingsomething, but I know it's all's goodsomethingsomething translating into "all the best on your birthday." Julia's such a sweetie.

This evening, I'll make the chocolate buttermilk cake referenced and linked in my Friday's Food post, but I have no idea what I'll make for dinner. None.

If I have to guess, I'd say she'll want roast asparagus. That's about as far as I can get.

Photo Credit goes to the talented Anthony Vasser of Ninjen Photography.

Friday's Food

Really quick - I don't want to spend a lot of my attention or yours on these posts:

Breakfast: Slice of homemade bread (no butter; I was in a big hurry), teaspoon of homemade chocolate ganache (I licked the spoon [a couple of times], so this is an estimate), cup of coffee (I always have this with brown sugar. I haven't been saying so previously, so it should be understood).

Lunch: The new team is planning to go to Cullen's Restaurant for the division Christmas luncheon. I'm really excited about this, because earlier this year, in the April - May timeframe, I tried really hard to arrange for some of the pre-meetings for the Orion PDR to be held there. It sounds really wasteful, but Cullen's had the space, and noone else really had it. Even more surprising, of those groups that did have the space, Cullen's was far and away the cheapest option. By like $40K. Regardless, we didn't have the event there, and their food looks SOOOO good. I'm really looking forward to it. For the record, since people really worry about stuff like this, the meetings eventually were held at the contractor's facility in Denver, CO.

Snack: I didn't bring one to work today. I plan to bail after the Christmas luncheon, and I still have my lunch here from a couple of days ago (when we went out to Perry's), so I'll probably just munch on that. For the record, it's a vegetarian bean filling for tortillas (somewhere north of "taco" and south of "enchilada").

Dinner: It's Burgundy's birthday. I forgot to ask her what she wanted me to cook. I'm planning to make this Buttermilk Chocolate Cake for her and our family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday's Food

Breakfast: slice of buttered toast using bread from the batch I baked last night. Mmmm! Oh, and I use real butter. It's SOOOOOO good.

Morning snack: three slices of tomato-basil bread from the mini-loaf still here at work.

Lunch: Wendy's crispy chicken sandwich, mayo only (and there's almost no mayo on here; ::pout::) with medium fries and Dr. Pepper.

Snack: Munched on batter and chocolate as I made cupcakes for Burgundy's 14th birthday.

Dinner: Um . . . potato chips with ranch dip. Two beers (St. Arnold's Christmas Ale again). Small glass of wine. A couple of cookies. Some caramel popcorn.

I'm embarrassed. It's starting to look like I really AM one of those stereotypical fatties who lives on potato chips and soda. I even ate dinner in front of the TV. Granted it was a friend's TV, but still.

The great irony is that I ate all that horrible food (which was, I grant you, quite tasty) while watching Julie and Julia. This kinda cracks me up. Woo crack!

Around the House

Let me apologize in advance: boring list-post is on the way.

With JB here for the next three weeks, we are hoping to get several projects done that Mark and I would not otherwise be able to complete. JB's working very diligently, trading some of his labor for room and board (yes, BabyDaddy stays with us during the holidays. It works very well for us. Burgundy learns that people can love each other no matter what. We all win). Right now he's in the middle of three different projects, each in various stages of completion.

I understand why they're all simultaneously in process. It allows him to rotate his efforts among activities and avoid any downtime. I really appreciate that. So while the paint dries in the bathroom, he tapes the floor and walls around the baseboard to apply the second coat of paint there. While that paint dries, he takes the measurements for the replacement of the fascia outside the house and paints the test coat on the back. This way, we can decide which paint we want. And so on.

Even though I understand, I find it very stressful to have my whole house in so many varying degrees of upheaval. The girls can only shower and use the toilet in their bathroom. Furniture all around the house is pulled out from the walls while he works on the baseboards. Happily, the fascia hasn't had anything done to it yet, but I know it's coming. I think that for my own sanity, I'll have to insist that he not start the fascia or the bathtub (more on that in a minute) until the guest bathroom and the baseboards are finished. Those should be done today (knock on virtual wood).

Ironically, the big project we asked him to complete while he's here is replacing the bathtub in our master bathroom. We've known for the last year that it needed to go, but we've been too busy to do the necessary rearrangement to our lives to make it happen. Happily, with JB here, he has both the skills and the time to do the work, and we'd much rather give the money to him than to a stranger.

Unfortunately, he couldn't even get started on it until this weekend, so he has been working all these other projects in the meantime. Here's what he's doing:

Girls'/Guest Bath:
  • Paint the walls
  • Replace the hideous 1964 mirrored cabinet with gilt plastic edging with nice, simple mirrored cabinet with beveled edges
  • Replace the light fixture over said mirrored cabinet
  • Replace the baseboards (some were rotted from 35 years of water hitting them out of the shower)
Foyer, Hallway, and Living room:
  • Finish the baseboards currently in place (recess nails, caulking, spackle, and repainting)
  • Apply new baseboards where my ADD attacked and I didn't finish the job
  • Apply quarter-round throughout to hide the gap between the baseboards and the pergo
  • COMPLETE: Replaced the food disposal under the kitchen sink (that project's been waiting on me for about six months; SO happy to see it completed).
  • Tried to mow the lawn, but the mower crapped out, so . . .
  • Tried to fix the mower, but I distracted him
  • Sundry loads of dishes and laundry
I'm having him keep track of his hours, and he claims he'd normally get paid $8 for this kind of work. I would expect to pay some of the day laborers around here that much, but not someone of his skill and talent level. I suspect he's giving me a low figure because he knows I'm going to insist on paying him something reasonable.

So far, he's earned $132. We had agreed on $50 per week for room and board while he's here. For anyone wondering why we'd charge a guest room and board, well, it's not exactly like that. He isn't exactly a guest, and we're not exactly making any money (he'll eat $50/week in groceries easily). We have a ton of backstory that I won't go into here or anywhere else because it would be inappropriate; however, it's the right thing to do for our family (and I include JB as a member of our family).

He asked me not to give him cash but instead to keep a running total of his earnings and expenses. He doesn't want to just blow the money. I will honor that, but I'll have to give him some money here soon so he can go Christmas shopping.

That's about it for now. Have to get a move on with my day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oh, and About Food

In spite of my resolve to ignore my weight and just live a healthy life, I've been doing neither. I've been beating up on myself and stuffing my face with unadulterated crap.

Day before yesterday, my afternoon snack was a Jack in the Box hamburger with a Dr. Pepper and an Oreo milkshake. Yesterday, I had a Whataburger Jr. with small fries and Dr. Pepper. This is ridiculous. Not because "Oh woe is me, I'm a fatty fat fat" but because it's garbage. And I'm stuffing it into my body.

Meanwhile, I'm allowing my internal monologue to get way out of control with the self-deprecating diatribe. Yes, I'm a bit of a fatty, but I'm a cute fatty, thank you very much. It is ridiculous for me to entertain self-loathing. Not because I'm free to do whatever I want when I want, to stuff my face and act like the Fat Bastard, but because I'm beautifully made, and it's fitting and appropriate to honor that by taking care of myself and loving myself.

I'm not talking about losing weight. I'm talking about being healthy. I had a dream last night that I received an offer to have any unwanted fatty deposits zapped from my body. My first reaction, in the dream, was to be terribly offended. This is my fat, bub, so you'd best step back. I couldn't think of any fat that I wanted to have removed! Later I realized it would be nice to get rid of my "bye-bye arms" (you know, when your arm keeps waving after your hand has stopped?), and boy was I annoyed when I woke up and still had them!

Anyway, I woke up marvelling at the idea of being so okay with my fat that I wouldn't want it gone. Interesting idea.

So I plan to post each day what I eat for the day. This is simply to keep me accountable to myself. It's easy to go on a fast-food binge and wake up to discover it's been going on for a couple of weeks. It's not so easy if I'm blogging what I eat every day.

So for today, December 16, 2009:
Breakfast: Leftover vegetarian enchilada with onion, beans, garlic, corn, peppers, and enchilada sauce on a whole wheat tortilla. Washed down with gingerbread coffee, a gift from a swap partner for Christmas.

Lunch: Repeat of breakfast: just leftovers. In fact, I forgot about a planned company luncheon. We went to Perry's Grill, a phenomenal local restaurant that's very highly rated by whoever decides these things. Black tie sort of place. They have what they call a four-finger pork chop; they're famous for it. Guaranteed to be as thick as the width of your four fingers. On Wednesdays and Fridays, you can get it for $10.95 (very good price; next cheapest meal on the menu starts at $15). I had it with potatoes au gratin and applesauce. I resisted the call of the Dr. Pepper because I knew I only wanted it because I felt I should spend more money. Is that stupid or what? Anyway, the food. O! How delicious. I did require caffeine to stay awake in the afternoon, so . . .

Snack: I also had a cup of European sipping chocolate. I picked up some raw milk this past Saturday (another post on that later, whew!), so I heated a bit of it and made the sipping chocolate as instructed on the tin I received as a gift day before yesterday. It was phenomenal.

Snacks available: right now, I have a mini-loaf of tomato basil bread that I made on Sunday. I'll munch on it if I need to. We'll see. I did have a small slice of the mini-loaf, but nothing more.

Evening: Julia made vegetarian shepherd's pie - delicious, but not the real thing. You need real beef for that. I snacked on a couple of small pieces of chocolate and made sure to drink a couple of tall glasses of water. I had a wonderful St. Arnold Christmas Ale.

Small victories: Did not order the soda I didn't really want; did not stop for a fast food snack while out running errands with Mark in the evening; did not drink more coffee in the evening. And I wanted it. But it's bad for me, and I'm not doing it.

Homework and More Homework

Burgundy worked her tail off all afternoon yesterday. Immediately after school, she checked out a textbook from her Algebra II teacher and took it to another teacher for tutorials. I picked her up from tutorials and 4:00 PM, and we stopped in to chat with her debate teacher.

As I suspected, Burgundy had vastly over-complicated the paper due today in debate. The teacher asked for a 7-10 page paper on accountability. Burgundy chose financial accountability, and proceeded to prepare a dissertation on the various angles and implications of financial accountability from the church's appropriation of funds to personal choices in Starbucks. Happily, the teacher backed up everything I'd told Burgundy about paring back her paper, and Burgundy left re-invigorated to finish her paper.

Meanwhile, she has a test today over Great Expectations, and she had three chapters left to read yesterday. She read on the way home from tutorials, then worked on her paper until her private tutor, our friend K, arrived at 6:00 PM to help her prepare for today's quiz over the last three sections of her current chapter. They worked until 8:00 PM, then Burgundy went back to the computer to finish the paper for debate.

She finally wrapped that up around 10:00 PM and picked up Great Expectations to finish that off while I gave her final paper a once-over for major errors. Now that I'm "in the real world" using what I learned in high school, I understand that it's a Best Practice to pass your writing to a friend or colleague before handing over the final copy. As a result, I feel -zero- guilt providing this kind of review for my daughter on her papers. It helps to know that she does the same for her friends. Knowing she'd finished the book, I printed off the Spark Notes section on Analysis of Major Characters. At 11:00, she finally finished the book. I asked her whether she wanted to incorporate my redlines before going to bed or before school today.

She chose the latter, and I bet she was asleep by 11:05. At 5:30 AM today, I dragged her out of bed and to the computer, where she began integrating my comments and redlines. I made her a breakfast "taco" with beans, onions, garlic, corn, and a ton of spices; basically, I fed her last night's dinner for breakfast today.

At 6:25, she ran to her room to get dressed. We usually leave at 6:45. Mark packed her lunch. At 6:50, I discovered she hadn't printed her extemporaneous articles for debate, also due today. Happily, this took almost no time, and by 7:00 AM, we were on our way to school.

Her Algebra II quiz is first period and likely already is complete as I type this. We won't know for a couple of days how she did on it. I'm holding my breath and praying. I'm also worried about the Great Expectations exam, but not nearly as much. Even if she bombs it, she'll still do fine for the nine weeks. This Algebra II quiz and the upcoming test when she comes back from break are her only hope of passing Algebra II this nine weeks.

Please keep her in your prayers!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Hated High School the First Time

And now we're doing it all over again. I hate so much the turmoil Burgundy's suffering. She's a really bright girl who enjoys learning, and in the right environment, she'll break her back to make the teacher happy. I feel so much sadness when she has teachers who don't or can't recognize that, but I don't know if I would be able to recognize it either, in the teachers' shoes.

Regardless, we're trudging through. Last night was the Winter Concert for Burgundy's band. As we sat through the first two bands and listened to their selections, we all agreed: The Junior High band directors were just better. Even the lower level bands at the Junior High sounded better at times. Now there are logical explanations. The bands have spent the bulk of the semester in marching band and region band preparations, and they've spent relatively little time working on the carols for the winter concert. All the same, I really believe that Burgundy is not getting everything she can out of band anymore. She's not being personally challenged or personally encouraged. Sure, the music is difficult and frustrating for her, but it isn't personal. And I don't think she cares whether she triumphs over it. This is Burgundy's dilemma to resolve, of course, and it's all a part of growing and becoming more mature. All the same, I'm a little disappointed.

For what it's worth, Burgundy's band still sounded fantastic. They played a gorgeous rendition of Carol of the Bells, and then they played the famous classical setting of Jingle Bells (with the sound of hoofs and the whip cracking and everything; darn those percussionists are good). They wrapped up with a really lovely setting of several different carols and songs, but I'm not sure what the name of the piece is. Apparently, the Symphonic Band usually doesn't play it. Usually, that falls to the Wind Ensemble, but they're going to Chicago instead.

We spent every other waking minute of the evening working on a paper due tomorrow in debate. She has everything she needs to write it except the confidence to tie it all together and say what she really wants to say. The topic is financial accountability, and I know that she has strong opinions on it. She's researched it to death and is trying to hit it from all angles. She's researched it so much that she thinks she hasn't researched it enough. This morning I told her to pretend one of her friends has told her that she's about to get her first credit card. Burgundy can't respond verbally at all; she can only hand her friend the paper. What would she want the paper to say?

Julia spent most of the evening baking with one of her friends in preparation for her French Club's Christmas party tonight. She said they had trouble because they did the baking at the other girl's house. Both girls are German exchange students, and they other host family didn't have the crazy plethora of baking tools that I have. Most notably, they don't have a scale that works with either grams or ounces, so the girls couldn't figure out how to do the recipe conversions from gram to volume measurements. She said they decided to wing it. Throw a bit in: Does this taste right? Does it look right? How's the consistency? Based on the deliciuos samples that Julia brought home, I'd say both girls should be bakers, because they demonstrated a profound ability to bake scrumptious goods on the fly.

That's it. I'm off to construct traceability matrices!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Busy Busy Busy!

I should have anticipated that with a new job, new schedule, upcoming holidays, out of town guests, and the still on-going family crisis that I wouldn't post regularly. I'm really sorry for anyone who'd started reading me regularly and now finds I'm not updating. I must find a way to incorporate a quick (read: not a small novel with hand-drawn illustrations) post into each day.

Burgundy's having the worst time in Pre-AP Algebra II. She had a 68 average going into the holidays, and we spent all of the holidays and most of the week after focused exclusively on that class. She studied with a tutor, she practiced the material alone, and she worked like a fiend. On 12/4, she took the exam that could have brought her average back into Passing Land. She made a 63. Poor girl cried and cried, Mark and I fought and fought, and we initiated the process of getting her transferred into another class. Burgundy is taking an all pre-AP/AP load in school. She has As in all her classes right now except science, where she has a B on the border of an A, and Algebra II, where she has an F. Seeing the level of effort she's putting in, I'm inclined to believe that Burgundy is not the whole problem. There are concrete issues with the teacher, but it seems at best crass to blog about them where the whole wide world can read and judge the man.

Regardless, they will not transfer her until after the end of the semester. She has a quiz this Wednesday, an exam the Friday of the week she returns from Christmas break, and semester exams the following week. We've doubled up on the tutoring (more like quadrupled up: she meets with a different teacher twice a week, and she meets with a private tutor twice a week), we're working with the private tutor (a former teacher turned aerospace engineer) to devise a strategy for preparing for the semester exam, and we're praying. A lot.

I'm really enjoying the new job and the level of flexibility that I have. I'm working six hour days this week so that I can take off next week starting on Tuesday. The following week I'm travelling for personal reasons, so they gave me permission to work from home (or on the road, as the case may be) for a few hours, and then I can work six hour days the week I get back. In other words, I can work (roughly) two forty-hour weeks instead of four twenty-hour weeks. I feel as though I've been set free.

Mark gave me the go-ahead to purchase a grain mill. I ordered the more expensive mill. It was about $100 more than the base model, but it provides a wider range of flour textures. I've been buying wheat berries from Bethlehem Harvest for a couple of months and ten pounds at a time. I then paid Mrs. DeGray $2 per 5 pounds to grind the berries. Once my mill comes in, I'll be able to just buy the berries right out. Which is good, because they'll last a while, and I can mill my flour fresh right when I need it. I know having Mrs. DeGray mill it for me still made it miles fresher than the store-bought stuff, but it was MUCH more expensive. Given that I'm able to keep up with my family's bread demands and given that I've been doing this without a hitch (well, we did have to buy one loaf of bread. One.) since mid-October, I think I'm here to stay, breadwise. And I feel okay shelling out the dough (har har har) for the mill. I thought about asking for it for Christmas, but I realized that asking for household appliances sends the wrong message to DH. If he bought me a mop or a vacuum, we'd be in counseling. Or he'd be in physical therapy.

I've finished our family's Christmas letter, and it's almost ready to mail. It's four pages this year; last year it was three. I hope I can hold the line next year at four pages, because if we add another sheet, we're going to have to up the postage. Besides, I think four single-spaced, 11-point font pages with 1/2" margins is a bit much to ask of the people who love us, even if they do enjoy reading. I'm hoping to print page 3/4 (the signature page) this evening and get the family started on the signature process. We have nearly 140 of these bad boys to print, so it's a several-day process to get everything signed, printed, folded, stuck in the envelopes, addressed (even with mail merge and stickers, it's a lot of work), stamped, and mailed. I really need that done by Saturday. I want the ones I love to get their letters by Christmas.

BabyDaddy arrived yesterday. He was scheduled to arrive Saturday night, but he ran into horrible rains in New Orleans, got turned around and lost on the way to the airport, and missed his flight along with a bunch of other people. His mom sprang for a hotel in NOLA, and he caught an early AM flight into Houston. I picked him up at 9:45, and I had him at the church by 10:40. Burgundy caught sight of him, dropped what she was doing, and threw herself into his arms. I'm happy for her, and I hope they're able to have a good visit. Still don't know where or with whom he's going to stay. His flight doesn't leave until January 5. He stayed with us last night, but we're going to have to figure something out for the long term. We're going through too much turmoil to try to serve him right now.

That's it. I need to work. Work work work. I like the new job.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Well, It Went Well

The first day went well, although it was surprisingly long. I started with the orientation at 8:30 AM. Found out that my previous employer managed to botch my departure, and my entire profile has been deleted from the JSC system. I lost my e-mail address, my phone number, my computer . . . everything. The only possible silver lining is that with the loss of my computer, I once again have a snowball's chance of getting a MacBook.

By the time I finished my orientation and made it onsite to JSC, it was 11:40 and time for lunch. My new lead, K, treated us all to lunch at Mom Alone, a local Texican restaurant. I had a steak taco al carbon loaded up with yummy red salsa.

I came back to the office for the staff meeting planned for that afternoon. Normally, I won't work afternoons and evenings, but they wanted to introduce me to everyone at the staff. I'd worked over the phone and e-mail with many of the people there during Orion's PDR, so it was nice to put faces with names.

I left work at 3:00 yesterday. We decided that for now, my schedule will be 7:30 AM - 11:30 AM Monday - Friday. I really enjoyed meeting all my new customers yesterday, and I'm looking forward to getting fully connected with my e-mail, phone, computer, etc in the coming weeks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 1 on the Job

Today's my first day at SAIC. Orientation starts in 49 minutes; I live 10 minutes from the building.

I have my driver's license, social security card, and reams of forms completed and in hand. The kids are off to school on time (though not early as they had wished). Coffee on the table next to me, husband on the couch working his calendar.

I'll post after work about how it went. This is a good life I have.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hell Frozen Over

Yes, you read it right: hell has frozen over; we have snow sticking on the ground in Houston.

I am incredibly grateful that this is happening while I'm out of work. For one thing, Mark hadn't covered the gardens. So I spent about an hour this morning in the snow laying all our tablecloths and extra blankets over the tomato and bell pepper garden and the herb garden. Then I began dragging all Mark's citrus trees into the garage.

He has about 10 more fruit trees than I thought. It's hard to be incredibly put out with him; after all, my hobby is knitting, and I probably have about 50 more skeins of yarn than he thinks I have. Having acknowledged that, I will gripe. TREES, y'all. The man is collecting TREES. We live in a freaking suburb. Our lot is like 1/16 of an acre or something. I want to have the trees we already have taken out, and he's collecting more? WARGARBL!

Regardless, I hefted them inside like a good little wife. His Kumquat, Meyer lemon, and Mexican Key Lime trees all are fruiting, and obviously, they're still in their pots. That's bad news for the trees' long-term productivity the way I understand it. So he's collecting useless trees.

While covering the tomato and bell pepper garden, I noticed a couple of peppers ready for picking. Only in Houston can you harvest vegetables while covering the plant for snow. I got four "grocery store" sized peppers and three baby ones. I probably left five more on the plants in hopes that they'll survive this freak snow and mature. I know they won't if I pick them, and they're really too small to eat right now.

I have butternut squash in the refrigerator, and I'm looking forward to making soup for dinner this evening. Right now though, I'm going to run a couple of errands. I know it makes me crazy, but I LOVE driving in the snow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Freedom: Day 1

Even though I don't have to work today or tomorrow, I didn't sleep in. Some still-14 part of me threw a little tantrum when I made her crawl out of bed at 6AM. I silenced her with coffee and a slice of homemade bread.

Normally I wake at 5:30 to get ready for work and to drool at the kitchen table until the caffeine kicks in. I gave myself the extra half-hour to snooze this morning because I didn't have to make pretty for the office, but then I rose and dressed as usual. Concession 1 to propriety: I am wearing jeans and a sweater with clean underwear and matching socks and shoes. The still-14 part really blew a fuse when I made her change out of the monkey pajamas to drive the girls to school and Mark to work. Oh well. Hopefully she will [not] survive these traumas.

Yesterday I received a phone call from the first manager I had at the job I just left. She wanted to know when my group planned to have my farewell luncheon. As far as I know, they aren't planning one, so she offered to take me out to breakfast this morning. I thought that was very sweet of her, and it made me feel just a little less sad that we weren't planning a luncheon. I didn't really expect one given all the upcoming holiday parties and all the work to be accomplished this month, but I still felt a little sad.

I'm meeting J, the manager, at 9:00 AM at Denny's. I wanted to take her a little gift, so I'm setting out a bar of the soap (the cabinet it's stored in smells so. darn. good). Last thing before I left at 6:50 AM to take everyone to school and work, I started a half-batch of bread dough and left it to foam while I was gone. A half-batch will make one loaf or four mini-loaves; I made four minis. I've just put them in the oven to rise for 20 minutes, and they should be perfectly done by 8:50 when I need to leave for Denny's.

For now, though, I have 35 minutes to relax. I just burned the snot out of my fingers (I steamed them), but I'm going to get out my knitting and chill. Just after I do the dishes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fond Farewells

Julia earned her Texas learner's permit yesterday. She studied more for that test than most kids do for a pre-calculus test. It was kind of cute. Afterward, she went for a celebratory hair dye job, and now she's a brunette. Before this, she had bleached, white-blond hair, and when she walked in the door, she exclaimed, "Look at me! I'm a darky now!" I had to explain to her why she should not refer to herself that way and why it's an offensive term. Ah the perils of slang in English.

Today is my last day of full-time work. Hopefully for good. I've been wandering around all morning, saying goodbyes, making sure all the work is done, and taking my leave.

I have a short list of things to complete before leaving today, but it looks like I'll be using the same computer at the new job, so at least I don't have to worry too much about saving and backing up my archives and files. Right now I need to go and convince IT to give my recently completed website a new home.

I emptied my desk last week. I brought the company-issued laptop bag with me to return, but since they're making me keep this crappy Dell laptop, it looks like I won't be able to get rid of the bag just yet. This afternoon, I'll only need to bring home two oranges, a cache of Dilbert magnets, a water bottle, and my highlighter pens. I think I'll leave the fuzzy cat calendar.

I made more bread last night, and we had lentil soup with brown rice for dinner with iced tea. Tabby joined us for dinner, and after I made certain that Burgundy had a grasp on her homework, I left with Tabby to finish the Christmas shopping at Voldemart.

Tonight will be very busy. I'm teaching the FPU class on careers this evening, and Mark has choir rehearsal from 7:30 to 9:00 PM. Burgundy will have her usual three-hour load of homework, and I have no idea how or when we'll eat dinner. Oh well, we'll manage.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another One?

I baked another turkey last night. I bought a 16-pound turkey for Thanksgiving, but it was too large for the smoker. And I didn't allow enough time for it to thaw. Wednesday evening, Mark went to Kroger and bought a 12-pound fresh turkey. The cost nearly choked me at $0.89/pound; I learned my lesson this year. Buy early, buy small, and thaw early.

Regardless, I had already started thawing the 16-pound turkey, so I couldn't just stick it back in the freezer. I planned to roast it Friday. By the time we finished tree shopping, I didn't care if the turkey did the chicken dance in the living room. Saturday we lazed - the only day we did last week - and I completely forgot the poor thing. Sunday we had a counseling session at the church that consumed all our attention. By last night when I pulled the turkey out of the fridge, Mark said, "Are you sure that's safe?"

Given that it wouldn't have completely thawed until Friday, I felt it was on the edge of safe, so I washed and prepped it, stuffed it with onion, garlic and celery, rubbed it with olive oil, and stuck it in the pre-heated oven. Just as I did that, Julia walked into the kitchen and said, "Another turkey? Why?"

It finished baking around 9:30 last night, and I enjoyed the most succulent, juicy turkey breast I've had in at least four days. I plan to pull the rest of the meat off the bone and freeze it for later meals. I'll use the carcass remnants to try my hand at turkey broth. The dark meat makes excellent enchiladas. Here's how:

Turkey Enchiladas

1 small onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 medium bell pepper chopped fine
1 T olive oil
1-2 cups dark turkey meat
1 can (2 cups) black beans drained
1/2 can (1 cup) corn drained
1 can (1.25 cups) enchilada sauce
8-12 corn tortillas (use wheat if you prefer)
To Taste:
chili powder
cayenne (red) pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute onion, garlic, and bell pepper together until onions are translucent. Add turkey and stir together until turkey is warm (I usually just pull it out of the freezer and chop it without thawing, using the skillet for that job). Add beans and corn, stir. Add 1/2 enchilada sauce. Add cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper to taste. There's enough sodium in the various ingredients that I feel safe promising you won't need salt.

Scoop the mixture into the tortillas and roll into a cylinder; don't bother trying to tuck the ends. Place seam-side down into a pan with sides. I like to use a casserole dish or one of my Pampered Chef casserole stones. You could use the crock pot a la Emily, too, but I've never tried it. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the top. If you really want cheese, sprinkle it over the top. Bake about 20 minutes.

Serve with salsa, sour cream, or whatever else you like. I like salsa best.

I need to make more bread tonight. We ate the last four slices of the last loaf this morning, and you would have thought I was chasing the girls around the house with a hot iron the way they whined about only getting one slice in their lunch. For perspective, the little vegetarians take a hunk of cheddar, a couple celery stalks, an apple (or strawberries. or grapes), a couple of carrots, water, and bread in their lunches. They are not starving.

So if I want to defend my Most-Awesome-Parent-Ever title against the cunning wiles of Mr. Comes-up-with-more-fun-stuff-than-me-and-doesn't-cuss-as-much, I'm going to have to bake more bread tonight. I think I'll set aside most of at least one turkey breast for sandwiches and side meat for dinners for Mark and I before I freeze the turkey. In my world, there is nothing more traditional or tasty than a warm turkey sandwich.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Slept in today for the first time in a week. If the last two days hadn't been so hectic and overwhelming, I might feel more guilty about ignoring my blog throughout them. However, now I have my cup of coffee and my cinnamon roll (made from scratch Thursday morning), and I'm ready to write.

We hosted Thanksgiving Dinner this year. My parents moved to the area about seven months ago, so they joined Mark's parents and us. My little brother, Brian, and Sally married five months ago and had Thanksgiving lunch with her parents in north Houston, then joined us for desserts and games. All told, we had eight people for dinner and ten for desserts and games. For a little perspective on eight people eating at our house, here's our dining room.

We enjoyed a few firsts this year:

First time to smoke the turkey (somehow, we managed not to get any photos of the actual turkey in the actual smoker). Mark used lemongrass, rosemary, wood chips soaked in Jack Daniels, white wine, and pretty much anything else that sounded good. The turkey was juicy, flavorful, divine. Perfect.

First time to celebrate with my parents at our house; I think it's only the second Thanksgiving we've spent with my parents since we've been married.

First time to celebrate with my brother and sister-in-law, and first time to have them and my parents over at the same time.

Julia's first Thanksgiving; why yes, that is two vegetarians posing behind a turkey.

First time to make everything from scratch.

Mark insisted on putting a plastic "lid" on the turkey even though it was too small to really trap any heat and it looked like the turkey had enjoyed a particularly libatious time in the smoker. The salad placed front and center is not just adorned with flowers, either. Those are nasturtium, an entirely edible, slightly spicy flower that Mark grows in his garden specifically for salads.

That's right, everything. I made a batch of whole-wheat tomato-basil rolls and mini-loaves Wednesday afternoon. These have a crap-ton of basil in them, so they taste best after sitting for a day or so. They were divine by Thursday evening. Thursday morning, I woke early and made another batch of bread dough. I used half the dough to make cinnamon rolls (there's only one left, and the girls are asleep; I wonder if Mark wants to take care of it), and the other half to make whole wheat rolls. A little later, I taught Julia how to make a batch of bread, and we used half of that dough to make a spinach and feta roll-up (cinnamon roll style, but not sliced) with tomatoes, cream cheese, and walnuts. Julia used the other half to practice her bread-rolling technique and made four more mini-loaves of whole wheat bread. Even after sending everyone home with bread, we still have enough to last us a while.

In the midst of the bread-making, I also made a double batch of butternut squash soup. I had eaten butternut squash before, but never in soup. I worried that it would taste horrible, have a bad texture, rise up in anger and destroy us (I've always thought butternut squash looks like a little alien baby pod. Just saying'), etc. Obviously we have not been destroyed. The soup on the other hand . . . decimated. I think it was the most delicious thing I ever have put in my mouth. Well maybe not, but I love being delighted by new foods.

I peeled and boiled sweet potatoes, chopped nuts, and mixed up a batch of sweet potato casserole. Mark smoked the turkey (starting at 7:30 AM), Julia made red-skinned mashed potatoes, and I rounded it all off by making a chocolate chess pie, two buttermilk pies, and two lemon meringue pies.

I made sweet iced tea, southern style, to drink and asked family not to bring alcohol. After dinner, my brother and Sally arrived, and we sat down to play Curses. We almost didn't play because as I set it out, my mother said, "Oh honey, Brian still has to go to the storage shed and then back to San Antonio tonight; I don't know if we're gonna have time to play anything." As I started to put it away, Brian came into the room and said, "Curses? Sounds like my kinda game! Let's play! Will my time in the Navy give me an advantage?"

If you've never played Curses, go out and get the game right now. It's a very simple game with two decks of cards. One deck contains challenges such as, "You are an anchorman; predict the weather;" or "Sell insurance to the person sitting next to you." The other deck contains curses such as, "You are a leprechaun; whenever someone touches you, protect your cards and yell, 'You're always after my Lucky Charms!'" or "You are Count Dracula. Speak like a vampire: 'I want to suck your blood,' etc."

For each turn, the player first pulls a challenge card and performs the challenge. Then the player pulls a curse card and gives it to another player. That player must perform under the curse throughout the rest of the game including through his or her challenges, getting up to get a glass of water, breaks, etc. If a player breaks a curse and gets caught three times, the player is out of the game. Last person out of the game wins.

We played for about an hour; I had the vampire curse, the "speak like a french person" curse, and the "speak in a high-pitched falsetto" curse. It was hilarious. I also had to imitate everything my brother did (cause of great hilarity when he tried to kiss Sally), and Julia had to keep her wrists stuck to her chest all the time. Sally couldn't bend her elbows, but she had to pinch her nose whenever she spoke. So every time she wanted to talk, she'd jump up and run to my brother, who would hold her nose. And I had to imitate everything he did (poor Sally).

Eventually exhaustion and impending travel won out, and everyone departed. We had a lovely time though, and even after staying up late to clean up the house, we were in bed by midnight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The house smells clean. Bookshelves are dusted, coffee tables cleaned, floors vacuumed and swept (Thank you Julia). Dishes are washed, piles of homeless crap sorted and put away, china hutch, sideboard, and microwave cart are dusted and cleaned (thank you Burgundy). Guest bathroom almost done (just the sink and toilet remain) (thank you Julia); master bath in the same boat (thank you Burgundy).

Last night I sat down with Burgundy and listed out all the work she needs to do for school along with the due dates. She has to read three to four chapters a day of Dickens' Great Expectations; that's about three hours a day. That's on top of reading in her science textbook, working on her Algebra II, working on her Debate poem, working on her Science Fair, and working on her two different assignments in AP Human Geography. We scheduled and listed in the planner what she would have to do for each subject each day, and every evening, we will sit down together and check her progress on each task to make sure she isn't falling behind.

I caught the laundry up to a manageable level. We probably still have three or four loads of laundry outstanding, but I think that if I wash, dry and fold one load a day from here on out, I'll be able to stay caught up. The laundry detergent I mixed up seems to be working well.

We planned to smoke our Thanksgiving turkey this year; unfortunately, I bought a 16-pound turkey, and most of the instructions I've found say you should be careful when smoking turkeys over 12 pounds. I found one that talked about roasting the turkey at 400F for 30 minutes before starting the smoking process to kill off surface bacteria, so I'll look into that some more and see what we decide.

This afternoon I will make the pie crusts and possibly even the pies, finish cleaning the library, and if I have anything left in me at that point, I'll also make the cranberry sauce. It was so awful last year that we just did without. I can only pray this year's batch turns out much better. If I make it tonight, I will have time to go buy the canned crap (I used to think the lines in the sides were marks to help you slice it straight).

I think that's all the output I have for today. I have photos I planned to post and blog about today, but I don't have the cord to connect the camera. Alas!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Holiday Plans

Yesterday was a little better. Mark and I met for lunch at Mogul's, a local Indian buffet. I love that place so much, and I can't afford to eat there every day, and that makes me sad.

Things are steaming along for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I bought the turkey last night for $0.25/per pound at HEB. I had to spend another $20 on groceries; I had done NO Thanksgiving shopping, so that wasn't a problem. I picked up green beans, cream of mushroom soup, fried onions, Greek yogurt, the cheapest real chocolate chips they had, V8 juice (I'm going to make tomato basil bread), unbleached all-purpose flour, and a bunch of other stuff. All in all, a good haul of groceries. I spent about $30 for the turkey and all the other groceries; the turkey was $4. All in all, I'm satisfied.

We have two vegetarians in our house this year, so the only meat-based food we'll have is the turkey. We will have six other meat eaters, so I have no doubt that the turkey was $4 well spent.

I plan to cook the turkey, try my hand at cranberry sauce yet again (last year was an epic, face-puckering, life-altering FAIL), fresh rolls, something with sweet potatoes and something with butternut squash. Mark's mom is going to make salad and the dressing, Burgundy will make green bean casserole, Julia wants to make the mashed potatoes, and I will also make our three desserts: lemon meringue pie, chocolate chess pie, and buttermilk pie. Finally, I will ask my mom to help me with the gravy. This year we won't serve alcohol at the dinner for a variety of reasons; that's a big shift in our world.

Meanwhile, we're gearing up for Christmas. As I posted before, I'm doing a lot of crafts for Christmas. The neat thing is how excited I am this year versus previous years. I think it's because so much time and love has gone into the gifts this year. Very exciting stuff.

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally tree-hunting day with a little bit of manic Black Friday shopping thrown in there based on Mark's preference. I don't know if we'll do any shopping or not, although the online Apple store is rumored to be having a big sale. Previous years apparently have been a let-down in terms of the amount of discount, so we'll see.

Our usual plan is to finish cleaning up from  Thanksgiving (while Mark goes out and kills a little bit of a sale), then we pile into the Civic and drive to northwest Houston to the tree farms. We try to find one with a bonfire and cocoa, etc, so we can pretend we don't live in a sweltering tropical hell.

After we pick out the tree together and spend a little time on impulsive fun stuff, we head home, set up the tree, and retire for the evening. Saturday and Sunday are spent piling all the decorations out of the attic, decorating the tree, and being generally festive.

Somewhere in there, we'll print out and sign our letter to friends, Soren will step on it, and we'll mail those early in December. Always assuming I finish writing it. Speaking of, I guess I have work to do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Times are Tough

Well, we've hit a rough patch at home. I know that our little family will make it; I know that faith and grace will carry me. I also know that we are in for a long, brutal ride.

I've been working on a black cabled sock using Cookie A's Ellington Pattern. I'm knitting it in all black, and it looks very elegant. I tried taking a photo of it, but the "all black" part makes it difficult. I haven't been able to get a photo yet that showcases the cable work in any usable way.

Mark and I took a bread class Saturday morning. The woman who taught it does not charge for her classes, but I think she could. She is a really good teacher, and my first batch of bread after the class was really good. One of the loaves has a big, scary hole in it, though, because I took it out of the oven too soon. My dough still is a little dense and chewy, so I think I need to knead it longer. I'll keep experimenting and see what happens.

Burgundy and Julia are out of school this week, but they have plenty to do. Mark and I made a list a mile long of all the things Burgundy needs to work on, and although I left for work this morning before either of my girls even thought of getting up, I left a note taped to each of their doors explaining what I needed each of them to do for the day. They both readily agreed to Thursday's cleaning plan, and I made significant progress myself yesterday on the laundry and the library.

Burgundy tried out yesterday for the narrator role in our church youth choir's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I didn't get to see her try out; she went in just to see if they'd let her, and when she and Julia came out, she had already performed her audition. I was bummed, but Julia said it was a really awesome try out. I know that night before last, she was practicing the "Jacob and sons" song and knocked my socks off. We'll see what she gets.

Because of this stuff going on at home right now, I'm quite relieved to have the job to distract me. I don't think I could handle being at home today.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We Need a Car

Oh my goodness! I just realized I haven't posted yet today. I've been working on an internal Wiki for the organization I'm leaving, and it's taken over my free-time thoughts, too.

Since I hurt my leg, I've been driving Mark's car. I knew it was pretty bad off, but I think I hadn't really understood how bad off it was.

Before I ever climbed into it on the first day I drove it, I asked Mark to put more power steering fluid into it. The car is a 1986 Toyota Celica; you would think something so small would be okay without the power steering, but it isn't, let me be clear on that.

With enough power steering fluid, my attention was free to notice other problems with the car.

The first problem to really catch my attention was the collection of gentle plumes of smoke escaping from beneath the hood as I waited in line at Starbucks. It wafted from the left side of the hood, and it's a testament to my Profound Cheapskatery that my reaction was not the expected, "ZOMGWTFBBQ," free-for-all as I tumbled from the car to escape the obvious impending explosion. No, I looked at it for a minute then decided it was just fluid of some kind dripping onto the hot manifold and smoking off. I picked up my latte and moved on with a shrug.

Next I noticed that on sharp corners, I could hear a pretty disturbing knocking sound. Now I've driven my fair share of beaters, and I've endured my fair share of knocking. I know what a bad tie rod end sounds like, and this ain't it. No, this knocking sounds like a yard gnome caught in the spin cycle. A deep, throaty thump, rhythmic with a slight echo. Happily, most of my route to work is a straight shot, so I grimaced a little and kept driving.

On the last road before turning into the Johnson Space Center where I work, the speed limit (once you're past the school) is 45 mph. The moment my speedometer hit 40, the steering wheel started to shake. Not shimmy as though it needs an alignment, no. That would be a gentle, steady rhythm moving the wheel no more than a fraction of an inch side to side as I drove. No, it shook, displacing inches with each back and each forth. It made the fat on my arms jiggle until my skin itched.

Ironically, the brakes seem to be in pretty good shape, and the air conditioner works. We Texans have our priorities.

My little brother climbed into the car a couple of days later for a ride. We came to a stop light, gently slowing until we rested. My brother, a 24-year-old Veteran of both Iraq and Djiboutian conflicts, looked out the front windscreen and said, "Mel, is your car smoking?"

"Yep," I said, "But I own it. Besides, I think it's just power steering fluid or something."

"You might want to get that looked at," he responded.


A few minutes later, I wrenched the wheel (it needs to have another 1/2 quart of power steering fluid every couple of days) around and pulled us into my drive. Brian climbed out. "You mind if I have a look?" he asked. Brian is nothing if not polite. He even opened my car door for me. Sweet kid.

He didn't even pop the hood. He leaned over, sniffed the still-wafting smoke, and said, "Yeah. That's oil."

Now my first instinct is to take this car and our little emergency fund down to the dealership and combine them to buy my dear, long-suffering husband (you really wouldn't believe how much he doesn't complain about that car) a spanking new slightly used car. Spend ten grand or so, put the roughly six grand we don't have on a small note, and pay it off in two months.

It is painful to know that DH is going to have to get an only slightly upgraded beater rather than the fairly nice car we were hoping for just four months from now. But we agreed: no more debt. And we're sticking to our guns. Maybe we can make the Celica run until February.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Countdown Is On

Because my two-weeks' notice technically ends on Thanksgiving Day (and believe me, I'm grateful), I specified in my resignation letter that my last day would be December 2, giving the company a day shy of three weeks' notice. As of today, though, I have 13 days left.

In other news, I have dignity; therefore, I did not photograph my house for today's post.

I live in a filthy, stinking pit. It's a nice house, don't get me wrong, but the carpets are manky, the trim in the rooms with Pergo is unfinished (especially noticeable in the hallway), we have Giant Cobwebs of Doom hanging from the cathedral ceiling in the living room, and the bathrooms don't usually get scrubbed until I realize I'm not willing to use the sink to wash my hair.

I could go on, but I refer you to my aforementioned dignity.

I would love to defer the impending cleansing until I am employed only part-time; however, I invited everyone over for Thanksgiving Dinner, and I fear they'd refuse to dine if they saw my house in its current state. My plan is to divide the rooms among our home's inhabitants and assign each person the task of making their room perfect (including dusting!) and maintaining perfection through Thanksgiving.

The worst is the front room, our library. All the books actually live in the Living Room, but we call it the library anyway. It's strewn with papers, mail, magazines, books and worse from my desk and DH's. It's also housing a bathroom vanity, my daughter's bicycle, and a drawer full of computer parts; its home chest takes up garage space. That room will belong to Mark and I jointly. Mostly because he does not approve of my method of cleaning up his stuff. He disagrees about what constitutes trash.

The living room ostensibly is in much better shape. There are only two major surfaces to purge, and those can be done quickly. The sofa cries out for its cleaned cover to protect it from our nasty dog, and the bookshelves haven't been dusted in at least a year; otherwise, it's mostly cluttered with stuff that has a home but never gets put away. That room will belong to Julia.

The kitchen and breakfast area are easy to clean; everything has a home, and if people would just stop cooking and eating, we'd have no trouble keeping it clean. Burgundy will be responsible for this area. She knows where all the utensils, bowls, etc go, an important trait in consideration of next week's cooking frenzy.

The bathrooms are revolting. Honestly. Because I don't want Julia to know just how gross ours is, I'll assign their bathroom to her, and our master bathroom to Burgundy.

Finally, there is the fine layer of grodey dog hair that covers everything we own. I'm so sick of the dog. I'm sick of his hair, his stench, his appetite for dirty panties and socks, his oops-i-ate-too-quick dog barf, his wild, uncontrollable tail, his growling song of delight when we come home and try to talk to each other. I. Am. Sick. Of. That. Dog.

All the same, I adopted the damn thing, and I can't handle the guilt of getting rid of his manky butt. Also, Burgundy might never forgive me. Mark already vaccuums all the carpets, so I'll give him the job of vaccuuming pretty much every day. I hate the way everyone else sweeps and mops, a neurotic obsession courtesy of My Beloved Mother. So I'll take sweeping and mopping.

Aside: I also hate the way everyone else folds clothes; therefore, I take on the job of folding all our laundry. This, too, can be tracked back to My Sainted Mum. Problem is, I blinking despise folding clothes. It's a timespan of just being stuck doing something that NOONE APPRECIATES and that my family will render completely useless the moment they decide to wear the shirt or use the towel. Laundry is the ultimate existential conundrum. Why? WHY I ASK YOU?

Anyway, I think that pretty much settles the housecleaning. Of course, that assumes that they all will do as I say.

I don't know if we'll get to the few outstanding things: finishing the paint job in the bathroom, hanging the towel rack in the bathroom, and hanging the new mirrored cabinet in the bathroom. Installing the rest of the baseboard trim around the house. Cleaning the back patio, planting the [ridiculous number of] fruit trees that DH bought. Moving one of the bookshelves into the library to open up the living room a little bit. Installing a ceiling mount for the projector to get it off the bookshelf. Ugh. Now I feel overwhelmed and useless again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So I Quit My Job

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I had big news to share. All the right people have been told; this won't surprise anyone who reads it on the internet.

For the last ten years, I've worked full time for contractors in the space program in Houston. I've worked in safety for the Shuttle and the Station, in quality assurance for the Station, and on Constellation for the Orion Project.

Orion is our next vehicle; it's a descendant of Apollo. With Orion, we plan to haul humans into space, to the Space Station, and to the moon. For the last two years (almost to the day), I've served as a meeting coordinator, technical writer, event logistics manager, and general Jill-of-all-Trades on this project. And last Thursday, I handed in my notice in order to accept a part-time, short-term position. I still will serve in our space program on the Constellation Program; however, I'll be working in Mission Operations, a completely different project.

I know many people out there think, "Why, in this economy, with so many people hurting for money and jobs, would you quit a long-term, secure, full-time, well-paid job?" Well, I'm so glad you (sorta) asked.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted about becoming debt free? Remember how I said that we are completely free to decide how, where and why we spend out money? Well, an ancillary product is that we also are free to decide what level of income we want.

I know, that sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean, obviously, everyone wants a very high level of income, right? Well, Emily at Under $1,000 per Month has really helped me to articulate a long-simmering, sub-concious belief: We choose who we will be, how we will live, and what we will do regardless of income. Even with only one full-time income, my husband's, our monthly income is more than 2.5 times higher than her family's. And that's after the cost of health/dental/vision insurance, higher taxes imposed, retirement savings, long and short term disability insurance costs, etc. Yet Emily is living our dream. Oh sure, we would do some things different. We want a farm, for one. I'm not interested in living in a tiny space for another. For a third, based on our apparent infertility, we won't have a large family, and we'll minister to the world around us as foster parents. So our missions and choices would be vastly different, yes.

The only difference between Emily's family and mine is what we chose to do with our potential income. Emily chose to trade her potential income and disposable wealth for the value of being at home with her children. Mark and I, for the last few years (understanding that as a single mother in the beginning, I had far less flexibility to choose than I do now; someone had to make money) have sold our time with Burgundy and our purported values (green living, frugality, time lavished on those we love) for disposable income.

Let me say it much more simply: Emily bought the opportunity to live out her values using her potential income, and I sold that same opportunity.

Not to say that we've gained nothing from the sale. We're debt-free and have only our house for which to pay. We live in an excellent neighborhood, and our daughter attends one of the very best high schools in the state of Texas. I have expensive hobbies (you don't even want to know the value of the stuff in my craft room). Burgundy will not require student loans for college (indeed, she watched us go through FPU, and she's committed to staying debt-free for life. Burgundy's amazing fiscal responsibility is another post though). A real, intangible benefit has been that my husband, who is far under-earning his potential, has not had to deal with the stress of having it all on his shoulders. That's been nice as we've tried to work out integrating our family. One less thing to stress him out and argue over.

Which brings me to my next point: If we value the time with our family and the benefit of having me at home, why am I only going part time? Why not quit entirely?

A couple of reasons: First, I don't want to quit entirely. Part of this new-found freedom is the opportunity to really examine our values. My family is first, of course. But with a teen, I don't need to be at home all day every day while she's in school. The new job will allow me to continue to bring in a very good income (more on that later) while only being absent from the house while my daughter is at school (excepting the summer, but more on that later, too).

The second reason is that I think Mark is not quite ready for me to quit entirely. Our mortgage payment would be a little high (38.5% of take-home), and who wouldn't be concerned about suddenly being the sole breadwinner? It feels like tight-rope walking without a safety net. And taking care of his peace of mind and well being is important, too.

As for the change in income, because the new company offered me a significant hourly increase (about 20%), my actual take-home pay will decrease by only about 40%.

We are very excited about this. The kids (I genuinely think of Julia as my kid) and Mark are excited about folded laundry and homemade meals. I'm excited about a clean, organized home and decluttering. We're all excited about having more time together that isn't spent doing chores and playing catch-up. This is a wonderful, amazing thing.