Thursday, May 31, 2012

This wiring is tasty, no?

Twice this week, we have awakened to a tripped circuit.  No, not the same one.  We kind of expect it from the garage circuit--I've actually been shocked by that one (shocked as in feeling electricity course through my body and kill off the demons, not shocked as in surprised), and the wiring out there is, uh, quaint, if nothing else.  We have not figured out why that one tripped--maybe one day that mystery will be explained to us, preferably by a vision of Tupac, who just won't die for real, will he?

The melted wiring from 2011.

Now it's the kitchen, too.  This is all part of the addition that was obviously done by Cousin Larry, so we've had an outlet melt before.  That was replaced, so we get to look behind the freezer plug.  The other alternative is the range hood. Please let it be the outlet, which is much easier to access.

Fascinating in a scientific kind of way.  Disheartening in others.

Perhaps they should have paid full price.
Maybe the house is angry with me for tearing down the ceiling tiles (which, by the way, I'm still happy about.  The room feels more cavernous now that sounds aren't muffled by 2 inch thick cellulose.  Cavernous is good considering the ceilings are a tad under 8 feet tall).  Or maybe it's testing my devotion, since I declared my love for it the other day. I still love you, baby!  Stop costing me so much time and money, though! There's decorating to be done, instead.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mom's a little bit crazy, y'all.

Remember the living room?

Well, I've been busy. Doing what, you ask?  I'll give you one guess.

No, these aren't giant saltine crackers.

They are the ceiling tiles from the living room.

We pulled out the cheap molding, too.  By We, I mean Ryan.  

Why bother taking down a perfectly ugly but functional ceiling?  Well, I found it was hurting my heart every morning to look at it.  I've been talking about my hatred of those tiles for a year now.  I want to paint the room, but I'll be damned if we were going to put a lot of work into a room with those abominations. The molding alone was very frighteningly outdated.  I prefer crumbling plaster to the cellulose yucky stuff that was up there.

There is some damage to the ceiling, but it's very slight. We haven't decided what to do--something has to go up in the corners because there used to be bigger crown molding there at one point, and there are gaps the molding covered between the walls and ceiling.  Taking down the wood might be very challenging. We'll just have to see.  Today, my heart is lightened.  Tomorrow, when I wake up to this mess, it'll be a whole other story...

P.S. Let me thank Ryan for not freaking out when he got home to a huge hole in the ceiling.  We worked side by side, but he made it go faster.

P.P.S Please wear eye/mouth protection if you're ever cursed with ceiling tiles and wish to remove them.  It's dusty.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our first year at The Kiefer Cottage

We've now lived here in Roeland Park for a year. Memorial Day weekend of 2011, we moved all our crap, I mean, lovely belongings into this 1800 sqft home that was built in 1940.  We paid $99,000 for this house, making an offer five minutes after walking in.  Some of you might gasp, "I would NEVER spend that much on a house like that!  99k and you have ceiling tiles and a bathroom worthy of a horror flick!"  Others might be thinking, "WOW.  What a great deal. I just bought a studio apartment in Big City, USA for $500,000."  For Roeland Park, whose median household value is anywhere from $107k to 170k depending on the source, we got a fine deal, especially for all the space.  There are many little two bedroom homes in the area, making our house almost a mansion in comparison.  And how fortunate we were not to have to settle on a crumbling foreclosure because that was about it for inventory in our price range in expensive Johnson County, Kansas.  Anyway, I love this house, wavy floors and all.  

Since we've been here a year, I thought I'd continue our walk down memory lane (which we began yesterday with the living room).  Today, we'll take a fond look back on the family room, which is part of an addition we think was built during the late 50s/early 60s.  We're not sure, though, and could be entirely wrong.  I do think, though, that since these ceiling tiles and paneled walls are not recent decorating trends, it's safe to say this room is older than I am.

When we moved in, this room was very dark.  Fake wood walls, shag carpeting, and odd layout. It's a very long room.

In the fall of 2011, we painted the walls "Winter Wheat" by Olympic.  Brightened this room up considerably.

And then a few weeks ago, we did a drastic makeover on furniture placement.  While I'm sad not to have the desk featured as prominently (too many times a desk has a back that is not worthy of viewing, but this desk is glorious), I love that this new layout keeps the toy mess in check since the gathering area is smaller. The table on the right needs to go, but it'll do for now.  And you'll notice the stereo console is in here now instead of the living room.  The desks are out of picture: one on the right, one on the left.  They aren't photo-worthy at this time.

You'll see that the white TV stand is gone.  I moved it to the dining room.  The new console is delicious.

Hello, lover.
 Mid-century modern piece.  I bought it for a song at the vintage furniture markets held the first weekend of every month in Kansas City.  It's not quite right for the age of the house overall, but it fits with the era of the room.

Each corner of the top has an inlaid X.  You can see a little damage to the finish.  I'm not touching any of it for now, though.

I loved that there was space to hide the large equipment. We had to drill holes in the back for the cords, but this is not a super fine antique--I needed it to be useful anyway.

So as you can see, we've made a few cosmetic changes.  This room still requires art being moved, new flooring, new walls, upgraded electrical, and a new ceiling.  Anybody wanna help?  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Finally, the living room.

The living room has been neglected more than even the master bedroom, which has been painted but still lacks any real decor.

Gorgeous.  Or maybe I mean hideous.
The photo above depicts the living room right after we moved in.  A parlor grand piano, a loveseat, a vintage stereo console, and a pack-n-play used as changing table.  And then of course the lovely window treatments.

Broken shade on the floor next to the magic slipper.

A year later, and we've got a few different pieces in the room, but the window treatments are the same as is the lavender sand paint color (which looks kind of green in the top photo, but it's not green, it's beige...i hate should die a slow death that somehow involves spoons and rubber boots).

It was probably going to remain in this ignored state while we finished the kitchen painting (June!) until I completely broke one of the shades, necessitating a complete demolition of the entire apparatus.  It's not like we could have taken one of the functioning shades down from another window and used that instead. Nope, that would've been impossible.

Naked Windows.
 We probably need something to cover those windows.  The awning provides some coverage and also keeps out much of the light from outside, but you can see inside pretty easily, especially if you stand right in front of them cupping your eyes to keep out the glare.  Not a big deal until you remember that we have to use the downstairs shower while our bedroom is upstairs.  Use your imagination at this time.  Shudder.  Nod vigorously when I say we need curtains. Or foil.  Something.

Buried Treasure.
I pulled out the curtain collection from Drew's bedroom closet to see if there was anything we could re-use.  Every window in this house had custom drapery at one point.  Sometimes several layers.

This one is stained, so it's out.  I'll donate it.  For some reason, Ryan's camera got confused and made this in landscape.  Sorry. Our chairs are not actually attached to the wall.

There are many cafe curtains in this pale pink fabric adorned with brown bobbles.  This particular piece is a valance.  I think it went upstairs, which was painted pink at one time and included pink fixtures in the bathroom.  These are very sweet.  I'd like to figure out how to reuse them.

This one's not so bad. Downside is that it's not floor-length, just window length.  It might work for now.

Anyway, the search continues.  I'll keep you posted since I'm sure you're dying to know and actually postponing making vacation plans until you can be sure we have curtained windows in our living room.

On another note, we're going to be painting soon. The room is dark, but I will not be doing anything white or pastel (having read that dark rooms do better with vibrant colors).  Any suggestions?  If you say light gray or beige, you're dead to me.  When I say color, I mean COLOR in all caps.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Case for a Camera that doesn't Make Phone Calls

Smart phones are brilliant little entertainment and convenience devices. Whether you belong to Team iPhone or Team Android, we all love our little glowing rectangles that connect us to all the other little glowing rectangles out there in the ether.

One of the greatest things about our glowing rectangles is their ability to snap a photo and instantly share it with the rest of the world (or a carefully-curated subset of the world we call "friends"). In the dark ages, our phones snapped photos that would embarrass a Polaroid camera, with tiny 0.3megapixel (mp) photos not even worth sharing on MySpace! Our 4.3mp point-and-shoot (p&s, or "penis") cameras of the time humiliated them in picture quality.

But now, NOW... phones commonly have 5-8mp cameras, And those cameras actually do a good job of imitating a lower-end p&s camera, especially when viewed on a computer screen, which generally get no higher in resolution than about 2.1mp (for a massive 1080p monitor). And that's all we really care about, eh?

So are we done here? Should we all toss out our p&s (you just said "penis" in your head -- admit it) cameras for web work if we can't afford a DSLR (which have a high price entry point)?

Not so fast. It so happens that I have on hand three cameras of very differing qualities and costs. One, a 5mp smartphone acquired for "free" (with a 2 year commitment to pay insane data fees, but that's life in the future, eh?). Two, a high-end p&s by Canon, the inimitable 10mp S90 -- around $350 refurbished. And three, a 12mp Olympus E-PL1 -- about $225 refurbished1. So, let's do some test shots and discuss the results!

First, we'll shoot some boring gloves for a focusing test (or bokeh, or narrow depth-of-field, or whatever you like to call it).


The Canon and Olympus shots are pretty darned close in image quality and color, but the Olympus defocuses the background and foreground a slightly better (narrower DoF, better bokeh, you get it). The phone shot doesn't look awful, exactly, but the whole shot is in focus, which takes the interest away from the subject you're trying to draw out of the image.

Next, let's look at the colors they produce on some lovely marigolds:



The Canon and Olympus give very vibrant, true-to-life color and contrast, and once again do a good job of only focusing on the subject. The phone's colors are duller and there's less definition between the petals of the marigolds.

So which is better? Well, it's plain that while phone cameras might be closing in on $100 p&s cameras, they have a long way to go to beat a good p&s2 camera like the S90.

Okay, then... Canon or Olympus? The Olympus might be able to defocus the background a little better, but it's a little clunkier to use, and you have to understand well things like aperture3, shutter speeds, sensitivity, and whatnot to get a really good shot, and it sometimes requires a tripod. But it can do something neither the Canon nor the phone can do: swap lenses. For the purposes of this comparison, I used the standard lens the camera came with (though I bought another mega-zoom lens) to show you what the $225 could get you.

12 oz tasty beverage can included for size reference. It's a little bigger than
 a compact camera, and the lens is swappable, like a DSLR.

With the Canon, you really do just point and shoot!

The Canon, while substantially more pocketable than the Olympus, is still
hefty, but that's the price you pay for good image quality. 
So what's the final word? My personal preference is the Olympus, but that's because I like maximum bokeh, and it's my camera, and I love fiddly things... and it was a great deal. As you can see from the photos, the Olympus is bigger than the Canon, but substantially smaller than a DSLR. Though I keep it on the strap, I can shoot with one hand.

Starr loves her Canon because it requires little effort with the camera to get a good quality shot, so it allows her to focus her efforts on staging and composing the photo.

Now, you need not spend $350 to get great quality plus ease of use. There are several cameras in this list that hover around the $200 mark. What's special about that list? Sensor size. To oversimplify, a larger sensor tends to enable better image quality and better background defocusing. Those cameras' sensors have roughly four times the surface area of a cell phone sensor, and it will show in your photos.

If you decide to take the leap to an interchangeable lens camera like my Olympus, I'd recommend Olympus or Panasonic because they use the same lens standard, giving you a broader selection of lenses, though Sony and Nikon make similar cameras. It's a very good idea to take a course to learn all about the capabilities and how each setting changes the photo, too. Community colleges are a great resource for such courses, but if you need more flexibility, there are very inexpensive online resources, too.  Just don't let all those bells and whistles go to waste.

1Since I learned what refurbished usually means -- "I took this out of the box and didn't like the way it beeped at me! You take it back and give me my money back!" -- I'm buying refurb from now on. My Oly "refurb" was indistinguishable from new.
2Penis, Penis, Penis!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Strawberry Jam

I had the sudden realization this morning I had mentioned homemade strawberry jam a few weeks ago, and I never came back to it.  Oops.  Since strawberry season is almost over, I better hurry up!

The main reason I forgot is that the recipe is not perfect, so I wasn't sure I should even share. The jam is not as good as the improvised yumminess I made for book club trifle because it is very very sweet.  However, the preserves/jam/fruit goodness still tastes delicious on toast or cake or even straight out the jar.  Here is a modified recipe from what I originally found--what I used was a granny's recipe and had 8 cups of sugar instead, hence the outrageous sweetness!

Old-fashioned strawberry jam (makes 8 cups)
8 cups strawberries, crushed with a potato masher
6 cups sugar
Lemon juice (optional)

Bring berries and sugar to a boil.  It should get to 220 degrees Fahrenheit in order to jelly-fy correctly.  I used the fridge test since I didn't have a thermometer, taking some out and putting it in the fridge for a few minutes to see if it would set. There's also a spoon test, but I can't speak to that. Google it if you're interested.

It might foam a lot.  We made a complete mess, in fact (thanks to Ryan for scrubbing the stove).  I put a drop of butter in to help with that, although it was a tad too late to prevent serious sugar scorch on the cooktop... I then skimmed off froth after it had been cooked.

After the jam had cooled, I ladled it into freezer-safe canning jars I had sterilized in the dishwasher, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top.  I then put on the clean lids and screwed them on.  At this point, I stuck the eight jars into the freezer.  If you want them shelf stable, you'll need to process them in a water bath (See this site for more information on canning).

We've already eaten two jars full of jam.
As I said, my jam is very sweet, but damn, it's good. The kids love it. It's like springtime in a jar.

It set correctly and isn't runny at all.  The high sugar content helped it a lot.  You can try methods without sugar, but the consistency will be quite different.

Winslow likes jelly sandwiches.  Smart girl.

So while this whole experiment might not have been a blazing success, I am so glad I went ahead with preserving the delicious strawberries of the season.  I plan on venturing forth with some "real canning" so to speak once the tomatoes are plentiful.  Give food preservation a try.  There are very easy freezer jam recipes online (that require little to no cooking), or you could freeze vegetables from your garden or farmers' market, or you could go whole hog and get a water bath canning system set up (for high acid foods like pickles and 'maters) or even  a pressure canner (other veggies) to enjoy the summer's bounty all year long.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What's Vacation, Momma?

I was 34 weeks pregnant with Winslow when Ryan and I got married.  Since I was a little too close to my due date, and I was trying to save up vacation time for maternity leave anyway, we spent a couple nights at a local B&B and called that our honeymoon, thinking we'd make plans for a trip sometime later.

Hint: I'm the big bellied gal in the red dress.

However, it's a tad harder to make vacation plans when you have three small children than when you're childless or have an only child.  For some odd reason, the thought of taking care of a trio of little kids for more than a couple of hours scares people! But I have a gracious mother-in-law (and loving father-in-law), and so Ryan and I have committed to a trip for next year.

We are digging through all the sofa cushions, cashing in our change jar, and diverting all odd-job monies as well as windfalls so that we can have a stress-free vacation and no worries about an excessive credit card bill greeting us when we get home.  Sure, we could have spent that money on a new bathroom or on a tax-advantaged savings account, but we're looking at years without having a time to just relax.  I mean, Ryan and I have never traveled together as a couple ever, and the time will never be quite right no matter what.  We just had to pull the trigger.

Plus, I have a fond memories of spending extended periods of time as a child with older relatives, so to give the kids a chance to experience the same is good in my mind.  Luckily, the girls have already enjoyed extended visits in years past, so it won't be traumatic for any of us.

Anyway, the details! We're going to the southern Caribbean, starting in Miami for a trek to Cartagena (Colombia), Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas with Norwegian Cruise Line.  (Side note: I couldn't stop thinking about Cartagena because of the movie Romancing the Stone.  Ryan doesn't understand my excitement because he's never seen the movie.  It's only one of the best movies of all time!) This is certainly travel-lite since the time spent at port will be limited.  And there will be five full days at sea.  But that's exactly what we wanted.  No roughing it in the wild, no killing our own dinner*, no fighting off parasites like I've experienced on my own past adventures...Just lying around, stepping foot on solid ground a tiny bit, and otherwise enjoying each other's company without having to think about wiping bottoms or mowing the lawn.

*I haven't actually killed my own dinner, but if you've ever watched someone (your host family) stop by the side of the road to buy a dried "grasscutter" (imagine a very large rat-like creature) and then endured their laughter while you try to be a good sport and eat it with gusto, then you feel like you can take the credit.  Tastes like chewy chicken, by the way.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Easy Entertaining

What does it take to throw an easy, but wildly successful dinner party?

Juicy fruit.
Peach Sangria
A little cocktail.

Add in the best salad ever.  Crunchy Romaine Toss is always a hit.

Ryan's spaghetti and meatballs.  Recipe to come this week.

Chocolate peanut butter coconut pecan goodness.

Sprinkle in some friends, great weather, and a swing set, and you'll have a good time.  

Peach Sangria
2 bottles of white wine
1 can of peach nectar
 1/4 cup simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar heated to dissolve the sugar)
1/4 cup brandy
 Juice of 1 orange
  Cut fruit

Mix it all up.  Serve with ice or refrigerate for awhile.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Are you "Over-Propped"?

There's an article in the NYTimes this week that is a riot.  Why? Well, it's talking about design blogs and pretty much calls us all a bunch of frauds.  Okay, that's going too far.  It doesn't really say that.  But there is a quiz you can take to see if perhaps you're trying too hard when decorating your home and blogging about it.  That maybe we should all relax and slow down our quest for awesomeness.

See? Winslow doesn't try too hard. And she's awesome anyway.

You can read the article here.  The quiz is located in the Multimedia slideshow on the left sidebar and consists of pictures of items. If you own more than a few of the items listed, then you're over-propped.  And you might wanna see a professional about it.  I'm sure your insurance will cover it.

Bar Cart? Yeah, I'm guilty of owning one.

For full disclosure, I've owned that bar cart for years.  My friends from Georgia Tech should recognize it because it was used at many parties.  Yes, for booze.  So it ain't a prop, peeps!  Sheesh.

Friday, May 18, 2012

CSA goodness and Giving

We had a lovely CSA delivery this week.  These strawberries were inhaled by the children after a quick wash. Tough preparation, huh?

I threw the bok choy into the sink for a good wash (especially after Ryan found two caterpillars in last week's selections), and then tossed them into the crock pot with a chicken dish I was making.  The leaves have a mild taste, so they can bulk up almost any dish without changing the flavor profile.

I spent half an hour--okay, maybe less than that but it felt like forever--shelling peas.  Fresh peas are so good when they're at their peak.  I flash boiled them in a little sugar water and then threw them in a pan with a little butter, salt, and mint from the garden.  Delicious.

Speaking of food, the kids and I spent part of the morning at a local charity packing snack backpacks for a group of small children to take home with them this afternoon.  For some of the kids, the food we packed might be all the sustenance they get all weekend.  Considering how much food we have in this country, it's a travesty there are those who go without.  The gals I worked with this morning are talking about other ways we can help out locally.  More to come on that.  

As Ryan and I have said before, we choose to give to food-centered organizations.  Our garden challenge this year is for us to give any of our grocery savings to charity.  Well, even though all we've gotten is lettuce so far, we just made a small donation to Heifer International, specifically their program called "Seeds of Change, which is a domestic project in the Arkansas Delta and Appalachia.  

Next time you're pigging out on something delicious, think about those who don't have that luxury.  Give your time or your money or both.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Damn Rashes, I mean, Radishes

I am not a radish lover.  That's not quite right.  I love the way radishes look, but I'm not a huge fan of their taste.  A bit sharp.  I totally blame an unsophisticated palate.

So when we got a bunch from our CSA, I didn't know what to do with them.  Ryan wouldn't eat them in a salad, but they were not going to go to waste, dammit!  So he suggested pickling them.  Since I had a few half-pint jars left over, I thought, why not!?  I love pickles! And this is a great way to preserve the radishes so they don't rot while I'm trying to develop a taste for them.

Right after I made them.

I used a recipe from Mother Earth News, cutting my radishes very thin.  I didn't have any peppercorns, but I think it'll be okay.  I had the most important ingredient, vinegar, so they're still pickled, even if the purists are in a rage over lack of pepper.

Quick Pickled Radishes
10 oz vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Chopped radishes (enough for a pint)
Bay Leaf
Chopped onion (I used a quarter of a large onion)
Peppercorns (if on hand)

Boil the vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Put the radishes, bay leaf, and onion into the jar(s).  Pour the vinegar mixture over them.  Cool.  Refrigerate for a day.  Enjoy!  I've been eating them straight out the jar.

If you don't use sugar, you can leave it out or substitute honey or stevia.

After steeping in the fridge. Gorgeous!

Note: these are not shelf-stable and must be refrigerated. I saw estimates online on how long they'd be good for ranging from five days to one month.

I shared at A Bowl Full of LemonsPenniless Parenting's Hearth and Soul Blog Hop.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dry Ice Magic

This was delivered to my door last Thursday for Mother's Day.  I grew up in Memphis and love Corky's barbecue.  We ate it yesterday, and it was all delicious, except for the beans.  They didn't work too well, and I'm not sure why.  But the meat was the star of the show.  Yum.

The kids didn't care about the grub, but they sure did love the ice used to keep it all cool.

Yup, dry ice.  We took precautions, nobody touched it with their hands, and we had fun watching dry ice do its fun, smoky thing.

After the kids went to bed, Ryan "took care" of the rest in the sink.  We just needed a carved pumpkin and spooky music to make it Halloween.  Or some beakers and wild cackling to be in a mad scientist's layer.  Of course, we are quite mad around here already...

I hope all mothers had a wonderful day yesterday.  I'm getting my new toilet soon.  If that ain't a sign of Ryan's true love, I don't know what is.
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