Sunday, October 31, 2004

TY is a Better Photographer

(Originally posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 by Tim)

Ok, I expected TY to take better pictures than Sam and he proved me right. Click here to see the pictures that TY took. Alot more of them are better including the amazing one at the right.

Dog Cam!

(Originally posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 by Tim)

Cat and I generally "chat" over ICQ every day. Part of this "conversation" is us sending each other links that we find on the internet while we are "working". One of the links she recently sent led me to the James Bond Spy Camera on Now I just had to have one of these. It's tiny and it has all sorts of cool features. It can record audio, it can record 30 seconds of video and audio, and best of all, it can be programmed to take a picture every minute for an hour and a half.

What to do with this technology. Well, the web site recommends setting the camera up in covert locations and recording "sensitive data". I'm sure you can easily imagine what they are hinting at here. If not, the ThinkGeek web site has some example user photos. This playing around with such a cool little toy seemed like such a waste to me. You could use this device to do science. With it, mysteries of the universe could be solved. Mysteries like, "What do dogs do when they are out in the yard?"*

To accomplish this task, we needed a way to securely fasten the camera to one of the dog's collars. I wanted a method that would be reversible and robust. This, of course, required a trip to Home Depot. Apparently they have missed us there since school started. The gentleman who we asked for help with our project asked us how the work on the house was going. For those of you who are into investing, I'd hold off on buying Home Depot this quarter. I'm sure their corporate earnings have fallen off now that Cat and I have slowed down on our work on the house. In the end, we decided on a applying a wall mount to each side of the camera. Through the wall mounts, we ran a nylon cable tie and attached a keyring to it. The keyring is then attached to a dog's collar such that the camera is facing forward. The camera is then set to take a picture every minute and the dog sent out into the yard.

Sam was the obvious choice for first yard test. He runs around more than any of the other dogs and his neck is the highest off the ground for better views. You can view his first set of pictures here. I haven't edited his shots except to take out the ones that ended up black do to lack of light. Apparently, Sam runs around alot in the yard. Unfortunately, the James Bond Camera doesn't deal well with pictures taken while moving. All the same, there are a few decent photos in the bunch. You can see our neighbor's house in one and Modi in another. We're planning on sending TY out with the camera this afternoon to see what he comes up with.

*To be honest, using this camera as a DogCam wasn't our idea. Cat found a web site where someone had modified one to work with their cocker spaniel. I'd link the site, but it seems to be gone or down.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Taking burning the food to a whole new level

(Originally posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 by Cathy)

Well. I've never had flames shoot out of my oven before! We had friends over for dinner last night, and I was trying to partake in the conversation, the mushroom appetizer, and broil the garlic bread, all at once. The evil left oven (more on it later) decided that broil should be even hotter than usual yesterday. I opened the door to see blackened brickettes of garlic bread. As I opened the door and the air rushed in, the garlic bread actually caught fire.

So I slammed the door. It seemed like the thing to do. Opened the door again. Same ignition in the presence of oxygen. Isn't fire neat? Meanwhile, the smoke alarm is going off, and our guests are in the kitchen.

Turned off the left oven, waited a couple minutes, and then Tim was able to get the remains of the bread out of the oven and out of the house.

Coda: since Tim got the garlic bread out of the house by throwing it into the back yard, I'm having to remove slices of badly charred garlic bread from dog mouths every time they come in. Sam snuck past me last night and chewed a piece all over my side of the bed. Yuck.

At least the rest of dinner was good. :)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Funny addition to the google post

(Originally posted on Thursday, September 16, 2004 by Cathy)

While attempting to demonstrate to Tim that my name was clearly superior because all of Google's 13k hits are actually me (even if most of them are worthless/irrelevant/duplictes), I found this. Searching for his name (in quotes) gets you a bunch of hits for a bunch of other people, and a page with this image. Yep, that's Tim as an undergrad. Now, I'd never blow his cover by commenting on just how old that picture IS, but well, it pretty much dates to the dawn of the internet.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Ah, google

(Originally posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 by Cathy)

Google is interesting. For those of you who maybe don't know how Google works, here's sort of how it goes:

(Note: Google is constantly changing things, and they don't entirely disclose their algorithm for ranking pages. This is an approximation at best.)

The GoogleBot visits a page. It saves your page content and notes where your page links go. It will later visit all the pages your page links to, whether they're part of your page, or go to somewhere else entirely. So at the end of the day (well, actually it takes Google a week or two to crawl the whole internet), Google has a huge collection of pages. So let's say you want to search for information on cultures that consider lime juice to be a sacred substance. You google for lime juice "sacred substance" and discover that Modi knows quite a bit about it. How'd we do that? Well, it turns out there aren't many sites that contain the phrase "sacred substance" and the words lime and juice, so Google doesn't have much to work with.

Now suppose we search for a phrase that's a little bit more widespread, like maybe Gold colored pennies. The first link (at least today) is a chemistry experiment I wrote. Pretty cool. Part of why Google lists Lab Archive first is that it has all the right words and close together, but another reason is that there are quite a few sites that link to the Lab Archive. (It also helps that Lab Archive has a zillion pages of its own, all of which link to other pages on Lab Archive. Currently, at least, the GoogleBot seems impressed by links within a domain as well as links from other domains.) Remember who we said the GoogleBot was noting which pages a page linked to? GoogleBot considers a link to be sort of like a vote, and it figures that a page that lots of other pages are linking to is probably a pretty useful page. The GoogleBot also gives some votes more weight than others. If a site with a high score links to you, that's worth more than a site with a low score.

So, on to the event that actually prompted this post. I want a teaching job. I want someone who's interested in me to be able to find something useful about me on the web, or at least, I don't want them to find something inappropriate. So let's Google. Blessed with the odd last name, I can actually expect the results of Googling for "Cathy S." (edited) to return results that are relevant.. at least somewhat. First link: my EvCC homepage. Ok, that's out of date, but sort of good. Lots of people link to EvCC, so it makes sense that a page at EvCC would be considered important. Most of the other links on the first page of Googling: OpenACS-related or vserver-related. If you wanted to know that I write code or do some sys admin work, you'd have come to the right place. If you wanted to know that Cathy S. is a chemistry teacher (did you catch that, GoogleBot?), you'd still be stumped. Lots of people link to OpenACS and to the vserver mailing list. On the second page, we find a link to my Mayo group webpage. Well, that makes the EvCC link look downright fresh. And better yet, it isn't a link to my index page, or my vitae. Nope, it's a link to some hiking pictures, showing me in all my grungy glory. For this, I blame Marcus Sarofim (whose current homepage, if any, I couldn't find at the top of Google, so I've linked a stale page. Hah, take that! Marcus linked to my page with the hiking pictures, along with someone who thought those yellow flowers in the background were interesting for some reason I've forgotten. Since no one else seems to have thought my other pages at were interesting (not even the one with the Comprehensive ANSIG FAQ), that's the first one to show up. Finally on page 3, we find links to my current website. Well, finally.

So now what? A couple things to do:

  • Put in the link to my website, particularly my CV on some of those higher-ranking sites that I can influence.
  • Make this blog post.
  • Solemnly vow to relocate or remove old webpages before I lose control of them, so that someone doesn't end up looking at a 5 year old CV.
I'm still pondering what to do about mailing list archives. I like that Google can search them, since sometimes that's the only place I can find an answer to a question. On the other hand, Google is often fooled into thinking they're definitive answers because they're so heavily-linked. If I had it to do over, I think I'd post with some variant of my name other than the two prospective employers are likely to be searching by, so that the first results from a Google search wouldn't be random questions I asked years before.

And on that note, I have to go update my CV again.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Hot Fudge Sauce

(Originally posted on Saturday, September 11, 2004 by Tim)

I would like to state that bags of cookies, or potato chips, or any other snack are just plain evil. The "can't eat just one" ad campaign was clearly directed at me and did not just apply to Lays' potato chips. About a week ago, I happened to be walking down the cookie isle and picked up a pound of Nutter Butters. I am especially susceptible to Nutter Butters because they are sweet AND salty. All you need to do is add a little MSG to them and I'd be in heaven. Needless to say, I brought them home and they were gone in two days. While I didn't eat each and every last one, I would estimate that Cat and dogs did not get more than 10%. Whenever they would approach the bag, there would be lots of growling and snarling. I feel that I handled it very well. At least I didn't bite anyone. The bad thing about chowing down on 1/2 pound of Nutter Butters for dinner is that it tends to throw off my system. I end up having trouble focusing on things, my productivity gets shot to hell and I'm generally unsafe to operate heavy machinery.

After last week's binge, I can confidently say that I've learned my lesson. Well, at least I've learned my lesson until a month or two from now when memory fades and I find myself next to a big can of Pringles.

This recipe is off an unsweetened baking chocolate box. It is good hot fudge sauce, but I am mostly writing it up so that I can throw the ragged piece of carboard box containing the recipe in the trash.

Hot Fudge Sauce
2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tbs butter
1/8 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 cup whipping cream

Microwave chocolate and butter together until butter is melted. Pull the mix out of microwave and stir until chocolate is completely melted. Add cream and sugar and stir until well mixed. Microwave for 5 minutes more or until sugar is completely dissolved. Pull teh mix out of the microwave every 2 minutes or so and stir. Add vanilla and mix well. Store in the refrigerator.

I like to have this on vanilla or nigh vanilla ice cream with sliced bananas. Cat likes to put it on strawberry ice cream which is just wrong.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Pear Chutney

(Originally posted on Friday, September 10, 2004 by Tim)

Finally! A little free time to write. I've been swamped this week after we spent last weekend at Brian and Anduin's place near the nation's capital. I've taken on alot this term with the preparation for my classes and I really need the free time on the weekend to catch up. I have no regrets on last weekend though, I had a great time and I'm just too old to let work stop me from having a life.

I did find a little time earlier this week to indulge in an activity that combines one of my hobbies with one of my obsessive tendencies. I made a very nice pear chutney. The hobby part of this activity is the cooking and the obsessive behavior is not letting anything go to waste. I don't know if you picked up on this in my jam recipe post, but a large part of the motivation for making that jam was to keep the grapes from spoiling. This behavior was evident last weekend when Brian and Amy brought a very tasty lemon curd to Brian and Anduin's house. I complimented them on the spread, asked for the recipe and then wondered out loud where I might find lemon trees in Virginia. They then proceeded at length to try to explain to me that money could be exchanged for lemons in an edifice known as The Grocery Store. Sigh! Some people just don't get it.

When we got back, I found that one of the Emeritus faculty at Radford had brought in a big bag of pears from a tree or trees in his yard.


In the end, I went with a chutney instead of a jam. There are more chutney recipes for pears than jam recipes for pears on the internet. The ingredients for chutney are more exciting than for jam as well.

Pear Chutney
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
6 small pears, hand picked from someone's yard, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs lemon juice

Melt butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add next three ingredients and cook until mixture is carmel in color and a little thick. Add pears, salt, vinegar and lemon juice. Reduce heat and simmer until chutney thickens. Allow to cool.

I tasted the chutney and found it to be quite tasty. It is sweet and salty and a bit hot from the peppers. However, I was a bit stumped as to what we would eat it with and started thinking about how I might make a jam out of the hundreds of pears that were laying about in our Emeritus faculty's yard. Cathy came to the rescue on this one by making an excellent marinated tempeh that went very well with the chutney. Maybe she will post her recipe some time. This chutney would also go very well with pork or with ham.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Vegetarian wait, vegetarian wait, vegetarian sausage

(Originally posted on Saturday, August 28, 2004 by Tim)

Cat and I don't watch any TV and we don't get a paper. I generally get my daily news on the CNN and BBC websites. While there, I always check the science news sections to see if there is anything interesting that I can link on my web page for my students. Many stories are not of much scientific interest, in fact, you get stuff that I think could easily be included in the National Inquirer's science section.

For instance, take this recent story on the discovery of a deep cave in Croatia.

Excerpt from story: At the foot of the Velebit cave are small ponds and streams, including one of the largest known colonies of subterranean leeches...

Now if we interpret the data a bit differently, we have a great National Inquirer story.

Excerpt from story: Explorers find worlds deepest hole.

I often find really great rant material in these stories, like the BBC's recent article about the use of genetic algorithms in blocking email spam. The introductory paragraph had this in it, "Few would have thought that when Crick and Watson discovered DNA, that it would help in making a tool to fight spam."

A H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H !

Francis and Crick did not "DISCOVER" DNA. The DISCOVERY of DNA began shortly after the end of US civil war when Friedrich Miescher isolated it from the pus in surgical bandages. Between then and the 1940's, the covalent structure (which atoms are bound to which atoms) was worked out. In 1943, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty conducted conclusive experiments demonstrating that DNA carried genetic information. Francis and Crick did not discover DNA. They elucidated the three dimensional structure of DNA. It was good work, but looking at it in the context of what had gone before, they've gotten a hell of alot more pretige than their contribution should merit. One or both of them was apparently very good at marketing.

Needless to say, I immediately linked the BBC article to my web site with the title "What's wrong with this headline!?!". Apparently people were beating the stuffing out of the BBC over the course of the day because Cat noticed that, by dinner time, they had changed the word "discover" to "unravelled" in the introductory paragraph.

When the BBC changed the text I immediately unlinked the article from my class page so as to not confuse my students. It seems to me in writing this that I could have left it in. Let's look at the sentence again.

"Few would have thought that when Crick and Watson UNRAVELLED DNA, that it would help in making a tool to fight spam."

The author or editor over at the BBC tried to be clever by using the weasel word "unravelled", but there are still two things wrong with this sentence. The first isn't so obivous unless you're a scientist. Watson and Crick discovered the three dimensional structure of DNA. In other words, they discovered the shape of DNA. The shape of DNA has pretty much nothing to do with the theories that would be applied to blocking spam. If they want to make this sentence more correct, it should read, "Few would have thought that when Gregor Mendel unravelled the principles of genetics, that it would help in making a tool to fight spam."

Ok, not exciting if you haven't studied this stuff. Let me rant about the obvious thing that is wrong. Watson and Crick determined the structure of DNA in 1953. In 1953, there was no interet, there was no email and there was no spam. Few would have thought the discovery would be helpful in fighting spam because SPAM HADN'T BEEN INVENTED YET! It's like saying, "Few would have thought that when the ancient Egyptians discovered gold, that it would help in the construction of super computers."

It's been almost 2 hours now, and I think I'm through ranting. This wasn't even the news article I had planned to write about. How about a recipe on how to make veggie breakfast meat.

Vegetarian Breakfast Sausage or Bacon (you decide which it most resembles)
10 oz Tempeh (cut into thin strips)
3 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp chili sauce
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Pickapeppa sauce (in the catsup section of the grocery store)
3 cloves garlic (crushed)

Mix all ingredients well except the tempeh strips. Place tempeh strips in this marinade and allow to set several hours at room temperature or overnight to several days in the refrigerator. Fry up marinaded tempeh in a frying pan sprayed with Pam until slightly browned or really crispy depending on your taste.

Cat and I had these this morning with pancakes. They are more spicy than the Morning Star breakfast links we get at the grocery store. We tend to swap these in and out with the commercial links depending on our desire for spice and how lazy we are feeling.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Sweet and Savory Tofu and Vegetables

(Originally posted on Friday, August 27, 2004 by Tim)

Cat and I stopped by the Radford Faculty Club Friday social tonight and had a very nice time. I have to say that it is a very friendly environment. I think that we have been invited to dinner by a couple who are emeritus and near emeritus faculty. In addition, Cat hit it off with a guy in math who is interested in the web package she has been writing. There may be some commercial possibilities there. If nothing else, they got to have lots of web geek talk. "I use tcl to write my web package on an open ACS platform that runs on an AOL virtual server." (Cathy says I got it wrong)

Ummm...ok. I was busy drinking more beer than I have had in the entire previous year combined (2 beers). I see more beer in my future as you get a bottle of Samuel Adams for $1. I'm planning on requesting that they serve Bass as well (all beers $1) and that will make the place pretty much Heaven as far as I'm concerned. After we left the club, we went downstairs to the pool room and bowling alley (I'm not kidding). Now this room is open to everyone on Radford campus, but seems to be very under utilized. I think it must be related to the fact that they don't serve or allow beer, or sitting on the tables, or sitting on the butt height half walls, or marmalade shots (maybe it was masses shots), or gambling. Apparently they've had enough problems with gambling that it merited a sign. I'll have to say, that with all the rules chasing people away, they had some very nice tables. I mean they looked like 1970's bowling hall quality tables, but they were hardly used. Despite my remarks it's a nice little perk as it isn't crowded, no one is smoking there, and pool tables are $1.25 per person per hour. Bowling in $1.25 per game. It's very possible that our pool games may improve significantly over the next year. Enough of my rambling though, the title says I'm going to post a recipe.

This is a recipe that I have been meaning to write up for a long time. It is mostly my own. The idea for the sauce comes from a Japanese cookbook that I have.

Sweet and Savory Tofu and Vegetables
1 lb tofu pressed
1 red pepper (chopped into 1 cm pieces)
1 small or medium eggplant (chopped into 1 cm cubes)
1 head's worth of of broccoli florets
1.5 cups of uncooked white rice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
Toasted sesame seeds

Cook rice according to manufacturers directions. Steam broccoli for 8 minutes or follow the directions on your vegetable steamer. Spray a dutch oven with Pam and set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Saute red pepper and eggplant for 5 minutes or until slightly browning. Add a half cup of water, cover and cook until eggplant and pepper are tender. While eggplant and pepper are cooking, mix sugar, sake and soy in a bowl.

Chop pressed tofu into 1-2 cm cubes. Add to eggplant and red pepper and increase heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately pour soy/sake/sugar mixture over vegetables and tofu. Stir fry until all sauce has been absorbed or boiled off.

Arrange broccoli florets in a circle on a plate. Fill circle with rice. Place a mound of vegetables on top of the rice. Sprinkle vegetables with sesame seeds.

I really like what this simple sauce does for the tofu and vegetables. You can substitute in for your favorite vegetables with this recipe and I bet a chicken/tofu substitution would be tasty as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Where's the Flood

(Originally posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 by Tim)

So a couple of weeks ago, Cat forced me to go shopping for new slacks to wear to work. Now it isn't like she knocked me out and then I woke up in the Gap wondering what had happened, but it was pretty darn close. I used all the excuses I could to get out of it and turned my wining up to level 9, but it was all to no avail.

"Gosh, I should mow the lawn, can't we go tomorrow?"
"I think I pulled something taking out the garbage, can't we go tomorrow?"
"There's three whole days before I have to go to work, can't we go tomorrow?"
"Modi looks like he's going to bite Sam, we should watch him, can't we go tomorrow?"
"I'd really like to rest up so I can watch the meteor shower tonight, can't we go tomorrow?"
"I've heard that the RCR (Rabid Christiansburg Republicans) are having a meeting at the mall today, can't we go tomorrow?"
"Hey, let's rewire the dining room!"
"I called The Gap and they said they have nothing in my size, but they are getting in a big shipment of "short guy" clothes tonight."
"Look! A moose!"

Needless to say, I really hate clothes shopping. I think it's because I rarely feel like I get it right. This is one of those anxieties that goes back to trying to fit in when I was in middle school. I could never manage to get the same look with clothes that the cool kids did. It's not like I couldn't look at the cool kids and make notes of what they were wearing. I also don't really remember any restrictions on what I could buy, but somewhere in there the connection wasn't being made. I'd either buy a whole bunch of clothes that weren't the right style, or a bunch of clothes that were the wrong size, or I'd do something else that just didn't get the look. Don't even ask me to start in on hair.

I particularly remember some of my foibles with buying pants. The worst was the year I bought five pairs of jeans that were all to tight for the fashion and were really very uncomfortable. That isn't what this post is about. Sometime before middle school, I had a set of neighborhood kids make fun of the fact that my pants were too short. The classic comment was, "Where's the flood?" Ever since I've always been paranoid about my pants/jeans being too short. This has coupled with the fact that I have 27 inch legs and mens pants start at 28 inches has resulted in my buying pants that are too long for at least the last 15 years.

Now it's not like I've been tripping over my pants/jeans so the too long thing really shouldn't be a big deal except that long pants tend to rub on the top of my shoes when I walk around. This rubbing was shredding the cuffs on my pants and the bottoms of my jeans rather quickly. Certainly more quickly than any other part of the jeans was wearing out.

Cat's solution to this problem was that we should buy me shorter pants. A brilliant idea except that it they don't sell men's pants any shorter. "They don't have anything in my size, in fact, no one does, can we come back tomorrow?" Well it just so happens that The Gap we were in was attached to a Kid's Gap. We figured that there are definately kids my size so maybe I would have better luck with boys sizes.

Boys sizes are odd. They're like women's sizes. Nothing useful like a waist size and a pant length size in inches. They are acending numbers without units associated with words like "slim", "regular", and "husky". I guess this scale is used, because Mom's mostly buy boys clothes and it's something they are used to. After some experimentation, we found that I'm closest to a 12 Husky. I actually think I'm a 13 Husky but, of course, there are no odd numbers. This leaves me with a choice of buying pants that are too long (14 Husky) or pants that are just a little too short. In the end, we went with a little too short. I'm hoping that it was the right choice. I've been really careful to pull the pants out of the dryer when we wash them for fear that they might shrink. I've also been collecting a mental database of relative pant leg length of male faculty at Radford. I think I'm in the right range, but I'll have to wait until the spring when the New River overflows and see if I get any personal emails from the dean calling me to action.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Pressing Tofu

(Originally posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 by Tim)

Ok, I know this is lame, but I've gotten into the habit of pressing tofu for many of the recipes in which I use it. Well, that's not the lame part. The lame part is I'm going to post a recipe on how to do it. Let's picture it as a sub-recipe. I've actually made this great sweet and savory tofu and vegetables dish that I want to post, but everytime I think about it I am overwhelmed by the thought of posting a recipe and describing how to press tofu. Yes, I know that I already posted how to press tofu in a past recipe, but it just doesn't seem fair to make you go back and read through an entire recipe of my rambling just to pick out where I discuss pressing tofu. Once I've completed this post, I can link to it. That will save you the trouble of wading through the wandering babble and it will save me the angst of having to describe pressing tofu again.

Pressing Tofu
Block of tofu
Collander (Corgi bite marks are OK)
Bowl just a little smaller than collander
Big plate
Cans of dense food
Heavy books

Place collander on plate to catch water that will be squeezed out of tofu. Place tofu block in collander. Place bowl right side up on top of tofu. Stack heavy cans and books in bowl. Let tofu be pressed by the weight of the cans for 30 minutes.

This is a wonderful way to firm up your tofu and make it take up more marinade or sauce in recipes.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It's 9pm, do you know where your dogs are?

(Originally posted on Sunday, August 22, 2004 by Cathy)

Hmm. Pretty quiet around here.. where did all the dogs go?

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Robotic Bartender

(Originally posted on Friday, August 20, 2004 by Cathy)

A popular bar had a new robotic bartender installed. A fellow came in for a
drink and the robot asked him, "What's your IQ?" The man replied, "150." So
the robot proceeded to make conversation about Quantum physics, string
theory, atomic chemistry, and so on. The man listened intently and thought,
"This is really cool."

The man decided to test the robot. He walked out the bar, turned around,
and came back in for another drink. Again, the robot asked him, "What's
your IQ?"

The man responded, "100." So the robot started talking about football,
baseball, and so on. The man thought to himself, "Wow, this is amazing."

The man went out and came back in a third time. As before, the robot asked
him, "What's your IQ?" The man replied, "50." The robot then said, "So,
you gonna vote for Bush again?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Mmmmm, grape!

(Originally posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 by Tim)

We have a row (isle, rack, stand, whatever you call them) of grape vines in the backyard. It was overgrown with five or so other types of plants when we moved in, but Cat hacked it back to grape vines and some plant with orange flowers in the first week. I was initially very excited about the grapes. We had a vine in the yard in Mukilteo, but it never produced much. The row of grapes here is much larger and was already producing quite a crop when we moved in. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened when I tried a few of the green beauties and found they were quite sour and seedy. I'd liken the experience to tasting vanilla extract for the first time. You're expecting something that tastes delicious, but what you get is quite bitter. Hmmm, seems there are a number of things in life that fit that analogy.

In any case, I assumed we had some sort mutant grape vine that was designed to grow well in the harsh Appalachian climate. Something designed to survive months of banjo music without chewing off its own roots. I stopped thinking about the grapes and gave up my hopes of making my own wine from them.

Two days ago, Cat pointed out to me that the grapes had turned red. On trying one I found it to be rather sweet, although still seedy. It's too bad the grapes ripened so close to the start of classes at Radford. I would have liked to try and make some wine, but I'm afraid I can't show up to class with purple feet (at least until tenure). I was trying to decide what to do with the grapes when I realized that we have run out of the blackberry jam we made in Mukilteo last summer. I looked on the Web and found the following recipe by Ellen Skennar of Herberton, Queensland. I ran a test batch tonight and it makes a very tasty refrigerator jam.

Appalachian Grape Jam
Red grapes from your backyard

Pick grapes from the backyard. Squeeze grapes and separate the skins into one saucepan and the pulp (with seeds) into another saucepan. Add a little water to the skins and simmer for 10 minutes. Also simmer the pulp for 10 minutes or until its structure breaks down. Press the pulp through a strainer to remove the seeds. Combine skins and pulp. Add a volume of sugar equal to that of the skins and pulp and simmer until jam gells. You can tell a jam has gelled by placing a little bit on a plate and allowing it to cool. If the cooled jam forms a skin when pressed with your finger, it is done. If you have a candy thermometer, gelling occurs around 220 Fahrenheit.

The next step will be to pick the vine in earnest and make a large batch of canned jam. If you're reading this and you're on our gift list, I'll give you three guesses on what you're getting for Christmas.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Woodchuckinator!

(Originally posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 by Tim)

Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that Cat seems to be training Modi that the painful shocking sensation he feels when he charges the fence is a bad thing and that he should stay 2 to 3 feet away from it. I really didn't think that the shock collar was going to work. When we first put it on him, he just charged into the fence anyway and ignored it. Cat decided that he needed to be taught that it was the proximity to the fence that caused the shock and not something else. Here's what I think was going on in Modi's head:

Must bite dog!
Must bite dog!
Must bite dog!
ZAP! Hmmm, experiencing pain but in fight so this is nothing new. ZAP!
Must bite dog!
Must bite dog!
Must bite dog!

Now you could give him points for being tough, but he pretty much loses all the fights he gets into so he's gotta lose more points for being several slices short of a full loaf.

That was the good news. The bad news is that TY caught the woodchuck that was living in our backyard today. Cat and I were there for the whole experience. TY found it in the bushes near the fence and probably broke its back in the first second or so. Modi and Sam joined in while Cat and I tried to break everything up. On the dog side, we pretty much had no injuries except a scratch on Modi's nose. Needless to say we were a bit disturbed by the whole experience. We pretty much think of the dogs as adorable (in a neurotic sort of way) and it's a little bit upsetting to have them kill another animal in front of you.

I was thinking of posting a recipe today, but I think I'll wait until tomorrow. For now, I'll just leave you with the score.



Sam-All the bed

Thursday, August 12, 2004

This biog entry was serrated using handwriting recognition

(Originally posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 by Tim)

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Money Pit is Working on a Darwin Award

(Originally posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 by Tim)

I am becoming more convinced every day that man has really screwed things up by playing with evolution through selective breeding. Let's take Modi for example. Natural selection generally weeds self desctructive traits out of the gene pool. Assume for a moment that an animal had the desire to smash its face into an object over an over again despite the fact that said smashing was painful and resulted in wounds with a serious chance of infection. Before man came along, such behavior would result in a decreased chance of the animal surviving to produce viable offspring and the trait would eventually cease to exist in that species.

Enter man with english accent: "This dog thing is great, but it would make a much better footrest if it had really short legs and an overlong body. Don't worry about rational behavior out of the beast, just make it shorter and longer."

Thus the English set out to breed the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. They sort of got the footrest thing right. Modi thinks humans make a great footrest, but he gets pretty grumpy if anyone gets their feet remotely near him.

Modi's newest stunt is to charge the chain link fence and try and bite the dog on the other side. In the process, he has opened and continues to reopen some rather large spots on his nose. The neighbors have an invisible fence system on the offending chain link and we have fitted him with a collar. Cat and I have tried the system out and it gives a decent shock, however, I don't think it hurts more than bashing his nose until bloody. Cat is currently trying to train him to stay away from the fence by walking him by the fence with the shock collar on the leash. He feels the shock when the bloodlust is not on him so maybe it will work. We'll let you know.

In the meantime, anyone want to buy a footrest?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Renaming Dogs

(Originally posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2004 by Tim)

I have decided that we need to rename dogs. I think that Modi, TY, and Sam are not descriptive enough names. They need something more along the lines of American Indian names. They need names that tell us something about them.

Actually, I know nothing about American Indian names beyond what I have seen in popular culture. Did American Indians generally have names like, ?He who always steps in bear poop in the woods? or ?He who is a couple arrows short of a quiver?? Being an academic and a liberal, I feel a little bad just assuming that this is how traditional American Indian names work without doing a little research. This whole stereotype could have started with one smart ass Indian joking around with the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving.

Indian: (well, they?re not going to be able to pronounce my name anyway) ?Hi, I am ?Guy who always brings the store bought potato salad? and this is my friend ?Eats only protein and fat.?

If I had a better internet connection (DSL at the end of the week we hope), I?d research this stereotype, but for now I?ll just have to console myself by saying, ?Hey, I?m mostly vegetarian so there must be enough good karma in that to balance out.?

Regardless of where the naming convention comes from, dogs need more descriptive names. With these names, anyone who meets them will instantly receive insight into their personalities.

Chicken Dog: Sam earned this name when he began refusing to go outside after dark without a chaperone. This behavior actually began when we were still in the Seattle area. When he first did it, I was worried that there might be coyotes behind the house somewhere (I had seen one once). When it began to happen night after night, I realized that we had something else going on. Keep in mind that this dog, who refuses to go out before bed, gets us up at 7am by pacing and wining because he needs to go out.

Money Pit: Modi has been earning this one for quite some time, but it stuck with his second trip to the vet this month. It seems that we had a small thorn bush/branch on the fence line where Modi likes to run up and down barking at the dogs next door. It would slow him down to run around it, so he came in with a reasonably torn up nose yesterday. Add to this his ACL surgery and his eating the carpet, the moulding, the kitchen cabinets, and thus my damage deposit in my Bay Area apartment and he is by far the most expensive dog of the three.

When I feel like it: There were lots of nominations for TY. He used to be ?Mr. Fat Pad? due his being a bit overweight, but all of our dogs have slimmed way down with the big yard. We?ve actually had to substantially increase rations. Another possibility was ?He who barks at the neighbors in their house hoping that they will come out and throw the ball.? Can you spell bark collar? There was a stint in Seattle when ?Mr. Poopy Paws? was appropriate, but I won?t go into that one. In the end, ?When I feel like it? has always fit TY reasonably well. Currently, the main manifestation is trying to get TY to come in from the yard. If you yell for him and you can see him, he does come in, but very slowly. It?s not like he doesn?t know how to run, you should see him dash for the house when he knows breakfast is waiting. You can?t even get a fast walk out of him if there isn?t food in the house.

And there you are. Much more descriptive. I bet you feel as if you know the dogs much better now. By they way, did you want one of them? I can make you a really good deal.

Monday, August 2, 2004

The Kitchen Wiring is Done So Let?s Make Marinara Sauce!

(Originally posted on Monday, August 2, 2004 by Tim)

We still have a bit of reconstruction to do, but we have finished all the wiring in the kitchen. The ceiling fan is now controlled by a switch rather than a pull cord. Huzzah! We were able to wire the ceiling fan without conduit by using the drop ceiling and the molding where the tile meets the wall. The molding is almost 2 inches wide so we pulled it down (slightly challenging) and punched a 1 inch hole in the ceiling and in the wall in the under the molding space.

It turns out that kitchens are circuit hogs. To meet code, you need to have two small appliance circuits in the kitchen that do not share with anything else. In addition, we have a floor outlet circuit, a light fixture circuit, a dishwasher circuit, and a stove circuit. The stove circuit eats two slots in the breaker box bringing us to a grand total of seven circuits for the kitchen.

We actually didn?t make marinara sauce tonight, but I?ve been meaning to post my recipe. I think it?s my own original recipe that I made up in graduate school. However, in graduate school, I compulsively followed recipes to the letter. I actually did very little, if any experimenting with cooking then and would refuse make a meal if I was missing an ingredient. Needless to say, it seems a bit out of character that I would have made up a marinara sauce recipe, but that is how I remember it. If I adapted it from someone else?s recipe, la la la la la la I can?t hear you.

Marinara Sauce
1 can diced tomatoes (28 oz)
1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
1 can tomato soup
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ tablespoon red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and stir frequently over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Cathy had commented that this sauce gets more flavorful with sitting in the refrigerator and I agree. It might be better to heat it over very low heat for a couple of hours. I seem to remember Mom and Grandma cooking marinara sauce for a very long time and that might be the trick. If so, this could be a great crock pot recipe. It could be set up in the morning and acquire flavor over the day?s work. I serve this with rotini because I find the twists in the pasta hold the sauce quite nicely. In addition, rotini are just the right size to eat with chopsticks.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Sam uses tools

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 by Cathy)

For anyone wondering about the screwdriver thing, that's a jab at my dad (who isn't actually elderly - that's another joke, Dad), who left it somewhere in the basement while he was up here helping with the house, and has been complaining that we haven't found it ever since. I'm working on teaching Sam to help with the house, and he's taken a real liking to this screwdriver, so I'm not sure if we'll be able to return it any time soon...

Slow day today

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 by Cathy)

Well, it's coming up on noon here, and so far all I've accomplished is getting the fluorescent lamps on the medicine cabinet to light again. I wanted to keep the old fixture, at least until we redo the whole bathroom, since it's really sort of cool (in a retro weird sort of way). Anyway, we pulled it out and disconnected it from the old knob and tube wiring, somehow neglecting to note which wire was connected to which. (Of course, since knob and tube used black for both the neutral and hot, my confusion is somewhat understandable.) So we found ourselves faced with a white wire, a black wire, and two yellow wires at the top of the medicine cabinet, with not much indication of where they went, except that everything but one yellow went to one side.

Tried connecting the two yellows together (since there was one from one side, why not?), tried connecting the yellows (one or both) to the hot, nada. (Well, I did trip the GFCI a couple times by shorting hot to ground while trying to measure voltage and connectivity, of course...) Finally, I thought that maybe (stupidly enough) the yellows were actually neutrals too. Bingo. It's lighting happily again. Slowly, but happily. :)

That pretty much does it for the bathroom (until we remodel/replumb). Tim did a third coat of paint on the patch on the ceiling, so we're about set there. Now we've just got to get up the energy to go finish the demolition in the kitchen. I'm eating the last of the dengaku as I type this, so we're gonna be pretty hungry tonight if we don't have at least one countertop that isn't covered with tools, sawdust, and plaster dust.

Oh, I forgot...

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 31, 2004 by Cathy)

Just to add to the list of things accomplished before noon... I did give Benny his first bath of the day, and talk to my folks.

For those of you don't know Benny, he's my sister's husband dog, he's a chihuahua mix, he's 15 years old, weighs less than his age, and has no use of any of his four legs. He can, however, wag, as we discovered last night. It's about his only redeeming feature, beyond having a sweet personality. He's staying with us this weekend while Jes and Larry are in D.C. Benny is mostly a happy camper as long as he's being held (which is not entirely compatible with kitchen demolition), but last night we had a point where we just couldn't seem to get him happy. Bark, whine, squirm (he can squirm). Food? no. Being held? no. Being held differently? no. Going out to pee (an adventure in itself)? no. Finally we put him on his other side, and he settled down. Go figure. It's sort of like dealing with a baby - you can tell something's wrong, but they won't tell you what.

Benny hates his crate. He's willing to lie on his bed on the floor for a few hours (depending on mood) without being held, but he wants nothing at all to do with his crate. It could be worse - it turns out that our dogs just ignore him, so at least he can lie on his bed in the middle of the room and we're not having to fend off dogs an order of magnitude larger. Last night, I figured we'd put him in his crate to sleep, since I hadn't seen enough of the interaction with the other dogs to completely trust them yet. Bark, yip, whine. Bark, yip, whine. We dragged his crate into a different room. Bark, yip, whine, but somewhat drowned out by the traffic noise. I woke up around 3 am to some more ambitious barking (not happy about sharing his crate with some poop) and took pity on him and let him sleep the rest of the night sprawled across my chest. Apparently this is much closer to the manner in which he is accustomed to being kept, since he didn't make a peep for the rest of the night. Guess we'll do that again tonight. Sam and TY don't seem to mind sharing the bed, although Modi was apparently traumatized to vomit nuclear yellow puke on the carpet. Hmm. Yet another thing to get done today.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Have you seen me?

screwdriver lost.jpg

Dengaku (gesundheit)

(Originally posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 by Tim)

Today we wired half the kitchen. Well, half the kitchen if you don?t count the overhead lighting. It?s hard to make estimates when it comes to 1st floor overhead lighting. Depending on what you find in the ceiling, it can take anywhere from half a day to a college semester to get the fixture installed and responding to a wall switch somewhere in the room. I?m waiting for someone to invent a device that talks to my lights by remote control and delivers 20 amp power to them without wire or singeing dog hair.

The biggest victory for today is the dishwasher. Huzzah! It is now hooked up and it appears to run as advertised. We have yet to test it with un-rinsed dishes. We will probably do that in a day or two after today?s dinner has crusted on harder than the plaster we just put up in the bathroom. Speaking of dinner, here?s one of the Japanese dishes I like to make. It?s officially street/snack food, but I make this as a meal. At it?s current size it?s good for two hungry people. Double it if you are cooking for more or just add another dish.

1 lb extra firm tofu
3 small to medium potatoes
1 Japanese eggplant cut into 1 inch rounds
toasted sesame seeds
6 tablespoons (3 oz) miso
3 tablespoons sake (or white wine)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
juice of ¼ lime

Press water out of the tofu. To do this, I first palce the tofu block in a large colander. I then find a bowl slightly smaller than the colander and place it on top of the tofu. Finally, I fill the bowl full of cans of beans to weigh it down so it will press the water out of the tofu. You can pretty much fill the bowl with whatever heavy objects are handy: Rocks, batteries, cans of Spam, or 12 gauge electrical wire will do nicely. Allow the tofu to press for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into 1 inch rounds and boil them for about 20 minutes or until they are just beginning to become slightly tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

This meal gets its name from the sauce that is made with the remaining ingredients. Place the miso, sake, and sugar in a small saucepan. Add the 3 tablespoons of water slowly while heating and stirring this mixture until bubbly. Once mixed and bubbly, add lime juice and immediately remove from heat. Let the sauce cool to room temperature (actually, it doesn?t really need to be room temperature. Just let it cool a bit.)

Cut the tofu into ¾ inch to 1 inch thick pieces. Spray two baking sheets with Pam and arrange the potatoes, tofu, and eggplant on the sheets. Set your oven to Speed Broil so that you can use both of your broilers to cook both baking sheets simultaneously one above the other. If you do not have a Speed Broil setting on your oven, I don?t know what to tell you?I guess you bought the wrong house. Broil and flip the tofu and veggies until golden brown on both sides. When done, remove veggies from oven and brush with a generous layer of the dengaku sauce. Sprinkle the brushed veggies with toasted sesame seeds and serve warm with plum wine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Wiring and Basements

(Originally posted on Sunday, June 27, 2004 by Tim)

Today I made my first foray into the attic. It's actually not too bad up there. The previous owners covered the center portion with floor boards. We currently only have a 6 foot ladder that we borrowed from Larry and Jessica. This results in a bit of gymnastics to get in and out of the attic so Cat hasn't been up there walking around as of yet. I was primarily up there looking for a way to run electrical wire (romex) from the basement up to the attic without punching through too many boards. The only really promising thing I saw was the hole for the vent stack (venting for the primary water line). Cat wasn't thrilled about running romex next to the vent stack so it looks as if we will need to find a different route.

In addition, I found a small rectangle cut out of the floor boards that had been nailed back down. Now I don't know about you, but whenever I see things like that I think "buried treasure" regardless of the most likely explanation. Needless to say I pulled the board up to see what was under it. Unfortunately, instead of gold doubloons or Hitler's brain, I found the more likely treasure which was the connection to the alarm system on the second floor.

We've also been doing a lot of work in the basement. While running romex down there I noticed that I've completely gotten over my childhood fear of basements. It has only taken me 30 years which surely qualifies me as a high achiever in irrational fear management. Maybe Mom and Dad could get a bumper sticker for their car.

I'm not sure why I feel different about the basement in this house. Maybe it's because I now know so much about what the basement is for and how we are going to use it for our projects around the house. Or it might be that I subconsciously realize that any basement monsters that could survive the radon and asbestos would surely have perished messing with the electrical system. I am now ready to conquer other not so irrational fears. I'm making a list to plan my activities for July.

Catdrillnophobia: The fear that Cathy will miss a wall space and drill a hole from the basement through the hardwood floor.

Samyaknaphobia: The fear that Sam will puke in the bedroom sometime in the wee hours of the morning.

Mowerblowupnophobia: The fear of spontaneous detonation of the riding lawnmower when one of the blades hits a rock, the sidewalk, or the buried oil tank in the back yard.

We Have Internet Access!

(Originally posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 by Tim)

Well sort of. We now have a land phone line at the house and we are using the modem to log on. We should have DSL at the beginning of next week.

The new phone number is 540-382-0008. Cathy thinks that it is a great number, but my first response was, "It doesn't spell anything." If you want a phone number that spells something, you need to not have any zeros or ones in it. Rarely have I gotten a phone number that fit that bill. Our Seattle number 425-355-2763 did spell things. It spelled easy to remember stuff like: gal-elk-a-pod and half-5-lbs-me. Our cell phone 425-238-8339 also contains no ones or zeros and spells: gal-be-tuff-9 and gal-bet-8-few. If only our Christiansburg phone number was 382-8888, then we could have "duct-tut". Or if we had 382-2228 it would spell "dub-a-bat". I'm pretty sure that "dub-a-bat" is our president's secret crime fighting alter ego. On second thought, it might just be better to have a number that is easy to remember directly.

It's cheap to have a vanity plate out here so I might have to make up for the lack of interesting number by getting a cool plate for our "hot rod".

Friday, July 16, 2004

Harry Potter

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 16, 2005 by Tim)

I?m once again enjoying the wonders of modern technology. I?m typing this up in the car on our way home from a friend?s wedding. Don?t worry, Cat is driving.

We?re currently stuck in a traffic jam caused by the thousands of families in line to buy the new Harry Potter book. I have to admit that I?m confused by current Harry Potter media frenzy. I read a front page story on the BBC web site last week titled, ?Boy buys Harry Potter Book.?

What?!?! This is BBC as in the official news organization of Great Britain and it was on the front page!

Apparently some book store in New York put the new Harry Potter book up for sale three days early. After bringing the book home, the parents of the boy realized that they had purchased the book earlier than the release date and returned it to the store. The father?s quote was something like, ?After reading a few pages we decided that we didn?t want to ruin the book for all the other families out there, so we brought the book back.?

I?m a little confused on the moral dilemma here. The plot of the book was going to be ruined by this family reading the book early? Now if he had said, ?After scanning and posting the book on the internet and getting 150,000 hits we decided that we didn?t want to ruin the book for all the families out there?? I might understand. What?s the real story here? I have two hypotheses.

The Harry Potter Mafia: My first hypothesis is that there is actually a secret Harry Potter enforcement agency out there. I?m not sure which branch of government it is associated with, but it has to fall under the umbrella of Homeland Security. It is a distinct possibility that this family got a call from the Potter Police threatening them with prison and loss of Potter movie privileges.

It is All A Clever Marketing Ploy: My second hypothesis is that the publisher actually manufactured this situation with a Potter loyal family. The conversation with this family probably went something like this.

Greedy Publishing Company: You like Harry Potter books don?t you?

Family: HECK YEAH!

Greedy Publishing Company: and you want there to be more books in the future, right?

Family: HECK YEAH!

Greedy Publishing Company: Do you want to help make the next Harry Potter book?

Family: HECK YEAH!

Greedy Publishing Company: Well for that to happen, Harry has to sell a lot of books this Saturday.

Family: So you want us to buy a lot of books?

Greedy Publishing Company: That too. What we really need from you is for you to pretend to buy a book early and then return it to support our media blitzkrieg.

Family: Isn?t that immoral?

Greedy Publishing Company: We?ll throw in a full set of Harry Potter action figures.

Family: Do you take Discover?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

To Bank or Not to Bank

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 10, 2004 by Tim)

Cat and did a little research on local banks today. The easiest thing for us to do would be to transfer our accounts to the Christiansburg branch of Bank of America since a Washington branch has our money and they've been a pretty good bank. Of course, the problem with this plan is that Bank of America has branches in Blacksburg and Radford, but not Christiansburg. The Blacksburg branch is on the way to Jessica and Larry's house, which makes it pretty convenient. However, Cathy needs to deposit checks on a regular basis and there will come a time when we are not visiting Jessica and Larry every other day. This will probably be when we get an internet connection or when they move, whichever comes first.

We have collected information from two local banks so far. One is in downtown Christiansburg (9 blocks from our house). They gave me a handout that described 5 or so accounts, each with slightly different features. I'm looking for an account with no fees to it. The closest they have is "Free Checking" in which you pay no fees, but do pay for your checks. Checks cost roughly $17 per 200. I'm not sure why that bothers me, but it generally does. 200 checks are likely to last us over a year. Our other option is to keep over $1500 in a combination of checking or savings. Then the checks are free. For reference, I think our account balance may have dropped below $1500 once in our marriage. That would have been right after paying taxes the year after we bought our house with my Incyte stock option windfall. I'm unlikely to manage my bank account at this level, but I always think "Hey! I could invest that money in the market at 10% a year and make $150. I should go with the free checking where I pay for my checks."

The second bank we looked at is in the local grocery store and offers a free vacation cruise with each new checking account (I'm not making this up). Their gimmick is that while they offer the cruise, they do not offer transportation to it's starting location. "Free 3 day, 2 night, all inclusive cruise starting from Florence, Italy. Airfare not included." While these guys seem a bit goofy, they are really convenient. We are likely to continue to buy food on a regular basis indefinitely. Cat picked up a couple of brochures from them, one for a personal account and one from a business account. Unfortunately, neither brochure contained any information that might be useful in making an intelligent decision (besides the cruise info). I actually had to check the backs of the brochures to make sure that they hadn't been printed by the Democratic or Republican Party. Cat went back to the counter and asked for some more specific information like fees and minimum balances and services provided. The girl behind the desk told her that usually they print that stuff out for someone after they sign up for an account. Ummmm, OK... Still they are really convenient and I haven't ever been on a cruise. They also use a border collie as their mascot. All important things in choosing a bank.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Continuing Outlet Saga

(Originally posted on Monday, June 28, 2004 by Tim)

You're probably going to get sick of hearing about outlets before I'm done, but this one was a major victory. Replacing an old outlet is the worst. On this one, the metal box was buried behind drywall and lathe and plaster. To get the thing out I had to cut way too large a hole in the wall. This resulted in a space showing from behind the plate when the finished outlet was assembled. This isn't the first time we've had an outlet with this pathology, but it's the first time with this wallpaper which I would like to keep. In addition to the sizable hole, the combination of drywall, lathe and plaster was too thick for the "ears" on the outlet box to get a grip on the other side. As you can see from the picture I managed to solve all these difficulties and get the outlet level. My new secret tool is a high tech device called a wood chisel. Martha Stewart recommends the wood chisel for making decorative license plates during recreation time in cell block D. I find that it is also handy for lowering the hole for the outlet (yes that does make it bigger) and making room for the box ears to swing out and grab behind the lathe in the wall. In the end, I had to use an oversize plate on the outlet to cover everything, but I think it turned out quite well.

To fully appreciate how important it is to me to have the outlets be level, flush with the wall, and have no holes showing, you had to take a close look at the outlets in our Mukilteo house. I am fully convinced that the outlets in that house were installed by drunken chimpanzees in a hurry to make happy hour at the local bar. My proof of this is that the closest bar to our house was aptly named "The Monkey Trap".* If that's not a smoking gun, I don't know what is. Besides, the quality of installation was reminiscent of blind folded hippos using lefthanded power tools which everyone knows is equivalent to chimpanzees who are just starting to sober up.

*The Monkey Trap was shut down about two years ago for featuring topless waitresses one day a week without a license, but that's another story.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Modi got a truck

(Originally posted on Thursday, June 17, 2004 by Tim)

Well, things are coming together. We sold the Toyota today and managed to rent 3 dozen furniture blankets. In addition, the truck was dropped off this morning (a day early). I tried to get our two big guys in early tomorrow instead of late, but fortunately I failed. I don't think we will be ready for them first thing in the morning. I'm not ready to push back our Saturday morning departure, but I'm not confident we are going to make it either. We will have to see how much energy we have tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Working hard or hardly working...

(Originally posted on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 by Cathy)

Yeah, we're working hard
Honest, really, we are! We've had hardly any time at all to dress dogs up in silly hats!

Strawberry-Pineapple Smoothies

(Originally posted on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 by Tim)

I've decided that I'm too obsessive to be a professional packer. It takes me far too long to pack a box. If professional packing was an art form, I might have a chance. When I am filling a box, the most important things to me are that all the space be used, and that everything in the box follow a theme. Some excellent box themes are as follows.

1. Rice bowls, cereal bowls and small plates (things from the kitchen).

2. Christmas ornaments, Jenga and juggling clubs (things from the games closet).

3. Telephones, headsets and digital alarm clocks (things that have speakers).

4. Beef jerky, vienna sausages and dog biscuits (things Cathy wont eat).

5. Concrete blocks, weight lifting equipment and a hydraulic jack (things dogs can't eat).

In addition to me working on making each box just so, we've also been trying to make meals that use up as much of the stuff in the fridge as possible. This has resulted in us making some meals, like snow pea risotto, that we haven't made in some time. We've also had as many smoothies this week as we have had in the previous 6 months combined. Here's my smoothie recipe.

Strawberry-Pineapple Smoothies
2 cups frozen strawberries
3/4 cup frozen pineapple
1 frozen banana (can be thawed)
3/4 cup orange juice
1 six ounce yogurt (any kind will work)

Place all ingredients in blender and puree on highest setting. Pour into glasses and enjoy. Feel free to add more orange juice if you want something that doesn't require a spoon.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Did we buy the right house?

(Originally posted on Saturday, June 12, 2004 by Cathy)

We got the title in the mail today, and according to the title, we now own 508 W Main Street. Unfortunately, we're under the impression (and so is the mortgage co, insurance agent, etc etc) that we bought 805 W Main. Spiffy. Time to call the lawyer on Monday. :P

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Someday, this will all be ours

(Originally posted on Wednesday, June 9, 2004 by Cathy)

We're officially the owners of a house again! Go us! Now if we could just get the grading done, the packing done, and the moving done, we could actually go LIVE in it. :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

What I want in my kitchen...

(Originally posted on Tuesday, June 8, 2004 by Cathy)

Wish I could figure out what's behind that built in fridge in the corner of the room by the windows. Looks perfect...

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Chocolate Birthday Ice Cream

(Originally posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2004 by Cathy)

Here's the ice cream we had for my birthday:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
6 oz unsweetened chocolate
4 cups whipping cream (Tim says "not the double super heavy stuff")
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp instant coffee (yes, really)
1 cup of chopped walnuts

Beat the sugar into the eggs.
Put the chocolate into a sauce pan with 1/2 c of the cream, the vanilla extract, and the instant coffee. Melt over low heat, mixing chocolate into cream. (If the chocolate clumps, then add more cream.)
Add more cream and stir until mixed. Keep adding cream, up to 3 cups.
Increase the heat to medium high, stirring continuously until the chocolate mixture starts to steam.
Stir the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs.
Stir in the remaining 1c cream.
Freeze in the ice cream maker. Stir in walnuts when the ice cream is nearly done. If you want more solid ice cream, put it in the freezer a few hours before eating.

Makes 1 quart of ice cream, which for the record, is enough to keep two people (one of them a chocoholic) in ice cream for at least a week - possibly longer. :)

Monday, May 31, 2004

Boxes and leaks

(Originally posted on Monday, May 31, 2004 by Cathy)

Well, we filled a ton of boxes this weekend. All of the books, most of the games, and too many knick-knacks. I didn't realize we had so much kitsch!

Meanwhile, we've been living without water again today, trying to plug the leak behind the water heater. We'd tried plumber's goop and reduced it to a very slow trickle, but never got it stopped, a few weeks ago.

So today we turned the water off, got the pipe as dry as we could, and tried a solid epoxy that's supposed to glom onto copper. Well, it was hard to work with, and had no affinity whatsoever for copper. First application leaked. Next two patches - still leaked. Yuck. The problem is that the pipe is low to the concrete in the garage, so it's still got a bit of residual water pushing out. That's why the goop failed, and the epoxy stuff didn't care to stick enough to have a chance anyway. Oh, and we don't want to solder (the obvious first choice) because it's BEHIND the water heater, inches from the gas supply line (which has of course no shut-off between it and the gas meter). Even without that gas pipe, I don't think there's enough room to solder without possibly setting my hair on fire, thanks to the utility sink. There're two ways to access the pipe. For semi-two handed access to one side, laying sideways with most of one's body under the utility sink, reaching around the back leg of the utility sink, resting one's head on the gas line. From the other side, wedging one's upper torso between the wall, the water heater, and the grounding wire from the furnace to the water line gives one-handed access, more or less.

Ugh. We're going to call a plumber, who will likely want to MOVE the water tank, which is on two concrete blocks and weighs enough even EMPTY to make it difficult for two people to lift it. Gonna be a fun week. :P

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Why moving to our new house will be sort of like Christmas

(Originally posted on Sunday, May 30, 2004 by Cathy)

  1. At Christmas, there is wrapping paper and boxes everywhere. When we move in, there will be packing paper and boxes everywhere. Probably for longer than for Christmas.

  2. We're going to open up the walls and see what we find. Sort of like opening packages to see what's inside, only different somehow.

  3. There will be blinking and flickering lights, and possibly some overloaded circuits. Unlike Christmas, the lights will likely not be pretty colors.

  4. We'll look at our credit card statements for several months afterwords and wonder what we were thinking.

  5. There will not be prancing, but there will most certainly be pawing. And there will definitely be clatter out on the lawn.

  6. Not so sure about ashes and soot, but high probability of dust.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Tandoori Tofu and Vegetables

(Originally posted on Saturday, May 29, 2004 by Tim)

As Cathy already posted, we are making tandoori tofu tonight. It smells wonderful, but feels like a cheating. The tandoori marinade is yogurt and "commercial tandoori marinade". It's the sort of recipe that has me trapped in the ethnic foods aisle of the grocery store for about a half an hour. The first 15 minutes is spent trying to find the tandoori related liquids and pastes. After that there is the required agonizing over what is closest to "commercial tandoori marinade". Is it "Paul Newman's Tandoori Ranch Salad Dressing" or "Texas Bob's Fire Hot Barby-Q Tandoori Sauce". In the end I settled on "Neera's Spicy Tandoori Indian Grilling Paste" because it had "spicy" in the name, and because it was manufactured in the Indian culinary center of the universe, Prescott Arizona.

Tandoori Tofu and Vegetables
2/3 cup "Commercial Tandoori Marinade"
1 cup plain yogurt
12-16 oz. firm or firmer tofu cut into 1/2 inch squares
1 medium eggplant sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 green pepper cut into 2 inch squares
1 red pepper cut into 2 inch squares
1 medium red onion cut into 8 wedges
1/4 lb button mushrooms
1 pint cherry tomatoes

Mix the "Commercial Tandoori Marinade" and the plain yogurt. Add the tofu to this mixture and marinade overnight in the refrigerator or for several hours at room temperature.

Remove the tofu from the marinade and set aside. Toss the eggplant rounds in the marinade and allow them to sit for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450oF

Remove the eggplant from the marinade and set aside. Coat peppers, onion wedges, button mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in remaining marinade (there will not be too much marinade left for this).

Place the tofu and vegetables on baking sheets that have been sprayed with PAM. Arrange all pieces so that they are not touching each other (this took me three baking sheets). Put loaded sheets in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Flip tofu and vegetables and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot with brown rice.

This meal was tasty, but the flavor was very similar to a tofu satay recipe that I have yet to post. I'll probably make the tofu satay in the future because that recipe is slightly better and doesn't require "commercial tandoori marinade". The official recipe for this meal has you grilling the tofu and vegetables on skewers. If you're a fan of grilling on skewers, it works great on them as well. I just don't feel I get enough of a difference in taste with the grill attachment on our oven to make it worth the additional cleaning time.

OMG, a recipe! (Potato and Kale Stew with Corn Dumplings)

(Originally posted on Saturday, May 29, 2004 by Cathy)

No photo of this one, since it's somewhat of an ugly duckling. (We're not actually making this tonight, we're making experimental tandoori tofu, more on that later)

1 c cornmeal
1/2 c white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp cold butter (substitution probably unwise)
1/3 cup skim milk
1 egg, beaten

Mix the solid ingredients in a food processor, then cut in the butter. Add milk and egg and run the food processor until the dough just sticks together. Chill. Form into 1 inch balls.

8 cups veggie stock
12 large garlic cloves (or more!)
1/2 c sherry or cheap-o white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, with or without seeds, chopped into rings
2 large potatoes, in 1/2 inch cubes
3 large carrots in 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups kale - stemmed and chopped into edible chunks
3 tbsp cornmeal
1/4 c cream
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1/2 t salt (more or less depending on saltiness of stock)
lots of black pepper
1 tbsp sacred substance

Bring stock, garlic, cheap wine, bay leaves, coriander, and jalapeno to a simmer for 10 minutes. Drop in dumplings and simmer until they rise (5 mins?) and a minute or two longer. Scoop out the dumplings, put escaped garlic cloves back into the pot. Eat any broken/smooshed/asymetric dumplings, remembering that most of them are needed for the recipe later on.

Put the potatoes, carrots, and kale into the pot, simmer partly-covered until the potatoes are almost tender.

Sprinkle the cornmeal over the mixture, and add the cream. Cook another minute.

Stir in the tomato and carefully add the dumplings, again eating any defective dumplings. Simmer for a few minutes to allow any remaining dumplings to warm up, then add the cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice.

Tick... tick.... tick...

(Originally posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2004 by Tim)

Things are going better today - I have a quote for insurance that's very reasonable, only stipulation is that we have to finish the electrical within 30-60 days. 60 is doable, particularly if we book right out of here when classes end.

The seller got a lower quote for radon mitigation, and we agreed to a credit for that amount. So it looks like (barring mortgage issues - knock on wood) we're set here.

The lender and our real estate agent both asked today if we'd chosen a lawyer. Lawyer? Urp. A detail I'd missed. Anyway, looks like we're set up with the lawyer Jessica used, so that should be covered. I think...

Trying to close on a house without being there is certainly interesting. Last time, Tim at least was in the area, and some of the issues were easier since that house was a quarter the age of this one. Plus doing this with a 3 hour time zone offset is a big difference. I'm usually swamped with classes and students in the morning, but then by the time I get a breather in the afternoon, everyone back on the East coast is leaving for the day. This morning, the phone rang at 5:15am - the agent who'd said he'd call us back "first thing in the morning" apparently meant HIS morning, not ours! *Sigh*

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Survey - it's ok :)

(Originally posted on Thursday, May 27, 2004 by Cathy)

Turns out that the survey we have from '87 is fine, as the road was widened before that. The '87 survey just hadn't been filed with the town, so the attorney was looking at a much older document.

There is some risk that the city could decide to widen the road again in the future, munching more of our (already small) front yard, but apparently that's unlikely with the new bypass.

Still all systems go go go...

Stove pondering

(Originally posted on Thursday, May 27, 2004 by Cathy)

Not like we don't have a million other things to think about, but I'm having fun thinking about what to do with the kitchen. Some of the 1920's and 30's vintage stoves are REALLY cute. The question is, what do we do for a fridge? There are companies that make pseudo-50's fridges, but that's a few decades off, and they're pricy! I haven't found anyone making monitor-top fridges, although there is a company or two that restores old ones. Other options: built in fridge hiding behind a cabinet panel, white fridge and just ignore it, or...?

More stove pictures: 1, 2, 3