Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oodles of noodles... or seedlings

I planted 60 tomato seedlings today. Also 40 pepper plants in six varieties , 3 hills each of cucumbers, crenshaw melon, and turban squash. All while listening to Jane Eyre on my mp3 player. Talk about culture!

If I wasn't so tired I'd take a picture of them, all planted nicely in their rows. You've got an imagination, don't you?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Darn! The computer isn't ruined!

We had power outages on Sunday afternoon and evening. Several times, the power flicked out, only to come on briefly again later. The first time it happened, the kitchen computer was on. So was the office computer, but it is protected by an UPS (uninterruptible power supply), so it didn't flick off when the power did.

Later, after the power came back on, we tried turning on the kitchen computer. Nothing. No whirring fan, no normal boot up sounds. Nada. Uh. Oh.

So since then Tom and I have taken turns diagnosing the problem. It may just have been the power supply. Or the whole motherboard could be fried. Secretly I hope the latter was true. Early Monday morning I woke up coughing and finally just got up. To pass the hours before dawn, I got online and researched what it would cost to upgrade the dead computer. I found that if I was willing to go with last year's technology, I could get a new motherboard and CPU, with plenty of RAM for $200. And it would be a serious upgrade in speed from what we had. I began to get excited.

Alas, today I put another power supply in the computer and it booted up perfectly. In fact, I am writing this entry on it. So, I guess no upgrades for now. Tom wisely reminded me that he hasn't in fact begun working yet, and the first paycheck from said future job won't come for two weeks after he starts. Kill Joy. Isn't he lucky that I am a woman of much self restraint, because Woot had a killer deal on Roomba too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Quiet Moments

Today the family played Settlers of Catan. It's a fun game, but for some strange reason, we have a hard time playing it and staying friends. Nathan was most frustrated with the outcome, and expressed his desire to throw the game away, "because it always makes people mad." Almost I started into a lecture about how the game cannot "make" you angry, but you choose to be angry. And yet, I knew that Nathan didn't need a lecture. He's heard that particular one many times.

I sat down on the sofa, and patted the seat next to me. My tall, gangly boy came and snuggled up next to me, and we just sat there together for awhile; my arm around his bony little body and his head nestled under my chin. I closed my eyes, and then it hit me - this boy is ten years old. In a year or maybe less, he may decide he is too old to be comforted by a hug from his mother. I held him closer, told him I loved him, and we talked of little silly things and laughed a little. And then fell quiet. It was so comfortable that I drifted off to sleep, and when I woke up, instead of a boy under my arm, there was a cat. I smiled.

Sometimes lectures just won't do. Sometimes all we need is a little love.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Welcome to the 21st Century

Tom bought a new car today. Actually that's not true. He bought it two weeks ago, but I'm blogging about it today and it seems lame to start off a blog with "Tom bought a new car two weeks ago".... anyway, here it is:

Tom's new baby, the Metallic Gray Toyota Prius, with Smart Key system, MP3 capable stereo system, and Backup Camera. Yikes! Don't even ask how much this cost. I try not to think about it, especially considering that the new job it was purchased for hasn't even started yet. Okay, it didn't cost as much as many cars. It cost less than a Camry, for example, but more than a cherry red Volkswagen Bug, which was Karianne's vote. Sorry babe. Maybe next time.

Riding in this thing is like driving a rocket ship. Not because it pulls G's, but because the interface is so futuristic. When you get in, there are none of the usual instruments on the dashboard in front of the driver. No speedometer, odometer, gas gauge, or oil or temperature display. Nada.

There is, however, a Power button. Yeah, a power button. Like the one on your computer monitor, only bigger.

If you have the smart key (which looks like your typical black keyless entry key fob) in your pocket, the car knows you are authorized to drive the car, and all you have to do is push the "on" button. It's very weird. So, once the power is on, way up in front of you is the LED console that indicates what gear you're in and your speed, which is zero while sitting in the driveway.

The shift lever is like nothing you've seen before. It reminds me of a nintendo joystick doohicky. I can't describe it, so here's a picture.

You push the shifter to the gear you want, Reverse, Drive, Neutral, or B. B? Maybe B is for blasters. One can only hope. Once the chosen gear is registered with the computer, you let go of the shift lever, and it pops back to its default position. Again, very weird. When you want to park, you push the "Park" button above the shifter.

This car is somewhat of a seat-belt Nazi. That's a euphemism. The dang thing is downright neurotic about wanting people to wear seat belts. Most cars just have a red light on the dash reminding the driver to put on their belt. This car does too, but it also has an acompanying beep, which speeds up after five seconds. The first time I drove it, I thought maybe it would blow up or something if I didn't get that belt on and I mean fast! It also nags the front seat passenger the same way.

One really coolio feature is that the passenger airbag is activated or not depending on the weight of the person sitting in the seat. This means that the "you must be 12 or older to sit in the front seat" rule does not apply to the Prius, much to Nathan and Megan's delight.

Above the radio is the touchscreen, which displays everything you normally see on a dashboard, and more. When you turn on the radio, the station and volume settings are displayed here. Same for climate control, and when you shift into reverse, it displays the view from the backup camera on the rear of the car so you don't run over any toddlers. Very handy.

In the picture above, the display is showing the Energy Monitor, which you already knew if you looked at the picture. When driving, this engaging little distraction uses colored arrows in the black lines to show whether the car is being powered by the electric motor via the battery, or the gasoline engine, or both. When braking or slowing down, momentum is converted into electricity and sent back to the battery. It's pretty nifty. I am constantly worried that I'm going to wreck the car because I'm watching this screen out of the corner of my eye, trying to get the best possible mileage.

On the current tank of gas, Tom has averaged 52 mpg over 160 miles. A fair sight better than the Ranger, which gets 20 mpg if he's lucky. That cut the cost of driving to his job near the SLC airport -- a 100 mile round trip daily. Tom is pretty excited about that, as well as the fact that this is his first vehicle that has air conditioning. I'm excited for that too, 'cause he'll smell better when he gets home at night. :D

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monday Monday....

Remember that great 1966 song by The Mamas and The Papas? I have always loved that song, but yesterday I embraced it, with my own minor lyric changes, below.

Monday Monday, so good to me
Monday mornin', it was all I hoped it would be
Oh Monday mornin', Monday mornin' couldn't guarantee
That Monday evenin' my poor house would still dry be

Monday Monday, can't trust that day
Monday Monday, sometime it just turns out that way
Oh Monday mornin' you gave me no warnin' of what was to be
Oh Monday Monday, my house did flood, unknown to me.

Every other day, (every other day)
Every other day of the week is fine, yeah
But when this Monday came, early in the afternoon
A-you can find me moppin' all of the time

Monday Monday, not good to me
Monday mornin', it was all I hoped it would be
But Monday mornin', Monday mornin' was the last I'd see
My carpets dry, my ceiling firm, and woe is me

Every other day, (every other day)
Every other day of the week is fine, yeah
But when this Monday comes, this sad Monday comes
A-you can find me cryin' all of the time

Monday Monday, can't trust that day
Monday Monday, it just turns out that way
Oh Monday Monday, water won't go away
Monday Monday, it's here to stay
Oh Monday, Monday
Oh Monday, Monday

Yes, we had a flood. I walked into the kitchen after a couple hours of gardening and saw --

Water! Spraying! From that little aluminum box on the back of the fridge! That is where the water line for the ice maker connects. There was an inch of water all over the kitchen floor, and see where the copper tubing goes down through the baseboard? Yep, the water was running down that hole, and through the wall below into the basement living room (but I didn't know that until a few minutes later, when I slipped at the base of the stairs and splashed down in my brand new indoor pool).

I always experience a moment of paralysis when something shocking like this happens. The steps are obvious -- shut off the water, stop it from pouring down the hole, place buckets under the dripping light fixtures in the basement, and vacuum it up. Why then, did I pace back and forth across the kitchen three times while wringing my hands?!

I managed to call my home teacher who miraculously was home, and he brought over a wet vac. I had two, so I put Nathan to work with one, and I took the other downstairs. We had the water up off the floor in a couple of hours. But then the real fun began, for the water damage went farther than I originally thought. The insurance company referred us to a restoration company, Service Masters, who came Monday evening and began to measure moisture levels in walls and set up fans. They arrived at 7pm and left at 10:30. Really nice guys and seemed very competent and thorough.

Here are some pictures of what my house looked like after they left for the night.

The carpet in the hallway was soaked and the pad had to be removed. The big blue machine is a dehumidifier and the greenish-blue round one is a high powered fan--I have a dozen of these monstrous noisy things in my house.

The view from the top of the stairs. The blue tape arrows point to the part of the wall that is wet. On the left they have removed the tape from the drywall to permit air to circulate inside the wall.

From the bottom of the stairs.

View of the door leading to the stairs from the basement family room. The laminate flooring had to be ripped out.

Family room. Note the beautiful circa 1975 upholstery on that sofa. We have decided it is time to say goodbye to this gift from my parents. When it is time to reinstall the flooring, it will only be in the way, and we are planning to replace it later this summer, so now seems like a good time to send it to that big family room in the sky. If anyone wants a third hand, ugly, uncomfortable sofa with a king size hide-a-bed (aka The Rack), speak up now or forever count your blessings.

Basement hallway viewed from master bedroom door. Yep, all that flooring has to go too.

Basement office ceiling. Water was dripping from this light, thusly ruining both the flooring and the ceiling at the same time. The jury is still out on whether the ceiling can be saved.

Boy, am I grateful for small blessings like Homeowner's insurance.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Feeding time at the zoo

So. We got the snake (see Flying Fiery Serpents below). And once every few days, snakes eat.

This event was so sublime, I didn't want you to miss it. So I documented it for you.

Cool eh? I took a video too. I'll put it up as soon as I figure out how to do it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spring in the Garden

So, the garden is underway. Here's the progress as of May 15:

Not-so-early peas (planted March 15). It seems like they take forever to get started, but once they take off, things go quickly. These are blossoming now, so we should be eating peas in two weeks, unless the weather gets hot, in which case they'll be tough and bland. Cross your fingers.

Red Potatoes just broke ground last weekend, and are already 4 inches tall. It will be time for the first hilling Saturday.

Broccoli (left), which was started from seed under lights, and transplanted in early March, is looking great and just starting to form heads. We'll be harvesting by next week. Romaine lettuce, front right is ready to eat, and just like every other year, I need to recruit more salad lovers to get through it before it bolts in the coming heat. Radishes (back right) are sizing up nicely, and arugula (middle right) is too tangy for the kids, but I like the bite it adds to my salad.

Garlic (back) and spinach (front) planted in November under the cold frame are doing well. This is the last week for this crop of spinach, and there is no way I am going to get through it by myself. I need rabbits or something.

Ultimate Opener Tomato, planted in March under the cold frame, with blossoms. It doesn't look like I'll be eating tomatoes in May like I'd hoped, but early June looks pretty hopeful.

Here is Megan, demonstrating my newest toy, the Earthway Precision Garden Seeder. This little baby opens the furrow, drops the seed in at predetermined spacing, pulls the soil over the seed, and firms the soil. Here, she's planting sweet corn. I hope someday to get a turn to use it. Luckily she goes to school in the afternoons, so that's my chance.

Now to brag about the fruit.

This is the himrod grapevine, which gave us 25 pounds of green table grapes last summer, it's first fruiting year. I'm excited to see how much we get this year.

The peach blossoms survived the frost, and have little fuzzy green footballs all over the branches.

This is the MacIntosh apple. I am so excited, because this is the first year it has bloomed since being planted in spring 2003.

And here are the first sweet cherries! Granted, there are only about a dozen fruits on the entire tree, and the birds are likely to get to them before we do, but aren't they just the cutest things you've ever seen?!

Okay, I'm done boring you for now. But I'll be posting more pictures when the corn comes up!

Flying fiery serpents

Somehow, somewhere, Susan got the idea that owning a pet snake would be cool.

"But snakes are creepy," I said.

"They don't make noise, they don't shed, and they don't eat much" Susan countered.

"But the cost!" I said.

"I'll pay for everything," Susan promised.

"I am so not cleaning up after a snake." I stated.

"Don't worry, I'll do everything!" Susan caressed.

What could I say to that? "Go ask your dad what he thinks," I said.

I thought I had her with that one.

He said yes.

I told him later, "You know that voice you heard in the back of your head, screaming 'NO! Don't do it! Noooooooo!'? That was me."

"I didn't hear anything," said he, with an almost too innocent look on his face.

Obviously I need to work on my telepathy skills.

What happened to the united parenting front we agreed on? What happened to the "I'll talk it over with mom" stalling tactic?

He said yes.

Susan began researching online, deciding what kind of snake she wanted, learning about habitat and food requirements, costs etc.

Saturday, I took Susan out yard sale-ing, looking for a cheap terrarium. I didn't expect to find anything the first time out. This was just an exploratory trip to gauge costs. I was half hoping that Susan would see how much equipment costs would be compared to her meager cash stash, decide she couldn't afford it, and treat her mother to ice cream instead.

I had forgotten that I was with the luckiest child in the world, the psychic who not only reads minds, but also has a knack for being in just the right place at the right time. Thus it happened that at the second, yes SECOND, stop on our list, we found a nice big glass and steel terrarium, with heat lamp, heat rock, thermometer, and knarly driftwood included, for a measly TEN DOLLARS. It was simply too good to pass up. Susan handed over Mr. Hamilton, and the 4 foot long glass box was loaded into the car.

Happily, we went home (one of us was happier than the other) to set up and prepare the enclosure for habitation. I envisioned Susan saving up her shekels for a few weeks, meanwhile learning how to regulate the temperature to the desired levels, and then buying the snake sometime in June. But no, Dad came through with a paternal loan, and by Saturday night the terrarium was complete with wood chips, water dish, more rocks and branches, and ready for the reptile.

Monday evening, Tom and Susan brought home Reggie, a new baby corn snake.

Awwwwwwww, isn't she cuuuuuuute?

Maybe this snake thing will be ok. Susan is in hock for about 70 bucks worth of equipment, food, and of course, the snake. I've got my own personal slave until the debt is paid. Permit me a cruel chuckle. Mwhahahahaha!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Degrees of B.S.

I earned my B.S. degree in fertilizer in the mid 90's, when I had my first "real" garden. I went to the home improvement center and bought composted steer manure in 1 cu.ft. bags for 69 cents each.

Then in the late nineties, I discovered that compost could be purchased by the yard, if one had a pickup truck to haul it in. I begged my home teacher for the use of his rusty old Chevy, and began work on my M.S. (More of Same) in Manure Management. Soon thereafter we acquired a trusty little Ford Ranger pickup truck, and I was happily hauling my own manure -- from local farmers and the county composting facility.

This year, I needed more than a couple of yards of compost. It was time to get serious. Monday afternoon I achieved my PhD (piled higher and deeper) in bovine excrement. I bought some compost--fifteen beautiful black yards of composted dairy manure. It was delivered in a big dump truck, and made a mountainous pile on the sidewalk.

For FHE, Tom was on lesson and I was on activity. Our lesson was about the value of family work, and the activity was shoveling manure. We had some wonderful family togetherness while we shoveled, wheelbarrowed, and generally spread crap all over the place. It was so sublime, at one point I got a tear in my eye. It's possible it could have been caused by my son's "accidentally" pitching a shovelful of manure at my head. I can't really be sure.

As the sun set and my happy worker dwarves (sarcasm here) skipped off to their reward of ice cream with 'chocolate' dust (I told you you should have washed your hands first!), I stood gazing at the still rather substantial pile -- we'd barely made a dent -- and worried aloud that someone might come by in the night and steal from my beloved manure mountain. I was actually considering setting up a tent to guard my black gold from marauding neighbors when my husband lovingly reminded me that few people place as much value in a pile of dung as I do.

And sure enough, this morning, it was all still there.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Nothing says "I Love You" like flowers

I had taken a bunch of pictures of the blossoms on the peach and apple trees and the daffodils and early tulips in bloom, but lost those particular photos in the process of recovering Panic from its March crash (see Computer Conundrum). So all I have are a couple of pictures of the late tulips.

Bob the Cat (yes that's really his name) wouldn't move so I snapped his photo too. Silly cat.

I particularly loved these purple and white tulips. Every time I looked out my kitchen window they were there, waving as if to say, "Hey isn't this a beautiful world God has given us?" They never failed to bring a smile to my face, and reminded me that Heavenly Father loves us. Why else would He have filled this world with the amazing variety of forms and colors which we call flowers?

Now they are gone, their petals dried and scattered in the wind. But I have my pictures, and, even better... Summer flowers are on the way!

The Last Pinewood Derby

Nathan is my only son, and what a fantastic boy he is. Nathan had his 10th birthday at the end of March, at which time he became a Webelos Scout. He was quite excited to move up another notch on the ladder of life. In Cub Scouting, Spring always means Pinewood Derby. With Google on his side, Tom armed himself with ideas for making the cars fast, and helped with cutting, wheel assembly, and weighting. Nathan decided on the design, and did all sanding and painting. Nathan's cars are perhaps not as fancy as some, but what they lack in aesthetics, they more than made up for in speed.

Before our foray into the world of Pinewood Derby Engineering, I hadn't given any thought to what made a car fast. Obviously, friction is bad. Anything that reduces friction makes the car go faster. What surprised me were the number of speed-em-up strategies that could be applied to a simple creation made from a block of pine, four wire nails, and plastic wheels. Here are a few:
  • Sanding the wheel axles (wire brads) to remove tiny burrs that catch on the tires and increase friction.
  • Applying powdered graphite to the space between axle and tire.
  • Inserting axles at 90 degree angle to car body, to ensure straight tracking. Tracking must be tested to make sure that it followed a straight line, to prevent rubbing against the side of the track, which produces friction, which slows down the car. Adjust axles as needed.
  • Angling one front wheel slightly upward so that it doesn't touch the track. Three wheels in contact with the track produce less friction than four wheels. (I personally am not convinced of this, since the same amount of weight will be distributed among three wheels, thus increasing friction on each wheel, thus net friction will be unchanged. However, since I was not consulted for my expert opinion, I kept my mouth shut).
  • Weight distribution is also important. The farther back on the car the weight is placed, the faster it will go. I could explain why this is so, but it would require diagrams and several paragraphs, and since it is too early in the morning for that much effort, you'll just have to take my word for it. If you desire more details, please email my Pinewood Derby Engineer husband at

Nathan's first derby car (left), painted black with flames on the hood, sported vaulted nuts to provide the needed weight. It took second place in the pack -- not bad for the youngest Cub Scout in the pack! Nathan was proud, dad was pleased, and the car and trophy were displayed proudly on his dresser for many months.

2006 produced a red car of similar shape, with coiled lead fishing weights attached in front of a flared spoiler. This car also took second place overall in the pack, and fastest car in the Bear Den.

For 2007, Tom and Nathan decided to go a new direction with the car design in one last effort to produce a champion car. As mentioned above, weight distribution is very important. In order to put maximum weight at the back of the car, the pine block was cut very thin. A drill press was used to create 90 degree holes for the axles. The flat shape inspired the skateboard motif, and yes, that is C3PO hanging ten with the help of a little hot glue. A stack of weights was added to bring the creation up to the allotted 5 ounces, and wallah! -- a champion was born.

Kinda gnarly looking, isn't it? This car finally earned Nathan the title Pinewood Derby Champion... at least is would have, except that for some reason, this year, the Cubmaster decided to award prizes within dens only, rather than an overall champion. So while Nathan was officially only the Webelos champion, his car beat the Wolf and Bear champions, so I'm claiming Pack Champion as well. And nobody can stop me. So there.

Here is the proud boy holding his winning droid skateboard.

Could he get any cuter? I sure love this kid.