Monthly Archives: February 2017

February highlights

February 1: I wrote an obituary for someone I didn’t know well. My previous obit-writing experience was limited to my father, but I felt I did a decent job.

February 3: We were having some carpentry done in the house, so I elected to shower at the gym after I worked out. While enjoying the unlimited hot water, I realized that if I consistently showered at the gym, I would save money on utilities and my shower would stay cleaner, longer. On the downside, people might see me naked – but when one has four children running around, the likelihood of that is never less than 15%.

February 4ish: We painted the upstairs hall, using the last of the five-gallon bucket of Sherwin Williams’ Steamed Milk (left over from the foyer). Conquering drywall patches, one room at a time!

February 18: I have used the Walmart grocery app three times. The first time was an exceedingly pleasant and convenient experience. The second time, one if my items was missing. The store was very nice about the omission and gave me the item with no hassle (except that I had to go back for it). The third time was a total bust. Fifteen minutes after my scheduled pickup time, the order was still “processing.” I continued to check over the next few hours, and then I received an e-mail that my order had been canceled without further explanation. I’ll give them one more chance before breaking up with them for good, but they’re on thin ice.

February 25: We completed a project! We were not fans of the fans on the front porch – they were remote-controlled, so naturally they didn’t work. The light kits were non-responsive, and the fans themselves would only operate on TORNADO. So we replaced all three with very simple fans that better fit the style of the house.

Before:

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After:

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Reading Materials: February 2017

8. My Story: 50 Years in the Shadow of the Near Great, R. A. Gray (Library)

R.A. Gray was Florida’s Secretary of State for over 30 years, from 1930 to 1961. In 1928, he and his wife, Grace, built the house in which we now live. He wrote at least three books, and I’ve decided to read them all this year (and obtain my own copies if I can find them!). My Story is a fairly straightforward account of Mr. Gray’s life from his birth in 1882 until 1958, when this book was published. His father was a poor Methodist minister, and Gray’s descriptions of his early life in rural north Florida remind me how very wild-wild-west this area was until well into the 20th century. There’s not much in the book about the house itself, but Gray’s life was very interesting, and his prose was highly readable. I did find a few photographs, interior and exterior, of our house in its original location:

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I tried to re-create this picture, but was somewhat thwarted by the proximity of the house to our neighbor’s fence, and the large number of trees and bushes in the way:

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You get the idea.

9. Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1), Gail Carringer. (Library loan) I picked this book up at the library because it looked intriguing – Plucky British aristocrats! Dirigibles! Tea! India! – but alas. As I read it, I felt I was missing some crucial background information on the characters, and a bit of research suggests I was. The author previously penned a five-book series called The Parasol Protectorate, and the main character of that series is the mother of the main character in this one. I found the writing to be decently good, but overly cute in places. For example, I did not need a description of every outfit worn by the characters, or constant reminders that such-and-such behavior is scandalous. We get it. It’s Victorian England. I think I would probably give the other series a try before reading further in this one.

10. The False Prince, Jennifer Nielsen. (Middle School book club) This book was outstanding. Not “outstanding for a middle school book” but a genuinely good read. Highly recommended.

11. An Abundance of Katherines, John Green. (borrowed) Another solidly good book from John Green, although the sheer number of footnotes was giving me David Foster Wallace tingles. No surprises here, just a thoughtful and well-told story.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 8
Non-Fiction: 3

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A Tale of Two Closets

For an old house, our second floor bedrooms have enormous closets. Two of the bedrooms have two closets apiece – but alas, neither of these is the master bedroom. Tyler, a 13-year-old boy who has decided that “closet” is code for “floor,” obviously does not need two closets, and it just so happened that one of his closets backed up on the master bedroom.

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The plan was simple: hire a carpenter to remove the entire door assembly from Tyler’s side of the closet, and move it around to the master bedroom side, giving Jason and me separate closets (which would lead to increased marital bliss, and eventually our own space program).

Step 1: Cut a hole in the box

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At this point, we told Tyler we’d changed our minds and were going to leave this as a pass-through into his room. Much horrified gibbering commenced.

Please note the boxes on Tyler’s desk. Despite living in the house for six months, he has not fully unpacked. This drives me insane. To be fair, we have a couple of boxes of “things we will get around to sorting out eventually,” but we had to unpack 90% of the house, and he was only responsible for his own stuff.

Anyway.

Step 2: Move your junk from one side of the box to the other.

There was a slight snag in the proceedings. In Tyler’s room, the door was a left-hand outswing – meaning the hinges were on the left and the door swung out into the room. In our room, it would need to be a right-hand outswing, which means the carpenter had to flip the door inside-out. Or something. I didn’t watch.

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So that’s done. And by “done” I mean “except for puttying, sanding, and painting….and also putting rods and shelves inside.”

Basically, done.

This was a somewhat nerve-wracking project for me. I want to be respectful of our house’s history and the original intent of the architect, but I also want it to function for our family. Adding the gas lamps and painting the walls didn’t change the house in a meaningful way. This did. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope the ghosts of the previous owners are, too.

 

 

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Hack This Recipe: Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

I love to cook. Nothing makes me happier than spending time in the kitchen with a glass of wine and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, dirtying every one of my pans in the pursuit of a good meal.

Most of the time, however, I do not have the time or energy to meticulously craft a meal for our party of seven, so I “dumb down” recipes for large-family use. It occurred to me that this might be useful for other families as well.

I love a good chicken and wild rice casserole, but I’d never made one myself until this week. After reviewing several options, I decided to use this one, from Better Homes & Gardens, as my starting point.

First step: Double that action. “Serves 4” sometimes means “serves 4 skinny people as a side dish.” Plus, leftovers are glorious.

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Second step: Halve the meat. (Or, since we just doubled the recipe, keep the meat the same.) Add a vegetable to make up for it – in this case, mushrooms and carrots.

Now let’s look at the ingredients! I’ve mentioned before that I don’t use single stalks of celery, so that’s right out. I also try not to use “cream of” soups, because I have very limited pantry space and making your own is easy. In the summer I grow basil, but in the winter I’m not paying $4 for a handful of basil so I can use 2 TB of it. Dried basil it is. And while I sometimes cook a big batch of chicken to have on hand for recipes, I didn’t this week, so I needed to factor in the chicken cooking time.

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Next, the method. If I cooked chicken, made cream of chicken soup, and followed the recipe, that’s four pans. I looked for ways to consolidate. I was kind of SOL on the rice, but reasoned that it could do its thing while I was cooking everything else. I decided to cook the chicken, then saute the vegetables, then make the soup, then assemble per the original recipe.

Here’s what I ended up with:

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Weeknight Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

Serves 8

2 6oz. packages long grain and wild rice mix
2 TB olive oil
1 chicken breast, sliced in half (butterflied)
Salt and Pepper
4 TB butter
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
Celery salt (about 1/2 tsp.)
4 TB flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
2/3 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare rice mix according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook about 4 minutes a side, or until cooked through. Remove to plate. Add the butter to the pan, then the onion, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, and celery salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour, stirring until  totally incorporated into the vegetable mix. Add chicken broth, milk, and wine to skillet, stirring until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Turn off heat, add sour cream and basil. Chop chicken, add to pan. When rice is finished cooking, add that to the pan as well. Adjust seasonings. Transfer mixture to a casserole dish and top with Parmesan. Bake at 350 until bubbly, about 20 minutes. This recipe can be prepared in advance – adjust cooking time accordingly.

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