A New England Expedition

I had every intention of writing last week, and even started a post. Unfortunately, I didn’t start it until Tuesday, and as each of the subsequent days passed without my getting a chance to finish it, the chances of my publishing something significantly decreased. I blame the lack of a post last Sunday on this guy:

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Cedar and I are pals

This past Wednesday Jordan and I made the long drive to Maine to see Josh, Jane, and baby Cedar, who were visiting from Utah. (And in case you were wondering, taking I-95 from Maryland to Maine costs a grand total of $52.70 in tolls. We opted for the longer, toll-free, scenic route on the way back.) We arrived at my parents’ house at about midnight, and the next day we all piled into the car(s) for a two-night camping trip in the beautiful White Mountain National Forest. Jordan and Cedar shared some firsts: first camping trip and, Friday morning, first time up Mt. Washington. I’ve hiked Mt. Washington a few times before and have always enjoyed it, so I was rather excited to finally get a chance to take Jordan with me.

Pretty waterfall on the way up

Pretty waterfall on the way up

Predicting the weather at the top of Mt. Washington is very simple: just say, “cold, foggy, windy, and wet,” and your chances of being correct are extremely high. You should consider yourself lucky if you can see more than 20 feet in front of you when you get to the top. (Fun fact: Mt. Washington boasts the highest recorded wind speeds in the world at 231 MPH.)

We made it!

We made it!

After another night of camping, we decided two days of 9 adults without showers was enough, so we broke camp and headed to a nearby pond for some leisurely canoeing.

Beautiful New England!

Beautiful New England! 

About half of the group opted to hike to the pond from our camp, but because I had twisted my ankle during the Mt. Washington hike, it was decided that I should be part of the convoy driving the cars from point A to point B. And because I was part of the first group at the pond, I also had the opportunity to prove how much I’ve forgotten of the Russian I “learned” during grad school. There was a family there that we overheard speaking Russian, and my dad tried to get me to speak to them. I couldn’t even remember how to say, “Hello”! Disgraceful.

Then we went to visit my Grammie (LOVE her!) and also got to see my aunt and uncle who were also visiting. When we finally arrived back at my parents’ house that night, we were all tired, sweaty, and probably stinky, but amazingly we all still love each other. 😉 Sunday between church services we had a flat-items-only-that-will-be-easy-to-take-on-a-plane (i.e., money, gift cards) baby shower for Jane and Cedar, and then Monday morning we were all heading home again.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and it was lovely to see family again (and meet the newest family member!), but between camping, an episode with the cat (that I will not get into except to say that it was… odoriferous), and waking up at 4 AM on Monday to see Josh and Jane off, sleep was at a minimum last weekend, and I felt like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation.

And then we got right back into crazy life again. But that’s a post for another time. (If–and that’s a big “if”–I have time this week, I’ll say a little something about what’s been occupying us this week.)

And now, some totally gratuitous baby pictures. Because I’m a first time auntie and proud of it, that’s why.

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Of Love and Loss

English: Hearts and flowers On the stone parap...This past week a young man I went to church and school with growing up reached the end of his 5-month battle with cancer, leaving behind a young wife and 5 children. My sister wrote a beautiful post two days after they learned he was dying, a poignant reminder to treasure all of the moments–both the good and the bad–that we have with our loved ones.

Made in China

On Thursday our ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets finally arrived. We spent most of the day Saturday putting them together. Nick, Bre, and Nick’s brother showed up around 3:00 to help us with what was left, which, due to the complicated Lazy Susan we’d put together first thing in the morning, ended up being most of the cabinets. Now our living room and part of our dining room are full of cabinets, waiting for us to decide on someone to install them. We ordered them from RTA Cabinet Store; here are some of my thoughts on the experience.

The good:

  1. The cabinet doors are gorgeous. They’re a lovely toffee color with a satiny-smooth finish.

    First one!

    First one!

  2. The boxes are 1/2″ plywood, not fiberboard, so they should be durable.
  3. This style comes standard with all the bells and whistles:
    1. dovetailed drawers
    2. full-extension, undermount drawer glides
    3. soft close drawers
    4. soft close cabinet doors
  4. The price is unbeatable, and we got an additional 10% off.
  5. For the most part (Lazy Susan excluded!), the assembly is super easy. The pieces connect with cam locks, so a screwdriver is literally all you need.
  6. The doors were already attached to the face frames, making our job that much easier.
  7. My few experiences with customer service have been fairly pleasant.
  8. The cabinets are guaranteed against defects for 5 years.

The bad:

  1. The shippers did a terrible job loading our cabinets, and a number of them arrived broken and/or scratched. Presumably, these will be replaced. (Quickly, I hope.)
    Ugh...

    Ugh…

    Is it so hard to seat this straight?

    Is it so hard to seat this straight?

  2. There were no assembly directions in any of the boxes. The website does have directions for some of the cabinets, but we found minor variations in our cabinets from all of the directions listed. For the Lazy Susan there were four different sets of directions, none of which matched our particular cabinet. Luckily (see point 5 above), once we figured the first couple out, assembling the rest was straightforward.

The ugly:

  1. The website has an annoying habit of popping up a “We beat anybody else’s price, guaranteed!” banner from time to time, and the size of my laptop screen is such that the “x” to close the window is inaccessible. I’ve resorted to deleting the HTML node using Firebug.
  2. Although RTA Cabinet Store is a US-based company, the cabinet boxes are made in China. This bothers me for a couple reasons:
    1. I would really prefer to support the American economy.
    2. As often seems to be the case, the focus with work outsourced to China seems to be “get it done as fast as possible” rather than, “take the time to make sure we turn out the best product possible.” In contrast to the gorgeous doors, the boxes displayed poor workmanship: cams were installed crooked, holes and troughs weren’t drilled deep enough or cleanly at all… A number of little details added up to make me wonder if we’d made the right decision.

Bottom line:

They’re beautiful cabinets, and I think the quality of the materials is good enough to offset the poor workmanship of the boxes. Time, of course, will tell.

FLOPS says, "I guess they're OK, but where's the fish?"

FLOPS says, “I guess they’re OK, but where’s the fish?”

Update 8/19: I submitted a damage report yesterday, and I already received a response back from the claims department today. We’re getting $15 back per scratched cabinet (a pittance, really, but every little bit helps), a free pot of stain to fill in the scratched spots, and two new panels to replace the ones that were broken. Here’s hoping they ship faster (and more carefully) than last time!

A Tisket, a Tasket, a Watermelon Basket

Lately it seems that I have time to write only on the weekends. I wrote this post on the bus on the way to work Friday (giving my tired legs a break from the bicycle!) but didn’t get a chance to type it up and add pictures until today. I have a whole slew of half-written drafts just waiting for me to have the time to finish them and post them, but Jordan has recommended I write once per week right now while we’re involved in home renovations. I will make that my goal and hope to write more in the future.

This week our CSA share included a watermelon, so I’m going to assume it’s not too late in the season for a post about one of my favorite summer fruits. Back in June, our church held a picnic one Sunday between the morning and afternoon services. This was the weekend Jordan was away at RECon, so I was glad for the opportunity to spend the day with my church family. At these events, everyone signs up to bring something; I had promised to contribute a fruit salad. Let’s just say I have a very loose definition of the word “salad.” For a green salad, lettuce is plenty (although Jordan would disagree). For a fruit salad, a watermelon is all you really need.

My favorite method of preparing watermelon is to use the rind as a bowl.

What you need:

  • a watermelon with a mostly flat underside for balance
  • a short, sharp knife
  • a metal spoon or melon baller
  • a large bowl (or two!)
  • a couple grocery bags

Steps:

  • Lay out the grocery bags and put the watermelon on top to catch most of the juice while you work.

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  • If you want a “handle” on your watermelon basket, with the knife trace two parallel lines the long way across the top of the watermelon. NOTE: the handle is for decoration only!

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  • From the ends of the handle, again use the knife to trace a half oval on each side of the watermelon. The bottom of the oval should be low enough to allow easy access to the fruit inside but high enough to keep the fruit from spilling out. I try to let the shape of the melon guide my knife.

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  • If you want a decorative edge, trace your pattern along the outside of the oval. (If you trace the inside, the initial cuts will be visible after you remove the top of the watermelon.) I usually do a triangle edge, but you can do any shape you want (and have the patience for).

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  • When you are satisfied with the tracing, cut the lines you’ve traced.

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  • Once your edges are fully cut, gently work the cut pieces out of the melon.

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  • Using the spoon or melon baller, remove the flesh of the watermelon in bite-sized chunks. I prefer to use a spoon for this part. Collect the pieces in the bowl.

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  • Eventually you will get to the point where there is too much juice in the melon for you to see what flesh is left on the bottom of the melon. Over the sink, drain this juice into a glass or bowl… It’s delicious (and reminds me of the agua de sandia I had in Mexico)!

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  • When you’ve removed all the flesh, it’s time to put it back into the watermelon bowl! (Or, if you’re adding other fruit, make your fruit salad and then add it to the watermelon bowl.) If you bought a seeded melon, now would be a good time to remove the seeds.

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Enjoy!

The Worst of Me

Recently it occurred to me that giving God my all does not mean simply giving him myself when I’m fresh and energetic, when I’m happy and outgoing, when I’m ready for whatever comes my way. That is an aspect of full surrender, but it is not the whole story. Giving God my all means giving him all of me–the best of me, and, yes, the worst of me.

I frequently face the monster of exhaustion. It terrifies me sometimes when I think about starting a family because I know the fatigue my mother faced with four small children, and I know I am my mother’s daughter. I try to combat it with diet, exercise, and regular sleep, but when any of those three elements eludes me, my energy plummets, and I would love nothing better than to curl up on the couch and read.

Because I know what exhaustion feels like, I often hold back a piece of myself. When I ride my bike up a hill, I don’t push quite as hard as I know I can. When I run, I give up when that sinking feeling of the dread of exhaustion hits me. When I get home from work, it’s often so much easier to pull together whatever odds and ends I can find in the pantry and fridge than take the time to make a nutritious meal. It seems like the path of least resistance to leave the dishes undone and the floors unswept. But this mentality only contributes to the problem. My fatigue is compounded when I see the mountain of things undone looming ahead of me, when I feel the despair of never bettering myself, when I become lazy and stagnant.

Giving God the worst of myself means recognizing my weakness and crying out, “Oh, God, I am broken, but I am yours.” It means giving my all even when I’m afraid there’s nothing to give. Facing that hill and the miles ahead with a determination that says, “God, you put me here; you will bring me through it. Here I am. Use me.” Letting go of that little piece of myself I hold onto  “just in case.”

When I give God the worst of myself, he gives me the strength to overcome. Then, maybe next time, it will be the best of myself instead.

Home-Improvement Hodgepodge

The title of this post makes me think of a certain 90’s show and how I decided to be in love with “JTT” because it was the cool thing to do. Ha, what a silly girl I was.

But this post isn’t about 90’s TV or childhood crushes. This is about how crazy busy we’ve been lately.  Because being busy is even more in style than being in love with random movie stars. We’ve been up to an interesting assortment of home-improvement-related activities lately.

  1. Home office renovation. As I mentioned when Jordan’s parents were here a few weeks ago, we’ve been working on putting up drywall in the back room. Interesting fact about this room–when this particular style of house goes on the market, some people advertise the back room as a bedroom. Others advertise it as a study and part of the “master’s suite.” (Jordan tells me “owner’s suite” is the politically correct term. Take your pick.) The closet is so tiny that I think “study” is more appropriate, but I guess an extra bedroom makes the house more marketable. In any case, the back room had this lovely (ha!) 60’s fake wood paneling that our plumber had to cut when he re-ran our water lines. And everyone knows wood paneling looks fantastic with a line sliced horizontally across the middle of the wall. As gorgeous as it was, we opted to replace it with drywall, and Jordan and I have spent some time since his parents left sanding and applying drywall mud.

    Getting there

    Getting there

  2. Decorations. Sigh. I haven’t taken nearly as much time as I’d like decorating our home, but I did make what I think is a nice arrangement of bridal portraits on the wall below the stairway. Jordan is a fan. 🙂

    Jordan's six favorites

    Jordan’s six favorites

  3. Bathroom mirror. Before we moved in, we had all the bathrooms renovated, but we didn’t have the mirrors replaced. Unfortunately, our contractors never put the old mirrors back (a couple of them don’t fit anymore), so we’ve been without for a while. We did buy a new one for the master bath a while ago, and after an evening of sanding drywall this week (see point 1), we decided to finally take the time to put up the one for the downstairs guest bathroom. In the process, we discovered the mirror was original. It’s in beautiful shape for a 46-year-old mirror (no sarcasm this time); the other two didn’t fare so well, so we’ll be buying replacements.
    Stamp on the mirror's back

    Stamp on the mirror’s back

    No more blank wall!

    No more blank wall!

  4. Kitchen renovation. Sadly, nothing has been done with this kitchen in all of its 45 years, and it shows. Drawers are missing, doors are nearly impossible to open, linoleum is stained and peeling back from the floor, and the whole thing feels a bit cramped. We’re hoping to get the whole thing redone in September, and part of our money-saving plan is to buy RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets and put them together ourselves. In the interest of time, we’ll pay someone to install them and the new flooring (repairing our broken laundry line in the process–woot!), but we can handle the demolition and assembly. So I’ve been looking at RTA Cabinet Store’s website and trying endless variations in their planning tool. I’ve finally decided on the Rustic Brown style (solid wood, soft-close doors and drawers, and a gorgeous finish–all for under $3000!), and I’m almost finished with the layout. Keeping my fingers crossed I don’t make any stupid mistakes!
  5. New refrigerator. I’ve got to say it–the refrigerator that came with this house is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve been using it the way it is, but with the craziness that was our move into this house, I never had time to clean it. And there’s really nothing I could do about the pieces of it that are broken. So I’ve had my eye on this refrigerator for a little while. Wanting to save money, though, I checked Craigslist last weekend for bisque refrigerators (I’ll explain in a later post why we’re going with bisque). Lo and behold, the only bisque refrigerator for sale in our area was the exact one I’d had my eye on, and not only was it just three years old, but they were asking half what it advertises for online. Can we say “sold”? So Monday we went to look at it, decided we wanted to go for it, and paid a deposit. We came back Wednesday to pick it up (thanks to Nick for his last-minute help!) and spent yesterday evening cleaning it up. (It had been sitting in this couple’s garage for a little while and hadn’t been cleaned, so there were some minor mold issues.) It doesn’t fit in our refrigerator cubby yet, but I’m so eager to get rid of the old one, that I’ve already started using it. 🙂

    (Almost) like new

    (Almost) like new

  6. Duct repair. OK, this one hasn’t happened yet, but I finally scheduled someone to come repair our crushed air-return duct. Here’s hoping it improves our energy efficiency.

Whew, who knew owing a home took so much work! In all fairness, we knew this was coming when we bought it–that’s how we got the price we did. But everything I hear tells me there will always be something to do.

How about you? If you own, did you have any unexpected repairs after closing? What do you do to keep your home in good shape?

Things I’ve Learned In the Past Week

flat out of luck

flat out of luck (Photo credit: 7-how-7)

 

In no particular order:

  • Carrying a bicycle flat kit is a non-negotiable. Jordan got a flat on Saturday when we were 4.5 miles into our 9-mile ride home from the bike shop.
  • Keeping both derailleurs in corresponding gears (e.g., 1 with 1, 2, 3; 2 with 4, 5, 6; 3 with 7, 8, 9) reduces chain wear.
  • Cycling sweat is supremely sexy. At least that’s what the boys around here seem to think. I got multiple cat calls/whistles/hollers on every single one of the 4 days I rode this week (the hottest/sweatiest week so far this year).
  • My office has a Cycling Advocacy Network (CAN) chat room that is frequented by friendly, helpful, and generally competitive people.
  • The spout cap of the Blender Bottle makes a distinctive *snap* when it’s closed. If you don’t hear this snap, you will get your shake all over your desk, your two work notebooks, and your dry-clean only skirt when you try to shake the bottle.
  • When said Blender-Bottle mishap occurs, a kind office mate will let you use as many of his paper towels as you need and will even try to make you feel like less of an idiot by telling you about how he did the same thing with a bottle of orange juice that same morning.
  • Grilled peaches with brown sugar taste like peach cobbler.
  • A grill works best when it has the right number of briquets.
  • Fleas are at their peak in July.

 

Book Review: Mistborn Trilogy

As a friend (hi, Amy!) so astutely observed Wednesday, I have not blogged at all this month. I may or may not have a valid excuse. On June 20, Jordan left for Canada for a reverse-engineering conference. I was originally supposed to go with him, but funny things happened with employer budgets and plans, and I ended up staying home while he went. To keep myself occupied, I started reading a book that I’d borrowed from Nick and Bre and found myself instantly hooked. Jordan was gone until the 24th, and I spent nearly all of my free time devouring the book’s 650 pages. I think I finished it before Jordan returned.

The problem with this book is that it’s only the first of a trilogy that was obviously designed to be one continuous story. And since my dear friends have all three books, I informed Bre that I needed them to bring the other two when they came for our Fourth of July cookout.

Jordan’s parents also came to our cookout, staying for the weekend. So Jordan’s mom and I spent some quality mother-in-law/daughter-in-law time together in the living room, reading, while Jordan and his dad put up new drywall in what will eventually be our study. I tell myself we were being productive too, because rest is necessary, right?

I finally finished the third book yesterday, and I think it’s a testament to the author’s power as a writer that I read all 2100+ pages in under a month. Or maybe I was just desperate for something to read. In any case, I highly recommend them.

Cover of "Mistborn"

Cover of Mistborn

I don’t want to spoil the books for anyone who wants to read them, so I’ll keep my summary to a minimum. Mistborn is the first of a fantasy trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, continuing in The Well of Ascension, and concluding with The Hero of the Ages. The novels are set in a place called The Final Empire, where the sky and sun are red and ash falls more commonly than rain. The Lord Ruler, emperor and god-incarnate, became god and king when he defeated a mysterious evil known only as “The Deepness.” The universe’s system of magic, Allomancy, allows those who are born with its abilities (and have subsequently “Snapped” into the ability to utilize their power) to swallow and then “burn” within themselves specific metals to access the metals’ magical properties. This power supposedly belongs only to the nobility and not to the lesser skaa peasants.

Considering Sanderson is a practicing Mormon, it is not surprising that religion factors heavily into the novels. I read the author’s bio before starting the book, saw he taught creative writing at Brigham Young University, and spent the entire time reading the novels trying to guess if his religious beliefs aligned with those of the university. (According to his website, they do.) His approach to religion I found rather unexpected for a Mormon, however–there is a definite duality to the god(s) of his universe, which was created by the opposing forces Ruin and Preservation. Men become gods, and gods become weak and die. All religions contribute to humanity’s understanding of truth.

Although the religious aspects were rather puzzling at times, from a pure storytelling perspective, I was hooked. The truth is, fantasy is probably my favorite genre, but beyond my personal proclivity, Sanderson is an exceptional writer. His descriptions are vivid without being excessive, his characters are alive and developing, and his approach to storytelling tells you just enough to leave you wanting more but not enough that you can ever be quite sure what’s going to happen next. The endings to both The Well of Ascension and The Hero of the Ages caught me completely by surprise, although I felt like Sanderson gave away more throughout the final book than he did in the first two.

After I finished the books, I discovered Sanderson has extensive chapter-by-chapter annotations to each book available on his website. I think I just might have to read through a second time with annotations in hand!

How about you–what do you like to read (if you’re a reader)? Have you read any of Sanderson’s novels? If you have or end up doing so, I’d love to know what you think!