Archive | January 2011

Snow Morning

It’s January and despite my love of warm, sunny days, I keep waiting for wintry weather to appear. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been many cold, windy days. Yet DC has managed to go the past few months with barely any snow, while the areas around the city have been hit by storm after storm and buried in snow.

Yesterday afternoon stormy weather decided it was time to head our way. It had been dark and gloomy all day, but around 3 pm sleet starting coming down in sheets. A little while later the sleet turned to snow and after a couple more hours the weather took it up a notch, covering the city with a pretty thick layer of little white flakes.

Despite our neighbor’s phone, internet and cable lines coming down across our backyard, we were lucky to be relatively unaffected by the storm. Many houses in the area went without power for an extended period of time. Other people we knew spent hours (some as many as 6) on the road making their commute home. And we are talking about commutes that would normally take 20 minutes or an hour at the most. After hearing about what a mess it was out on the roads last night, I have to admit that I was hoping the government would close and my husband would spend today working from home with me.

Alas, the streets were cleared this morning and he had a delayed start instead. But his added time at home allowed me to bake a deliciously moist applesauce coffee cake for breakfast. It was lovely looking out at the trees still draped in their snow blankets while indulging in a warm, tasty breakfast together. At 9:15 he headed off to his office and I made my way upstairs to get the day started. Thank goodness for the random treat of extra time together, it was a lovely start to the day.

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Finally Our Photo Wall

After months (well, nearly two years) of talking about and planning for a photo wall in our bedroom, my husband and I finally got our act together yesterday. This is a project we have wanted to do since we bought our house. That was in March 2009.

There have been many legitimate reasons for our slow progress — cinder block walls, decisions about which pictures we should use, buying the right size and amount of frames, choosing how to lay them out — the list goes on and on.

After more than a year of talking, last fall we committed to the project by buying a bunch of frames during an Ikea trip. We spent a few weeks attempting to arrange the frames and select images to put in them. In January we finally ordered a variety of pictures in different sizes to play around with.

Yesterday we went back to playing around with the frames and it was very helpful to have actual images in hand to work with. Once we had a layout set, we created newspaper versions of each frame which we hung on the wall of our bedroom so that my husband could make sure they were properly spaced out and we could confirm we were happy with the look. Once you start drilling in cinder block, there is no going back!

When we started working on the photo wall in the morning, I thought maybe we could finally decide on images and a layout, but things got really crazy — my husband got the necessary screws for our wall from his brother and by 6 pm all of our pictures were finally hanging!

Our very thoughtful 22 months of planning yielded a result that I am incredibly excited about. Looking over and seeing pictures of us with our parents, from trips we have taken and from our wedding makes me smile. It is so much more inspiring than just seeing a big, empty wall each morning.

Despite the challenges that we faced on this project (who knew determining what pictures to use and how we should arrange 9 frames would be so contentious?), it is clear that the thought, wait and work was worth it. But I’ll be honest, I am hoping that our next project doesn’t take quite as long.

Speaking of Old Fashioned…

Old houses are filled with charm, character and, well, old stuff. Our house, which I adore, was built in 1936. It has lovely hardwood floors, nice details around the doors and the original window frames (and windows which is less enjoyable). One of the oldest attributes (one that is particularly noticeable during the winter months) is the original — that’s right, it’s 75 years old — boiler.

Thankfully it works just fine, heating up water and pumping it through our radiators. But the thing is behemoth. I mean it’s really, really, big. It looks like an old-fashioned bank vault. Honestly I could probably fit inside — not that I ever intend to try.

Over the years, the connection to the thermostat has been lost, so we installed a switch last winter (our first winter in the house) to turn the boiler on and off. This works fine, but it means that you need to monitor the temperature yourself.

Also it is an oil burning furnace. As a native Californian I have no experience with radiators and definitely not with oil burning radiant heat. Because this is our heat source, we have a giant oil tank in our backyard, a lovely addition to the decor. Despite its beauty (please read with a snarky tone), the tank has no gauge to let us know how full (or empty) it is. Not terribly helpful. Luckily we have a pretty good sense of how much oil it uses per hour and keep track of how much we have the heat on. We haven’t run out of oil. Yet.

I’m not sure if this is exactly the kind of character I was hoping for when I thought buying an old house was a great idea. But it is what it is and we do love showing it off. It’s quite the conversation starter — especially when paired with the 2009 high-efficiency water heater mounted on the wall to its right.

Old-Fashioned Cream Pie

In my inaugural baking adventure of 2011, I made my first pie — an old-fashioned cream pie. The recipe came from my husband’s family and was a great-great-grandmother’s secret recipe.

Now I don’t think I have ever even eaten a cream pie, so I was a little nervous about baking one as I didn’t really know what to expect. But my husband’s aunt who sent the recipe said to do just what the recipe said and it would turn out fine.

I pulled out a pre-made pie crust (don’t judge me) and set to work gathering the rest of the ingredients — eggs, some cream, sugar, a little flour and salt and then nutmeg and vanilla to sprinkle on top. The most interesting part was the construction of the pie. The recipe calls for beating the eggs and pouring them directly into the crust, mixing the dry ingredients and sprinkling them over the eggs, then pouring the cream over the top of that and finishing it off with a sprinkle of nutmeg and a dash of vanilla.

I popped the pie into the oven at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduced the temperature to 350 for the remaining 30 minutes. Then came the tricky part. Knowing if it was done.

When the 30 minute time was over, I pulled the pie out and could see that the top was baked and starting to brown slightly. At the same time, I could tell that the inside of the pie was moving around. A lot. But I didn’t want to over bake it, so I called it done and crossed my fingers, hoping that the cooling phase was when the pie would set.

Sadly it did not set enough and when I went to cut it for dessert last night, cream burst through the top. Even though the middle was a liquid creamy sugar, the edges had set and it all tasted good. I suppose this mixed-result pie means I’ll need to make another cream pie to try and master it. Darn.

Amaryllis Update

When we were in California for the holidays I was able to see just what a miserable failure my amaryllis truly was. Perhaps it was the super chilly east coast weather or my negligence when it came to removing it from the shipping box in a timely fashion, but something had definitely impeded the growth of my amaryllis during the 2010 holiday season. Although I had a lot of success at the garden last season, it seems clear that my tiny green thumb does not extend to indoor plants.

All of the amaryllis’ in California seemed to be moving a little slower this year then in previous winters, but my aunt’s plant had two large stalks with buds, both of which were wide open on Christmas Eve. My grandpa’s amaryllis stalk had grown over a foot and I could tell the flower was about to open when I visited him in the nursing home. This year the tropical climate inside didn’t seem to be providing him with the usual advantage though. At my parents house, my mom’s amaryllis was lagging behind, but the stalk had still grown much higher than mine. By which I mean it had actually grown.

When we returned to DC, I saw that our amaryllis was exactly as it was when we left — no where — and I pretty much gave up believing it would ever emerge from it’s bulb. But last night I saw that there may be a glimmer of hope. The shoot is finally starting to grow. Will we have a Valentine’s Day amaryllis?

Following Up on the Pile Problem

When I arrived home on Thursday night after my exercise class and the party that followed (what, you don’t have parties with your exercise class?) it was about 9 pm. I expected to find my darling spouse on the couch reading, but instead I found him, still in work attire, crouched in the corner of the office going through boxes.

Despite insisting that I hadn’t posted Piles Galore to inspire him to clean that corner up, I was excited by the progress that had been made. The closet no longer looks like it is throwing up, which I very much enjoy. But he left a large box of garbage and a box of things for me to go through positioned so close to my desk and the door I think he’s trying to trap me in the office. When I questioned his motives on attempting to make it so I can’t stop working, his response was “That’s not a bad idea.”

Clearly I need to go through my box quickly and move the rest of the items to the garbage so that I am not stuck at my desk forever! Since my husband took the first step toward cleaning up the piles, I’d better follow suit — getting rid of the clothes that need to be donated is up next.

Piles Galore

It seems that everywhere I look, our house is filled with piles. Piles of empty boxes (and full boxes), mail, newspapers that haven’t been recycled, coats — basically if you can name it, we probably have a pile of it somewhere. I feel like no matter how often I try to attack the clutter, there is no end in sight.

There are a few key factors in the pile problem that I know need to be eliminated, but where’s a girl to find the time?

Boxes that have not been unpacked since we moved into our house. Now there are only a few of these, but they still take up room. And since we cleaned the craft room they are now living in my office. Every time I look over my left shoulder it appears that the closet has thrown up thanks to all of the things in front of it. You might think that since these boxes have remained untouched for the past year and a half they could just be tossed out. I am starting to agree that this may very well be the best solution!

Old Books. When our things from California were delivered here in May, we determined that we did indeed have too many books (something that no one in California managed to convince us of). A 2003 political science overview book doesn’t need to be kept around “just in case.” Same goes for a case study about the way of life in a small town in France in 1647. They just are not going to be pertinent again. So we set aside four boxes of books to donate to the library. That was in May 2010. It’s January 2011 and those boxes remain next to my desk where I think they might spend eternity. The benefit is that they make a nice flat surface for us to pile more things on top of. Er, wait, never mind…

Bags of clothing to donate. It’s been at least a year since I did a sweep of my closet and pulled out three large bags worth of clothes to donate to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. It took another 6 or 7 months before I inventoried the items (which I finally did, thank you very much), yet the clothes remain in the corner of our bedroom where they are helping no one and driving me crazy. Maybe this will be the week that I finally get those items donated and free up a few feet of floor space!