A New Week + Coffee Cake

What a busy week/weekend! We had the gas company come hook up our new stove, our counter tops came in, our dishwasher came in (although it was the wrong one, so really we got 2 dishwashers last week), and we moved our fridge back across the kitchen to its rightful spot. I also laid some brick to support a light post that had fallen over years before we bought the house (with free bricks) and upgraded the lanterns on top of the posts. The last time I did any masonry work was about 8 or 9 years ago when I was helping a coworker build his house out of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) bricks. So, for a software developer who is extremely inexperienced at laying brick, I think the job is acceptable:

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We hadn’t used the oven to cook anything yet since the inside still smelled like the oils used in production, so after many vinegar/water wipes and running the oven for a couple hours at a time, then finally mixing up a throw-away batch of bread to cook and try to absorb the rest of the smells, the oven was finally ready! And the chickens (and kittens) got nice, warm, yeastless, probably flavorless, bread!

Saturday I whipped up a batch of chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, and by Sunday they were all but gone. So after dinner Sunday evening, we needed something to satisfy the sweet tooth. The choice was between oatmeal cookies and coffee cake. The coffee cake won. I took it out of the oven around 9:30 in the evening, then just let it cool overnight and when we woke up we had fresh and delicious coffee cake!

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The recipe is below, modified from this one. I fully intend to make further modifications, maybe sprinkling the pan with cinnamon sugar before adding the batter, or using brown sugar instead of white sugar for the filling, or adding a sweet orange glaze. You can also add nuts to it if you want, I’m not much of a nuts-in-baked-goods type of guy.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c white sugar
3/4 c butter, softened
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c yogurt
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 c white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease a 10-in bundt pan (I just use the reside left on the butter wrapper).

1. Beat the butter and sugar (keep the 1/4 c out) with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Finally, add the yogurt.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then add to the wet mix.

3. Combine the remaining sugar with the cinnamon in another separate bowl.

4. Pour about half the batter into the bundt pan. Then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the batter. Then cover the cinnamon sugar mixture with the rest of the batter.

5. Bake at 400° F for 8 minutes, then lower the temp to 350° F and bake for another 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

6. Let the cake cool completely, then slide a silicone spatula into the large grooves to loosen it up, flip the pan over and jiggle the cake onto a plate.

7. Enjoy!

Home.

Several of you have asked for pics of our new place – sorry for the delay! Here is an outdoor tour – inside pics to come. We’re aiming to do before and after shots, you know, to emphasize the back-breaking labor and painstaking aesthetic attention to decorating a la Young House Love. We do indeed have a Listy-McListerson of our own that is *pages* long. This weekend we are demolishing the kitchen. I’ll be cooking from the dining room for at least 2 weeks. Other than preparing for this big kitchen reno, we’ve mostly focused on some outdoor changes – expanding the chicken coop for our Chickie Ladies (and their new friends, including a roo), planting the first of many fruit trees and berry bushes, laying a path, cleaning up the shed (where a duck massacre had apparently taken place) and the grounds (oh my, was there a lot of trash). Inside, we have done a few plumbing fixes (all W), drawer repair, caulking, fridge installment. You know, typical little things that need to be done. The main affairs have been making decisions on what to do with the kitchen and unpacking boxes. So many boxes. Where did we acquire all this stuff? I thought I purged drastically when we were moving! Why didn’t we just abandon it at the storage unit? How did we ever live without a single closet or a clothes washer and dryer? We’ll never know the answers, but we’re sure glad to be HOME now.

The Front.
house front 1 House front

The Back.
house back House back 1

The Barn.
barn 1 barn

The Fields.
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Goodbye Guinea Riviera

Leaving our place was the essence of bittersweet…

I stood in the misty rain that fell the whole day that we moved, just for a moment (because we had a lot to do), and thought about the kinds of sweetness tied to this life, this house.

I will miss the cocky little Carolina Wren that bravely flew under our screen door’s 4-inch gap for years to build her nest in our entry way. She would swoop off the nest and out under the door every time I opened the inner door to come out. Then she’d be all bossy, like, “What ARE you DOING?!?” until I was in my car and she could resume a-sitting. When our landlords finally replaced the door jamb, she made do, making her nest in the crook of a piece of gutter that was falling off the house.

I will miss our garden. For years we have lovingly grown and tended too many zucchinis to count, so many green beans that I once almost didn’t like them anymore, carefully observed the transformation from flower to fruit, watching the tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants and peppers swell until we picked them.

I will miss our porch. Our poor, lead-contaminated porch. The porch we had to cut off and keep off this summer, peeling paint like decrepit beckoning fingers.

I will miss our kitchen. Not for it’s zero counter space or crappy linoleum…but for what happened here. We started this blog in the kitchen. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation at our kitchen table. I labored at our kitchen table. My best friend got engaged in our kitchen. We made countless meals that we shared love and laughter with friends and families over. There, in that kitchen.

I will miss the end of the road. It’s only a few tenths of a mile from our old house, we walked it sometimes three times a day with our dogs. From the end of the road, we looked out at the mouth of the Perrin Creek into the York River, and out the mouth of the York River into the Chesapeake Bay. The river was never the same. In 8 years there, not one day was it like another. It always made me recall a lecture on Brownian motion, my first year in grad school. There are so many kinds of watery surfaces you learn when you live by the water – choppy, glass, foamy, prescient, chaotic, rhythmic, blue, green, turbid, reflecty (that’s a word)…and every nuanced state in-between.

I will miss all of our nearby old and new friends and neighbors. On this I shouldn’t expound, for I will begin to blubber. You’re all great. And we love you and will miss you terribly.

And the bitter will dissolve quickly, making way for our bright future. But, for humor’s sake (and so you can understand some of why being forced to leave wasn’t that horrible after all), here’s a list of the top 10 things I won’t miss:

1) Driving past my best friend’s house (she lived 6 houses closer to the main road, so I had to pass it to get anywhere)…because she no longer lives there. Every time, since she moved, it pulled at my heartstrings, and I missed her so. Not hardly a day went by when we were neighbors, that we didn’t go for a walk, share a meal or a recipe. The people who live there now don’t take care of her roses. They don’t wave. I dislike them for their sin of not being her.

2) Our landlord put-put-puttering over at 7am on his glorified go-cart, down our driveway, causing dogs to bark, babies to wake and parents to be grumpy. Every. Single. Saturday. Sundays, too. And Monday holidays.

3) The handle/pull-less particle board kitchen cabinets that have inspired endless dreaming on Pinterest for sleek, sweet new ones…with knobs.

4) The fact that this house neither stays warm in the winter or cool in the summer, but loves to stratify, so that the upper 2 feet of the kitchen are warm in the winter, the steps and upstairs landing are inferno-hot in the summer and the bathroom is like our private jungle room.

5) Mold. My enemy. See above climate issues.

6) The family down the block who swore in court that their dogs are harmless, even though one bit W, and on numerous occasions attacked me and WV and other friends. I know our friendly animal control guy, Steve, will be happy we are no longer Gloucester residents.

7) The god-awful poison ivy and oak that seems to creep and edge every green surface.

8) The flying mice with hypodermic syringe proboscises masquerading as mosquitoes.

9) The crack that kept growing…and growing…separating the upstairs from the wall, the raccoon family that brought the stench of death and rot into our ceiling crawl space the summer I was pregnant with WV (and our landlords did nothing), and the general disrepair and decrepitude that went un-addressed by our landlords, actually. There’s only so much one can do to repair a house that isn’t theirs.

10) OH YEA, AND THE LEAD PAINT!!! Siyonara!!!

Leaving our place was bittersweet…but more sweet, that’s for sure. Sweet for the future and sweet for the memories we will take with us. There is no way to replace those lovely, quirky, hidden things that made a house a home. But these things we loved were intangible anyway. I am looking forward to finding new friends and birds, new water, new wonder, a new place to call home.

New, sweet beginnings. L’shanah tova!

If you give your landlord a (positive) lead-based paint test…

If you give your landlord a (positive) lead-based paint test…you know, the home-test kind that you get from Lowes, that they said we probably didn’t need anyway because we should be “fine” since we’re so far removed from the 70’s when it was banned, but then 2 out of 3 tests come back positive, they probably will get a real testing company to come and audit your house (like you’d wondered if they’d ever done in the first place and asked about). And they’re gonna find lead paint. Of course. Which means, naturally, you’ll get kicked out, because now you’re a liability to them.

Ok, I can’t keep this trope from the children’s book alive, but suffice it to say, we’re being kicked out of our home of 8 years.

This has caused me/we to be: 1) In a ridiculously stressed out frenzy, searching high and low for an adequate (short-term) or excellent (long-term) place, 2) A terrible friend – b/c if you thought I was in a baby-induced sleep deprivation walking coma, you should see me now (I found the computer mouse in the tub the other day, my cell phone in the fridge, and let’s just say I haven’t cleaned up dog puke I noticed three days ago), 3) Very sad. Our sanity is suffering, right along with our garden (weed-choked; haven’t even had the heart to post our glorious garden info, since now it’s all moot), our pets (no special walks), and our plans for WV’s first birthday. 4) An insomniac. When WV goes down, we should sleep riiiight? Nope, the wheels just keep spinning around our plight and we’re tired. Very tired. 5) Very familiar with lead paint test kits, detection, remediation, exposure… I just have to hope there will be a silver lining to this unfortunate situation – we’ll find a place, a better place, and karma will bite our landlords in the butt big time.

There are many behind-the-scenes details, as with any story. For instance, they gave us the news via email. We’ve all been tested for lead poisoning, with levels of lead found in our blood that indicate exposure but do not alarm our Dr. enough to start any kind of treatment. We’re eating lots of calcium-rich foods, which is the best way to self-chelate. And although I would like to say more (alot of it involving expletives), I think I’ll wait ’till this situation is behind us, for prudence’s sake. So, alas, our time on this road named after a communist island, and in this house we’ve made a home is short. We’re going to take this mini-homestead, drop it somewhere else and make a ripple effect. MexicanNights 003

“DADADADADA!” WV Translation: “My dad was in the newspaper!”

On Father’s Day, our local paper ran an article about dads who stay/work at home. W was one of the featured fathers!!! A sweet reporter came over and spent about an hour with us, interviewing W about his experience as a work-from-home dad. You can see the full article here.

The night before I was frantic to get the house in some sort of “order,” as I like to say (i.e. not a freaking mess, dishes done, bathroom scrubbed). I had visions of a camera team and reporters converging upon us a la What About Bob? (start at 4:45, but if you want a blast from the past, watch the whole thing; I couldn’t stop laughing!). I pretty much succeeded in my cleaning efforts. To my chagrin, as soon as the nice reporter sat down, Izzy had a senior moment and pooped on the living room rug right at her feet! Oh, laws!, talk about full-on embarrassing, and so unlike sweet Iz. I freaked out, scooped up WV, cleaned it up, shoved Iz outside, all in a nano-second, but man, was I red. I entreated her not to put the episode in her article. She complied, and seemed unfazed; she had dogs. But really, r-e-a-l-l-y!?!

Overall, it was a nice experience – she asked us questions about how we structured our day (very little, but we still do 3 solid meals) and how it made us closer as a family (very much). It really helped us put into words how wonderful it is that Walter works from home. His commute is down the steps and into the home office, eliminating the hours lost and gas burned to go to work, if I’m in a situation where I need him (also usually involving poop), I can usually call for help and have it in a sec, and we get to be a family all together every day, eating meals together and giving WV all the love he deserves. Oh yeah, and he does actually get work done. He’s the most dedicated work-from-home person I’ve ever met!

Happy Father’s Day to all dad’s out there!!! WV has a pretty rad one!!!

Babies Don’t Cost That Much: Baby Monitor

Welcome to the first part of a new series we’ve created called “Babies Don’t Cost That Much.” Throughout this series, we will touch on different points of interest about the cost of raising a baby. We completely resent the “You have to buy this product or you’re a horrible parent” tactic that the manufacturers employ, profiting from the fears of vulnerable parents. When companies say “Don’t you want what’s best for your baby?” I normally translate it to “Don’t you want what’s best for our stockholders?” I could continue and probably get into a heated debate about Company A versus Company B and all that, but this post is just about how we saved money on one baby item…

So many people go on and on about how EXPENSIVE babies are (because you HAVE to buy the latest product) and how much WORK it is and blah blah blah. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and we definitely don’t consider raising a child “work” with the negative connotations that word invokes. It may be challenging at times, yes, but we decided to have a baby because we knew that we were ready to take whatever life throws at us and lovingly raise our child the best possible way we can. And one part of that is to not spend money that we don’t need to, otherwise known as wasting money.

The first post of this series will be about the baby monitor. Not the ones that look like a baby walkie-talkie that our parents used back in the 80s (although they probably could have bought walkie-talkies and duct taped the send button down for a continuous audio feed from the crib for a cheaper version), but the new, fancy-shmancy video ones that transmit not only audio but a video signal as well throughout your home using your wireless router. More secure from random creepsters trolling radio frequencies (I’m sure the NSA creepsters can see my baby sleep though), and the video can help us keep an eye on him and make sure he’s breathing without having to open the creaky door, walk on the creaky floor, and risk waking him up. And you can watch your naughty dog sneaking licks…

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Have you ever shopped for these things? Pretty expensive. And what if you want another receiver so you can watch/listen for your baby while you’re moving around your home doing things like cooking and cleaning and hanging pictures and gardening and everything you can possibly think of doing while you have the time and not have to worry about remembering to carry that monitor with you everywhere you go (when your hands are probably full anyway)? Keep on ratcheting up that price…

My solution: Wireless Security Camera. Bought it online for $60 with free shipping. That specific model is now discontinued, but both TigerDirect.com and newegg.com, have similar items in stock. And you can search other stores as well. But for $60 (and free 2-day shipping since it was right around Christmas) I was able to score a wireless security camera that I mounted above the crib, set up to work with my wireless network in the house, and I can access it from any device attached to the network. Multiple receivers = no extra cost because of the existing computers we have in the home. I can have it open on my computer in the office while I’m working. L can have it open on her computer wherever she’s working. I can have it open on my “smart” phone. And if I ever get un-lazy enough to set up remote access to my network, L and I can go out to dinner, leave WV at home with a sitter, and see/hear him from my phone while we’re enjoying duck confit and seared salmon…

And once it has served its time as a baby monitor, I can mount it near an exterior door and record if any intruders want to come inside the home with the fancy motion activated recording capability. Or run an extension cord and spy on the chickens. Or watch the garden grow. Or point it to the sky and do a cool time-lapse video the next time a hurricane comes through. Or sell it. Or never use it again and still be better off than I would be had I bought a $250 system that does the same thing.

Stay tuned for more money saving posts, and feel free to share any ways you and your family have done the same!

Baseball Has Arrived!

I wanted to get a baseball post up at the beginning of the season, but that pesky master’s project and thesis kept getting in the way. So here’s my first (of many?) posts about baseball, two and a half weeks into the season.

P1050008If you know me at all, or have read the about us page, you know that I am a Braves fan. Thanks to my uncles being huge fans and Ted Turner broadcasting Braves games to wherever we happened to be living, I’ve been following them since I knew what baseball was. I finally got to see them play live at age 14 after we moved to northern Virginia and my dad surprised us with tickets to see the Braves play in Baltimore (the Expos hadn’t moved to DC yet and interleague play was still new). It was AMAZING! I still remember Andruw Jones tracking down a deep fly ball – he was positioned in right center, the ball was crushed to left center, I thought for sure it was gone. Next thing I know he’s leaping at the wall, snatching the ball out of the air to take away a home run. I knew he was fast from watching him on TV, but it really puts into perspective how much ground he had to cover when you’re sitting there watching it happen in front of you.

2011-04-21_00-14-28_337Thirteen years later, I still am giddy with excitement whenever I get to go to the ballpark to see the Braves play. I was lucky that a couple of years ago their west coast road trip aligned with a business trip I took that put me just north of Los Angeles. My boss, knowing how much of a Braves fan I am, let me go early one afternoon so I could make the drive south to go see them play. It was awesome. I even got a signed ball from Eddie Perez, as I was the only one in Braves gear surrounded by a sea of Dodger blue (just days after the incident with the SF fan…). I’ve seen them a few times in Atlanta, and since we only live about three hours from DC, I try to make the drive at least once a season to see them play the Nats.

This past weekend was one of those times to make the drive. I looked at the schedule as soon as it was made public, saw that April 12, 13, 14 was the only weekend series for the Braves in DC, looked at my work load to finish my MS degree, and made a plan. I’ll defend my thesis on the 12th and then drive up to see them play that weekend as a celebration with my wife and baby.

P1010830Now, this is not the first time WV has been to a game. He was 4 weeks old, and I somehow convinced L that we should drive up to DC, sit in the front row, and see the Braves because I hadn’t seen them play live yet in 2012. It rained like crazy, the 3 hour drive took us almost 5, and the game was delayed because of the weather (so we didn’t miss the beginning even though it took forever to get there). It was tied after 9 innings, but it was late because of the delay, and we still had to drive back home so I could work the next morning, so we left and listened to the Braves lose in 13 innings on the way home. We tried to go see a game with my brother and his gf back in June while WV was still on the inside, but the skies opened up and let loose a storm of biblical epic-ness and we had to settle for a nice dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. And I quickly lost the battle of trying to convince L that we should go to the game on her due date, saying she could just deliver at the stadium and we’d be all over Sports Center. Alas…

So I defended my thesis on Friday the 12th, provided musical entertainment for a zombie obstacle challenge with my band Key’d Up on Saturday the 13th, then we made the drive to go stay with my parents for the night and go to the game on Sunday. My parents wanted to come as well, so we had a full car (dad’s SUV) driving into DC with L, WV, me, my mom, my dad (W3), my brother, and his gf.

Paul Maholm vs. Gio Gonzalez. The defending NL East champions (and the favorite not only to repeat as division winners, but to win the WS) against the “good but not as good” challengers, who were riding an 8 game win streak and trying to sweep the Nats on the road. This was going to be a great pitching battle.

P1050015Boy was I wrong. BJ Upton drove a double off the left field wall on the first pitch of the game. He scored on a Gattis double, who then scored with Justin Upton on a Chris Johnson single, and Paul Maholm was staked to a 3-0 lead before he even faced the first Nats batter. I don’t know what it is, but the Braves seem to be able to absolutely destroy top tier pitchers (Gio Gonzalez, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, etc.) while struggling against mediocre guys or AAA call ups (at least that was the case last year). And destroy Gio they did. El Oso Blanco drove in another run. Chris Johnson drove in two while subbing for the injured Freddie Freeman. Justin Upton continued his power barrage with a monster HR to right center. Andrelton Simmons got into the action as well depositing a 3-run jack into the Braves bullpen. All the Braves fans in the ballpark (and there were plenty) were chopping and chanting. It was as if the game was being played in Atlanta. By the end of three innings, the braves had put up 7 runs against Gio. Maholm was just having fun after that, dropping 58 mph curveballs after backing hitters off the plate with 90+ mph fastballs. It was like he was throwing wiffle balls in the backyard. He even got into the offensive action by singling and scoring on Jason Heyward’s double in the 6th. Final score: Braves 9, Nationals 0. Total attendance: 39,389. After the 7th inning the attendance was down to about 20,000, most of them Braves fans.

It was a great game to attend, watching them sweep the highly touted Nats on the road, winning their 9th in a row, and really punishing the great pitching staff that is supposedly better than theirs. As of this morning, the Braves lead the majors with a 1.83 ERA, whereas the Nats are #20 with 4.29 (even with today’s loss the Braves ERA improved to 1.77). In the 2 games that the Braves have lost, they have been outscored 3-0. In the 6 games that the Nationals have lost, they have been outscored 47-10. I could pull out more stats such as overall run differentials, inherited runners scored, home run differentials, etc. but I think that would be overkill and each point I make would likely be countered by some off the wall statistic from an opposing fan. Suffice it to say that the Braves are pitching well, with or without their offense.

P1050006Now, this isn’t a post to bash the Nats. They’re a great team and will win a ton of games (against the Marlins and Mets), and really make things interesting as the season progresses and they battle the Braves and Phillies for the division title. The season is still young (not even 10% complete), and I’m sure the Braves will falter here and there, but for now I am enjoying the fact that they are 12-2 and continue to hit the cover off the ball while the pitching stays stingy (tough 1-0 loss this afternoon, the KC pitchers should buy Doug Eddings a steak dinner for his generous strike calls). It was great to see the Braves play, great to see them win, and great to go spend some time with my parents and give them some WV time as well. The next game we will catch live will be against the Mets while we’re visiting L’s parents.

2013-04-03_18-59-12_946I do have some bad news to report… The beer glass you see in this image was my lucky Braves beer glass. I set it down wrong on a coaster the other night, and it fell over, dumping a freshly poured honey ale all over the table and breaking into a bunch of pieces. R.I.P lucky glass, may you continue to give the Braves good luck in spirit.

So here’s to the 2013 Braves! My tagline since opening day: Home runs and home brews! Go ahead, DC fans (or Braves haters), and tell me how it’s a long season and anything can happen. Go ahead and rub it in that the Nats won the NL East last year and the Braves lost in the one game Wild Card playoff. Go ahead and remind me that the Braves only got one WS championship during the 14-year run of consecutive division titles (which is infinitely more WS championships that the Nationals franchise won during that same period). Go ahead and say “we’ll see how much this sweep matters in October…” and other things that mean absolutely nothing but make you feel better as a Nats fan looking up and seeing the Braves atop the standings early in the season. We will see what happens come October. Maybe the Braves will continue to be hot, maybe they’ll trail off and the Nats will catch/surpass them. Maybe the Marlins will get lucky (not likely). The past is the past, this is 2013. Both teams made improvements and it will be exciting to watch them both throughout the season. GO BRAVES!

Is anyone else as excited as I am that the season is here and the Braves are kicking butt?