Thursday, October 23, 2008

We have a bathroom at Renan!

For those of you who have ever seen pictures or videos or have had a real life tour of the family farmhouse we have in Virginia, you may be as surprised and impressed as I am with this picture of our new bathroom! Ben's Uncle Wayne has been working on it and I think it's pretty spectacular looking. Have I mentioned it involves running water and sewer?!?

p.s. Design notes: Everything is off the shelf Lowe's options -- the tiles were the cheapest they had, but I think they have a lot of style for the price. The sink is a bit too small for the scale, but we were really worried about how much space we had. (And with a sink this small, I think we'll be able to get a set of shelves between it and the toilet, which we'll need if we're sharing one bathroom with the houseguests we envision -- yes that would be you -- once we get the house livable.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Hosting Hurricane Evacuees

My in-laws are in town after fleeing Hurricane Ike. Two weeks ago, they evacuated for Gustav, luckily a short evacuation without any actual damage. Three years ago they stayed off and on for six weeks during Rita and the recovery thereof. In sum, Ben and I have just a wee bit of experience with hosting evacuees. Here's what we've learned that might be useful to others hosting evacuees from Ike.

  1. Give them their own space. While you might get a good visit in, this isn't a social visit. It may drag on longer than any of you expect. The best way to avoid questions like "Can I do this? Where can I set up my computer?" or the "Why is all this stuff here?" sorts of issues, designate some parts of the house for their use for the duration. In our house, it's the front of the house -- the guest bedroom, the formal dining room for an office, and the smaller sitting area. They can spread out as much as they want there, without asking permission. We occasionally "visit" those parts of the house, but for the most part we leave them alone. The flip side -- when my father-in-law's newspapers start encroaching on my living room, a glower or a reminder from my mother-in-law sends them back to their half of the house. Along the same lines, I've cleared a shelf in the bathroom for their toiletries so they don't have to carry them back and forth. If you have a lot of evacuees, you might consider dedicating a shelf of the refrigerator for their snacks.
  2. Food. Since this isn't a social visit, you don't need to go out of your way to impress your guests. Your guests, however, are a bit out of sorts, stressed out, and needing the comfort of routine. We find sitting down to dinner is a a nice gracious bit of normality in a definitely-not-normal experience. Now's the time to stock up with preprepared food from HEB or Costco, or serve sandwiches or canned soups. Nothing fancy, but comforting, easy to prepare foods. Don't forget to give your house guests tasks to help get dinner on the table -- either take turns with preparation, or give someone the salad and someone else the job of setting the table or getting drinks. Remember -- this may last longer than you expected, so don't take on all the work yourself.
  3. Drinks. They're stressed because their home may be blown away or underwater. You're stressed because you have unexpected houseguests. I recommend wine -- our prosaic tastes lead us to a big box of riesling in the fridge, but anything with alcohol would do.
  4. Parking. Consider parking your cars on the street and giving your guests the garage or driveway. They probably have most of their prized posessions in their cars, and securing them better or making it easier to fetch things in is a small way to lighten their load.
  5. Naps. Your guests may have been up all night packing or driving, which in addition to the stress of a hurricane and evacuation is exhausting. A "quiet time" -- with naps encouraged -- will put everyone in a better mood and better able to handle anything that comes.
  6. Get out. Take advantage of additional help around the house for built in babysitters, or plan dinner out with friends in town to give both of you time away from each other. This is especially true once you get past the first 3 or so days.
  7. Communications and information. Make sure your guests have access to whatever information sources they need to keep up with the weather and it's aftermath. For us, it's internet access -- and sending them down the street to Waterloo ice house when TV is needed. Also realize that they'll be on the phone a lot, checking on and commiserating with their neighbors and friends.
One of my evacuees read over this and gave it her nod of approval from the evacuee instead of host perspective. I'm sure other people have more ideas, if you want to chime in in the comments.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Other people's accomplishments

Wow, my sister had one of her flickr photos used on one of the NY Times blogs.

Cool, huh?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Maquinas Tortilladoras

It's often funny what Google ads will think to display, given particular content, but after commenting about tortillas on Kim's Addicted to Costco blog I got this:

Maquinas tortilladoras, anyone?

Friday, April 04, 2008

No Stir Crockpot Risotto

Mamacita asked for some good crockpot recipes, and I had been meaning to write this up for Catherine's LiveMom site, so I couldn't resist. (I rock Crockpot cooking so much I've thrown a only slightly competitive dinner party using only recipes prepared in the crockpot. Duck Confit and Bread Pudding were the highlights. Firecracker Pork was also a hit.) My favorite Crockpot recipe, however, is risotto. Risotto is one of those things I *never* make, because it requires constant stirring over a long period of time. No fun. When I found this recipe in Lora Brody's Slow Cooker Cooking** book, I knew I had to try it.

This isn't one of those "cook all day while you're at work" recipes. It only takes 2 hours, so I'll do it on a weekend afternoon or on a day I'm working from home.

So here's my easy Slow Cooker Risotto recipe, adapted from Brody's.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cups raw arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock (original recipe replaces 1/4 c of the broth with white wine) (the more flavor it has the better the risotto will be)
1/2 - 2/3 cup shredded parmesan

Toss the rice & oil in the insert to coat. Stir in the stock. Cook on HIGH for 2-3 hours (mine usually takes 2 1/2 hours). Right before serving stir in the parmesan cheese.

I doctor this up to make a main dish by stirring in frozen peas, chopped up ham leftovers, a link of fancy sausage sauteed into chunks, or anything else I read about in fancy risotto recipes.

note: Brody's recipe also has you sauteeing 2 shallots in the oil before tossing the rice in it. Great idea, but I'm too lazy....

**Lora Brody's book is the absolutely best crockpot cookbook out there, and I've tried a lot. Most are as boring and bland as the midwestern 1950s households they were developed in. This one actually has food with flavor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Wouldn't it be better to have half as many really happy customers than twice as many mad ones?

--Me, today. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Best quote from a SXSW Panel

"I won't sleep with people I do business with, but I'll do business with people I sleep with."

-- Sarah Szalavitz in the What Women Need to Succeed Panel.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Suzy's Blogging!

Another friend joins the blogosphere.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nesting Dolls for the Computer Scientist

Too cute! From Art. Lebedev Studio, which has a lot of clever Russian influenced design.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Asbestos and Appliance Contractors in Austin

Since I've had pleasant dealings with both of these contractors in the last 2 weeks, I am going to recommend them (and write their names here so I can find them again when I need them).

Asbestos removal: Johnny at Action Environmental. 512-745-3688. They helped over the phone before I even hired them by telling me where to get my flooring testing in town, and had extremely competitive prices according to the Home Depot guy I was discussing my flooring woes with. Even better, the came out on a Saturday at 2 to give me an estimate (the day after I called), returned 2 hours later to start work, and were done by 11 PM that night. My only recommendation would be to measure your floors yourself and check their square footage numbers -- I think I paid for more square footage than I actually had, but still got a good deal.

Tracey at Champion Appliance (recommended by Suzy Bates, so this is a double endorsement): 512-336-5800. Suzy had them come out to look at a dryer, and the surprising recommendation was to let it make noise until it broke, then buy a new one (charge? $0.) I had him come figure out an ice maker leak that Ben and I couldn't figure out. Turned out to be trivial, was fixed in 10 minutes, and he broke up the ice that had pooled on the bottom of the freezer so I didn't have to defrost it. Charge -- $65 + tax, which included a year warranty.

Both are small family owned operations. Johnny and his father in law did all the work themselves on the asbestos (although they normally run crews), and Tracey and his wife are their entire operation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Saveur 100 -- one of my favorite things

Years ago, in a thrift shop, I picked up a copy of Saveur with their top 100 list for the previous year. That list was thrilling -- short democratic paeans to food like the Costco sheet cake (unusual, to me, of a magazine whose title isn't even in English). Well, it's back. And even better, they have the have excerpts of the list online.

I turned down the corner of the first page for "Rancho Gordo Beans" (#2 -- native american beans -- Google's chefs are their top purchaser) and Euell Gibbons (#4, "the grape nuts guy" and a forager; included a fascinating recipe for Grape Nuts Pudding). I had to stop after that because there were just so many good things (Whey fed pork? Quatro leches cake?). Yum!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Floors

The flooring saga was finished last Thursday (mostly -- furniture moved in Friday, and we still need to seal it once more) -- only a week late and 20% over budget.

Here's what the new floors look like:

It's 18 inch travertine tiles. Now I have to do something with the brick fireplace so it's not so brick....

(There's a lot of sealer dust on them -- that will go away with the first mopping...)

Monday, January 28, 2008

How to be an undercover hooker

Am I the only one who thinks this would be a fun talk to attend?

How to be an undercover hooker.

Sure hope they record this one and put it online.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

my parenthack on decluttering

I've got another hack up at Parenthacks. This one is on decluttering.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My stressful week

So we are having travertine (fancy word for limestone) installed in our living room and hallways. The installer shows up yesterday at 1:30, moves everything out of the living room into our other public spaces, rips up the carpet, and runs into linoleum tile held glued down with black glue.

By 3:30 they're out of there, telling me "you've got to get this tested for asbestos, and remediated if it is, before I can come back."

Have I mentioned my in-laws are expected in for the weekend?

After "the runaround" (installer to flooring contracting company to home depot to the city to the state's unusable website to Google) I finally find a nice gentleman who tells me that taking it to a lab in town and getting it tested is my most cost effective option, and even gives me the name of the lab. Luckily, said lab is just up the street and offers 24 hour turnaround for twice the price (only $60). Ben drops off the samples this morning.

This afternoon I get a call from Home Depot saying I have additional charges for a lost day -- $200! I blow my top to the person on the phone -- "my house is unlivable, he only showed up at 1:30, I'm not going to pay that." She does the good customer service thing and says "I'm going to have to talk to my dispatcher." After some time to reanalyze, I call Home Depot back and talk to the dispatcher, rationally and calmly explaining why I am not going to pay for a lost day. He's nice, and tells me to call and tell him if it is asbestos, and says if it isn't he'll suck up the $200.

I get email about an hour ago from the lab. After deciphering the report, it looks like I have asbestos. In both the tile and the glue. Sigh. I call back the nice remediation gentleman and told him I thought I had asbestos. He said "there would be a line like 2-5% chrysotile". The report says "10% chrysotile". Doh! He's showing up tomorrow to give us an estimate (his over the phone quote was $2/square foot, which the Home Depot dispatcher said was an extremely good price, so even if the glue is a surprise I think we'll probably go with him, since he seems both nice and cheap).

I've successfully delegated weekend planning to Ben, so I don't know quite what we're going to do there. I think I have enough to deal with at the moment, thank you very much.

Miss J, however, is taking it all in stride. If she was freaked out about having an empty living room I'm not sure I'd be handling this as well as I am.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ayelet Waldman on Mothering

I love Ayelet Waldman (most famously known as "the wife of Michael Chabon (who loves him more than she loves their children she stays home to take care of)", but also a great writer in her on right (see her Mommy Track Mysteries for some fun reading that also validates how hard parenting actually is)

She's got a great opinion piece in the New Yorker about why we love to hate Brittany Spears (she makes us feel better about ourselves as mothers).

When I polled an unscientific sampling of my friends and family on the topic, they had no trouble defining what it meant to be a Good Father. A Good Father shows up. In the delivery room, at dinnertime (when he can), to school recitals and ball games (whenever it’s reasonably possible). He’s a good provider who is not above changing a diaper or wearing a BabyBj√∂rn. This definition seems to accommodate, without contradiction, both an older, sentimentalized Father Knows Best version of a dad and our post–Free to Be You and Me assumptions.

A good mother, on the other hand:

“She remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses onto her children, volunteers in the community, remembers to make playdates, her children’s clothes fit, and she does art projects with them and enjoys their games. And she is never too tired for sex.”

or more accurately:
“She’s everything that I’m not.”

Her polling sample was composed of women of approximately the same age (mid-thirties to early forties) and the same level of education (which can be described, succinctly, as “more than they use”).

We respond to this impossibly high standard of mothers by villifying bad mothers, or embracing badness ourselves (I'm a "slacker mom" or "bad mom.") Waldman asks:

Is there really no other way to be a mother in contemporary American society than to be locked into the cultural zero-sum game of I’m Okay, You Suck? We possess, after all, a perfectly adequate model, one that operates smoothly, almost imperceptibly, without engendering vitriol or causing much pain: the Good Father. There are no “daddy wars,” and while Alec Baldwin and Michael Jackson have both served their time in the Bad Father stocks, it is rare for a father to feel that his own identity is implicated in or validated by their offenses. Self-flagellation is not the crux of the paternal experience.

Friday, January 04, 2008

How to Look Good Naked

I'm not usually one for reality shows, but How to Look Good Naked is some pretty groundbreaking stuff -- the gay best friend (with impeccable taste) every girl wishes she had. Real women's bodies, body image myths, how to dress, and a makeover all rolled into one.

The premiere is online for free. If you want to look good naked, or want to look at naked women ;) go check it out.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Welcome to the world, Raymond Atlas Walker III

I'm happy to say Raymond Atlas Walker III (aka 'Trip') was born December 29, 2007, weighing 6 pounds even (Already splitting hairs as finely as his father, heh?) to Alice and Floyd Walker.

Isn't he just the cutest thing ever? Red hair!?!