Monday, June 30, 2008

Heaven is a Place on Earth

There's a little place that I like to visit when I pass through Iola, Kansas. A little place called St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. I happen to know the priest there and have been informed that the recent remodeling of the interior of the church is almost complete. I wish I had before and after pictures, but imagine if 1973 threw up in a church. I'm talking rattan accented ceiling fans, felt paper painted walls, orange tweed upholstery on the pews, and greenish gold carpet. And then imagine gutting pretty much all of that and letting people with slightly more classic taste pick out the new decor. The result looks something like this (there's a little more work to be done, but you'll get the idea):

View from the back of the church toward the altar--new carpet, new wall colors, new lights, new pulpit, and clean church.

View from the choir toward the altar.

Another shot of the altar area, all of which has been repainted.

View of the new light fixtures.

See? It looks gorgeous! I have an eye for these things and I think the new interior is stunning ;-) I can't wait to see it in person. Although it has been a long road, congratulations to Mother Jan and the people of St. Timothy's on a job well done. Now you can be as proud of your church building as you are of the people who fill it each week.

Papa Don't Preach, Part I: My New Windows

Gentle readers, you may have noticed in my last post the octagonal porthole windows above the window boxes. There are four of them on the front and side of my house. One of them opens and has a screen. One of them opens, but has no mechanism to keep it open and also lacks a screen. Two of them cannot be opened at all. So, we decided to have the three useless ones replaced with normal rectangular windows that seal along with the window at the top of the house in my study, which has no screen and also is not sealed well.

Two months ago, a gentleman named Nelson come to the house to give me an estimate for the work. He works for a company that manufactures the windows locally, which I think is nice. He measured, we discussed the specific kinds of windows that should be placed in each opening, he gave me a reasonable estimate, and he left. I called the next day to tell him that we wanted to go ahead with the project and sent him a deposit.

About a week later, I received the receipt in the mail. It looked like a fairly normal receipt except for the box toward the top, which was printed in large font with the words "Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life." I thought it was a little strange, but then forgot about it.

Two months passed and I hadn't heard from Nelson, who said that he would send some of his colleagues to the house to measure one more time before they manufacture the windows. So I called him last week to find out what was happening and finally got him to commit to sending these guys this afternoon after 4:00. I made sure that I was home by 4 and I waited. And I waited. And soon it was after 5:30 and there was still no sign of these guys. I was mentally preparing for a beat down with Nelson.

Suddenly, a truck pulls up to the house with a trailer attached and the name of this company on the side. I went to the door to let them in and I saw two Amish men walking toward the house. The Amish are installing my new windows! Now a lot of things make sense, not the least of which is the "message" on the receipt. They were very nice, talkative men and they are coming back in a few weeks to handle the window installation, so I'll blog about it more then. What I'm most excited about is that Amish people wear pants with an extremely high rise, so there will be no male cleavage sightings while they are here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hot House Flower

Gentle readers, it is time for my semi annual attempt at gardening. I have been working hard for the past several weeks to get my yard to look nice for summer, so here is a tour of my yard where you will see the results of my stellar gardening skillz. And there's a little something extra at the end...

Imagine that you are walking up to my house, greeted by this welcoming view:

A view of the rest of the front of the house including my front window box and the front flower bed. I have planted seeds in the flower bed and have my fingers crossed that something will grow. For now, the mulch at least makes it look nicer than the weeds, leaves, and twigs that filled the flower bed before.

The windows on the side of my house and the window box below--some of these plants are struggling a little because of chipmunks using the planter as a playground, but I am determined to win this fight with copious amounts of cayenne pepper.

The rock garden in the front of the house--we designed this last year using the two large stones that you see on the sides to start. I put the tall one between to block the base of a flag pole that I don't use. The rest of the rocks are cool ones that we found around the yard. I decided a week ago that this looked too much like a pet grave, so I planted the hydrangea in the center hoping that it will eventually grow large enough that this will look like a small garden rather than a grave.

This is a view of the seating area of my porch. Take note of the disgusting floor, which will disappear this summer.

My "bleeding heart" plant--these are so pretty.

Close up of the bleeding heart so you can see how it got its name (sorry for the blurry picture--I couldn't get it to be any clearer).

My herbs--from left to right: chives, lemon verbena, Italian parsley, and basil.

Close up view of one of my hanging baskets--these are all purple petunias.

A view of the porch from the back of the house.

Picture window and window box in the back of the house--this part of the house is also a popular bat hangout.

View of my "Lord Help Me Hang In There" sign on the right--thanks, Leah!

In addition to the plants that I purposely incorporate into my yard, I also have wildflowers like this that grow by the creek:

I grow the best weeds in the state:

This baby bunny likes the food in my yard. It drives McKenna crazy.

And the bonus photo of this blog, my new plates:

I found these at TJ Maxx this week and bought four of them and I'm on the lookout for more. Aren't they cute?

Next up: White Wedding: Just Say "No" To Drugs

Monday, June 23, 2008

Zoobilee Zoo: Another Animal Story

It's official--my house has turned into the Salmon Creek Zoo. The only allowed animal is McKenna, the dog, but many other creatures have taken up residence at our house recently. The inhabitants of the Salmon Creek Zoo include:







And the newest addition to the zoo--bats!

I found a live bat on the stairs going up to my bedroom tonight. Thankfully, it was still wrapped up in its wings and wasn't fully awake yet. After screaming, of course, I ran to the kitchen to grab a plastic storage container and lid. I covered the bat with the container and slid it onto the lid. Then I moved hastily to the back door and onto the porch where I threw both the container and the bat out into the blackness of night, ran back into the house, and locked the door. Sorry, no photos of this--I was too busy removing the bat to take pictures.

I don't know how it got in and I don't care to know, but I do occasionally see bats hanging out on the back of the house like this:

Gentle readers, I tell you this: I would much rather remove a bat from my house than a snake. And if any of you animals are reading this, I implore you to stay out of my house. No good can come of you crossing the threshold into my home. If only there were a "zapper" that worked on multiple creatures...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Whip It

When my brother and I were young, we used to go with our grandparents to visit my grandmother's parents, Polly and G.G. in Kansas City. This was no ordinary road trip, however. We set out before the sun rose in my grandparents' yellow Ford Fairmont, which looked a little something like this (minus the writing on the side and plus a lot of dirt):

On our way, we stopped frequently at McDonald's for bathroom breaks and refreshments (our favorites were orange drink and cookies). My grandmother also spent a lot of the trip telling my grandfather that he was "driving like a bat out of hell" (he couldn't have been going more than 65 max in that Fairmont and that was the speed limit), which made my brother and I giggle quietly in the back seat. All of this meant that what should have been a three hour trip usually took more like five. Mark and I usually rode with a ham or turkey between us (my grandmother rarely goes to visit anyone without taking food) with NO DVD player or other electronic entertainment device. Of course, we were always on our best behavior under threat of death from our parents.

Anyway, there was one trip in particular that I was reminded of as I made the following dessert. This trip took place some summer in the late 80s and once we made it to Kansas City and had the requisite conversations about the traffic in the city with our relatives, we were off to Shoney's for lunch. I'm not sure why we went to Shoney's or whose idea it was and I don't remember anything else about being there except that I have a vivid memory of all of us eating strawberry pie for dessert. I had never eaten strawberry pie before--at least nothing that looked like this. This was one of those strawberry pies that was piled high with hulled berries that were enhanced with a shiny red glaze and then topped with lots of whipped cream. It kind of looked like this, but with more whipped cream.

I don't remember it being an especially good pie, but just something different. As we finished our meal, something happened that I never saw before or after: my grandmother, the queen of the kitchen who made almost everything from scratch purchased not one, but two of these pies to take back to my great grandparents' house. I was scandalized and I have never forgotten The Day My Grandmother Bought Pie.

So, fast forward to June 22, 2008 and my version of strawberry pie. I decided to make several small "pies" instead of one large one and used a graham cracker crust instead of a traditional one. I kind of cobbled this together using a few recipes and then did my own thing, so here it is:

Start the glaze by combining water, sugar, and cornstarch in a saucepan.

Heat slowly until it comes to a boil, whisking occasionally (look, Grambi--it's my new whisk!)

Boil until the mixture thickens and becomes clear. At this point, you can add red food coloring to make it prettier, but I only had blue and I didn't think that would look very good. Maybe a patriotic possibility for July 4th, though...

In the meantime, I made the crust by crushing graham crackers and adding melted butter and sugar.

Fill each small dish with graham cracker crust and press mixture into the dish.

Then I put the dishes into the freezer to set up until my filling is ready.
Once the glaze was done, I let it cool a little while I sliced the strawberries and then I added them to the glaze and spooned the mixture into the prepared dishes.

I let the "pies" set up in the refrigerator for about an hour and a half and then begin preparing my whipped cream (hence the title of this post).

Pour heavy cream into a bowl.

Whip with whisk attachment after adding a little powdered sugar.

Continue to whip until stiff peaks are formed.

Top "pie" with whipped cream.

This was tasty. If I made these again, I would add a little less sugar to the glaze and maybe a little lemon juice so that the flavor would be more complex, but for something that I made up, this was pretty good.

So, here's to you, Grambi and Papaw, in honor of your upcoming birthdays and in thanks for the many hilarious and unforgettable road trips to KC, including The Day My Grandmother Bought Pie. I think I speak for both of us when I say that we are grateful to have had the chance to spend so much time with both of you and also with our great grandparents--not everyone gets that chance. I'll eat my strawberry pies while thinking of you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raspberry Beret -- This one's for you, Dad

A few weeks ago, I wore a raspberry beret. Ha--just kidding! I do not care for berets. Actually, I saw a certain celebrity chef making the following dish on her TV show. I thought it looked like a nice summer dessert and decided that I would try it. Apparently my father saw the same show during his recent brief convalescence and also thought this particular dessert looked good. So, gentle readers, I give you my version of frozen berries with white chocolate ganache...

First, slice some strawberries, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer.

Later, begin making the ganache by pouring white chocolate chips into a double boiler.

Next, add a few tablespoons of heavy cream.

While the white chocolate chips melted with the heavy cream, I put the frozen strawberries on a plate with some raspberries that I had in my freezer.

Stir the ganache until the chocolate is completely melted.

Finally, pour the ganache over the frozen berries (I think I made too much ganache, but I still put most of it on the berries).

Final verdict: Dad, I wouldn't bother. This wasn't that good. The ganache was...well, the best way that I can describe it is "gummy." I would try it again with regular semisweet chocolate chips, though. I think the gumminess might have to do with the ingredients in the white chocolate...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Electric Avenue

Some of you gentle readers have already heard this story (or parts of it), but I have had several requests to recount the events of the past month on my new blog, so here it is. Be forewarned, this is a long story and there aren't many pictures because most of this happened before I decided to start my blog.

Remember children's books and TV shows that included stories about nice mouse families that lived in holes in the walls of houses or even in department stores (i.e. "Muffy" from Today's Special)?

Well, they never show the part of the story where the mice leave their nicely appointed abodes in order to seek out food, defecating along the way. When I was younger, these mouse stories were kind of cool. As an adult with her own home, I find mice far more objectionable.

Since I live in a log house in a rural area next to a creek, I expect to have some pest problems, including the occasional mouse. One evening at the beginning of May, I saw a mouse run from the area behind my TV along the wall and into the kitchen, so I attempted to set a snap trap to catch it.

(Since I don't have my own photos, I gathered a few illustrations for this entry...)

I have found in the past that snap traps are the most reliable way of catching mice--the small electronic traps were an expensive waste of money, poison leaves dead bodies in inappropriate places, and glue traps are just generally awful (more on those later). The problem is that I cannot set snap traps without snapping my fingers several times in the process. As usual, I wasn't able to set the snap trap, so I gave up in frustration and went to bed, hoping that the mouse would magically go away. The next morning, I noticed mouse poo in my kitchen drawers. Mice in this neighborhood really enjoy being in drawers like they are the Japanese tourists that Kramer kept in his Karl Farbman chest on Seinfeld.

Anyway, after removing everything from the drawers, washing the utensils, and disinfecting the drawers and drawer liners, I attempted once again to set a snap trap in order to catch the offensive creature. Half an hour later, I finally gave up and found some glue traps in the cabinet, which I don't remember buying, but they seemed like the best option at the time. I didn't catch the mouse on the first night with the glue trap, but it did poo in the drawers again, so I repeated the process of washing everything once again.

Then, the next night, I saw the mouse running from a hole in my baseboard again (please don't ask me why there is a perfectly drilled mouse-sized hole in my baseboard--the people who lived here before me were not the brightest stars in the sky). I hate seeing mice, so I was determined to catch it. I still only had the glue trap as I could not set the snap trap, so I put the glue trap on a piece of newspaper along the wall where I had seen the mouse and I went to bed. The next morning I woke up and McKenna and I came downstairs to find the glue trap missing and small pieces of paper all over the floor. After searching for over an hour for the missing glue trap, I found it. The mouse had dragged the trap from the kitchen to the living room, through the living room, and up several of the stairs that lead up to the loft at which point it apparently extricated itself from the trap, leaving copious amounts of fur behind, and ran off to hide somewhere.

I immediately went to the store in search of anything that might work and ended up purchasing a new kind of snap trap--one that is basically a snap trap in a plastic box so that you don't have to see much of the mouse and you can set it with the flip of a lever. I set the trap that evening and caught a mouse by the next morning, which I promptly disposed of.

Soon, I found more poo in the drawers, so I knew that there was at least one more mouse on the loose. By this time, I had cleaned the drawers and utensils at least three times, so I removed everything from the drawers, washed it again, and left it on the kitchen table until I could catch the mouse. The same day, while reorganizing my office in the loft, I saw a mouse dart out from the corner and then run back behind a bookshelf when I screamed at it--visual confirmation of the continued presence of the pest. And that is when it became war.

My grandmother had told me that she read in her AARP magazine that you should put cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around the house to keep mice away and I figured that it couldn't hurt. I also read that you should put several drops of peppermint oil in a spray bottle with water and spray the mixture along the baseboards, windows, and doorways of the house. So, after an afternoon of cleaning and with a house that smelled like an Altoid, I set the new snap trap one more time and went to bed.

The next morning there was no dead mouse, but there was mouse poo next to the peppermint oil soaked cotton ball in one of the drawers. At this point, I was desperate and ready to do something drastic. I began to do some research online and I found that several people had success with this:

With over 70 positive reviews on Amazon, I decided that this was my best bet--a pest electrocution device the likes of which mankind has never encountered before. The Rat Zapper runs on four D size batteries and has an LED to show you when it catches something. It works on mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, and pretty much anything that will fit inside. Really, it is one of the most humane ways to kill mice if you are going to kill them rather than catching them in live traps. With the four D size batteries, mice are killed almost instantly without the blood, decapitation, suffocation, etc. that can be caused by other kinds of traps. Needless to say, I ordered a Rat Zapper Ultra immediately.

While reading about the RZU, I learned that this same company makes a few related devices. One of these is the Rat Tale:

This plugs into the RZU in case you have to put your device in an attic, under the stairs, or anywhere else that you might not want to have to climb up to or into in order to see if you caught something. This little guy sticks out of the attic or closet door and lights up when you catch something. For more serious problems, there is also the Battle Station (their title, not mine):

This is a package deal--you pay one price for five RZUs and a central control panel (shown above). Place the devices all around the house and check the central control panel to find out if and where you caught something. Thankfully I did not need this degree of pest control.

When my RZU arrived, I was thrilled to put it to work. I put batteries in it, baited it with the recommended dog food, put it on the wall where I had seen mice before, and waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing. Then I went for a little weekend trip--making sure to shut the RZU off before I left.

Upon my return, I decided to try a different kind of bait and to move the RZU to a new location. I baited it with cheese and put it in my laundry room, near the discovery site of the famous Sleeping Snake. About an hour later, the dog jumped out of her bed and ran into the laundry room. Following her, I saw the red "catch" light blinking and I began to hear something like this:

These noises were accompanied by small puffs of smoke and a slight "warm" odor in the air. All of this lasted about 10 seconds and I looked at McKenna and said "We got one!" I wanted to sound the alarm like Janine in Ghostbusters, but having no such alarm, I called my parents instead.

Gentle readers, I tell you this: While I do not claim to be an official spokesperson for the Rat Zapper Ultra and speak only from my own experience with this device, this was one of the wisest investments I have made in a long time. I have now caught two mice, which I have never had to see. I just take the RZU, dump it into the trash, throw some more trash on top, rebait the trap, and return it to its corner of the laundry room.