Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring Break, Day 1

Today B and I flew to San Diego to spend a couple of days with my parents and sister. We got up bright and early (5:15 am), and arrived in San Diego around 8:45. We went straight to the San Diego Zoo and spent the morning there. We are not usually early birds, but this turned out to be a good time to go. There were no lines anywhere, including the panda exhibit. Although the baby panda was doing its usual stuffed-animal imitation, one of the adults was actually awake and eating bamboo.
video


San Diego Zoo meerkats in bowlSan Diego Zoo orangutan
























For lunch, we decided to skip the overpriced burgers at the zoo, and headed Jasmine for dim sum. We had too much to eat, as usual.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Magnetic Tires

This morning, DH got up before I did so that he could pick up a colleague at the airport. As he was putting gas in the minivan, he walked around it and inspected it, as he usually does. Lo and behold, we had yet another flat tire. We have owned this car for five years, and the tires just seem to attract nails and screws. This is the fifth that we can definitively remember, and we're both pretty certain we've forgotten one or more.

The first one happened before we had even put 1000 miles on the car. We drove from San Diego to Berkeley, and discovered a flat tire when we arrived at the hotel. We had to buy a completely new tire, because that one punctured the sidewall. I remember two other incidents from our San Diego years. There was the time we were leaving B's music performance. And the time I backed out of the garage to go to my allergy shot appointment, and heard a "flap flap flap flap" sound. I think there were more. And this is our second flat since moving to the Bay Area a little over a year ago.

So, after picking up B from her slumber party, we headed out to spend the afternoon at Costco. In the 2.5 hours it took them to put our new tires on, we managed to eat lunch, go down every single aisle, and only purchase a half-dozen things (most of which we had planned to get, anyway). Oh, and we tried out several chairs in the garden section.

DH and I have collectively owned five cars since we met each other, and this is the only one that attracts sharp objects. Our other car is driven to many of the same places as this one, and it never gets flats.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cesar Chavez Day

Cesar Chavez' birthday (March 31st) is an official holiday in the state of California, so I had a day off from work today. (Don't ask me why we got today off rather than Monday the 31st, which I would have preferred.) I got to sleep in (DH took the kids to school), and had a leisurely lunch at home.

After that, I went to the website for the kids' school to confirm that their "Spring Sing" (annual performance for parents) was at 1:00 (I've missed a couple of things this year because they didn't stick in my brain). That's when I saw the announcement that there was no hot lunch served today. Oops. I slapped together a pair of sandwiches, grabbed two cartons of chocolate milk from the garage fridge, and raced to the school. I actually managed to find both kids before lunch time was over (yes, they had their usual lunch break, just no food!) and shoved the sandwiches into their hands. I also managed to slice my finger on something--I have no idea what. The sharpest implement I used was a butter knife to spread the peanut butter, but when I went back to my laptop to check one last thing before leaving, I discovered that the trackpad doesn't work if your finger is dripping blood everywhere. Ick.

The Spring Sing was cute, and B's class showed off their "realistic fiction" writing to us afterwards. B is spending the night at a friend's house, so M got to try out being an only child tonight. We went to the store to buy a cherry pie, and played Halo 3 for a couple of hours. I am hopelessly incompetent at that game ("Wait, was I supposed to press the top right button or the bottom right button?"), but M puts up with me because he's desperate for someone to play with at home. (I refuse to let B play "M" rated games at age 8.)

If you'd like to read about what one of my friends did with her day off, check out Blatherings. It sounds like her day was a little more relaxing :-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

(Out of) the Closet

When we bought this house a little over a year ago, one of the things that sold me on this one was the spacious walk-in closet in the master bedroom. It's been fully outfitted with drawers, cabinets, and adjustable hanging rods. It has a full-length mirror and bright lighting, and all of our clothes fit with room to spare.

(Note: this photo was taken before we bought the house--the stuff in it belongs to the previous owners.)

So, why exactly am I sharing my lovely closet with the world now? It might have something to do with the fact that I am typing this post in that very same closet.

No, DH and I didn't have a fight. We do have six house guests at the moment, and with our open floor plan (another reason I liked the house), there isn't really any place else for a night owl to hang out. There are two people sleeping in the living room, two in the family room, three in B's room, and one in M's room. And DH is in our bedroom, of course. Which leaves me with a choice between the closet and the bathroom, since the light and noise from the kitchen spills into both the family room and living room. The closet is actually a pretty nice place to sit with a couple of pillows for padding, and vastly more comfortable than the bathtub.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Frenzy

My sister came over for Easter dinner last night. We had ham, homemade scalloped potatoes, and some asparagus that I managed to overcook. DH's family (parents, sister, niece & nephew) arrived late last night for a visit. Our house is sparkling clean (yes, even the kids' rooms), but don't look in the garage. Or B's closet.

In addition to the expected cleaning stuff, we had an extra task yesterday. On Saturday, we put Otto out in the yard to enjoy the sunshine. When we went to bring him in that evening, we discovered he had wedged himself under the steps to our deck, so we left him there in hopes that he would come out on his own. No such luck--the weather was hot and sunny yesterday afternoon, and he was still hiding, so DH and I had to drag him out. We took a stick and poked it between the treads of the stairs, to try and push him out, and I crawled under the deck and got hold of a corner of his shell to pull. After much pushing and pulling, we finally got him out. I've closed off his access to that area with an old shelf that was lying around, so hopefully we won't have any repeats!

I originally decided to take a day off from work today so I could join DH's family for their tour of Berkeley. However, there were one too many people to fit in the minivan, so I'm loafing at home today. I think I'll go to the grocery store BEFORE the kids get out of school.

On a completely unrelated topic, DH and I have for the last five years or so entered a March Madness pool run by a friend of ours. We know nothing about basketball: some years we've even let the kids enter and been beaten by them. This year, after the second round, I am leading the pool! I'll enjoy it while it lasts--I'm sure someone will pass me up in subsequent rounds.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Salut Printemps!

After a week's hard work in getting our finances in order, I thought I deserved a little time off. So, on Tuesday, since the kids got out of school early, we had lunch at In-N-Out, then drove up to Fairfield for a free tour of the Jelly Belly factory. I highly recommend both of those stops :-)

My free time over the last two days was spent preparing music for various rehearsals. I subbed at a Voci rehearsal Wednesday night (as assistant director), and filled in again today (Thursday) as rehearsal pianist for the school musical.

I haven't been out to look at my garden since spring officially began late last night, but the last time I checked, there were a bunch of California poppy seedlings coming up in front of the fence, and the clematis I planted last fall has a bunch of new green shoots (it looked very dead all winter).

Oh, and those of you who have sung under my direction will probably recognize the title of this post. I just had the opportunity to sing it again a couple of weeks ago at the Voci fundraiser. Great piece!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beep beep beep

It's now Tuesday morning, and here's the status of my to-do list from Saturday:

M's fencing class (DH took him)

Fold last week's laundry (two weeks worth of clothes)
The clothes are folded and sorted, but the kids' baskets are still decorating our bedroom

Wash this week's laundry (sheets and towels)
Washed, not yet folded

Bake and decorate cake for party we're attending tomorrow

Finish balancing checkbook so I can do my taxes

Weed front yard
1/3 done

Prepare music for a rehearsal next week that I'm subbing for
Not yet...

Copy music for group I'm putting together to sing at a fundraiser in April

Not too bad, overall. And our taxes are 99% done--I just need to check a few things before sending them in.

Next on the list--a good night's sleep. Last night's should have been, but some alarm in our house decided at 11:00 pm to announce its low battery status. It didn't beep constantly, just three quick beeps at a time, which isn't enough to track down the source of the beeping. Sometimes there would be 30 minutes between beeps, sometimes 30 seconds, and I never knew which to expect. At 12:30 am, I finally tracked it down to the smoke detector in the garage! DH woke up this morning to a pile of carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in the family room, all without batteries (I just kept removing them until I found the one making the noise.) I was too tired to put new batteries in and put them all back up on the ceiling, although I did think as I fell asleep for the final time that it would be very ironic if that was the night our house burned down...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Weekends, B.K. and A.K.

Once upon a time, before we had kids (B.K.), weekends were a time to relax and do fun stuff. Nowadays, after kids (A.K.), weekends are for scrambling to catch up with stuff and chauffeuring the kids to their next destination. On today's list:

M's fencing class (DH took him)
Fold last week's laundry (two weeks worth of clothes)
Wash this week's laundry (sheets and towels)
Bake and decorate cake for party we're attending tomorrow
Finish balancing checkbook so I can do my taxes
Weed front yard
Prepare music for a rehearsal next week that I'm subbing for
Copy music for group I'm putting together to sing at a fundraiser in April

At least I don't have to make dinner tonight--DH is making his spaghetti and garlic bread feast for tonight.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Daylight Savingzzz

It's now Wednesday, and I think I've finally gotten myself back in sync with the clock. Why are we still subjected to this every year? I find it hard to believe that it saves enough energy to be worth the trouble it cause. Of course, being a night owl, I do like the day in the fall when we "fall back."

It's been a busy week so far: fundraiser for Voci on Sunday, and a major project at work that was due today. I did find time to make dinner tonight: a vegetarian chili recipe I cobbled together from a couple of recipes I found online.

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Vegetarian Three-Bean Chili

1 Tb olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 15-oz can black beans, drained & rinsed*
1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained & rinsed*
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained & rinsed*
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 c vegetable broth
1/2 c frozen corn
2 Tb chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Saute onions in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in other ingredients. Mix well and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt & pepper.


*To substitute dried beans, use 3/4 cup dried beans, soak overnight, and cook for 1.5-2 hours. Also add extra 1/2 tsp. garlic salt

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I first came up with this recipe for a party we had a few weeks ago, and it was very popular. I went with chili because we ended up with a huge number of guests (around 40), and I didn't want to spend a fortune on dinner. One vat of chili con carne, one smaller vat of vegetarian three-bean, and side dishes that other people brought. Three of the four members of my family like it, too, so it's a winner. (As any of you with kids know, it's next to impossible to please all four of us at the same time!)

The weather has been nice, and the California poppy seeds I sprinkled in the dirt a few weeks ago are starting to come up. I haven't had a lot of luck with starting things from seed in the past, but I figured that these are wildflowers that bloom next to highways, so how difficult could it be to grow them? We'll see how many of them make it :-)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Wonderful World Wide Web

Is there anything that you can't find out on the web yet? I'm always amazed by what is out there. This evening, I cooked Spanish Tortillas for the Voci fundraiser that I'm singing in tomorrow. I was assigned the recipe last week, but I didn't get a paper copy of the recipe from the person in charge. So, last Wednesday, links were sent around for suitable recipes. We are to prepare three to four dozen each, and it has to be served on a white, cream, or silver platter. I do not own any white or cream platters, but I do own some silver ones which are rarely used. So, after cooking a zillion tortillas, I went to look for the silver polish. And couldn't find it anywhere. So, off to the web, where I found the following:

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Line pan (or sink) with aluminum foil.
Put silver in, making sure each piece contacts the aluminum foil.
Add equal parts of baking soda and salt. (I dumped 4 heaping tablespoons of each into a kitchen sink with about an inch of water)
Add enough steaming hot water to cover.
Repeat if necessary for heavily tarnished pieces.

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In just a couple of minutes, the silver becomes noticeably less tarnished! Much easier than stinky silver polish (no elbow grease required). The water ends up smelling like sulfur, and the tarnish ends up stuck to the aluminum foil. According to various web sites, the reaction is even more dramatic if you boil the silver on the stove, but I didn't have a pan big enough to boil a platter! I currently have one of my favorite pairs of earrings soaking in a cup, and I can think of several more things to polish now.

In gardening news, I yanked up two more bucketfuls of weeds from the back yard, and bought a dwarf lime tree to put in a container. I've been meaning to buy a dwarf lime since moving to California six years ago, but somehow haven't gotten around to it until now. I did plan ahead and buy casters for the pot before filling it with dirt and tree, since we're going to have to wheel it indoors during the winter.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Aches and Pains

On Fridays, our office goes out to lunch. Today, I was enjoying a nice bowl of minestrone at Orso in Berkeley when my cell phone rang. (I never give out my cell phone number, so when I do get a call I know it's important.) It was M, complaining that he didn't feel well. So, off I went to pick him up from school. He had chills and aches, so I made him a cup of tea, gave him some children's Tylenol, and let him sleep on the couch. After a 30-minute nap, he felt well enough to have some lunch. He's been lying on the couch ever since, with occasional forays into the kitchen, and a second dose of Tylenol at dinnertime.

Whenever anyone in our family is sick, I become obsessed with handwashing, to the point where my knuckles are usually cracked. I guess it's time to stock up on hand lotion again...

We also gave Otto a bath tonight. It wasn't on the schedule, but when I opened the garage door after dinner, something smelled horrible. Like rotting fruit. Like the pear I gave Otto a couple of days ago and forgot about. So, DH very kindly dragged the whole winter home (a grape bin, 48" x 48") outside and hosed it down, then carried Otto into the bathtub. I used the handheld shower to spray him down with warm water, and he actually seemed to like it! I then let him soak in the tub for a while--it helps tortoises to poop if you soak them, and we hadn't given Otto a bath for ages.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hornswogglers and Snozzwangers

My new MacBook arrived today! A 13-inch black 2.4 GHz machine. I've been happily using a a 12-inch PowerBook for the last couple of years, but it's reached an age where the latest software won't install on it, and there wasn't enough space on the hard drive for everything I wanted. My boss wanted me to upgrade a while ago, but I was really hoping that a new 12-inch model would be announced. Instead, Apple chose to unveil the MacBook Air, which is a really pretty machine, but without enough guts for me. The hard drive wouldn't have been any bigger than the old one, and the lack of a CD/DVD drive would annoy me. So, we ordered a 13-inch MacBook, since my personal definition of a laptop requires that I be able to lift it with one hand from the coffee table :-) .

Apple makes it as easy as it could possibly be to upgrade. First, I backed up everything onto an external hard drive (not a required step, but since DH's last two machine "upgrades" have eaten various files belonging to me, I thought it would be a good idea). Next, I turned on the new computer, which walked me through the steps to connect it to the old laptop. Then, I had lunch and read a magazine for a while while the Migration Assistant copied everything over to the new computer. Desktop pictures, applications, all my files. My only complaint about Migration Assistant is the countdown. I expect a bit of inaccuracy, and it doesn't bother me when it takes a while at the beginning to decide if this is going to be a six-hour job or a one-hour job, but when the "less than a minute remaining" stays on my screen for 30 minutes, I find it to be really annoying.

This afternoon I played for the school musical again. The Oompa Loompas did their blocking for the first Oompa Loompa song, and the golden-ticket winners and their parents blocked their boat trip in the chocolate factory. Last night I finally got around to watching the DVD we'd bought of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original, with Gene Wilder). I'd forgotten a lot of the details--I can't remember how long it's been since I last saw it.

Tonight's dinner was an experiment, and it turned out quite well. I'm always looking for quick meals that can go in the crockpot, and I decided this week that I wanted chicken pot pie for dinner. After a little web surfing for ideas, I invented this recipe:

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Chicken Crockpot Pie

2 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
2–3 chicken breasts
1 stalk celery
1 family-size can cream of chicken soup
1 lb. frozen mixed vegetables
1 can large buttermilk biscuits

Peel and dice potatoes and onion. Dice celery and chicken. Put in crockpot with cream of chicken soup and 2/3 can water. Stir. Cook on low until chicken is completely cooked.

1–2 hours before serving, add frozen vegetables and stir.

15 minutes before serving, flatten biscuits to fit tops of bowls. Bake according to package directions until browned (approximately 10 minutes).

Ladle chicken mixture into bowls. Top each with browned biscuit.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Cooking without cooking

Yesterday I dug up what seemed like a million dandelions from the back yard. I don't remember SEEING any dandelions last year, but I think that's because Otto likes to eat the yellow flowers. Maybe I should leave a few for him :-)

Today the kids got out of school early for a staff development day. We went to the grocery store, where B enjoyed gliding up and down the aisles in her brother's old Heelys. We "baked" a banana cream pie (using a Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust, Jello Instant Pudding, and some bananas) and are waiting for it to set. M claims he's never had banana cream pie before, which I think is unlikely, considering my fondness for it. We are leaving in another hour or so for M's fencing class. Tonight DH is going to make spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread for us, since he'll get home first. I bought a loaf of Semifreddi's ciabiatta for the bread, and the rest of the meal is mostly from Costco (Prego sauce by the half-gallon & Kirkland Italian meatballs). So, if "cooking from scratch" is the real thing, what's the proper term for "cooking using convenience foods because I don't have time to do it the old-fashioned way"?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ships passing in the night

That's been my life with DH for the last two days. He's been involved in a board meeting, so he got up early and was out of the house before I opened my eyes. I, on the other hand, have been on a performance schedule, and have arrived home the last two nights after he was sound asleep (10:15 last night, 11:15 tonight). We had a thirty-second conversation yesterday evening as we exchanged cars & kids (I had the kids and the minivan, and he needed both to take his guests to dinner). Today's thirty-second conversation was in two parts: I got up early this morning as he was leaving, to remind him that I was dropping off M at his office in mid-afternoon; and about 10 minutes ago, when I got home, he woke up long enough to ask me how the concert went.

The concerts went pretty well, and my role as human pitch pipe wasn't as stressful as I was afraid it was going to be, so it looks like I'll be continuing in that role. Last night's concert was better, I thought--today a lot of us were tired, and as a group we simply lacked energy. We kept going flatter and flatter, even on pieces we had not previously had trouble with.

The flower cookies I made for the reception were very popular. I forgot to take a picture of them (yes, I'm a novice blogger), but they were little flowers with six petals, which I iced in pink, yellow, and blue. That's one of the reasons I was tired today: although I had planned ahead enough to bake the cookies Thursday night, I didn't start icing them until after last night's concert, so I didn't get to bed until after 1:00 am.

(This was actually composed on March 1st at 11:30 pm, but Blogspot wouldn't let me post it until now)