Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Kitchen Re-org 2010

Kitchen Re-org 2010
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I wasn't lying when I said I was thinking organization. Ha!

I did the same thing in January 2009, but things had slowly grown out of hand again, so I decided to build on my successes and do another reorg. Putting the booze into its own cabinet freed up an entire shelf in the pantry, which inspired me to get another couple of organizational do-dads (like tiers for the canned goods). Half-used bags of rice or beans or other "bulk" items were combined (like with like) and put into new clear, air-tight containers. I'd previously bought a bunch of metal canisters but I could never tell what was in them or how much and often bought things I already had because I couldn't be bothered to dig to a back shelf and open canisters to check. The new set-up is definitely an improvement.

Kitchen Re-org 2010

I also put an additional rack in the laundry room (where I'd added two wire storage shelves last year) which nicely hold other dry goods. One of the problems I had with my previous storge "solution" was things in bags (like pasta or beans) were getting lost in the bin system that I'd tried to set up. I moved all the bagged beans and rices to clear jars or plastic storage containers and put bags and boxes of pasta as well as jars and bottles (maple syrup, pasta sauce, various nut butters) on the new laundry room rack. Eventually I expect that will become even more of a true dry goods area.

I only uncovered a few things that had gone past their expiration dates due to being pushed back in the pantry (a couple of shelf-stable tofu boxes and some nuts) but I did uncover a surplus of cornmeal, grits, and dried beans. I'll be working to get those supplies down to a reasonable amount now that they've been rediscovered.

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Heating a House

When Pramas and I bought this house we were thrilled to be able to get a newly constructed home in the city and on the transit lines. We're still pretty thrilled with our house, though we have expanded to fill it and sometimes wish for things like a basement for dedicated game space and a spare bedroom that would give us room for guests.

The house came with several nifty features such as cable jacks and outlets in every room (not quite as nifty as Tim's full-wired house with the media closet and embedded surround-sound speaker system, but good enough to get cable and internet in any/all rooms of our choosing), a porch and fenced yard, and a "state of the art" and energy efficient hydronic radiant heating system. And, I have to admit that in general our house is easy to heat so I guess it was doing its job.

Unfortunately, problems with the hot water system popped up here and there around the development. The SHA's rental properties were among the first to be discovered. There was a bit of a minor scandal when it was discovered that the SHA not only knew about the defective piping used in the building of all our houses but had been fixing those failed systems without bothering to inform the Homeowner's Association or the other property owners. We even got a little press coverage when the SHA finally disclosed what they knew to the homeowners and we found out that information included knowledge that they'd "found unacceptable levels of lead in drinking water pipes." After much brouhaha and water testing around the development the lead thing was ruled to be an isolated issue (corrected a year before the homeowners even learned of it) but a lawsuit erupted over the defective pipes and the SHA's mishandling of the HOA when they had control.

That lawsuit has finally settled and to our initial relief, it seemed that we were going to receive a settlement check to cover the necessary repairs> In fact, we have indeed received a check. Unfortunately for me, after looking at the two operations that are offering "discounted" quotes (basically, a group rate for the 165 or so homes involved) to replace the system, it's clear that this settlement will only barely cover the basics of the work (the actual replacing of the pipes and water heater) and none of the "additional costs" (ripping up the walls, floors, or ceilings to get to the pipes; drywalling; re-flooring if necessary, repainting) not to mention that we would have to vacate our house for about a week.

So, I've been looking at other options. Until I hear back from the plumbers, I don't even know if the affected pipes were for heating only or if they're all the same pipes that bring water to the taps throughout the house. If the latter, we're kinda screwed. If we have some leeway, it might be possible to just cap off the "heating" pipes and leave them alone, replace the water heater, and then substitute electric heaters in the walls where the electric blowers for the hydronic system already exist. We don't have any ducts built into the house so central heating (or central air) aren't viable options. I've researched heat pumps and ductfree split system air conditioning. Even considered a gas or electric fireplace (though we'd have to seriously reduce the number of bookshelves taking up the walls in the house to do that).

We don't typically have to turn on the heat in our house until sometime in November but there's a ticking time bomb in the walls and I don't want to have to face it failing in the middle of January, or during any crazy Snowpocalypse action. If we have to go with replacing the hydronic system with a similar one, the "group pricing" offer we've got in hand from the two plumbers the HOA recruited isn't going to last forever.

So. Decisions have to be made. Soon. If anyone knows any good plumbers, HVAC experts, or reasonable and reliable general contractors in our area, I'm taking references and actively investigating my options! Or, if you can think of any other heating options that I haven't mentioned here (as Evan did when he noted that I didn't necessarily have to go with another hydronic system at all) I'd love to hear from you.


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Prortland, the GR Summit, and yet more travel

I started to write about my visit to Portland but it turned out to be a little more emotionally taxing than I thought it was going to be. Took me a while to get back to it.

Being back in my mom's house is always hard for me. I love my mom but I can't understand her life. I don't understand her relationship with her husband and it is only with the most strenuous effort that I can tolerate him. While my mom was in surgery, he was in the bar. While my mom was propped up with ice packs and pain pills and trying to recover, he was chain smoking 3 feet away. I drove her to and from the hospital, I filled her prescriptions, I brought her soup and ice packs and pain pills. He went out for a morning bender, staggered in so drunk he could hardly stand at noon and started bellowing. My mother actually believed she was going to get up and fix him lunch! Over my dead body, I said. He passed out for a while until his grandson called him up a couple hours later to invite him out for more drinks... so he staggered out for another "toddy". I'm stretched taut by the stress of being around this stuff for an hour, let alone several days.

Thankfully I had a couple of breaks in the action and I they really did save my sanity. On third day of the stay, my friend Greg (who used to live just down the street while we were growing up) came by and the two of us went to and end of summer celebration hosted by another childhood friend. There were a dozen or so Canby High alums in attendance, few I'd been close to in school but all of whom were great fun now that we're adults. I had a lovely time, shared good food and drink, and both bitched about (and then forgot about) the situation at my mom's house.

My brother returned from a month of doing some doctor-stuff out in New York in the midst of my mom's recovery so he came down to check in on her and the two of us went out for dinner together, meeting up with his awesome girlfriend and her brother for some sushi in Portland proper. Afterward, Chad and Megan and I hung out for a while at her place, talked about their residency applications and their time in Haiti. It was SO nice and how I'd REALLY rather spend my "family time".

Not long after recovering from my Portland excursion, we hosted Green Ronin's annual summit out here in Seattle again. This year I felt somewhat subdued, no doubt from the emotional hangover I feel whenever I spend time at my mom's house and around her husband and his spawn. We stuck pretty close to home for our dining breaks: breads and pastries from Columbia City Bakery, pizza and ice cream at Flying Squirrel Pizza, brunch at Verve Wine Bar, lunch at Calamity Jane's and Georgetown Liquor Company. Our meetings were efficient, productive, and on task. Before I knew it, the summit was over, the boys had returned home and I was prepping for the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore five days later.

Normally we let Hal handle the Baltimore summit himself since he's virtually local, being in Alexandria and all. This year I thought we'd have made a long-anticipated announcement and we'd need the extra staff but through a comedy of errors and miscommunication announcements have not been made, demos we thought were not scheduled were scheduled (and then weren't done after all) and the "easy" trip that was supposed to involve me staying on the cheap with my business partner ended up being additionally complicated by Hal's house being without running water (hello hotel!).

Those folks who follow me on Twitter were able to follow the travails of my return trip in real time as I shared my frustrations 140 characters at a time. 4:20am pick-up from Shuttle Express, aboard my plane at 6-something, sitting on the tarmac for some hazy time period where I was falling in and out of a doze and wishing the plane would take off already so I could recline my oh-so-"comfy" middle seat. Returning to the gate area around 8am to remove a passenger who claimed to be too ill to travel (though I saw her gathering her things and walking off the plane and she didn't seem to be sick at all) and finally taking off. Arriving for my connection in San Francisco 40 minutes too late to make my connection and finding out that the next (and only) flight to Seattle was 9 hours later. Deciding to take the BART to the city to kill time and have lunch, sitting on the BART while a "police incident" closed the station we were trying to reach. Finally boarding the plane and getting my first class upgrade (yay!) but having to sit next to a douche bag. Luckily, a couple of free beers and a complimentary fruit and cheese plate made up for it. Finally arriving in Seattle, standing at baggage claim for an hour and confirming that my bag was not on the plane with me but had been sent to Las Vegas earlier in the day. Deciding that with the day's luck in mind, I just wasn't up to risking taking the last light rail/bus connection to my house and paying out for the $35 cab ride home. Woo, it's been quite a while since I've had a travel day quite like that.

Now I'm home and plan to be here for a while. I can't quite shake this feeling of utter exhaustion. I'm sleeping too much, tired within an hour or two of waking up, nodding off at my computer, falling asleep on the couch at night while trying to watch tv with Chris or Kate. No rest for the weary, however! In addition to catching up on Green Ronin work, I also have to coordinate the repairs to our heating system in the house, hopefully before the actual cold weather comes. The New Holly homeowners finally received a settlement in the lawsuit over the defective pipes used in the heating systems in our homes. We were thrilled at this news because we've been living with the inevitable complete system failure hanging over our heads for years while this lawsuit played out. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to figure out that the settlement wasn't actually going to be enough to cover the system replacement. Or, rather, that the settlement *could* cover the system replacement, just not all the "incidental" repairs that we'd need to make. See, the pipes and the water heater and so on are covered in the repair estimates but taking out and replacing the walls to get to the pipes (which, with the hydronic heating system, run through all the walls in the house), repainting, re-flooring (if they have to tear up the floors, too) and so on. We're going to have to come up with several thousand dollars in additional funds in order to put our house back together once they're done and the clock is ticking. Nothing like a little extra stress to keep the heart pumping.

Three weeks out from my 40th birthday and I'm feeling about 100 years old.

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Once upon a time, I bought the Better Homes and Gardens book Making a Home (subtitled Housekeeping for Real Life) because I've never been a homeowner before and I wanted to make sure I was educated about what kinds of things (maintenance, cleaning, upkeep) a homeowner needed to attend to in order to keep their home well maintained. It's the kind of book that encourages you to make several cleaning lists (daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal!) that includes in your ideal "to do" list items like Monthly: Clean oven and refrigerator; sanitize refrigerator drip pan.

Their Spring Cleaning section lists a number of chores that without a book I never would have thought to undertake: Have pillows professionally cleaned, wash or dry clean rugs, dust or wash window blinds, wipe out cabinets and install fresh shelf paper, vacuum cooling coils under or behind refrigerator, wash windows inside and out (including storm windows and screens), flip and rotate mattresses...

I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing these kinds of chores done. Unfortunately for me, I just don't have time to do them. I've often thought I would actually enjoy being able to manage my house full time; I would hate to be a housekeeper for someone else ("Oh my god, that lazy Nicole failed to dust the top of the refrigerator again!") but to be in a position to do for myself? My little project manager heart does a flip to imagine being able to schedule carpet cleaning, to know that I've rotated the mattresses and changed the sheets, that my gutters are clean, my garage swept, my light fixtures free of dust and dead insects.

Of course, you would never know that I harbor these fantasies to actually look at my house. I've never actually changed the air filter in the stove vent, or replaced the water filter in the fridge. I'm far more likely to be checking the Green Ronin message boards or working on some company-related project than freshening my linens or contact papering my cupboards. I can't remember the last time the kitchen floor received more than a cursory Swiffering. It's a pretty good weekend when I can get a couple of loads of laundry washed/dried/folded/put away, dishes done, recycling taken care of, and the living room vacuumed.

This weekend, for the first time in ages, I wasn't traveling, sick, or just plain weary. I finally removed several large boxes filled with packing peanuts from a corner of the living room, finally put away the boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic space of the garage, and basically started paying attention to the house around me more than making sure the family has clean clothes, clean dishes and food in the fridge. As long as I'm working full time, the only driver in the household, taking care of all school- and Kate-related duties, I'm never going to fulfill my desire of running my household with precision. However now that spring is practically upon us, I look forward to shaking off some of the winter funk that has settled around us while I wasn't looking.

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Entirely too hot again today.

Puttered around the house, hanging curtains, installing more shelves in the bedroom. Piece by piece the house comes together. I love looking around the house and seeing my own handiwork. Even though I've mostly limited myself to installing ceiling fans, shelves, or hanging the occasional picture, I still feel like I'm pulling off my own little home improvement show.

Making a little day trip down to see my mother and grandmother with Kate tomorrow. Mom's computer blew up and we have a surplus of old machines around here that will easily meet her needs (which amount to "has a modem" and "has a word processor"-maybe "has solitare installed").

Today was the day to see how my attempt at Nigella Lawson's recipe for "asian gravlax" (which I've had curing in the fridge for about 3 days) turned out. I felt too uncomfortably hot to eat, but Chris made a couple of bagels with cream cheese and the salmon (which he declared was "between sashimi and lox") and said it was good. I've still got about a pound and a half of cured salmon to polish off! Sometimes I get a little carried away with cooking stuff.

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Got Kate all bathed and packed up for camp last night. She's going on an overnight camp excursion with her class today and tomorrow, to return Friday afternoon. We had quite the checklist of things to bring, while at the same time being cautioned that the kids were expected to carry their own gear (including a bag full of clothes and toiletries, a sleeping bag and a pillow).

I need to haul Kate off to school, fill mail orders, then we have a lunch date with the fine folks at The Game Mechanics. I expect I won't be eating any lunch, though. Chris and I tried to go to lunch Monday and I just left with the feeling that food was stuck in my throat. Unpleasant. I've been sticking to liquids and mushy stuff since.

After lunch I hope to make a short stop at IKEA for curtains and an above-the-bed shelf for the bedroom. I'm tired of being awakened at 5:30am when the sun begins to lighten my bedroom, even though the blinds are down, and I'm tired of the endless piles of books accumulating on the head and footboards of the bed because we read in bed and have nowhere else for our bed-reading books to live. I have something to return from my last visit to IKEA. I'm hoping the purchases don't over run the returns too badly.

I'm in the final stages of several projects for the summer conventions as well. I'd be much more productive if I didn't have this throat issue bothering me. It seems to flare up at night, where I wake up in pain trying to swallow, and that's been making me cranky and tired during the day. I was literally falling asleep in front of my computer yesterday. Definitely bad timing, as I need to be as productive as possible before we head to Origins in under three weeks!

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Worn out

Saturday I spent the day wrestling with a loft bed in Kate's room. I made a hellish trip to IKEA, which turned out to be in the midst of some gigantic sale. The place was a zoo, with kids running amok all over the place, and mall-walking zombies standing or shuffling in the middle of every conceivable walking space. I can spend hours strolling IKEA getting ideas for projects on the right day, but Saturday was not that day. I curse every one of those shambling mounds who thought it was a good idea to wander the crowded aisles aimlessly with their ill-mannered offspring.

After getting off to that great start, I then spent the afternoon struggling to move a couple of 100 pound packages from the car to Kate's upstairs room alone. I ended up doing it in stages which had me dragging the boxes from the car to the porch, then breaking each package into its component parts on the porch and moving the pieces inside and upstairs. It was quite a work out!

Spent about 3 hours sweating and wrestling with pieces of loft bed, then cleaned up and ran off to join folks at Ray and Christine's for a barbecue. Ray mixed up some excellent mojitos using this gigantic bunch of fresh mint I'd picked up from the Columbia City farmer's market last week. Yummy!

Christine cooked up some great burgers, grilled asparagus, grilled corn on the cob (one of my favorites!), garnished the whole thing with two different kinds of potato salad, and opened up several bottles of wine. Very nice way to spend a Kate-free weekend and kick off the official "summer season." Of course, I hit the wall as I often do at R&C's and had to excuse myself for a lie-down at midnight or so, in the middle of watching the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Angels Revenge episode. I told Chris to wake me when he was ready to go, but as it turned out, I woke up on my own around 2:30am. Chris, Ray and the esteemed Mr. Tynes were having a vigorous discussion about game properties and game design. Managed to crawl wearily into the car sometime around 3:30am and drove home only to find myself completely awake and alert after the brisk drive in the cool morning.

I tinkered on the loft bed for a short while, then noodled around on the internet until I finally felt sleepy again, somewhere around 4:45am. Unfortunately for me, I'd forgotten to set my clock. I have a great alarm clock that I can set to automatically turn off on the weekends, and start ringing again automatically during the week. This is a fantastic feature, until you have a long weekend where you stay up until almost 5am on a Monday morning. Argh! Was jolted unpleasantly awake at my usual 7:45am, then fell exhaustedly back to sleep only to be rudely awoken again by a recorded message from Citibank somewhere around 8:30am.

It was not long after that I just gave up, got out of bed, and went back to finishing the loft bed.

I'm quite proud of my handiwork. I managed to get the bed erected, move Kate's computer desk and associated electronics across the room, get everything working, move and restock her bookshelves, and generally make the room livable again as a solo project. The unfortunate part was that I had to drive to Canby and back to pick Kate up from my mom's after all of this! Chris came with me to keep me company and help make sure I didn't get drowsy on the road (which, thanks to his engaging conversation, I did not).

After picking Kate up at my mom's, I tooled around Canby with the family, goggling at the massive development that's sprung up on "the other side of town" near my old junior high. What I remember as farm fields has turned solidly into suburbia. I took the opportunity to drive by the "new" elementary school and gave my pal JD a call, figuring we'd pay him a quick visit since he was laid up on the couch after knee surgery. We stormed his house in the middle of dinner, while he and wife Kris were already entertaining the Gingeriches. Kate played with the Gingerich kids while JD gamely hobbled up onto his crutches and gave us a tour of the house, specifically his game closet and library. We couldn't stay too long, as I had a 3+ hour drive ahead of me, but still it was great to see JD in person after having spent the last 15 years or so in touch only through mutual friends, or recently, through e-mail and weblogs.

Made it home safe and sound, but am still feeling the effects of my sleepless weekend.

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I have been in a cooking and cleaning way today. Having done umpteen loads of laundry and a spate of gardening today, I feel very virtuous. I also managed to find some nifty, simple IKEA shelves for this awkward little corner of my kitchen that was going to waste. Every time I manage to put up one shelf or organize a corner of the house, I always feel a surge of happiness. Too many potential projects, too little time and money, alas.

I did finally plant the last of my spring plant purchases, though I might go out for a few more flowers or small bushes for the front, as it's currently too asymmetrical out there to suit me. I'd dearly love to buy a Japanese maple to plant in front of the house near the border of my yard with the small park next door, but I haven't quite decided to go all the way and dig up that part of our very small yard. I'm very fond of the look of the Japanese maple, though, and would love to have one in the yard somewhere. I've already fulfilled my desire to plant a couple of lilac bushes and some lavender in the back, the Japanese maple is still calling to me.

If I'm really ambitious on the weekend, I'll finally finish properly setting the bricks/paving stones in the back walkway, replacing once and for all the gravel patch between the porch steps and sidewalk to the garage/alley. It's bothered me since we moved in to have that ugly, dirty gravel path, and most of my neighbors have long ago repaved their gravel patches, but I've just never gotten around to doing it correctly. In order to achieve the look I want, I need to dig up/remove all the gravel, lay down some special sheeting (to keep weeds from growing up between the bricks), level the whole thing, tamp it down, put down a layer of sand, tamp that down level as well, and then set all the bricks/stones in place. I've got half the stones I need, and haven't quite settled on the way I'd like to finish the whole project. Definitely want to have it completed in time to spend some time in the back yard this summer.

Have decided to try and book a room at The Capitol Club for Chris's birthday this summer. It seems up his alley, and I think it would be fun and classy to celebrate there. No confirmation that I can get it for the date I requested, but I'm hoping that in this economy it's not as difficult to book as places like this used to be 5-6 years ago.

Made some excellent pulled pork sandwiches for game night, as well as a new recipe for a cactus salad that I quite enjoyed. Both from the Joy of Cooking, a book that has proved to be a life-saver on more than one occasion when I've gone and bought something wacky (like kale or cactus pads or guava fruits) without any thought in mind of what to do with them when I got them home. The Joy of Cooking is a righteous book. There are particular recipes in other books that I use more often, but if I had to have one book that was my "go to" cookbook above all others, The Joy of Cooking wins out 19 times out of 20.