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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chinese Resaurant Food

Asiana Restaurant, Waldorf Maryland...

Ordered local 4 Spring Rolls, 1 Large Hot and Sour Soup, 1 Large Moo Goo Gai Pan, 1 Large Pork with mixed vegetables, 1 Large Sweet and sour pork.  and 1 Large Schezhuan string beans.


The Spring Rolls were mush in a crispy wrapping.  Spring rolls are supposed to have fancy stuff inside.

The Moo Goo Gai Pan was good.

The Hot and Sour soup was only vaguely hot and sour.  Mostly tofu in chicken broth.

The Sweet and Sour Pork was hideous.  It was just balls of pork in batter.  Nothing else.  And this particularly bothered me.  And I need to explain about that.

When I was in college in the early 70s I learned how sweet and sour pork should be made from a real chinese cookbook.  It is NOT batter pork balls in some wretched boring orange color sauce.  The idea is that there is pork balls in batter surrounded with sweet things and sour things.  Meaning pieces of pickles, green peppers, pineapples, and cherries in a sauce of sugar and vinegar.

I actually fed myself in college by making the real stuff for friends and their dates.  We guys had just been allowed into coed dorms (formerly a girls dorm) and it was a real surprise.  There were stovetops in the rec room.  I won't even mention that there was a bathtub!  But you could COOK there, and I did.

So my deal there was that I would cook a Sweet and Sour pork dinner for any guy and his date so long as they paid for enough for them AND me.  So I ate free by cooking.

This orange crap that chinese restaurants are pawning off as "sweet and sour pork" offends me with their fake orangy sauce.  But at least most of them have pickles and pineapple in them.  Not so my local favorite chinese place.  They USED to, but not now.

It got so bad that they messed up my order Friday.  I ordered several dishes, but they gave me Moo Shi Pork instead of the "Pork with mixed vegetables" I requested.  I hate that mushy Moo Shi Pork!  Admittedly, when I called them soon after they knew they messed up my order and I went back today and got the Pork with mixed vegetables for free.

Its hard to know what you are getting at pickup unless you take everything out of the bags.  And its almost that, if I check, they get it right and if I don't check, they mess it up.

Always check.

But mostly, I am disappointed.  The food sucked.  If I could make the sauces, I could do better at home.  So I'm going to learn the sauces.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bye-Bye Birdy

The hummingbird feeders haven't shown any sign of feeding for 3 days, I guess the cool nights have sent them south.  I'll put clean nectar in them for 2 more weeks "just in case" and for any last-minute migrators.

I'll miss seeing those little aerial fighters until next Spring.

And they are going to be surprised next Spring.  I've found better feeders  (Aspect Humzinger 8 ounce - and there are larger ones) and ordered 4 of them.  The place will be filled with hummer feeders next year.

The "best1" feeders have started to break apart  from cleaning and handling.  I'll sure keep them as backups, but the Humzinger ones seem better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Garden Enclosure Restart

Well, I decided I had to make some greater allowance for moving around the beds.  I kind of forgot there would be a wall of chicken wire all around the edge...  So the paths around the outside edges will be 2' wide and the inner ones more like 20".  That's enough to get around.

So... I took the first big step and went to the Home Depot to buy twelve 2"x8"x8' boards.  A few years ago, they wouldn't cut pressure-treated boards, but now they do.  So I selected 12 decent boards (had to look at 20 boards to find 12 straight ones) and had them cut 8 of them 7' long and 4 of them in half. 

That gives me enough boards to make two 7'x4' beds two 8' boards high. 

Here's the plan...  I have enough space cleared of the old rotting beds to build the 2 new beds.  I can then move the soil from the existing old beds to fill the new 2.  Then I can knock apart 2 more old ones and build 2 new ones, etc.

Why not just rebuild all the old beds you ask?  Well, the paths between them were too wide (wasting space) and they faced the wrong direction.  When you have limited sunlight, that matters.  And odd as it may seem, six 7'x4' beds with narrower paths give me more gardening space than the four 8'x3' beds in the same area.

Trust me on this...

So over the next couple days I'll dig a shallow trench to set the new frames in level (a flaw to correct about the old beds which were more unlevel than you would think sitting on what looks like flat ground) and construct them more sturdier (sturdily?)  And I will be adding compost to the new beds, which should get them off to a good start next Spring.  And the new beds will be higher, so there will be more decent soil for roots to grow. 

It's a lot of work, but it will be worth it.  especially since I will be able to cover 1 bed each year with black plastic to kill the weeds and nematodes and such.  Sometimes half the battle to grow good crops is to manage the soil.  Healthy soil means healthy crops.

I'll take pictures as I go. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Garden Enclosure

I'm back at the 20'x20' garden enclosure project.  And while my initial goal was to maximize the framed bed area and minimize lumber purchases, I've concluded that I need to make some changes.

First, the framed beds were planned to be three 16'x4' beds.  And two 8" wide boards high per bed.  Second, my plan was to use only 2 of the 3 planned beds each year and let 1 go fallow (and solarized with a clear plastic cover) each year.  But even a 2" thick board will bend out over 16', so that meant annoying stakes for reinforcement.

And, well, a 2"x8"x16' board is really hard to handle.  And keeping 1/3 the growing space fallow/solarized each year seems wasteful.  So instead of those 3 framed beds, I'm building six beds 4'x7', two 8" boards high .  That means I can build all the framed beds using 2"x8"x8' boards, which I can haul home in my 8' trailer and I can actually carry those boards.  With 6 beds instead of 3, I can keep 1 bed fallow and solarized each year with less growing-space loss, walk around them easier, and build them easier.  I lose 24 square feet growing area (the 2' between the beds), but I gain 28 sq ft not being fallow each year, so its a wash.

I drew some pictures, but I just can't get the scanner function on the printer to work today (again)...   The first plan had three 16'x4' beds side by side.  The new plan has six 4'x7' beds in a 2x3 grid.  I had to draw rectangles in Word On Mac, print it out, take a picture of the printout, and upload the picture.  I'm just having a bad month with programs.

But here it is and you BETTER appreciate the effort to show it!!!  LOL!
 I spent about 5 hours fighting over several days with the usual programs to draw/scan/display, with no luck.  But it only took 2 minutes to draw it in Word, 1 to print it, 1 to take a camera picture of the printed page, and 3 minutes to get it to a small jpeg file.  Sometimes indirect ways are easier.

I need to reteach myself a lot of the programs; I don't use them enough.  And I suspect I better clean up my Mac.  It's running slower and even a Mac can get clutterred.

Anyway, I went out to dig the first of 9 holes to set pipes into to construct the enclosed garden (safe from squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, etc).  After I dug down 4" in the 1st spot, I hit rock.  And I don't mean little baseball-sized ones.  I dug a 2' hole around that rock and couldn't find the edge.  So I tried the next spot where I wanted to set in a pipe.  Same problem.  I even tried breaking the rock up with repeated blows to it with a 5' beveled "breaker bar".  And nothing broke.  I caused no damage to the rock at all.

You never know what is under your ground until you start digging into it!  In my case, I knew from some experience that my property is a silt plain draining to a swamp.  There are pockets of pure sand, some of pure clay, and lots of hand-sized round rocks.  I didn't know about the 2'+ rocks...

I think a geologist would conclude my property used to be a river path, with large rocks just under the surface that silted over with sand and clay millenia ago. 

I can't dig those up, I can't use an auger to drill through them, I can't ignore them.

Well, wait, I CAN ignore them!  The purpose of digging the holes around the garden-to-be is merely to set the upright PVC pipes in place.  So what if I build a base of PVC pipes ON the ground instead of INTO the ground?

Instead of burying pipes in the ground, I'll make a frame of pipes on the ground with attachment connections sticking up.  And I can attach the ground level PVC pipes to the ground firmly with 2' rebar rods.

Newest problen solved...  I assume I will discover other problems before the structure is completed, but nothing that can't be overcome.  Well, solving the problems is half the fun.

The initial plan was to assemble the upright pipes and then assemble the beds after.  The plan NOW is to assemble the first 2 raised beds to establish one edge of the new layout, fill them with soil, then disassemble the other old framed beds, and clear THAT area for new construction and move the remaining soil from the older beds to the new ones as I move along.

I know this is hard to imagine without pictures.  I'll be taking many as the project continues.  Promise.

But at least I am getting started on it again and solving the problems I didn't expect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Baseball Again

I am pleased to announce that the Washington Nationals baseball team just won the National League East Division Championship!

Even better, they did it in an away series against their closest competitor, the Atlanta Braves (and last year's champions.

Washington, DC, does not have a storied baseball history.  The previous team here (the Washington Senators) won only one World Series and played in only 1 other IIRC.  In fact, they were famous for their ineptitude.  The snarky saying about the Washington Senators was:

"First in War,
First in Peace,
And Last in the American League."

The Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972, and Washington DC, the Nation's capital, was without a major league baseball team until 2005, acquiring the Montreal Expos.  They started slowly, and have become a truly "capital" team.  Their strong points are power hitting, aggressive base-running, balanced pitching and creative double-play fielding. 

Many successful teams are lead by 1 or 2 future Hall-Of-Famers (not to say that some of the current Nats won't be someday).  But the Nats are more of a collection of many really good players who work together well.  The fielding is excellent, the starting pitchers are all close in success, the bullpen is superb, and even the bottom of the batting order is dangerous. 

The 1st half of the season didn't look very promising.  They were around .500 at the All Star Break.  But they had almost half their starters out with injuries at one point and back-ups and minor league players filled in "well".  Everyone was back for the 2nd half, and they just exploded!  I can't find the stats, but they have to have played about .600 since then and that is rare.

It is an amazing change of experience for old Washington DC baseball fans.  I an SO looking forward to the playoffs...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Baseball And Other Sports

I've been interested in baseball on and off my whole life.  I played Little League baseball at ages 9-12, but was poor at it.  Well, I was a small kid.  I got put at 2nd base (which was where you put the 2nd worst player - the worst got put in right field) because I was quick "enough" and could manage to throw the ball to 1st base.  I couldn't hit.  My recollection is that the bat seldom got off my shoulder (the one hit I recall was a "Texas Leaguer" just into the outfield where no one was and Dad went wild with joy that I actually made a hit).  So I was no natural at the game.

I did make an unassisted triple play though.  Bases loaded...  I somehow snagged a line drive over my head (jump high, stick glove up, ball finds glove),  and the runners didn't know it.  I stepped on 2nd base(force out) and tagged out the runner coming from 1st base.  My one claim to baseball fame and obviously I will never forget. 

I quit the next year.  Some kids had gotten so much bigger and stronger.  I couldn't even see a pitched ball, and it wasn't that I needed glasses!  They were just too fast for me. 

Forward to when I was 18, working in a Navy office before entering College.  I had had what passed as my "growth spurt" (reaching a whole 5'6" and 135 pounds), but I had played 3 years of golf, tennis, and soccer in High School.  So I had gotten a lot more coordinated and wiry.  All the offices had slow pitch softball teams in the Navy Base league, and the Directors were always begging for employees to join the team.  Well slow pitch softball is an entirely different game!  And I discovered I had a TALENT.  With a slow pitch, I could hit a ball wherever I darn well wanted to (between short and 3rd, between 1st and 2nd, over the right fielders head, etc).  And amazingly, those "splendid physical specimens of young Navy guys*) couldn't. 

Because they were all 6' tall, 180 lbs, and they just smashed the ball blindly...  Usually straight up, or to the shortstop who always caught the ball.  And the one thing I HAD gotten out of playing 2nd base in Little League was how to manage the game itself.  I played both 2nd base and catcher in the Navy softball league, and I instinctively understood where everyone should be.  I knew when to run out to catch a relay from the outfielders, and where to throw it afterwards.  And the same when playing catcher.  It just seemed so obvious.  That's probably the only reason I played 2nd base in little league.  THAT part, I understood.

* I'm not being sarcastic.  The actual Navy guys on the team were years beyond me in growth and strength at my same age.  They had to be to be accepted into the Navy.  Any 2 of them could have tossed me around like a dodgeball. 

I mention all this only to explain that I have suddenly started watching professional baseball again.  I watched pro football on and off; the Washington team had some good years.  It hard not to admire the skills of coaches like Vince Lombardi, George Allen and Joe Gibbs.  But I don't watch football with much understanding of the game.  Same with basketball.  Both are just chaotic, as far as I can tell. 

Baseball is different.  Each player has a position.  Each player has a responsibility to act individually, but for the good of the team.  Each player has an individual at-bat against an individual pitcher and not ONE of his teammates can help him in the least.  When yous are at bat, you are basically ALONE.  You, vs 9 guys in the field trying to catch anything you hit...

I LIKE that!  In baseball, you can like hitting, fielding, or pitching.  My brief moment of time in the game, I came to like hitting best.

So...  The Washington Nationals baseball team seem set to get into the playoffs as (possibly) the best team in baseball right now.  Its been a journey.  At the All Star break, they were about .500.  They are at .574 today.  Which means they are playing above .600 since. 

The Nationals are surely going to enter the playoffs.  And I am thrilled with that! 

So why do I care?  I care because they field spectacularly.  I care because they pitch wonderfully.  I care because they hit amazingly.  But mostly I care because they seem to be the savviest players on one team since before my time!  They always seem to make the right choices on the difficult plays.  I admire that most of all!

I've never had a home baseball team to like.  I left Boston just too young to care about the Red Sox.  We lived in Virginia, which has no professional baseball ream when I was 13.  We moved to MD too far away to like the Baltimore Orioles  (my friends did, I didn't).

And in Washington DC, there was no professional MLB team between 1969 and 2004.  So I'mnew to this Home-Team stuff.  I just like the Washington Nationals because they play REALLY GOOD!!!  And I admire THAT.

So I am LOVING this season for the Washington Nationals.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Going After The Moles And Voles

I spread Milky Spore around the lawn several years ago.

Its a tiny parasite that seeks and infests insect grubs in the lawn.  And it seems to have worked reasonably well,  I saw no mole tunnels for the past 2 years.  No insect grubs, no moles!  But I saw one mole tunnel today, so I need to maybe I need to apply it again.  Or spray castor oil on the lawn.  Moles hate that stuff.  Apparently, it makes the insect grubs and worms they feed on taste vile.  Moles aren't exactly evolved to consider the taste of fish as safe food and moles have a very highly developed sense of smell.
Castor oil is one ingredient that will deter moles.

And it isn't the moles that bother me so much, it's the voles that use the mole tunnels to get around safely underground.  Moles don't eat plants or plant roots, voles do.  But to reduce the voles, you have to reduce the moles.  No mole tunnels, fewer voles.

I have identified a lot of vole-holes.  When you see a mole tunnel and a 1" hole in it, that's where the voles are coming out to feed on the plants above ground.  So I have collected plastic covers to hold vole traps under.  They are baitless.  These aren't mousetraps that need bait.  The idea is that under enclosed covers, the voles will search around and just walk into the traps eventually.

But I think it is time to discourage the moles themselves again.  They seem to hate castor oil (as do I), and sites say that moles will leave areas soaked with castor oil.  We'll see.  I'll start from the center of the back yard and slowly work outwards.  And then spray along the fence a few times a year to keep them out. 

Part of my idea is to do something different every year that moles don't like.  If I do enough things they don't like, eventually they will leave.  And if the moles leave my yard, I can take care of the voles afterwards.

There is a mole poison, but I won't use that.  One of the cats might catch a poisoned mole and eat it.

One thing at a time, as safely as possible, and gradually...  The Cro-Magnons didn't kill all the cavebears in a year, though they did eventually.

Friday, September 12, 2014

More Energy-Saving Work

Now that the BIG DEAL insulation project is completed, I can move my attention to other energy-saving projects. I've seen charts that show the heating and cooling costs account for about a 1/3 of your total energy bill, which was more than I thought but not by a lot.  The surprise was how much hot water costs (10-15%).  That's double the refrigerator!  Now, I have my water heater wrapped up in an insulation blanket designed for water heaters, so my hot water usage cost may be lower than average.  But still, for one appliance, that's still a lot!  So...

First on the list is the water heater.  It's 28 years old, and was certainly a cheap one to begin with. 

I've been debating among a new standard energy-efficient water heater, and instant-on water heater, and a heat pump water heater.  I still can't decide which is best for ME (single person, low-volume, infrequent but frequent fast demand for cooking and dish-cleaning).  I'm inclined to the "instant-on" (heats water as it passes through the pipes rather than stores it); one medium one for the whole house and one small one for the kitchen sink.  But I'll do a final research this week.  The payback depends on the type I select.  The standard type is cheaper, so payback is faster, but costs a bit more over the years.  The heat pump water heater has a longer payback, but is cheaper to operate after that.  The instant-on type is between those. 

The choice might seem obvious in the long-term, but technology changes and maybe I'll have solar panels on the roof in a few years (see way below).

Second is replacing the basement refrigerator (which I use as a sort of root cellar for long-term storage). 

I keep a considerable amount of fresh food in the house (I don't go grocery shopping often), and my current kitchen refrigerator is good but not enough.  The previous (original 28 year old refrigerator) holds the bags of carrots, potatoes, beer, garden seeds, birdseed, and other stuff, and long term frozen stuff.  It is probably HORRIBLY HORRIBLY inefficient, so a newer modest refrigerator would probably pay for itself in just a few years.  And the electric company offers a generous rebate for replacing old refrigerators with new energy-efficient ones.  I'm guessing a 3-4 year payback.

Third, my basement workshop has four 4-bulb fluorescent light fixtures all wired into one switch.  I seldom need them all on.  Most of the time, I just need the one over the basement refrigerator.  I can separate those connections into 2 switches so only half come on at a time.

Fourth, switching more bulbs from incandescent to LED bulbs.  Any LED bulbs I use to replace incandescent bulbs will not only save money, but probably outlive me.  And replacing bulbs in the stairway fixture 15' above the floor is a real adventure.  Same with the floodlights outside the front door.

Fifth, I should consider replacing the washer and dryer.  They are over 15 years old.  I'll be checking to confirm it, but my recollection from reading Consumer Reports magazine is that the newest ones have a payback time in energy savings of about 4-5 years.

Sixth, and this one is VERY uncertain, replacing the standard heat pump with a geothermal one.  I did some initial research and most places around here like to drill holes down at a cost of about $20,000.  But there are some that seem to work just as well horizontally for $8,000.  Geothermal is VERY energy cost-efficient.  But $20,000 would take a 10-year payback.  The horizontal geothermal is slightly less efficient but needs only a 8 year payback.  But that depends on how much I'm saving with the new home insulation work just completed.  I'll have to wait to see what my Winter electric bills are now.  More research required...

Seventh and least likely, removing the 3 mature trees shading my house and covering the roof with solar panels.  I like the trees, but I'm worrying in every strong storm that one of them will fall onto the house.  Conflicting thoughts here.  I might be able to actually sell the trees (2 are oak) to sawyers.  But I still wouldn't have sunlight on the roof all day.  It's close to cost-efficient, but I can't decide.  I'll need to contact a solar engineer (not a salesman) and a sawyer who buys large trees.  But it probably doesn't make sense to do both geothermal heating AND solar panels, so I'll wait a year.

That's a new TO-DO list, but one I can deal with.

The Insulation Project

Home insulation work is messy!  Its sure not like having a plumber come in replace a faucet, LOL!  First, I had to take everything out of the attic and move everything away from most of the basement walls.  That was bad enough.  But then the contractor went to work...

The attic wasn't bad.  They only had to add a duct from a bathroom exhaust fan to the outside, add baffles against the roof edge to direct fresh air in toward the roof ridge vent, spray a foam sealant along all the edges, joists, and around all the pipes that came up through.  Then blow 13" of fiberglass insulation around levelly.  Oh, and they added a removable insulation cover over the attic staircase opening.

The messy work was in the basement, both inside and out.

They used more foam sealant around all the edges.  And to properly fill the wall cavities, they had to drill holes in the paneling.  Mostly, they could do that above the suspended ceiling tiles I installed.  You can see the wooden plug they tapped in afterwards.
But along one wall they had to seal the top edge and then drill access holes below the ceiling tile.  My fault, because of the way I attached the framing studs.  They could have lined up the holes better (see the row of plugs?) but I was watching someone else at the time the holes were drilled.  Well, I can stain them to blend in better, and it IS just a workshop.  Its not like they did that in the living area.
Here's a picture of an unplugged hole showing the pulverized newspaper filling.  Yeah, those newspapers you recycle come back to you sometimes.  Some of that insulation may even be MY old newspapers!
Then they went to work on the outside of the basement.  The front of the house hangs over the foundation 2'.  Which looks rather nice and adds some living space above, but is terrible for insulating.  The only insulation that was there was 1/2" plywood sheathing.  No wonder the initial energy auditor's infra-red camera showed the entire front side of the living area of the house as being  hot!  A better builder would have insulated that.  So these guys did!  They removed the vinyl soffit and sprayed foam insulation into all the edges.
Then they drilled holes in the plywood sheathing, and blew it full of pulverized newspaper and plugged the holes.   Then, of course, replaced all the soffit panels.
It was a bit messy...
They were about to vacuum it all up afterwards, but I told them not to.  Its untreated newspaper, so it is just fine as mulch.  And I KNEW they would thrash that vacuum hose all around through my plants.  So I just swept it gently off the plants with a broom after they left.

I wish I had had this done right after I moved in.  But the electrical company only started advising users of how THEIR usage compared to their neighbors last year.  Until then, I had no reason to think my usage was any different from my neighbors.  Seriously, have you ever visited a neighbor to compare electric bills?  Maybe you should!

Besides, when I started getting notices about my electrical usage from the supplier, I assumed it was because I was retired and home all day.  I was using hot water more often, opening doors to go in and out all day,  cooking more meals at home, watching TV, having lights on, etc.

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation today based on the expected reduction in my electrical bill.  I'm estimating that the poor-quality job the builder did has cost me about $25,000 (allowing that electricity used to be a lot cheaper) and will save me about $1,000 per year (so the payback is 3-4 years).  And more in the future as energy costs rise...

If your electrical company has a subsidized insulation improvement program, take advantage of it!  My initial subsidized energy audit cost only $100 (and they gave me $100 worth of compact fluorescent bulbs so it was really free).  The company that partnered with the electrical supplier had an A rating on Angieslist, and guaranteed a 20% reduction in outside air leakage (I got 41%).

Give it some thought.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I am reposting most of a previous year's post today, because it is still true and I can't say it better yet.


The day started with an announcement on the radio about a small plane crashing into a World Trade Center Building.  I mentioned it in passing to my supervisor.  The next few reports made it seem worse.

Then I felt a THUMP under my feet at 9:37.  I didn't know that the Pentagon had been struck.  But I realized after that, that I had felt the strike. I happened to look at my watch.  Seared in memory.

My govt office had some Emergency Management functions, so there was a special TV in a conference room.  Most of us ended up in there.  I was out on the roof at the time the first Tower went down, so I didn't see it in real time.

I saw the 2nd Tower go down though.  Most thought it a replay of the 1st Tower, but I saw the difference and called attention to it.  We all stared in horror.

There are evil vicious cruel acts occurring all over the world on a daily basis.  Victims have their lives shattered every day.  No one is free of them.  I will not make guesses on "worst".

There are reasons given for all destructive killing acts.  Most of them are pathetically weak.  But some are more unsensible and evil than others.

I have a background in history.  Phenomenally and nearly innumerable horrible acts abound through the ages.  Pol Pot, Nazis, Colonialism, Inquisitions, Witch-Burnings, European Christian Crusades, Islamist invasions, Mongol and Hun attacks, Viking slaughters, and back on through the lost times of history.  No age is free of vicious and pointless deaths.

But I will remember 9-11 all my life with a line I read in the book 'Dune'.  "Never forgive, never forget".

But I should.  When I read about some cultural group angry about something that happened 500 years ago, I have to wonder about the "never forgetting" part.  There was the December 7th attack, but we think of Japan as an ally now.  As Germany is a democracy now, as is Italy.  Forgiveness is possible.

There may be a day when I will forgive the Islamists for the 9-11 attack.

But today is not that day.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Food Interlude

I've been talking about losses, finances, and projects too much lately.  There is also food...

The medical charts I see say I should weigh 153 pounds.  I weighed 162 this morning, but its hard to get rid of those last pounds.  I don't worry about that TOO much.  The insurance charts say people about my weight over the medical charts live longer.  Living longer seems good.

But let's talk food here.  And not lots of it, but GOOD food!  And I don't mean really fancy food either.  I mean just good basic food.  I like fresh food I prepare myself.  I don't mean that I grow and grind the wheat for the bread for my sandwiches or anything like that.  But I do grow some food myself and shop mostly through the produce department of the local Safeway and bake some great bread (with my bread machine and lots of herbs and spices).  I buy my meat at a local butcher and liquor shop (it's an interesting place).

My garden wasn't much this year, as I am tearing it up to rebuild it.  But I did manage to grow bicolor corn, russian fingerling potatoes, and leeks in containers, and cukes and italian flat beans around cages in the old asparagus bed.

So here's what happened yesterday...

I cooked 3 chicken thighs (bone in for additional flavor) in the oven, and the thighs were coated in my home-mixed "shake and bake" .  I like thighs because they have more flavor and you can't really overcook them (anything from 175 to 190 is "just fine").  I had a small ear of corn-on-the-cob from my garden.  I won't get many, but they sure are sweet straight from the cornstalk.  I picked a dozen flat italian beans and simmered them 4 minutes dropping in the ear of corn after 1 minute.  I made a salad of a home-grown heirloom Aunt Gertie's Gold tomato, a home-grown 4" (and therefore seedless) cucumber, and a slice of a vidalia onion (purchased) and minced, with home-made italian dressing.  And I had a dessert of cut-up fresh peach, strawberry, green grapes, cantelope, a navel orange, and a plum.  With 2 glasses of old vine zinfandel...

And with a dark chocolate and a white chocolate Lindor truffle and a Dove caramel...

While watching my local Washington Nationals baseball team beat our closest rivals again, (sorry to all you Atlanta Braves fans) on TV and Marley AND Iza on my lap and feet... Wearing fleece-lined leather slippers...

As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get better than that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


With the insulation contractor requiring me to move stuff away from all the basement walls, I had to realize how badly clutterred the entire basement had become.  It happens so gradually!

So another project is to get rid of stuff I haven't used in 10 years. 

First, that used dining table set I bought from Salvation Army when I retired,  planning to refinish it.  I'm never going to that!  I'm giving it back to them.  And as long as I was planning THAT. I decided to find everything else I could part with.  Stacking chairs I bought 20 years ago when I thought I would be throwing deck parties, wine bottle holders and kitchen stuff I never used, etc.  I'm sure there is more if I look around.

But mostly, that table and those chairs take up a lot of space in the basement and I have enough stuff down there that belongs there as it is.

There is stuff in the boxes that were in the attic that I had to haul down.  Most were Christmas decorations, and I haven't decorated a Christmas tree in 10 years.  I don't need them.  Most of those  can go.  I think I will keep the most unusual or the ornaments and little LED outside lights, I might use them again.

Some stuff from the attic I WILL keep.  I discovered several boxes of HO train stuff from my teen years that I thought were long gone.  I think I will set them up on the living room floor to see what I have.

But unclutterring is the rule of the day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Getting Back To Normal

Sometimes, when too many things aren't working, you have to pull back and simplify for a while.  And you never know how long it's going to take.

Too many things on the To Do List can get overwhelming. So, you clear the board, make a new list , drop a few things off that can be delayed and start at one thing at a time.  The things that are driving you crazy aren't always the biggest problems.  In fact, sometimes the best thing to do when you get overwhelmed is start at the smallest.

Solving SOMETHING is always good...

So I tackled the messy TV/VHS/DVD problem that was (in the long term of life) a minor problem but one that was becoming obsessive.

PROBLEM:  Couldn't tape old VHS tapes to DVDs.  CAUSE:  Too much equipment and too many connections.  SOLUTION:  Isolate equipment, simplify...

After trying (unsuccessfully) to do things halfway, I disconnected everything.  Set up the old VHS player and the old DVD recorder on top of the stereo cabinet.  Purpose, to make those work with the HDTV separate from all the other equipment (cable box, new DVD/BluRay player, etc).

First thing was to see if any DVD I copied from VHS tape would play.  Most wouldn't.  But one DID, so I knew it could work.  Given that, it was just a matter of figuring out cabling and what had worked once.  Which was maddening because the connections interfere with each other.

It took various attempts over 2 days, and even more simplification.  I FINALLY figured out to get a connection straight from the DVD recorder/player to the HDTV.  I tried all sorts of simple connections, like the 3 red/yellow/white cables.  And the VHS player has only one "audio out".  Well, I had this cable with one plug at one end and 2 plugs at the other, and that sure seemed to match the one VHS audio out and the 2 DVD audio in.  Nope...

I tried everything...  Some tapes even recorded for a few minutes and stopped. But there was still that one VHS Tape-to-DVD that worked...  And the HDTV offers sources of TV, HDMI1, HDMI2, HDMI3, HDNI4, AV, Component, RVU, and Screen Mirroring.  Half the things I tried just went blank on copying or showing on the HDTV, and almost half the others went blank on the copying WHILE showing up on the TV.  So I had to keep thinking.

But only "almost half the connections didn't work, not all"...  I didn't find the one that worked easily, and it's almost embarrassing.  I found an HDMI connection on the back of the DVD player/Recorder.  I stuck it from there to the HDMI3 plug on the HDTV and I got a connection working from the DVD player to the TV not involving the cable box! 

I reasoned from there that if the DVD would play a pre-recorded DVD to the TV, and if I could play a VHS tape through that to the TV, the DVD player/recorder HAD to record a VHS tape onto the DVD player recorder if I could see it on the HDTV!

It did.

I've been recording old VHS tapes that I couldn't find new DVDs to purchase (the viewing quality would be much better).  But there are some VHS tapes I have that simply aren't available for DVD purchase.  I'm copying those first.

And even better, I can copy some old VHS tapes, VHS player to isolated DVD reorder WHILE watching regular HDTV by choosing the source function on the remote.  By which I mean, if the DVD recorder is copying an VHS tape directly, the HDTV doesn't CARE because there is no direct connection between the regular cable source (HDMI1) and the DVD connection (HDMI3).

And as I truly have THAT figured out successfully, I can get on to the other damnable problem about evaluating the insulation work proposal, building the garden enclosure, etc.

Sometimes there are just too many problems to solve, and I get too frustrated solving none of them. Now I think I'm down to the others that are more easily solvable and can move forward.

Sorry I got all weirded out there for a couple weeks.  I had a few too many things to solve at the same time.  You live alone and sometimes that means you don't have experience at juggling several problems at once.  And no one to help you see the obvious things you are overlooking.

And I solved the home insulation work order Saturday.  I had the planner come visit and we went through it line by line.  She had to admit that several lines of costs and proposed work were contradictory.  They didn't need to both blow in insulation into basement wall panels from above the panelling AND drill 3" holes in the panel to do the same. And they now understand that there WILL BE plywood flooring on the joists along the center length of the attic for storage.

She brought up the SMECO website (and I confirmed it on my own desktop).  The contractor IS a partner in the rebate program, and the work IS included as part of SMECO's energy-saving program, and they have a high rating on Angieslist.

Seriously, I was concerned because they cold-called me originally with promises of partnership with SMECO and rebate programs.  Essentially, that's no different from someone knocking on your fdoor promising to resurface your driveway cheap.


They only wanted a 10% down payment (reassuring because a scammer would have gone for 25-50% I think). 

The work was completed Thursday, to my general satisfaction but I will need to see several billing cyclings of bills to see if all this makes any difference.  Hoping for good news on the bill 3 months from now.

The final contractor visit was Saturday.  A person came to conduct a final "negative air pressure test".  They seal the open front door and use a large exhaust fan to measure how much the air pressure inside drops in the air-conditioned part of the house.  They guarantee a 20% reduction (minimum to get a $2,000 rebate from my electric company), and try for 25-30%.

The guy did the initial test and was disturbed that it hadn't reached 20%.  So he searched the basement and found a place where the garage was open to the basement and sealed that (no charge).  He redid the test and was still baffled at failing the 20% guarantee.

Then he laughed his ass off.  He was using the wrong initial test measurement before any work was done!  He was transposing the digits, going from (flawed) memory.  And I had the original data and double-checked his claim AND did the reduction calculation myself.

The insulation and sealing work had achieved a 41% reduction in air leakage!  That doesn't mean my electric bill will go down 41%, there is other electrical usage in the house.  But it does mean that this improvement will pay for itself in 3-4 years and I plan to stay here longer than that!