Monthly Archives: December 2008

Gingerbread house – 2D

Gingerbread cookies

I really like ginger stuff.  My mom used to make gingerbread and lemon sauce (sounds iffy but it’s great!), I like gingersnaps more than just about any other cookie and I have explored medicinal uses for ginger brandy (uh…sure…medicinal uses).

Gingerbread cookies

When Mommaw and Granddad invited us over to make gingerbread houses, I was likely more excited than the kids.  None of us has the patience to make a full-blown 3-D gingerbread house.  Patience runs so thin amongst us, in fact, that Isaac didn’t even have the patience to ice his gingerbread house.  He said he liked it as it was, though I think he really just hates crafty stuff that much.  Anyhow, Mommaw found a simple recipe and a house cookie cutter so we were set to go.

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

You can see that the kids used the flour with gusto and had it all over.  The very best part of this fun was that it was at Mommaw and Granddad’s house!

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

We iced most of the cookies a little but we really were excited to get to the eating.  After only 24 hours, we have finished all of the cookies!  Yes, hibernation weight is coming along nicely!

Stuff that doesn’t suck

After yesterday’s post, I thought it would be nice to settle down and give a list of stuff that doesn’t suck:

1.  We got a bunch of snow the last few days…well, not really a bunch, but more than usual and it looked pretty.

2.  Said snow is now melting off my driveway so I don’t have to shovel!

3.  Even though it is 35 deg F outside, my solar furnace is pulling 63 deg F air from my floor and returning 90-100 degree air!

4.  My kids have been playing together all day…and actually apparently having fun!

5.  Emily has wrapped a bunch more presents and our under-tree area is looking very nice!

6.  We are making ginger bread people later today…one of my favorites!

7.  This blog has been getting spammed like crazy lately.  WordPress has some blacklist features that allow me to block keywords, etc.  I also just changed my web server configuration to block the spammers by IP address and the spam has gone to zero!  Wahoo web server blocks!

8.  We got the soil test back from the WV Ag Extension office and we don’t need to amend the soil.  We’ve started a list of seeds to order…garden time must be near!

9.  My computer virus problems at work are cleared up and my demo will still be done on time…and I won’t have to work all weekend on it!

10.  Everyone in our house is healthy…at the same time…and it’s winter!

Stuff that sucks

Mosquitos suck

So yesterday really sucked.  This post is a vent as much as anything else…so, mostly, you should probably ignore me…

I design and write computer software for a living.  I am around computers all day.  You’d think I would be somewhat immune from viruses as I mostly understand how they work and how one gets them.  Still, somehow I got a really really nasty virus on my main development machine (i.e. my bread and butter) yesterday.  I spent all day and half the night chasing down and fixing the mess that it made.  Of course, I really need to be working on the demo of the new project on which I am working.  It is due Monday.  This is not the time to be jerking around with a virus.  I don’t hate much, but I hate computer viruses and the people who create them.

I love sauerkraut.  I had some last night for supper along with some Polish sausage.  I am starting my training for the New Year’s day kraut feast.  Anyhow, about 15 minutes after eating it last night, my throat started to swell and blister.  I guess I had some sort of an allergic reaction to the kraut.  I also drank a Mt Dew with supper but I doubt my reaction was to it.  Mt Dew makes up 22% of my blood so I don’t think I suffered an autoimmune reaction.  Anyhow, an hour or so later, my throat was fine.  I still love kraut and I hate the thought of being allergic.  I will certainly try it again and soon, but I will be cautious too!  I can’t really figure it out, but I’d rather not get a trip in the ambulance over eating kraut.  I read that the Dutch eat donuts for good luck on New Years’s day so I may have to call upon my Dutch ancestry (or make some up) and cash in my kraut for donuts.  That’s a tradition I can get behind!

We also got word that our house is indeed racing down the hill to the river.  A structural engineer recommended 6 helical piers be inserted under our house.  It may take 3-4 more depending on what they find.  “Gosh, that sounds expensive”, you might say.  “You are correct!”

Snowflakes!

Paper snowflakes

I have mentioned before  that I love Instructables.com.  I was browsing the other evening when I came across a post about cutting intricate paper snowflakes (holy moley, sorry for all the links!)  I don’t think I was ever particularly good at cutting paper snowflakes but I thought I should pass along the frustration of cutting them to my kids.  I had barely finished describing what we needed to do when Isaac declined any further involvement…so, that leaves Abigail to drive to madness!

Paper snowflakes

Typically, when I cut snowflakes, I just started in on the paper in my best Edward Scissorhands imitation.  Like most things, I had no plan or desired output.  It never occurred to me to plan ahead but the instructable changed my mind.  We decided to fold the paper as usual, but then draw a pattern ahead of time.  It made me think about what I wanted the end result to be.  Cool!

Paper snowflakes

Abigail didn’t really get the excitement of “the edge”.  It’s the “mother-edge” I told her, the edge from which all snowflake life flows.  “Ok Dad, can I cut now?”  Ah, sweet…she’s feeling snowflake frustration!  Anyhow, she drew a number of shapes including some trapezoids and parallelograms to see what would happen.  As she unfolded her first snowflake, she began to understand the “edge from which all blessings flow”.

Paper snowflakes

We decided to hang our snowflakes on the front door, but Mohinder, our cat, didn’t like them there…blocked his view I guess.  We had to raise them up so he couldn’t reach them.  WV paper snowflake

Paper snowflakes

Anyhow, we are pretty proud of our work.  I expect that we’ll make one each night for awhile.  She loves to do arts and crafts projects and this is right up her alley!  I expect that it won’t be long until we learn to make paper-mache or 3-d origami-like ornaments or tissue paper ornaments, etc.

Abigail is also pretty generous and wants to make enough so that we can give them to people for Christmas…I like the way she thinks!

Cookie tin banjo

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I was browsing through some old Firefox books a while back when I came across some folks talking about making banjos and dulcimers.  In particular, one fella talked about making a cookie tin banjo.  I had 4 cookie tins in my office that I saved after we emptied them last Christmas which seemed perfect for the job.  So, since I had one insignificant piece of junk I needed, I felt compelled to find the rest and build a banjo!

For the neck of the banjo, I used an old piece of bamboo flooring which I glued to a pine 1×4.  The floorboard by itself was not thick enough to provide support where it enters into the cookie tin.  I am not exactly sure that it’s the right thickness now but it seems to fit in my hand ok.   I left the bamboo top squared off but I rounded the back (the pine part) off smooth so I could hold it easily.  Now, I know you are curious how I came up with the shape for the peg head…I traced two Mt Dew cans.  This part is important…you have to use Mt Dew to get the thing just right.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

The tail piece is a chunk of an extra slat from plantation blinds we installed last Summer.  I think there must be a proper way to do this but it seems that the only measurements that really matter are the distance from the bridge to the nut (basically, from the wooden peg on the face of the banjo to the point where the neck joins the peg head.  My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My length is 25 inches though there is some flexibility in that size.  The distance from the bridge to the 5th string which attaches to the side of the neck is 18 1/2 inches.  Just about everything else negotiable as far as I can tell from reading in Firefox 3.

The hardest thing for me to do was carve the tuning pegs.  I tried using steel thumsbcrew and eye bolts and regular screws but none of those things would hold the string tight enough to tune.  That left me with carving wooden pegs which hold their position by friction.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I bought square 1/4 poplar dowel rods and cut off 2.5 inch sections to carve the pegs.  I rounded the bottom 2/3 of the peg to fit in the hole.  The top part I left square so I could get a better grip on it for tuning.  It seems simple enough but it was a real drag to carve them round.  My hands are killing me from messing with those tiny pegs.  Anyhow, I drilled a small hole in each to catch the string and they seemed to tune and hold pretty well.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I have a chromatic tuner that I got to tune my violin.  I messed around a bit to get the tuning right for the banjo.  I think it is pretty close although the 4th string doesn’t sound right to me.  We’ll see.  It definitely has a banjo sound.

[audio:http://www.MyHomeAmongTheHills.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/mycookietinbanjo.mp3]

So, the $6 Martin banjo strings are about the only money I have in this thing.  Gosh, if only I had any idea how to play a banjo!

Cinnamon applesauce ornaments

Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

This works…you’ll never believe it, but it works.  We made cinnamon applesauce Christmas ornaments this weekend.  These ornaments are cool and they smell awesome!  We started with 1/2 cup of applesauce and added an equal amount of cinnamon.  At first, it mixed up pretty well and seemed right (whatever that is!) but we quickly found we needed more cinnamon.  We didn’t measure but I’d say we ended up with another 1/2 cup of cinnamon.  Anyhow, mix the two ingredients until they form a fairly dry, thick, clay-like consistency.  Roll them out between sheets of waxed paper until they are 1/4 inch

Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

thick.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and start them drying on a clean sheet of waxed paper.  We poked holes in them to run a string through for proper hanging.  Once they have dried about 24 hours, you can flip them and move them to a wire drying rack to finish.  I think ours will be dry tonight (48 hours).  Let me tell you, they smell awesome!  Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

When I walk in the door at night, the cinnamon fills the air.  I sort of want to lick them but I know better…

Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

Just so you know, they do not taste as good as they smell.  Isaac likes applesauce with cinnamon – a lot.  He reasoned (as I always do) that if a little is good, a lot must be awesome.  He tried some of the dough but quickly downed a bunch of water after eating a small bite (who am I to discourage a little first-hand experience?)  Before Isaac’s bite, Abigail decided she would wait on her brother’s experience before she tried the dough (who am I to push her into reckless behavior?)

Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

Making cinnamon applesauce ornaments

As with many crafty things, Isaac was mainly in a hurry to get things done.  He did tough it out because it all smelled so good.  We discovered that appley cinnamon leaves a pretty good stain on your hands but it washes off pretty easily.  We also did a little science related to soil testing – Emily’s Dad is a civil engineer so he was able to rate the consistency of our dough compared to soil.  I think he mainly enjoyed slamming balls of dough onto the waxed paper to see how much it compacted!  It made a great cinnamon thump!

Charleston at night

Charleston, WV at night!

We were driving around Charleston one night this weekend and we drove up on a hill that overlooks the city. Cities in general are not exactly pretty to me, but cities at night are pretty cool. So, we drove up on the hill and I tried to get some decent shots of Charleston with my old point and shoot camera. I was sort of surprised at how cool they turned out (if I do say so myself!  Oh yeah, and check out the color of the bridge in the first two pictures.  Charleston has installed a system that changes the color).  Emily is so funny – she didn’t want the kids to get out of the car for fear of the neighborhood dogs getting them. Captain America did stop his truck nearby to make sure we weren’t evil-doers.  He drove off once he saw me fumbling with my camera and tripod in the dark.  I guess he figured I was too clutzy to be much of a danger to the neighborhood.

Charleston, WV at night!

Anyhow, to get from our house to the city, we have to take some pretty crazy, curvy, steep roads. My Dad absolutely does not like to ride with us. From atop the hills in WV, you can see a long ways but if you look down, you may find yourself grabbing on to something. Did you ever notice that freaky feeling that you can’t walk straight and that you might fall down at any moment when you are near the edge of something steep? I am mixed on whether that makes any sense, evolutionarily speaking. I mean, if it makes you take a step back, then it makes sense. However, if you instinctively wobble like a drunken sailor when you are near the edge of some deadly trench, I don’t think it works. Anyhow, living in WV is a surely a test of survival of the fittest. Emily is a native and claims that she is part mountain goat. I also think she is part mountain lion with a little dingo thrown in for good measure!

Charleston, WV at night!

As I have mentioned before, I like to star gaze a little but most places are not too great for the hobby due to all of the light pollution. These pictures are so full of light that it would seem impossible to see anything.  WV is helped a little by the mountains though. Light seems to stay in the valleys (I know it doesn’t really) so star gazing is pretty good, even close to the city.

So, in spite of Charleston being a city, it’s a pretty decent place to live!  Of course, the mountains limit your housing options – you can live down on a flat spot in the valley in the flood plain or you can live on the mountain top where you house has this crazy tendency to want to slip down the hill and then you have to call in numerous structural engineers who talk to you about getting a second job to pay for all of the work needed to halt the march of your house down to the flood plain…but more about that later after I get another “cold” that needs “my secret treatment”

We are Christmas-ready

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

We set up our Christmas tree this weekend.  I am a little short on patience so we usually add the branches to our hypoallergenic-robot-tree, as a family.  We then let Emily add the lights to the tree by herself.  Once the lights are on, we get back together as a family and add lights.   We often go through this routine in the late evening but we decided to set up the tree during the day and it was so much better!

My video system is all screwed up…click here  to see a time-lapse video of our tree going up!

The cat was in the middle of everything and the kids were dancing around with ornaments and branches and the like.  We cranked the Christmas music and had a lot of fun!  We discovered that we had too many ornaments, a number of which were given directly to the kids by various folks.

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

This year, we decided to get the kids their own small trees for their rooms.  The best part is, we got the trees on sale – half off!  It’s pretty cool to drive up to our place now…all three trees are visible when you pull up…plus it lights the walkway a little!

Anyhow, this was probably one of the most pleasant tree decorating experiences ever (remember about my patience?).  We didn’t fret about the lights or the arrangement of stuff.  In fact, we decided to simplify our decorating and it was fantastic!

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

I am so glad that the kids are the age they are and that they are so willing to help.  They want to make sure they put on equal numbers of branches and ornaments, but they seeing them work together to find equity in it all is pretty great!

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

We have never decorated outside for some reason but we love to ride around in neighborhoods to see what other people have done.  When Isaac was a baby, we used to drive around Nashville and see the lights the same way.  Before he could say much, he could say “light”.  At Christmas time, he would say, “Light…oh so pretty!”

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

I am sure that we will start the neighborhood tour this weekend.  People seem to be doing a pretty good job of getting out their lights this year…Oh, so pretty!

Setting up the Christmas Tree!

I can’t wait for Christmas now!  Presents are starting to show up under the tree and I have been plowing through the eggnog!  The last few years, I have gained several pounds in December and January drinking Southern Comfort brand eggnog.  It is non-alcoholic but pretty ding-dang great!  Between that and sugar cookies, I am adding to my hibernation weight!

Better’n brandy

Emily when she is sick!

Emily is a counselor in an elementary school so she gets to hang around a lot of sick children this time of the year.  We don’t measure the seasons like most people do.  Instead, we know winter has arrived when Emily brings some sort of crud home from school.  She managed to make it until mid November before catching it this year.  I posted a couple of days ago about trying to cure the whooping cough or whatever I had, with brandy.   Now, hard as I tried, one bottle of brandy did not cure my ailment.

We finally broke down and went to a walk-in clinic on Saturday morning.  Now, this is where the story gets interesting…  We were both put in the same room and seen by the same doctor (which was cool).  The doctor first evaluated Emily (who had only slept 3 to 4 hours at night due to the booger dam in her head).  I felt pretty crummy, but Emily had the black death longer and worse than I did…that’s important later.

So, the poor doctor walked into a room to meet me and a sick doberman-like creature – foolishly, she closed the door.  The doc took a quick superficial look at Emily and tried to convince her that her ailment was a simple cold that needed to be out-waited.  Disgusted, Emily coughed up some lung butter as evidence of her affliction.  Knowing she was being out-symptomed, the doctor next tried to convince the crazed woman by my side that her sickness was due to cat allergies.  Once again, in disgust, Emily produced a hairball.  She is part cat I think and was having nothing to do with the allergy argument.

Fearing for her life, the doctor tried to divert by taking a look at me.  Upon peering down my throat and listening to my chest, she was immediately concerned.  As she escaped out of the room to perform the strep test – Emily looked over to me and in all seriousness said, “I just want you to know that if you get antibiotics and I don’t – I’m taking yours and you’re on your own.”  The doctor came back in the room with 3 prescriptions for me but none for Emily.

She told Emily that she did not have the cold long enough for it to be a sinus infection.  Now, it’s been said that the foolish and the dead are the only ones who do not change their opinions.  I wasn’t sure if the doctor was foolish, but I knew for certain that if she didn’t change her opinion, she was going to be dead.  Emily dug in and refused to leave until she got an accurate diagnosis.  She finally convinced the doctor to do a head x-ray and sure enough – she had “an acute maxillary sinus infection” (or something like that).  I knew Emily’s illness was  all in her head!  Poor me though…from the brink of death I have returned – twice!  My illness is better and my wife got her antibiotics too!

Homemade fun!

Painting Christmas ornaments!

Painting Christmas ornaments!

The kids were helping their grandparents decorate their tree last weekend when we all noticed the old ornaments Emily and her brother had made in school.  Several were hand-painted and had pictures of them through the years.  I don’t know if all schools stopped doing that or just the ones we have been in but we don’t have any homemade ornaments and even fewer than none with pictures of the kids.  We couldn’t let that continue so we had project night at our house this weekend.  Painting Christmas ornaments!

Emily’s folks found some wooden ornaments that just happened to have a space in the middle to accommodate wallet sized pictures.  We had just finished having Christmas pictures taken at a local department store and we had the disc with the copies.  I printed out a bunch of copies and we had some good old fashioned fun painting and otherwise decorating the ornaments.

Painting Christmas ornaments!

I wear a black leather jacket typically.  I had hung it over the chair in the dining room this weekend (well, truth be told, I hang it there every day).  The kids were dancing around and painting, having fun, etc.  I didn’t notice until the paint was dry, but someone did battle with my coat using a green paintbrush.  Take a moment to find a zen place, Warren…the paint is water based and washable and came right off luckily!

So, all is well. We now have some homemade ornaments with current pictures hot-glued in place.  We had a good time messing around with family and I have a significantly scrubbed, much cleaner coat.  It was certainly good homemade fun!

Painting Christmas ornaments!

Painting Christmas ornaments!

We hot glued ribbons to the top to hang them on the tree.  It’s sort of funny but we decided that the kids don’t really look like either of us when we were kids.  Of course, my kids are much cuter than we were!