Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Blueberry Hill

'Tis the season for blueberries, and what a wonderful season it's been. I can't recall a summer during which I have eaten so many blueberries, except for when I was a kid and my mom used to take us blueberry picking at Mr. McBroom's farm. Sarah's and my method for harvesting the blueberries back when we were 5 and 8 was "one for me, one for the bucket." We'd each fill up a big ice cream bucket, but if that was our process, you can just imagine how many berries were consumed before they could be paid for!

Jonas is a chip off the old block. He LOVES blueberries. He shovels them into his mouth by the handful. It's quite a sight to see.

This summer, we have had blueberries in every which way: blueberry cobbler, blueberry pie (two of them!), blueberry muffins, blueberries in a fruit salad, blueberries in yogurt, blueberries on cereal, and my favorite, just plain, fresh, blueberries straight out of the container. Yum.

This is my first blueberry pie of the summer. It was so delicious and such a luxury, late one Saturday evening, after painting kitchen cabinets for hours and hours. Such a simple pleasure.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Home base

Throughout our trip, our "home base" was a nice little cottage that my mom had rented for us. We stayed there with my sister Sarah and brother-in-law Matt. It was so fun for all of us to be under the same roof. Jonas could really get some quality time with his aunt and uncle, and we got to hang out with Sarah and Matt, for hours and hours, which is a total luxury since we live on opposite coasts.

We had a full kitchen, which was terrific for all the cooking and baking we did. There was a cozy living room, enclosed patio, two bedrooms and a bath. When it wasn't raining, we got out for walks, took a few field trips, and at night, after Jonas went to bed, we watched Flight of the Conchords, to which Sarah and Matt had introduced us on our first night. Andy called it right when he said, "You're going to fall in love..."

Auntie Sarah and Jonas

Uncle Andy and Jonas

We had lots of visit with family. Grammie and Adrian came over often, as did Uncle Andy, (seems so funny to call my kid brother, "Uncle" Andy), and Grandpa Jack and Oma Judy.

Jonas LOVED hangin' out with the guys. Not that he doesn't like the ladies, but he is a big hugger, and the ladies are always asking for hugs and kisses. Guys, well, they don't do that kind of girly stuff. They want high-fives and make cool sound effects when you play with trucks and trains.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Accident waiting to happen

The one (rather significant) downer of our Ohio trip was an unfortunate mountain biking accident.

Joe and Matt had talked for months prior to our trip about doing some epic mountain bike rides. Monday night they pulled out the topo maps and identified a remote spot in Pennsylvania, where they would pull off the first of the great rides of the 2009 summer vacation.

All the boys looking at the topo map.

They set out early Tuesday morning and planned to return around 2 in the afternoon for a visit with my dad and step-mom. Three o'clock rolled around and still no boys. Hmm... this is curious. Unlike their wives, Joe and Matt are very punctual individuals.

3:05 p.m. My phone rings. It's Joe.

"Yeah, hey. Where are you guys?"
"Uh, well... we had a little accident."

I knew immediately that this wasn't a scrape. Either he had totaled our car or someone was going to need emergency medical services. Now, who was it?

It was Joe. His bike had slipped on a damp, moss-covered bridge and when he put his foot out to break the fall, SNAP!
He went on to tell me that he and Matt had hiked for three hours to get back to the car! Oh my God! My phone buzzed. A new picture. Joe sent me a photo of his ankle which looked like there was a tennis ball sticking out to the side. He really needed to get to a hospital fast.

I got butterflies in my stomach. I wished that I could have been there with them. Was there enough a hospital anywhere nearby?

Fortunately, by this time, my dad, mom and step-dad were all at our cottage and advised them where to go. Sarah and I jumped in the car and drove through driving rain to meet them at Grove City Medical Center. I was a bundle of nerves. What if he needed surgery? How much pain was he in? Would this have lasting effects?

Ten minutes before Sarah and I arrived, we got just the news I was looking to hear: no surgery and no cast for now, except a soft cast. Phew. I was greatly relieved, and now I could focus on listening to all the details.

When we pulled in the parking lot, we found two hangry (hungry+angry) guys, who were dying to get some food. We found a pub, had a few beers, and let them regale us with their unbelievable story.

Joe's ankle five days after the fall. His whole foot was puffy and purplish green. He has since been to the orthopedist who gave him a walking boot. The boot has really helped to minimize the swelling. It's a long road ahead, but he'll get there, little by little, day by day.

Thank God for our brother-in-law, the hero of the day. I can't imagine what would have happened, had Joe been alone. As Joe says, "if I HAD to break my ankle and hobble out of the woods for three hours, there's no one that I'd rather do it with more, than Matt." Well, it certainly wasn't the ride that they were hoping for, but it was epic.

Do you have a permit, Sir?

An hour before heading off to the Great Buckeye State, Joe informed me that he’d be "conducting an experiment" during our drive. Hmm. This sounded a bit odd, but my curiosity was piqued.

He placed a non-descript box full of metal parts on the kitchen floor next to the label maker. Then, he pulled out 5 flat metal plates, vital components to the experiment, and carefully placed a new label on each.

Did I mention that Joe is the ring leader of our local Geek Squad chapter? He LIVES to label things.

Jonas was especially interested in the label maker. We had to wrestle it away from him after an hour.

“Joe--where the hell are we going to put these?? We have no room as it is, between the car seat, the dog, the dog bed, the toys, the luggage, food...”

He disappeared down the basement stairs, mumbling something that I took to be a response, although I understood none of it.

Down below, I heard the sounds of the file, the drill, and the hammer. A half hour later, he resurfaced with all five metal plates securely fastened to a long lacrosse-stick looking thing, and headed out the front door to attach this contraption to the roof rack. I couldn’t visualize how this was going to work, but I thought, maybe once I see it finished, it’ll all make perfect sense.

Another half hour rushed by. I thought I’d better go and investigate just what was taking so long.

Oh Lord. What is that?? As Joe tightened the last bolts, I felt like I was watching Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future working on our Subaru! Yes, it's true: Joe is part Emmet Brown.

Our weighted-down car looked ridiculous. Between the bike and the “coffin box”, and the perpendicular science experiment, the only things missing were streamers and some random zoo animals sticking their heads out the windows.

Knowing how serious Joe was about this, I was certain there was no point in pleading, “Do we really have to drive the whole way there and back, with this ridiculous looking contraption jutting out to the side, begging to impale another vehicle?”

Instead, I said, “Good evening, Dr. Brown…” “Whatcha got here? Do you have a permit for that?”

In case you’re curious, the experiment was work-related and it would appear that it was somewhat successful. All I know is that we caught a yellow jacket between two plates, I bumped my head a number of times, and we got a lot of puzzled and dirty looks.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jonas' first trip to the Buckeye State

We were stoked about this trip: we'd get to hang out with my brother, sister, and brother-and-law, visit with my folks, and Jonas would enjoy his first summer vacation experiences with his grandparents and relatives.

I have to admit, though, I was loathing the drive. Jonas’ longest trip to date had only been for two hours, and even that wasn’t smooth sailing. It wasn’t impossible; he did sleep. But he always woke up a half an hour from home and screamed the rest of the way, gesturing that it could be all better if he could just exit the car seat. Not that any of this should deter us from a longer trip, but I needed coping strategies, especially if we were going to make it for 7.5 hours.

Not that Wegman's is at the top of our visit list. It's not that exotic, but it was an important stop along the way. And a fun one, for lunch! This one is in Erie, PA.

Friends gave me a boat load of good advice: stop often, bring lots of snacks, get some new toys that he can play with for the first time in the car, play some kids’ music, and sit in the back to distract him easily. All of these things worked really well.

Here are a few tips that I would add to the list for the future:

  • Stop for dinner after a just few hours; and hit the road again at bedtime in pj’s, and drive that leg for as long as possible can while kid sleeps;
  • No need for a dvd player, so long as 10 minutes of Barney can be viewed on an iphone via YouTube.
  • Stay overnight in a hotel. There are endless fascinating things to explore.
  • Want a cheap option for your child to blow off some steam and play with new toys that you don’t have to buy? Schedule a stop-over at Target or favorite store of your choice and hang out in the toy section for an hour.
  • Ditto on the tip above, but substitute a big bookstore for Target. While Dad nursed a coffee, we spent 45 minutes in the children's section taking all the books down, reading a few books at the children's tables, playing with toys, and staring at the other kids.

We spent 45 minutes, alone, in the toy section, playing with every single toy that wasn't strapped down in a box. Jonas even met a "friend" in the aisle, another 18 mo. old boy. They stood face to face, starring at each other, grunted a few times and smiled. It was priceless.

Joe and Jonas outside of the Erie, PA, Wegman's. Notice that Jonas' overall short have come completely unsnapped. At a certain point, it wasn't even worth snapping them anymore. So what, if it looks like he's wearing a dress!

I would say that our car trip was relatively successful. We had a few unhappy moments, but, all in all, ample distractions and frequent stop-overs were the key.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Vacation - 2009

Say adios to work for a week and leave the kitchen project behind, we're hopping in the car and driving seven thousand hours to Ohio. Ok, it's not really that long. But it could seem like it, if Jonas doesn't take well to the ride. Be on the look out for several posts to come recounting the tales of our adventures.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kitchen cabinets, step 2 of 2

Here's the next chapter of the cabinet painting. Once all the sanding's done, you're ready to begin the painting.

Uh...uh...uh... don't slap that paint on just yet, my friend. You've got to prime first.

Step #1: Prime the cabinets and doors.

You want to make sure that you tape off any area that you don't want painted, especially around the cabinets. Personally, I lay down EXTRA tape because I *LOVE* the small of 3M Scotch painter's tape! I don't know what kind of fragrance they put in it, but they should offer the scent in other media.

You might also want to give consideration to how you're going to dry all these doors. We ran into a small issue here, which we ultimately solved with saw horses, a couple of boards and some clamps.

Once the taping's done, get out that big brush and get ready to slap on that paint. That's really not an exaggeration. The primer is so thick that it often makes a funny sound when you make contact between the wood and the wide brush that is dripping with primer.

We used a primer suitable for a kitchen. I believe it has extra moisture protection, as opposed to a primer for your living room.

We found that we definitely needed two coats of primer. It says that you can apply the next coat after only 4 hours, but since we mostly paint at night, after Jonas is off to dreamland, we can really only do one coat a day.

Step #: Sand -- again?

Yes. The sanding really never goes away. We lightly sanded after each coat of primer, just to scuff up the surface a bit, for adhesion purposes. I left the sanding to Joe--too messy. I'm a details person.

Step #3: Paint. Finally!

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got to paint with the real stuff. This took some adjusting because the paint is much thinner than the primer. I had to be extra careful in the corners and recesses, otherwise the paint would pool. If allowed to dry like like that, it would make the surface of the painting look very uneven, which is something that would drive me crazy.

Tonight, I tried using a tiny craft brush in some of the corners and that worked out pretty well, so when I paint our second round of cabinets this weekend, I'm going to try that.

This is our assembly line of drying doors.

In the end the "clamp system" (see above) didn't work out so well. We bought these little gadgets called "Paint Pyramids" and they're pretty handy. You can paint the back of the door, lay it on the 4 pyramids, and then paint the front of the cabinet door. Because the door lies on the tip of each pyramid, it has minimal contact and hardly leaves a mark. MUCH FASTER than doing each door, one side at a time.

Visit with Mima

Last week, Jonas was treated to his second grandmother visit during the month of June. Mima came and stayed with us all week. She and Jonas had all kinds of fun together--going shopping, going for walks, going to the park, playing with toys... unfortunately, I was at work during much of the fun, so I didn't have as many opportunities to snap some shots. I did manage to grab a few before Mima left on Saturday.

Mima, about to slather some strawberry jam (Bonne Maman, my fav!) on Jonas' toast.

See Jonas' hand? Two seconds later, he pulled out a fistful of jam! Also, he LOVES sitting on the counter. I really need to get one of those Learning Towers, or whatever you call them.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kitchen Cabinets - Prep work, step 1 of 2

As you may have gathered, we've embarked on a great summer project--a kitchen renovation. Actually, since we're doing it almost entirely by ourselves, this project could stretch on for years! At first, I thought we'd just change one or two things, but I didn't understand the domino effect of kitchen renovations. Once you change one element, you often can't stop there. Change the floor, then it doesn't go with the counter. Change that, and next thing you know, you're ripping out the backsplash, and on and on, it goes.

We began this process with new appliances back in April. Not necessarily the best sequencing, but the time to get them on sale was back then, so we went for it. It's really nice to have well-lit, perfectly functioning appliances. They looked really out of place, though, with the rest of the 70's era kitchen. Check out this photo I found of our kitchen floor pattern! The only difference is that ours is gold and blue. Nice, huh?

We'll get to the floor replacement...and the counter, and the recessed lighting, but first... we begin with the cabinets.

We considered--for about 10 minutes--the possibility of replacing our cabinets. But, I just couldn't bring myself to it. There is nothing structurally or functionally wrong with our cabinets; they're just too dark, too oak-y, too dated. So, we're saving several thousand dollars and we're painting them. We're going from ground coffee brown (current stain color) to off-white, Benjamin Moore Acadia White to be precise.

In case you're interested, or considering the job of redoing your cabinets, you might just want to read through this post first. Painting is not for the lazy or faint of heart. This is a tedious and time-consuming project, but one that we hope will be well worth the effort.

Step #1: remove doors and label them

We saved the hardware, although we won't be using it again. Maybe it can find a new home via freecycle.

Labeling the doors was critical! For some strange reason, no pair of doors is exactly the same dimension as any other in our kitchen. Guessing their locations when we put them back would have been a nightmare.

Step #2: Clean the wood

We found a recommendation that the wood be cleaned prior to the painting. Using a 2:1 mix of denatured alcohol and water, we wiped down the doors and cabinets, then dried them off with a towel.

Step #3: Sand

Used an orbital sander on the larger flat surfaces; hand-sanded the cracks and crevices. The objective wasn't to eliminate any and all traces of grain, rather just to open up the wood so that it would take up the primer well.

Joe sanding the cabinets. My favorite part was learning that you could hook up the shop-vac hose to the sander. Ingenious!

Step #4: Remove dust

Wipe the cabinets and doors well. We used a clean cloth first, followed by tack cloth. For those of you who have no idea what that is (I surely didn't before this weekend), "tack cloth" looks like cheese cloth that has been coated with some yellow tacky, adhesive-like material. Dust clings to it immediately.

Step #5 Get rid of weird crap.

Remove any other elements that you no longer want, especially if they interfere with the painting process. Now's the time to get 'em out of there.

For us, this meant removing the 70's "apron" on the bottom of the soffit. I think this was Joe's favorite step because he got to break out the reciprocating saw.

That's all I have time for tonight. Tune in next time for the the painting.