Monday, October 31, 2005

Kiss the Cook

I've never regarded myself as a cook, with the exception of working a smoker to create barbecue. Otherwise, while I could cook, I wasn't a cook, if you get my drift.

This semester (a consequence of working for a university for three years after college and then marrying a university professor is you define your life by semesters) Trish has been teaching a late class, and since we haven't gotten to move in to our new house yet, I've had to do most of the preparing of the family meals.

In the past, this sort of thing was pretty much restricted to one meal a week. I've managed to make the adjustment, but it's still hard for me. While I do get a sense of accomplishment those nights I manage to pull it off it, it feels like work in odd ways that folding laundry does not.

Last week, I felt like I really outdid myself. I made a cheesy potato soup with salmon for Monday, a nice white bean soup Tuesday, slow-cooked pork with stir-fried veggies for Thursday, plus various combos for leftovers on the other weekdays. Everyone liked them, they were fairly easy with not a huge amount of cleanup, a huge success.

Problem is, that was last week. Now I have to do it all again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Life Comes in Bunches

Life comes in bunches.

Sometimes, life comes at you in a way that can make a day feel like a week, and a week feel like only a day. This is one of those times. And it's not due to anything awful or terrible. It's just stuff.

Times like these are the sorts that make you want to get organized. And I don't mean the garden-variety sort of organization, with Daytimers and checklists. I'm talking file folders and Gantt charts, here people. Milestones. Choke points. Pre-requisites. And a Partridge in a pear tree.

I want a system able to handle either moving the furniture or the invasion of Normandy. Where I'll need to change is the size of the poster board tracking everything. Actually though, I'm more likely to need lots of sheets of loose-leaf paper. My issue is not one big project with lots of interlocking parts; that might actually be easier than what I do have. I have lots of small individual projects, each fairly linear, but all vying for time and attention and which intersect only vaguely and at irregular intervals.

This is not something I've really done before, or really have had to do before. Or maybe I should have done this before, but it didn't occur to me it might be a good idea. Trish has had to do this for a long time. I find her example and advice very helpful. The occasional teasing goad doesn't hurt either! :-)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

This Old House: Austin -- The Concrete Contretemps

A couple of days ago I was at the new house and found a crew pouring concrete to level out the old garage. It looked fine to me and I left. Yesterday I came back to find a carpenter at work framing in what are going to be window spaces where the old garage doors were. A few minutes later that concrete fellow shows up, grumpy.

It seems the contractor in charge was not happy with the surfacing of the concrete. The surface was too rough. This irritated the concrete guy, who knew that we intended to stain and score that floor. He said that was the exact sort of surface you wanted for staining. The carpenter fellow backed him up. I was non-committal, saying only that I wanted the proper surface for staining and scoring, whatever it was supposed to be, and suggested a call to the guy who was going to do that job. The concrete fellow wasn't interested in that; he'd done stain jobs, he knew concrete, and it was fine, he said.

The contractor was adamant in a call to me later. It seemed in both cases as though he and the concrete guy wanted me to say something about the matter.

Frankly, that was the last thing I wanted to do. You'd be better off asking me a question about atomic physics than concrete. You really would, I've read books on cosmology and stuff, and understand the basic concepts. But concrete? You make it with water and sand or some other aggregate, and after a while it dries and turns hard and gray. That's what I know about concrete.

So I told him what I told the concrete guy. I know nothing about concrete; all I want is a good floor. Talk to the guy who is staining and scoring and see what he has to say.

I hope they get this straightened out.

Monday, October 17, 2005

This Old House: Austin The Sandpaper Chronicles

This weekend I spent several hours trying to save some money by sanding paint off some bathroom cabinets. I've had worse jobs than using a power tool in the shade of a pleasant fall day, but I've had better as well. Whoever did the painting and stuff in an attempt to make our new house more sellable deserves to be taken out back and shot, or at least strung up by the thumbs for a while.

They appear to have done none of the things you are supposed to do when painting, for example. It would have been better if they hadn't painted at all. They painted latex paint over oil, and so it will just flake off. They used exterior paint on the inside (or was it interior paint outside? Whatever, it was wrong). They did a slapdash job of preventing spills, drips, and overbrushing that created as much mess as it prevented. They painted over dirty wood, rotten wood, and in some places no wood. It is, in a word, crap. The people we have hired to paint things the way we want have spent a lot of their time scraping off the most recent paint in order to do their own.

So there I was in the back bathroom with a palm sander and a lot of coarse texture sandpaper sheets, hoping to save us a few bucks by giving our paint crew a hand. Thank God for power tools. I don't want to think about what it would have been like to try and get that stuff off purely by muscle power. As it was, I was incredibly stiff and sore at the end of both days.

Of course, you would figure that the half-assed way the previous people did things included really laying the paint on thick in those places it was easy to reach, like the tall cabinet doors in the water closet. The paint on those doors almost ate my sandpaper, rather than vice-versa. Those doors were what I spent all of yesterday afternoon working on.

Although tiresome, the previous days work on drawer faces and under-sink cabinet doors and stuff seemed like child's play compared to the grunt work those tall doors presented. Naturally, I was covered in paint particles from the sanding. Arms, hair, beard, shoes. An inch or more deep in spots on the floor. I wore a surgical mask, but I would rather not think about the amount of gunk I almost certainly inhaled despite its presence.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Uphill in the Snow etc. etc.

This past weekend I may have utilized that great parenting crutch of "walking to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways" for the very first time[*]. Admittedly, we were engaged in a boring and un-fun task. We had driven about 3.5 hours with a trailer down to a house we still own in Tilden, Texas. Once there we loaded up the trailer with the stuff. As unpleasant tasks go, it wasn't that bad. We had food and drink, Jacob had a book to read, some old toys of mine to mess with, and the weather was cool and sunny.

Nevertheless, he was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Nor was he shy about communicating this, and at some point I had enough. I told him about how I had to go there every weekend, and how I had to work on the ranch, and how we didn't run the air conditioner, and how I didn't get to carry around a book, and about the heat and the dust and the long drives after a hard day. I was about to start in on how I had to feed cattle on cold winter days when I realized what I was doing and allowed myself to run down.

Jake was impressed, however. Not enough to quit grumping completely, but he did quiet down for a while.

Speaking of that trailer…It was a bit of old home week there. As a kid I really had done all the stuff I was telling Jacob, including something I didn't go on about, which was driving the pickup with a big gooseneck trailer full of cattle behind it. The sixteen-footer were pulling this weekend wasn't much compared to that, and I found the skills of backing and maneuvering the thing not too hard to recall.

There were some important differences, though. A gooseneck hooks onto a heavy eyebolt which is threaded into a massive (ours was 8" across) nut welded to the pickup frame. This makes the truck-trailer much more of a unit and pulls the center of gravity forward a bit. The other difference was that in those days, the official speed limit was 55. Which meant we basically drove 60 all the time. This cheap trailer we had this weekend hooked on by way of your standard ball hitch. Even more importantly, I discovered pretty early on that at anything like current highway speeds, it was unstable. Press the speedometer anywhere past 65, and the tail of that thing began to sway ominously back and forth. Scarier than seeing that in the mirror was feeling it in the steering wheel.

So I kept things below 65mph. I tried for 63, which was good empty. On the way back every once in a while the trailer got a little antsy, and I'd have to back off some more until it settled down. Probably I should have settled for 55 or 60 at most, but I confess that I was sick of pulling that thing after a while and begrudged any loss of speed that meant for a longer drive.

I have to say I never thought I'd miss that old gooseneck.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Charley and the Chocolate Lunch

So, less than a week after I grumble about a sudden dearth of new things to say about being a SAHD or even a parent, I stumble across this little tidbit on a parenting blog (which I found via a convoluted process I don't remember and could never repeat). In short, there is a plan afoot in the UK to limit what parents can send in their kid's school lunches.

What to make of this? I find it interesting because there has been a move in this country to get junk foods out of schools as well. I basically support this effort. But here for the most part it is has been a matter of removing or changing the contents of vending machines, not serving ice cream as part of a school-supplied lunch, and not allowing teachers to use candy as a reward (this last is mostly honored in the breach as far as I can see), and improving the quality of school-supplied lunches.

I recall the brouhaha that erupted here a couple of years ago when the state imposed these new guidelines. We were at a start-of-school meeting where a mom complained that she would no longer be able to send a coke in her kid's lunchbox. Neither the mom nor her daughter were exactly svelte, if you know what I mean. As it happened, the rules did not extend that far. Oddly, what had people most exercised was they would no longer be able to send in cupcakes on their kid's birthday. Or at least I have to infer this, because this part of the rule was later rescinded.

We already have a fair number of limits on what we can send in to school with or on our kids. Guns and machetes are frowned upon, and I think see-through clothing or thong bathing suits might be considered gauche as well. But I have to say this idea that schools can control what I feed my kid (even if, admittedly, its on their property and on their time) creeps me out, no matter how much I agree with the idea that kids should not have a lunch consisting of Coke and Twinkies. It's a nasty grey area, and I'm well aware of the fact that parents (including myself) are always fine with schools teaching stuff that isn't strictly speaking academic (manners, for example) until they get to a topic we don't like, whereupon the school becomes a parent-undermining busybody.