Saturday, January 14, 2017

There's no "fun" in "furnace"

Sometimes, you try to pat yourself on the back, and you end up dislocating your shoulder.

I probably should not have posted the list of things I've accomplished around the house, because it must have awoken the angry housing gods. Less than 36 hours after my post, I got up to get dressed in the morning, and noticed cold air blowing out of my heat vent. With a sinking feeling, I checked the thermostat and confirmed that it was only 64 degrees in the house—definitely not warm enough for the furnace to be on its cool-down cycle already.

I stayed calm! I troubleshot my furnace like a pro, and this is what I concluded:
  1. It was blowing cold air even though it was not warm enough in the house
  2. The burners inside the furnace were not burning
  3. It would not turn off, even when I set the thermostat to OFF.
I consulted the internet about this somewhat bizarre behavior, and I determined that there were 2 likely causes.
  1. The furnace could have overheated due to a clogged filter
  2. The thermostat could be sending faulty signals to the heater, which is likely in the case of low batteries
Well, the first condition was easy enough to test. I took out the filter and examined it—clean as a whistle! The second test took me a while. Since my thermostat wasn't flashing a low battery signal, I disregarded the batteries and just assumed that if anything was broken, it was the thermostat itself, seeing as it looked like it had a few years under its belt. Fortunately, I have a backup thermostat (the one I bought for the apartment), so I took all the wires and batteries out of the existing thermostat and put them in the new one. The new thermostat kept flickering and beeping and wouldn't do anything right, so finally I conceded that maybe the batteries were the problem. I installed new batteries, and the thermostat behaved normally, so I re-hooked up the old thermostat, using the new batteries this time. This resulted in no change—the furnace kept blowing cold air incessantly. After messing around with the thermostats for a while, I was reasonably certain that they were working as they should, because I was hearing the appropriate "clicks" when they were cycling on and off.

Given that the furnace is "probably as old as you are," (as a technician said to me once) and that I'd been advised to replace it by every single qualified person who ever looked at it, I was pretty sure that the furnace had finally lost its mind and was in need of professional help. I was also hoping that there was something so wrong with it that my home warranty would finally cover its replacement, which was the whole reason that I'd been given the home warranty in the first place.

Apparently the housing gods aren't completely irate with me, because they did wait until a 60+ degree day to knock my furnace out of commission, and the warranty company was able to get me an appointment to have it looked at the very same day. 

The tech who visited used a lot of words that I immediately forgot, but the gist of it was: flames are blowing out of my furnace in the wrong direction, causing parts of it to overheat, and triggering a safety switch to turn off the flames and blow cold air to cool itself down. The reason the flames are misbehaving is likely a crack or leak somewhere. 

The takeaway from this story is the following: If your heater is blowing cold air, the burners might not be working, and if your heater won't turn off, the thermostat might not be working. But if your heater is blowing cold air AND won't turn off, it's probably because it's been overheating, and there are more reasons for overheating than simple clogged filter.

What this means for me is, I can't avoid it any more; this time I really need to replace the furnace.

Sadly, though, this is not something that can be done immediately. First, the repair company needs to check with the warranty company to find out if the replacement will be covered. Then, they'll need to order the new unit and perform various feats of bureaucracy, and I probably can't expect to have a fully functioning heater for a week or more. While I'm waiting, I expect to be very cold. 
Rest assured this will be a story in installments. Keep your eyes open for follow-up posts, and in the meantime, keep the home fires burning! Or not, as the case may be.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My 7-month checked-list

Today, I have owned my house for 7 months. When I bought it, it didn't seem like a fixer-upper, but it turned out to be (my boyfriend and I nicknamed it the Bubalou house, because it's so cute but so needy)! So after I began discovering all the problems, I set a personal goal of doing one house project a day. Sometimes it was cleaning up the mess the previous owners left behind; sometimes it was just the necessary day-to-day cleaning. Sometimes it was a big semi-construction project; sometimes it's just making yet another shopping trip to Home Depot. For the first 4 weeks, it was mainly just trying to get my dishwasher to work. But yes, for around 3 months, I basically worked on my house in some capacity every day.

The daily goals kind of fell by the wayside when I began constructing an epic Halloween costume, but there's still plenty more to do, and I'm continuing to plug away (if at a less strenuous pace).
Being a cheapskate and priding myself on my creativity, I refuse to enlist professional help for all but the most difficult jobs (no, the dishwasher saga didn't teach me anything, and yes, I did consent to calling a technician when the air conditioner broke, and yes, of course it did.) which means I've been McGuyvering a lot of DIY solutions to things that I probably shouldn't be!
  • "Waterproofed" the bathroom window ledge, by which I mean I glued a piece of painted wood to it and coated the edges with silicone.
    No water's gonna gather on that window ledge, now that there's
    an angled piece of wood and lumps of silicone all over it!
  • "Improved" the ventilation around the attic, which basically involved poking the huge sheets of insulation with a stick.
  • "Insulated" the hole where an attic fan should be but isn't. This involved salvaging all the insulation from the two dishwashers that I discarded during my dishwasher project, folding them up and stuffing them into the space behind the fan grate.
  • Grounded all the outlets Started an outlet-grounding project with high hopes and the aid of someone who knew slightly more about wiring than me, but after a series of snafus, settled for replacing just three of the 2-prong outlets with GFCI outlets.
  • Braced poorly made and poorly installed window screens so they could actually serve as screens instead of leaving gaping holes for bugs to fly through
  • Delegated the task of building a shed ramp (from salvaged nails and lumber found in backyard) to a visiting helper
  • Reattached all parts of shed ramp with screws after they got loose
  • Repaired the holey storm door screen with a needle and thread (later cutting new pieces of screen and gluing them on in a very attractive patchwork!)
    Wow, take a look at that artful screen fix!
  • Made a new threshold for the storm door with glue and a discarded piece of a friend's closet (it fell off after a couple months)
  • Hung three towel bars (all free, thanks to Freecycle and me taking the one I bought for my old house with me when I moved)
  • Tightened loose door hinges all around the house and replaced missing screws
  • Cleaned up the messy paint jobs all around the house
  • Cleaned (by removing years' of dust and dead cockroaches) and repaired (by straightening out the very deformed metal dampers) two heat vents
Eventually, though, I had to concede that some projects do require the purchase of brand new materials. Armed with about 300 dollars in Home Depot gift cards, I was able to accomplish the following:
  • Restarted the jammed sink disposal (it's easy once you have the right size hex key!)
  • Sealed the shed ramp with new wood sealant when it began to get mushy after it rained
  • Made one window screen from kit
  • Re-screened one window screen (using new screen and a screening tool but salvaged spline)
  • Opened a permanently sealed heat vent and added a (new) closeable grate
  • Re-bolted the toilet to the floor (with a new bolt kit, 2 wax rings, and lots and lots and lots of help)
    Nothing like a perfectly sized cap over your closet bolt, eh?
My friend tells me I'll have to take down my blog if I ever want to sell my house, because there are so many incriminating things in it! The easier solution would be to just stop writing about how horrible my house is. But I won't!

I tell every embarrassing story, because I can! And I write down every list of accomplishments, not because I imagine anyone will be interested, but just because it makes me feel better about the huge quantity of work that I have yet to do. I've made such progress, surely one day this struggle will come to an end!



OK, I guess I'm gonna go worry about my plumbing now. Laters!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

13 things men can darn well wear if they want to

I was a little bit outraged when I read this article, "13 things men should stop wearing." I'm almost certain (at least I'd like to hope) it was written as a backlash against patronizing articles (some even written by a man!) describing things women shouldn't wear, which have been making the rounds among my fashion/women's publications for as long as I've been reading them.

But really!? If the overwhelming consensus (as it seems to be, according to what I've read) is "Forget the rules! Women can wear whatever we want to wear and we need to stop letting society tell us we're ugly!", then how does turning the tables on men help the cause? Haven't we had enough with the negativity?

I have a different cause—absolute fashion freedom for everyone—and a blog post to go with it. Inspired by the original snarky article, here is a slightly different list...of things I think men should try wearing as soon as they can! Please read, enjoy, and pass it on to a man in your life (along with the shiniest shirt you can get your hands on)!

1. Deep V-Neck T-Shirts
Nothing wrong with that! If women are allowed to wear shirts that look like this, I don't see why men can't either.

2. Cute Graphic T-Shirts
If the only T-shirts it's socially acceptable for a man to wear are the ones that are emblazoned with macho imagery and sarcastic messages, that leaves very little room for self-expression. Let's expand the offerings so that men can wear pretty florals and kitty cats, and then there will be no need for them to settle for fake CBGB shirts.

3. Colorful Suits
Are you bored with black, brown, charcoal, and black? I am! I was looking through some catalog images from the 1970's, and was awed by the colors on the men's suits! We should have more of that!

4. Button-Down Vests...over nothing else
One of the sexist policies that really gets me going is the one that says women are allowed to show up to a nice establishment wearing short dresses and sleeveless tops, but men have to be fully covered in pants and sleeves. Not only does this perpetuate the belief that women are objects to be looked at; it's also needlessly restrictive to men. Men are the ones with the higher baseline body temperatures; they should totally be allowed to wear comfortable. breathable clothes, and show some skin at restaurants. Maybe the way to make this point is to wear dress vests as shirts. Maybe it's not, but I still think it's a fun idea.

5. Shiny Dress Shirts
 These were also derided by the original article. Once upon a time, I too, opposed shiny dress shirts for men. Mainly because they were associated with "those guys at the club who women warn each other about in the bathroom." Then I realized, if more upstanding gentlemen were to sport this style, it wouldn't have such a douchey reputation. There's nothing inherently wrong with shiny fabric; it's just the people that have always tended to wear it. Let's buck this trend! Sirs, go ahead and shine on the outside the same way you shine on the inside!

6. Vintage Shoes
Women's shoes are designed to last a year and then have to be replaced. Men's shoes are made to last for decades. If the square-toed dress shoes you bought when you graduated high school are still working for you today, don't be ashamed they're no longer trendy, be proud that you've saved countless cheap vinyl imitations from the landfill! But also, don't be afraid to wear pointed toes or even round ones if that floats your boat.

7. Baggy, High-Water Jeans...with cargo pockets!
There was a time when "mom jeans" for women were an extreme faux pas. And then, voila! All of a sudden mom jeans became the coolest thing in women's fashion. So men, if gender equality is real, then you are completely entitled to wear baggy jeans with high hemlines. Maybe you'll start a new trend! Or you can just go back to an old one and bring back cargo pants. If your pants mean you'll stop trying to cram your entire livelihood into my purse every time we go out, I'm 100% in favor.

8. Skinny Jeans
 The very opinionated writers of the original article seem to think you're not allowed to wear baggy jeans, and you're not allowed to wear skinny jeans. What's left? You might as well just walk around naked. Men, please don't walk around naked. I think skinny jeans are a very acceptable alternative.

9. White Jeans
Oh, and you're not allowed to wear white jeans either...says the snarkicle. But I say if that's the case, you might as well just give up on life and wear your bed sheets around town...or just never get out of bed at all. Honestly! With so many rules, no wonder men's fashion is boring! I don't have a problem with white jeans. Just make sure you can't see your boxers through the fabric. I hear this is a problem.

10. Jean Shorts
And why the heck not? ... The crickets are saying, "That's what I thought."

11. Purses
So cargo shorts aren't your style? I strongly suggest you give handbags a try. If you think purses are "too feminine," stuff the largest one you can find with things like samurai swords and electronic gadgets, and you can show off your strength by hefting your "manbag" around town. You'll be a purse convert before you know it!

12. Sandals that aren't flip flops
I can't remember any time when men were encouraged to wear any kind of sandal at all other than shower shoes. Go ahead and live a little! Let your feet air out, and flaunt those Berkenstocks!

13. Fitted Jerseys
 Sure, there are definitely better things you can wear than a sports jersey. More flattering. Less polyester. Less likely to get you beat up in the wrong city. Less...related to sports. My catty counterpart would have you believe that sports jerseys are unacceptable garb. But my realistic self recognizes that nothing can stand between a male and his wholehearted expression of his irrational love for his team. However, if you must wear a sports jersey, you can at least make an effort to look good in it. They make "girly" sports jerseys with a tailored fit for female fans, maybe it's time to start making similarly well fitting jerseys for male fans. Then you could flaunt your team spirit without sacrificing those good looks that I know are hiding just underneath!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ginger Molasses Cookie from Amaretti Desserts

Over Thanksgiving, I took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, and promptly developed a cold (of course!) I waited until my congestion cleared (temporarily, by virtue of lots of drugs, no thanks to my sluggish immune system) to try this cookie, and it was worth the wait.

I could taste the ginger! It was so gingery! The flavor, plus the sweetness, mixed in with no scanty amount of salt, made for a taste explosion!

The cookie was maybe just a tad too chewy, but I'll take that over crunchy any day. Bonus sugar crystals on top rounded out the texture.

I'm not certain of the price, as I bought several things from amaretti desserts, and the receipt I received was not itemized, but the three items I bought (a bar, a whoopie pie, and this Giant Cookie) totaled 10$. Since a cookie is usually cheaper than the other items, I'll round its price down to 3$. Not a perfect price for 115g, but quite a bit above average. I guess we can't win 'em all.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Valerie's Adventures in Cooking: Zucchini Quiche

When faced with a lot of vegetables and nothing to do with them, some sort of baked concoction with lots of cheese is usually my answer. I may not like cooking, but I do like my quiche! My last Adventure in Quiching turned out solidly on the awful side, so let's see if I've learned any lessons.

For this recipe, you will need:
  • 1 zucchini, aged to perfection
  • 1 package of Pillsbury croissant dough
  • 1 package of refrigerated egg whites
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella.
  • 1 boyfriend
The boyfriend is necessary because he is the reason you have a whole zucchini, despite your not liking zucchini. He is also the reason you have a giant bag of mozzarella cheese that you still haven't used up almost 2 years after you bought it at Costco, 3 packages of Pillsbury croissant dough that have been sitting around for almost a year after you strongly advised him not to buy so much croissant dough at Costco, and the six cartons of refrigerated egg whites that he just recently bought at Costco.

But why, you are asking, is he the reason you have a single lonesome zucchini, which is surely not the kind of thing you pick up at Costco? The answer for that is his new Vitamix blender, with which he decided to make pureed soup. The original soup recipe called for zucchini, and you dutifully bought him a zucchini before he changed his mind and decided to go with a zucchini-free recipe. He said he'd find a use for the zucchini, but 3 weeks later, it is still relaxing in the fridge, so it is time for action!

Cut the zucchini into slices. Discard any parts that are too "relaxed."

Dump some mozzarella cheese into a bowl. The mozzarella should be frozen mostly solid, because naturally when you keep it around for years on end, you can't keep it in the refrigerator or it will go bad. Remove the mozzarella cheese from the bowl and hack at it with a knife until it has broken up into manageable clumps. Return the manageable clumps to the bowl.

Find the one container of egg whites that is already opened, and dump it over the cheese. This will hopefully be enough egg whites to make a quiche, because it seems wasteful to open a second carton. Mix until the clumps of cheese have mostly separated and are distributed uniformly.

Now it's time for putting the quiche into a crust! A serious cook would make a crust from scratch. A lazy cook would use a pre-made pie crust. But an adventurous cook would try to get rid of another thing that's been sitting in the fridge too long, and make her crust out of refrigerated croissant dough!

Open the package of croissant dough and separate it into its pre-formed little triangles. Arrange the triangles in the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan. They will not cover the pan neatly, so rip them to pieces as necessary until the pan is covered.

Then lay about half of the slices of zucchini in a layer on top of the crust.

Top the zucchini with half the cheese/egg mixture.

Lay the remaining zucchini slices in another layer, and top with the remaining cheese/eggs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, realize your crust is browning to a crisp, but the middle of the quiche doesn't look quite solid yet. No worries! You have aluminum pie crust protectors! Too bad you didn't think to use them at the beginning of the baking, but then again, they don't really fit over the handles on your ergonomic pie tin, so they probably wouldn't do much protecting in this precarious position anyway. Still no worries! Ornamental pie crust protectors are better than no pie crust protectors, and at least they will have the satisfaction of being used for the first time as they hover over the edges of your quiche for the last 10 minutes of baking!

(Bake for 10 minutes, or until the center looks solid and the edges are strikingly overdone.)

The verdict: Zucchini is not quite so unpalatable when buried in lots of browned cheese, but neither does croissant dough make an excellent crust. It got a little soggy, especially near that tricky middle. In any case, it's edible, but there sure is a lot of it! It's a good thing I have a little leftover boyfriend to help me finish it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Whine O'clock!

When I last posted about my likes and dislikes in June, all I had was a list of likes. This time I'll turn the tables and round things out with some more dislikes.

1. Biking into a cloud of gnats

This item is at the top of my list right now, because, 'tis the season for clouds of bugs...apparently. Every year when it starts to turn cool out, I suddenly find my commute home beset by inordinately large numbers of fruit flies. Where's the fruit? I don't know, but its absence doesn't seem to be stopping them any! I don't begrudge these creatures their right to congregate, but if they could do it somewhere out of the path of my lungs, I'd be much obliged.

2. Foldover waistbands

It seems simple enough...almost irrelevant...among the many things fashion gives us, but I have several pairs of pants with a foldover waist (yoga pants are an especially common culprit, but a foldover waist has also "graced" my bikini bottoms) and every time I wear them, all they bring me is grief. Just try to keep the folded part folded in the right spot! It will invariably unfold itself and bulk up your midsection, or merely start to bunch up in an annoyingly asymmetrical way. The aesthetic benefit of having a band of fabric wrapped around your butt is surely outweighed by the annoyance of having to adjust it every two minutes.

3. Slideshow websites

The web developer in me must needs gripe about something website-related, and this time, it's those sites in which all their information is presented in the form of a slideshow. If you ever click on sponsored posts on Facebook (I've fallen victim to this trick more times than I can count!), you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately (actually, probably fortunately), I can't find a specific example right now, but I can describe it for you. You view the first slide, and it has something informative about the subject you came to read about. If you're lucky, it has a whole sentence, but sometimes, the answer inexplicably drags out...

...Click the "Next" Button... the next slide!

As if having to click 2 or three times to complete every sentence isn't bad enough, now imagine that every portion of the sentence you want to read contains a large image (usually only vaguely related to the topic) and is supported by approximately 3,026 ads. The agonizing slowness with which these fragments of information load is enough to make anyone go crazy.

4. People buying limited-edition things for the sole purpose of reselling them at a profit

This is one of those unfortunate and pretty-much-inevitable downsides to a free market economy. Anyone who can afford to buy something at any price is allowed to...and equally allowed to sell it at any price, even if that price is hundreds of times the actual value. But just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should! This is a classic case of the haves (those with the resources and position to acquire something extremely rare) profiting from the have nots (the ones who only have the means to buy something on the overinflated secondary market. Perhaps I'm naive (and perhaps I'm still bitter about the house-flippers who made getting a new home at an affordable price way more difficult than it should have been), but I believe in kindness and sharing and making an honest living.

5. Weighted doors

After that "weighty" subject, let's go on to something weighty in a different way—doors that shut themselves. I'm not a fan. This kind of door has afflicted me too many times, mostly resulting in me getting locked out of a place because I stepped out briefly without a key and found it had swung shut behind me. That's the worst-case scenario, but weighted doors also give meaning to the saying, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!" When you're trying to pass an overzealous door with an armful of stuff and don't have the momentum or the foresight to swing it wide open before you pass through, the door hitting you on the way out is exactly what will happen.

6. Cleaning up other people's hair

Whether you live with roommates, significant others, or random strangers who pay to stay in your home for a few days, you can be sure of one thing: at some point, you will be forced to clean up their hair. People seem to love to shed their hair everywhere, but especially in the bathroom. They shave and leave the cuttings all over the sink. They shower and deposit what seems like the entire contents of their head in the drain. Cleaning up these messes is disgusting beyond measure, and frequently, not even necessary. For those of you who don't know it, I'm going to share a little trick: Brush your hair before you shower. That way all the loose hairs will end up in your brush, not snaking down into the drain for someone else to pick up. Oh, and also, when you shave, it's not acceptable to leave your cuttings where they fell. I don't understand why it's still necessary to explain this to people, but apparently I'm one of only a few people in the world who doesn't enjoy all their surfaces studded with hair.

7. Tipping

Last gripe, and again it's a financial one: I hate being obligated to tip all the people who perform a service. I spent several years of my life working for 2 dollars an hour as a tipped employee, so I understand that not tipping is an unacceptable behavior in our current system, but I am angry that tipping ever got ingrained in the system in the first place. The vast majority of people who work for tips are paid by their employers. They shouldn't also be paid by their customers who are also paying their employers. For any industry, forcing your employees to live off the kindness of strangers is a scoundrelly practice, and forcing your customers to have to choose what's an appropriate payment for your employees is scoundrelly as well. Life would be so much simpler (and there would be so much less ill will between restaurant servers and customers, just as an example) if the cash only flowed one way.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Schmackary's Cookies: Red Velvet

In my second review of Schmackary's cookies, I admit I got a little lazy. (In my third review, I didn't actually bother to review them at all!) Because, to be honest, it was, as I wrote in my notes while chowing down, "nothing special."

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it or I didn't eat all of it, but I didn't detect any notes of anything beyond the usual.

The cookie was a bit too dry around the edges, crumbling a bit too much for my taste, but the middle was soft as I like it.

The best part was the cream cheese icing, because, of course, cream cheese makes everything better!

And the white chocolate chunks imparted a fun texture that – maybe, just maybe, took it beyond the usual after all.

The Bottom Line

3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars