Friday, December 9, 2011

Gingerbread Congratulations

Gingerbread houses have been a family tradition since I was little.  My parents would work hard to make the perfect house and donate it to the Festival of Trees to benefit Primary Children's hospital.  Although all my siblings and I all have families of our own now, my dad along with his wife, Debby, continue to keep this tradition alive by involving as many of the family that are around and sometimes friends and neighbors join in the fun. 

This year, they made the "Tangled" Tower, complete with Rapunzel standing on the window ledge, and Flynn Rider dangling from her hair, literally spinning with the help of an ornament turner. 
I am so proud of this house, and I regret that I couldn't be there to help put it together.  They did a beautiful job!  And the house this year sold for $2000.00!  That's their 2nd highest selling house, next to their Harry Potter house that sold for $2200.00 a few years ago.

My dad informed me that this house took about $100.00 to make.  He always builds the house with the sturdiest of gingerbread that he makes (in other words, don't try to eat it or the tooth fairy may be visiting you for Christmas) and an icing that holds really well, but you wouldn't want to eat that either.  He uses wood to build the structure, then secures the gingerbread on using screws, many times.  So, the gingerbread houses he makes are strictly for decorative purposes only.  I have to wonder what happens to these houses after the Christmas season is over???

I must get back to life, but first, to all those who had a hand in the Tangled Tower, congratulations!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our Wonderful Thanksgiving Weekend

We had such a happy Thanksgiving.  Steve's parents came up for the weekend and we so enjoyed having their company.  Mom, Tom, and Geoff joined us for Thanksgiving dinner.  And this year, Lily and I made Thelda the Thankful Turkey to get us all remembering our blessings.
 Thelda is made out of a paper bag, old scrapbook paper, and 2 googly eyes.  She was perched atop our entertainment stand for most of November.  We would feed Thelda slips of paper with things that we are thankful for.  I'd try to remind everyone each day to not forget to feed Thelda.  Steve's mom particularly liked the name Thelda because she has an aunt by the same name.  On Thanksgiving day, we brought Thelda to the table and after our meal, we read all the things we were thankful for.  My favorite was "I'm Thankful for Grandpa's ice cream" (Lily). 

This year, I thought it would be fun to break the feast up into 2 meals.  So, at lunch time we served salads and finger foods (including the deviled eggs as requested by Lily).  We put the turkey in at lunch time and mom baked it in a roasting bag.  It was her first turkey ever and it turned out beautifully delicious (I can't believe I didn't get a picture of it!). 

While we waited for the turkey to bake, the men watched football and the girls all made turkey hats then got bundled up and took a walk up the street.  We were greeted by some friendly horses and a funny donkey.

 When we got back, the turkey was ready to start resting, while we made the side dishes.  We made the mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, veggies, and gravy.  The gravy turned out to be more difficult to make than the turkey.  It just didn't want to thicken.  Mom added a roux, then more roux, then more roux, all the while simmering it trying to get it to reduce, 45 minutes later it still wasn't thick enough, so I suggested we add mashed potatoes to it.  She loved the idea.  We added 2 big scoops of potatoes before it satisfied her thickness standard.  Then we brought it to the serving counter and called everyone over.  Steve came over and pointed to the gravy and asked, "What's that?"  I guess most turkey gravies are brownish, ours was more whitish.  I shot him a look of, "don't ask."  But it was too late.  Then he reminded us all of the SNL crystal gravy commercial, a spoof on crystal pepsi.  Although our gravy looked different it still tasted good.

We said a prayer of thanks and then enjoyed the feast of traditional foods.  Well, most of us enjoyed it, there's one 4 year old that thought this dinner looked yucky.

Then a few hours after dinner settled in, it was dessert time.  We had my homemade chocolate swiss-roll cheesecake, and also a pumpkin pie, minus the pumpkin pie.  Unfortunately, we didn't realize in time that the frozen pie we bought was not yet baked.  But that's okay.  There was plenty of cheesecake for all.  And the pumpkin pie was good the next day.

Later that weekend, we put away thanksgiving, and put up the Christmas tree.  It was so wonderful to have Steve's parents here to help and enjoy this tradition with us!  Steve and his dad set up the tree so it was straight and sturdy, then Steve strung it with lights.  Steve's mom helped the girls put the ornaments on. 

The Spray of Sewage

 Who likes limited warrantees, raise your hand!  You won't be able to see, but my hand is NOT raised.  Although I'm still waiting to hear back on our 2 year old broken sewer pump to know whether it is covered under the 5 year limited warranty, I can say that warrantys are a load of... hooey!  But this post isn't about warranties, it's about Sewage. 

One evening as I was going to bed I heard our sewer pump making strange noises  like it was struggling to work.  There is an alarm that is supposed to sound if the sewer tank is getting too full (like if the pump stops working), but no alarm ever sounded, so Steve and I decided to check on it in the morning.   Morning came, Steve left to work and that meant I had to check on the pump that I knew zilch about.  I called my step-dad over and he braved the crawlspace with me.  We ran the water in the kitchen sink and sat and waited for something to sound wrong.  The sewer pump sounded fine.  But we heard another noise, a dripping noise coming from a different location and we discovered that the kitchen faucet was leaking into the basement.  Tom went upstairs and helped me tighten the screws on the faucet and the leak stopped.  Thank goodness.  Then he left for work.

I was still unsure about the sewer pump working, so I decided to run a test of my own.  I had Amara stand by the tub and had her listen for me to yell up to her to turn it off.  I then grabbed a flashlight and went to look that the pump again.  This was around lunch time.  That's when I noticed that the soil around the pump was wet.  I found a leak and I yelled up to Amara to stop the water.  That's when I called the sewer pump company and a plumber.

This photo shows the connection that was leaking.

The sewer pump guys gave us a bunch of things to try to see if we could "fix" the problem.  As soon as Steve got home, we headed to the crawlspace and started trying to figure out what the problem was in the first place.  That's when we opened the lid and found that there was sewage leaking out of the top.  EEW!  We had to use the wet/dry vac to suck up sewage, then attempt to drain the sewage tank doing the same thing, according the sewer pump guy's instructions.  When the vac would get about 1/2 full, we'd carry it hunched over because we're in a crawlspace and hold our breathe to preserve our brain cells, all the while trying to minimize the sloshing in the bucket, then lift it out into the garage, and wheel it to the dumping zone.  This method would have surely taken us a decade since the tank is 60 or so gallons and we were maybe emptying one gallon at a time. 

My mom came over after work and offered her small sump pump to us.  We jimmy-rigged one of our garden hoses to the end of it and attempted to pump sewage out that way.  That was also taking a lifetime. 

It was dark and passed dinner time when the plumber showed up to offer help.  He was there to look for the leak in the plumbing where it attaches into the sewer unit.  He had us run the bathtub so he could see the leak.  I went upstairs, turned on the tub for a minute then heard 3 adults yelling "Turn it off!" over and over again!  I turned it off and went down to see where the leak was and Steve told me that they were getting sprayed with sewage out of the top of the unit (not the leak I had found around lunchtime).   So now we had a full tank of sewage again, but the plumber helped us get the tank drained by using a manual pump button found on the sewer pump (why the sewer-tech guy didn't have us use that in the first place is beyond me!). 

In the picture below you can see the sewer pump.  The pump is that big black mass in the middle.  When you lift it out it's about 3 feet long, weighs close to 280 million pounds and it grinds up sewage while pumping it out to the city sewer.  The sewage was spraying out where that pump drops down into the tank.

After the tank was finally mostly drained, we went "fishing" with one of the kid's butterfly nets to try to see if there were any toys or rocks or things that could have gone down the drain in our house without our knowledge.  With the plumber as our witness, there was nothing but sewage in that tank (so with fingers crossed, hopefully it's a manufacturer's defect and we don't have to pay for the new pump).

Speaking of a new pump, after spending the weekend without use of sewer or water (for the most part, we did use a little since we could manually pump the sewer by going back into the crawlspace and pushing the button), the sewer-tech and his boss decided that they needed to have the sewer-tech come over and install a new pump and I would have to pay for him to travel out to rural-ville.  That was a trip with a $500.00 price tag, excluding the cost of the pump (another $1,300.00 if old pump isn't warrantied).  He was reasonable and came out and installed the refurbished pump that has a one year warranty (yay?).

It feels good to have a sewer that works again.  It was nice to have it installed before Thanksgiving so that Steve's parents could travel up here and join us.  AND  This Thanksgiving I was most grateful that I listened to that still small voice that told me to double check on that pump, even though no alarm ever sounded.  That prompting saved us a complete catastrophe in our crawlspace!  The alarm is now fixed by the way.  I had to have an electrician come over and spend 2 minutes running a 4 inch wire to a hub that was never connected in the first place.

See the wet soil around the tank?
The power cord to the pump

The alarm box

Rollin' With My Cutie...

 I turned around after washing the dishes to this scene set up next to the TV stand.

If you ever need a smile in your heart, just spend a few minutes with this little girl.

Here she is making us laugh with a ball shoved down her pants.

And she likes to workout with her mommy.  She gets to pick out the workout video and 95% of the time, she picks this one with Richard Simmons:
See her in action (a little camera shy).  Oh!  And every time we do this video, she points out the blond girl in the blue and tells me that that's her Aunt Elinn!

My First Time Burning Weeds

We've been fighting the weeds in our "yard" for awhile.  We spend over $100.00 on weed killers and I personally would take a shovel to clear them away, but there were too many of them and too few of me.  My neighbor felt bad for me because she could see how much I hated them.  After the weeds in our front yard died off, I told the neighbor boys to ride their 4-wheeler all they wanted over the dead brush- they took that one step further and tied a metal grate to the back of the 4 wheeler and dragged my front yard until it was clear.  Bless them.

The backyard was another story.  The weeds drank that weed-poisen like it was kool-aid and settled in deeper.  We lost that battle when we left for a few weeks in the summer. Other than the small path I had cleared to and around our little garden, all you could see was weeds (and who knows what the heck could be hiding in brush that thick?  I wasn't going to be the one to find out!).

Then came Fall.  That's right, the fall of the weed-empire.  Their thick green stems turned crispy brown and I took courage.  One coolish day in November, I took my rake and shovel and headed for the back yard.  The weeds pulled out of the ground easily.  So, I began to make piles of dead weeds, with the intention of putting the pile into my garbage can.  The neighbor boys saw I was up to something, and came over to whack at some weeds too.  Well, the pile grew until it was in no way manageable and I was stuck.  I semi-hoped the wind would blow like crazy at night and take the weeds into the empty lots next to us.  No such luck. And I was tired.

Then my neighbor tells me that we should burn our weeds (my gigantor piles and her measly sprigs).  Of course I loved the idea.  I called the county and they told me I'd have to get approval to burn from the fire marshall.  I called the fire marshall and he was out of town for a week.  I told my neighbor the bad news.  The next day I hear Amara say, "There's a fire out there."  I look and there's my neighbor burning weeds.  I grabbed my rake and ran to help her.  She told me that her coworkers said that it's okay to burn and they just did it a few days ago without permission.  I figured that's good enough for me, and I began adding weeds to her pile.  Soon we were in the weed burning business.  We burned from 1-4, then Steve got home and we finished the fires from 4-5:30.  That fire consumed those weeds so fast!  I had a great time watching those manacing-money-eaters burn!  
 Above is the Before.  Below is the After.

Another after shot...
Another before and after...

Watching from inside...
And more burning into the night

Whew!  Strangely enough, I felt like this fire was a rite of passage for me.  I now feel more a part of this rural community.

Crazy Hair Day

Lily was excited to participate in Crazy Hair Day at her school this year.  With the help of a few colorful pipe cleaners and a pirate stuffed animal, I think Lily may have had the craziest hair in school that day!

I was afraid her head and neck might get tired holding all that up on top of her head all day, but she assured me that she would be fine.  When she got home, I asked her if she was ready for me to take her hair down, but she wasn't.  About ten minutes later though, she came up to me and said, "I think I'm ready to take this down now."

Have You Heard of the Candy Fairy?

October 31st is known as "O Dia das Bruxas" in Brazil (that's "the day of the witches"), however at our house, it's not about witches, but a day of the candy fairy.  For those unaware of the candy fairy, let me explain.  Children go trick-or-treating and bring home loads of sugar in various forms.  If they choose to leave the candy out on the table, the candy fairy will come while they're asleep and leave them a gift. 

So, my kids eat a few of their favorite pieces and leave the rest out for the fairy.  This year, the candy fairy left them a musical instrument, sorta like a lap guitar or harp.  It came with sheet music that you insert behind the strings, then you use the pick to play the notes.  Both girls enjoy playing with it.  Lily has even gotten really creative and made her own song on a sheet of paper that she cut out to fit the instrument. 

I think I would've liked one of these toys as a child.  Had I only known about the candy fairy when I was little!  Halloween for me usually went like this: I would first sort my candy by type, then barter with my siblings, then I would pay the unfair dad tax (let my dad have a few undeserved pieces), then I would eat a few morsels myself and hide the rest in my room.  When I wanted candy, I knew where to find it.  Unfortunately, my brothers (and maybe even my sister?) would greedily find out about my candy hiding spot and eat all the good pieces.  Sad, huh.  I remember having leftover stale taffy at my disposal well into the Easter season.

Steve remembers consuming all his candy within the first night or two.  He also would barter with his siblings for a selection that better suited him. :)