We have ice, valves, and one orange tomato!

We had a plumber in two weeks ago to run a new line to our ice machine. The line that came with the house used a saddle valve (which is apparently tantamount to begging for a gushing leak in the crawl space AND they’re illegal in our town). The poor guy had to go down in the crawl space, dig through our new insulation and resolder our pipes in the cramped dark. Plumber rates are impressively expensive, but better him than me!

I’ve been delaying this post, for fear of sudden leaks. But, we have ice!!!

We’ve been making our own ice cubes since October. I’d sort of gotten used to the inconvenience of it, but I can’t tell you what a treat it is to have a full tray of ice. We had four ice cube trays before, and they’re all washed and away in the upper cabinet. (I’m keeping them in case I decide to make mini popsicles, or raspberry-mint ice cubes, or some other rare and unlikely delicacy. You never know.)

The other very exciting thing is that there’s now a shutoff valve for the ice maker water line under our sink!!

(It’s the bottom-right.) The plumber also told me what the three existing shutoff valves do, which is useful knowledge. I wrote it on an index card that’s now tied under the sink so I don’t even have to think if I need it. Having experienced an ice machine line failing, I am VERY happy to know how to kill the water if need be. :-)

Yay, modern conveniences!!

In other news, we’re a few days away from our first ripe tomato!

In addition, on the last day of August, there are about 5 other green tomatoes, and around a dozen green cherry tomatoes. Wow, the weather didn’t work for tomatoes this year. (Though you can tell it’s been raining here – the grass went from semi-scorched to fluorescent green). I suppose it makes sense, since I didn’t get them in until the last week of June (the temperature wasn’t consistently above 50 at night until then). The tomatoes are Early Girl, but you wouldn’t expect fruit in less than two months anyway, and we’ve had our fair share of cool and cloudy this summer. I’m excited about that one fruit though – we’ll savour it, regardless of what the rest of the green dudes end up being.

RIP, wonderful monitor

I have always been a bit of a hoarder – someone who forms emotional attachments to things that I own. In one of the spheres that this makes the least sense (technology), I cling even more strongly and keep things well beyond their shelf date. Probably not an uncommon flaw. My ’92 walkman was in constant use until ’03. My ’95 stereo (with dual cassette, 3 cd changer, and am-fm radio) is still sitting in our dining room, much to Kevin’s chagrin.

My parents gave me a monitor for my 21st birthday. That sentence is so blasé, but the import to me at the time was enormous. It was an affirmation for me of how proud my parents were of my impending college degree, and a recognition of how much time I spent working in front of the computer . I was just coming off of a Microsoft internship and starting my senior year as a computer science major. Kevin (who I’d just barely started dating) was jealous. Having something at the leading edge was a deep thrill. Plus (and I cannot overstate how cool this was) – I was so happy not to heft my 19″ CRT up three flights of stairs to my dorm room. Yay, LCD!!! There’s something to be said for hauling crates of textbooks and treating the feather light computer as the bonus round.

Six years later, though, especially given how frequently I work at home, I’m ready for more screen real estate. I’ve been clinging to my 17″ LCD because I love it, but something finally clicked in the sensible portion of my brain two weeks ago and I’m ready for much, much bigger.

Here’s the old, wonderful 17″ monitor:

Here are the two side-by-side.

Note how tiny the 17″ screen is (despite the larger frame). Crazy. And here’s the new monitor, displaying side-by-side word docs with plenty of space to spare.

WOW. How very cool. And Kevin keeps coming into my room and exhaling in wistful, covetous sighs…Yay for still occasionally being the one to up the technological ante.

We do not want for pine trees

The sunset a week ago was sensational and golden – the light hummed.

Pictures are a meager reminder, but pretty enough to post. From the driveway, looking west across the cul de sac:

And looking north up the street:

I love our house, neighbourhood, and proximity to everything (especially work), but every time I try to take pictures of the sky I understand why I sometimes feel so hemmed in here. Quite the change from our apartment up on the hill overlooking the lake. Generally it just feels cozy, but man are those trees tall.

We’re faced with a particular challenge regarding the trees now that football season is nigh. We’ve been essentially living without a TV since we moved in, mid-October. We have internet and cable through Comcast. No love lost there, both for endless billing snafus and general quality of service. In our old apartment, Kevin actually bought an HD antenna and connected it straight to his computer, and we used Media Center piped through to the TV to watch our shows on the networks in HD. No ESPN or Fox Sports, but otherwise everything that we wanted. Meanwhile, we kept calling Comcast to cancel our cable tv altogether, and they’d give us a six-month package analog cable package that was cheaper than internet alone. So we went from a $125/month cable+internet package to a $50 analog-tv+internet package. Nice.

When we moved to our new house and for the first four months, our TV room was in total disarray – no walls, the storage dumping-ground of the house, etc. The TV was occasionally plugged in, but we found that when the TV was connected our precious internet was spotty. (I may have some of these details wrong – Kevin is the wiring expert – but this is the gist of the situation.) The Comcast guys came out to test the line into the house, which seems to be functioning perfectly, so it’s likely the house wiring that’s the problem. Kevin did some analysis and there were several splitters (which degrade signal strength), plus signal gets weaker over longer lines, plus he suspects that the coax cables that run through the house are damaged/inferior. Back in March or so, Kevin unscrewed the TV connection where it entered the house to boost our all-important internet stability. So no TV until we reconnected for the Olympics, and now we’re mere moments away from football and needing a solution. Kevin just bought a spool of coax cable, and he’s been researching roof-mounted HD antennas which he could wire down to the utility closet that holds all of the house networking. My understanding is that the cable could go to the closet, which connects to his computer via the cable he ran last winter, which connects back through the closet to the XBOX 360 (a Media Center Extender) and so we could watch TV in the family room. (I sometimes feel like I should make an effort to understand this better, but he’s so good at it that I just trust his judgment and wait for the TV to turn on.)

The only hitch in the plan is that we are surrounded by enormous trees. Kevin bought a compass (on sale at REI!) and spent a good while up on the roof scoping out the visibility in the appropriate directions. It *might* work. We also had a tree guy out to give us estimates for removing some of the behemoths around the house, so that also might help further the plan. (In terms of feeling hemmed in, I felt very justified by his evaluation – our trees are between 65 and 100 feet tall. Wow!) We’re a bit conflicted about priorities for tree removal . We can only take out four per calendar year, so which goes first? The ones that block the southern sun? The ones dumping pine needles onto the roof? The ones preventing football happiness? We should get quotes back in the next few days, which should help narrow the options considerably. :-)

Fish tank lights!

When we switched to the Amanda-and-Brian lights for our tank, our old light stand no longer worked. This has many repercussions – it’s harder to do daily maintenance and cleaning on the tank, airflow suffers so the lights heat up more than they would if they were lofted (and the water below them heats up more, too), and the water in the tank doesn’t oxygenate as well because there’s less airflow over the surface. Also, while Kevin was able to get one of the light fans to work, the other one seems to be shorted out, and probably not worth fixing. This shortens the life of the bulb and raises the temp of the fixture.

I’ve been trying for the last two months to find prefabricated stands that would support the lights above the water, to no avail. The light brand is Finnex – totally unheard of by google, except for integrated systems (where you buy the tank, stand, lights, filtration, etc as a package). The Finnex lights that we have present a single dock in the middle of each end to anchor a stand, but are completely incompatible with any of the other commercial lights’ stands on the market today. After many hopeful internet and store-based searches, I finally decided to craft a homemade solution.

I decided to use wood as the pedestal to support a metal brace at each end of each light. Experimenting in the hardware aisle, I found that 1½ door hinges fit perfectly into the light braces. I also found that two ¾” x ½” corner braces per wood pedestal would support it along the top of the tank.
Kevin used the Sawzall to cut the steel into sections according to my measurements. Then, for the first time really, I used the drill for a long series of assembly. (Usually the heavy power drill is Kevin’s – it was a good confidence boost to learn to use it over the course of this project.)
For both lights, the entire lift system required 32 screws, into hard to balance 1″x1″x2.5″ wood blocks. My first version was too tall, and the lights cast too much against the wall and not enough into the water.

I spent a while unscrewing fixtures, cutting down blocks by an inch, and then rescrewing.

Here’s the inspired door-hinge solution in action.

The hinge slips through the channel at the end of the light, and then I used plastic zip ties to cinch in the two ends of the hinge around the steel support.

There are many advantages – it’s stable, you can slide the light front-to-back, and if we need to remove the light from the support it’s a quick scissor cut and then cheap and simple to replace.

Once I was happy with the height, I whipped out the sewing machine to create black shields for the front of the tank to block the light in the gap. After a little bit of experimentation, I filled them with poster board. This was a dumb decision, since paper will be brought down by salt water evaporation. How stupid of me. When these wilt, as they inevitably will, I’ll replace the paper filling with felt. In any case, the fabric shades are attached to the wooden posts with adhesive velcro tabs.

The weather has calmed down a bit since I set up this system, but still: way fewer/less-dramatic temp spikes in the tank due to better airflow, and a reduction of algae during hot periods. A success already. :-)

Free Falling

Way back in May, our friends Shawn and Sanna bought tickets for the Tom Petty concert at the Gorge. We hadn’t been out there in ages (in fact, not since the Pearl Jam concert the evening after Kevin proposed), and Tom Petty is of course a favourite, so we glommed on.

Friday was very hectic. I worked from home so that I could be here while the plumber installed the ($150/hr + materials) line to our icemaker. Ouch. Kevin was in meetings all day. I was supposed to be at his building at 4 pm (right on that cusp of Friday rush hour), and didn’t make it until a somewhat frazzled 4:15. We were planning to take back roads, to try to avoid some of the end of workday and weekend traffic. Kevin took over driving, I got out my knitting, and he took a right according to his online directions… onto a brick road.

We laughed and laughed. Apparently it was built in 1913 and is designated as historic. :-) (At risk of “explaining the joke”, I spent most of my childhood outside Boston. Kevin grew up west of Philadelphia. We are both 300 years of seeped-in history sort of people, and yet we moved to the west coast, and somehow 1913 is incredibly old in our town. We have no idea why the mapping software chose to send us down *that* road. We were already running late. Some things are just too funny.)

As we got closer, I kept being awash in happy memories. The first time we went to the Gorge (in 2002), we were barely/almost dating, and such magnets for each other. The second/last time we drove to the Gorge for a concert, we were calling our families along the way to announce our engagement. Beyond happy. And now, between that significance and the gorgeous views? Such an important and wonderful place to me to revisit.

The opening band started at 8, and we got in line off the highway at 7:15. The line of traffic moved in fits and starts, so much so that after the first two pauses we took to turning off the engine. We pulled into our camping spot at quarter of. Kevin set up our tent, we got organized, and I took photos of the sunset (circa 7:51).

There was a smog warning in effect for Seattle on Friday, and while that did not particularly bother me, the visible low smog in the middle of the state was horrifying. It was eerily close to driving through northern CA earlier this summer with the forest fires. The one advantage is that the sunset was sensational – orange and pink, plus all of those desert mountains for contrast.

The concert was amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since early high school, and there are several CS classes in college that I passed thanks to endless repeats of certain Tom Petty cds in the small hours of the morning. Kevin and I tend to have divergent taste in music and classic rock is one of the common grounds. Tom Petty and his band seemed dedicated to the show, the playlist was awesome (though I was surprised that they didn’t play anything off of his new-ish album – some of those songs are quite good), and the lights and showmanship were great. So, great music, incredibly beautiful surroundings, good friends.

It was a long day. After the show, retiring to sleeping bags in the tent felt amazing.

We were all up by 8 the next morning (I wouldn’t have been up if everyone else hadn’t been – that tent and sleeping bag combo is incredibly lulling to me), and after a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and melon from the CSA, I packed the car (a challenge now that we had two extra people and had to keep the backseat clear!), and then we were off.

We stopped in Cle Elum for a rest break and coffee, and found that there was a classic car show underway. :-) Neat! We ended up spending well over an hour walking around and looking at all of the cars. I’ve been to shows where people restore the cars to the way they were (always fascinating), but 90% of the cars here had been souped up to the sexy, classy versions of themselves that they’d always aspired to be. New paint jobs, upholstery, mirrors, engine, dash & meters, etc.

Shawn and Sanna checking out a majorly modified pickup from way back when:

Kevin just looking:

(This viewing posture is “interest”. The longer we stayed, and the more classic late-60s muscle cars he saw, the more his posture changed into all-out covet. Shawn was equally afflicted – apparently in high school he’d stalked a classic car of some sort (clearly my attention level for the details of make/model/year was dysfunctionally low) and his heart was broken when a mechanic declared the thing impossible to drive safely/a bad purchase. As we walked, there was all sorts of talk about emptying our garage so that “we” (Shawn and Kevin) could use it for side by side muscle car rehabilitation. Desires certainly die hard.)

100% guarantee that this Model T was not sold in gold out of the factory…

(They are such elegant little things, but how tiny!! Current-day Americans would not fit. I love the long stalk of a shifter.)

I have an abiding love of the fins on these cars. They are truly boats, but if you drove something like this, you would feel swank. Need to buy the matching sunglasses and scarf first, though!

My favourite/most unique car looked like something straight out of the Jetsons. Or perhaps the Pixar movie “Cars”.

I love the lavender. Kevin pointed out that the back almost looks like more of the front than the front does.

Such a fun diversion on the way home!

A great Sunday

Apparently once I start on a “burning down the projects” kick, it spreads everywhere. I finally measured, cut, and painted the last of the trim yesterday afternoon. Working with the garage door open was quite pleasant – good light and a good breeze. It started to rain (and then started to POUR) while I was midway through the cutting, so I took out a sponge and “washed” my car with the rain water. You can’t use any soap here because the drains will contaminate the streams where the salmon swim. I emailed the car-washing czar in Kirkland and he said that I could wash with a vinegar/water mix (which I did), but when I followed up with the Redmond guy two months ago he essentially forbid all activities that involved removing dirt/pollution/pine needles with water as being completely toxic to the environment. My skeptical side is totally at war with my ecological and rule-following sides, and so I’ve now decreed as personal law that I can sponge off my car in a hard rain. Too much thinking about a simple rule.

The painted trim looks pretty, but I just can’t wait until it’s in the room where it belongs and the garage floor is empty!!!

I tidied up the ceiling edges in the family room while watching the Olympics last night. They really look great now. (None of the walls in that room follow right angles so I couldn’t use a square or tape – it all had to be done freehand, but I couldn’t be happier with how crisp it all looked when I walked in this morning. Perfect!!) I worked on painting trim, the mantle, and the french doors while I was on the phone with various family members this afternoon. Great progress. We have a few hours of measuring, sanding, and refining cuts in one of the evenings this week, and then maybe we can rent a nail gun next week to secure all of these trim pieces in place (all 81 of them), a few more daubs of paint over the nail heads, and then we will be done!!

Flush with future victories, and fresh off a phone call with my Dad, we started reconsidering room layouts. We moved the TV to the left of the (blue-tape-free!!!) fireplace, and put the couch and the armchair on the wall opposite.

Plus sides: uses the space well, no diagonal angles, puts the huge long wall behind the couches (and therefore broken up by furniture and our pretty lamps from my parents once we buy a new dining room chandelier), you can see the yard & fireplace from all of the seating, there’s room for a game table and reading chairs, if we want them, etc, etc, etc. It’s such an oddly shaped room (and we’ve been doing storage/demolition/painting/window work in it for so long that we’ve never had a chance to really gel with it. Plus, we unplugged the TV back in February since it was interfering with the (much more important) internet signal, and so we’ve barely used the room.

The major downside is that it is much, much more wiring work for Kevin, and that it has to happen in the crawl space. :-/ You can see that right now we’ve just strung a coax cable from our utility closet to the TV, and held it down to the carpet with blue painter’s tape. The final solution would involve punching through the wall by the fireplace and running the same cable under the floor.

But still, we’re both huge fans of the new layout. It’s a much better use of the room. We spent a few hours watching Olympics there this evening and kept remarking how much we liked it.

Meanwhile, in other house news, Kevin found a hive of yellow jackets outside our front door. I don’t know how we haven’t noticed them/been stung, since the hive is literally a foot from our major entrance/exit. In any case, Kevin was coiling a hose, got stung twice, and declared war.

At twilight, he decided there was actually still too much activity, so he waited to strike until after dark. Early signs look promising that he got everyone. It’s a pity, since I think that we’re pretty live and let live, but not on the front path. :-/

In the last of the Sunday night news, Kevin found a Shrimp Curry recipe in my new birthday cookbook, so I played sous-chef and chopped and he put together one of the most amazing-smelling dishes we’ve ever had in our kitchen…

What a great way to cap a cloudy Sunday of tub-cleaning, painting, sweeping, vacuuming, furniture-moving, Olympics, knitting, and a water change for the fish. :-)