Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Master Bathroom Caulking

As a follow-up to last weeks post on caulking, I took some before pictures of our master-bath countertop. This was done with caulking, but it doesn't seem like they used a silicone based product because after 6 months of light use (we actually use the second bathroom more) there is obvious cracking and falling apart of their caulking.

So in between baking cookies and wrapping presents and writing cards all weekend, I took an hour to scrape out all the old caulking and lay down a new clean layer.

Caulking essentials: painter's tape, a caulking
tool (for those of us less adept), paper towels
and of course, the caulking!
I really don't understand how they could have managed to muck it up like they did. They put so much effort into other parts of our house, and then just flubbed it on this one. Here's my entire tool set for re-caulking (except I did forget to include the razor). I found that one of those little razors used to clean glass worked waaaaaay better than the commercial caulk remover I purchased, particularly because it was great to get into all the little nooks and crannies.

And as I mentioned in the last post, extra paper towels is essential for the first time or two.  This time there was definitely a lot less excess caulking and most of it was in the right places, but still handy to have around to wipe off so you don't spread it all over accidentally.
This last pic is the way I taped off the sink to restrict my caulking to as narrow a section as I felt comfortable.  I ran it a bit too narrow last time and had to smooth some areas out after because removing the tape pulled up the edge of the caulking.  So now we've got beautiful caulking to go along with our beautiful countertop!

The Lost Weekend...part 2

One very nice addition Ikea has made recently (at least at our Ikea) is a flat-rate delivery service.  So no matter how much stuff you have, as long as you are within their area, you can get it delivered for $59!  And if you're super lazy...you can just give them a list of the items you want and they'll pull it off the shelves and deliver it for you!

So bright and early sunday morning (two hours before the delivery window was supposed to be) they arrived with our mattress and bedframe. Of course, I was excited as this meant I got to spend a Sunday putting together Ikea furniture; a past-time I rather enjoy.  After moving the old bed, laying out all the pieces, and getting all my tools together, I started work. But about halfway through the construction, I found that one of the pieces didn't fit in the pre-drilled hole no matter how I tried to get it in. After trying for about 15 minutes to smush it in place (square peg - round hole anyone?) I gave up and went back to Ikea to see if it was the wrong part.  They told me that in fact, yes, that piece was from the King set and gave me the right piece. Of course, when I got home it took only about 10 seconds to realize that although now this piece fit in the pre-drilled hole, it did not accomodate the bolt that was supposed to pass through it.  So back to Ikea I went, this time taking the bolts and the piece in question.

This time they saw that the bolt and the piece did not, in fact, go together and asked to make sure we had gotten both boxes from the Queen stack and not one from the King bin. Thankfully Mandy had stayed home this round and confirmed they were both Queen size. So they gave me my hardware back and asked me to bring in the headboard.  Umm....what?  The headboard that put together, is about 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide? that wouldn't fit in my car in the first place so we had it delivered? "Oh, well maybe if we can see the sideboard with the pre-drilled hole."

So off home again. This time I brought pictures of the box labels to show they were the same item boxes 1 and 2 of the Queen, the sideboard, the footboard and all the nuts and bolts. We show up and after about twenty minutes of talking with the guys in the shop, they find the problem.

They have two different suppliers for this one item, and somehow we managed to grab box one from one supplier and box two from the other supplier.  EVEN THOUGH they are supposed to be identical, one of them was making the parts wrong! ARGGGGHHHhhhhh! They're suggestion is to bring the bed back in and pick out another one with the same supplier lot numbers. But of course, now it's almost 3pm and if we want to have the correct bed delivered that day we have to buy it by 3pm. 

Fast forward a few hours; we've had the new bed delivered, put that one together (keeping the old one in case we needed to cannabalize parts) and have the mattress all together. We decided there was still time to return the old bed (trip FOUR to Ikea in one day!) so we just dump everything in the trunk with the seats folded down, drive it back, load it helter skelter on a cart and just wheel the whole mess to customer service.  Thankfully the guy (who wasn't part of any of the previous encounters) just accepted the receipt and refunded the money, because lord knows we weren't going to go through and put everything back in order!
Mandy diligently working on the second bed!

Total time spent on this bed....12 hours! Total time spent on this rant...probably about the same! =)
The finished product!

Friday, December 14, 2012

So, IKEA, how do I apply for a refund of my weekend?

In preparation of visitors later this month, we have recently been looking and thinking about getting a new bed. Our old bed was a full-size (yes, for both of us!) I had bought first year of medical school...so...carry the one...8 years ago! It had definitely seen better days and mandy always insisted it tended to slope towards my side (an insinuation to which I still take offense!). But buying a new mattress is such an unpleasant proposition we have kept putting it off.

Like many major household purchases, it's so hard to really know if you'll like it before actually making the purchase!  Consumer Reports was of little help (they only tested 26 mattresses for goodness' sake!) except for two pearls of advice:
  • One, go to the store and lie on the bed, and not just for thirty seconds, but for 15 minutes. 
  • Two, comparison shopping isn't really possible because for each vendor, mattress companies will often rename the mattress, using different coverings, etc.  So shopping around for the best price is mostly a waste of time
Consumer Reports top rated mattress brands were Tempur-Pedic and Sleep Number beds, but average prices were $2465 and $1835, respectively.  Next in line...IKEA at $515!  Not too hard of a decision there, particularly since they're literally less than a mile away.

The line we ultimately chose was the Queen size Sultan Hansbo, which is a memory foam topped spring mattress.  It took a little while to choose a mattress as Mandy prefers the rock hard beds while I need my pillow-top, sinking-into-a-cloud, marshmallow style mattress. In retrospect, this ended up being the easiest part of our weekend.

Next step was selecting a bed frame, since now that we are adults, we are trying to move away from just throwing the mattress on the floor.  They have some very nice beds at IKEA, although unfortunately they have discontinued the Leksvik line (from which most of our other furniture draws). We chose the Hemnes bed mostly because it provided under-bed storage space but also a headboard (neither of us have ever had a headboard!). And at $199 for the Queen bed, how can you go wrong?

We would soon find out...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

They're Grrrrrrrrrrout!

A few days ago, Mandy came to me with a inch or two long piece of thin white material that she found in the bathtub while taking a shower. Upon further inspection, we found that this piece had come from the joint of the bathtub and the wall-tile. And after even further inspection, we found that not only were these pieces of what we initially thought was caulking falling out, but that the joint was cracked the WHOLE way around the tub.

Now I'm no expert in bathroom construction, but I don't think six months is the expected lifespan of grouting/caulking considering that the tub and the tiling were both brand new.  So I thought to myself, "well, maybe it's grout...but who would put grout where the tub and the wall connect?!"

A quick google search later I found this piece on DIYlife.com, that advocates using tiling grout in the spaces one would usually use "tub and toilet" caulk, claiming "It's cheap, long-lasting, looks great, and is better at resisting discoloration due to mildew." But unless you actually read through the comments section, you would think it's a great idea!  (to think I actually learned something useful in a comments section!)  Turns out it's not.

The consensus among most contractors (from the previous article as well as on the forums of ContractorTalk.com) is that caulking should be used wherever two different materials meet (wood and tile, tile and metal, etc.) as the two materials will shrink and expand at different rates and this will end up cracking the grout.  Well, that certainly seems to be the case in our bathroom. Less than six months and we had cracks, small throughout all the grout at the joint with the bathtub.

So here's how to caulk a bathtub....(and some of the tips and catches I found)
  1. Clean out all old caulking (if re-caulking) or grout.
    • Grout should technically be removed with a grout saw (although I didnt!) to avoid damaging the tiles.
    • Caulking can be removed with a 5 in 1 painter's tool, or they do sell caulking removal kits at Lowe's that have plastic scrapers.
  2. Clean down all surfaces and allow to dry.
  3. Fill bathtub with water
    • Filling the tub exerts downward pressure so that when the caulk dries and the tub is emptied, the caulking will be compressed rather than caulking with an empty tub and the caulk being stretched when you use the tub)
    • Wipe down the tub edge just to make sure it's dry!
  4. Cut the tip of the silicon caulk tube at a 45 degree angle (or straight if that works better for your style)
    • Caulking for areas exposed to water HAS to be silicon, regular all-purpose caulking is NOT waterproof. 
  5. Using a caulking gun, apply a bead at one corner and continue along the length of the tub trying to exert constant pressure to keep the amount of caulking constant (definitely not as easy as it sounds!)
    • If you've not done caulking before and aren't sure you'll be smooth and even at applying the caulking, painter's tape is a great idea to keep the edges even and the caulking from getting all over the place (and it does!)
  6. Once caulking is laid down, use either a caulking smoothing tool (also sold at Lowe's) or a wet finger (water or mineral spirits) to smooth the caulking and press it gently into the joint.
    • Have a roll of paper towels around. The first time you lay down caulking, you will invariably have too much in some places.  It's very useful to have something disposable to wipe the extra caulking on as it is VERY sticky.
    • Make sure if you are using paint thinner or mineral spirits that they are compatible with your tiles/counters/whatever.  I had a MAJOR scare when there was some slight discoloration of our marble countertop in the bathroom, thankfully it is very mild and actually improved with time.
A good video summary (although they make it look quite a bit easier than it is) and some text-based instructions.

I did the bathtub and the second bathroom sink before remembering to take before pictures (you'd think I'd remember one of these times!) but I've got the master bathroom sink all cleaned out and ready to go so those pictures should be up shortly as well as the finished bathtub pics!

Monday, October 15, 2012

New curtains!

The new shades should arrive in a week or two, but we figured since we'd taken the plunge with the window coverings, we needed to deal with our two sliding glass doors.  We opted not to get professional blinds/shades/curtains for those as estimates were in the way-more-than-we-can-afford range. We'd been talking and talking about Ikea, and as both of us were not working this weekend, we had a visit.

We decided to go with the two-layer look, a more sheer layer for privacy and then a more light-occluding layer if Mandy ever has to night shifts again.  One reason I love Ikea is that sometimes they really do have some very beautiful and elegant designs (e.g. the entire Leksvik line). The Renate Ljuv line has this wonderful sheer/lacy pattern with dahlias (Mandy's favorite) that we thought was quite elegant.  Not too fancy or obvious, just a nice subtle design that would be a nice light filter. For the over layer, we chose a darker earth-tone Medium Brown of the Ritva line which should go well with our floors. I'm really hoping that when we put it all together it doesn't look atrocious! But that's the theme of our family isn't it?
Buying the curtains and rods was one thing, but putting them up was an entirely different beast.  Looking online, there is a lot of advice on how high one should hang the curtains.  Hanging the curtain rod higher than the window makes the window and room appear larger.  In terms of the curtain lengths, one can either opt to hem them at or just minimally above the floor for a clean look, or allow several inches extra to let them pile on the floor and look more "luxurious". We couldn't hang the rods too high as the ceiling is only about 12-15 inches above the sliding doors at that point, but high enough that they are out of the way.  Once we decided how high to place the rods, I had to figure out how (Ikea's instructions as always are open to interpretation and do not include wall-mounting hardware). It was a bit harder to find instructions for doing this, but an Irish DIY website had a nice tutorial.  But really, half of the fun of this video is this lady's brogue, "furst tings furst"!  I probably could have figured out how to do it on my own, but it's nice to have instructions just to keep from making a silly mistake that you know you would have and to have all your equipment ready.
My biggest problem in terms of bracket placement was in the living room.  Our sliding glass door is nearly abutting the wall on the left side (see pic above) which makes for basically no room on the left. I ended up only using two brackets on this door (although they recommend three for widths greater than 55 inches) as otherwise it would have just looked funny. The other problem I ran into while putting up the rods was the inconsistencies with our walls.  On the right, our stud finder didn't find any stud despite the fact that it was directly above the door frame (usually there is a stud along each side). However, I did a test drill and although the bit initially went through drywall into space, about half an inch further in was a stud or some other piece of wood! I found the same anomaly in one of the spaces in the bedroom as well (even more interesting was the drywall tape I found there meaning a previous repair had been done at some point).  I don't know if we'll ever know what work was previously done on this house.  But that's what makes it fun...right? The bedroom curtain rod was much easier to install since there's plenty of space there to work.
Mandy's part in this was to help hem the curtains. The heavy cotton curtains we'll be taking up to her mother's so we can use her sewing machine to hem (an upcoming post), but the light curtains come with a "iron-on" hem  strip that is basically a mesh of cellulose(?) that sticks together after ironing.  Half an hour later, after measuring and hemming beautifully, Mandy had our sheer curtains ready for hanging!  I have to say, I don't think we did too badly at all.  We did leave them slightly long, but they will shrink about 4% when we wash them. So what do you think?  I'd say not too shabby for a total cost of less than $175 (including the heavier curtains we'll be putting up later)!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Murder Cat

Wow.  I recently posted on facebook about cat's and their hunting prowess. I thought this was just humorous, but the last few nights, Muji has let the inner serial killer in her out for full display.

Over the last three nights she brought back two grasshoppers (mostly alive) and two lizards!

The grasshopper she played with until I grabbed her and brought her inside, but apparently it didn't have the good sense to leave the scene.  When I let her back out an hour or so later, it was still sitting there and Muji was more than happy to munch it up (I could hear the crunching from inside!). The lizard I wasn't taking any chances with so when she brought that home, that was her last outing for the night.  Most of the time the lizards are unharmed, just terrified and curled in a ball.  They at least usually have the good sense to skidaddle when she's gone!

So what does Muji think of this? Well, she's currently sitting about four feet behind me, meowing angrily because she's grounded for the night.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Ok.  So it may not look like much on this map, but we got rain this morning!  And I swear it was more than the 0.45 inches they recorded for our zip code, because it was loud enough to wake me up (thankfully at 6:12 am, only 3 minutes before the regular sprinklers would have gone off if I hadn't turned them off!).  Is this the sign that I'm becoming a real Californian, when I get excited about rainfalls?

I'm really hoping that this recent cool weather and bit of rain may help salvage our lawn. I recently was talking to our neighbors across the street who informed us that the gravel that was previously on our yard was not removed before laying the sod, but TILLED IN.  He said that the contractors spent three days roto-tilling the gravel into the soil and he just couldn't believe it. What would have probably taken a day or two to just scoop up and remove (and probably sell to someone else!) was instead mixed in with all the good dirt below.  How stupid is that?  God, people are dumb.  Ah well,  I guess we have to look at the positive side that now it probably will drain very well and make for an even better southwestern garden. =)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wait, shades from whom?!

Hiring a contractor/vendor for work on the house is a very stressful thing, even if it's not a major item like plumbing or the foundation.

We had been putting off in-home showings for the window coverings for months now and finally bit the bullet (those temporary shades are looking quite ratty). It seems, that even with measurements of the windows, many vendors won't give you any idea of a price until you've had an in-home consultation.  And one would think being on home turf is a good thing, but it's not. You start to feel guilty making the salesperson make another trip and spend more of their time if you're not planning to buy. But I guess that's what they're intended to do.

Thankfully, the company we went with, Affordable Home Coverings, had a very pleasant salesman.  Although he did a rather hard sell at the end (we told him we had another appointment for next week set up) and we did end up buying (partly because the last time I had talked to the Hunter Douglas lady, the other appointment, she wasn't really all that nice).  But it was slightly cheaper than both Mandy and I expected, so we'll have to see how the blinds look in a few weeks!

The blinds we selected were a line of shades from Kathy Ireland (yes, THAT Kathy Ireland). I always find it amusing how certain people like the Olsen twins and Kathy Ireland have managed to turn their show-business career into multi-billion empires in completely unrelated fields. But maybe that's what she always wanted, even back when she was doing all those swimsuit modeling jobs. Window treatments were always her true passion!

Anyways, we wanted some insulation but still lots of light coming through so decided to go with the honeycomb or double-cellular shades.  Many of the styles they have are blackout blinds with occlusive interior linings so that all light is blocked, that seems so counterproductive to have that over windows!  And of course, we also got the cordless lift that I've been so particular about. So no more cords!

Our shades should look much like the picture to the right, but not white.  We chose three different colors; a dark brown for the kitchen, a sagebrush green for the living/dining room, and an off white for the bedrooms.  I think it should look great!  Can't wait to actually post real pictures here instead of just stock photography!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No solicitors...please.

Two times in less than one hour.

Is this the number of times that...
A. Mitt Romney can put his foot in his mouth on an average day?
B. I daydream about our upcoming trip to Thailand and Hong Kong?
C. Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on the door Saturday morning around 9am?

If you picked C, you win a prize (although A and B are pretty darn close too). Remind me next time I see you =)

As a kid, I was always peddling something; whether it was wrapping paper for Christmas, hoagies (submarine sandwiches) for soccer or Bubba's nutrolls for marching band.  But I at least knew nearly all of our neighbors, and they, in turn, knew me. However, I feel that door-to-door salesman and other solicitors are so much more frequent in San Diego.  And they're not local kids or teenagers, but adults. Maybe it's the beautiful weather (beats the heck out of selling vacuums door-to-door in Bozeman, Montana), but it's become almost part of our weekend routine to deal with people selling something or other.

And I'm always torn in how to respond to these solicitors. Should I just be blunt and let them know they're not going to make a sale and to save their time for other houses that might? Or should I at least give them the courtesy of listening to their speil before turning them away?  Or should I give them feedback on their sales-pitch?  One lady came to our door and gave the most monotonous, unenthusiastic pitch about her clean-all spray; to the point that I wasn't sure when she actually finished. It was a bit awkward when I asked if she was done.

Maybe that's why I more often actually entertain conversation with the proselytizers, they actually believe in their product! Not that I agree with them on most things, but at least it encourages discussion.  I even feel bad when I recycle the teachings they give me...for a little.

Ah well...guess we need those blinds more than I thought!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Window Treatments

I've been trying to put this off because it's going to be expensive, but we've finally realized we need window coverings.  While most of the windows have some shade so it's not always direct sunlight, a few do, and I worry that the floors will be faded in no time with the year round sun we get here in San Diego.

We've looked at three places so far, although we have yet to get our in-home estimate.  I think the prices will be a bit of a reality check for our tastes, especially as no one is willing to give you real prices before they are in your house.  Mandy and I have always had tastes that don't quite fall in line with our wallet.  The three we've looked into...
I'm very much into the honeycomb shades but the feature most important to me is the cordless or LiteRise system. So much safer as well as being cleaner without a cord always hanging around.   As for the sliding glass doors, I think we'll be heading to Ikea to take care of them.  Talking with the guy from Affordable Window Coverings, it seems those could end up being very pricey if we went with the vertical shades or silhouette series. Either way, we need to get going on this.  We've been in the house now THREE months and the temporary shades are starting to look a little worse for wear (although it would only cost $10 for a new set!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not the one in Kill Bill...

I'm always amazed that despite our society becoming more and more technology dependent, internet and phone service seem to cost more than ever.  Smartphone bills are almost all near or over $100 a month, cable is the same and internet keeps getting pricier! We're saving over $100 each month by getting rid of our cable service and downgrading our internet bandwidth, which is another thing that bugs me.  We were on a 12Mbps service and cut it down to the basic 6Mbps and yet, there has been no discernible change.  I can still stream netflix in HD to the TV, skype works the same as ever, and i'm still managing to kick butt on Call of Duty online (don't tell Mandy!).  I wonder if there are programs out there that actually test the limits of your broadband connection so you know you're getting your money worth.... hmmm...

Anyways, I digress.  After cutting the cable, I started looking into alternative services for Mandy's mom's telephone line.  For a basic land line, she's paying nearly $60 a month for nothing but an occasional call to Hong Kong.  So I have been looking into VOIP programs and Costco is promoting one called Ooma. I had thought about Skype, but Mandy's mom does not use computers so that was pretty much not an option.
The biggest difference I found between other VOIPS and Ooma is that Ooma is a one time equipment fee of $129.99 with no additional monthly charges (except for state-regulated taxes).  I was rather skeptical so checked them out online, and if there FAQ sheet is true, her phone service with Ooma will soon cost only $4.00 per month.
There is a number transfer fee of $40 dollars, a one time charge, but all domestic local and long-distance calls are free.  Mandy worried about rates to Hong Kong which is what her mother primarily uses this line for, but it's only $0.029 per minute!  Makes me think of those old Sprint(?) adds where the taxi driver counted out change in dimes, "one minute, two minute, three minute" except I guess it's "three minute, six minute, nine minute".
So I'm going to set it up tonight at her house in LA and we shall see.  And if the many reviews online are to be believed, it should be pretty effortless.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bicycle search

I was wearing my Pedal Pittsburgh T-shirt (yes, from 2001!!) this Tuesday while attending a lab supply vendor show when one of the sales reps asked me how long the ride was and if I still biked. Can't believe it has been 11 years since we did the Pedal Pittsburgh, and I haven't gotten back into riding since then (unless you count the one summer I rode across St. Louis every day for work back in 2002). And I still don't have a bike!

Mandy and I have been talking about getting bikes forever, but other things kept pushing it back (bikes are rather pricey these days). So I decided to start the bicycle hunt now so that when we decide to actually take the plunge and get them, I'll be totally ready.

I've been looking mostly at the Hybrid/Commuter/Urban/whatever-you-want-to-call-it style of bike.  Figure we're not looking to do any road-racing, but want it to be comfortable enough to do a 20-30 mile ride if we really want to.  My bike back in college was a mountain bike and although I loved it, any ride longer longer than 10 miles left my back sore and my butt hurting. I was actually considering one of those recumbant bicycles, but good lord, they're in the $1500 and up range and I think we're more in the $400-600 range (which doesn't go nearly as far as it used to).

Consumer reports has been pretty much useless as they review like 20 bikes...total. That's like reviewing one car from each manufacturer for Car & Driver. Retahded.

The main models I've been looking at recently are the

Giant '12 Escape City
Electra Townie 21D
Jamis Commuter 3
or maybe the Trek Allant (very European looking)

The main features that I would like...
- no fixed gear bikes (lots of hills in San Diego and hell if i'm going to do them all in one gear)
- disc brakes (although cantilever would be ok)
- ?trigger gear shift (hated the last one, but maybe things have improved)
- fenders already on or fender ready
- potential rear rack for carrying stuff
- relaxed fork angle for a nice ride (no more mountain bike stiffness)

I think I need to start going to the actual stores and just get on the bike and take a test ride.
http://trekbicyclesuperstore.com/  San Diego, 4240 Kearny Mesa Road
http://www.bicyclewarehouse.com/   Kearny Mesa Location, 5710 Kearny Villa Road, Suite D
http://www.rei.com/stores/san-diego.html  San Diego REI Store, 5556 Copley Dr, San Diego, CA 92111

Guess I've got my next few weekends planned out!

East Meets West

So many types...so delicious looking!
Last week the medical student in our research lab brought in mochi balls to celebrate her last week with us this summer before heading back to school.  The mochi were all in nice little cupcake papers, however, so I asked where she had bought them.

"No, I made them last night."

"Whaa?! You can make mochi at home?"

"Yeah, they're super easy, you can do it in the microwave. Just rice flour, sugar and water, then add bean paste."


So within an hour of leaving work, I found myself in Zion Market perusing the aisles in search of glutinous rice flour and red bean paste.  After wandering for a while, I relented and asked this sweet little elderly Korean lady with a Zion apron on and she happily led me down an aisle. I just didn't have the heart to tell her that fermented soybean paste was not what I was looking for.  Thankfully I managed to find them a few rows down tucked on the next to bottom shelf.

There were quite a few recipes online, but decided to just go with the first one that returned after google searching "mochi with red bean paste" at Bakingdom.  Here is their original recipe:

1 1/2 cups glutinous rice flour
¼ cup sugar
2/3 cups water
2 drops red or green food coloring
1/2 cup cornstarch
one package sweetened red bean paste
  1. Combine the glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and food coloring in a medium size microwave safe bowl. Using a rubber spatula, stir the mixture well until no lumps remain. Scrape away any excess liquid mochi mixture that may have been sloshed high on the sides of the bowl while stirring.
  2. Lightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir well. Dough will very thick! Stir as best you can with a sturdy spatula. Re-cover and return to microwave; heat for 1 minute.
  3. When dough begins to inflate while cooking, and then deflates with the microwave door is opened – it’s ready! If dough doesn't inflate during the previous one minute of cooking time, microwave for 1 additional minute.
  4. Remove the bowl from the microwave. Sprinkle a cutting board with half the cornstarch; scrape the hot dough onto the cornstarch and then pat the surface with cornstarch-coated hands. Stretch dough gently and use your hands to flatten it. Cut into 10-12 pieces. Place 1-2 tsp. of filling on a mochi piece and gently pinch the edges together to seal.
However, I think the ratios of rice flour to water really depend on the brand of rice flour you get.  My first attempt yielded such a thick "dough" that I could barely flatten it on the board to put any bean paste in.  On my second round, I took the advice of my much wiser wife and forgot about the amounts in the recipe and just mixed until it felt right, like a thick pancake batter (it ended up being closer to 1:1 water to rice flour with perhaps a touch more flour).

Even after changing the ratio so the dough was pliable after heating, mochi is still a hot mess.  Corn starch is a must and half the kitchen counter was coated before I was done. And I still couldn't get the beautiful round buns that they have in their pictures.  My experiments, although tasty, ended up looking more like....umm....red bean empanadas =)

But they still look kinda good? right? guys?


Monday, September 3, 2012

Palm Springs and Palm Trees

So on Friday I received my most recent Amazon purchase, Palm Springs Style Gardening by Maureen Gilmer and liked it just as much as when I got it out of the library. It is wonderfully arranged, starting with an introduction to desert/southwestern gardening and how it differs from other climate zones.  Particularly, it addresses choosing plants that will survive the heat  and how to help them do it. Although San Diego is quite a bit more temperate than the high-desert, I do like that she focuses on drainage and soil conditions.  Putting a cactus or succulent into poorly draining potting soil is just asking for trouble.

She then moves on into the various classes of plants in each chapter, with one on Palm Trees, Succulents, the Cacti, Euphorbia, Grasses, etc.  Enough to get a good idea of what direction to go, but not overwhelming.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Palms and the distinctions between the Mexican and Californian Fan Palms and the pinnate leafed varieties.  I think we really lucked out in that the two specimens in our front yard are California Palms (although that does mean they may grow up to 60 feet tall!!) 

However, reading the book also made me realize that I really did need to do some trimming of our trees, as they have several quite heavy looking fruit-bearing branches and according to some, pruning of these branches will help devote more resources towards nice healthy fronds and deep root growth. So I got our recently purchased bypass loppers and the ladder and went up.  The one towards the front wasn't too bad, it's only 15 feet or so up, but the larger one, wow, I had the ladder nearly the whole way extended.

Of course, I forgot to take before pictures, but here's what the two palms looked like after.  And the yard waste that I now need to go get a new garbage can for! (for yard waste recycling they don't provide the containers and up till now we had been throwing the small amount of weeds we picked into the trash...*cringe*)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Goodreads Review

The Long EarthThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished The Long Earth yesterday, and went to Amazon after to see what others thought, and in many respects I agreed; The Long Earth has an incredibly novel premise, but a storyline that in the end, doesn't really go anywhere (no pun intended).

The book essentially offers a thought exercise of what would happen if relatively unlimited inter-planetary (or more correctly, inter-dimensional) travel were available to the masses on Earth. What would people do? Would there be a mass exodus? Would people try to exploit this travel for their own gain or exploiting others? How would it affect the economy of Earth and the people who remained? What would remain valuable and what wouldn't? Would governments remain intact? So many questions and fascinating to think about.

Unfortunately, the storyline that is the vehicle for this premise is not quite as strong. I won't go into it much as it would spoil things, but I felt rather unfulfilled at the end. I was sure that this coming terror would have been much more metaphysical and not so...meh.  Although they definitely concluded the book in a manner that foreshadows a sequel.

All in all, I would still highly recommend this just to change the way you think, if only a little. =)

oh...and I really want a t-shirt that says "Don't worry! On another Earth it already happened" like Joshua.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SD Home Hot Tub and Landscape Show

Wow... Just over a month in and I'm already having 10 day streaks without a post!  last week was a bit busy for me, things are really getting going in the lab, so I haven't had much downtime to sit and write.  Not that I have much time this morning...er afternoon.  I've got cell cultures that need to be fed, yeast that need to be re-cultured, proteins waiting to be purified and parasites itching to infect those aforementioned cell cultures.  It's a regular zoo here.

This weekend we went to the San Diego Home, Hot Tub & Landscape Show at the SD Convention Center. We had received a free admission coupon in the mail (although it turns out there was no admission fee anyways!), and figured it would be something to check out since both Mandy and I had the day off Sunday.  It was a relatively small show, occupying less than a quarter of the SD Convention Center's main hall with probably 100 vendors or so.  I think the main show is actually the San Diego Home Garden Shows that will be at the Del Mar Racegrounds on Sept 14-16 and again in the spring.  Too bad we have to pay for that one!

But the recurring themes at this weekend's show were Solar Power and Epoxy Flooring. 

It's a very tempting idea to install solar panels on our house. San Diego has sun nearly every day, we have no real shading to speak of on our roof, and panels would let us be completely energy independent since we're pretty low usage (thank you, SDenergychallenge.com for showing that).   But at a cost of at least $5-10k, I think we may be waiting a few years. The government is offering some pretty good rebates, but it's still a major commitment. Maybe in a few years when the technology improves to the point where it's easy enough to run down to  home depot, buy some panels and storage batteries and hook it up yourself for a few hundred dollars. Wouldn't that be nice?

As for the epoxy pebble flooring, all I could think was "how difficult is this going to be to clean in the long run?"  All these little nooks and crannies for things to slowly accumulate in.  Ugh.  But they did have some very nice designs and it seems a pinch to install.  But what it did remind me of was my college dream of making a coffee table with epoxy and bottle caps.  Thousands seem to have done it, but I still think it would be a ton of fun making one.  Too bad I tossed out all those bottle caps I collected over several years in college planning to make one (don't worry, I had help collecting them).

Still, there are so many possibilities with epoxy.  I started typing epoxy in to the google search bar, and one of the autofills was for "Epoxy penny floor"!  Awesome! Although THAT looks like a lot of work....and pennies.  They said it took 40,000! Better start collecting change now. =)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cutting the cord...errr..cable.

So we finally took the plunge on Friday and cancelled our cable service. We've been talking about it for a while, but I guess I should have told Mandy before I called on Friday morning.  She was in the middle of watching a show when it went out!

But we've still got Netflix, and maybe this way we will have to be even more selective about what we watch.  Or go to the library more...or post on my blog...or a million other things.

One small step for man...

Visit to Grandma's

We decided to make our trip up to Ventura yesterday to visit Grandma.  It's been more than a month since our last visit but we finally had a weekend with both of us not working so made the trek.  The traffic on the 5 was much worse than usual. We reached Santa Monica and saw how nasty the 405 was looking and decided to take the PCH to have a slightly more scenic trip.  Unfortunately, I think everyone else had the same idea.  So our total travel time ended up being 5 and a half hours(!) compared to our usual three. Ah well, at least there were nice views.

Grandma is doing very well.  She's almost back to her original weight before last year's surgery and was eating very well for the two meals we had with her.  Of course, the trout today was "tasteless" to her (but she still ate the whole thing!). And we enjoyed the coconut-banana cream pie for dessert.

The finch bird feeder was empty already so we re-filled the sock with Nyjer seed for the finches.  There has only been one bird that eats the suet so far, a Black-Headed Grosbeak, but he hasn't been back recently. I think maybe we should look into getting a shepherd's hook so we can hang some more formal bird-feeders and place it so some of the other residents can see it as well.

UPDATE: As I typed this, the Grosbeak came back! Tried to take a picture but all we had was my phone and as soon as we approached, off he flew.  I think his ears must have been burning.

The kindle is also updated with a few new library books.  We got...
- The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard about a failed journey to the South Pole in early 1900s.
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (i hear the book was better than the movie)
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (I know you said this was weird, penny, but so many good reviews!)

And of course, we brought over a few Dick Francis novels for her as well. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A little Frassled

Since I have a free moment this morning, I figured I'd write about one of our earlier house challenges that at first was a mystery but ended up being quite educational.

A week or so after moving in, we decided to have lunch outside on our patio. When we went to sit down, though, we noticed a small amount of what looked like grains of sand or fine pebbles.  We were both rather confused having never seen this before, and figured maybe it was just something that had blown on to the patio.  Although strangely it was mostly on top of our patio table and chairs. We swept it up and went on with our lunch, not thinking too much about it.

Fast forward a week, same story with a little bit more of this sand/dust/whatever.  Now I'm becoming concerned. The house had undergone spot treatments for termites before we bought it and we hadn't seen any evidence of wood damage.  I got up on our ladder and try as I might, could find no holes in the beams above us.  I really could not find another explanation for this "stuff" so started searching the web about termites and found this...
Not our house, but similar
Hey...that's it! That's exactly what we have.  These were droppings from drywood termites, known as Frass. And according to Termites101.org, this is definitely consistent with a drywood termite infestation. Unlike subterranean or dampwood termites, drywood termites don't need to be near the ground to get moisture.  In fact, the reason their frass is so geometrically shaped is that they are experts at extracting every last drop of moisture from their droppings.
Thankfully it wasn't subterranean or Formosan termites, as these guys are much harder to get rid of, much more destructive and frequently seen in southern California.  Drywood termites (right) tend to have smaller colonies and cause slower, less severe damage than other types.

So we called the exterminator the seller had used for a retreatment (they guaranteed the service for a full year, thank goodness we insisted on getting the full order form including guarantee information!) and had them drop by to take a look.  Talking with the exterminator, it seems that drywood termites are unusual in that while subterranean termites will just invade huge areas, and often whole house treatment is needed, drywood termites prefer to work on one piece of wood at a time.  He had treated many houses, where one timber was fully infested, directly adjoining pieces were untouched.  Either way, he drilled a few holes into the suspect beam (we finally did find their tiny poop chute, "kick hole" is the proper term) and foamed them.

This is what the inside of drywood termite infested wood looks like.  Pretty amazing. Let's hope that's not what the inside of our patio beams look like!

If you want to learn way more than I can put here about termites (granted this paper focuses on Southeastern US species), here's a paper from Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.

So far, no more frass anywhere... but we'll keep our fingers crossed...or better yet...knock on wood!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Glow in the dark tiles!

This is just a reblog of a recent post on If It's Hip, It's Here (yeah, the name's a bit off-putting). There are now multiple companies that produce mosaic vitreous tiles that glow in the dark. And not just for 30 minutes like those cheaper stick-on-the-wall stars of yesteryear. These are supposed to keep their glow for 6-8 hours if they're in sun-exposed areas during the day.

Not that we have anything that needs to be tiled.  No pool over here and the bathrooms were just recently done...but I'm sure there could be something in the future.

Take a look...

Eight-(and six) legged annoyances

I know what you're going to say already, mom.  But spiders are good! They eat all the other bugs!  Well that's what I've kept telling myself over the past month and a half, as I spent more and more time cleaning out cobwebs from our patio and eaves.  However, last night we were coming in from having dinner outside and right next to the sliding glass door I see some movement out of the corner of my eye.  I put everything down and came back to take a look and found a huge black-widow spider.  I think the ones I've always seen at Grandma's were much smaller, maybe an inch at best, but this female (given its markings) was nearly two inches long and quite beautiful. 

Too bad I had to get rid of it.  Normally I wouldn't but because it was within reach of our way too curious cat, it got the flip-flop treatment. Sigh.

I think the number of spiders we have is partly related to the number of crickets in our backyard.  Muji is making a dent in that population (although she doesn't eat them, just catches them) but they are everywhere.  If we spend any amount of time on the back patio in the evening with the lights on, soon enough they'll be hopping all over us. I never realized what a nuisance they could be too!  They were never really much of an annoyance in Pittsburgh, maybe these west coast crickets are more invasive.

I'm going to try some of the advice for the crickets from HowToGetRidOfStuff.com but if you guys have any tips, I'm happy to listen.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mulch/Compost for free?!

Ummm...how is this something that is kept so under wraps? The City of San Diego operates the Miramar Greenery which provides mulch/compost to city residents (proof of residency required) for FREE!  Up to 2 cubic yards (= six 32 gallon trashcans!) of compost or mulch can be had for free if you load it yourself into your vehicle.

And if you're not sure to do with that 2 cubic yards of compost or mulch....they've got a nice brochure for that.

Wood chips will cost you a few bucks (18 bucks per cubic yard for the plain chips, and 28 for colored chips) but that's still a lot less than Lowe's. Checking the prices, it would be $89.90 for 2 cubic yards of mulch if you bought it by the bag!

This may make the entire getting rid of the grass thing a lot easier.  I purchased some drafting paper and pencils this weekend, now I've just got to get out there and measure all the aspects of our yard.

Hot Days - Cool Books

I know you guys will say I have nothing to complain about, but it's been quite hot here in San Diego over the last week. Well, by quite hot I mean high-80s.  Which really isn't all that hot, since it hit 116 in Phoenix last week, but they've got AC.  Had hoped to do some work in the yard, but after mowing the lawn yesterday afternoon in the full sun at 86 degrees with the push mower, I was drenched.  Thank goodness for public libraries!
The San Diego Public Libraries have recently increased their open hours after having had to cut back last year due to budget cuts.  It was very frustrating before to recieve a notification that a book on hold arrived at our branch on saturday and not be able to pick it up until Tuesday! Our new branch in Serra Mesa (seems like it was only built a few years ago) is even open on Sunday afternoons until 5pm!

This is the second or third time I've dropped by, and I must say,it is a rather charming library.  Lots of real-wood furniture (everything inside is done in the Arts & Crafts style) and plenty of seating!  I couldn't really find any good interior pictures so I'll have to take some next time I visit, but mom and penny, you would like it.

I meant to do some more serious reading (i.e. for the Journal Club presentation I have this Thursday), but I was in the mood for some brain candy so picked up some young adult books that I'd looked at before (don't ask, it's so trite I'm embarassed). Although I wish I had remembered about the Unshelved Book Club, which keeps suggesting really interesting books (or maybe they just have interesting reviewers!). The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter or Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky are two on my list (maybe I should put a hold on them now).

I guess I'll have to head back sometime this week!  Any hot summer afternoon reading suggestions?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's football season

This entire work thing really is cutting into my home repair plans.

Feel like a slacker since I've only posted once in the last week. But work has been busy and frustrating at times. But a bright note today: the protein i have been working for the last two weeks to grow and purify actually looks like it's there and active today! This is good news because that means i should be able to replicate it and make as much of this enzyme as I need. I had two failed batches (which I'm sure most grad students would scoff at and I did have a lot of guidance from the senior tech) but dang it, having to wait days to find out it didn't work at all is frustrating!  So to run an assay this afternoon and have it work was awesome.

In other news, the Chargers are playing their first game of the pre-season tonight and it's not too bad. We live less than a mile from the stadium (up a big hill at least) and we've been wondering what kind of noise and traffic we might see. But I think as long as we avoid Friars Road on the way home, it shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe we can go tailgate there sometime! Ooh, or maybe they have fireworks we can see!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

Well, this is why I dislike service weekends. 

I had on my to-do list that I wanted to dig up the front yard sewage cleanout so it would be accessible if we had a clog.  I even went to Lowes and bought a shovel to dig it out with.  But sunday night rolled around, and I was just too tired to dig a two foot deep hole in the front yard.  Oh well, I'll do it next weekend.

Fast forward to monday night at about 11:30pm. Flush the toilet and it starts to backup. Made a solo trip to the nearby 24 hour walmart (mandy declined to accompany me after our last trip to walmart) and picked up a plunger.  As a side note, what is it about Walmart after midnight that such strange people are there: young mexican couples making out in the checkout lane; a family of about twenty, complete with about 10 kids under the age of five doing what looked like grocery shopping; at least two morbidly obese middle aged ladies on their little motorized scooters; and a family selling tamales in the parking lot.  AT MIDNIGHT!

Anyways, got back and plunged the toilet with minimal success.  I figured I'd let it sit for a while and try again in the morning so went to take a shower and found that nothing was draining there either. Oh crap.  Totally figures I would have a mainline backup two days after I was supposed to expose the main cleanout.

$175 later, everything is flushing and draining beautifully.  On the plus side, the plumbing company we used, Courtesy Plumbing, was super quick to respond and had a plumber out within half an hour of talking with them on Monday.

I guess this weekend I'll actually have to DO everything on my to do list.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Weekend? what weekend?

I'm rather bummed that I'm on service this weekend again.  Not that it's not nice to get back into the hospital (you miss using that part of your brain in the lab), but two service weekends in a row just kind of restricts any plans you can make. 

I may spend most of tomorrow not getting much done, not because there isnt' a lot I couldn't do, but I don't want to get too involved in anything, and then have to be on the phone for half an hour or just keep getting distracted with phone calls. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a surgeon on call.  Our pediatric neurosurgeons are on call 50% of the year (there are only 2 of them!!)  So half of the nights of the rest of your life, you have a chance to be called in to the hospital.  I'm sorry, but I like sleeping in my own bed. As much guff as neurosurgeons get, I applaud them for that level of dedication. I could never do that.

But anyways...  I need to make a list of things to do this weekend, so might as well do it here:

- Measure out the house and yard to start drawing the groundsplan for when we tear out the turf!!
- Dig out the cleanout for our main line in the front yard (also to see if there's gravel under the sod)
- Re-seed the dead patch of grass in the backyard
- Tweak the sprinkler heads for the front yard and see if I can get them a little more even
- trim and edge the whole yard

Anything else? Mandy?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Commentating fixed

I have fixed the comments section so there is no longer the word verification and it should be open to all to comment.  However, if I start getting lots of spam comments...I blame you!

Plus, I hate the now accepted use of  "commentating" as a verb. Why do we feel the need to add the extra syllable? Just as annoying as when people say "orientate". Just sounds stupid.  Pretty soon, people will be ventating their frustrations and lamentating the death of the English language.  I wonder what Strunk and White would have to say on this subject.  Hmmm....

Landscape design software

Good landscaping design software is hard to find.

I spent part of my day yesterday downloading and playing with some of the options online, and was quite disappointed. 

The first one I tried was Garden Planner. Sounds simple enough, but the user interface was the least intuitive design and within an hour, I was frustrated by just trying to draw the outline of our property!

How can it be that difficult to draw straight lines? I have no idea, but they do!
This is their sample screen shot, but if the normal user is anything like me (and I like to think that I'm quick at picking up new software) this would have taken DAYS to design.

Next I tried the Better Homes and Gardens "Free" Interactive Plan-A-Garden.   Unfortunately, you have to use one of their 27 stock photos to design on (none of which looked similar to ours). Although you can upgrade for $9.99 and use a photo of your own house. Blegh, I hate paying for software.  But even if you use their stock photos, the perspective on items you insert into the landscape design aren't always the same.  And then half of the plants in the program aren't available without upgrading either. All in all sloppy.  Why not just do overhead planning? It's so much cleaner and simpler.  Everyone is obsessed with 3D this and 3D that, I want 2D!  Definitely less frustrating than Garden Planner, but still a fail.

Overall, pretty disappointing. And some of the other options on download.cnet.com although looking promising, were $99.95 for the full version (with 15 day trial). And for that kind of money, I think I'll just go down to Lowes, buy a ruler and some drafting paper, and draw it out myself!

Anyone else have recommendations?

The grass is always greener...

I've been quite frustrated recently with our yard. I'm becoming more and more convinced that they must have just thrown the sod down on top of the gravel that was there previously. The back yard grows wonderfully; nice, thick, dark green grass that I'm cutting at least once a week.  But that section was already grass before the flip (at least on google maps - right) unlike the front, which remains brown and anemic despite more watering.

In fact, the only thing that's growing well in the front is crabgrass! I took the mower to the front half today and it had basically not grown at all in nearly two weeks. So instead, I spent the next forty-five minutes pulling out all the crabgrass I could find. On the upside, I must agree with you, mom; weeding is somehow very satisfying sometimes.

I did some more reading on crabgrass about preventive measures and have changed our sprinkler timers so that we only water three days a week but for a longer time.  Hopefully that will allow the fescue to grow deeper (if there's actually soil under there!) and slow the crabgrass down.
This does give us even more incentive to start planning that California native plants garden!  This weekend we're going to map out the yard so we can decide what areas will be pulled up to make room for all the succulents and decorative grasses!

Monday, July 30, 2012


So we've now had our new washer/dryer for nearly a month and...so far so good!

Looking for a new set, all the stores were really pushing the front load washer/dryer sets (which of course, are almost all over $2000 for the set!!). After reading many reviews on Amazon, we subscribed to Consumer Reports online (only $30 a year for access to all their reviews) thinking that finally we'd have some objective marks. 

And in some respects they did help quite a bit. They address issues such as water usage, noise and vibration, cleaning ability and roughness on clothes.  However, the one item they don't really get into, which for me was the most important, was reliability!  Thankfully they have a user review section which we read with great interest after we kept seeing front-load washers getting near perfect marks from CR, but <1 star from owners!

It seems that the constant issue with the front-loaders is that the drum bearings break down. And not soon after buying, but just over a year with normal use....right after the warranty expires. I couldn't count the number of reviewers who found this out the hard way, and when they had a repairman come out to service the washer, found out that replacing these bearings cost nearly as much as a new washer!!

So top loaders it was!  The sets that we had our eyes on were some of the top-rated washers on Consumer Reports list, but surprisingly not the most expensive by any means.  We were looking at the Samsung WA5451ANW and DV5451AGW, and the LG WT4801CW and DLG4802W. One would think they could come up with some better model names for these...like the Clean-enator or Tsunami or (for fans of the Transformers) the De-Septic-Con! 

We started tracking prices using our favorite price watching site, Camelcamelcamel.com, well actually her sister site CamelBuy.com.  If you've never used these sites, they are FANTASTIC!  You can load your Amazon wish list or just search for products and then track them. You set your goal price and wait.  When Amazon has one of their random price changes to your goal price, you get an email!  CamelBuy is the same, but for BestBuy products.

How can a washer be $599 one day and $749 the next?!
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And thank goodness we did track prices, because appliance pricing is completely arbitrary.  If you look back at six months of pricing for most appliances, there will be several hundred dollars worth of variation. For the LG washer we got, prices ranged from $599 (which we got!) up to $749, and the LG dryer from $569 to $849!  No rhyme or reason at all. But we got them for nearly the lowest prices and with free delivery and installation from Best Buy! Not too shabby.

Friday, July 27, 2012

SD Energy Challenge

This is a site I've already shared with mom, but thought it was novel enough that I should post about it.

San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) has an energy saving challenge this summer, but they're doing it in a very unique and tech-saavy manner.  The website is sdenergychallenge.com.  The objective is to earn points by reducing the amount of electricity you use to win monetary prizes for your local middle school as well as potentially for yourself (an iPad!!).  The school prizes are dependant on how many people sign up relative to the enrollment of the school. But the individual prizes are dependant on how many days you are in the lowest 25% regarding overal electricity usage. You can also earn bonuses off your actual bill by reducing your usage during the day on certain "reduce your use" days during which they expect above average usage ($0.75 for each day which isn't bad).

How do they monitor your daily usage, you ask?  SDGE has now switched to remotely read meters that transmit usage information on an hourly basis.  These leads to some very cool graphing options.
Here's our usage over the last day by hour.

Never realized the TV/Xbox (we were watching on Netflix) used that much energy! (the spike at 7pm).  I think this is great; maybe people doing this challenge will be inspired to not watch TV or use the computer as much. I've definitely thought about energy use more over the last few weeks we've been doing this.

So far there are 52 people signed up for our middle school, Taft (which is 10% of the student body and puts us in 8th place out of 33).  But individually, we are not doing so great; 40th out of the 52 for our school.  I guess maybe it's a selection bias, the people who are doing this challenge are already the energy-conscious so we're not competing against the heavy users. Or maybe this includes people who have solar panels! 

Guess i'd better go to the library to get some books for us to read instead of watching TV tonight!