Small, But Nagging, House Projects

2 08 2011

I am the queen of believing things will take longer than they do.  That’s why I always put off filling the Brita until there is absolutely no water left – even though I timed myself one morning and was able to fill it before the timer went off for my oatmeal.  Less than one minute.

So there were a few jobs around the house that I’d been putting off. They were small, but I just needed to stop procrastinating and do them.  It turned out that the electrical ones did take a lot longer than I anticipated, but there is something so fulfilling about getting things knocked off your to do list!

Curtain Tie-Back

In my upstairs bathroom, I added a single curtain across the window to add some privacy (it also makes the bathroom look very fancy, incidentally).  This is a great idea, but unfortunately, I have an air-conditioning/heating vent just under the window, so the curtain also blocked that. My mom had suggested getting some hardware to tie it back during the day – that would still leave me with privacy, but also free up the vent.

Not a major project, but I still dragged my feet on doing it! Finally, I found a piece of hardware I liked at Lowes and installed it.  I went from this:

To this:

Simple, nice – nothing major, but just enough to allow for more air flow.  And guess what? It’s helped my house be cooler upstairs.  Don’t know why I put it off for so long!

Electrical

I was also still in the process of replacing all of the outlets in my house (and some switches too).  There are still a couple left to do – those that major appliances are plugged into – but I finally pushed myself to get the rest done.  I went through all the outlets in the guest room to remove the extra tab, which tied them back into the light switch by the door again – I can’t tell you how much that had been bugging me!

I also went through all the outlets in the office and replaced those, as well as the switch plates – much nicer.

And then I needed to motivate myself to replace the GFCIs downstairs.  I needed to replace the one in the downstairs bathroom (the upstairs bath had been done by the previous owner), and the three in my kitchen.  Installing a GFCI is slightly different, because if you wire it incorrectly, it may not be a ground fault interruptor as it’s set up to be.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between a GFCI and a regular outlet – GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor and they’re used in locations that are close to water.  Water is a great conductor of electricity (did you know that you’re not even supposed to be using water from a tap while there’s lightning because you could be electrocuted? I just found that out recently) so you don’t want to have just a regular old outlet there.

Yes, even if you want to save some money, like one homeowner I just saw on Holmes Inspection. Spring for the GFCI, it’s not that much more expensive and it could save your life.

The GFCI is designed to trip whenever it detects the slightest variation in the electrical current – like if there’s water involved.  So when you’re installing it, you have to make sure that it is set correctly so that it will trip if and when you need it to.

I installed the outlets based on the wiring instructions included in the box (if you’d like me to go into more detail on that, just let me know and I’d be happy to do a separate post!) and reset the outlet to make sure it was wired correctly.  It was set perfectly! So I replaced all of the outlets, and even replaced the switch next to the sink in the kitchen – that, combined with a new lightbulb over the sink means I fixed the outlet/switch that I thought I was going to have to call an electrician for – man, was I tickled about that!

Ugly

Pretty

Fixed!

And I was also pretty pleased that I finally replaced the knob fan switch with a new one:

Before

After!

Shed Door Knob

Not long after I moved in, I picked up a new door knob and lock for my shed – my neighbor (yes the creepy one) had mentioned that he would have mowed my lawn while I was away one time, save for my shed being locked. It wasn’t, but the door often stuck.  But it clued me in to the fact that anyone could get in there.  It’s not connected to my house, so it wasn’t a safety issue from that perspective, but it was in terms of someone hiding out in there.

But my dad pointed out to me that I’d need to chisel the door to get the plate flush, and he knew I’d never used a chisel before.  I finally got comfortable using one on my interior upstairs doors, so I thought I’d give it a go.  What a nice difference.

Here’s the finished product!

Now I just have to remember to take a key whenever I’m working on something outside!

“Bush”

I use the term “bush” in quotes because these things growing next to my deck are HUGE.  The previous homeowner had never trimmed them (there are three, two unknown types and one holly) and they’d obviously been planted back in 1984 when the place was built.  They’d gotten to be almost as tall as the house, and my neighbor has been commented to me for pretty much the entire time that I’ve lived there that I need to get it trimmed.

I almost paid someone to do it last year, but he wanted $200.  So no.

But it was too big a project to tackle alone. My parents said they would help me out with it this year, so on a crazy humid morning after I’d already trimmed the part I could reach, my dad and mom came by with their truck, mini chainsaw and a ladder and we went to it – or rather, my dad went to it, and my mom and I piled up branches and tried to avoid falling debris.

My dad was concerned that I’d be left mostly with a bunch of sticks, since when you don’t prune a large bush like that, it only grows leaves on the outside.  I knew from watching an old episode of This Old House a few years ago that I was going to run into that, and I wasn’t as concerned with how it would look as I was with how overgrown it was.  So we chopped it way back and down, and although I’ve got less privacy on my deck now (not a big deal where it’s located), the bush is MUCH more under control.

I don’t have a before picture, and I’ll take an after picture at some point…but my plan now is (yes, I’ve always got new plans forming – for every project I do, there’s four more behind it!) to pull up the grass on that side of the fence (which is mostly weeds), put down some of the brick edging around the bushes and mulch in there, put some stone down for the rest of it to match the stone in my front yard, and then put down some more of those tire pieces to make a little path.  I’d also like to replace some of the front fencing with a gate so that I can actually get in and out of the backyard without having to hop a fence! So I’ll be working on that stuff at some point – the gate will probably wait until next year.

Apple Pie

And finally, just because I was happy about it – I used some fresh apples from the local farmer’s market (which I LOVE) to make an apple pie – it was fabulous:

Just about to go into the oven...

And just out of the oven....MMMMM!

 

 





A Major Baking Mishap…

23 12 2009

I love to try new recipes, particularly at the holidays, and over the past few years the cookie recipes that I’ve tried have come out pretty well.  So when I saw this recipe in Real Simple, I really wanted to try it – mostly for a silly reason though, really.  I had seen the same jars in Michaels a few weeks’ before, and thought I could package up these beautiful cookies in a fancy way and be all Martha-Stewart-like (though I don’t particularly like her).

See, aren't these lovely?

I got all the ingredients and settled down yesterday to bake the cookies…and they were a total disaster! The first batch weren’t even salvagable, and the second batch were only a little better.  I’ll recreate the recipe here, and maybe someone can help me figure out where I went wrong! (Though I’m totally mortified by how terrible these look)

First, I got out the ingredients:

I thought anything with butter, cream cheese and vanilla would be good!

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 cup seedless jam
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar or coarse sanding sugar

First, I put the room temperature butter in my mixer

Then I added the cream cheese

Then, the sugar

This was to be beaten until fluffy, so that's what I did, scraping down the bowl a couple of times

Then I beat in the vanilla

Next I was supposed to reduce the mixer speed to low (which I did) and gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated - did that, even scraping down the bowl a couple of times again

This is what it looked like

And here's how the dough appeared right out of the mixer

Then, the recipe said to gently knead the dough on a floured surface two to three times, just to bring it together (okay) and form the dough into two 1-inch thick squares.

Here's a square. Then I was supposed to wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for one hour. Did that.

After an hour, I got one of the two squares out and on a lightly floured piece of parchment, I rolled it into a 9x12-inch rectangle - I even measured it.

I spread the jam over the dough - now here's where I may have run into trouble - I just eyeballed jam amounts, and this may have been more than 1/4 of a cup - but it appears to be a thin layer!

Then, I was supposed to cut the dough into three pieces (which I did), making three 9×4 inch rectangles.  And…oh no, I just realized my error – it says to start from the LONG side of each rectangle and roll it into logs.  Yup, you got it, I started with the shorter edge of each rectangle.  Darn!  Okay that explains the whole issue….

But anyway.  Once you roll each of those three pieces into a log, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

Then, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the logs into 1-inch pieces and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Brush with the egg and sprikle with turbinado sugar (I couldn't find it, so I had to use regular sugar)

Bake them until golden, about 20-25 minutes. If you've messed up the recipe like me, lie down on the floor in despair and take pictures of the ceiling.

Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely - store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. (Sorry this picture is blurry, I think it was my tears of disappointment clouding the lens...)

Okay, now that I’ve figured out what went wrong, I may or may not try to see if I have the ingredients to do it again tonight…we’ll see!

**Update: I did go ahead and remake half a batch of the cookies to see how they would come out, and it was SO much better than yesterday’s batch!

Mmm, fully cooked, kept their original shape, not too much leaking jelly!

And I finally got my pretty jar of cookies! If I weren't so tired, I'd add pretty ribbon to it too, like in the photo. For the other three jars I had, I put the pasta fagioli that I made for dinner tonight - yum!