Archive for June, 2009

Kitchen plans

27 June 2009

Last night we picked colors and materials for our kitchen re-do, and the next step is to schedule meetings with contractors for estimates.  We waffled on this project for a year, and it’s true that once my husband finishes his degree program in two years we may be moving to an entirely different city, but our cabinetry sucks (it’s el cheapo quality), the laminate is on the wrong kind of wood next to the sink so it’s swollen from moisture, the layout isn’t great and the lighting is awkward.  Also, we don’t have room to store things the way we want to.  So we are going ahead with a re-do.  If we do move, maybe it will raise the price we can get for the house when we sell it.

We’re moving the door from the dining room over a bit, which will allow some storage changes in both the kitchen and the dining room.  We’re adding a pass-through, putting a “peninsula” in, moving the fridge to a different wall, and adding more cabinetry.  We’re scootching the stove over a bit, so we can have countertop on both sides of the stove.  We’re adding manufactured quartz counters around the sink and stove, and butcher block on the peninsula.  We’re raising the microwave oven off the counter, putting cork-backed linoleum on the floor, and re-doing all the lighting with LED’s.  The door to the basement will be re-hung to open from the other side of the frame.  The walls will be painted my favorite color, yellow, with blue-gray baseboards and door trim.  The quartz counters have been chosen so they won’t show coffee splashes:


We’re keeping all our major appliances, since we have bought them all since we moved in.  The original stove had burners that didn’t light and seemed to take an hour to boil water for pasta, so we replaced that first, with almost the same model my parents have.  Then we replaced the aged dishwasher after the original kept getting “errors” and quitting mid-cycle.  Most recently we replaced the refrigerator, which failed to keep ice cream bars frozen, to my intense disappointment one day.  It is really hard to buy a decent-sized fridge without an automatic ice maker and water filter option, but we found one.

Yes, we know it will be a major pain to be without a kitchen from when we take the old stuff apart to when we get the new one completed.  But we are willing to go through the suffering.  Yes, we know these things typically take longer than planned.  We have a budget and we are willing to deal with the mess.  Still, wish us luck!  I’m sure we will need it!


26 June 2009

This year, a kid graduated from my high school who was from Brazil.  I taught him when he was a junior, and I urged him for months to take a second year of physics.  He’s interested in art and technology, and I argued passionately that a better understanding of physics would enable him to execute his visions.

But this isn’t about him.  It’s about his mom, Sandra, who came to my school twice a week all spring to teach Zumba.

She’s the perky, ponytailed, energetic aerobics teacher you remember from the 1980’s, except she’s in her 40’s not her 20’s.  Petite and with a brilliant smile, she exudes enthusiasm for Zumba.

Zumba?  It’s danceaerobics to “Latin” music.  It’s samba, and merengue, and cumbia, and the occasional tango or cha cha cha, with arm waving, substantial abdominals, and sometimes shouting.  I love the music, and I love learning a dance, so it is perfect for me.

The first class I went to I emerged drenched in sweat and totally wiped out.  By the end of the school year I was much better – both at doing the steps and at making it through a whole class.  I liked to check the clock when I felt like class should be nearly over…I started checking at 15 minutes into the class, and the time I checked got later and later, until I would look up to find the hour nearly gone!

Sandra loved watching us improve as the weeks went by, often lamenting that she hadn’t videotaped those first few classes to compare us at the beginning and at the end.  I loved the feeling I got every time I mastered another movement.

I’ve taken movement classes of various types since I was a kid, taking folk dance and ballroom dance from a guy we knew from church, taking aerobics with my mom at her office after school, taking folk dance and Scottish Country Dance in college, learning contra and English Country Dance along the way.  I’ve taken lessons in waltz, swing, snoa, and tango at various festivals and events.  I’ve picked up hambo and zwiefacher, schottische, various polka styles, two-step and morris at various times and places.  I’ve done t’ai chi several times in at least two different styles (William C. C. Chen and traditional Yang form).  And of course there is Dance Dance Revolution!

If I had to rank Zumba, it would be near the top of my list.  The music is great and we do whole songs.  There is no criticism of style, everyone does as best they can up to their own flexibility and energy.  There is no partner to try to keep up with, no special costume, no score, and Sandra never told anyone they were doing it wrong.  She did get a huge grin when one of us finally got a tricky move, though!

There is plenty of “Zumba wear” you can buy, despite the “no particular costume.”  Sandra teaches several classes a week (including chair Zumba for people in retirement homes who are stuck in chairs, and she is working on water Zumba) and has many different Zumba outfits, mostly with capri pants with little ties on the back pocket flaps.  The ladies in the class joked all spring about coming in with strings on our rears, to wave as we moved our hips to the beat.  For our last class of the year I wore shorts with button-flap back pockets, and tied ribbons in the buttonholes.  The other ladies loved it!

Sandra gave all of us CD’s of our regular workout music to bring home and practice over the summer, and it is great for getting energized to do the dishes or clean the bathroom.  However, it is very hard to keep from dancing while cleaning with the music on!

Zumba love, everyone!

CSA Recipes

24 June 2009

It was only LAST month, May, that we started getting our weekly CSA shares.  Which means in addition to eating the sugar snap peas and the 4 beans we’ve gotten (so far) from the garden, each week we split a box-full of veggies with our friends and then we have to find creative ways to use them before they go bad.

We like doing this, don’t get me wrong!

The season starts with radishes, which I have discovered are lovely on bread and butter even if they aren’t French Breakfast Radishes and those got eaten up right away as after school snacks.  They are easily stored in a jar of water in the fridge, according to Marisa.  Here is a stack of snack, ready to be eaten:


Then there are the inevitable leafy greens.  These are incredibly nutritious, I’ve been told.  I think it is leafy greens that give people the impression (especially small, young people) that if it’s healthy for you it must taste bad.  I have never been a fan of greens.  But I find them very palatable in what I call “CSA nomlette.”  This is the recipe:

CSA Nomlette

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • some leafy greens, washed, patted dry, and sliced to ribbons
  • some other stuff from your CSA box (mushrooms, green onions, broccoli bits, whatever)
  • salt & pepper
  • grated cheese
  • topping of your choice (salsa, ketchup, whatever)

Using a small non-stick skillet, spray with cooking oil or add a small amount of cooking oil.  Heat over medium-high heat.  Add vegetables and stir until they look done-ish.  Pour the eggs over the veggies and stir a little to make sure the eggs get everywhere in the pan.  Add salt and pepper and grated cheese, turn the heat to medium-low, and cover the pan.  Wait a few minutes and when the eggs are done enough for you (I like mine puffy, but loose) slide the nomlette onto a plate, folding it over as you do so.  Top with salsa or ketchup or whatever you like.

Here is one of mine (a little firmer than I planned, but oh well):


Why is it a “nomlette?”  Well, it is clearly not cooked like a traditional French omelette – no banging on the pan handle to make the eggs fold over themselves – but it IS beaten eggs cooked in a fry pan with a “filling.”  “Nom” is lolspeak for food, and is onomatopoeic for the sound of eager eating (nom nom nom) (If you still don’t get it, think cookie monster from Sesame Street).  So, since it is my recipe, I name it thus.

Last week I made beets with beet greens (left) and greens, beans, and cabbage on cous cous (right).


I loved the beets and beet greens.  Cook ’em up, chop them small, serve with butter and balsalmic vinegar.  I ate the leftovers on a sandwich.  The greens, beans, and cabbage on cous cous I was not so fond of.  First of all, I made it with collards, which I have never liked (to my mother’s chagrin).  Maybe this would have been OK with chard or kale or mustard greens, but I had collards.  Second, I was getting a little overwhelmed with cabbage.  We’ve gotten several.  Ah well, some recipes are winners, others can be crossed off the list.

I got the beets and beet greens recipe from a very helpful site I discovered recently.  It lists recipes by key ingredient, and it is meant for CSA members trying to figure out how to use that vegetable in their box they’re not familiar with, or how to use three CSA veggies in one dish.  Check it out!

April was two months ago

23 June 2009

Waaay back in April, I attended a local physics teachers’ meeting that I helped organize.  It was definitely one of the best such meetings we’ve had in years, though I must say we do a good job on meetings.  I don’t recall a bad speaker that we’ve had or bad food.

Our Friday evening we hosted a local top physics student and his physics teacher, part of our new outreach initiative.  We enjoyed a catered meal with adorable tiny and multitudinous desserts…oof.  Thank goodness for the exercise class I started taking at school!  Then we walked to the building next door and listened to University of Pennsylvania professor Ken Lande, who amazed us and grabbed us with his energy talk.  He’s nearly as good as Al Bartlett – certainly he is as alarming.  I started thinking about what I can do to help save the world.  (Follow the Al Bartlett link and watch his talk – I highly recommend it)

Saturday we had a talk by my NCSU professor, Bruce Sherwood.  He’s the one who taught me to use vpython and completely changed my view of introductory physics.  I’ve been promoting vpython with the local physics teachers and Bruce’s talk was very well received.

There were some short talks by members of the group and a business meeting at which I was elected “Corresponding Secretery” which means I took over the mailing responsibilities and I now write a bi-weekly newsletter.  But after lunch, we had an awesome experience:

Ollie brought members of the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club (EEVC) and their cars to explain electric cars, answer our questions, and show off their work!  I was impressed by the plug-in vehicles made by modding existing vehicles.  There was a guy with a  Ford 150 pickup truck that he converted to a plug-in gas-electric hybrid, a woman with a student-modified van, a guy with a Geo Metro convertible (link gives specs) turned into a purely-plug-in electric vehicle, and more!  Here’s the workings of the Metro:

under the hood

under the hood

in the trunk

in the trunk

The acceleration on these electric cars is very exciting – lots of delta v in a short delta t!  It comes from having a powerful electric motor and a low mass that needs to get moved.  The Metro got towed to the meeting behind a sexy sportscar, that’s how light it is.

Here is Ollie in a car converted to electric by high school students:


Ollie let us drive this car around the parking lot, and that was pretty cool too!  Those extra guages on the dashboard show the voltage across the batteries and the current drawn by the engine.  Multiply the two values together, and you will get the power in watts.  746 watts is 1 horsepower.  Mostly, you wouldn’t multiply while driving though…but you have to keep track of the voltage or you could find yourself stranded without enough “juice.”

I had a great time!  I am itching to find some crappy used car in decent shape, rip out the insides, and make an electric car for runs to the grocery store or whatever.  Yet another thing to put in the “future projects” file…


22 June 2009

I apologize for falling behind so much in blog posting, but I plan catch up now that I am on vacation.  There is an old saw that says the best things about being a teacher are June, July, and August, but I think of it as just a different phase in the yearly cycle. Now is when I get all those weekends back that I spent at Physics Olympics or Science Bowl or writing tests and getting mad at Microsoft Word, or fretting about all the stuff I had to get done.  Now is when I can stay up late enough to go out and see friends, and watch movies from my Netflix queue, and do jigsaw puzzles!  I can do more sewing projects and MAYBE, just MAYBE, organize my school files for next year.

But that is not what I want to talk about.  I want to show off our garden, with some “before and after” photos and praise for my husband, who is tickled to be growing things he can eat.  Never mind that he is growing a lot of cucumbers, which he does not eat all that much of.  He told me this morning I could make pickles.  Shyeah.

Anyway, remember that “cosmetic surgery” photo of the roses?  Here is the “before and after:”


You’ll note the giant squash plant in the foreground.  We’re doing a modified “three sisters” form of agriculture, apparently – call it two sisters and a cousin.  Squash, beans, and roses.  Though rather than try to pick beans out of the rosebushes, my husband has stuck some bamboo poles in the ground for them to climb.

Also, remember the peas that looked like mini-marshmallows?  Here’s another before and after:


In between the rows of peas are my radishes and a surprise hosta.  The peas are quite tasty, though we only get a few at a time.  Here is a pea closeup:


This photo makes me hungry.  Or maybe it’s just that I’ve spent the morning getting things accomplished, and it’s getting towards elevenses!

Things I can check off my list:

  • Take winter wool clothing to the dry cleaner
  • Take mail to the mailbox
  • Remove growth of weeds from the curb in front of house
  • Remove dead blossoms from roses
  • Lop branches that overhang the stoop so it’s easier to avoid being soaked when coming in the front door (we’ve been getting a lot of rain lately, non-local readers)
  • Clean out refrigerator of old leftovers
  • Vacuum unfinished portion of the basement (where the cat’s box is – it had gotten so I didn’t want to walk past in bare feet)
  • Write a blog post!

Yep, I think I deserve lunch now!