Monday, June 23, 2008

barefoot and in the kitchen

Setting up the kitchen was one of my favorite parts of the moving in process.  I invested in some (cheap!) Ikea jars for having all my grains accessible, and some spice jars for the same purpose.  I'm happy with the result, although it kind of makes me look like one of those rice hoarders who have been in the news lately.

A few years ago I tried to maintain a food blog, but it didn't last long.  However, I still love cooking and taking pictures of what I make, so perhaps I'll bring some of that to this blog.  The first meal I cooked in our new kitchen was an homage to South Philly--a tomato, basil, mozzarella pizza.  Unfortunately, the dough--whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe's--stayed goopy no matter how long I put the pizza in the oven, so I ranked it a failure.

My next meal was more successful--I marinated some orange roughy in a blend of olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, red pepper, and blue agave nectar (which tastes a lot like honey, but is less sticky.)

ikea-ed out

After many many trips to Ikea, our living/dining area is finally set up!  We had some furniture, but needed to get a futon (which will be important since we don't have a guest room) and an Expedit, the cube bookshelf that's serving as a room divider.  Putting these items together was loads of fun (sarcasm) but they are together now.  We also picked up a coffee table and countless other little doodads.  I love Ikea because it's so inexpensive, but after countless trips for returns, exchanges, and extra hardware, even I am glad for a break.

The dining room set is from Greg's aunt, and it fits just about perfectly.  We had to forego the hutch because of space reasons, but luckily, I have my magical floating hutch in the kitchen.

Here's a view of the living area from the stairs.  Eventually I'd like the TV to go in the basement, both because it looks goofy here and because I like to pretend that I'm too intellectual to waste time watching it (exactly the opposite of the truth), but that will have to wait until we gather the energy and budget for another huge project.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how everything fits.  My big concern, based on a lot of the rowhomes we looked at pictures of when we were househunting, was that the space would feel really cluttered.  I think we've avoided that, and still managed to come up with enough places to sit, etc.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

going green

In honor of our living room color, and as penance for the many, many truckloads of paneling, carpeting, drywall, etc. that we took to the dump, we are trying to implement some environmentally friendly habits.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

-Get rid of paper towels in favor of rags made out of Greg's old shirts: reducing waste and recycling all in one!

-Eliminate dryer sheets: reducing waste and saving money!

-Trading in my car for public transportation and possibly a bike: reducing emissions and saving money!

-Replacing rolls of toilet paper with a bidet: just kidding.

So far it's been going well, although as I wash out plastic baggies, I have to wonder whether the net impact is positive or negative.  I'm not throwing it in the trash, but I'm using water and soap to clean it out.  

Any other suggestions?  

Saturday, June 21, 2008

adventures in private transportation

A week or two ago I wrote a post titled "Adventures in Public Transportation," thinking that I would occasionally post funny observations from people-watching on the subway.  Little did I know that it is actually private transportation that yields the real drama.

(All photos in this post were taken by intrepid reporter--and former Waltonianite--Shannon Whiting.)

As is clear from the most recent posts, my sister Andrea and her friend Shannon visited Philly last week.  The trip was mainly to attend a friend's wedding, but Andrea was also planning to get her stuff out of our storage unit.  After lots of deliberation over the best way to accomplish this, Andrea and Shannon decided to fly out to Philly from Indianapolis (to which Shannon had driven from Wisconsin) and rent an  SUV to drive back with Andrea's stuff.  The complicating factor was the fact that Andrea was picking up her rental at 9am on the Sunday she and Shannon planned to drive back--Andrea to Indianapolis (a 10 hour drive) and Shannon continuing to Wisconsin (another 5-6 hours).  

In order to facilitate their departure, Greg and I got up at 7 that Sunday and took his pickup to our storage unit, located in New Jersey, loading up Andrea's stuff.  Andrea and Shannon set off in my Dodge Neon from Mercy Street around 8, planning to meet us in King of Prussia, site of the car rental agency, right before 9.  Considering all the driving they had to do, they wanted to get off as quickly after 9 as possible.

Things began smoothly.  Greg and I got Andrea's stuff into his truck easily, and they left Mercy Street with plenty of time.  As Greg and I were approaching King of Prussia, my phone rang.  It was Andrea.  The conversation went like this:

Me:  Hey, did you guys get up in time?

Andrea:  Something bad happened.

Me:  What do you mean?

Andrea:  Well, we were driving along the Schuylkill and we had an accident.

[Just so that I don't sound completely heartless, it was clear from Andrea's tone of voice that no bodily injury had occurred.]

Me:  What happened to my car?

Andrea:  Umm...

Greg, from the driver's seat:  Are they OK?

Me:  What happened to my car????

This is what happened to my car:

As I understand it, a grate from the road somehow got airborne and cartwheeled toward the Neon, ultimately mauling the driver's side tire.  Andrea and Shannon pulled over to the side of the Schuylkill (a local highway commonly known as the Surekill Expressway), assessed the damage, and realized they couldn't drive the car in that state.  They called me, and Greg and I turned around to go help them out.  As we were driving toward them (we were about 10 miles up the road), a cop pulled up beside them and informed them that the grate had caused two other flat tires, and told them they could fill out a police report.  He told them to wait where they were, attempt to change the tire, and promised he would return once he closed down that section of the road to prevent any further accidents.

Greg and I arrived.  A friendly man whose car had also been attacked by the grate had helped them change the tire (not that Shannon wasn't completely capable).  He and they were waiting for the cops to return in order to make a report.

So we all waited.  And waited.  Considering that the girls still had a combined 16 hours of driving ahead of them, we finally called 911 to try and figure out how long we would have to wait.

They sent along a member of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, whose contribution pretty much consisted of letting us know that "that road is f-ed up," and "that s--- is crazy!"  We ended up driving the Neon to a nearby dealership and leaving it there, then all piled in Greg's pickup truck and made our way to King of Prussia.  The girls got off just after noon.  They made it to Indiana without any problems, but when they got back to Andrea's apartment, Shannon's car had been towed.  After getting it out of the impound lot around midnight, Shannon decided to stay in Indy instead of making the rest of the trip to Wisconson.

Here's a closeup of the damage to my tire.  Doesn't it look like a bear attacked it or something? The whole ordeal was actually lightened by the fact that Greg and I had already been planning on getting rid of one of our cars, and the Neon is worth a lot less than the truck.

Most importantly, considering the fact that metal was flying through the air toward a car going 60 mph, no one was hurt.  That is something we are truly happy about.

more sweat

Andrea demonstrates what happens when you sit in a car without air conditioning in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour: major back sweat.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


You've just moved into a new home, nothing is unpacked, there's no furniture, and it's the hottest weekend on record.  What do you do?  Have houseguests!  Andrea and her friend Shannon were in town for a wedding, so we put them up in the office.  It's the perfect size for some bookshelves and a desk, but add two sleeping bags and things are pretty tight.  Above, we have a picnic lunch while Mr. Sandless works downstairs.

One of the nights they were here we went out to dinner at a place called the South Philadelphia Tap Room.  Greg loves the place because it serves Boar Burgers, which he describes as tasting like bacon but in burger form.  One of the members of our party didn't have ID, so the waitress regretfully informed us that none of us could order from the bar.  We didn't mind drinking soda, but apparently they felt so bad about it that they sent us out a free dessert!  It was very tasty, but visually, well, it resembled feces. 

After that we broke in the new floor with a game of cards.  Below, Andrea and Shannon dolled up for the wedding.  I have to put this cute picture of Andrea in to soften the blow for the pictures I'll be posting soon...hehehe.

Mr. Sandless, bring me a floor

We moved in June 7th, but the hardwood floor was still in bad condition.  We were waiting on moving in any furniture until we could get it fixed, and the first date we got from Mr. Sandless was July 2.  Luckily, they had a cancellation for June 12!  I spent the day hiding out upstairs while Mr. Sandless himself (or so I'd like to believe) buffed and polished and stained and did whatever else.

I liked his car a lot--silver Scion with flames AND pictures of restored floors!

We were pretty happy with how everything turned out.

back in business

Comcast came by this morning and our internet is up and running!  The same cannot quite be said for our TV, because figuring out how to wire a VCR, DVD Player, cable box, and Nintendo to a TV with only one input is kind of tricky.  But Greg is working on it, and meanwhile, I will be blogging!

It's hard to know where to begin because it has been such an insane two weeks.  The excitement of living in our new house has been balanced out by a series of crazy events, including but not limited to: a dental mini-emergency, a change to my fellowship, my car being (basically) totaled, and Greg losing his job.  That's all the bad news--the good news is that no one was hurt in the car accident and we will be fine in term of the other stuff. Greg may even be able to stay on at his job--they want him to, but it's a budget issue.  He does get to work through the summer, though, so he has plenty of time to find something else if it comes to that.

As for the other stuff, it's all pretty boring except for the car accident, which I plan to write about as soon as I get some pictures.  Stay tuned!  

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

thoughts from the toilet

We moved in!  Friday afternoon Greg called to say that he had wrenched his back at work, which made us wonder if we'd be able to move, but he felt better Saturday and we had lots of help from his parents and Dave and Erin.  

Comcast is coming out next week to set up our internet.  I did discover (don't ask how) that I can pick up a wireless signal if I am sitting on the toilet.  It's right up against the back wall, so it must be a proximity thing.  In any case, I'm pretty much offline.  But I will be back with pictures and details and lots of scintillating updates!

Friday, June 6, 2008


I don't have any pictures from yesterday's activities, so just for kicks, here's a reminder of where we were about 6 months ago.

Yesterday, Greg, his dad, Roger (the contractor) and a friend who goes by Kemosabe put in a lot of hours and crossed almost all of the remaining items off of the list.  They installed the final challenging outlet, reinforced a joist in the basement which also reinforced the kitchen floor, dealt with an unexpected leak, and even got the box springs upstairs.  (You were right, Aunt Peggy, it had to be completely dismantled and reassembled.)  

I wasn't there because I had a dentist's appointment.  I'll spare you all the trauma and only share the one funny moment from the appointment: after getting me settled in the chair, the assistant said, "Let me know if you start sneezing."  I really didn't know how to take that.  Why would I start sneezing?  Wouldn't it be pretty obvious if I did?  Is this a standard dental comment that I've simply missed before?

Anyway, while there are still some things to be done at Mercy Street, primarily refinishing the wood floor, our plan is to officially move in this weekend--in other words, start sleeping there and give the Cesares their spare room back.  We won't be able to move in any of the furniture that goes on the main floor, but we can manage without that for now.  We haven't hooked up our internet service yet, so it may be a little while before I get the chance to update, but I'll definitely keep track of the inevitable mishaps for future posts.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Adventures in Public Transportation

Observed, on the PATCO line from South Jersey to Philly:

A large woman whipping out a six-inch switchblade to open a package of craisins.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

sweat and books

A new gym just opened down the street from our house.  It's called Sweat.  But as I proved today, one does not need a gym membership to sweat.

Why am I so sweaty and disgusting?  Well, because first I carried these bookshelves up the stairs, all by myself.

And then because I carried these 18 (yes, 18) boxes full of books (yes, heavy heavy books) up the stairs by myself.

I realized that maybe we have too many books, so my friend Leslie came over and helped me sort through them.  As a fellow English graduate student, she was well-equipped for the task, reminding me that I don't have to keep the 800 page book of John Updike criticism since my field is African lit.

Speaking of books, here is a link to a list of 1001 books to read before you die: 

It's certainly a debatable list, but my mom, dad, sister and I had fun going through it in Arkansas last weekend.  I read all 1001 titles out loud and we kept score.  I won't say who won, but all performed admirably.  I had between 115 and 120, depending on whether I count books that I read abridged versions of, and allowing for errors in memory.  Check it out if you're bored, and leave a comment if you beat my score and feel like bragging.

good news bad news

The good news: we have carpet!

The bad news: our box spring doesn't fit up the stairs.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I'm not afraid of bugs, heights, or spiders.  If a piece of cheese or bread has mold on it, I will cut it off and eat the rest.  I don't always shower every day.  The point I'm trying to make is that I don't think of myself as overly squeamish or high maintenance.  Generally.

But mice.  I hate mice.  They have fur and bones and blood, and if you step on one, it might squirm under your foot.  Bugs don't do that.  

The first apartment I lived in after graduating from college had mice.  Luckily, the nice gentlemen downstairs emptied the traps for us, and I managed to put them out of my head. Until one morning, a few months later, when I looked down as I was shutting off a lamp and saw a long, curled tail poking out of a trap.  I called Greg, cried the entire way to work (a 40 minute drive) and by the end of the day had plans to move. 

So I am not joking when I say that I hate mice.

Well, this week, Greg found a dead mouse in our storage facility (pictured above).  The fact that I was not present did not stop me from shuddering, curling up into a fetal position, and calling my mom. The mouse was in between two boxes, but the nibbled hole in a tablecloth suggests that he was also inside one of the boxes.  The storage facility said that he probably ate some of their bait then wandered inside and died.  So far there is no other evidence, but it is taking all of my zen to continue reaching my hands into boxes full of newspaper and packing peanuts.

Christmas in May

When Greg and I got married on May 29, 2005, many people gave us many wonderful gifts.  We used some of the gifts, but lots of them were packed away for when we had our own house.  I already had a set of hand-me down dishes, and most of what we needed for our apartment, so we decided to wait on opening the nice stuff that we had registered for.

On May 29, 2008, our third anniversary, I started unpacking our gifts.  The kitchen is ready, so we are setting that up while we wait on the carpet and unpacking upstairs.  It's been so much fun to open boxes and find things we forgot we had.

One thing I didn't forget was my popcorn.  I've been called a popcorn snob more than once--I won't eat microwaved popcorn, only stove-popped.  And I only buy Amish red or ladyfinger popping kernels at that--no Orville Redenbacher for me!  Made the right way (light on the oil) popcorn is a healthy and cheap snack, and I can eat it every night of the week.  Last spring, my usual supplier stopped carrying Amish kernels for a few months and I went crazy.  Greg finally ordered me a box of twelve bags online.  I didn't get through all of them before we moved, so we took a few bags to New Jersey and put the rest in storage.  My New Jersey rations gave out long before Christmas, and both my sister and our friends the Mulhearns can attest that I nearly cried when I opened their gifts to me and found Amish popping corn.  Those bags disappeared quickly, so I was thrilled when I unpacked the stored bags.  They already have a spot of prominence in the pantry.

I've been slowly working my way through the boxes, trying to get stuff organized for when we have places to put it.  One thing I've realized is that we have a lot of junk.  For example, there is a box in the basement labeled "Bobble Heads."  Greg promises me he will weed his collection down to only Philadelphia teams.