Friday, October 30, 2009

AMAZING SOUP ALERT! (a.k.a How to Destale Your Chips)

Natalie got a bit snazzy the other day and decided to make us some incredible Black Bean Tomato Soup. It is about 10 minutes of prep work and maybe an hour and a half total time before you could be enjoying it.

It was worth a whole blog post.

Looks great, right? Well, it immediately would have been enjoyed, but we ran into a problem after the soup was prepared. It was our poor tortilla chips! They have been lonely for a while and had become stale. Being a part of the Google Generation, I quickly searched up a solution, and present my findings for your benefit.


This is a complicated process, so I'll break it out for you from the start:

Step 1. Get your chips from the store.
Step 2. Make them stale using your favorite methods.
Step 3. Put a napkin on a plate.
Step 4. Put said chips on said napkin.
Step 5. Microwave on high for 30-45 second.
Step 6. Enjoy the sizzling sound when you take the out of the microwave.
Step 7. Eat chips, being careful not to break them into those little triangles that a) scrape down your throat or b) wedge themselves just right on your wisdom-tooth-holes and make you cry a little bit.

Seriously, these chips were so delicious. I now feel guilty for having thrown out so many chips in my life.

Expect more posts on the house in the near future-- life has been insane for the past couple of weeks, but we're possibly starting to catch up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Renovations Start!

We will be getting the detailed quote from our contractor really soon. He sent me the the whole number so far. I knew it would be a lot, but man, it is a lot. I have been trying to think of ways to cut corners, but the items I had him quote us are things I don't want to mess with.

As soon as we get the quote, we'll post it with pictures and details. It will also kind of set a time line for us for the renovations.

Stay tuned for drywall pictures. Graham will be putting that up this weekend in the study.

And sorry for the silence - our lives have been crazy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Estate Sale Finds Part III

I went to an estate to pick up a nesting bowl set I saw online, but came away with dishes instead.

Item: Universal Pottery Ballerina Style Plates, tea cups, saucers, creamer, sugar holder, etc.
Era: 1950's/1960's
Favorite part about it: These are just so darn cute!
Price: $25

I want to know what these plates are called! I want to complete the set. Graham and I have searched Google, Ebay, Etsy, and Craigslist and we can find NOTHING about this pattern. I do know the Ballerina is a style introduced by Universal Pottery in the 50s. I found some sets that have "names" and found another that does not. This is a set that does not have a "name."

From what I understand, Universal Pottery was founded in 1934 and closed its doors in 1955. They then changed their name and started manufacturing other items. One interesting thing I found out was that after they stopped producing dinner plates, Taylor Smith Taylor and a few other china companies began producing some of their patterns. I guess I found that interesting since I own an almost completed set of Taylor Smith Taylor plates from the 1950's. They were my grandmother's and I heart them.

From what I can tell, the only way to figure out what my Ballerina set pattern is called is to get my hands on this book:

No book stores around here have this book. No libraries either. I do not want to buy it. I just want to find the page with these plates on it. Am I allowed to buy it, do that, and return it? A little unethical, huh? *sigh* I'll probably end up buying it along with the Collector's Pyrex book I want.

Finally, I think this is just adorable since Graham says he doesn't like the dogs...


Note from Graham: Natalie asked me to proofread this post and I'd like to clarify that I did not, in fact, actually enjoy cuddling with the dogs. I'm just a good actor.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to Fix Your Old Radio (and get fat while you're at it!)

Natalie and I picked up a mid-century coffee table/radio/record player combo a few months ago. When I turned the radio on, it wasn't broken per se, but there was a loud buzzing/humming sound. As I've learned from my research, this is called "the 60hz hum." I may have made up the official phrase, but I think I've earned that authority from what I've accomplished. The electricity from the power lines is delivered in what's called alternating current, or AC-- which, for we non-electricians, means that the electricity looks something like the picture to the right.

Most electronics depend on direct current, or DC-- which is a constant flow of the same amount of energy. So, one way to convert AC power to something closer to DC power is through the use of capacitors. (If you'd like to learn a little more about this, have a look at this video, it's actually quite interesting.) If a capacitor fails, then it just sends through the alternating current and the effect on a set of speakers is a low pitched humming or buzzing sound.

Well, you ask, how might one solve this problem, oh wise electronics expert? An anonymous reader shared a bit of his or her expertise in the following comment:

If you're handy with a soldering pencil ($10 at radio shack, get a 30-watt), you can easily replace the capacitors yourself. There are many videos on youtube that will guide you through it, as well as dozens of experts on who will help you with the restoration. New parts are easy to obtain via The hum is indicative of a vacuum tube set -- it's important to replace these capacitors soon as running the set with the aging parts will potentially fail as a "short circuit" causing firworks and potentially taking out irreplacable coils with it. Excellent find any way you look at it!

oops one more thing on the capacitor replacement. Choosing the new parts is easy -- just look for paper/wax "tootsie roll" looking parts on the chassis. They'll have numbers on them like ".01 uF / 350V". the uF indicates the size, the V indicates the voltage rating. Just get the identical part values (both numbers should match on the replacement) from The "hum" you hear is the large filter caps, which look like a hair roller in a metal or cardboard can (usually something like "47uF / 450V", a larger number than above). This is a common age-related problem. Don't be afraid to learn! I taught myself by reading and have restored many old radios over the years!
Thank you so much for this information! So I got right on the problem and did a bit more research on my own. First things first, I needed to crack open the ol' radio.

Behold, the much coveted wax tootsie roll (which doesn't sound particularly delicious...)! I've found over the years of trying to fix (i.e. tearing stuff apart) is that you will not learn anything if you're afraid to break it. Step 1 in my case: recklessly take a pair of scissors to the wax tootsie roll.

Continuing to follow the advise from our wonderful reader, I took a gander at the roll and saw 6 bits of important information-- this tootsie roll contains 3 capacitors, all with different ratings. 100MFD, 300VDC on red, 75VDC, 300VDC on blue, and 70MDF, 25VDC on green. uF (which means microfarad... which means...I don't think we need to explore this any further) and MFD mean the same thing and VDC (Voltage Direct Current) and "V" mean the same thing, so if you're looking for new parts, just know those are interchangeable.

So, just search those numbers and you're all set, right? Not quite. Capacitors have a lot of possible values and I wasn't able to find an exact match. Never fear, here is a website that tells you what's an acceptable range for replacement.

So, I then had to wait (very impatiently) for the new parts to arrive. Here is how I waited...

Grilled Ribeye Sirloin Steak with Onion-Blue Cheese Sauce, sweet potatoes (an impulse decision by yours truly... they just sounded good), a salad with homemade orange oil and vinegar dressing, pineapple and avocado (which, if pronounced with a Spanish accent, sounds strikingly similar to "have a cow").

That's right-- we used a whole stick of butter on dinner. It was worth every calorie. Unbelievably good.

Hi, I'm being cute. Can I have some?

He got a little bite from his food bowl. How could we resist? (P.S. How cliché am I? Blog? Check. Pictures of your animal? Check. Captions on photos of your dog with what you think they say? Check. Oh dear, I've become what I hated.)

The new capacitors came in today and I got to work immediately.

 Yes. It's sloppy-- even looks like I planted a tiny bomb (aww, cute little guy). I forgot how terrible I am at soldering.

But-- you won't be able to see the sloppy job. Instead, enjoy the beautiful glowing ruby-shaped LED.

It's alive! No more buzz. (Note: See "FM Stereo"? Looks like this puts our unit somewhere around the early 1960's as FM Stereo system wasn't approved by the FCC until 1961)

And now that we're all tuckered out, it's time to get some sleep. We let it all hang out here on Chadwell Drive.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saving Money Part I: Utility Bills

I like to save money. Anybody who knows me knows that. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of finding new, exciting, maybe event a little bit ridiculous ways to save money. Natalie is all too aware of this and many of my most... ahem... interesting ideas have been shot down.

Having paid utility bills on my own for 3 years now (I am sooo experienced in life!), I have a few pointers and a few things we have done, so you can know how to save as much money as you can and maybe having a little fun as you do it.

1. When Natalie and I lived in a top-level apartment, we had a 16' vaulted ceiling in the living room which caused the A/C to run constantly. Our solution? I devised a simple safety pin/old comforter/Velcro contraption. Slap the blanket to the entrance of the hallway and you're good to go.

I'm pretty sure this was a non-typical situation, though. A/Cs are generally sized correctly for the areas they cool, and if an A/C cycles too much it doesn't run as efficiently as one that has a larger area to cool and runs in longer cycles.

2. Install a shower shutoff valve. Lather up while the water waits for you! Cheap, practical, and a good way to remove any enjoyment you may have derived from showering.

3. Set your thermostat closer to the temperature outside! Fans in the summer and blankets in the winter are you friends. What I've heard is that every degree can be up to 1% off (some say 3%) of your electric bill, unless you already keep it at a reasonable temperature. I don't think going from 85 in the summer to 87 is really going to save that much more.

4. Electricity in Texas is deregulated-- that means (from what I understand about it), depending on where you live (I know, for example, that Denton only has one choice), you can choose your electricity provider. In our apartment with the giant vaulted ceilings, we used Green Mountain Energy, who charges higher rates because the power they deliver is renewable (which, apparently, is debatable). When we moved into our house, we switched to Champion Energy Services and ended up saving 35% on our rates, the net result being that the electric bills in our nearly 2000 square foot home are about the same as our 700 square foot apartment.

5. Get a power monitoring device. There are a lot of options out there, but I've only looked into the following:
  • Kill A Watt This device goes between your appliance and the wall and shows you exactly how much energy it's using. Some simple math (watts recorded*time/1000*cost per killowatt hour) and you can see how much everything in your houses costs to run!
  • PowerCost Monitor This one's a little different-- one part goes on the meter outside and one part stays inside with you and tells you how much energy your whole house is using at any given moment and calculates how much you're spending at the same time. Pretty nifty and probably effects your behaviors since you can see the money trickling away.
Anyway, there's just a few things that can help out. I may also consider solar panels as their price hopefully comes down, but at the moment Natalie and I just don't use enough electricity to offset the cost in the next 10-20 years.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Student Loans

Here's a great article about student loans on's blog.

Facts that stood out to me the most:
  • 44% of graduates will delay buying a house because of their student loans (we did)
  • 28% will delay having children because of their student loans
  • Public tuition runs an average of $62,421
Natalie and I got out of college in relatively good shape (just about $30,000 in loans combined) thanks to our wonderful parents and also thanks to taking up part time jobs throughout college (I worked 10+ hours for the first year and a half of college and over 30 hours a week for 2 1/2 of my 3 years at UNT).

Although I'm generally not a big fan of debt, I would venture to say that student loans can be justified because:
  1. As the article says, you will end up making $800k more overall than your non-bachelor-degree-holding counterpart. That could be worth up to a certain amount of debt...
  2. You are specializing in a field that actually DOES make more money with a college degree. I would seriously, seriously avoid debt if you're going to school for a social work degree or something else that is known to commonly make under $30k.
  3. Interest rates are really great on most student loans (ours were 4.25% and 6%)
  4. Upon graduating, it is extremely easy and even natural to continue "living like college students" and pay down your debt.
Natalie and I actually got me through my last year of classes with cash and paid off our student loans by doing just this. We lived in a modest apartment, didn't celebrate graduation by buying a car or a house by borrowing money and we now stand debt free except our single mortgage on the house.

I am really enjoying managing our money and all it took was a few years of hard work, then a couple of years of reasonable decisions. Now we can have fun with our money and hardly ever worry about it again! Give it a shot.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mysterious Wife Post

So, Graham gives me a hard time because I don't post. I want to post, but the most likely time I would do that is at work and I don't have pictures to post at work. You see, I love blogs that have tons of pictures and I am sure I am not the only who likes that. I, also, don't feel witty enough to make good posts. Again, I like jokes thrown into a post at random and I am just not that talented.

Anyway, I am going to First Monday Trade Days on Saturday with my sister and brother-in-law's girlfriend. I will be sure to take my camera and get some pictures of some good items while I am there. I haven't been in ages, so I have no idea if I am going to find anything that I like (or anything worthy of my camera). I tried to google information about mid-century modern pieces being at First Monday, but I found nothing online about it.

So maybe you will get another post from me next week with pictures!

80's Drabulous to 50's Fabulous

It seems that the previous owner of our house went on a giant decorating spree in the spring of 1984. Shiny brass abounds and we're slowly fighting our way through it.

Step 1. Remove this ceiling fan.

Step 2. Install this beautiful chrome pull-down light fixture.

Step 2b. The diffuser (shade) has a small crack near the center. "Don't mess with it," says Natalie.

Step 3. Mess with it... crack said light fixture's diffuser. Notice the crack is nearly (okay, maybe not "nearly") in the shape of a glass frown.

Step 4. Install light sans diffuser.

Step 5. Order new diffuser (kudos to Retro Renovation for the shop's link). I think this one is actually closer to the size original diffuser. The first one didn't quite line up right in the fixture and I cracked it because I was trying to mess with it into looking right.

Step 6. Restore light and breakfast area to its original glory.

Things to note: lovely brick veneer in front of the pantry. Also, our neatly arranged tools on the built-in china cabinet. It's like an honest to goodness retail storefront in here!

Step 7. Pin the dog down and get some much deserved rest.

Bonus tip: always pay attention to Maeby when she's close to food.

And for those who are worried, the lime didn't kill her.