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My name is Laura, and I have a fear of appliances large and small. I am sure I will die by electrocution while vacuuming, or (pertinent to today’s topic) start a fire by mishandling the exhaust duct of a dryer. True, many people run their households less fearfully than I do and are still alive to continue scaring me with their relative recklessness, but my paranoia persists.

After a neighbor had a dryer fire last year (two doors down; we had just started to smell the smoke and wonder what was up when the fire trucks started coming in), I have been on the lookout for any signs of lint blockages in our own machine. I’ve been seeing less lint on the pull-out lint screen, and thought that possibly things were taking longer to dry, so I was forced to confront my fears of the dryer in general, solely to settle the much larger fear of an actual fire starting in our house.

First, I had to consult several “how-to” guides online. Unfortunately none of their exhaust ducts looked like our set-up, which turns out to be flexible foil prone to breakage and not recommended by one website. It is also way too long for the space and so it snakes around itself behind the machine, which I also read was not recommended. Okay then. The how-to’s all talked about unscrewing the duct from the machine, which seemed straightforward. Also I was to unplug the machine from its huge outlet. This scared me for some reason. It actually scared me to pull the plug out of the wall and see how huge the prongs were. Imagine what the amount of electricity running through that thing would do if it came into contact with a living person…!

At least now I could not possibly be electrocuted. I stared down at what looked a shiny, oversized colon and took a deep breath. Oh yes. Not only was my mission to clear out any lint stuck in the duct, but I had to vacuum the horrendous mess of dust that had accumulated under and around the washer and dryer. My airway already felt scratchy and irritated, so I ran for the OSHA-approved respirator mask I got back when the swine flu hype was everywhere. It helped.

lauravader
Yes, I was in fact nervous. About cleaning the dryer.

I went to remove the flexible duct and was surprised to find that it was not attached to the appliance by screws, or by anything. Just tenuously perched over the hole. I briefly wondered what I would do when I was done cleaning it. But in looking down the duct with a flashlight, I was happy to discover a sizable ball of lint, as well as what was causing the rattling noise in back of the dryer: sunflower seeds. Maybe a small handful of them. These would be about 4 years old minimum. Cleaning all that out was very satisfying, but trying to push the dryer back into place without the duct falling out of the hole it was never attached to…not satisfying.

With a load of clean laundry sitting in the washer and not getting any fresher, I hastily consulted the collective expertise of the Puritanboard (did you know Puritans were appliance experts?) and received a prompt answer from our own Lauren’s husband, who, on the Handy Around the House spectrum, is as far as possible from yours truly. I was enlightened and emboldened by Vic’s succinct explanation of what needed to be done; I went to Home Depot and procured a 4-4 1/2-inch dryer duct clamp. Within 15 minutes (and only that long because I have two left hands even with a screwdriver) the problem was solved and the dryer has been happily humming away all afternoon. I have to say I am quite relieved to have that chore out of the way. Next up, and far more intimidating: cleaning the refrigerator coils…

So a couple hours ago I became overwhelmed with disgust at the dust and hairballs visibly lurking under and around the keys of my laptop. We have a cat and she sheds year-round, and we like most humans produce a fair amount of dust. I use my laptop often and even when closed, it is not airtight, so after about a year of frequent use it has become really, really gross. I started picking at the dust between keys using my fingernails and had some luck. Then I picked up a credit card and had much more luck, swiping the edge along each row and between the keys vertically to gather the little balls of dust and cat hair at the end of each row and pull them out. This task gave me that excellent sense of satisfaction which only certain tedious and disgusting cleaning tasks can do, and I picked up steam. Somehow in zealously running the credit card along the bottom of the space bar, I disabled it. Ohnowhatismyhusbandtowhomthislaptopbelongsgoingtosay? I took a swig of cranberry green tea—that wondrous elixir of encouragement—and decided to pry the key off to “check it out.” Never mind that I did not know what I was checking out or what it should look like. But in five minutes after a successful Google search, I had FIXED it! I who am handicapped in the area of tools and handymanship beyond belief. The rubber cup in the middle of the key had detached from its place and was keeping the spacebar from fully depressing the things that make the computer make spaces. So I applied a small amount of glue from a generic glue stick, held it on for a minute, and let it rest an hour before reattaching the key (which I didn’t even need directions for, it was so simple). Hurray for a spacebar restored to health.

Also, a recipe for cranberry green tea. Makes about 5-6 servings, unless one’s husband guzzles half of it in one evening after working out.

1 can Old Orchard (not necessary to be brand loyal, but theirs is GOOD) 100% cranberry-raspberry juice concentrate
2 c. + 1 1/2 c. filtered cold water (separated)
5 bags green tea
1 Tbsp. honey (optional)

Heat 1 1/2 c. water to just under the boiling point (or around 190 degrees) in a small saucepan or kettle or whatever. Once there, steep the green tea bags in the hot water for 3 minutes. Discard bags and stir honey if desired into brewed tea.
Meanwhile, dump juice concentrate into a medium pitcher (this fills up maybe a quarter of our gallon-sized one). Pour in the 2 c. water, then the tea. Stir to combine. I’m sure there are many scrumptious variations that more creatively inclined readers may try, and they are required to share them with the recipe’s uncreative author.

P.S. Welcome to the Twilight Zone. I see you all have already gathered to congratulate me on my birthday…again…*screams*

I’m so glad Susan linked to her Etsy shop — I have been meaning to add it to the blogroll but have been so remiss online recently!  So just a note that it is there now (Susan, I hope to get an image for it soon :-).

I love Susan’s cards — they are my favorite stationery.  As correspondence is one of the accomplishments of every Jane Austen heroine, I highly recommend these products to all sensible ladies.

OK, I know it’s supposed to be a warm puppy, but I have a new kitten! I wish I had a digital camera to show her off. Actually she’s a very common looking black tabby kitty. We got her a couple of weeks before Christmas and I named her Matilda. She has a big M marking between her ears right on her forehead so she needed a name that started with an M. Rosy, our dog has shown that she has amazingly patient nature since this feisty little kitten came into our home. Matilada comes charging out of another room towards poor Rosy who will suddenly jump up, trying her best to avoid her. Rosy will even give up her warm place by the stove when Matilda moves in.

Matilda’s pregnant mother was dumped at my friend Becky’s house last summer. Becky has a big heart and didn’t want to take her to the pound so she started feeding her and all the kittens that followed. Matilda was the runt of the litter. She’s only half grown but Becky thinks that she may be full grown and said she’s older than she looks. She’s a slow eater so didn’t do very well competing for her food. While all the other kittens were eating food Becky poured out for them, Matilda stayed with us and rubbed against our ankles. I picked her up and she never stopped purring. I wondered what Bill would say about me bringing home a new kitten.

Thankfully, he didn’t say anything about taking her back to Becky’s. My idea was that she would be a barn cat. Becky told me that her mother taught them all to be good mousers. We kept her in our heated basement because it was so cold that night even though she’d been kept outdoors all her life. But then she didn’t have her other kittens to curl up with and she was all alone. We fixed her a bed in a box near the fire. We’ve been invaded by flying squirrels that have been running around the outside of our house at night. Bill was closing up all the places he could find where they might get in. Two even got in the house one night and we had to chase them out an open window with a broom. The kitty impressed us one night by killing one that got into the basement. It was half as big as she is. Now she’s moved in as part of the family. I think that she and Rosy might just end up being good friends.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m typing on a computer with keys set to the touch of a caveman. Wait… even throwing my body weight into each key stroke does not help. It seems that the only strategy is to type in a sort of slow, controlled manner, making sure that each letter appears on the screen when it should. Oterwise, the result is somthin like this–writng which maes it appear tht I am mssing sme teeh, and somebrain cell, as well.

Down to the business at hand… Spaghetti Squash.  What did the Indians call this? After all, they didn’t have spagheti. Something tells me this is a rather young plant, but whatever it’s age, it’s attraction is the way the insides peel out like spaghetti noodles. I’ve been eating it in various ways this last week. I’ve had it with butter, cinnamon and sugar; with butter and parmesan cheese; with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese; and in a sort of “goulash” dish. I can’t wait to try it as a substitute for spaghetti noodles with real meat sauce.

For anyone unfamiliar with this squash by name or appearance, it is yellow and rather football shaped (without the pointy ends and the laces). One cooks it by cutting it open lengthwise (another job for a caveman, since it’s outer shell is quite tough), removing the seeds (some people cook it with the seeds, I hear), and baking the halves face up on 42 for 30 – 40 minutes. Then, simply peel out both halves and add pretty much whatever you want. I cooked mine for 30 minutes last time, and it was still a bit crunchy.

Extra tip: Do not cook this and leave it lying about in your crawl space (a comment necessary so that I can post this under two categories).

P.S. I’ve been typing this so slowly that I think it also comes under the non-existent category of “self-control.”

The Lord bids each of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named these various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life. …
It is enough if we know that the Lord’s calling is in everything the beginning and foundation of well-doing. And if there is anyone who will not direct himself to it, he will never hold to the straight path in his duties. Perhaps, sometimes, he could contrive something laudable in appearance; but whatever it may be in the eyes of men, it will be rejected before God’s throne. … From this will arise also a singular consolation: that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.

— from Calvin’s Institutes Book III Chap. X

I feel like I can always use further insight, even particular directions, as to what my calling as a married woman entails. I hope that is not an unhealthy “law-thirstiness”: a desire to “discover” and adhere to man-made laws that go beyond Scripture, in order to build a case before God and man that I am especially righteous. I’ve never been guilty of that before, but there’s a first time for everything. *ahem* Of course, this question, which essentially boils down to, “How do I use my time and gifts as a married woman in the 21st century?”, arises much more readily for a woman without children, whose constant demands pretty well answer the question before it can be asked (assuming there is time and energy to ask it). But I am not the only childless married woman here or in the potential (hypothetical?) audience, and perhaps my questions and musings will help you too. I simply want to know better what it looks like for a married woman to “keep to her sentry post,” and what it looks like to stray—not to judge others but myself. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that this seems to be yet another matter of wisdom rather than law—“yet another” expressing my natural aversion to doing the work of praying for and getting wisdom. Reading a book or an article would be much easier.

From my limited historical studies (more like occasional observations; I do always invite correction), I gather that even into the 1950s, when it was not absolutely necessary that someone—whether the mistress of the home or a trusted servant—be at home ensuring that the family had food and clean clothes (and had clothes, for that matter), the average young woman was either active in her family’s home and community, in a school of some kind, or busy with some outside occupation (such as teaching) up to the point of marriage. At this point, she regarded herself as fully employed in homemaking. She typically quit her job if she had one and took up the very happy duties of managing a home for her best friend. Of course the feminists in the 60s called all this into question, arguing that this supposedly noble aspect of womanhood was rather demeaning; it imprisoned a woman in her house and her life revolved far too much around the man, the domineering, self-serving, pig of a man who perpetuated this unthinkable inequality. Why shouldn’t the woman have the recognized, fulfilling career, while the man stays home to keep house and watch the children (if they must exist)? Well, why not?

Do we not as Christians have to deal with the fact that Eve was created as a “helper suitable to the man”—that “the woman was made for the man, not the man for the woman”? That this suggests at the very least a certain orientation towards serving her husband that her husband is not obligated to reciprocate? Is not the married woman called by God, in the very sense in which Calvin speaks, to manage the home and serve her husband and children with all the gifts and strength she has been given (Titus 2, Proverbs 31)? A thousand qualifications come to mind: chiefly that a Christian woman is also to be of real assistance to the church (Romans 16, etc.), to her parents and older relatives (1 Timothy 5, etc.), and to non-church friends or neighbors in need (simply part of being a Christian, besides the many “proof-texts”). She is still a church member, daughter, friend, neighbor. But she does all this as a married woman, very often drawing from the resources that her husband has earned, serving such people on behalf of him. She does it with his blessing, and with his guidance and oversight as to the time and effort committed to these abundant opportunities.

With that much clear, then, one of the more practical questions I have is about the role of domesticity in my calling as a Christian wife and homemaker. There are the inevitable chores involved in managing any home, like laundry, paying bills, and cleaning the tub. Then, thanks to technology, there is the “discretionary time,” when chores have been done. (I am sorry, homeschooling moms or any moms of young children; it probably feels like they are never done for you, and as an aside I think that unmarried or even married childless women in the church should be ready and willing to offer themselves as help when that is overwhelmingly the case.) So if you don’t have children to watch and/or teach, you could either get a job to fill up your time, or find other ways to invest in the home beyond the necessary chores. Those are the only two options that I can see, other than idleness, which we will consider an invalid option for obvious reasons.

On the one hand, you have the ideal of domesticity a la Martha Stewart. You put effort into and learn skills pertaining to all manner of domestic comforts, for the enjoyment of family and friends. Martha Stewart herself is no paragon of biblical femininity, yet I think this sort of domesticity, in its place, is worthwhile and commendable. I love that it values domestic happiness and peace, at least in a superficial way. I love that it affirms, contra feministas, the inherent value of housework or homemaking done to this end. One of my favorite excerpts from an old housekeeping manual echoes this: “A bedroom, in a way, represents the girl or woman who occupies it and cares for it. If it has an atmosphere of order and simplicity and repose, it is beautiful and tells of a personality that dominates worldly things and is not confused by them. … Everyone has seen a bedroom so full of charm that she longs to know the person who is responsible for it.” Surely we do well to appropriate the spirit of this domesticity even if we have no natural gift or even inclination for crafting paper lanterns and painting intricate designs on them, after filling each with the scented soy votives that we made last week. On the patio overlooking our 3-acre garden and arboretum out back. Etc.

Yet in defense of women who are less than attracted even to a toned-down version of such domesticity, a wife is only called to obey God and please her husband as she manages the home. Period. If God hasn’t prescribed craft-making, hobby gardening, or the cultivation of mad pastry skills, and the woman’s husband has not expressed an earnest desire for any of these (can you imagine a husband with a fever for more crafts? sorry, strikes me as hilarious), then it is up to the woman to decide whether or not these would be profitable for her family. So what I am sure of is that changing and sometimes arbitrary standards of domestic skills are not to be equated with good homemaking. “Order and simplicity and repose” can be preserved in a home without a Martha Stewart at its head. (Certainly the simplicity bit might exclude a Martha Stewart from even applying. End of MS jokes.) But it does require someone in the home, with a clear sense of her responsibility to preserve that order.

I have too many thoughts on this subject to corral, and many of them are way too uncertain and ill-formed for public blog material. As was hinted earlier, I am finding that much more of the Christian life consists of matters of wisdom—as opposed to hard and fast rules—than my lazy and legalistic flesh would like. I want my life—my daily work—to reflect biblical principles and priorities, but I do not want to endorse or even hold myself to a certain standard of domesticity or “home-centeredness” as if it were divine law. Surely biblical femininity is much more complex: both more elastic and more rigid, more liberating and more difficult, than the world and our tricky hearts would have us think. Discuss amongst yourselves, if you even have time to read this rambling essay.

…but my husband doesn’t cook.

Within about a week, I:
– scattered the contents of a large cutting board (green bean ends/scraps) all over the floor;
– managed to procure a third-degree burn on my upper arm from contact with a just-turned-off glass stovetop burner (who forgets that a burner was on within two minutes of shutting it off oneself?);
– nearly burned the house down by spilling coffee grounds all over the very same burner while it was being used (on high) to boil water (though now our house smells like slightly over-roasted coffee beans—worse things could happen);
– scared the cat out of the room by opening a cupboard and causing a small avalanche of plastic measuring cups and coffee brewing instruments…

On the upside, amidst all this chaos I set my personal best record for drop biscuits. Yum.

Yesterday I posted about a/c and how humidity is such a burden for the unit. Today we shall learn about homemade dehumidifiers, a concept I had never thought of until Ruben googled it last night. A timely topic for the humid month of August.

In my five minute research into the topic, there appear to be two basic kinds of homemade dehumidifiers: one uses charcoal and coffee cans with holes poked in the lids and the other employs road salt (calcium chloride), cheesecloth, and plastic buckets. Since the second kind requires more things I don’t have, and probably a trip to a store I don’t normally go to, I think I’ll begin my own experiments with charcoal. An additional advantage to charcoal is that it is also a natural deodorizer. See further ways you can implement the dehumidifying/deodorizing properties of charcoal here.

The charcoal version is very simple: just put some charcoal in a container that has holes poked in the lid and place containers around areas that need dehumidifying.

The road salt version is a bit more obtrusive: you dump some road salt in cheesecloth, tie the cheesecloth off, hang it up somewhere, and put a bucket underneath for the moisture to drip into. No doubt Laura or anyone could incorporate this into home decor as ‘modern slaughterhouse’. “We wanted to create the homey illusion of slabs of raw meat hanging from the ceiling”. This is supposed to be very effective and gets rave reviews from the kind of people who know what ‘road salt’ is to begin with.

(Incidentally, someone mentioned putting the salt in a colander over a bucket — and he used a different kind of salt, rock salt I think — but he didn’t say how that worked out. However it’s a possible alternative to having to hang something.)

Our a/c maintenance man, who I like very much because he always compliments my housekeeping judging by how little dust is in our filters (this actually has far more to do with having wood floors and very few ‘dust traps’ as far as our furniture goes, but I am pleased to know that running a dust mop around irregularly is in God’s goodness, an effective means of dealing with this world’s dirt) came to repair a problem we had with our air conditioning last evening. After what felt like a thirty minute earthquake (mysterious in origin and explanation, as no one else seemed to experience it) our a/c started leaking water all over the floor yesterday. In the process of fixing this problem, whatever it was (my theory was a dislocated pipe from the extremely local but violent tremors) he explained to me the theory of air conditioning. I am a housewife of very unscientific brain, and I didn’t get it all. Nevertheless I found what I did understand extremely fascinating and quite useful.

1. At boiling point, water is both water and steam; and freezing point both water and ice. To overcome the surface tension of water at boiling point requires more energy than simply changing ice to steam (and vice versa). Somehow this ties into why the hardest thing the a/c is dealing with is not actually heat but humidity. (I found it incredibly wonderful as a mere fact, regardless of its relation to the a/c and humidity. Just imagine how much energy goes into raising water a tiny fraction of a degree next time you see steam coming out of your teapot. What a magnificent world, spinning in all this incredible strength that can just toss off enough steam for all the tea drinkers of the world daily. But I digress.)

2. Because of the humidity factor, and because your a/c is not simply cooling air which itself has very little ‘density’ (yes that is a word I quote verbatim) but is lowering the temperature of all the solid material in your home (including insulation), the a/c has to work much harder to effect a change in temperature than to keep temperature at a relatively stable degreeage (yes that is a word I just made up). It does *not* actually save you money to turn the a/c off during the day, to open windows (this lets in air that is of a different water saturation, not just a different temp), only to turn it on again when you get home in the evening and so on. The changing of temperature of solid material would also apply to a heater; and the water consideration would also apply, if I understand correctly, to at least some gas heaters (or heaters that use gas in some way — this part was a little beyond me: but water and steam are involved in there somewhere).

3. Not only does it make a great deal of work for the a/c, heat, and so on to wildly fluctuate the temp, without saving money — it can cause more mold than if you just always left the windows open, or always ran the heat/air. Because again, the heat/air are doing something with sudden large amounts of water when you suddenly kick them on.

The moral of the story is, that It would be better to turn the air or heat up or down in a not too drastic manner, and at least so far as the a/c is concerned, be careful about letting humidity into your home on a regular basis if you want to save $$ on the electricity bill.

One of the reasons I am happy to be a “full-time” wife and homemaker is because I have the time to indulge my super-organizational side. I know organization can be an obsession, but I assure you I am only slightly, harmlessly obsessed. Right now I am creating a spreadsheet with all the recipes in all the Cook’s Illustrated and other cooking magazines that I have–which, thankfully, is not too many, but there is a surprising number of recipes hidden in the pages of these issues. This way, if I want a reputable recipe for something I’d like to make, I have a searchable database of what’s on hand—I don’t have to go sifting through dubious internet recipes (I’ve wasted a little too much time and money already going off of recipes published without review or good editing) or sit down and look through all my magazines in search of something that will work. I also don’t have to bother cutting out or copying the recipes I try and want to put into the menu rotation; I’ll know where they are just as I would if they were in my recipe binder (which is probably next up on the organization project schedule . . . I have to weed through recipes that no longer appeal or failed their entry test about every year).

Besides an unfinished cat toy I am knitting (on double-pointed needles!!), I have a few (too many) Martha Stewart-type projects started, but at the top of the list is learning to make botanical prints (an idea from MS herself). I can’t even draw stick figures gracefully, but I can color within the lines, and that’s about all this sort of artwork requires. It has my name written all over it: plants and flowers, tracing with colored pencils which I already have, onto tissue paper which I already have (discretionary spending needs to be cut back after some other little projects I decided to undertake all at once, so. . .). I’ll pass on the details to whoever’s interested, as it doesn’t appear to be on the MS website.

My mom had the perhaps not-so-bright idea, bless her heart, of dropping off her 1980s sewing machine (with manual) for me to learn how to use. I have made a couple of simple things with her help before, as recently as a year ago, but it’s taking me a while to poke through the manual and refresh myself on how everything works. In the meantime I might have messed up the chamber for the bobbin; I started threading the bobbin while the chamber was still open, and as the needle went down it knocked two pieces (not including the shuttle, which I somewhat know how to operate) out of the chamber. I put them back in in a way that made sense and am standing by until I can ask my mom what just happened.

And finally, I have added Southern Savers to the top of my weekly coupon and savings roundup. She does deal lists for various regional grocery chains, matching sales not just with coupons in the Sunday paper but with printables, those found in mail-outs and booklets at the front of the store (which she names and tells you how to find), etc. The “Extreme Couponer” series is a must-read as well. I especially loved the more whimsical (most contain practical advice) cashier profiling post: avoid middle-aged women, they tend to be grouchy and don’t want to mess with your stupid coupons; go for any age male who can appreciate a frugal woman, or apathetic teenagers who will just manually override any problems rather than dealing with an assertive customer. :D

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