Category Archives: Home and Garden

Thoughts on Cleaning

I find it very soothing to read organizing and housekeeping related books. I’ve read many over the years. One of my favorites is Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. I suspect I like it for the same reason Constance Grady relates in Why a manual by a control freak is the best thing to read when the world is out of control. My main regret is there isn’t an audio version available. Though, at 896 pages long, I can’t even guess how many hours that would take. As a result, the book I currently listen to the most is One Year to an Organized Life by Regina Leeds.

I particularly like listening to these type of books while I’m cleaning house. One day while browsing the library audiobooks I stumbled across How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis. This book is radically different from the ones I usually read. The book gives permission to do the bare minimum you need in order to have a house that is safe and comfortable for your needs. While it is very different from how I usually think about cleaning, the concepts discussed really caught my attention. I bought both the audiobook and ebook versions so I could listen and review again as often as I wanted1.

I am definitely happiest when everything in my house is perfectly clean and everything is in its place. This will probably come as a shock to Jaeger as early on in our marriage we had to have a discussion of what “clean” means. To me, clean means there is no dirt but for Jaeger it means there isn’t stuff laying around. So he would be upset about how dirty the house was and I would be very confused because the toilets had been bleached, the mirrors sprayed, and the furniture dusted even while our stuff lay around the house. However, when I pickup things, everything has to be picked up2. I lean towards an all or nothing approach when it comes to clutter.

While few things make me happier than sitting down to read in the evening in a perfectly clean and organized house, it’s not something I realistically have the time for if I want or need to do anything else. In my ideal world, I’d have a three day weekend that consists of:

  1. A rest day
  2. A house project day (paying bills, installing shades, organizing cupboards, etc) and
  3. A cleaning day

Sadly, I do not regularly get three day weekends. I almost never get three day weekends where I don’t have to account for how the rest of the family is occupying themselves.

These days even though it feels like I should have enough time to fully clean our house on Sunday, I don’t. At least, I don’t for the way I’d prefer to clean the house (in strict top to bottom order starting with the master bathroom and ending in the kitchen). This is true even though Calvin is responsible for the kids’ bathroom, our half bathroom, and the family room and Jaeger is responsible for all the floors3.

So, back to How to Keep House While Drowning. Since first listening to it, I’ve started tinkering more with my house cleaning routine. When I have a limited amount of time to clean, I try to focus more on what will have the most impact rather than going sequentially through my checklist. This is a hard shift for me but I’m slowly getting better at it. When I enter the bathroom I now ask myself what will make me happiest to have clean. While theoretically I would like to cobweb dust the ceiling every time, unless I actually see cobwebs, it’s usually not worth my time. On the other hand, the toilet and shower are two areas I want to clean every time4. My priorities in the bathroom are pretty consistent but I tend to have less consistency in the kitchen. One week I might really want to clean all the finger prints off the stainless steel appliances whereas another weekend I might choose to deep clean the sink5. The living room . . . well, it hasn’t been dusted in a while.

I feel this is a more balanced way to approach cleaning and, while it’s not prefect, I think it’s a reasonable approach for now. My Sundays still feel too full but when I sit down in the evening I feel better about the overall results.

  1. In completionist mode, I also want the physical book but I haven’t decided yet if I’m actually going to buy it
  2. This mirrors how I cleaned as a kid also. My room would gradually get extremely messy and every so often I’d stay up all night cleaning and it would be absolutely prefect for a couple of hours.
  3. An alternative option, which I have used sometimes in the past, is to hire house cleaners. However, I find managing everything that goes with hiring house cleaners to be even more stressful than cleaning myself. As Davis notes, another favorite suggestion people have is to clean while you go or to clean a little bit every day. This doesn’t work at all for me so I found the part where she talked about how it also doesn’t work for her to be very validating.
  4. Normally the shower wouldn’t be so high on my list except for some reason this shower starts growing mildew at an astonishing rate. Also, for the record, I really, really hate clear glass shower doors.
  5. Another hate I’ve developed is for built-in Corian sinks. Yes, there’s no annoying caulk lines to clean around and I do like that. However, our current off-white sink stains at an unbelievable rate. The only way I’ve found to deal with it is to take baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and leave it to soak for hours and even then it doesn’t always work.


5/30/2023 Update:
Jaeger and Calvin and now both testing positive for COVID. So, we gave isolation a shot but clearly didn’t do it quick enough. I guess that goes under lessons learned.

Of the houses we’ve owned, our current one is one of my favorites (probably a toss-up with our Gunbarrel house). However, there’s one feature that has always baffled us. On the ground floor of our house there is a 4th bedroom with an en suite bathroom1. For some reason, this en suite bathroom has an exterior door that takes you to the side of the house. It’s not near the garage or laundry room and isn’t particularly near to where one would put a hot tub. Till this weekend, we could never figure out what you’d use the door for.

Partital view of the bathroom from the bedroom. There is an exterior glass door in the bothroom with a shade covering the window.

Unfortunately, this weekend Julian and I contracted COVID for the first time since the pandemic started. Jaeger and Calvin were both testing negative so we decided that Julian and I should try to isolate. After some thought, we concluded the ground floor bedroom was our best option. It’s primarily Jaeger’s office but doubles as our exercise and guest bedroom. We have a sleeper sofa and the room is big enough we could bring in Julian’s mattress.

Current bedroom setup. The bed part of the sofa has been setup. To the left, on the floor, is Julian's mattress which he is sitting on with his back to the camera. At the foot of the sofa bed is an office desk with two  monitors.  On the opposite bed from the camera is a white dresser with plants sitting on top.

We moved one of our air purifiers right next to the interior door 2 and are keeping the interior door closed. Julian and I enter and exit the room exclusively via the exterior door. I am still going into the main part of the house, primarily the kitchen, but for limited amounts of time and fully masked. We’re taking all our meals outside. The sky has been pretty gray but surprisingly warm.

Outside patio.  There is a square outdoor dining table with two chairs. Julian is in one with his back to us.  Several feet away is a green card table with another two chairs. Jaeger is sitting at this table with his back to us reading his phone. Julian is eating pizza and on that table is also a mug, a book, and a Kleenex box. Underneath the table is a trashcan. On the green card table is another mug.

One of the things this experience is emphasizing to me is how much we underutilized our outdoor spaces. I like interior design so I’ve thought a lot about how various spaces in the house are used and what we can do to optimize their utility. However, I still haven’t figured out how to encourage use of our outdoor spaces. I think if I came up with a plan I could keep an eye out on Craigslist for good furniture. I just haven’t come up with a plan yet.

Overall, we have a pretty nice setup and Julian is loving getting unlimited screen time. Rio seems to be the most unhappy about the whole situation. We discovered when my parents came over that she doesn’t like strangers at all. She mostly stayed upstairs for the brief time they were here and even when she did venture downstairs, she’d run away the instant she saw either of them. After they left, she had one normal night and then Julian and I moved downstairs. She clearly did not approve and spent a significant amount of the night meowing at our door. While the rest of us eat outside, Rio sits by the sliding glass door and mournfully watches us.

Rio, our black cat, sitting on top of a white bookcase filled with cookbooks and surrounded by plants.

I had a really bad cold about a month ago, probably brought home by Julian, which caused me to miss almost a week of work so I’m tired of being sick. However, so far I’m doing pretty well. I’m on Paxlovid and have the weird metallic taste side effect but none of the others3. Yesterday I wasn’t feeling great but still had enough energy to read a couple of books. Today my physical energy is a bit lower than normal, and I have a fair amount of coughing and runny nose, but I think my brain is back to functioning. At the moment, I think I’ll be working tomorrow.

One of the advantages of remote work is, as long as I’m feeling ok, I can work while sick without infecting anyone else. Today Jaeger and I swapped our office setup, with the exception of the monitors and desks, so we’re ready for tomorrow. I have four meetings tomorrow, which isn’t ideal with a kid in the same room, but I expect Minecraft will keep Julian suitably entertained. I’ll also have a great view.

Small three-tiered water fountain in front of a hedge surronded by outdoor plants including a very young persimmon tree and some California poppies.

A little to my surprise, our precautions appear to have paid off, at least so far4. Neither Jaeger nor Calvin have any COVID symptoms and Jaeger just tested negative again today.

  1. According to the permits, this bed/bath is one year newer than the rest of the house.
  2. We own four Winix 5300-2 Air Purifier purchased back in 2019 for wildfire season and I have never regretted their purchase. Normally, we have them running in auto mode but right now all of them are running at full blast in addition to having windows open during the warmer parts of the day.
  3. It turns out a piece of dark chocolate helps mask it.
  4. As a typical teenager, Calvin mainly lives in his room so probably had the least amount of exposure. However, Jaeger slept right next to me the night before I tested positive.

Hot Chocolate Tasting

My favorite winter activity is to sit in front of the fire with a book and a cup of hot chocolate. Which hot chocolate I choose depends a bit on my mood. However, several weeks ago I decided I should taste all the hot chocolate I had in the house and take notes about which I liked best. Calvin enthusiastically signed up to this idea and Julian seemed uncertain but intrigued. Jaeger clearly couldn’t figure out the big fuss but started the tasting with us.

I printed up little cards where everyone could take notes about how many stars they gave each hot chocolate and any comments. We ended up with eight different kinds of hot chocolate which, in retrospect, was too many. Each tasting was about 1/4 cup. Jaeger gave up after four but the rest of us persevered through the full eight.

Our results (out of 5 stars)1:

Hot Chocolate Kiesa Calvis Julian Average
Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 4.75 5.00 4.58
Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Recipe 4.50 4.50 2.50 3.83
Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 3.25 3.50 3.48
Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix 4.00 3.75 2.00 3.25
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate 4.50 5.00 0.00 3.17
Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate 4.50 4.00 0.00 2.83
LaMonarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano 3.50 2.50 1.50 2.50
Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate 5.00 3.50 -1.00 2.50

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
This is a very safe hot chocolate that everyone enjoyed. Up until our tasting, I thought it was my favorite. However, I usually drink it with a cinnamon stick and for the tasting I had it plain. When it’s completely plain I found it a little boring.

Hershey’s Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is a recipe in the 1984 Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury cookbook. It’s made with 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, 2 tbs hot water, 1/4 cup sugar, dash of salt, 2 cups warm milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla.

Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix
These are individual hot chocolate packets that I got for camping several years ago. I was a bit surprised how well it ended up rated. It’s probably the cheapest hot chocolate on the list.

Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix
This is the hot chocolate I usually serve for breakfast. Many years ago my high school Spanish teacher brought in hot chocolate as a special treat. The teacher was bemused by how much our class loved it. This hot chocolate kind of reminds me of that, though it’s not quite as good as my memories. (I’m pretty sure my teacher made hers from scratch.)

Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is Calvin’s favorite hot chocolate. To make it, you take a liquid measuring cup and pour in chocolate chips to the 1/4-1/3 cup marker. Then, add milk to the 1 cup line. Microwave for about 1:30 and then stir till it’s all mixed together. It’s extremely rich.

Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate
This one also comes in individual packets. However, it doesn’t work as well for camping as it really requires milk to make it taste good. That said, with milk, it’s a decent, fairly dark, hot chocolate.

La Monarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano
I bought this hot chocolate when I was looking for an upscale version of the Abuelta brand. We all agreed the flavor was great. However, it was very gritty. My hypothesis is it has a great flavor because of the cinnamon, which perhaps is not as finely ground as we prefer.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate
When by itself, this was my favorite hot chocolate. However, Julian’s -1 rating pulled this all the way down to the bottom of our list. It looks like I can safely hoard it for myself without anyone else complaining.

Sample comment cards:
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Calvis the Bold Comments: -rich -thick-excellent -evil (amazingly so)

Guirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Julian Comments: 5 for taste 5 for coldness. Written on the left side in pencil it says 'best'.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Gem Comments: Dark Good Fairly Rich

  1. Jaeger left comments but no ratings.

Houses and Mortgages

Within the last 18 years I have owned 5 houses in three different states1. Watching mortgage rates increase so dramatically got me to thinking about our past mortgages.

We bought our first house because I couldn’t find an apartment I liked. At the time, we lived in Louisville in a 2-bedroom apartment that had an efficient layout and was an easy distance from almost everything except my new job which was an hour away in good traffic. We looked at a map and determined that Longmont would be a better base location, still relatively close to Boulder but also 20 minutes closer to my library. However, all the apartments I looked at wasted a lot of the square footage on hallways instead of living space.

Somewhat on a whim, I started looking to see if we could buy a house instead of rent. This being 2004, before the housing crash, the answer was yes even though I had been working for less than a year, Jaeger’s company was financially shaky2, and we had no down payment. We were also considerably more naive than now. I don’t remember if we were “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved”, probably the former, but in any case, we started looking at houses. It took a while to find a house we liked and the buyer agreed to our offer. This was back in the dark ages when only some of the houses had online photos and those you had to get through a broker’s special website. However, eventually we found a very nice 3-bedroom house that had a tiny yard but backed up to a green area that kept our house from immediately backing up to the house behind us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the house also required the least amount of maintenance of any house since. Fortunately for us given we had no extra cash to spare.

We found the house but had no down payment so needed to figure out how to buy it. I remember sitting in the mortgage broker’s office, the first and last time I ever did that in person, and him trying to convince me we should get a 3-year ARM. I do not like uncertainty and didn’t want an ARM but I don’t recall being given the option of a fixed rate mortgage. I countered with a 7-year ARM, which is what I thought we had agreed on. However, this was back in the day before home buyers automatically saw documents prior to signing. When we got to the signing, which in Colorado involves the buyers and sellers being together in the same room, the escrow officer asked if we had seen our loan docs ahead of time and we said no. She looked at us in moderate consternation and proceeded to quickly summarize everything. It was at this point I learned that we didn’t have a 7-year ARM, we had a 5-year ARM. It turned out that we also applied for a home equity line of credit which took care of our 20% down payment3. I was a bit perturbed but the signing felt like it was too late to back out so we signed4.

In any case, we did buy the house and it was really exceptional to have our own home that allowed me to make changes whenever I wanted. We got our first house bills and the main mortgage amount seemed right but the second mortgage payment seemed way too small for the amount of money we had borrowed. I got out our loan docs and read through them carefully. With dawning horror I finally realized that our home equity line of credit was a 10-year, interest-only loan, that never paid down the principal amount and the interest rate adjusted monthly. Fortunately, I’m good at math. I created an amortization chart to estimate how much extra we’d need to pay each month to pay the loan off in 10 years. Almost every month the interest rate on the second mortgage increased. It started at an introductory rate of 4.00% and after 6 months jumped to 7.00% and after a year was about 8.50%. At about the one-year mark I finally investigated other options and we refinanced it into a 5-year home equity loan at 8.299% which we paid off several years early. We eventually refinanced our original ARM, with a five-year rate of 6.125%, to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage with a rate of 4.25% (though we did pay points for it).

After Calvin was born my boss agreed to let me work from home instead of commuting to Greeley every day. When Calvin was about three, Jaeger convinced me that we should move closer to his job, since I no longer had any commute. I didn’t really want to leave our first house, it met all my needs and was feasible to pay off within a relatively short amount of time. However, I had to admit that the commute wasn’t fair. Thus, we listed our house for sale and started looking closer to Jaeger’s work.

However, this was in 2012 and the housing bubble had definitely burst. While housing had recovered a bit, I knew our house wouldn’t be easy to sell. While we had a realtor helping us, I also read several excellent books about selling houses: Seven Steps to Sold, How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market, and Home Staging that Works5. The home staging book, in particular, made a significant impression on me. We didn’t hire a professional stager but I did follow the staging recommendations scrupulously. While showing our house to potential buyers, we were also looking at houses in the Boulder area.

Eventually, we found a house we liked and put an offer in on it, even though we didn’t have a seller for our old house yet. Fortunately, a couple did put in an offer on our house that we chose to accept. We sold the house for about 7% less than what we had bought it for. However, the low housing prices probably benefited us in the long run as Boulder houses were also cheaper to buy. We had a slightly better idea what we were doing with our second house. Among other things, we had a down payment from paying down the principal on our first house, and we saw the loan docs ahead of time. This time we got a 5-year ARM with an interest rate of 2.75%. I still didn’t love having an ARM but at that time the fixed interest rates were significantly higher and running the various amortization charts it was obvious that the ARM was a better option.

The Boulder house turned out to be one of my favorite houses. However, when Jaeger got laid off and then offered a job at Google in San Francisco, we sold our house and moved again. With our second house we got really lucky and sold it for 42% more than we had bought it. This is the only reason we were able to buy a house in San Francisco. Yes, Jaeger’s stock helped but we still wouldn’t have had the down payment without the sale from our Boulder house6. We rented in San Francisco for almost a year before deciding to buy.

In many ways, house hunting in San Francisco was more fun than anywhere else because of how ubiquitous the open houses were. I spent many fun weekends walking from house to house without having to go to the trouble of making an appointment ahead of time. Also, San Francisco has some truly weird houses. I still remember the basement that obviously had been an illegal apartment and they made it legal by pulling out the walls but leaving the floor footprint so you could see how the rooms use to be laid out. Eventually, we found a house that met both our needs and our budget. That house we bought with a 7-year ARM with an interest rate of 3.5%. We weren’t sure how long we planned to stay in San Francisco which is why we went with the ARM option again.

San Francisco wasn’t working for me, for various reasons, and I got offered a great job up in Seattle so we moved up there. We owned our San Francisco house less than 2 years so I wasn’t entirely sure we would break even. However, we lucked out and sold it for 16% more than we bought it for. In retrospect, I think the buyer might have overpaid because we’ve been keeping an eye on the house and it didn’t appreciate much when it was sold 3 years later.

In Seattle, we lived in a temporary rental for several months which, in retrospect, I think was a mistake because there was too much pressure to buy a house quickly. Though, there weren’t a lot of longer term rentals that would fit our family’s needs. Jaeger and I also had trouble agreeing on a house but we eventually found a house that was good enough. We got another 7-year ARM, at 4.125%, because we felt there was a decent chance we’d leave Seattle in 5 years. This was the first house we owned that required major repairs. The roof started leaking even before we moved in7. However, this was the house where I really learned that I like quirky better than shiny. Even with it’s flaws, I liked it better than our San Francisco house. Also, the house came with an insane number of roses in the front which, at first, overwhelmed me but I now miss.

Seattle wasn’t working for Jaeger, for various reasons, so we decided to move back down to California. We made this decision about a month prior to the pandemic starting but I wanted to stick around till I had worked a full two years at that library. By the time we were ready to sell, it was the summer of 2020. Not the best time to sell, even though I believe the market picked up later. This was another house we sold for loss, about 8% less than we bought it. However, we lost more money because the new roof was a significant expense and we had also spent money on the master bath8.

Exactly where to move to in California was a matter of debate. I didn’t want to deal with the stress of living in a large city on top of my disappointment in leaving my Seattle job. Jaeger found a rental in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was glorious and provided exactly the life I wanted for my kids. However, it was a bit too remote for Jaeger. So, when we started looking to buy again, we ended up gravitating towards a house closer to Santa Cruz.

At this point we were still in the middle of the pandemic except housing had picked up significantly, even in most cities. This was the oddest house buying experience I’ve had. Competition was probably fiercer than what we had previously experienced in Seattle and San Francisco. Twice we found houses which were no longer available by the weekend. Once we went on a house tour where the buyer’s agent insisted on joining us due to COVID reasons, I guess to keep our germs from touching the owner’s property, and spent the whole tour with a drooping mask crowding us in a clearly unsafe manner. Fortunately, that house didn’t speak to us so we didn’t have to deal with that agent again.

One weekend I needed to get out of the house so I drove down to check out a City of Santa Cruz park with redwoods. It was a lovely trail and reminded me a lot of wandering around the woods when I was growing up, though with significantly fewer blackberry brambles to get scratched by. The park happened to be relatively near a house for sale so I left my car at the park and walked up the hill to the house, just to see the outside. The outside didn’t offend me and I really liked the idea of being close enough to walk to real trees9. The inside pictures looked decent so we scheduled time to see the house.

The house was large and quirky, so it met many of our requirements. We put in an offer but were outbid. I was disappointed but really didn’t want to pay more than I felt the house was worth and so moved on. That is, until our realtor contacted us about a week later asking if we were still interested. It turns out the other buyers were getting cold feet and/or were asking for more concessions than the seller wanted to give so we got the house after all. This was when interest rates were still at historic lows and so we bought this house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and an interest rate of 3.25%. I really like this house and hope we are finally done moving and can stay here for a long time, especially given our low fixed interest rate.

Looking back, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to buying houses. Our first house buying experience could have ended very badly if we hadn’t understood the terms of the loans or if we were just unlucky and lost our jobs early on before we’d built up any significant savings. However, it didn’t end badly and is one of the reasons we can buy nice houses in California. For our most recent house, if we bought now, we’d probably be paying an additional 40% a month in housing costs, mainly due to the interest rate increase10.

Again, we’re really lucky.

  1. If we include rentals, I have lived in 9 homes in 18 years.
  2. This was in the era where Jaeger was occasionally given paychecks that he was asked not to cash till several days in the future.
  3. On the upside, this also kept us from paying mortgage insurance. Though, I’ve wondered since how our broker managed that. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can get out of mortgage insurance just by adding more debt.
  4. These days I would have definitely backed out but these days I would have insisted on seeing the docs ahead of time anyway.
  5. Note, I love these books but they are quite old at this point and some of the information is dated.
  6. This is one reason I feel really bad for tech people who started in California. Yes, they have good salaries but it’s still really hard to save enough for the insane housing prices we have out here.
  7. Don’t buy a flat roof in the northwest even if the view is great. I knew better but I was so desperate to agree on a house at that point that I compromised where I shouldn’t have. Also, the inspector had pointed out potential roof problems, we just didn’t realize it was actively leaking as we bought in summer.
  8. Though, much of that labor was provided by Jaeger.
  9. A tree is not real unless it’s thick enough you can’t put your arms around it.
  10. This is assuming a 30-year jumbo mortgage with a rate of 5.625%, which is probably on the low side, and looking at Zillow’s Zestimate range and choosing the lowest number given we are in a cooling housing market.

Office Upgrade

We have been living in our current house for over a year. I think it’s on its way to being my favorite house. This is a relief as we’re hoping not to move again for at least another decade. I started with a solid layout plan prior to moving in. However, the longer we live in this house, the better feel we have for our needs. As such, we’ve been making incremental changes.

My office is one area that’s been going through regular small adjustments. The major components of my preliminary SketchUp plan mostly worked.
Sunroom layout. Desk on right side in front of windows. Seating area on left side with purple chair and end table. The room is long but relatively narrow so I chopped it up into two areas: an office area and a seating area.

We never got the plant stand I was originally envisioning but I’m not sure it really would have fit well anyway. We do have a coffee tree, curry leaf plant, and mint plant in the sunroom. While the three plants live in my office, Jaeger takes care of all of them. I kill plants but Jaeger clearly has a green thumb. He keeps acquiring more plants and they all seem to love him.

View of the sunroom office from the bedroom door. Can see old desk and chair as far well sitting area.

Sunroom with old desk.

I wanted blinds for the windows but the people I talked to said the skylight frame wasn’t deep enough. So I went for regular curtains for the vertical windows and foam core board, as needed, for the skylights.

I also ended up adding a tall, but narrow, bookcase next to the hallway door that contains office supplies and my romance books.

View of the sunroom office from the far corner. Can see old desk and chair as well as bookcase and hall doorway.

Sunroom with old desk and bookcase.

However, the most expensive upgrade I made just a couple of weeks ago. I finally bought an Uplift desk, similar to Jaeger’s and a desk treadmill.

We’ve recently switched up our evening schedule to include Julian in family TV time. Up to this point, I’d finish the dishes and then try to go for a walk or use my old treadmill prior to watching TV with Jaeger and Calvin at 8:00pm. However, to include Julian, we needed to move TV time to 7:00pm. I was having a really hard time trying motivating myself to do any level of exercise after watching TV. I do usually go for a walk during lunch but that doesn’t always work for my schedule and, in any case, it’s not a particularly long walk. Of course, there’s the option of getting up earlier but I’ve really been enjoying not having to get up till 7:00am.

In any case, I started mulling the conundrum around in my head trying to think of solutions. Back in 2013 I bought a cheap treadmill and used existing materials in my house to create a treadmill desk. This worked surprising well and, as an even bigger surprise, the treadmill still works and has survived five moves. It’s not in the best of condition but it still works. However, it’s currently in the downstairs bedroom, which Jaeger uses as an office, and wouldn’t easily fit in my office. I didn’t want to trade offices with Jaeger and I believe the feeling is mutual. So, I figured I’d see what’s available on Craigsilst. Craigslist did have desk treadmills for sale. Though, they felt kind of expensive for Craigslist. On a whim, I looked on Amazon to see what an official desk treadmill cost and was surprised by how cheap they were. Back in 2013, you couldn’t get a treadmill desk for under $1,000. To be fair, I think the good ones still cost over $1,000. However, I wanted to prototype the idea before spending a lot of money on it.

That said, a desk treadmill also requires an adjustable desk because I didn’t want to end up with two desk areas again. I’ve become too attached to having two large external monitors. I was less hesitant to spend money on an adjustable desk. Jaeger has had his Uplift desk for over a year and still likes it. I really like the memory options to automatically raise and lower the desk to predefined heights. So, once I figured out exactly what options I wanted, the desk was pretty easy to order.

The treadmill took more thought. There’s now quite a few cheap desk treadmills available but all of them had a decent number of reviews complaining that the treadmill broke in less than a year. After waffling for a bit, I decided that this treadmill was good enough.

Both the treadmill and the desk arrived fairly quickly. The treadmill didn’t require any setup which was lovely1. The desk took a lot longer but it wasn’t hard, just a little tedious.

So far, both the desk and the treadmill are working out great. I store the treadmill under my bed when I’m not using it. First thing in the morning I’ll pull out the treadmill and walk on it for an hour or two, depending on my meeting schedule. The fastest the treadmill will go in the desk treadmill configuration is 2.5 mph. I’d like it to go a little faster but it’s adequate to create a light sweat. At a minimum, I’m burning more calories than sitting at the desk. To my surprise, I can actually work while walking. I originally thought I’d mainly use it when reading email or other documents. However, it turns out I can also comfortable type while walking. Ten minutes before my first meeting, or after 2 hours if my morning is miraculously meeting free, I stop walking and store the treadmill back under the bed. It’s a minor pain to move it every day but I like having it completely out of the way when I’m sitting at the desk.

Sunroom office with desk lowered to sitting height. Desk chair is in front of desk.

New desk in sitting position.

Sunroom office with desk raised to use with treadmill. Treadmill is in front of desk with chair off to the side.

New desk in treadmill position.

So far I’ve only used the desk once to stand, but not walk. That was an after lunch meeting where I figured standing might help me stay awake. Though, I think I fidget too much when standing.

At the moment, this looks like it’s going to be a nice long-term solution. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do if/when this treadmill breaks. Now that I’ve confirmed the concept is working for me, I’d be willing to pay more for a better quality treadmill. However, from what I’ve seen, the more expensive treadmills are also longer. They may not fit with my current office configuration, which I could change but would rather not, and they’re also heavier so may be hard to store out of the way. Hopefully, this treadmill will end up with an unexpectedly long life, similar to my first treadmill, so I won’t have to figure it out for a long time.

  1. I’ve put together and taken apart my old treadmill numerous times and it’s always a huge pain and I always end up with mysterious left over screws.

Oven Repair

I’ve always dreamed of having a double oven. Granted, most of the time one oven is perfectly fine. However, every so often it’s really convenient to have the ability to either bake more things at the same time or to bake multiple things at different temperatures. Thus, I was really excited when we bought this house to finally have two ovens. One is a wall oven that is part of a microwave/warming drawer/oven combo and the other oven is part of a range.

After some experimenting, I determined that I preferred using the wall oven most of the time. The wall oven’s temperature was more consistent and it’s also nice to not have to bend when pulling things out of the oven. So, except when I needed a second oven, I used the range’s oven primarily for storage of my cast iron cookware.

For Jaeger’s 2021 birthday I baked a cake in the wall oven and it turned out beautifully. Then, immediately afterward, I put the Garbanzo Pot Pie into the oven and, 30 minutes later, discovered my oven no longer baked. Not fun but I really appreciate it waited to die till after the cake had finished.

Unfortunately, the wall oven is a Thermador and I discovered there weren’t any Thermador technicians on this side of the mountain. I did find someone over in San Jose willing to come out but he was booked out till late October. Fortunately, we had the range oven so this was mildly annoying but not especially inconvenient1.

The oven repair person came out at the end of October and told me that the element was fine which meant that the control board was probably dead. Unfortunately, Thermador doesn’t make the control board for this model anymore. So, my best bet was to pull out the control board and send it to a company that specializes in fixing oven circuit boards. I asked for a recommendation and he told me to just Google for it and something would pop up. This didn’t inspire a lot of confidence as many things pop up on the internet when one searches for random things, including scams. I did do some initial searching and confirmed that this was a thing that people do. However, it seemed like a lot of work and we did still have one working oven.

Jaeger and I alternate major holidays with our families. This year is Thanksgiving with the Logans. After some discussion, everyone decided to meet at our house. Given Thanksgiving is one of the times when having a double oven would be particularly useful, I started thinking about trying to get ours fixed. Except, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until the microwave died.

The microwave is integrated into the oven system. Originally, it was a Thermador microwave but at some point it had been replaced with an LG microwave. One day Jaeger was microwaving something in the microwave and there was a loud pop. We don’t know exactly what happened but after that the microwave no longer heated anything. Unhelpfully, it would go through all the motions without providing any error message.

Unlike the oven, we did not have a backup microwave. To make things worse, our counter space is limited and doesn’t have room for a counter microwave. Jaeger poked around and discovered that the trim around the microwave came off and he could pull the microwave out without an excessive amount of effort.

Given both the microwave and oven were no longer working, I contemplated just buying a new wall oven. However, wall ovens, at least fancy ones like we have, don’t appear to come in standard sizes. I also learned that the equivalent Thermador oven, now a “triple oven“, would cost around $10,000. I could switch to a different brand but I couldn’t find one that looked like it would fit the current space in our wall. There are companies that will take a wall oven and customize the wall niche so it fits the new oven. However, I couldn’t imagine that would end up particularly cheap either.

We decided to fix the immediate problem, no microwave, and continue to procrastinate on the oven. Then I learned that the space provided for the microwave is a bit small by today’s standards. None of the official built-in microwaves I found were the right size. Eventually, I discovered there was an equivalent LG microwave to our old one that, while technically a countertop model, had a trim kit option to convert it to a built-in. I didn’t love the buttons2. However, at this point it was obvious it was our only option.

We got the microwave oven and confirmed it fit. However, the old microwave had metal pieces screwed, and duck taped, on in order to make it fit the Thermador space. We’d need to transfer the metal to the new microwave before we could install it back into the oven system. I started taking pictures of how the metal fit together, so I’d be able to recreate it on the new microwave. However, after I finished taking pictures I decided that since we already had part of the oven system taken apart, I should at least evaluate the difficulty of dealing with the control board.

I found a website, that claimed to be able to rebuild boards for our oven model. However, their website said that if we had a low heat problem, we should send in the relay board also. I sighed, and found a video on extracting the relay board. This video was for a double oven but the process is essentially the same except all four anchor screws are in the single oven and I blessedly also only had one relay board to extract.

Closeup of brightly colored wires plugged into circuit board.At first, I was hoping I could just take off the front panel and get everything from there. However, it quickly became apparently I was going to need to pull the entire oven system out about a foot in order to get to the top screws. For me, my essential tools were my camera phone, needle nosed pliers, and a step ladder. I turned off the two oven circuit breakers, took many pictures to document everything as thoroughly as possible, and started pulling all the wires out of the boards. It was quite a project and ended up taking longer than I expected. However, at length, I had both the control and relay boards disconnected from the oven.
Labeled plastic bags with screws.

As required, I prepaid for the service, hoping desperately it wasn’t a scam, and then mailed the company the oven boards. It arrived at their facility on September 26 and they shipped it off on September 27. It arrived back at our house on Saturday, October 1. While it was nice to have back, it also meant I needed to find time to try install the boards back into the oven.

New microwave sitting in mircowave slot with extension cord hanging out.

Here is how we used the microwave while waiting for the oven boards to come back.

Oven system pulled out about a foot from the wall.

Pulling the oven away from the wall to access the top.

Loose wires haphazardly arranged on top of the oven frame.Sunday afternoon, when I should have been cleaning, I decided to tackle the oven. It turns out that putting the wires back on is substantially easier than taking them off. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I expected. For the most part, I had taken enough pictures for me to recreate where the wires went. However, I wasn’t quite detailed enough in some of the early pictures so I also ended up looking at the oven circuit diagram to double check a few of the wire placements.

Relay circuit board with many colorful wires.I installed the relay board, then the control board, and finished by connecting up the control panel. Then I pushed the oven back into its hole, though I didn’t screw it back in. I pulled out the kitchen fire extinguisher, double checked it was rated for electrical fires, and then flipped the circuit breaker back on. Nothing exploded! The oven clock started to placidly blink. Definitely a good sign. I tested a couple of features that had been working previously, such as the timer and oven light and then, with some nervousness, set it to bake at 350 degrees. This oven usually takes around 10 minutes to preheat so I hovered and watched. Once it finished preheating I opened the door and it felt about right. Though, I suspected that this approach is as fraught as parents trying to gauge if a kid has a temperature by using the hand on forehead method.

Microwave on floor with metal pieces duck taped to the top.I screwed in the oven to the wall and then started putting the support metal pieces onto the new microwave. To my surprise and relief, it mostly fit and only needed duck tape in the same places the previous microwave had needed it. Once its metal appendages were attached, Jaeger helped slide the microwave back into the oven slot and we snapped the decorative trim around it. Everything now looked normal again.

While I was fairly certain the oven was heating up correctly, I wanted to confirm. I decided to try baking King Arthur Flour’s Chocolate Breakfast Muffin as I make it a fair amount and I know it’s a reliable recipe. Once the batter was made, I dropped it into the muffin cups and put it into the preheated oven. I got the muffins out to test at 22 minutes and thought it wasn’t quite done so put it in for another three. In retrospect, it probably was done at the 22 minute mark as they ended up a tad on the dry side. However, the recipe did verify the oven was baking as expected!

The new microwave cost around $240. The control and relay board repair cost around $340. Not cheap but much better than what a complete replacement would cost. I’m really happy to have my wall oven working again.

Microwave, warming drawer, and oven all put back together.

A working oven and microwave!

  1. Though, one thing I absolutely hate about the range is, in order to preheat faster, it turns the broiler on. This messes up how I do sweet rolls which involves making them the night before, putting them in the fridge overnight, and then in the morning putting them in a cold oven which then gradually heats up to its normal baking temperature. The first time I made sweet rolls after switching ovens I ended up with blackened bread.
  2. Among other things, it only has a +30 second button and no quick 1 or 2 minute buttons.

Work and School from Home: Walking Around Wallingford Part 1

Most work days I go for a half hour walk at lunch time. When working at the library, I had a great route that gave me hills and stairs. Our Wallingford house does not have such steep hills, which I prefer from a driving perspective, but I don’t get as much exercise this way. However, I love walking around the neighborhood and seeing all the beauty and quirk it possesses.

My Favorite House

There is one house in particularly that I love in this neighborhood. The house is light green with white trim and purple steps. The front door is glass with large whimsical flowers painted on it. I feel a little awkward taking pictures of people’s houses close up so you might just need to trust me that it’s a magical house.
House with purple stairs surrounded by trees.

The property also has multiple fairy doors next to the concrete steps and in the trees.
Yellow fairy door in utility pole.
Round fairy door, surrounded by cobble stone, in tree trunk.

Gothic-style fairy door in tree trunk.

Red round fairy door embedded in stones next to stairs.

Gothic-style red fairy door embedded in stone next to stairs.


I love all the mosaics I see in random spots around Wallingford. About a year ago I stumbled across Seattle Mosaic Arts and I meant to go back and take a class but never seemed to have a good time to do it.

Here’s their signs:

Mosaic on red wall. Blue background with a yellow crescent moon and multi-colored umbrellas. Says Seattle Mosaic Arts piecing together.

Two mosaics on red wall. Top mosaic shows a crescent moon and says Seattle Mosaic Arts piecing together. Bottom mosaic shows a sunset.

There are also many other mosaics around the neighborhood. One of my favorites is the stairs:

Steps with a mosaic picture of an orange poppy.

Twenty-two 12-inch mosaics with various pictures on them used to create a sidewalk path.

Colorful mosaic star with the word James on it.

Butterfly mosaic tile.

Flower mosaic tile.

Stair handrail covered in mosaic tile.

Mosaic mirror made with reflective mosaic tiles in the middle of purple flowers.


There are many, many, signs around the neighborhood but below are some of the more unique one.

One of the first COVID-19 related messages that popped up was a quarantine hopscotch on the sidewalk. The chalk writing says “Days in Quarantine Hop-Scotch”.
Sidewalk with chalk writing and numbered boxes.

Sign on fence says "Together We Will" with smaller, hard to read, writing around the bigger letters.

The fence below has multiple messages that says things like:

  • Take care of one another :)
  • One day at a time . . .
  • Love one another
  • You are loved
  • Not one Not two Together
  • It’s ok to cry
  • this too shall pass
  • We all have each other

Fence with encouragements written in chalk.

Another section of the sign:

  • Community is everything
  • Enjoy what you have!
  • Share a message [arrow pointing down to chalk]
  • Love = Soup [heart] XO
  • Spread community
  • Bears in windows

Fence with encouragements written in chalk.

One of my favorite signs is a “Beware of Dog” sign with dog crossed out and “frogs” inserted below.
Wooden fence gate with Beware of Dog sign. The word dog is crossed out and below it says "Frogs!".

Crossing sign with a picture of bigfoot and the text "Bigfoot Xing".

Wood in the shape of a T. Across the top it says "Be Happy".

Wooden sign with words in blue and green that says "Seattle You Are Cool".

On one of the “walks” Julian and I went on we went pass this sign. It says, “Our plants love receiving words of affirmation. Please share some freely with them as you pass by! TY!”.
Raised garden bed with sign in it.

There are several places where poems have popped up. Here’s one:
Poetry Proclamation
Clearly these are stressful times
So why not try and bust some rhymes?
As long as you are staying home
Why not give the world a poem?
This one’s here to get you started . . .
Don’t be shy or chickenhearted.
Imagine it’s a gift for others,
Children, grammas, daddys, mothers!
We’re all in need of fun distractions,
Kindly deeds and interactions.
So this is my shout out to you,
Friends and neighbors old and new!

Sign that says Poetry Proclamation.

This isn’t a sign as much as it is adding art to covered up windows/doors while the business is closed.
Picture of building with doors and windows covered by plywood and artistic orange cat heads drawn on the window coverings.

And in honor of when Calvin starts learning to drive . . .
Bumpersticker that says "Warning: Student Driver Be Afraid . . . Be Very Afraid".

Persimmon Trees

Our Seattle house has four Fuyu-style persimmon trees. This provides more fruit than five people can eat in a reasonable amount of time. I assume there are many ways one can preserve persimmons. However, it was December and I didn’t have a lot of time to deal with them. I found a blog post implying that one could freeze persimmons whole without first having to extensively prepare them. So, that’s what I did. I set them out on cookie sheets, froze the persimmons till they were hard, then transferred them to gallon zip lock bags for long-term freezing. Fortunately, we have an extra freezer in our garage.

This worked much better than I expected. It turns out that if you run frozen persimmons under warm water, their skins are really easy to peel off1. Once thawed, the persimmon is very pulpy, more like a ripe Hachiya persimmon. Now to figure out what to do with them . . .

Back in December, I made Jaeger’s mom’s Persimmon Pudding recipe which was good. Today, I decided to try to make persimmon muffins. I looked up persimmons in my trusty baking books but couldn’t find any appropriate recipes. Of course, I could have just searched the internet for persimmon muffin recipes, there are quite a few. However, I decided to adapt a King Arthur Flour recipe instead. I reasoned that persimmon pulp is somewhat similar to ripe mashed banana so I might be able to convert a banana recipe for persimmons. It seems to have worked fairly well. Here’s the recipe.

  1. Kind of the reverse of blanching tomatoes to remove their skins.

Garden, 2014

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to The Flower Bin. This year I’m trying:

  • Heirloom Pineapple Tomato
  • Lemon Boy Tomato
  • Heirloom Black from Tula Tomato
  • Sun Gold Tomato
  • Super Chili
  • Genovese Basil (2)
  • Columnar Basil (2)
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Borage

The Pineapple, Lemon Boy, and Black from Tula are all beefsteak tomatoes. I’ve never grown beefsteak before. Generally I haven’t had a huge amount of success with tomatoes so I decided to go all out and try even more tomatoes. I have managed to grow the Sun Gold before so hopefully we’ll get at least some tomatoes.

The Borage is an experiment. It may, or may not, help reduce hornworms with the tomatoes.

I’ve grown the rest of the herbs before. Columnar basil is my go-to variety for seasoning basil and the Genovese is for pesto. The Chocolate Mint is for random recipes calling for mint. I’m going to see if the mint will grow in a container1 outside the basement window well. I have dreams of being able to smell it while I work but we’ll see.

The Super Chili is Jaeger’s. It’s my current favorite chili for Indian food. We actually still have a huge quantity from last year stored in the freezer.

  1. Always, always plant mint in a container or future home owners will assume you were senile.