Getting spooky all up in here

Happy almost hallowe’en! All hallows’ eve eve, I suppose it is. We carved our pumpkins this morning; as is tradition, each child got to pick exactly the design they wanted for their jack o’lantern. Perpetua chose a spooky cat:

Her stated goal is to, I quote, “spook the whole neighbourhood to bits!” Chase your dreams, girl. Chase them to bits.

This year Anselm also eschewed a traditional face design, in favour of…

… a milk jug. Why? I don’t know. To scare Americans and western Canadians with the concept of bagged milk? Because kids have bizarro-brains? Beats me. I asked Tertia for her input, but she only blew a raspberry.

Today I roasted chestnuts for the first time! Our grocery store had a big bin and so I thought, well, why not? This was also the first time I’ve tasted chestnuts, and what a delightful thing it is to still be running into novel flavours in one’s mid-thirties. I like them, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of them. They’re sweet, with an aftertaste somewhere between banana and butterscotch, but they’re also rather meaty. It’s a peculiar combination. 

Also on today’s roasting agenda: all those wonderful pumpkin seeds. Perpetua helped me sort the seeds from the goop, and after rinsing them off I added a new-to-me step: simmering them for 10 minutes or so in salted water. Supposedly it makes them roast more evenly; we’ll see how it goes. Right now they are waiting for the oven to preheat.

It’s well and truly fall in our city — the leaves are falling and the overnight temperatures are starting to dip below freezing. We’re stocked up on aniseed for the pan de muerto I’ll make on Sunday, and hot cocoa for when the kids come in from outside. It’s a glorious time of year.

How a loud bathroom fan triggered an entire second-floor renovation

When we bought our house about a year ago, we had in the back of our minds that we would be renovating at some point. The second floor is very 1970s: green shag carpeting, light fixtures that look just like these, and wood veneer wall panelling everywhere. It’s something else. And as we learned over the course of the year, the room we’re using as the master bedroom (previously an office) is not well insulated, which makes it either the coldest or hottest part of the house, but never in the way you’d want.

Still, a home reno is a pretty major project, and since we’d been assured by several people in the know that the bones of our house are solid, we were pretty content to keep it as a “someday” thing.

Enter the bathroom fan.

This fan is loud, y’all. And it started getting louder, and then it started making an alarming whapwhapcrunch sound when it was running, so I pulled the grate off to have a look. It turns out that the little rubber doohickey — yes, I know technical words — at the end of the fan shaft had cracked, which was letting the fan blades slip down the shaft and hit the metal guard bar. Well, not to worry — the other bathroom fan wasn’t working at all (less of a big deal since there is no shower in there) so I cannibalized that, which more or less worked, at least for a while. 

But while the fans were being fiddled with, we started to wonder: where were the fans venting to, anyway? A thorough examination of the outside of our house revealed part of the answer: wherever they’re venting, it’s not outside. Our next guess: the attic? We called in some qualified types to take a look, a process which involved removing part of the wall in Perpetua’s room because — surprise! — we actually don’t have attic access for most of the house. Why would anyone want that? So silly.

Well, we got into the attic enough to confirm that, spoiler alert, the fans don’t vent there either. A second visit confirmed that they are, in fact, venting into the floor joists between the first and second floors of the house. Ok, that’s not great. So now we’re going to have some fellas come out to install new fans, and run some vents out to the actual outdoors. Great! Of course, they can’t shove blindly through the space for fear of hitting wires and other nasty surprises, so they’ll have to go through the ceilings downstairs. Hmm. Well, we’re planning on replacing the upstairs carpet eventually anyway, so why not go through the upstairs floors instead? It’s settled: they’ll go through the floors.

Meanwhile, of course, we still have a gaping hole in Perpetua’s wall. But since that part of the attic is now accessible we might as well take advantage and get an energy audit done, right? The auditor came and did his thing and the upshot is that we really ought to re-insulate… well, basically everywhere. And if we’re going to do that, we might as well get rid of the panelling and the lovely ancient wallpaper we found covering the drywall:

And of course, since we’re taking the walls down to studs, we might as well do the floor at the same time, right? So long, old carpet! (We can see a tantalizing edge of original flooring under the plywood; in the lower part of the house we found beautiful hardwood beneath the carpet. Will our luck hold true upstairs? It’s too soon to tell.)

We did, however, find the chimney. 

And here ends our first update from renovation-land. I’m sure there will be many, many, many more to come.

How to wash cloth diapers with an HE top-loader

When Anselm was a baby, we happily used cloth diapers until he was around a year and a half old. I was pregnant with Perpetua then, and knew we were moving into a shared-laundry situation, so I gave my cloth stash away to an expecting friend and we used disposables. Now with Tertia we’re back to cloth diapers — with one major change. Instead of the old-fashioned top-loading washing machine I had when Anselm was little, we now have a high-efficiency machine. And while that’s a good choice overall, surprisingly, it makes washing cloth diapers a lot more complicated. There’s a lot of information out there about how to wash cloth diapers in a front-loading HE machine, but not so much for top-loaders. So, after considerable trial and error, here’s what I’ve found works best.

 

I use what are called pocket diapers: there’s an outer cover (pictured above — surely the world’s cutest laundry) and an inner pocket which gets stuffed with an absorbent liner. I found that when I followed my previous washing routine, the liners would get clean no problem, but a lot of the poopy covers would stay dirty. Which  is gross. The trouble with the covers is that they’re waterproof — and while ordinarily this is a very good thing (!) it means that the water is only really getting at them from one side. They need a lot more agitation than the liners do, and the HE machine just doesn’t agitate enough. At least not without some tricks.

1. Bulk up the load by adding other laundry

I seem to get the best results when there’s more laundry in the tub, not less — about 1/2 to 2/3rds full seems ideal. It’s best to bulk up the load with items that are the same size or smaller than the diapers, so that they won’t wrap around or capture the diapers and keep them from getting washed. Good choices are wash cloths, kitchen towels, burp rags, and baby clothes. These items will help to rub and scrub everything clean, and also add to the overall weight of the load — this is important with an HE machine since load weight determines water usage.

2. Trick the washer into using more water (but not too much more)

Before I wash the diapers, I do a short cold-water soak, just long enough to get everything really sopping wet. Then I turn the machine off, which allows it to drain out the excess water without spinning the laundry. Since the liners are super absorbent, this makes the load very heavy, which means that the machine will use more water when I do the proper wash.

Just doing a deep-water wash (as opposed to a sensor-driven auto-fill wash) actually doesn’t help, because a full tub has too much water in it: the diapers have too much room to move around in that case and so don’t rub against each other enough. But if the laundry is artificially heavy, it adds just enough extra water to get things moving against each other without totally swimming.

3. Move the laundry to the outer edges of the tub before washing

This was suggested to me by someone on reddit: move the laundry to the outer edges of the tub so that there’s a hole in the middle. I have to move the laundry anyway after soaking so that I can pour in my detergent, so it’s not much extra work to give everything a good shove out from the centre. I’m not sure why it works — something something physics — but it seems to help.

4. Use your washer settings wisely

Ok, time to wash! Moving from left to right on my washer, this is how I set my… settings:

  • Soil level: heavy (duh, it’s full of pee and poop)
  • Water temperature: hot (ditto)
  • Cycle: power wash (on my machine, this is the cycle that gives me the most agitation. It might be “whites” or something else on yours.)
  • Rinse: 1 rinse (I haven’t found more than one rinse necessary)
  • Water level: auto-sense

I don’t go crazy with the detergent. Some cloth diaper guides recommend using a full capful which is, frankly, kind of insane. As long as you’re using actual detergent, following the instructions on the side of the bottle should be fine. I use Arm & Hammer and fill the cap to line 3, which is about halfway, and that’s plenty. If things are sudsy after the rinse, you’re using too much.

 

And there you have it. I still occasionally have a cover or two that needs to go through a second time, but this is the best way I’ve yet found to get things going with my HE machine. I’ve also ordered some agitator balls (not to be confused with the woo-woo laundry balls that are supposed to magically clean your laundry without soap, because… magnets?) which I hope will provide the last piece of this particular laundry puzzle. But in the mean time, this is working well.

A dragon for Michaelmas

Happy Michaelmas: a day for talking about angels, symbolically slaying dragons, and (apparently) blowing the dust off one’s long-neglected blog. Phooooot. Michaelmas is a new one for me, but in the spirit of slowly embracing/incorporating more of the church year I thought we’d give it a go. So I made a dragon. And then we killed and ate it. Good times!

The recipe is pretty easy:

1. Start with whatever basic biscuit recipe you’ve memorized. You have memorized a biscuit recipe, haven’t you?

2. Add half a cup of sugar. Yum.

3. Increase the liquid and butter a bit to make up for the added half-cup of dry ingredient.

4. Oops, too much liquid. Better add some more flour.

5. Sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, why the sam-hey is this not coming together?

6. Make a dragon shape anyway. Get dough all over your hands because it’s really too goopy to do this. Fend off design criticisms from the preschoolers.

7. Decorate with whatever you have on hand: dried fruit, in this case.

8. Pop that baby in the oven. When your husband peeks in and asks “That’s a dragon?” tell him yes.

9. When the timer goes off, realise you’ve burned the dried apricots but the centre still isn’t baked through. Cover with tinfoil and return to oven. Forget to reset your timer.

10. Pull when it seems done. Eat dinner and talk about angels and the great war in heaven. Say “after you’ve finished your dinner” about eighteen times.

11. Slay that sucker and dig in.