Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beautiful sunrise #7

December 21, 7:20 AM
-3°F, 29 mph wind

Coincidentally the day of the year with the least sunlight started without electricity at our house. We had 1/2" of freezing rain two days earlier so the trees and electric lines were coated in ice, and Saturday night the wind gusted up to 40 mph all night. We were in bed when we realized the power was out by 11:30 PM, but at that point we knew a good night's sleep was more important than trying to keep appliances running through the night. I called Corn Belt to make sure they knew we didn't have power, and went back to bed.

Laying in the quiet stillness, I tried not to think about the fact that the temperature was falling below zero, and the generator had not started the last three times I had tried it; all the while trying to ignore what sounded like boulders falling on our roof. I laid out my plan countless times as I tried to fall asleep: (1) wake at first light and start a fire in the basement wood burner, (2) tear apart the generator carburetor and clean up what was probably just a gummed up orifice, (3) restore power to the furnace and refrigerator from the generator, and (4) go to the neighbor's house to make sure their house isn't getting too cold (since they're in Florida now).

As the bedroom lightened in the morning, the air in the house was down to 50°F, so I rose at 6:30 to carry out my plan. Before I made it to the basement the electricity came back on. I thanked God for being merciful to us, and proceeded to make coffee before the power went back out again. Confident that the house didn't need my attention, I shoveled ice off the driveway (note: I said "shoveled", not "scraped" since the ice had fallen out of the trees like cubes from a refrigerator dispenser). When I came back inside before 8:00 the power was back out again, and as it didn't return for 15 minutes, I started into my original plan.

A fire was quickly started in the wood burner, and with Gretel holding a flashlight for me, we cleaned up the generator carburetor and started it for the first time in years. I fashioned some temporary wires for the furnace so I could plug it into an extension cord that I routed from the basement upstairs and through the garage. As I was carrying the generator out of the house the electricity came back on again. I thanked God again for being merciful to me.

Through the episode I found a few things to be thankful for:
  • I'm thankful that thousands of people over the last couple hundred years have taken dominion over electrons and made it possible for us to do all kinds of things with this mystery called electricity. Not the least of these things is keeping my family warm.
  • I'm thankful that there were probably dozens of linemen outside all night all over the Peoria area repairing lines and transformers so people like me could sleep in a warm bed and enjoy hot coffee in the morning. I don't envy them working in subzero temperatures with winds strong enough to knock over ladders and make boom trucks sway.
  • I'm thankful for building materials that keep our house warm such that the temperature in the house only dropped 15° in the seven hours the power was off.
  • I'm thankful for our little wood burner that takes the chill off the basement and allows our water pipes to stay above freezing.
  • Most importantly I'm thankful for God's providence and mercy in this experience. I realize he controls the supply and restriction of electricity on our grid and around the world. I realize he controls the wind and temperature, and decides in his sovereignty whether our yard will be covered in rain, snow, or ice. I realize he allows us to experience trials for the strengthening of our faith, and I'm grateful for his mercy when he ends the trial before I expect it to end.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Knights and Princesses

Every child likes to dress up. Sometimes simply dressing like your parents enables you to see yourself as a parent some day. Sometimes you dress more extragantly and are carried off in your mind to faraway places in another age. At our house, dressing for a different place and time are more normal than not. Hence, when Lily decided to make gifts for five special children, she picked gifts that would help them imagine themselves in a time and place when ladies dressed femininely and men were protectors.

This is the style of the gowns for the older girls.

Little Hannah received a gown too, but one suited more appropriately for her size.

The boys received these manly knightlike vests.

As evidenced in this photo, everyone was tickled with their present. The older girls loved the fluttery sleeves and couldn't resist waving them like wings. The boys were quick to add their vests to their collection of other knightly trappings. One notable conversation between Grace (7) and Elisabeth (5) went like this:
E: "I want to wear this dress when I get married."
G: "By the time you get married, you'll be too big for this dress."
E: "Well, I hope Lily makes us Christmas presents every year so I can wear that to my wedding."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Baked Oatmeal

Here's a breakfast food that is especially good on cold winter mornings, although that doesn't prevent us from enjoying it in the summer as well. We were first introduced to baked oatmeal at the Gomez home in Athens, Wisconsin in late November a few years back when the weather was snowy and cold. It was delightful straight from the oven then with plenty of warm milk to pour over the top. I still prefer it with warm milk, but Gretel likes her's without any embellishments. Try it yourself, and you tell us your favorite way to eat it!

3 cups quick oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (or oil)
2 eggs beaten
additional milk

Combine first eight ingredients. Spoon into greased 9" pan.

Bake at 350°F, 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm with milk.

(Courtesy of Cindy Gomez)

Finally, let me apologize for the very brown picture, my eye wasn't looking for that when I framed the photo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingerbread construction update

While I've been dinking around with a simple garage for months, the girls decided to show me how they can construct complete houses in a matter of days. Gingerbread seems to be their preferred building material, although I'm sure you'll recognize other goodies in the pictures below.

This is where the projects began: carefully measured, cut, and baked pieces of gingerbread.

Careful construction involved lots of frosting and strategically located sewing pins. This is Gretel's Carpenter Gothic House that had us all wondering if Gretel had done something foolish by choosing such a difficult design.

Here's Lily's Adirondack Cabin in the assembly phase using food cans as supports while the walls dried in place. No, there was no Crushed Pineapple involved in the construction, only the can.

A closeup view of a window in Lily's cabin. It's constructed of transparent butterscotch candy with colored frosting defining the window panes.

The finished product includes a porch, and a river rock chimney.

Here's a better shot of the roof shingles (which were a little bit frustrating in their own way).

A view of the rear of the building.

This is how the building would look if you were 3 inches tall.

Closeup of the chimney.

Gretel's Carpenter Gothic finished a day later and includes landscaping of sorts.

This is how one might view Gretel's house if one were 3 inches tall.

Getting all the roof pieces to come together was challenging, but the girls pulled it off without dad's help.

One view of the rear of the house.

Another view of the rear. Plenty of new materials were used in this year's construction; how many food items can you identify? Hint: Gretel's house used 5 different materials, while Lily's used 6.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Construction update #26

As the weather gets colder and the daylight gets shorter, it's nice to have projects to do inside a building instead of outside, even if the building does not yet have heat.

As you can see, the insulating and wiring have begun in earnest even though I can't seem to spend as much time as I'd like getting those jobs done.

The big news is having all the doors hung and operational. Working in the garage on cold, windy evenings is much more bearable with protection from most of the wind.

The garage looks a little colder with the snow around it this week. You can kinda tell from this angle that a new drift forms around the building on the north and west sides. It hasn't been a big issue yet, but that's something I'll want to deal with when the garage is transformed from a construction zone to a storage spot for vehicles and tools. I wonder if Menards sells snow fence?