More Ladder Fun


Since we had four whole hours with that 14 foot ladder last weekend, after we took down the chandelier we put the ladder to good use outside. I'm not sure if I can even relay quite how big this thing was, but here's a photo of it in our porch area:


Max was the brave one to go all the way to the top to install a hook as well as a security camera! He had already ran the wiring through the attic so all that was really needed was to mount the camera and hook it up.

I delivered tools but never made it to the top:

By nightfall we had a new camera, along with a flying witch hanging from the new hook:

You can even spot her from our upstairs inside:

Happy Halloween from Scottsdale!!




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Nerd News


Max likes to read a website called Slashdot. It basically posts snippets of news articles and links to where they can be found. It's not just any news. Max affectionately refers to it as "nerd news." Once in a while the site will post an article like this one from the BBC News that interests me, too (I suppose that makes me a nerd, also, but we all already knew that). The article asserts that difficult-to-read fonts facilitate better learning. The study was conducted in a lab at Princeton and later recreated at a high school where the results held. When I first read the title of the article, part of me wondered if it was just a time factor (more time spent figuring out the font = more time spent on the material). But the researchers are attributing the change to "disfluency"- difficulty associated with a mental task. They claim that this results in more concentration and deeper processing. As a student, I wish I had known about this sooner so that I could have switched up the fonts on some of my reading : ) Sadly as a first grade teacher who's teaching her students how to read (period) I don't think this news will come in handy.
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Bring on the Pumpkin: Recipe #5



I've been really wanting to use fresh pumpkin instead of canned for a while now but since I had never done it, I kept putting it off. I had found a recipe for Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Brown-Butter Sauce that used fresh pumpkin on the
Country Living website and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try it. Finally, after staring at the cute sugar pumpkin I had bought at the grocery store for almost a week, I decided today was the day! I was going to do it!

And it was really so easy that I'm kicking myself for not doing it sooner! The cutting was a bit time consuming but not difficult. And actually, the whole "time consuming" part is most likely just me being slow. If I were one of the Top Chef contestants I'd probably have the pumpkin peeled and chopped in a minute flat. The recipe I was using called for the pumpkin to be steamed which was super simple: I just put all of the pumpkin chunks into a covered saucepan with water and cooked on the stove for 20 minutes. The pumpkin turned a deep orange color and filled the kitchen with a sweet aroma, a definite plus over just opening a can.

Max arrived home from work for the second part of the recipe: mashing the pumpkin with cheese and stuffing it in lasagna noodles to make cannelloni! I showed him how to place the filling:

And roll up the pasta:

However if you look at our baking dish, you can tell which row is mine and which is my husband's ; ) The engineer in him just took over and he had to search for the best possible way to stuff the noodles by experimenting:

All in all a fun fall recipe!

Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Brown-Butter Sauce

Ingredients

U.S.MetricConversion chart
  • 1 1/2 pound(s) pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon(s) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup(s) ricotta
  • 1/2 cup(s) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon(s) finely chopped fresh sage, plus 4 large whole leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 package(s) (8-ounce) oven-ready lasagna sheets
  • 6 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place pumpkin, along with 3/4 cup water, in a large skillet over medium heat. Cover and steam until tender, 20 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl and mash until smooth.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet and sauté garlic until golden. Transfer garlic to a mortar and pestle, then crush to a paste. Stir cheeses, chopped sage, salt, pepper, and garlic paste into mashed pumpkin. Set aside.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook lasagna sheets until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and drizzle with olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking together. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water.
  5. Liberally brush a medium baking dish with oil. Place a lasagna sheet on a cleanwork surface. Add 4 tablespoons pumpkin mixture to center of lasagna, roll into a cannelloni tube, then transfer to prepared baking dish. Repeat with remaining sheets.
  6. Pour reserved pasta water over lasagna and cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and pasta is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Cook butter and sage leaves in small skillet over medium-high heat until golden-brown. Drizzle over pumpkin cannelloni and serve immediately.


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Out with the Old


Even though this past weekend was the fourth weekend in October, it was the first weekend Max and I were both in the same place together. I had so been missing my husband. Our house has been missing him, too. After all, I can't do electrical work or lift heavy things on my own (I suppose I could try, it just wouldn't turn out well for anyone). Anyway, with the electrician back in the household, we decided to tackle the removal of the hallway chandelier. I know it seems odd to be removing a light fixture. However, one of the first things our realtor pointed out on our walkthrough of the house was the many hanging light fixtures in one area. She pointed out that they made the space seem cluttered. And while I know they were chosen with care by the previous owners, they are so not our style.

Max had already installed recessed cans for lighting the space:


But our real problem was getting rid of the old, heavy chandelier, which was hanging from a seventeen foot ceiling. For this we employed the help of Home Depot and their renting department. For the low price of $20 we got to take home a 14 foot A-Frame ladder for four hours (retail price over $600 so I think we got a deal). Maneuvering this thing around was quite interesting - it's not only
really long but it's really heavy. Getting the ladder off the car and into the house actually took more effort and time than the actual project of removing the light, which went super quickly:

Step one: Disconnect all wiring

Step Two: Walk chandelier down the ladder

It happened so fast I could barely get photos! There was actually a third and fourth step - affixing a cover to the area and painting over to remove any trace of the light fixture:

Our new space looks much cleaner and open, however this wall is totally exposed now! We are still planning on staining the rails a nice dark color, but I think the wall needs something too, now. What do you think - a huge clock or maybe a big painting? Brainstorming is so much fun!
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A House Divided



Although we currently reside in Arizona, Max was born and raised in Texas and I, of course, am a California girl. This is presenting a problem for the 2010 World Series: Texas v. California. We both want our respective states to win. I think that the Giants have an advantage because they're in seasonally appropriate colors. We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, and come Wednesday we'll be pitted against each other, rooting for opposite teams ; )


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Mrs. Klein, First Grade Teacher!



What a fabulous birthday gift I received this year - a new job! I have been missing having a classroom ever since I walked around Target's Back-to-School section in August. Since then, every time I walk past things like pencils, or buckets, or watercolors, I think about buying class sets of all of those things (there's a reason why Max refers to my employment as a "hobby").

My new job is at a large school (825 students!) that has rave reviews and I'll be the newest 1st grade teacher! I student taught in 1st grade and after I was finished, I thought that it was the only grade I would ever want to teach - I loved it! Of course right after that I was offered a 4th grade teaching job which I loved as well, but 1st grade was my first love.

I'll be taking over for a woman who is leaving town for her husband's job (I can relate there) so it's a bit different from my position last year where I opened a new classroom by taking a few students from all the existing classes. My new classroom will already have teaching supplies and materials which is a great relief. The position, however, is another "Interim" position meaning that my contract ends in May. Again. Right now, though, May seems like a very long way away and I have a whole group of 1st graders to prepare for 2nd grade before then! : D
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Bring on the Pumpkin: Recipe #4

Not a recipe per say, more like a bag of ingredients to be mixed with cream and water. I picked up this package at World Market a while back in hopes of an easy little meal:


I had no idea how much soup it would make - a whole pot full! Apparently I missed the big "Serves 8" text on the front. The amount would have been okay if I really, really enjoyed the soup, but it was just "eh." It was lovely with my sandwich, and perhaps if I were more into very creamy, rich soups it would have gone over better, but the next time I see it on a shelf I think I'll pass.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup


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Pity Party


I'm throwing myself a pity party. Woe is me. You see, every time that Max leaves to Europe on business, something bad happens. The first trip, I set off his car alarm, couldn't get it to stop, and then got a speeding ticket on my way to teach kindergarten (I know that was my fault, but in my defense we had just moved to the area and I was going an okay speed for one street over). While he was away on another trip, I had a scorpion crawl across my bare foot. It was only the second scorpion I had ever seen (the first I literally pulled out of my purse thinking it was a rubber band when Max was also gone). Then there was the shelf of vases that crashed at 1:00am. I slept with the lights on that night.

There were a few trips there in which nothing bad happened, which is why (I think) so many terrible things are happening on this trip. They're making up for it. On Saturday, I saw a snake. "Oh, pish posh" you might say. You've probably seen a snake. But, have you seen one while walking (barefoot yet again) in the hallway outside your bedroom? Yep, right there on the floor, next to my bare feet, a writhing snake. I have taken to wearing shoes in the house now. I was so startled and then horrified that I jumped on our bed and wouldn't get down. Max listened to me cry over the phone, then set me up on a call with Bryan, the Snake Whisperer. Apparently Bryan is certified by the county to safely and ethically remove snakes. By this time, I had lost the snake. I had no idea where it had went. Bryan didn't seem to be too concerned about my snake - I described it to him and he said that it wasn't dangerous, and since I couldn't see it, it had probably made its way back outside. He said that he could come, but it would be a waste of $120 because he most likely wouldn't be able to find it either. I had to sleep the next two nights alone, thinking about snakes (with the lights on, of course).

Sunday morning I woke up after a particularly horrifying snake dream, only to find another snake lying still by the wall across from the bed. Max thinks it was the same snake, but it looked smaller than the first one. Not wanting it to escape anywhere (under the bed, behind the dresser, etc.) I, um, killed it. With a piece of wood we had for one of our projects that just so happened to be in the room. I feel really bad. And it was really scary. I'll spare you the gross details. But I did save $120.

Fast forward to today. I was driving along happily on the 101 (yes, we have a 101 here too!), thinking that my "bad things" quota had been met for the trip. I mean, seriously? A snake in the house? When all of a sudden, there was a really loud rumble. I was right by the Scottsdale airport, so I thought it was one of those military planes that doesn't have to follow civilian noise regulations. I only know about those from an experience in grad school when we had a military plane fly over our apartment and the noise scared me so much that I believe I jumped in bed with Lindsey, my roommate at the time. Anyway, the noise was getting louder and louder. Was the plane right on top of my car? I tried to look around to see if I could spot it. Then my car started shaking, more and more violently. Finally the lightbulb clicked on - I had a flat tire! It was my first one ever, if that wasn't obvious by my thinking that my flat was a plane. I somehow made it across three lanes of traffic on the busiest freeway in Phoenix. Looking back, I was lucky to have made it over rather easily and I am so thankful that it happened safely. Fortunately we have Roadside Assistance through our insurance, so a nice man came and met me on the shoulder and changed the tire. He wouldn't even let me get out of the car.

Thinking back on all of those awful things, I'm still safe and healthy, and so grateful for that. Alright, my pity party is over. I promise, no more complaining : )


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Bring on the Pumpkin: Recipe #3



I'm a little bit afraid of Martha Stewart. She doesn't seem very nice. I've caught her on the Today show a few times recently doing cooking demos and I cringe watching her interactions with the hosts. She just seems so harsh. I suppose that's what jail will do to you. Anyway, regardless of her attitude, she didn't become a household name in cooking, baking and entertaining for nothing so I decided to turn to Martha for my third pumpkin recipe: pumpkin bread! The recipe doesn't use the usual autumn-y spices (nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon) but it does call for ground ginger (the recipe is actually titled "Ginger Pumpkin Bread").


My mixer did all of the hard work:

Then I came to the decision of whether to split the batter into two loaf dishes or one. Martha does two, but a few of the reviews said that there wasn't quite enough batter for two and that one dish worked fine (it just needed a bit longer in the oven). I did the one dish method since I only had one anyway and I actually liked the overstuffed look. I was worried about the loaf coming out of the dish but I followed Martha's directions to butter and flour the inside well and it popped right out, very easily.

It looked a little plain so I opted for the "optional glaze" (1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar mixed with 2-3 tablespoons water). Much prettier:

And, I have to hand it to Martha, tasty, too!

Ginger Pumpkin Bread
  • Ingredients:
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)
  • 3 large eggs
  • Sugar Glaze, (optional)
Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans (see note, below); set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugars, pumpkin, melted butter, and eggs; add flour mixture, and stir until just combined.
  • Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of loaves comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes; invert pans and transfer loaves to a wire rack to cool completely. Glaze, if desired.
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    Cutesy Spooky

    I actually used to be not-so-into Halloween. Creepy and scary is just so not my thing. Horror movies? No thank you. I can't even watch commercials for them. Insects? Eeek! But with a cute spin, anything can be lovable.

    Skulls made of rhinestones:

    Sparkly spiders (muuuch better than the real ones I used to find in my bedroom in Los Gatos):


    Even this tombstone looked cute to me with all the sparkle:

    This faux crow doesn't have any added cuteness and has thus already scared me on more than one occasion (maybe more than two) when I spun around forgetting that it was there:

    It's supposed to be guarding the Halloween candy in the vase (it's not working, we still munch on it - Max goes for the Snickers and I take all the Twix). Talking to the neighbors we've determined that we are on a high traffic street for the trick-or-treaters so we're going to need to pick up a lot more candy anyway. T minus two weeks until our first Halloween in our new house!
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    Bring on the Pumpkin: Recipe #2

    After my pumpkin dessert disaster,
    I decided to go for a savory dish for my second try at pumpkin. Another Rachael Ray recipe, this one was quick and easy, which was perfect since I was already hungry when I started cooking it. The final product ended up being very rich and creamy, and a bit on the sweet side. I definitely finished my plate ; )

    Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage


    INGREDIENTS
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
    • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
    • 4 cloves garlic, cracked and chopped
    • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
    • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
    • 4-6 sprigs sage leaves(about 2 tablespoons), cut into chiffonade
    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • 1 cup chicken stock
    • 1 cup canned pumpkin
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
    • Coarse salt and black pepper
    • 1 pound penne rigate, cooked to al dente
    • Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for grating
    PREPARATION

    Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon EVOO to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat from skillet and return pan to the stove. Add the remaining tablespoon EVOO, followed by the garlic and onion. Sauté 3-5 minutes until the onions are tender.

    Add bay leaf, sage and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan; reduce heat and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5-10 minutes to thicken sauce.

    Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over the pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.



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    Our Long(est) Distance Phone Calls

    This past weekend, I was here with my sister (image courtesy of my iPhone):

    Yes, we took a four-day "Sister Trip" to Hawaii!


    While we were out there, my Saint of a husband had to fly back out to England (I say Saint because while I was out snorkeling in the ocean, he was taking a red eye with a raincoat). Although he was flying even further away from me, I was intrigued by the fact that when we spoke to each other, it would be our longest distance phone call to date!

    When I told this to Max, he reminded me that he called me via Satellite phone when he was at the South Pole. I checked the exact distances, and our South Pole to San Jose calls clocked in at a distance of 8,810 miles while our London to Honolulu calls would be a 9,790 mile difference. We had a new winner!!

    After our first (11 hour time difference) call I snapped this photo on my iPhone:


    I'm the blue and Max is the red, and even google maps knew we were way too far apart!
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    Bring on the Pumpkin: Recipe #1

    I was so excited to start the first of many pumpkin recipes. I was off to a promising start:

    Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting


    I mean, the dough looked nice and orangey. And then I tasted it. Not so yummy. So I thought that after I baked them, they might be better. Nope. With the frosting then? That actually made them worse. I'm not going to even post the recipe because I don't want someone accidently making them. I will tell you though that the recipe was from the "Food Network Kitchen" on their website (it didn't have any reviews though, although I guess I'm giving it one now). It was so disheartening to make a whole batch of cookies (I even grated the nutmeg!) just to have to throw them away, but I suppose that's how you whittle them down to find the really good ones. Here's hoping recipe #2 is better : )
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    Bring on the Pumpkin



    It's a bit challenging to get into the fall spirit here in Scottsdale. I mean, we have no color changing leaves, and the temperature doesn't scream "autumn" at all - more like summer anywhere that's not the desert (the forecasted temperatures for this weekend are in the 90's). To help us get into the season, I've decided to try a bunch of new pumpkin recipes. What could be more delicious? I'm going to go all out on some of them (I'm going to try to bake a pumpkin for the first time!), and I'm cheating on some (hello boxed pumpkin pancake mix) but the point is to fully experience October via its signature symbol- the pumpkin!
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    Major Monsoon

    Max and I have now experienced two of Arizona's infamous Monsoon seasons (June-September-ish). I say "infamous" but really what we've experienced is this: a few nights a month, clouds will roll in, thunder and lightning will strike, and a nice rain will fall. The whole time it's still really, really hot (it reaches the 100 teens in temperature here on a regular basis during those months). The Monsoons almost happen exclusively at night (once in a while they will hit in the late afternoon) and by morning the storm has passed and once again the sky is blue. It's actually pretty neat to experience real (loud) thunder (California's doesn't compare) and the lightning can be just beautiful. If the timing is right, Max and I like to sit chairs outside underneath the patio overhang and just listen to the rain. We've done this at both houses (remember it's not cold during these storms - we're still wearing shorts while we sit in our chairs : )

    This past week, all I have experienced was thrown out the window when we witnessed the biggest Arizona storm thus far (for us anyway). The storm hit Max first, who was out grabbing lunch. He phoned me from his car to say that it was hailing. Yes, hail. Ice. Impossible, I thought. I was wearing a skirt and a tank top - it couldn't be hailing 20 minutes away (he put the phone on speaker and I could hear it pelting his car).

    The storm finally reached me late afternoon while I was driving home (still wearing a skirt and tank top). Driving while it's raining in Scottsdale can be tricky because the roads pretty much flood right away. I suppose since it's the desert, there's really no need to put in drainage except for the fact that when it does rain, it's super scary to be a driver. All of a sudden, I realized that the rain had turned to hail and I literally couldn't see more then a couple feet in front of my car. It was one of those moments where you have to debate pulling over and risking being hit by another car, or just going really, really slow (which is what I chose). I came home to this:

    And true to form, by daybreak the next day, the storm was gone and the sky was blue. As I was driving out the driveway, however, I saw that we had a little reminder from Mr. Monsoon:



    Yes, the water was so strong, it moved a whole pile of dirt and rocks right to the middle of our driveway! Going through the neighborhood, we weren't the only ones who experienced this. Even our street had random patches of dirt and branches. The Monsoons have now earned their infamous status (at least in my eyes).
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    Living AZ

    This past weekend, Max and I attempted to do some yard work and then took a quick dip in the pool to cool off. Upon entering the pool, I shouted out "chilly, chilly, chilly!" because the water was just that - cold! Max started laughing and said that the pool had to be 80 degrees, to which I replied: no way. I looked down at my goosebumps. It had to be in the 70's. Max swam over to grab the pool thermometer and came back to show me the reading: 84 degrees. Yes, I was complaining over water that was in the 80's. Max said that that definitely meant I had crossed over to being desert acclimated. I wanted to point out that normal body temperature is 98 degrees, so really anything below that should feel cool, but I knew he was right. I was officially a pansy. It would be only a matter of time before I became one of those desert people who break out the scarves when the weather dips below 90. I'm serious; I saw this last year around Scottsdale. And they weren't wearing the breezy, lightweight, decorative scarves, they were wearing the chunky, knit "I'm wearing this to keep myself warm in the 88 degree weather" scarves.

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    Quail Cuties


    So the house that we own (ohhh, I still love being able to say that!) is in Scottsdale proper, however we're definitely on the edge of town and in an area with really spacious and spread out lots. Because of that, we get lots of wild life coming in and out. My favorite is to come home to a little bunny family in the front yard. It's like a mini welcoming committee : ) Another frequent visitor: Quail! It's not uncommon to be driving down the street and have to wait for a Quail family to waddle on by in front of the car. In the early summer, the Quail families consisted of the parents and tiny, tiny baby Quail. By now the little ones have gotten much bigger and the birds all look roughly the same size. When I woke up this morning, I was greeted by this little family right outside our bedroom window : )


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