Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Sofa Caper

The new living room is a big rectangle with a fireplace on one end. The BF insists on dividing the room into two smaller "rooms" by creating a "tv nook" on one end. His intention is to do this by creating some sort of "L" shape with the sofas on the TV end. I have no idea what he envisions for the fireplace side of our living room.

After much standing around the empty living room shortly after we moved in, debating the sanity of such a notion and trying to explain to him how his "vision" violates both of my X chromosomes to the very core of my being-- and every woman's innate ability to decorate a living room-- we agreed that IF we got a sectional sofa, it wouldn't look hideous and I wouldn't be entirely embarrassed to invite people into my home.

The BF has also declared that he is a big boy now and is ready to buy a higher quality of furniture than he has traditionally been able to afford. Unfortunately, my BF is the epitome of "macho sexual." He has no little interest in furniture with even less experience or knowledge of furniture buying practices. So, in our quest to find the right sofa he has been absolutely unwilling to accept the simple fact that living room furniture typically costs a lot of money.

Consequently, the notion of spending $2,000+ on a sectional sofa that fits the space we want to put it in, made to order in the fabric our of choice was absolutely unacceptable. And every time we walk into a furniture store with a sign about financing options, the BF stoically scoffs at the very notion. He can't believe anyone actually finances furniture and he sure as hell isn't going to!

Never mind that you and I both know that most people finance their furniture. That's why every furniture store in the world offers "no interest or payments till 2015!" Furniture is incredibly expensive-- especially if you want a whole room (or house) at once and even more especially if the manufacturer's name means something to you.

But the BF is the BF and I like him fine the way he is, so I sort of roll my eyes just a little and snicker when he goes on these rants. For all I care, we could leave the lawn chairs in front of the TV forever.

Yes-- I realize that sounds totally contradictory to my statement about his "TV nook" violating my womanly decorating sensibilities-- but there' s a big difference between enjoying the whimsical "bachelor pad chic" lawn chairs in the living room, vs the "why do you have all your furniture shoved to one side of the room" chaos of shoving all the furniture to one side of the room.

A few weeks ago we saw a sectional sofa at Costco. From the moment I saw it, I knew it was what we were looking for. It even included an ottoman-- I really like ottomans, ottomen? Anyway, I like them.
It took a few weeks, but the BF finally came to the same conclusion I did about the Costco sectional. (It takes a lot longer before his light bulb goes on-- sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not-so-much.) And so, this last weekend, we borrowed the "ranch truck" from his parents and made our way to Costco on Saturday afternoon during a heatwave; I think it was about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alas. The Costco sectional was "on order." We had to hunt down a Costco employee to inquire as to just what that meant to us. The Saturday Costco Employee was pleasant and willing to be helpful. She went to check on the status of the order and returned to cheerfully tell us that more sectionals were in transit and would be in the store the following day.

So. We decided to come back the next day.

Sunday morning we agreed that the world was probably not lined up outside of Costco in the 175 degree heat to make a run on the newly arrived sofas. So we went ahead with our new Sunday morning routine: We took the dogs on a "donut walk" to our favorite local donut shop-- Tasty Donut in Mary's Vineyard-- only to find a note posted on their door that they were closed for the day due to a severe lack of air conditioning.
Did I mention it was 175 degrees by the time the sun came up? Who could blame them?

So we settled for some sodas and croissants from the neighboring grocery store and then headed back home.

By 11:30 in the morning we decided we'd better get on with it if we were going to buy the Costco sectional.
Only to arrive at Costco to find that we were wrong. The world HAD lined up that morning to make a run on the sofa shipment!

Once again, we had to hunt down a Costco employee to inquire about future shipments. However, our Sunday Costco Employee was not nearly as helpful or as pleasant as our Saturday Costco Employee. In fact, her attitude was the epitome of crappy customer service and left us both feeling less than desirous of spending $700 on a couch from Costco -- in fact, less than desirous of spending any money at Costco.
So we cut her blathering short to let her know that she didn't need to waste any more of her time with us, we were taking our business elsewhere. And we walked out.

Now, this presented a slight quandary as we sat in the truck in the parking lot while I rather impatiently quizzed the BF on just what the heck his plan was now?

With some more discussion we drove down the road and embarked on a sofa quest. We visited two furniture stores with not much luck in finding a sofa that we both agreed on, let alone a furniture store that had air conditioning.

A note to furniture stores everywhere: when people come into your store they are looking for furniture to put in their homes. They want to sit in your showroom and feel like they are at home. If sitting in your showroom makes them feel miserable-- they will not buy furniture from you. Just a thought.

So there we were, back in the truck in the miserable hot, sweatier and grumpier than ever, arguing about what to do next.

In the back of my mind I'm thinking, "Oh great. We're going to have to go back to Costco all humbled and apologetic and admit that we want their stupid sectional after all." But what I'm saying out loud is, "Look, all I'm saying is that I've had a lot of people telling me that they've been really happy with furniture they've found at Big Lots lately-- we should at least take a look."

The BF has heard similar stories of Big Lots success so he grumbled a little in the heat and turned the truck toward Big Lots.

At Big Lots we found several sofa options. Sat on them all. Found a sofa and love seat set that we both considered acceptable. So we took a walk through the store to discuss it.

It's not a sectional. But I was thinking a separate sofa and love seat would allow for more furniture re-arranging options in the future. So, with the utmost confidence that the BF would get home and admit that his "TV nook" furniture placement was less than ideal with a sofa and love seat-- I agreed that this set met all my requirements of living room furniture.

It also cost less than the infamous Costco sectional.

The BF was still on the fence about it. He was leaning toward the Big Lots sofa set, but mentioned that if the price of the two pieces combined was just a little less, it'd be a no-brainer for him.

About this time, the store manager made an announcement over the intercom-- we really only half listened, but we definitely caught the part where that day was "friends and family" appreciation day and members received 20% off their entire purchase that day. So we looked at each other-- the light going on at the same time this time-- and proceeded to the front of the store to look into this "friends and family" thing further.

The lady we spoke with at the front of the store answered our questions with all the bubbly enthusiasm of Flo the Progressive Insurance Lady-- she was just great. The total antithesis of the Sunday Costco Employee. She also assured us that yes, that 20% off applied to couches too.

Another Big Lots employee with a friendly and helpful attitude went to check on the availability of our choice. YAY! One of each left in stock! So we proceeded to the furniture department where we met the manager, Larry.

Larry is our hero.

Since we saved so much money over what we were expecting to pay that day, I also tacked on a full size mattress set for the bed frame in the spare bedroom-- so yes, it's official, we have a place for overnight visitors-- or dogs. Mostly dogs.

And we got the whole kit and kaboodle in the back of the Ranch Truck! With help from Our Hero Larry the Manager and store associate Jody-- who came outside and helped load up our new furniture in the 175 degree heat with smiles and helpful attitudes.

Might I take this moment to point out that we are very happy with our furniture buying experience from BIG LOTS of all places?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Canoeing Coupledom

BF Matt has wanted a canoe for a long time. I've wanted a canoe since long before Matt was my BF. We've been together for 4 1/2 years now and FINALLY, between the two of us, we own one canoe!

For the last 4 1/2 years we have poured over brochure after brochure and website after website from various canoe manufacturers from around the country, debating over our needs and arguing over how each of us intend to use the canoe.

Matt finally convinced me that he doesn't actually want to take on white-water, so much as he wanted a canoe that could handle occassional rocks and strong current, and I finally convinced him that we needed one big enough for dogs AND gear...ok, he had to work harder to convince me than I did him.

My canoe vision involves a lot of calm, flat water with scenic vistas where it won't result in catastrophe if I stop paddling. The BF's vision involves rivers. With current and obstacles that will require focus, physical strength and endurance, and the ability to communicate clearly, quickly, and agreeably.

Maybe we should have each purchased a solo canoe?

Instead, we took the time and spent the money and eventually agreed upon a Wenonah Spirit II, 17 foot, tadem canoe. It's HUGE.

Seriously! I had no idea 17 feet was so freakin long! Our 2 car garage is destined to be a one car/one canoe garage. We had planned to hang the canoe from the rafters, allowing one vehicle to be parked underneath it. But the length of the canoe prohibits hanging, seeing as how the garage door requires some space in order to open.

So far, we have gotten pretty good at putting the canoe on top of the Xterra, tying it down, untying, taking it off the roof rack, etc etc. The BF has even conceded that I tie better knots that he does.

We have had the canoe for only a few weeks now, and it has been in the water twice. Our nearest lake is half an hour away and full of motorized water craft during these hot summer days, so our most convenient option for canoeing is the St. John's River. So our canoeing plan thus far has been more consistant with the BF's vision than mine.

For the last two weekends we have loaded up the canoe and driven to the end of Lover's Lane where there is a small parking lot designed specifically for people who plan on drowing in the river-- err, wait-- for people to use the bike/running trail that runs along the river. That's where we carry the canoe to the river, just upstream of one of the many little "dams" along the river-- I don't know what they really are, not sure what purporse they serve, I just know we don't want to go over one in the canoe.

Then we take off and paddle like hell upstream for up to 2 miles, which is how far we have till we reach the next "whoop-de-doo" (common local name for those little dams.)

Now this is the part where we have the most trouble. I get to sit in the front, Matt sits in the back.

Apparently it's my job to steer the canoe, which is much harder to do when paddling upstream as you have to keep the "nose" of the boat pointed straight into the current or the river tries to grab you and send you into a flat spin-- and paddling upstream is all the more difficult when your canoe is sideways.

The BF insists that the best way for me to "steer" is to just paddle on one side. Which may end up being true enough, but I do NOT have the strength and/or stamina to just paddle on one side!

Our first outing resulted in success in reaching our destination despite the bickering. It also resulted in my learning that the dang canoe is so long that I cannot reach the BF with my paddle to whack him upside the head from my seat.

Thus my advice to other couples seeking canoeing bliss in their relationship-- get a shorter canoe. Having your partner within whacking distance can prove essential when he insists that you have not properly communicated your intention to switch the side you are paddling on after you have repeatedly forewarned him that your arm is VERY tired and that you canNOT continue to paddle on the one side and that you HAVE to switch sides or take a break...only to be admonished that you must keep paddling on the same side.

This is exactly the way I remember our first canoe trip. I told him several times that I was going to have to switch! But he kept telling me that I couldn't switch. So when I switched sides, he insists that I didn't tell him I was going to switch.

Our second outing went much smoother with better communication, more cooperation, and more switching of sides. Leading me to believe that tandem canoeing might work out for us afterall.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Truth About "Friendship Bread" and Starters

About 4 years ago I got it in my head that baking bread wasn't challenging enough for me.

Those little packets of "active dry yeast" just made it TOO easy. So I decided to make bread the old-fashioned way... and since most would argue that I was already making bread the old-fashioned way (without a bread machine), I mean the REALLY old-fashioned way!

And so my first sour dough starter was born-- literally.

A little warm water and flour sitting out on the counter for a couple of weeks and I was the proud new mama of my own little colony of Whoos.

Pretty cool.

Very shortly thereafter, one of my clients brought me a bag of glue. And if you've ever had a "friend" bring you Amish Friendship Bread starter, then you know that "bag of glue" is about the most appropriate description you can get!

My little ziplock baggie of glue came with a sheet of instructions that, had I followed it, would surely have lead to certain heartbreak for my dogs, who LOVE Amish Friendship Bread.
Fortunately, I had already joined the rather obscure-- although elite-- group of baking nerds who dedicate a small portion of their refrigerator space to at least one container of sourdough starter-- so I immediately memorized the Friendship bread starter "foods" and then threw away the instructions. (Kept the recipe though.)

I poured my glue into a container with a lid, made sure it had been fed, and put it in the refrigerator.

4 years later, I still have both my starters and the dogs still get Friendship bread now and then. While the client who gave me my starter long ago got fed up with the allegedly high maintenance starter and did away with hers.

Meanwhile, in those same 4 years, I have been offered new friendship starter by many slightly desperate folks who have run out of "friends" to pawn off baggies of glue on. Eventually it seems that everyone grows weary of having a bag of glue sitting on their counter, having to knead it for 3 days in a row, feed it, knead it, feed it, separate into 5 portions, bake one, give away 4.

Eventually everyone either ends up baking 5 batches of friendship bread and calling it done, or pouring the starter down the drain.

Here's the scoop: You don't have to be a slave to your starter.

For one thing, get it out of the ziplock bag. Yeesh! A ziplock bag is just not the most convenient way to keep a starter.

Put it in a Rubbermade container, or Tupperware, or one of those semi-disposable Ziplock or Gladware things. Something with a lid.

Also, you don't have to feed it 1 cup each of sugar, flour, and milk. Just as long as you feed it equal parts of each.

And keep it in the fridge. If you put it in the refrigerator, you can forget about it for a month at a time! Just take it out at least once a month, feed it, stir it really well, and stick it back in the fridge if you're not going to bake a batch!

Here's my routine:

1. Take starters out of fridge.

2. Feed starters. --If I am not going to bake bread, I pour half the starter out. Yup, down the drain. Then I increase the remaining starter by one cup. That means I feed my starter 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and 1/3 milk. Stir it up, put the lid on the container and put it back in the fridge.

If I AM going to bake a batch, then I DON'T pour any out. I feed the starter, mix it up, wait for it to come up to room temp. As it does this, the yeast and bacteria start to wake up-- the eat and procreate and the starter gets all frothy and bubbly. That's when it's ready to bake with.
Amish Friendship bread is a quick bread-- like banana bread-- it mostly relies on the baking soda to make it rise. Like cake. I don't really know what purpose the starter serves, other than flavor. But it's hella tasty anyway!

Point is, that's what starter is. It's a naturally cultivated yeast culture. That's what sourdough bread is-- bread that is made without commercial yeast. I know most of us all associate "sourdough" with a specific flavor-- primarily San Francisco sourdough. Not all sourdoughs taste like San Fran's though-- and it turns out that San Francisco sourdough has a very specific flavor because the yeast spores that it's starter uses really only live in San Francisco. It would be difficult to take a San Fran starter out of the Bay Area and manage to keep that specific culture pure. So, if you're ever out and about and taste a sourdough bread that doesn't taste the way you think it should-- remember, sourdough isn't a flavor, it's a method.

So-- a few things you should know about your Amish Friendship starter:

1. Don't use metal. Don't put it in a metal bowl, don't stir it with metal implements. For some reason, metal is not friendly to starter. I'm not sure if it kills the yeast or kills the bacteria that live in symbiosis with the yeast-- and every so often I come across a sourdough baker who insists they use metal without problem-- but why risk it?

2. It's good for more than that recipe you got with it. I LOVE making my traditional sourdough bread recipe with the Amish Friendship starter. It makes a very sweet bread, great for making cinnamon rolls and pancakes with! MMMMMMMM.

3. If your friends really want their own starter, take it out of the fridge and feed it, pour a cup of starter into a new container for your friend, print out the recipe and instructions for feeding and storing. THEN BAKE THEM A LOAF OF BREAD! I can't believe it's become the tradition to just give your friends and neighbors a bag of glue and a sheet of high-maintenance instructions! Especially if the person you are giving starter to hasn't actually tasted the bread! Be a good friend and actually give them the finished product so they know why it's worth it to take care of that glue and convince them that it really is a show of friendship.