Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sew, We Can Swim Now

Before we went camping, I got all inspired to sew some decent swimming suits for my dear girls. I tend to get all crazy for sewing right before we can expect overnight company, and my brother and his wife and his friend were slated to stop here one night before heading up into the hills. This is a problem because the guest room IS the sewing room.

Anyways, I found some actual legitimate swimwear fabric (four-way stretch lycra, actually), but no patterns. Not that that could stop me. Hah. I used a cap sleeve tshirt that currently fits each girl, and just traced that on the fabric. I had to hurry because of the overnight guest thing. I sewed the shirts, put 1/4 inch swimwear elastic in the collar (from my diaper making stash), and used the serger to make lettuce edging on the sleeves and hem.


For the lowers, I traced a pair of stretchy pants (that were also current size), and cut them out of black lycra. I serged these together with the seams outwards, to guard against any chafing. I had to think awhile on the skirty part. I had promised them a suit with a skirt, but I wanted it to be nice and modest. I measured them each appropriately, then cut the skirt in a half-circle (one piece), so it had some twirl-room.


I attached the waist elastic (3/4" cotton braided) to the 'shorts' and skirt in one move, then turned it inside and stitched it down.

I lettuce-edged the skirt hem, and left the leg cuffs raw. These nice knits don't ravel, you know. :) It ended up a bit longer than I had planned, but I think it works wonderfully anyway. What do you think?

Also, in the photos, they mixed up their shirts... Big Sister is wearing Little Artist's, and vice versa.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Garden Growth




Today I picked the first non-cherry tomato. It's almost ripe, an Early Girl. I kindof picked a Siletz the other day, but it was all mutant and the plant has issues. It doesn't count. I've got chicken soup simmering, a homegrown chicken, carrots, onions and beans from the garden. We've been eating potatoes from plants that died (our soaker hose plan has developed some leaks), and crookneck squash. The sweet corn, while only knee-high in some places, is putting on ears, and the dill in everything has been fantastic.


These pictures are from last week, or earlier, but they give a good idea.



Onions, carrots, dill

First cherry tomato



See?!? I DO have a green thumb (and fingers)!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Meet The Chicks

I spent a few dusty moments in the chicken house a while ago, trying to capture a few shots of our notable chickens. Mind you, the notable ones are the only ones we've named, as they're the only ones different enough from their compadres to sort them out.

This is Grace or Agnes. I say 'or', because the girls keep changing her name.





Hmm.. I don't know who these are. Foreground, a buff orpington, background a light brahma.



Ah, here are some I recognize. The white one in the background is Angie. I have no idea what she is, other than a chicken. She has gray-green feet like the Aracaunas (the mottled one beside her), but until she starts laying eggs, I have no idea. Next to the Aracauna is a Brown Leghorn Rooster. I like their white earlobes.

Here's another mystery chick. We call her Rusty. She's a little darker than the buffs, has a bit of black in her tail. She also has the gray/green feet, and the funny puffy-looking cheeks like an Aracauna. Can't wait till these girls start laying...

These aren't really chicks, but they might be the mothers of some of them. These are our three hens we got this year from the hatchery. You wouldn't recognize them, if you saw them then. They were missing all their back feathers and all but a stub or two of tail feathers. They were skittish and psycho and freaked out. True concentration-camp victims, certainly. They are Warren, Peace (upper right), and Flopsy. Flopsy is a brown leghorn, and the others Aracaunas. They are our best layers right now (and do not hide away for weeks on infertile nests... grrr.).

Here are our guineas. They are very weird. Completely unlike chickens, in many ways.

And finally, the turkeys. Yummy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Daddy's Little Helpers

Somehow this isn't what I ever imagined...


But I love it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Whirlwind

That's what it's been around here lately. Gi-gi came on Sunday, a spur-of-the-moment thing, to do all my laundry and get her 'great-granddaughter fix.' It's Tuesday and we're almost through the laundry.

A windstorm came up last night, and blew everything to heck. Last week, a brief wind dislodged a large greenhouse-cover (which we cut from to cover the chicken house as needed) and blew itself across two fences. It was like a large, white wedding-veil, attached at one end to barbed wire, flowing across an irrigation ditch, up to another fence, attached (a greater portion) to it's barbed wire, with the base still lodged under the wood which was to hold it down. Last night's wind blew the opposite direction, but the barbed wire held fast, while the formerly-wood-laden end blew free, whipping and snapping loudly all through the night. The screen door nearby (directly below our bedroom window) came free of it's fixture (which I think was a screw through it into the wall of the house, keeping it forever open), and banged and slammed at will. I do not recall if it was at my 1:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. exit from bed that I took myself downstairs and out, to wedge my shovel against it while my nightgown flapped loudly. Too loud for night.

Big Sister has had a semi-quasi-cold, a bit of a cough and congestion, and (conveniently timed) moments of exhaustion (usually around chore time). Organique spiked a fever briefly on Friday night, and then worse by Saturday night. Sunday night she lay in my arms, burning up and shaking as with the chills. That was enough to spur me into using the expired infant Tylenol. She has had few other symptoms, but this morning, finally, the fever seemed lessened. I am grateful for that. Last night I started with a sore throat, and I'm hoping Zicam is lactation-approved, in spite of it's universal warning label.

I am getting that post-garden shift in motivation (except, we're still in the throes of garden). Wanting to clean out and rearrange and paint and sew and knit and quilt and organize. Lucky (or not) for me, there's plenty of that to do around here.

Gi-gi leaves today, and my folks are arriving Thursday evening with my step-brother's kids whom they care for primarily. We plan to take in the county fair and go swimming (and then collapse, if my guess is right).

I have yet to check the garden for wind damage, but from the sounds of things, the guineas didn't blow away. Loud critters, those.

The chickens are getting a bit big for their quarters, so we need to either eat a few or change accommodations for some.

Other than all that, things are pretty slow... :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Intrepid Adventurer

I think so anyway. I'm really not sure what "intrepid" means. But it sounds nifty.

Here she is, in living color:

Who, you say? Who always wears a floppy fisherman's hat, crazy yellow sunglasses, and Reebok's only because she got mad when she found out New Balance was made in China now?


Gigi, of course! Who else?

We camped at her favorite spot. Her parents used to 'vacation' in this area a long time ago. They had relatives that owned a lodge or something, and would sneak away from the kids and farm long enough to recharge in the mountains.

I need a relative with a lodge, lemme tell ya.

In any case, she's still 'got it.' The first night up there was (dis)organized chaos, what with the backpackers sorting their gear, setting up tents and packing away others. The girls and I were blessed to 'borrow' an already-set-up tent (and bed!) from some friends who were only up there for a day. My brother asked, "Where you gonna sleep, Gram?" "Oh, right over there," she replied, gesturing behind her. "I already picked out my spot." He leaned over to see where she meant, as many of us did, but was perplexed to see nothing but the shallow gully behind our campsite.

Oh, indeed. The shallow gully is where she meant.

What do you mean a gully isn't a good place for a tent? Who said anything about a tent? Gigi is quite obviously no typical 81 1/2 year old (as though you hadn't noticed) and she flat refused to take anyone's offered tent, or even to have an unused one set up for her.

And by sundown, she and her sleeping bag and her floppy fisherman's hat were snuggled down in the gully, amidst no few concerned whispers on our part.

"What is she thinking? It gets COLD up here. It'll be in the 30's by morning."

"I know, and what's with the gully? Flash flood, anyone?

"Donna saw wolf scat up the way a couple weeks back. Not that a tent would stop those, but still, should we be setting out a buffet?"

I set my timer for far fewer hours than I would have liked, in order to whip up a hearty breakfast for the supposedly intrepid adventurers. They all slept in tents, though. After stretching my own creaky joints (it was an airbed you know, not my typical memory-foam mattress) and hobbling to upright (the airbed was on the floor. Not an easy dismount) in the still-darkness (4:30 anyone?), I noticed something was still in the gully. Not that I expected it to be anywhere else, but it had been cold (yes, even with my husband to snuggle with and a down comforter... What? Don't look at me that way.), and I was worried. Since I haven't aspired to "intrepid adventurer" status, I asked Hubby if he would go check her. Hold a mirror under her nose. Check for a pulse. Something. He was busy getting dressed and taking care of last-minute pack-adjustments, and took his time. I questioned myself, asking how stupid I must really be. What will we do if she's dead? What will people think of us, letting our old granny freeze to death in the mountains three steps away from us? How long will it take the coroner to get up here? Might we be brought up on charges? I don't want to go to jail! What will happen to my kids? I didn't mean to let her die! Thankfully, before I had the chance to drive off and turn myself in, she was up and around, with fewer creaks and less hobbling than I had done.

She did commandeer an abandoned tent for a night or two while the packers were gone, but made up for it by dragging half-burned firewood to our camp from empty campsites, busting branches off a downed-but-only-half-dry tree and playing the harmonica so my girls could dance on the tabletop of the campsite next to ours. She hauled water and built fires and kept the dishes clean as I cooked. She rocked and sang to Organique, and kept after the horseflies with a fly swatter. She moved the playpen whenever the shade moved, and packed the whole deal, bedding/mattress and all, into my tent at twilight.

And reports that it was among the more enjoyable outings of her life.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Divine



I don't know what it is about this element of my life. I love it, but I'm not sure why. I LOVE hanging out laundry, especially diapers. While doing it, I ponder the possibilities.



Is it because they're all nice rectangles, and they satisfy my mathematical/spatial side? The way they share clothespins at the exact same distances? Is it because they're (mostly) white and clean? Perhaps because the relative quiet and repetition of the job relaxes me? Maybe how the damp diapers contrast with the heat of summer? The way the evening light hits them and they glow? Or because they represent so much... saving money, caring for my sweet baby, my role as a mother, the privilege of serving this way in this season. Maybe it's their sheer simplicity and lovely old-fashioned-ness. I'm the only people I know of that use these antiquated things, and I love it. Whatever it is (and I think it's all of these, combined), I'm fascinated that something that I always understood to represent thankless drudgery ("spent her life scrubbing diapers...") is actually a tremendous blessing and joy in reality.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

Envy?

I enjoyed meeting with the Organic Garden Club last week, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset walk through my friend's garden. She's an older lady, an immigrant, and I wish I had half her energy! I find myself wanting so badly to 'produce' like she does, even if it only feeds us.

Not only does she have the regular vegetable garden, but an amazing greenhouse with tomatoes that reach the roof. She winters her sheep in there, so the soil is amazing. She has 3 beehives, and a little honey shed for extraction. Her orchard is producing wonderfully, with apples of many kinds, peaches, plums, and I think cherries (they bore already). She has grapevines. Ducks. Chickens. A milk cow, for heaven's sake. Even a place to hang and process their own meat.

*sigh*

Will I ever be able to do so much? Half as much? I can't keep up with the morning glory, let alone the housekeeping these days. Is it bad when you have to drop the word "mopping" from your vocabulary and replace it with "chiseling?" The broom sometimes needs to be upgraded to a snow shovel around here.

And have you priced raspberries? I just want to have everything I need, you know. And everything I want (for free and/or cheap). Is that so bad? Berries and fruit trees, edible critters, a milk cow and a milk maid, fences, gates, sheds, and irrigation ditches. I think those are the key.

Ok, now I will go pray.

To overcome my envy, and maybe, just a little bit, I'll pray for raspberries.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

LUKE: Mighty Hunter

This is Luke. I've known him a while now, like for about 23 of his 26 years of life, or so. It's possible we've known each other longer, in an ethereal sense, as our parents were friends long before either of them were married or making children (i.e. us). We've walked different paths, but share myriad memories in our childhood. He was my brother's "official" best friend as a kid, and his sister was mine. Anyways, the trail didn't suit him, and he ended up camping with We Who Did Not Hike.


The trail difficulties may or may not have had anything to do with his hobbies:

His hobbies, by the way, are among those paths I didn't take, in case you were wondering. We do, however, share similarly fashionable tan lines.

In honor of our many shared camping memories, I assigned him an important job (Remember the previously mentioned but undisclosed purpose of my steam table pan? Get ready, this is it.): To use his amazing engineering skills to capture one of the little ground squirrel critters that were eating our leftover crumbs around camp. I offered him my multi-purpose steam table pan, and some cord, and he found an appropriate stick.

The first few tries were unsuccessful, but we learned that leftover spaghetti drew them quicker than sugar puff cereal. Eventually we secured one of the critters. I wanted to capture the victorious moment like those big game shots in Cabela's catalogs, but for some reason this just doesn't measure up. I think it was the lighting. Or maybe my lack of a Nikkon D80 DSLR.

It took several attempts to get a shot of the actual live beast (we did catch-and-release. We had plenty of food in camp as it was.); they are very fast! I did find one photo which shows a hint of the critter:

I'm sorry I didn't get a picture of Luke's less-than-manly reaction upon releasing the first captive, who scurried right towards him before disappearing in the bushes. THAT would've been one for Cabela's.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Reason...

...My brother hikes 27.3 miles uphill and down with 30 lbs on his back, quarter-sized blisters on his feet, eating freeze dried meals and beef jerky for three days? No, I mean other than the stash of beer he tied in the river...

Huckleberry milkshakes...





Yummy.
Love you, Bro.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

These Eggs Don't Dye

God makes them this way, Big Sister tells me. Early in our egg adventure, when the hens wouldn't stay put or use their nest boxes appropriately, I joked that every day was an Easter-egg hunt around here. Of course, all the eggs were brown.

That has since changed, with our recent additions of two Araucanas and a Brown Leghorn:


The Araucanas lay the green-blue eggs (and sometimes pink, I'm told, but none of ours are pinkies), and the Brown Leghorn lays the white. These particular brown eggs came from Whitey-Black, our Barred Rock.
They even match my new counter. :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Campin' Baby

I know I'm long overdue for some camping news. With the computer failure and replacement, and my finally getting the camera and computer speaking the same language, I was able to upload-download-offload the pictures to the hard drive. It's been nearly 2 months since I did that! But don't worry: There were (barely) less than 500 pictures to deal with.

I'll try to write the whole story later, though I'm not sure if that's reasonable. I'm starting with a couple darling shots of Organique in the Great Outdoors.



I think she was the only one who got a bath. I did go swimming a time or two though. The tub she's in is fabulous:


It's a stainless half-long, very deep steam table tray from my favorite kitchen store: the local restaurant supply. It carried books to camp, was the mixing bowl for my giant potato salad prior to camping, and served another important purpose (to be disclosed later) during that week.

On another note, she took her first steps today! Three days shy of 11 months.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Stretching Your Food Budget

Without Compromising Every Nutritional Conviction.

The Environmental Working Group put together a list of the twelve 'best' and 'worst' conventionally grown fruits and vegetables based on their pesticide/herbicide residues. Keep in mind that they're still conventional, with the soil damage and water contamination so typical of such enterprises, and still lower in certain nutrients, but you won't be ingesting notable toxins from the following fruits and veggies:

  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Avocado
  • Frozen Corn
  • Frozen Peas

I don't know about you, but this will free up a portion of my budget when necessary. I'll probably stick with the organic cabbage for making sauerkraut, but sometimes organic is 3 times the price of the conventional. And for regular cooking I'll ease up on that habit.

I'll probably spend the difference on making sure the following are organic:

  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes

This is somewhat bad news around here. Many of these products are just not available in organic, or are prohibitively expensive. I do use Biokleen Produce Wash on most fruits/lettuce, which claims to remove much of the contamination on foods. I'm hoping/planning to grow my own lettuce indoors once the outdoor gardening slows down. I didn't plant any greens in the garden this year, and for indoors I need to find an appropriate container...

On another note, beware genetically modified produce. While most soybean and corn produced in America is GM these days (check your boxed food for soybean oil or corn syrup!), the GM fresh foods are becoming more common. How do you know? Check the PLU code. Bananas are almost always (at least here) #4011, regardless of brand. That indicates a conventionally grown product. Organic share the same number, but have a 9 to start. Organic bananas are #94011. A GM banana would start with an 8. #84011. Concerned about GM, or don't see the big deal? While most are purporting to increase proteins or vitamins (pineapple, this year for instance), researches at Cornell University are reportedly developing a banana that carries the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Yummy.

*shudder*

Mercola has more.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Uh...?

This whole death-of-Dell-motherboard has been fraught with annoyance and expense. Not the least of which is that I'm now running Windows Vista.

Did you know that a "backup" disk isn't the same thing as all your files burned to disk? Neither did I. Let me just inform you now, that if you're all self-satisfied because the last thing your dead computer did was make a "backup" with Nero 6, and you upgrade to Windows Vista, you better wipe that smile off your face right now. Nero 6 doesn't work on Vista, and a "backup" disk requires itself to be unloaded and decoded by the very program that compressed and encrypted and formatted your files in the first place. Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about? No? Good. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth and removing of computer components and furrowing of brow, I took my old hard drive and new computer to some experts. They fixed me up, somewhat. For $36.

Did you know that Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 is not compatible with Windows Vista either? Neither did I. Darn all my old-school programs. Buying the 6.0 version wasn't on my to-do list, but a somewhat pleasant (if expensive) exercise.

But believe it or not, worse than trying to retrieve all my photos from the hard drive was registering my new PSE program. One is required to take a test at the outset. And I'm not sure I passed.

For instance, they want to know the nature of my Organization (no, "dis"organization wasn't on the list).
But Agriculture/Fishing/Forestry was. Is this an agricultural organization? Could be...
Construction? Sometimes.
Non-Profit/Charity? Yep.
Healthcare? Every day.
Photography? Not as much as I would like.
Education (K-12)? Check. Pre-K too.
Hospitality/Food Service? Constantly.

The kicker is, these are on a drop down menu. I can only pick one.

THEN they wanted to know my position. Uh... At the computer? Seated?
Chairman/Owner/CEO/Partner? Definitely.
Accounting/Finance? Of course.
Administrative Support? That sums it up too.
Human Resources? Yes, three so far.
Project Manager? Always.
Purchasing Manager? Obviously.
Training/Development? It never ceases!
Creative Director? Yup!
Designer (fashion/interior)? Afraid so.
Musician? When necessary
Photographer? Yep.
Education Administrator? Absolutely.
Educator? For certain.
Student? Frequently.
Healthcare Practitioner/Medical Services? When needed.
Scientist/Researcher? Every day.
Social Services? Constantly.

I don't even remember what I selected. Probably "other." But really, it took me a very long time, because I didn't have a pie-chart handy telling me what I spend the bulk of my time doing. And really, if I'm talking parts-of-speech with one child, bandaging an owie on another, and noting that Organique has mastered standing alone, does that count as Educator, Healthcare, or Research? And what if dinner is cooking? I do not like to get 'wrong' answers, whether or not we're grading on the curve. It's the one area my perfectionist tendencies have full reign (unlike in housekeeping, where I could really use it). I must have struggled with those drop-down menus for quite some time.

Why couldn't they sum it up with Homeschooling Mother. Really, I think that says it all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beefin' Up

Remember when we were just about out of beef? I know, I know. It was very sad.

But -- It has a happy ending!

No, we haven't started our own beef production (yet!). We're still consumers in that market.

THIS time, I wanted to hold out for something grass-fed, as opposed to grain-fattened. If you're not sure why, google it. I know, I could do that and link it for you, but I'm lazy right now. It comes down to the types of fats. Something that gets fat from salad has better fat (omega 3s) than something that gets fat on doughnuts.

Hm.. there's a thought. "I might be fat, but these rolls are Omega-3. They're good fat (rolls)."

In any case, I was dying for spaghetti. It had been months since I'd seen a pound of ground beef around here, and I was desperate. I called a natural foods store in Town, and talked to the wonderful proprietor. He in fact DID have some organic grass-fed beef in stock - just delivered (interestingly, raised by my organic-farmer neighbor down the road) that day. I paid $5 for a pound of it *gulp!*

I knew I couldn't keep that habit up, so I asked him whether or not he knew of any producers that would sell me a whole entire cow. He gave me a couple names and phone numbers. Nice of him, considering that sealed the deal for him that I wouldn't be buying beef from him again for a very long time. I found one guy with some ready-to-go Angus; fed a green ration (alfalfa/grass/etc) and NO grain. I paid 1.30/lb for 1200 lbs ($1560), plus cut and wrap, which was $240 I think. All in all, I have nearly 500 lbs of beef in the freezer, at an average of $3.60/lb or so. Expensive-r than the last local one I got (grain-fed), but it's far better for us. And considering that the cost of everything has been going up--especially grain, it probably wasn't that bad.

What IS bad, maybe, is that I'm rationing the hamburger while not caring about the porterhouse steaks....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pink Eye Remedy Review

This morning I awoke with my left eye very irritated and slowly but constantly filling up with tears. I thought maybe I had something in it, and used tissue to wipe at it gently. As I sat here catching up on blogs, it continued. I began to wonder if it was pink eye.

I recalled reading something about pinkeye remedies that didn't involve an expensive prescription for a tiny bottle of antibiotic drops. I googled it, of course, and read through dozens of home remedies involving russet potatoes, colloidal silver, or chammomile tea. None of those rang a bell, and I didn't have any of them on hand.

There was a couple places recommending wiping the eye with a soggy diaper or cloth dipped in (child's) urine. I didn't think THAT could be what I was looking for. Though it was intriguing.

Then, I found it: breastmilk! Aha! THAT's what I'd read.

I just happened to have a lactating female on hand, so I gave it a try. Wouldn't you know, the irritation and watering stopped immediately! Fantastic. I will reapply throughout the day.

To recap:

Breastmilk vs. Prescription Eyedrops

Required no call or visit to the doctor (and possible fee).
Did not have to wait to hear from/see doctor.
Did not have to wake children or pile them into the car for a trip to the doctor's and/or pharmacy.
Did not have to keep three children under control in cute shop while waiting for pharmacist.
Did not have to spend $35 for prescription.
Can take remedy with me without refrigeration.

I think I'll go with the breastmilk.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Zucchini Fraud

And I think you would agree.

You know all those darling little volunteer squash plants in my garden? We're getting to the point where we can tell what they are. "By their fruits ye shall know them," you know.

And so it was with great delight that I discovered that one of the plants, right in the midst of the black beans, was a zucchini! I didn't plant any of that this year, as everyone ends up paying people to take the stuff, and I knew I'd be able to find some if I wanted. I was very excited, though, to see these coming available so conveniently.

Today I picked the first, and decided to try some delicious-looking zucchini cakes I found a recipe for somewhere online. I grated the thing (tossed out the somewhat-large seeds, though), salted it, squeezed the moisture out through a towel, mixed it with some breadcrumbs oatmeal, parmesan cheddar cheese, salt, pepper, garlic, an egg. It was looking so tasty. I heated up some coconut oil in a pan, and carefully pattied my mix into an appropriate arrangement, and waited. I flipped them over when they were nicely brown, and took a taste as the edges cooled.

...Hm. Yuck. Ew. That's terrible. Did I only get a piece of garlic? Did I burn the garlic? Oh, that's nasty. And it just lingers. Ick.

So I got another piece, a more substantial, less crispy-edged one, and I smelled it. Not too garlicky. This would be better.

Oh ick yuck blech ew pfffttt thhppppfff cough gag spit.

It was most definitely not better. Worse, if that's possible.

What in tarnation?

There was a remaining crumb in my mouth, and I inspected it first by taste, and began to believe it was certainly garlic. Bitter, rancid maybe, though not spicy. I removed the tidbit and was surprised to see an edge of green skin that convinced me the nastiness was the zucchini itself. And it was the kind of nastiness that pinched your cheeks inward for the next 30 minutes at least.

After jump-starting some brain cells, I began to think this through. The plant is a volunteer... It's parentage is unknown... Those larger-than-usual seeds... It's slower growth rate (for a zucchini)... It's not a zucchini! It must be an evil, masquerading zucchini-gourd!

*Sigh*

So much for the manna-from-heaven aspect of these (somewhat) labor-free produce producers.

And I'm not wasting any more diatomaceous earth on saving it from the squash bugs. As a matter of fact, I probably won't be letting it shade my black beans, either.

Your days of defrauding this gardener (and eater) are over, Evil Masquerading Zucchini Gourd.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Orange Light Troubleshooting

for Dell.

And for those who have the problem I did. Maybe I can save you $50.

My Dell (Dimension Desktop E510) began having issues some time ago. When we (rarely) restarted it, it would not want to start up again. The first time, we clicked the button a few times, pulled it forward and peered into the tangled mess in back. I noticed an orange blinking light in the neighborhood of the DSL cable. I removed the cable, and clicked the button. It started right up.

It happened again and again, and each time the 'fix' was a bit different. Once it was the USB cable from my Kodak EasyShare dock. Always there was an amber / orange blink behind the start button when it would fail. Eventually I was removing handfuls of cables each time, and each time it would eventually start back up.

When we returned from camping, it was after I removed the larger monitor cable.

I called Dell earlier this week and requested backup/restore disks so I could wipe the whole hard drive and start anew. They arrived quickly, and Friday night I began the process of 'backing up' my photos and documents and such. Saturday morning, the process was completed, but the computer was 'tangled up again and I had no toolbar at the bottom, and other than frozen screen-saver, the only working window was the 'finished!' one for the backup. I couldn't shut the computer down onscreen, so I reached down and held in the main button for several seconds.

And that was all she wrote.

Of course, I will continue to write:

Naturally, it did not restart, so I removed everything, including the monitor cable. No luck. Just an orange blink behind the button when I pressed it.

I called Dell, and they told me that the orange blink was code for a power supply issue. And that since my one-year warranty had expired last year, I could take advantage of the $49 fee-based tech support. I would not have to open the computer (not that I was afraid to), and they were confident the problem could be rectified. They did NOT think I would need to purchase any parts for this problem.

I told them I'd call back after consulting my husband.

I did so, and browsed the yellow pages for computer repair, and did a few more troubleshots myself. I recalled once having to unplug it from the wall and then holding in the button to 'drain' residual power from the unit. I thought certainly this would work.

It did not.

I tried about fifty gazillion configurations of cables and plug- and un-plugs and holding the button in for varying seconds and minutes.

Each time I was rewarded with an orange blink on attempted restart.

I got out my debit card and called Dell again. Once I was finally transferred to the correct department and someone with a workable version of English, the fun began.

I began by explaining what I had already done: removed all external cables, drained the power, etc.

She began by having me plug the unit into a different wall socket.

Of course, nothing.

Then she instructed me carefully: "Shut down the computer completely, please."

Me: "Uh.... I think it already is.." Isn't that why we're here?

"Of course. Remove all external cables please."

Me: "Um... I did that already." This is what $49 gets me?

"The blinking orange light indicates a problem with getting power to the components."

Me: "Right." The other lady already told me that for free.

"Remove the power cable and hold the button in for 5 to 10 seconds."

Me: "Okay..." I already explained to you that I did this, remember?

"Please look at the back of the unit near the power cable.. What color is the light there?"

Me (looking): "There is no light there." I thought we went over the model details so you could find the right schematics...

"Ah, okay. No light. Please turn the power off completely."

Me: "..."

"Remove the side of the unit so you can access the interior."

Me: "Okay.." Isn't this what we weren't going to have to do?

"Remove all cables from your CD/DVD drives and hard drives."

Me (wracking my brain for any evidence that I've ever seen or recognized a hard drive before, and coming up empty): "Where exactly is the hard drive?"

"I will tell you exactly." (brief pause) "Remove the plugs from the hard drive."

Me (seeing something vaguely familiar, and wondering about it): Is it long, and rectangular? What does it look like?" Huh? That doesn't "tell me exactly."

"Ah, I will tell you. There are two cables, one from the power, one from the motherboard. Please remove both."

Me (taking a good long while to figure this out, but finally finding something with 2 cables from the appropriate places): "Okay.." Thanks for being so clear.
"Replace the side cover, plug the unit into the wall, and try to start it."
Me (replacing, plugging, and attempting): "I get an orange blink."
"Unplug the unit, press and hold the button for 5 to 10 seconds, and remove the side cover..."
Me: "Okie dokie."
"Remove expansion cards."
Me (eventually after much clarification): "Okay." This is fun.
"Replace the side cover, plug the unit into the wall, and try to start it."

Me (replacing, plugging, and attempting): "I get an orange blink."

"Unplug the unit, press and hold the button for 5 to 10 seconds, and remove the side cover..."

Me: "Okie dokie."
"Remove the memory cards."
Me (realizing these were what looked familiar - and secure now that they are NOT hard drives): "Yep." What should I be doing with all these pieces?
"Replace the side cover, plug the unit into the wall, and try to start it."
Me (replacing, plugging, and attempting): "I get an orange blink."
"Unplug the unit, press and hold the button for 5 to 10 seconds, and remove the side cover..."
Me: "Okie dokie."
"Reset the motherboard power."
Me (eventually deducing that this is code for 'unplug and replug the motherboard power cable'): "Okay." The kids are getting unruly. I think I might need to reset my own "motherboard power". Can you walk me through that?
You know the drill.
"Unplug the fan from the motherboard."
Me: "Alright."
Wash, rinse, repeat.
"I have deduced that you need a new motherboard and power supply."
I think you're right. I HAVE been tired lately, and discipline is in great demand this week.
She went on to console me regarding the "much money" I spent on her assistance and recommended I purchase the components myself and replace them, to save on additional expenses.
Me: "Can you tell me the price of these things?"
She tried, really, but she couldn't. She said she'd transfer me to sales, which she did NOT - I ended up with a mush-mouthed very-American kid (probably in the mail room) before finding sales. Sales did not impress me much: Refurbished parts, with paltry 90-day warranties would be anywhere from $180 to $250 total, plus taxes, shipping, etc.
I thanked him for the information, hung up, and decided immediately that I could find something better online.
Oh. Online.
Crap.
I ended up paying $350 (semi-) locally for a new tower with twice the memory and hard drive space as the Dell, a much better processor, a year warranty, and 60 days of free antivirals. The difference is worth it, if I can get more than 2 years of life out of it, and I'm praying we can get much more.
And...
If this $50 story saves your system (providing one of the above steps actually works for you), feel free to send me a few bucks for my Dell-to-English translation services. You're welcome.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

And $400 Later...

We're (more or less) back where we started.

My 2-year-old computer died. Young, methinks. It was a Dell.

It was like my right arm had been chopped off. I called Dell for help.

For $50 they told me I needed parts, of which the cheapest "refurbished" versions totalled $180 (plus tax)... I figured that they'd have a 2-year life expectancy at best, so I found a new main unit instead for $350 with tax. It has twice the memory and hard drive space than the last, and it's not a Dell. That has to be worth something, right?

So, after hours on the phone, and comparison shopping (on a distant borrowed computer), and real-life shopping, and counting on perfect love to cast out all fear of threatened dire possibilities if I didn't pay half as much additionally for Guaranteed Geek Squad Salvation, I came home with a new tower.

And here I am. My right arm has been reattached, and seems to be working better than ever.

Whew.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's A Good Thing I'm Not Suspicious

Considering, as I logged into my username this morning I was informed that I had:

666 unread email messages, and

6 programs running.


Hmmm...


Someday, when I've found the laundry room floor, and whacked the weeds low enough to see the corn, I'll talk about our camping experience last week...