Thursday, December 29, 2011

Diaper Bag Checklist

Who packs the diaper bag in your family?

I'm willing to bet this wasn't covered in any premarital counseling sessions on assumed division of labor in the household.  We long ago decided that I would happily do all the laundry if Jeff took out the garbage, but we never discussed who would make sure we never left the house without a binky.  Hint:  it's me.  It seemed a natural decision, maybe because a diaper bag is somewhat an extension of a purse.  A big, heavy, crumb-filled purse.  Now I'm not complaining about the task; I'm just pleading my case for why I'm often the last one out the door on our way to church.

The arsenal of goods needed to leave the house with a baby and toddler in tow is daunting.  Is it just our kids, or do all newborns have a way of pooping so explosively that you need a ballistics expert to explain how poop could simultaneously blast its way up to the shoulders and down to the knees at the same time?  Also, both of our kids were big time droolers and spewers, going through a dozen or more bibs and burp cloths a day.  Now that she is a toddler, AJ requires a battery of snack options, each getting more and more enticing to be saved for more and more dire situations.  So between the diapers, clothes, bibs, burp clothes, binkies, raisins, bananas, cheese, sunscreen, hand wipes, etc., something is bound to be left behind.

After leaving the house one too many times with insufficient supplies of burp cloths, I wrote out a quick diaper bag inventory list.  This little 3x5” notecard allows me to quickly scan and restock the bag rather than relying on my often foggy mommy-brain memory.  As a fringe benefit, it also allows other people to pack the bag for me.  Last week, Jeff asked, “What else do I need to pack?” and rather than me listing off twenty different items, I just referred him to the list.

Friday, December 16, 2011

the Mouse Frother

Our milk frother, for making lattes/cappuccinos/etc., gave up after years of use. A replacement usually runs $20. That didn't seem right to pay that much for what is essentially a battery holder, switch, and electric motor. So I created the mouse frother using a wireless mouse from the Goodwill for $2.99. Click the mouse button for frothy goodness!


  • old wireless mouse, $2.99 from Goodwill

  • frothing wand, salvaged from defunct frother

  • electric motor, in parts bin (from Arduino starter kit)

  • two AA batteries

My first step was trying to salvage the old frother. I used a Dremel cutting wheel to open up the stainless steel casing, only to discover a dead electric motor within. At least the shaft of the frothing wand pulled off easily from the motor, and happened to fit exactly onto a spare motor I had from an Arduino starter kit.

With the shaft from the old frother, plus the electric motor, the Logitech wireless mouse had everything needed for a frother: a hand-holdable casing, battery holder, and push button switch. My $2.99 mouse even came with a bonus rechargeable battery.

I removed the left mouse button switch and mouse wheel to make room for the new motor. The actual button cover that your finger presses will flex upward to make room for the new motor. The fun part was removing various components from the mouse PCB. Capacitors, resistors, optical encoder, "laser", and the like. With the left mouse button removed, a right-click will activate the frother. The idea here is to disconnect all components from the switch while leaving the switch intact. A multimeter testing resistance to ground will tell you when you've electrically detached enough, should have infinite resistance with the push button open or closed. Then you can solder the motor wires so the right-click delivers positive voltage.

One side benefit of the mouse frother is that the batteries seem to last much longer powering this new motor. Another nice mod would be making it rechargeable with a charging stand.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pumpkin Everything, Take 4: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

On the rare occasions when Jeff and I get to go out for dessert, I always request going to the Ram.  Why?  Their to-die-for bread pudding.  In fact, I am nearly drooling just imaging the ooey gooey caramel sauce dripping over the toasty bread.  I couldn't imagine anything tastier.  That is, until I imagined PUMPKIN bread pudding.  After trying a couple recipes, I brought this delicious mass of bready goodness to my family's Thanksgiving dinner.  I made it again for my MOPS group Advent celebration brunch using less sugar and 2% milk instead of half and half, but I called it Pumpkin French Toast Casserole so nobody had to feel bad about eating dessert at 9:30AM (shhh! don't tell).

Bread pudding

  • 2 cups half and half

  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

  • 1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 10 cups 1/2-inch cubes egg bread, about 10-ounces (I used a day-old loaf of French bread from the breadmaker)

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Caramel sauce

  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

  • Powdered sugar

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread cubes. Stir in golden raisins. Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding. Serve warm with caramel sauce.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pumpkin Everything, Take 3: Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

When our Full Circle Farms CSA newsletter featured this recipe, I knew it would be a hit in our family. But I had no idea our 2-year-old would devour FIVE whole pancakes in one sitting. What's not to love about pumpkin, oatmeal, AND pancakes all in one?


  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

  • 1 cup yogurt

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 tbsp oil

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 tbsp wheat germ

  • 3 tbsp ground flax seeds

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger

1) In a large bowl, combine oats and yogurt. Let mixture stand for 15 minutes to soften. Add the eggs, oil, pumpkin puree and milk, mixing well.

2) In a separate bowl, combine the flours, wheat germ, flax seeds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices, mixing to combine.

3) Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing them until the batter is fairly smooth. Add more milk if the batter is too thick.

4) For each pancake, grease a hot griddle or pan with a small amount of butter and spoon about 1/3 cup of the batter onto the hot surface. Flip the pancakes when their undersides are golden brown and the tops begin to bubble.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pumpkin Everything, Take 2: Harvest Pumpkin Cupcakes

Call me a spoilsport, but I've never been a fan of cupcakes.  I am neither a huge cake or frosting  person, and even if I were, the frosting to cake ratio of a cupcake seems highly skewed.  However, I was called upon to rise to the occasion when my boss invited the fam to a Halloween party and cupcake exchange.  Much to my surprise, these cupcakes were delicious!  The recipe made two dozen, so we had plenty for the party and enough to bring to our neighbors as well.  Confession: I was short on time AND powdered sugar, so I used a can of cream cheese frosting instead of the frosting recipe below.



  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt


  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

  • 3 tablespoons butter OR margarine, softened

  • 1 tablespoon orange juice

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel

  • 4 cups powdered sugar


  1. To make cupcakes:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend the eggs, oil, sugar, and pumpkin in a large mixing bowl; set aside. Stir together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and beat until well blended. POUR into lined muffin tins. Fill about 2/3 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until center springs back when touched. Cool 30 minutes. Spread with frosting.

  2. To make frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread over cooled cupcakes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween 2011: Cow and Sheep Costumes

When Halloween rolls around, I am ever so thankful for my husband's hoarding ways, as it provides rich fodder for any number of make-it-yourself costumes.   Our do-it-yourself attitude about costumes stems not from any skills in sewing or pride in making unique and amazing creations, but perhaps just from cheapness and laziness :)  We can't bring ourselves to shell out a lot of money for an outfit worn for a few short hours (wait, that sounds a lot like wedding attire!).   And I already mentioned my aversion to trips to the fabric store.   So we created this year's costumes solely from materials we had lying around.  Now I'll be the first to admit that our outfits might be a little ghetto, but you can't beat free!

My mother bought the kids' costumes at garage sales, so all we needed were complementary costumes for Jeff & me.  It's almost embarrassing to post instructions on how to make these costumes, because they are so simple, but here goes.

Sheep Costume

I got the idea here but of course no grown-up in a sheep costume can compare with a baby dressed as a lamb.   Nonetheless, we went for it, improvising with the supplies below:

  • large white t-shirt

  • old pillow

  • white hat

  • black and white paper

  • needle, thread, scissors, paper glue


Cut open the pillow and pull apart the stuffing into a couple large sheets for the front and back of the sheep

Sew the stuffing/batting onto the shirt using large, running stitches.  I did this in a somewhat random pattern, bunching up the stuffing to make it fluffier.

Cut out an ear-shaped piece out of black paper and a smaller piece out of white paper and glue them together.  Crease length-wise, and attach to the hat.  (I used safety pins since this is my regular winter hat, and I'd like to wear it around afterward without sheep ears attached)

Wear over a black shirt and black leggings.

Cow Costume

This is another testimony to J saving random stuff that later comes in handy.  See the bodysuit he is wearing?  That is the surgical garb he wore into the OR during my C-section.  The spots?  Old worn dress socks that he couldn't bring himself to throw away.  The ears?  A cereal box cut up and wrapped in tissue paper from our gift wrapping re-use stash.


  • white shirt, pants, and hat (or a surgical coverall, if you're lucky enough to have one handy)

  • black fabric

  • lightweight cardboard

  • white and pink tissue paper

  • needle and thread, fabric glue, or other adhesive of choice


Cut random shapes out of the black material and affix it to the white clothes.  I am sad to report that, despite its ease of use, duct tape will not suffice.  We tried this for this year's first Halloween party at Bethany Community Church, but J arrived home with far fewer spots than he left with.  Oops.

For the ears, cut out the shape in cardboard and wrap it in white tissue paper.  Cut a smaller shape out of pink tissue paper and glue to one side.  Curl the ear into a circle, secure it with tape, and pin it to the hat.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fruit Fly Trap

Jeff and I have differing philosophies on dealing with bugs in the house.  He has a zero tolerance policy and kills all intruders (aside from the time in college when he caught a fly and put it on a leash, but that is another story).  I, on the other hand, believe in catch and release.  I wish I could say that it was out of the goodness of my humane heart, but it’s more that I don’t like to feel a bug squish beneath my fingers, even through a piece of paper.  One thing we do have in common is our shared dislike of fruit flies.  When their population seems to be climbing, Jeff puts together one of these incredibly simple but effective fruit fly traps:


  • A clear container such as an old bottle or jar

  • A piece of paper

  • Tape

  • Scissors

  • Fruit scraps, such as a banana peel or apple core


1) Place the food scraps inside the jar

2) Form the paper into a funnel with an opening just big enough for a fruit fly to crawl in (roughly 1 mm) and fasten with tape

3) Tape the funnel to the jar

The finished product:

The flies crawl in but cannot find their way out, and the odor stays contained.  I suppose you could wrap the jar in some decorative paper to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but around here we keep it simple and unadorned.  It's more fun to see our growing swarm trapped in the bottle.  And rather than feeling bad about killing bugs, I like to think that they happily live out the remainder of their days in an all-you-can-eat fruit fly buffet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Everything, Take 1: Pumpkin Spice Bread

Fall is here, and with it comes my annual foray into all things pumpkin.  What is it about pumpkins that are so irresistible?  Is it their cheery orange color or their empty slate ready for the carving?  Do they bring to mind fall leaves, warm sweaters, and cozy fireplaces?  Or memories of hayrides and apple cider and traipsing through the patch in search of the perfect specimen?

Maybe all of the above, but mostly, I just think pumpkins are delicious.  And if not the pumpkins themselves, then the  sugar and cinnamon that comes with them.  My plan this glorious autumn season is to make as many pumpkin-flavored goods as possible, either until my family revolts or Costco stops carrying the seasonal canned pumpkin mega-pack.  It's anyone's guess which one will happen first.

Today's offering is a classic: good old pumpkin spice bread.  But who am I kidding?  It's so sweet and delicious, it's really pumpkin cake, and that's what we call it when we serve it to the toddler as a special dessert (poor, sheltered toddler).  I did make a few changes from the original recipe to make us grownups feel better about eating cake for breakfast.


  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup applesauce

  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 (16 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/2 cup water

In a large bowl, combine sugars, oil, applesauce, and eggs.

Add pumpkin and mix well.

Combine dry ingredients.

Add to pumpkin mixture alternately with water

Pour into two greased 9x5 inch loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until done.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to wire racks.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Butterfly Pacifier Clip

Can you spot the difference between these pictures?

Aside from the fact that baby #1 on the left was our winter baby and baby #2 was our summer baby, another key addition can be seen on baby #2: the pacifier clip!

We spent a lot of time picking up and washing baby #1’s dropped binkies.  I had heard of pacifier clips, but I never bought one because (a) I had heard they were a strangulation hazard and (b) is it really worth $8 for a little piece of ribbon attached to a clip?   With baby #2, we lowered our standards wisened up.  The whole strangulation issue is solved by making sure the ribbon is short, and as far as the cost, I found that I could make my own for free with supplies already on hand.  Lots of do-it-yourself pacifier clip instructions on the web start with suspender clips that you can buy at a fabric store for $5.  But for $5, plus the cost of gas, plus the emotional cost of rounding up the kids to drive 10 miles to the nearest fabric store, I would rather just shell out the $8 and order a binkie clip online.  I was sure there must be an easier way.

So I turned to the hubby (aka hoarder of “raw materials”) and asked if he had anything like a suspender clip.  And, boy, he did not disappoint.  He pulled out a bag of dozens of little nametag clips that he had saved over years of business trips and conferences.  With one of these clips, a bit of yarn, and a crochet hook, I fashioned a little something that saves me at least a dozen binkie washes a day.


  • Nametag clip

  • Yarn of any gauge

  • Crochet hook, any size

  • Scissors


  1. Cut the clip off a nametag

  2. Crochet about 12 inches of chain stitches and tie off, leaving ends long.

  3. Fold in half and tie ends to the nametag clip.

  4. Crochet a butterfly as seen here.

  5. Fasten the butterfly to the nametag clip and trip off ends.

You can substitute anything for the butterfly, like a flower or heart.   Crochet-able boy-themed motifs are harder to come by, so I won't worry about it unless we ever have a baby #3 and he happens to be a boy (unlikely).   Though, for 3rd borns, I’m told that you don’t need binkie clips because you don't even worry about binkies falling on the ground any more.   You just pick 'em up, dust 'em off, and stick 'em right back in.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

perpetual pendulum

The lightbox in my office could benefit from a geeky gadget decoration. The perpetual pendulum combines two things: a Random Oscillating Magnetic Pendulum (ROMP) and a solar engine.

With the solar engine, light strikes a solar cell, feeding voltage into a capacitor. Once the capacitor climbs to a certain voltage, a voltage trigger releases current into a cassette motor. The motor turns a striker that pushes the pendulum rod, pushing the ROMP into a swinging motion. Magnets at the bottom of the ROMP can be arranged to adjust the chaotic motion.

Monday, June 27, 2011

less is more when it comes to VirtualBox CPUs

Below is a very non-scientific graph after measuring the start-up times of various applications with a stopwatch.  This was using a Windows XP SP3 virtual machine under VirtualBox 4.0.x. With dual CPUs, IO APIC emulation is turned on, causing a huge performance hit.

app startup time under virtualbox
app startup time under virtualbox

Moral of the story: run Windows XP under VirtualBox with one CPU and IO APIC turned off!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

export Evolution tasks

This is pretty ghetto, but there seems to be no "export" feature in Evolution 2.28.3 for tasks.

  1. Open up Tasks, select desired category.

  2. Choose File > Print > Print to File, output to a "tasks.pdf"

  3. Run "evince tasks.pdf"

  4. Select desired tasks, right-click, choose Copy

  5. Hooray, now you can paste the list into a text editor, Google Docs, etc.!