How Do They Stay in Business?

A minor rant.

Did you ever get such stupid service from a business that you wonder how they survive?

I had that happen to me last night. I was with some friends in Chelan watching an outdoor concert at the “Main Stage” for the big Winterfest 2015 festival going on this month. It had been snowing all day and it was cold. I spent much of my time on the fringe of the crowd where a fire was burning in a small fire pit remarkably like mine.

I was hungry and when my friend Pam said she was hungry, too, we looked around for a restaurant. There was a teriyaki place across the street and we decided to try that first. Although it was a tiny place with fewer than a dozen tables, we’d timed it right and a table was open for us. We sat right down.

It was about 10 minutes before the waitress showed up with menus. She started off by telling us what beverages were available at no cost. She never told us about any other kind of beverage that might be available, either non-alcoholic or alcoholic. Kind of weird, but okay. The hot tea sounded good so that’s what I ordered. Pam ordered water.

The waitress came back another 10 minutes later to take our order. We wanted to split a large tofu vegetable teriyaki dish with chicken added. It wasn’t because we were trying to be cheap. It was because neither of us wanted to eat very much and we didn’t plan on carrying take-home boxes when we went back outside for more live music. The waitress wrote it down and disappeared. She didn’t try to upsell with an appetizer or anything else.

She was back in 5 minutes. Apparently, the kitchen was too busy for “special orders.”

I looked around the restaurant. Yes, every table and the small bar was filled. About half the people were eating. No one was waiting. It didn’t seem that busy to me.

Ordered a small chicken teriyaki. Pam ordered a small tofu and vegetables. And then we sat back to chat and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Pam’s husband came in a few times. He sat with us for a while, used the bathroom, sat with us some more, and then went back outside.

We continued to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I didn’t mind the waiting so much. I was comfortable. The place was warm. My clothes were dry. We could see the concert right through the restaurant windows. We could see all those people shivering in the snow by the ice bar, drinking overpriced alcohol while crowding around propane space heaters. When the door opened, we could hear the band. I figured we were a lot better off inside than outside.

I could use some more tea, but in the ninety minutes we waited for our food, the waitress came by only twice. I hit her up for tea both times.

The food finally came. It was about as I expected: neither bad nor great. It was hot, though, and fresh. So I guess that’s something.

Pam’s husband came back in and shared some of our food.

I picked up the check, which came pretty quickly after the food had been consumed. We’d been in the restaurant a total of about two hours when it arrived. The total, with tip, came to $28.87.

And that’s my question: how can a restaurant stay in business when it allows its tables to be used as low-cost rest zones for cold, wet concert-goers? If the average spent by each person in the restaurant was $15 and each person was there for two hours, how could they possibly be making any money?

Let me make it clear: we did not hang around because we wanted to. We hung around because we were waiting for our food. The delay came entirely from the restaurant staff. We weren’t hogging up the table. They were just providing exceedingly slow service.

How does a business that operates like this stay in the black?

The Return of the Sun

The one drawback of having those magnificent basalt cliffs out behind my home is the Shadow Time.

I live on a shelf of land at the base of some 1000+ feet tall basalt cliffs. My home faces the big views to the north, toward East Wenatchee, the Columbia River, and the Wenatchee Valley. My entrance faces my driveway, which comes up from the east. Those cliffs are to the south and begin less than 1/4 mile from my home.

The cliffs are beautiful, with layers of tall basalt columns, tumbled rock making up talus slopes, and ponderosa pine trees. On summer mornings and late afternoons, the brown rock glows with warm golden hour light. Bighorn sheep jump from rock to rock up there and I can often hear the tiny landslides of rocks they set tumbling down the cliffs. Once in a while, they’ll come down as far as my neighbor’s yard to graze in his grass. I haven’t seen them across the road at my place. Yet.

Cliffs
Here’s a shot of the cliffs behind my home, taken last summer from my driveway. The talus slopes go almost all the way down to my neighbors’ homes on that side of the road. In fact, my neighbors’ lots actually include the cliff faces. (Not exactly usable land.)

Lay of the Land
I threw together this hybrid topo/satellite map to show the lay of the land. The odd shaped red box is my 10 acre parcel; the south property line follows the road — hence the odd shape. The X is my homesite. If you know how to read topo maps, you know that closely spaced lines indicate steep hills. In this case, the cliffs behind my home rise in two steep steps about 1,000 feet above me.

Of course, living so far north means that the angle of the sun is low during the winter months. While the whole area has long nights and short days, the folks on my road have another winter issue to contend with: living in the shadows. You see, for a period ranging from weeks (in my case) to months (in some neighbors’ cases) straddling the winter solstice, the sun does not rise high enough above the cliffs to clear them and shine on our homes.

I call this the Shadow Time.

I knew this was going to be an issue when I bought my place. It had me so concerned that in the winter of 2013, when I was still living in Arizona, I took a week-long trip up to Washington state to see for myself. It had been a very long time since I’d lived in a four-season place with a snowy winter. I wanted to experience it firsthand so I knew what I was getting into by buying here. Every day during that week, I drove the rental car — a minivan — up into the hills to look at my place. I wanted to see what the light was like. I wanted to see how much shadow there was.

That was my first exposure to January’s fog, which engulfs the valley 25% to 50% of the time — my place can be above, below, or in it. And the snowy roads. And the shadow.

But I didn’t think it was so bad. Besides, I expected to travel during the winter each year and probably wouldn’t experience it at all. So I went forward with my plans and bought the place in July 2013. I don’t regret it one damn bit.

This is my first full winter living up here. It’s hard to tell with the variable weather we get here in the winter time — it’s mostly sunny most of the year — but it seems to me that the Shadow Time starts in the first week of December and ends in the second week of January. I marked my calendar with January 15 so I could remember to pay close attention.

But as this past week whizzed by, the weather was not cooperative. There’s that January fog to contend with. Even the sunny days had some clouds to the south or southwest. It might be blazing sun down in the valley with brightness up here. Was that the sun trying to get through the clouds? Or was it still back behind the cliffs?

Yesterday dawned bright and clear, with just a few clouds scattered about. It had snowed overnight and I measured 3 inches of fresh snow on my concrete driveway apron. A low fog settled over the river; it would clear once the sun hit it.

Low Fog
A low fog settled over the river and Wenatchee just as the sun was rising. This was shot from the deck outside my bedroom door; my elevation is about 800 feet above the river. If you look closely, you can see my Lookout Point bench.

I went about my day, watching the shadows get shorter and shorter, seeing how the direct sunlight came closer and closer to my shelf. The insulation guys were hard at work, stuffing the space between studs with brown batting. Downstairs, in one of my garage bays, the framing guy was boxing around my plumbing so the drywall work could meet building codes for fire safety requirements. I had ribs on the Traeger and, at about 2 PM, we all took a break upstairs for lunch.

And that’s when I noticed the sun shining on my Lookout Point bench. As we ate ribs and salad and chatted about the view and construction and other things, I watched the shadow retreat to the south. Then the sun was shining through my high windows and my west side bedroom window. Outside, I could see the shadow of my building and the tall pole with its multicolored wind streamers.

The sun was back. Shadow Time was over.

Bragging
I bragged to my neighbor that the sun was back and I think she was envious.

I had at least an hour of direct sun yesterday — possibly more. It didn’t start until about 2 PM and it was still full on my place at about 2:40 PM when I drove away for a doctor’s appointment. I stopped to take a photo and texted my next door neighbor, whose home is higher up but tucked back closer into the hillside. Her response an hour later showed a bit of envy.

The Sun is Back!
I shot this photo from the road behind my home as I drove into town for an appointment. Those high windows really catch the winter sun.

I suspect that the Shadow Time really ended a few days ago but I couldn’t tell because of the cloudy weather. That’s okay. I’ll get more and more sun every day now — probably 15-30 minutes, depending on the sun’s arc in the sky and the shape of the cliffs it has to clear. The cliffs get lower and farther away to the southwest — that’s why I get afternoon sun first.

In about a month — or maybe sooner — I’ll start getting sun on the east side of my building as early as 10 or 11 AM. I’m hoping to have my front deck done by the time the dawn sun hits it so I can drink my coffee out there as each new day is born.

I’ll admit that I’m disappointed that I don’t get full sun all year like the folks farther north of the cliffs. But, at the same time, it was never my intention to live here year-round.

This year I have a job to do: finish my home. Next year I’ll go south, likely before Christmas or perhaps right after my annual Christmas ski trip. I’ll miss the January fog and much of the Shadow Time, returning in late February or early march to fully enjoy the orchard blooms and get my garden started.

For now, I’m just happy Shadow Time is over and look forward to more sunny winter days ahead.

Turning Dreams into Realities

Reflecting on goals and achievements.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am in my life.

Most of my thoughts these days center around my new home, still under construction. It was nearly three years ago, in the spring of 2012, that I first laid eyes on the land I’d later buy to build my home. Back then, I had an inkling of an idea — a simple summer home where I could escape Arizona’s heat with my helicopter parked onsite for my cherry season work. In those days, I had a man I thought was my life partner and I honestly thought I’d make that summer home with him. But things don’t always turn out the way you expect and I wound up moving forward on my own, rebuilding my life as I built my year-round home.

It’s easy to sit back and skate through life.
What’s hard is working and making sacrifices to make your dreams a reality.
But until you you do it, you have no idea how worth the effort it is.

It’s that home that I’ve been thinking about most lately. What started as a vague idea moved on to a series of sketches that were fine-tuned along the way with input by friends and contractors with more experience than I had as a builder. Some suggestions were good and changed my plans; other suggestions did not meet my needs or ideas and were discarded.

Emotional and financial challenges delayed the purchase of the land to July 2013. More of the same delayed the start of construction to April 2014. But all the time I kept working my ideas and fine-tuning my plans. Even as the shell of my building started to go up in May 2014, I was fine-tuning floor plans for my living space and resizing my deck.

Cliff View
The shell of my home this past summer, before I brought the helicopter inside.

But what I find most amazing — and what I’ve been thinking most about recently — is how something that came out of my head materialized over time on my land. I drew the building I wanted and did all the ground work to line up the people to build it. They built exactly what I designed. And they said it was good — not because they built it but because it was something they liked, something they understood would meet a need. I didn’t compromise and it showed.

And it is good. It meets my needs entirely: a place to store the things I’ve accumulated and need to get my work done and enjoy my life. Yes, I do have three cars — but I use all of them and I’m thrilled to have them all under one roof. Yes, I do have a boat and a motorcycle and an RV — but I use all of them to stay active and enjoy time with friends or on the road and I love having them secure at my home. Yes, I do have a helicopter — but I use it to earn a living and you can’t imagine how happy I am to have it under my own roof.

Now, as I work with contractors and friends to finish my living space, I’m reminded over and over about how that inkling of an idea for a summer home germinated and grew into a structure of my design for a year-round residence. As I run wire in my kitchen, I think about the microwave or coffee maker that’ll plug into the outlet I placed exactly where I wanted it to be. As I order cabinets and countertops, I think of how I’ll store my plates and glasses and silverware and how I’ll prepare meals and chat with visitors at my breakfast bar. As I buy appliances and bathroom fixtures, I think about doing laundry and baking cookies and soaking in my tub in front of the big bathroom window. As I stand at the door to my deck and gaze out at the world around me, I think about the afternoons I’ll sit out on the deck with friends, sipping wine and chatting about life as we take in the magnificent view.

Winter Panorama
I shot this photo from my deck the other day, while I was running wires for the lights out there. How can a person not be happy with this out their window? (You can click it to zoom in and see the details of the river and orchards and snowcapped mountains.)

Yes, I’m still dreaming, but bit by bit those dreams are becoming a reality.

And it’s my hard work that is making this happen.

I spent nearly every day of the past two weeks up in my future living space, running wires to electrical outlets. My fingers are sore and my cuticles are cracked. I broke my toe by stubbing it, nearly broke a finger by crushing it with a twisting drill, and have cut myself more times than I care to count. I’ve gone to bed exhausted and have woken up stiff and sore.

To pay for the materials and the work provided by others, I’ve made numerous lifestyle sacrifices, the most significant of which is living in an RV since I left my Arizona home for good in May 2013. While my RV isn’t exactly uncomfortable, it isn’t nearly as comfortable as a rented apartment or house would be. But why pay $1,500 a month or more on rent when that money can be used to buy appliances or pay a plumber for my own home? And besides, I worry that getting too comfortable in a temporary home might take away the urgency I feel about getting my new home done.

The reward for my hard work and sacrifices is seeing my dreams come true.

I cannot express the immense feeling of satisfaction and joy I get when I look at my new home and remind myself that it came from me. I designed it, I did what it took to get it built, I made all the decisions and paid all the bills.

And that feeling of joy is pumped up every single time someone comes by and says “This is going to be a great place when it’s done.” Do you know how often I hear that? Almost every time someone comes up to visit or work on my place. Over and over — they all say the same thing. From the UPS delivery guy to the guy who runs the pole building construction company. Inspectors, plumbers, drywall guys — they all tell me how much they’d love to live at my place. Can you imagine how that makes me feel?

I know I got it right — but I have so many people confirming it.

And as weird as this might sound, I have to thank my wasband and his girlfriend for making this all possible. If it wasn’t for him pulling the plug on our marriage and her convincing him to make me an enemy by going after my business assets, I never would have had the freedom to finally move forward with my life. Years of stagnation, living half of every year in a rut he’d dug, waiting for the man I loved to get his head and life together and fulfill his promises to me finally ended. Although the ending wasn’t the way I would have chosen, I know now, in hindsight, that it was the best way. A clean break is the best break. No more grief, no more frustration.

And now I’m moving forward again, rebuilding my life as a better life, making my dreams happen.

I love where I am in my life: happy, healthy, free, surrounded by friends, living in a beautiful place. Seeing the results of my hard work materialize before my eyes.

What else is there?

Construction: Wiring my Home

The hard part is done. Finally.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

As regular blog readers know, I decided to do all — or at least most — of the wiring in my new home. Although this might seem like a daunting task, it really isn’t a big deal once you get an idea of what you’re doing and gather together the right tools for the job.

The Basics

Electrical BookI learned 90% of what I needed to know from an electrical wiring book I bought last year, Ultimate Guide: Wiring, 7th Edition. This book explains the basics and has lots of wiring diagrams to help ensure that I get it right. I’m a visual person and can easily match what I see in the diagrams.

If you don’t know much about wiring, here’s the gist of it: Every home has a number of circuits, each of which runs to one or more devices such as outlets and light fixtures. Normally, circuits serve a certain area — for example, my bedroom’s outlets and ceiling fan/light has a circuit and my bathroom has another.

Each circuit has a specific amperage or strength of electric current; 15 amps and 20 amps are most common, although some circuits have 30 amps (such as my dryer and water heater), 50 amps (such as my range), and 60 amps (such as my heat pump/furnace). The type of wire you use depends on the amperage of the circuit. For example, a 15 amp circuit needs 14 gauge wire while a 20 amp circuit needs 12 gauge wire. (For wire gauge, the smaller the number, the thicker the wire.)

U.S. electrical code, which forms the basis of state electrical code, has certain requirements. For example, I’m required to have two 20 amp circuits in my kitchen for the outlets and they have to be GFCI-protected. The bathroom needs a dedicated 20 amp GCFI-protected circuit. There are a lot of little rules like that, some of which are obvious and some of which aren’t. The Wiring book I have covered most of what I needed to know; friends with experience wiring their own homes filled in the gaps.

The Plan: There is No Plan

Maria the Electrician
Here I am, dressed for a typical day of work: Layers of clothes to keep warm, tool belt so all my tools are handy, and kneepads for working on the floor.

When a home is designed by an architect or engineer, the plans include a wiring diagram. In my situation, I didn’t have this luxury. I designed my home so I had the complete freedom to design the electrical system, too. But rather than sit down and make a written plan, I did it all on the fly. After all, I was also the electrician.

This seems to confuse some people. In fact, one of my Facebook friends advised me not to post so much about doing my electrical work because he said the local inspectors could find out.

News flash: the local inspectors know. In Washington state, you can get an electrical permit as an owner/builder. Although the inspectors hold you to the same standards as a regular electrician, you are permitted to do all the work yourself. In fact, you’re required to — you’re prohibited from paying a non-electrician to do the work for you. So although I could have a friend come by and help me run wire — which sometimes required two people to do — I could not pay that friend. (I don’t think a few beers or half a rack of ribs at the end of the day is considered payment.)

At first, I was at a loss on how to proceed. It’s very daunting when you have no experience and face what looks like a huge task. But a friend told me to simply indicate on the walls where I wanted outlets and lights to go. I could do this by writing on the studs or nailing in the blue boxes that hold device wiring. Then I’d connect the boxes with the appropriate type of wire for the circuit I needed to run. Finally, when I was done, I’d run a “home run” of wire from the first device on the circuit back to the circuit panel downstairs.

And this is pretty much what I did. I went through my home, one room at a time, and nailed in the boxes. Then I strung them together in logical groups and ran the home runs.

Switch Box
This is probably the most complex box in my setup. It has switches for three separate circuits: a three-way switch for the light over the entrance downstairs, two switches to control the wall sconces in the living room (three on each switch), and a three-way switch to control the light in the hallway. One circuit is 20 amps; the other two are 15 amps each.

Of course, I made lots of mistakes along the way. Most were silly mistakes, like running the wrong kind of wire or putting an outlet in a dumb place and having to move it. I got good at removing wire staples and those blue boxes. I can’t think of any serious mistakes — other than what the inspector found; more on that in a moment — but then again, maybe I’ve blocked them out of my mind.

I worked at a leisurely pace, doing it in my free time. I admit that I wasn’t very motivated. For a while, I didn’t expect to make the next big steps on my project — namely insulation and drywall — until late in the spring. And having no heat upstairs as winter arrived made it even less appealing to get the work done.

But in early December, I took advantage of Home Depot’s Black Friday appliance deal and bought all five appliances for my home: washer, dryer, dishwasher, range, and refrigerator. I put off delivery as long as I could — 90 days. And then, a week later, I finalized my kitchen design with the folks at Home Depot and ordered my cabinets. After Christmas, I ordered my countertops — yes, granite!

Sometime right after Thanksgiving, after getting some very good news from my divorce lawyer, I decided to forego my planned winter trip to California and Arizona — I don’t call my current home a “mobile mansion” for nothing — and, instead, finish up my new home as quickly as I could. I had the heat pump/furnace installed and dove into the electrical work I needed to do. (I also hired a plumber to do the rough in for my water lines and drains — I’m so glad I didn’t do that myself as I’d originally planned.) If you’re a regular reader, you may have seen my walk-through video, shot last week.

A Little Help from My Friends

There were three difficult (for me) parts of the project that I needed help with:

  • Attaching the ceiling fan fixture boxes to the ceiling in the living room and bedroom. My ceilings are high — they range from 10 to 20 feet with the ceiling fans at about 15 feet. Although I had a scaffold to climb on, my fear of heights kicked in without the guardrails around the scaffold top. (The design of the rail makes it impossible to install it on my scaffold when both six-foot units are stacked. My living space has a high ceiling, but not that high.) My friend Don came to the rescue, hanging all three boxes and running wire to two of them. He would have done all three but I ran out of the necessary wire. I managed to get my wits about me enough to run the final 50 feet. Don also helped a few days later when I needed to run ceiling outlets in my garage bays for future garage door openers and he cut the hole in my living room floor for a floor outlet.
  • Setting the fixture boxes for my deck and garage bay lights. Part of this was my fear of heights again; another part was just not knowing exactly how to do it. My friend Tom came to the rescue, climbing a ladder out on the unfinished deck, drilling through my metal building, and screwing the boxes into place. I helped by handing him tools and making the rear supports out of scrap wood that had to be cut to size. Later, I did all the wiring for these boxes. The trick, I learned, is not to look down when standing on a stepladder perched on a piece of plywood on the frame for a deck 10 feet off the ground.
  • Range Wire
    I don’t think I could have run this heavy 6/3 wire from my kitchen island to my circuit panel in the garage ceiling without Pete’s help.

    Running the home runs for my range, water heater, and dryer. These three circuits required extremely thick wire. Although I was able to come up with a good route and drill all the holes needed to bring the wires to the panel, I simply lacked the physical strength to get the wires through the holes on the last 20 or so feet of the run. Pete came to the rescue, stopping by after a day of snowboarding up at Mission Ridge. In less than an hour, we’d pulled the wires into place. He also volunteered to make a slight adjustment on one of my doors that he thinks might get sticky over time.

I also got help and moral support from other friends:

  • Bob helped me back in September when I needed to set up my electric meter and circuit panel.
  • Barbara came by a few times to keep me company and help me run wire. She was a huge help when I had to get the 4 gauge wire run for the heat pump/furnace.
  • Mike's Drill
    Mike’s most excellent (and powerful) angle drill. Yep, this is the one that nearly crushed my finger the other day.

    Mike came by with a pizza one day and stuck around to help me run a few home runs from the kitchen area to the circuit panel. Mike is also the guy who loaned me his excellent angle drill. I can’t tell you how many times I used this drill — and how glad I was to hand it off to him at dinner yesterday.

I still can’t believe how many great friends I have here.

I also have to thank the folks at Dick’s Heating and Air Conditioning. Not only did they do a great — and unusual — install of my HVAC system’s heat pump/furnace, helping to warm the place, but they graciously left behind their man-lift. I drove that darn thing all over my garage, using it as a platform for drilling holes in the floor joists and running wires in them. It also came in handy to run a few of the home runs. The plumber made use of it to lay in the drains under my third garage pay. And I expect that both the insulation and drywall guys will use it on the big wall between my living space and RV garage. Don’t worry, Ken! I’ve been taking good care of it, keeping it warm, dry, and charged.

Inspection

My electrical inspection was yesterday and I did a lot better than I expected. I’m not sure what the inspector liked more: the way Tom and I had set up the light fixture boxes for my deck or the Ken Burn Jazz CD music coming out of my shop’s stereo — he commented on both of them.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. (Wouldn’t that be sweet! And amazing!) There were just three corrections needed, two of which required some wiring changes that I got done yesterday after the inspector left:

  • My refrigerator, which I’d put on its own 15 amp circuit at the advice of a friend who had done the same, needed to be on one of my two kitchen circuits. That was kind of a bummer because that’s how I’d originally planned to do it. Running the extra circuit had been a bit more work that I didn’t need to do. I ran some 12/2 wire from the last countertop outlet to the refrigerator cubby and removed the 14/2 wire for the home run. Total time to fix: 30 minutes.
  • My over/under counter lights and kitchen exhaust fan, which I’d put on the kitchen circuits, were not supposed to be on those circuits. I ran the lights from my loft circuit and the exhaust fan from one of my living room circuits. In each case, I needed less than 10 feet of wire and the fix took about 30 minutes.
  • I hadn’t provided grounding pigtails as necessary throughout the wiring job. (What this means: Because all the circuits are grounded, each device needs a bare or green wire to attach to it. Any time there are more than two sets of wires in a box or two devices to be installed in the box, they need to be connected with a grounding wire attached to them. This is done with a green wire nut.) I knew this and I’d done about 80% of them before inspection, kind of hoping the inspector wouldn’t notice the ones that were missing. I think that if I’d done 90% of them, I would have gotten away with it. (I did plan on doing them all properly for the final wiring job.) I started going through my home, box by box, checking and fixing this problem as I found it. It takes less than 5 minutes to fix one of these. All I have left is the deck and the ceiling fans. (Reminder: don’t look down.)

I figure that I can call today for a re-inspection and the inspector will come out on Friday to approve of my work. In the meantime, he approved me for insulation, meaning that I can get the place insulated but not drywalled. If he approves on Friday, I can drywall, too.

What’s Next

Deck Lights
In this example from the box inside the door to my front deck I’m going to have three switches. On the left will be a three-way switch that controls the five lights on the north deck; the other switch will be in my bedroom by that door. In the middle will be the spotlights for the front deck, which I consider my “entertaining deck.” On the right will be the switch for the small light beside the door, which will offer a dimmer alternative to the spots. My deck will be an important part of my living space. Note the three bare round wires and three black power wires — one for each switch.

The insulation guys get to work on Thursday — yes, tomorrow! If I get the approvals I need, the drywall guys, who work for the same company, will come in right after them. The same company will texture and paint the walls and ceilings — not sure exactly when because I have a trip coming up.

The wiring is far from done. So far, only the hard part is done. My home is full of blue boxes nailed to the walls and ceilings with wires and green wire nuts sticking out of them. I have to go through and change all of those to outlets, switches, light fixtures, and ceiling fans. I don’t think they need to be inspected again, but who knows? I take things one step at a time.

Meanwhile, outside my circuit box is a bunch of wires just hanging out of the wall. Eventually, they need to be brought into the panel and attached to circuits. My friend Tom will help me do a few of those today so I can have power upstairs.

Twigs Sconce
I ordered six of these wall sconces for my living room.

I’ve started buying light fixtures: flush-mount sconces for the living room, bathroom, and deck; ceiling fans for the living room and bedroom, track lights for the hallway and kitchen, hanging pendants for over my breakfast bar. They’ll go in when the drywall and painting is done.

The kitchen cabinets arrive February 16 and, with luck, can be installed that week. The appliances arrive at February month-end. Once they’re installed, the countertop people will come and measure for their template; I expect the countertop to be delivered and installed in March.

And then there’s the bathroom…

But now I’m looking too far ahead. I need to remember: one step at a time. It’s amazing how it all falls together when you can make it happen.

And yes, I’m enjoying this project immensely. It’s so rewarding to see something you dreamed up become a reality. It’s great to have a hand in the actual work and to be there for every step of the way.

Despite the occasional difficulties and hurdles, and despite the sore arms and fingers from pulling wire and working with wire nuts, it’s an experience I will cherish forever.

How to Calculate Nutritional Information for a Recipe

And why you might want to do it.

As the folks who know me well or follow my blog know, I’m dieting again.

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds in four months and regained both my health and my self-esteem. Although I’ve managed to keep most of the weight off since then, it’s been creeping up slowly. I want to nip that in the bud so I’ve gone back on the same diet that helped me lose so much weight so fast nearly three years ago. I expect that two months of serious dieting should be enough to get back down where I was in September 2012.

Nutritional Info Example
Calculating the nutritional info for an easy and yummy looking biscuit recipe a friend shared on Facebook makes it clear that this is something I need to avoid. (In case you’re wondering, this recipe’s ingredients are 4 cups Bisquick, 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup 7Up soda, and 1/2 cup butter.)

I know the reason I gained that weight back, which is important to prevent it from happening again:

  • Portion control. Although the diet I was on basically “shrunk my stomach” so I couldn’t eat those big portions, over time, I stretched it back out by eating more and more. What can I say? I like to eat. And when you put a big plate of food I really like in front of me, I want to eat as much as I can. This is something I need to control once I’m back down to my goal weight again.
  • Bad food choices. In general, I eat very well. Lots of fresh foods — not prepared foods — cooked simply. I grill or smoke most meats, I eat salads and fresh vegetables. But occasionally I make bad choices — usually at restaurants — that include fried or high-carb (or both!) foods. And every once in a while a friend will share a recipe online that looks too good to pass up and I’ll make it.

I believe that if you’re at a good, healthy weight and keep relatively active, short forays into the realm of bad food choices should be okay. Sure — enjoy a piece of pie or a flaky biscuit or a plate of pasta once in a while. But remember that portion control! And don’t do it every day.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past two years. Now if only I could remember that when you place my favorite food in front of me!

But how do you determine what’s a good food choice and what’s a bad food choice when it comes to preparing recipes? That’s where nutritional calculators come in handy. The one I use is on a site called SparkRecipes, but there are plenty of others. You enter the ingredients for the recipe along with the quantity of each item, indicate how many servings it creates, and click a Calculate Info button. The result is a display like you see here, which I calculated this morning for a four-ingredient biscuit recipe a friend shared. The numbers make it clear just how healthy — or unhealthy — a food choice the recipe can be.

I began doing these calculations for all the recipes I share on my blog. I recently learned that by omitting part of a recipe — for example, the dumplings in the chicken and dumplings recipe I recently shared — or substituting one healthier ingredient for another, you can make a recipe healthier without sacrificing flavor. This can help you cook healthier meals for yourself and your family — something that’s especially important when weight-related health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes is an issue.

Is calculating nutritional information like this worth the effort? What do you think? Isn’t your health worth a few minutes of time in front of a computer so you can make an informed decision?