Both Sarah and I have been busy the last couple of weeks.

Sarah had a very hectic finish to her semester this fall. One of her classes was an absolute bear. She worked on this one class somewhere in the range of forty to fifty hours during the final week of the semester and she was still unable to finish the work assigned by the professor. The big problem is that the professor assigned them a huge project at the beginning of the semester but didn't give them all the tools (read: knowledge) to complete the assignment until two weeks were left in the semester. So, even those who were proactive about starting the project early (like Sarah) could only get so much done before they ran out of knowledge. Then, they had to wait for the professor to teach them more so that they could take the next steps in the process. All in all, it was a really dumb way of structuring the class. So, Sarah ended up with an incomplete in that class until she gets the project completed. While nearly everyone else is off on their Christmas break, Sarah was working today trying to finish the project for the class. She is not alone, however. Just about half the class took incompletes while the remainder just threw up their hands and took whatever grades they earned without finishing the project.

In late November, we purchased a gas cooktop from Sears to replace the forty-four year old electric cooktop that was in our house when we bought it. The biggest problem with the cooktop is that, at some point in the past, a prior owner of the house replaced two of the four burners with burners that were close but not quite replacements. So, we had two good burners, one that never sat level and always tilted the pan sitting on it, and another that was just ever so much larger than it should have been.

The new cooktop is gas, which both of us prefer for cooking. I didn't feel comfortable running gas piping, so we brought in a plumber to do the work. The plumbing work ended up costing more than the gas cooktop did. The first estimate we got was so high, that we were afraid the guy was trying to rip us off, so we went out and got another estimate. That estimate just just about as high, so we bit the bullet and went forward.

What made me feel really dumb is that we brought in an electrician to do the electrical work. The gas cooktop uses electrical sparks to light the gas when a burner is activated. My thought was that a circuit would need to come out of the main electrical panel to the cooktop to power the sparking electrodes. Of course, that was a big error. The amount of electricity needed to spark the gas is a negligible amount that can be drawn off of nearly any other 120V circuit in the house. Once I heard what the electrician planned on doing, I just about slapped my forehead in disbelief. "I could do that!" was the thought coursing through my mind as I watched him work. However, my guess was that we would be charged anyway for the guy showing up, even if I kicked him out before he could do any work, so it made sense to let him continue. If we got charged one hour for the guy to show up, tell me what to do, and leave or one hour for the guy to show up and do the work, I might as well let the professional do his thing.

While the plumbers were putting in the gas piping, Sarah and got busy trying to remove the old electric cooktop. The old cooktop was stuck to the laminate counter with some old caulk and forty years of grease and grime; the cooktop did not come up easily. As a result, the laminate countertop suffered some damage. In addition, once we got the new cooktop in place, it was just ever so slightly smaller in width than the old cooktop. So, now we have to figure out a way to both fix or cover the countertop damage while fixing or covering the gap on either side of the gas cooktop. Right now, we're leaning towards moving the cooktop all the way to one side, and installing a butcher block cutting board directly into/onto the counter. This will effectively fix/cover both problems.

Once the cooktop was installed, we discovered that one of the burners did not light, so we called a technician out from Sears to fix the problem. He diagnosed that the problem was with some of the parts we were shipped with the cooktop. He ordered some replacement parts and went on his way. When the parts arrived at our house, we installed them (they were very, very, very easy to install) and tried the burner. The burner lit right up. However, the parts were different colors from the rest of the cooktop. So, I spent over thirty minutes on the telephone yesterday with Sears trying to get them to ship us the correct parts in the correct color. In the process, I spoke with no less than six different people and was twice transferred to some anonymous office that was closed. Nice. If we cannot get the right part in the right color soon, I'll just place another service call saying that the burner won't light. When the technician comes out to fix the problem (again), I'll just have him order the correct part in the correct color. That will cost Sears a ton of money, but if their telephone agents are morons, that's the price they'll have to pay.

In addition, I've been busy rewiring the basement. The electrical work down there is a mess. So, I've been installing outlets where they are needed and fixing others, as necessary. All of the lights down there were activated by pull-chains, so I've also been replacing the pull chains with light switches, which makes everything look much nicer.

At some point in the past, a few cheap fluorescent fixtures were installed in the basement to provide light. These were powered by a series of adapters and extension cords that plugged in to the cheap, ceramic, pull chain light sockets. So, I'm replacing the whole mess with properly wired sockets and light switches. The work isn't done, but it is proceding nicely.

Last week, I also discovered that bathroom vent fan was never properly vented to the outdoors. As such, all the hot, humid air that was being pulled from the bathroom by the fan was being dumped into the space above the soffits without any sort of venting. So, I had to cut a new hole in the soffit and install some additional ducting on the old bathroom fan ducting so that the fan now blows air from the bathroom out the new hole in the soffits. Now we can see that the bathroom air is being properly vented on really cold days. When the hot humid air vented from the bathroom hits the cold outdoor air, we can see plenty of condensation and fog forming.

Sarah and I baked up a storm before Christmas. We made peppermint swirl cookies, cutout cookies, gingerbread cutout cookies, and almond bark pretzels. I'm only being honest when I say that all of them turned out quite well.

For Christmas, Sarah, Dalla, and I traveled to South Dakota to visit my parents. My sister flew out from Boston to join the clan on Christmas day. We did all of the traditional family stuff, but we also went geocaching around my hometown on Sunday. It was cold, but fun, as we found three out of four caches that day.

Ira, so far, has managed to avoid his seasonal trip into the refridgerator. I'm hoping to get him started with hibernation in the next day or so. Then, he'll be in one of our crisper drawers for the better part of two months.