Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Recap

Wowsas! 2008 is over. Didn't it just get here? I feel old saying that.

Overall, 2008 was a good year for me. Some highlights:

1. Celebrating the big first anniversary.
2. Running two marathons
3. Learning to sew
4. Being "on the road" with my husband for almost 3500 miles
5. Finishing numerous house projects including curtains, the foyer, and the kitchen (even though technicially it isn't done) DIY style
6. Visiting Uxmal and "CHAAAAAAAAA" with co-workers on an international work trip
7. Getting better at public speaking through opportunities at work
8. Finally waterskiing!
9. Snow skiing with my fam up nort'
10. OBAMA WINS!
and
11. Diamond earrings from my hubby for Christmas!

Tomorrow I will feature my list for 2009, that is if I survive seeing TU's band tonight.

Happy Celebrating!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Recap: LOW TRAC

Among all of our big house plans, we also have new car(s) on the brain. Nate is driving the car he got his junior year of college and I am driving my parent's old sedan that was sold to me at too good of a price - my fresh out of graduate school self could not turn it down. We would likely get rid of Nate's car first given that his is older and has more miles on it, but recent events have made me want to ditch my car as well.

The main strike my car has against it is that it handles poorly in snow. Given that we live in a state where "snow" is likely 6 months out of the year, this is a pretty big strike. One feature my car has is the LOW TRAC light, which comes on when, you guesed it, traction is poor. Like the driver doesn't know he/she has no traction!? Most of the time we just make fun of the light in a heavily sarcastic way. However, two instances in the past month have incited anger in us when the LOW TRAC appeared.

Instance #1: Nate was trying to back out of my mom's long narrow driveway and he backed into her house! The corner piece of the house (sorry I don't know what it is called) was a little bent and there is some blue paint on our bumper, but nothing serious. It was mainly really funny that he did it.

Instance #2: Occurred this morning as I was trying to back out of our driveway. I have posted before on how our driveway is not conducive to the winter - it is on an incline and the pavement is so rutted that it easily ices over. If we get a good snow, my car instantly goes into Low Trac mode and will not make it up the driveway into the garage and thus has to be parked on the street while the driveway is shoveled out. Until today, I have had no problems going DOWN the driveway though. Today the car went into Low Trac mode midway down the driveway. I literally was stuck in our driveway as it wasn't moving in either direction. To make matters worse, today is garbage day so our garbage bins are on either side of the driveway and so are the glacierous snow banks. I was so close to one of the banks that I couldn't get out of the car to move the garbage bin so I was going to have to hit it. (At this point I was just hoping none of our neighbors were around!)

So that is what I did - I hit the garbage bin and it proceeded to skid across the side of my car and move an already loose side mirror! Oh well. At least I made it to work on time, and my side mirror is still hanging by a thread.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Kitchen Update

The Christmas celebration is only half over for us - we have more celebrations with my family tomorrow night and Sunday. However, thus far it has been a huge success. One of the highlights is that both my dad and my in-laws gave us gift cards/money towards our new stove/oven, which you can see is #10 on our looming Kitchen To-Do list.

The GE Clean Steel will match our other appliances that we have slowly bought over our tenure as homeowners.


  1. Sand cabinents, wood putty any existing holes

  2. Prime cabinets

  3. Paint cabinets

  4. Change cabinet hardware

  5. Change countertops

  6. Install sink and garbage disposal

  7. Install subway tile backsplash

  8. New flooring in foyer, kitchen, dining room

  9. Remove upper cabinets that divide kitchen & dining area

  10. New range/oven (our last appliance to buy!)

  11. New pantry doors

  12. New light fixtures

  13. Install roman shade in window



Although the list has not been mentioned since 10/31 on this blog, we have been doing some behind the scenes work on it. We have our white subway tiles picked out from Lowe's so now we just have to book a Saturday or Sunday to get the backsplash done. I am attempting to make the roman shade for the window out of leftover curtain fabric from our living room. We'll see how that goes!

The pantry doors have been a bit of a let down. We wanted to get the bi-fold white doors to replace the doors we currently have. However, they do not make the doors to fit the size we need and special ordering is too expensive. With an upcoming bathroom remodel on our minds, we are being mindful of what special order options are really worth it or not. I think our Plan B for the pantry doors will be to paint them and update the hardware. We have a lot of paint leftover from the cabinets so Plan B would only cost us the hardware.

Until then, back to celebrating the holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays



This is the current view from our driveway...and it is still snowing. I'm not exactly sure where we are suppossed to put all this snow that we have to keep shoveling? I'm off to find out!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's a Schlock Invasion

Schlocks have hit the blogosphere, folks.

Kennedy is eagerly awaiting hers.

Ella is chillin' in hers.

And it all started with Little Linus, I mean, Miles. :)

Christmas Eve Eve

Last night I managed to finish one of my remaining homemade gifts - the chef's hat to accompany the apron I made for my almost-3 year old niece. I'm pretty happy with it and can't wait to see it on her!


We also were able to wrap all of our presents and put together and deliver cookie plates for the neighbors. Phew. I think I am finally ready for the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Kickoff



Well our Christmas is officially kicked off - this past weekend, my mom took myself, my sibilings and our significant others skiing up at Indianhead for Christmas. It was a total blast and some great skiing. I highly recommend Indianhead to those of you in the midwest that can't get out east or west to ski/snowboard.

Tonight I have to get around to finishing some Christmas shopping and wrapping our gifts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

tag

I've been tagged by Nicole of Simply Chic.

According to this tag, I am supposed to
1. Link to the person that tagged you (Check)
2. Post the rules on your blog (Check)
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself (Check)
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs (Check)
5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Here are 6 random facts about me:
1. I love olives (See Meze Platter recipe below!)
2. I recently started a weight lifting program and have moved up a level so I feel pretty buff.
3. I'm addicted to Magazines.
4. I really like the new show Leverage on TNT.
5. I have a not-so-secret crush on Dwight from the Office.
6. I cannot leave my office at night without straightening/filing organizing everything on my desk. How's that for neurotic?

So now I am suppossed to tage six random people from some blogs I read fairly regularly.

1. ChaCha from Chasing Imperfection
2. Finny from FinnyKnits
3. Sarah Danielle from Jeune Marie
4. Joslyn from Simple Lovely
5. Jennifer from Newlywed Diaries
6. Erin from Apartment #34

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meze Platter

Has it really been almost a week since I posted? Wow. My apologies.

I believe I mentioned this hummus after Thanksgiving - my aunt brought it and Nate & I devoured it and got to take home the leftovers.

MEZE PLATTER

Avocado Hummus with Toasted Pita Chips
2 cloves garlic
1 cup lightly packed parsley leaves
1 cup chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1 avocado, halved, pitted
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste

3 pitas
Olive oil
Salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mince garlic for the hummus in a food processor. Add rest of ingredients and process until smooth. Transfer hummus to serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil to serve.

Brush both sides of the pita with oil and cut into wedges. Arrange on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake until golden, 5-7 minutes. Serve chips with hummus.

To complete the Meze platter, it is recommended that you provide fresh chopped tomatoes, olive tapenade (made by chopping green and kalamata olives), feta cheese and tzatziki with the hummus and chips so your guests (or you and your significant other) can mix and match.

Tzatziki
Blend 1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber with 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint and 3 T plain yogurt. Garnish with chopped mint.

Source: Cuisine at Home Magazine February 2007

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Handmade Holiday

I am trying to do handmade items for some of my gift giving this year, although I got a late start on it so certainly the majority of it will not be handmade.

Last night I whipped out 5 lavender eye pillows, which I turned out better than I anticipated. I got the pattern from Amy Butler's website for free (OF COURSE!). I did not make the carrying case for the eye pillow b/c I thought that was a little strange.

Basically, you make a pillow, fill it with rice, dried lavender flowers and dried beans, and sew it shut. I made the pillow part out of muslin given that one is never going to really see the pillow.


Then you make a removable slipcover for the pillow. At first I was thinking, "Why do you need a slipcover for the pillow?!" But Ms. Butler makes a good point - one may want to WASH the part that touches the face. So here are my lavender eye pillows in their removable slipcovers:



I am really happy with how they turned out and it was a great project for me to practice straight sewing without having visible stitches. My next thought was, "Who is really going to use a lavender eye pillow??" So I laid on the couch and tried one out...I must admit I thought it was relaxing! But I made Nate try one for a second opinion - he wasn't that gung ho about them, but did say that they "smelled really good". At the very least, people can use it for a drawer sachet or something. Dried lavender is supposedly a natural moth repellent!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gift Tag Downloads


Three websites have free holiday gift tag downloads:
Sugarloop

Amy Butler

Delight

Martha Stewart

Click on each name to download the pdf, put some cardstock in your printer and print away!

Photo Source: Martha Stewart

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book It



If you are interested in reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, please leave me a comment with your contact information and i will mail it to the first person who comments.

Book It is made possible by people who send me/give me books to read and do not want them back, namely my friend EA.

Putting Craft Skillz to Work



BurdaStyle is asking members and friends to donate handmade bow ties to be auctioned off at the American Cancer Society (ACS) Pink and Black Tie Gala on May 7th 2009.

Want to help? Download the David Bow Tie pattern Sew it up in pink and/or black fabric and send it to BurdaStyle by May 4th 2009.

BurdaStyle 325 Gold st Suite 201 Brooklyn, NY. 11201

If you would like to include a personal story with your bow tie you are more than welcome to. Write it on a note card, that way, whoever wears your bow tie will know the story behind it.

What a fun, creative way to help out a great organization!

O Tannenbaum!


We are in the midst of another snowstorm! Last night we decorated our Christmas tree. I love the smell of a fresh tree - our whole house smells delicious!

We had to rearrange the furniture a bit to make it fit in the window, so now our living room went from super green to ULTRA extreme green. We have to find a new sofa!


And our nativity, which I love:


Getting the tree was pretty easy this year. Last year we got our tree from Lowe's, which we both thought was lame. This year we went to this little tree lot that had the lights and the carols. We looked at the price tag of the tree - $75. We both are too cheap to pay that much for something that is going to be at the curb in less than a month so guess what...we headed back to Lowe's and got the same tree for $32. So yes, we are lame for a second year in a row. An additional plus for Lowe's is that it is very close to our house and given that we have to drive with the hatchback of our VW Golf open to accomodate the tree, it is better to do that from not too far away. Driving in 6 degree weather can get a little cold!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Preparations


The weekend was a good one. My mom and sister came over to make Christmas cookies - it was a 9 hour extravaganza! We ended up making the following concoctions:

Peanut butter balls
Chocolate covered peanuts
Old School Rock Candy
Cut-outs (of course)
Gingerbread Men
Peanut Butter Hershey Kiss cookies
Pecan Snowballs
Homemade caramels
Fudge

I also made my niece, a 2 1/2 year old fan of Diego, this apron for Christmas.

She is a fan of cooking so I thought it would be a fun thing for her to have. I still have to make the coordinating Chef's hat, but am happy with how the apron turned out. I went by 3 different patterns, this one, one of those free Jo-Ann pamphlets, and one my aunt made me (as seen on my mother above).

And....we got a Christmas tree! We haven't decorated it yet, but pictures will be forthcoming!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Introducing Schlotty Couture

I am shamelessly promoting my new blog/endeavor - Schlotty Couture, my attempt to sell the baby shoes (now called "Schlocks" thanks to AH).

You may recall the posts on the shoes here and here.

Head on over to Schlotty Couture for more information!

BIG WINNER!

I received an invitation to this salon holiday party a few weeks ago and planned on attending because they were offering 20% off Aveda products (although BCK and I were debating if it was better to get 20% off or double Aveda points?). Nate accompanied me to the party and we were surprised to find free mini services and holiday cocktails. After having a Poinsettia martini (3 parts champagne, 1 part triple-sec and 1 part cranberry) I got a hand treatment and he a pressure point massage. All people who got the hand treatment were entered into a raffle for a $100 gift card to the salon good for services or products. We left the party feeling relaxed and headed home to watch a movie. Mid movie I received a call - I WON ONE OF THE GIFT CARDS! Woohoo!

In other news, we got about 4 more inches of snow the other day and are expecting more this weekend! I know that I will be sick of the snow come February (or March, April, May...) but pre-holiday season, I love it.

Last night, we headed over to the C's house for some cookie decorating and gingerbread house making. You can check out a picture of the house here:

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter & Parmesan

When Nate & I lived in Atlanta, I once bought him "Comfort Italian" cooking classes for a gift. He loved them, despite (or because of) he was the only male with all of these middle-aged women feeding him wine. This is one of the recipes they learned in the class, which I tried for the first time tonight. YUMMY!

1 lb. baking potatoes, skins on
salt
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup (more or less) all purpose flour
2 tsp olive oil
4 tsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated parmesan
5-6 leaves of fresh sage

Boil the potatoes in water to cover until tender, 30-40 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to pan over low heat and shake gently back and forth to dry the potatoes (I find this step to be unnecessary). Allow potatoes to cool, the peel them and mash with masher. Pass through a food mill or ricer (or use a fork). Transfer to a lightly floured surface, make a well in the center and add the egg yolk. Sprinkle the potatoes with some of the flour and slowly work it in. Continue until all the flour has been added. The mixture should be smooth but slightly tacky.

Divide into quarters and roll each piece into a long rope, 14" long, 3/4" in diameter. Cut into 30-40 pieces and roll under the tines of a large fork. At this point the gnocchi can be frozen or refrigerated until ready to cook. Bring a large pot of salted water until boil and then drop in the gnocchi. Cook the gnocchi until the begin to float to the top, then cook an additional 30 seconds. Drain. Meanwhile heat butter and olive oil in a large saute pan and gently fry the sage leaves over medium heat. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper; add the gnocchi and toss to coat with the sage butter. Serve immediately and garnish with freshly grated parmesan.

Giada makes almost this exact same recipe in her Everyday Pasta cookbook, except she uses thyme instead of sage.

Recipe Source: Alison Lueker, Executive Chef Sun in my Belly Cafe

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Drain is FIXED! (For Real this Time)

We owe a HUGE thank you to WB who came over to assist with the drain unclogging saga.
WB has access, through his job, to many crazy tools, including this industrial sized power auger:


No, this is not a joke. I came home from yoga and found this thing in my kitchen and burst out laughing. You even had to wear these protective, and creepy, gloves to operate it, as Nate is modeling:


Unfortunately, the power auger was too industrialized for our little kitchen pipes, despite WB's alterations to the end piece. He did not give up, though, and by bending and widening the end of our little snake, they finally powered through the clog. Ladies and gentleman, let me say that YOU KNOW when you have powered through the clog - disgusting black clumps will get stuck at the end of the auger. (I did not think you would want to see a picture of this). I almost think I need to write the company that makes the snake to tell them to include this tidbit of information in their instructions.

Thanks to WB and his perserverance, our drain is now officially declogged without calling an (expensive) plumber! WOOHOO! Burches: Dinner is on us!

Weekend Update

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. All three of our thanksgivings were very nice, and had some great food. My favorites were an avocado hummus appetizer my aunt made, my mother-in-law's pecan chocolate pie and turkey at my dad's. YUM.

I did not tackle the black friday shopping as we didn't need a TV like last year. I attempted to go to Jo-Ann Fabrics to get some supplies at around 3 and it was still pretty crazy. Crazy enough that I didn't even end up getting any fabric. No sale price was going to convince me to stand in that line!

We worked a bit more on our sink, but were unable to open the main pipe in our basement, despite our new weight lifting plan at the Y. Hopefully we will be able to get it open this week sometime, although our drain is moving, albeit still slowly.

In other news, we put up our outdoor holiday lights yesterday right before the big snowstorm! Yes, we were priveleged enough to shovel 5 inches of snow out of our driveway this morning!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This post begins and ends with FOOD

Well the kitchen sink is still having drainage issues. Lucky us. Thank goodness we did not volunteer to host any Thanksgiving dinners this year!

Nate re-snaked the drain and we also tried Draino last night. This made the drain go from absolutely no drainage to a slow-moving drain. After reading up on drain augers, he realized that he wasn't doing the snaking properly so he is going to try it one more time tonight.

W&HB told us about a similar situation they once had where they had to open the drain in their basement and clean out the sludge/food. This story was repeated to me by a coworker this morning. I am hoping it does not come to that b/c I may vomit, which would only serve to clog the drain more!

SO...new topic. We have be working out everyday since joining the Y last weekend. This means that Nate has gone from no working out to full fledge working out and I am trying to expand my workouts to be more than just running. After my last spout with back/hip issues, I was told I needed to strengthen my core. When my new swimsuit comes from Sierra Trading Post, Nate will be helping me work on swimming (he IS a former swim team member!). In the meantime, I am just trying to continue lifting weights so I can move the machines beyond 10 lbs. Yes, I am a wuss.

All this talk of working out is making me hungry - thank goodness Thanksgiving starts tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monogrammed Gift Tags

I love monograms.

Aren't these pretty?



Instructions here.

Photo: Martha Stewart

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sometimes We Hate Being Homeowners

Nate & I have joined the YMCA in an effort to work out more. So far, 2 days in, we are loving it. The one thing we have to get used to is eating dinner later since we now go workout when we both get home from work, rather than make dinner. Post workout and dinner last night, I was finishing up the dishes eagerly anticipating my glass on wine and my book.

Then the water did not drain from the sink.

I tried running the garbage disposal, the water went down, and then as soon as I turned it off, a small geyser shot back up through the drain.

Ladies & Gentleman, we have a clog. UGH.

We consulted the manual that came with the garbage disposal as well as my Martha Stewart Housekeeping Manual. Neither of these helped, so we turned to trusty Google and came across this site which was a godsend to us, novice plumbers that we are. The site has easy to understand instructions as well as pictures, complete with nasty dirty water.

The plunger did not work for us, so I went to Lowe's to get a drain snake. That did the trick and we no longer have a clog! We were quite proud of our new certificate of study in plumbing, ha ha ha.

Drain snakes are very useful and quite cheap (read: less than $10) if you only need the household version. Cross that off the list of tools we need!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Clearly One Should not Take Insulation Advice from Us...and other updates

Well, who says having a blog is useless? Thanks to "Dudeman" who commented on my insulation post, we realized that we insulated incorrectly. Apparently you are not suppossed to put insulation where we put insulation. Maybe that was something we should have looked into BEFORE we crawled into the crawl space, given that we are not insulation experts?! Anyway, being my neurotic self, I googled a bunch of insulation things, called some family and friends that actually know what they are doing and we made the determination that we have to take down the insulation. Thanks Dudeman!

In other news, while I was away having a girls night & day, Nate did some minor improvements that are having major impact. We signed up for that free Lowe's magazine and lo and behold there were coupons in it! We bought a few more of those air diffusers for the heat/AC vents since the ones that came with the house were rust buckets. Some of our rooms we close off during winter and since the rusty ones do not close, we bought a few more replacements. The library one was replaced this weekend:


He also installed the metal curtain holdback things in the living room. The curtains there do not stay open very well and now much more light comes in!


Other than that, we went shopping for a new couch for the living room. We found a few possibilities but have not made a purchase yet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blog Love


I think I have finally caught up with my Google Reader post vacation. No, I did not read the 1000+ items. I deleted the majority of them. One thing I did find was that I was given an award and another meme instructing me to post five things I "love".

Hmm..this is tough b/c I overuse the word "love" with everything. Aside from the obvious (i love my family and friends), here are some things I am loving right now:
1) My LIGHT UP hand held solitaire game that Nate bought me for road trip enjoyment. Yes, this is very dorky of me, but if I haven't established the fact that I am a nerd by now, you haven't been reading very closely!

2)My humidifier. I am over the dry WI air already and we haven't made it to Dec 1 yet.

3)Law & Order reruns, particularly if there is a marathon. I have always liked this show but lately I have been a little obsessed with it and it's pattern of monotony. Yes, you can predict what is going to happen, but that is part of the fun. Along with that I have been really into Ace of Cakes, per usual.

4) The smell of this fragrance. I tried in it New Orleans and love it, although it is widely available, even here in little ol' MKE.

5) My mom's chicken soup with dumplings, which I made on my own for the first time. Still the best thing ever!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside

Brrr! It is getting colder and colder by the day here, thus, we turn our home improvement efforts towards blocking cold air from coming in.

The first project had to do with our front door, which let cold air in through the bottom. I had rolled up a rug and stuffed it against the door but it wasn't really helping much. Nate examined it and realized that the weather stripping was completely worn off so he replaced it. No more rolled rug and no more cold air!
Pre:

Post:


The next item on the list was the cold upstairs. Last year, for whatever reason, we had never even bothered to check out the crawl spaces that have doors in each of the bedroom closets upstairs. Well then I was swapping my winter and summer clothes as Nate incredulously looked on. I don't think he ever realized that i kept several Rubbermaid tubs of "off season" clothes in the closet downstairs. He suggested that I use the crawl space for storage of the tubs rather than the closet space downstairs since we are having a little closet clutter problem down there.

We opened the crawl space and discovered that half of the wall was not insulated! No wonder it is cold upstairs! Nate went and bought 2 rolls of insulation and got to work.
Here he is donning safety attire to work with the insulation. The pants are really from the CDC when our friend AH used to work there! I don't think there was any Ebola virus in our crawl space though!


Here is the roll of insulation in the space as well as the wall pre-insulation:



Here he is hard at work:


Overall this was an easy project (easy for me to say since all I did was take pictures!). We measured the space to insulate, as well as the depth of the spaces, and took them to Fleet Farm where they helped us pick out the right kind. BONUS: The insulation was ON SALE! Then Nate measured the length of each space, measured out the same amount of insulation, cut it and stapled the paper to the boards. EZ. The whole thing took him an hour start to finish.

I'm sure the placebo effect was kicking in big time, but we both thought it was warmer in our bedroom last night! We'll see if there is any difference in our heating bill.

Next up: The guest room crawl space!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tshirts for a Cause! BAG 'em UP!

I just got wind of Chicago Head Huggers, an organization that collects old running t-shirts to make caps for chemotherapy patients, is 'desperately seeking shirts' for their bal-dannas.

Why you may ask?

“T-shirts given for races are almost always soft 100% cotton, which is perfect next to a bald head, a common side-effect of chemotherapy," says Pam Haschke, president and founder of Chicagoland Head Huggers. "We know that people who run multiple races in a year often just throw those new race tees into the rag bag. By donating them to Chicagoland Head Huggers, they help make a chemotherapy patient more comfortable."

More info can be found at their website.

If you want to donate shirts, email wehugheads@mac.com.

Alternatively, if you want to knit or crochet a cap for them, check out their website for where to send donations.

RIP: The First Victim of the Countertops

When we got the countertops, both of us noticed how much stronger they were than the old ones, particularly when setting down ceramic dishes on them. One of us made the comment, "I wonder how long until we break something on these"?

Answer: 2 weeks, 6 days

I broke a dish last night while making dumplings for chicken soup. My dumpling covered hand tried to scrape the last bits out of the dish and it slipped and shattered upon contact.

Good thing it was just a $2 Target clearance bowl and not my Vera Wang china!

It was worth it - the soup (and dumplings) were delish!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the Road: Part 2 of 2

Overall, we took 223 pictures. Don't worry, I won't make you suffer through them all.

Here we are moments before embarking:


Getting to Texas took up about a day and a night. We left at 2:30 Wednesday, stayed in Springfield Missouri, and arrived in Dallas about 2:30-3 Thursday.


I really enjoyed the 6th Floor Museum chronicalling the presidency and assassination of JFK. It was an interesting time to be there, so close post-election. I also loved these cows - a bronze statue downtown with 70 cows and 3 ranchers.


We stayed overnight in Dallas and then left midmorning towards Austin, TX. Austin was a really great place - public outdoor space, a beautiful state capitol and the "live music capitol of the world". We checked out the Austin City Limits studio(although we missed the tour), the LBJ Presidential Library (I am a nerd and love presidential libraries), the state capitol, the Lady Bird Walking/Running Trail, the World's Largest Urban Bat Colony and finished the night off with some blues. In the morning, Nate discovered that one of the waffle irons at the continental breakfast at our hotel was in the shape of the state of Texas. Awesome. We went to the Lady Bird Wilflower Center before heading out of town, which is where the following pics were taken.




From Austin we headed to San Antonio. We stayed in San Antonio two nights and explored the city on foot. It felt good to valet our car and not have to touch it for 48 hours! Here we saw many historical buildings, the market, the Alamo, the Riverwalk and had some great food. The city is covered in historical plaques which Nate is modeling below.



San Antonio was our last stop in Texas before heading to New Orleans. Along the way we finally stopped to eat at a Whataburger, which Nate was very excited about.


It took about 8 1/2 hours to get to New Orleans over bayous and bridges. We stayed in NOLA for 2 nights as well and I really loved the city, although many people we talked to there said it is very different post-Katrina. I had not been there before so can't attest to that. In NOLA we explored 4 districts: The French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown and Faubourg Marigny. We did a LOT of walking here. Of course we did have 6 beignets a piece, several cafe au laits and I had to get muffalettas twice at Central Grocer!



From New Orleans we headed to Destin, FL. We detoured off the Interstate a bit to drive along the gulf from Gulfport to Biloxi, MS. Once in Destin it was time to relax and unwind. No more hustle & bustle of cities. The beaches were fairly deserted, white sand, sunny, high 70s and green water. We thought it was perfect beach weather and got a little overzealous in the sun and thus had to make a trip to Target for some aloe. We also drove to Seaside, FL to check it out and have lunch.


From Florida, we went to Atlanta to end our trip with friends. The route had us go through some very rural, yet very pretty parts of Alabama. While in Atlanta we had some laid back good times with friends, and got to meet Miles (the baby who tests all of my crafting out).


Sunday morning it was time to go home. We left Atlanta around 9:30 EST, drove through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. We pulled into our driveway at 8:57 PM CST, with 3496.4 miles on the car.

Here is our final pic with our completed AAA Trip Tik.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Road: Part 1 of 2

"There's a silver lining to the financial climate: Hotel discounts abound, gas prices are dropping, and there are airfare deals online" ~Quote from "Yes, You Can Go on Vacation" from New York Magazine 11/3/08.

I will begin our road trip re-cap talking about planning, which may help any of you that plan your own road trip one day.

When we started discussing, "Where should we go on vacation next", Nate was all gung ho for the road trip. I was only quasi into the idea. We had decided to stay in the US, and he was a big advocate for the road trip saying that we would be able to cover many more places on my list that way. Ok, I agreed, Road trip it is. (Although I'm not sure we qualify as Mammoth Men in terms of road trips!)

WHERE TO?

We thought about doing an eastern-bound road trip through New York and back home through Canada. Then our timeline got later and later. Ideally this would be a good trip for late summer, early fall weather-wise. Another route on our list was through the south, which would also allow us to visit our friends in our former hometown, Atlanta. One problem: We definitely wanted to include some sites in Texas and Texas really isn't "close" to Atlanta.

We resolved this by coming up with our route I previously posted: basically, a big triangle. This made me MORE nervous because it was additional mileage and I already was a little on the fence about spending so much time in the car, but in the spirit of adventure, I agreed.

WHEN
This was trickier than we had thought. Originally, we thought about going in September. Then we realized that we really enjoy summer and fall here in our own state and if we are heading south, then why not go when it is cold here? We originally had planned on the first week of November. Then we could not get a hotel to save our life in San Antonio, TX. It turned out that the marathon was happening the same weekend we were planning on stopping by. I toyed with the idea of doing the marathon, but that still didn't get us a hotel room. So we pushed back the trip a week and had no more problems with San Antonio.

WE DID have problems with New Orleans, though, given that the American Heart Association Conference was going to be occurring the same time we were there. Luckily we did find a hotel, and paid a hefty price for it, but the trip was on.
We decided 11.5 days would be sufficient - that and we both only had 7 days of vacation (.5 days really don't count!).

HOW
When considering driving almost 3500 miles, it is important to have access to a reliable vehicle. Both my car and Nate's car are getting up there in years (we have vowed not to get a car until a)one completely dies or b)we have a baby), however, my car is substantially newer and has cruise control (major plus!). We scheduled an oil change and "check-up" for it the week before we scheduled to depart. Thankfully no problems were noted and the guy even checked our spare tire, etc to make sure if we did get a flat, we would be set.

Although I have changed a flat tire before, we also wanted to make sure that we were ok if something DID happen along the way. We joined AAA, which reaped way more benefits that even we had thought of. First we got a break on our car insurance and we were guaranteed towing if the car broke down. AAA also helped in planning our route, giving us construction notices, tour books, and discounts on some of our hotels and some "touristy" stuff that we did. NOT BAD! I highly recommend joining pre-road trip! We made sure we had our insurance information and our AAA member cards pre-departure

WHAT TO DO?
We started by ordering the tourist packet from our major destinations (obtained by googling each city and going to their website), as well as asking people we knew that either a)lived in the places, b) knew people who lived in the places or c)had visited places for any recommendations. The free AAA books also helped. Everything we did we decided en route since all of the time in the car provided ample reading time. I was a bonehead and forgot to print out all of the recommendation lists before taking off, but luckily we did access the Internet at some stops to check. In hindsight, we probably should have gone through some of it before jumping in the car, although that is not as adventurous! Several restaurants that I wanted to go to in New Orleans, for example, were closed on Tuesday (the full day that we were there) or only open at weird times, which we did not discover until tracking them down and reading the sign.

WHERE TO STAY
In our destination cities, we pre-booked hotel rooms. I was very happy with this decision as we did not have to waste time trying to find hotels in each city, and several hotels had online discounts. The one exception to this is our hotel in Springfield, MO which was were we stayed on Night 1, and over halfway from WI to TX. We decided to drive as far as we could on Day 1/Night 1 and grab a cheap room to sleep and shower and get back on the road early Day 2.

Many hotels do give AAA discounts, which you need to request. Two hotels did give us "refunds" for our AAA discount, which was nice! We had a mix of booking through a travel site (e.g. Travelocity), the hotel's direct website, and city websites. One thing we came to realize is that many of the city visitor websites offer deals on hotels that end up being very cheap!

BUDGET!
We agreed on a pre-set budget for everything trip related. We decided on an amount that we would stick to for hotels - some hotels were cheaper than this which allowed us to splurge on others. For example, our hotel in Destin was shamefully cheap and therefore we rationalized spending more in San Antonio and New Orleans. Overall, our average cost/night ended up being around our pre-set amount. Getting good deals on hotel rooms does require research though as I mentioned above.

When we originally budgeted for gas costs, we figured $4/gal. Given that we never paid over $2.15/gal, this was a HUGE savings for us. Our total gas costs were only about $230, which seems crazy to me!

Food obviously took up a huge chunk of the budget, although we found that we weren't always hungry for three meals a day, especially after eating platefuls of beignets in New Orleans! Some of our hotels included breakfast, which also was nice. Can you say Texas-shaped waffles in Austin?!

When all was said and done (I spent most of our time through Indiana adding up receipts), we ended up coming $500 under budget, which was exciting for us because we did not feel that we scrimped on anything and we did everything we wanted to. I'm telling you...AAA discounts! Gas prices played a major role in this surplus as well, because we way overestimated the amount of gas we would use.

Next Up: Photo Montage

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Longer On the Road

We got back from our road trip last night. What a fun adventure it was!

I pre-set the blog to post a couple times while we were away so that is why it's been boring around here for the past week and a half. Can't really work on your house when you are putting close to 3500 miles on your car!

Here is a map of our route:


Our destinations were Dallas, TX; Austin, TX; San Antonio, TX; New Orleans, LA; Destin, FL; and Atlanta, GA.

More on that when I get more organized! My Google Reader had "1000+" messages in it! YIKES!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bootielicious

I made a second pair of shoes out of some flannel pieces I had leftover from my quilt. These took a little longer to make than the first pair due to the thicker fabric, but I still had two shoes that were the same size when finished which is really all that I hope for!


Probably need to start making some for all of the March 2009 arrivals!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Year of Mornings


I recently read about this new book, based on photographs that two women living 3191 miles apart took each morning for a year.

From the website:

"The morning hours before the hustle and bustle of the day commences is the perfect time to pause and enjoy a sense of renewal and vitality. On the morning of December 7, 2006, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes each took a digital photo of everyday objects randomly arranged on their kitchen tables and, unbeknownst to one another, uploaded them to the website Flickr.

"A Year of Mornings" collects 236 images—always taken before noon without discussion between the two women – from this uniquely 21st-century artistic collaboration. The intimacy of these photographs—discarded clothing, a view of a snowy day from the window, a table cloth—combined with their striking similarities in color and composition defies the reality of their long-distance collaboration. While clearly kindred spirits, the two women have met in person only once. Their friendship is maintained solely online, sustained by a shared love for moments of serenity, solitude, and peacefulness. The annotated photographs in "A Year of Mornings" radiate an aura of sweetness and light—the promise of a new day."

I am always intrigued by things like this that people do on a regular basis. I love the idea of it but whenever I try myself to set something up like this, inevitably I stop. You can peruse some of the photographs the women took on the book website, or check out their new blog for a year of evenings.

Photo Source: http://3191ayearofmornings.com/

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leek Risotto with Squash & Thyme

Last November, I posted a butternut squash risotto recipe. We enjoy that recipe but tried a new version a couple of weeks ago that was also very good. The main difference is that the new version below contains leeks and the squash is cubed, not shredded.

Leek Risotto with Squash & Thyme

2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise 1/2 inch thick
Salt
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/4 pounds)-peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 TB chopped fresh thyme
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Black pepper
Pinch of Cayenne pepper (optional)

1. In a skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring constantly, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly until absorbed. Stir in squash and thyme. Add 1 cup broth and cook, stirring constantly, until completely absorbed. Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until the rice is al dente but cooked through, about 25 minutes.
3. Stir in cheese, cayenne and black pepper.

Source: Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine

Friday, November 7, 2008

Big & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
16 TB (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 TB vanilla
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, 1-2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate chips until incorporated.

4. Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the doug into balls and lay on two parchmaent-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are golden but centers are still soft and puffy, about 17-20 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

5. Let cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

These were delicious and came out high and cakey.

Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sausage Race!

On Halloween, Nate got to wear the costume for the Milwaukee Brewers' Klements Racing Italian Sausage for his work. In my opinion, the sausage race is one of the best part of Brewer games so I was EXTREMELY jealous that he got to do this. I have made it fairly well known that I really want to participate in the race as a sausage sometime in my life!

Here he is (the taller sausage is the Italian):


Only in WI will you find something as weird as this! You can read more about the race and each sausage here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New President!





Historic. Amazing. Inspiring.

Posters from Design for Obama