Friday, February 29, 2008

Do you have house lust?

It's a leap day, so you get 2 posts for the price of 1.

If you spend hours watching HGTV, dreaming of remodeling your kitchen, or checking the value of your neighbors' houses online, you may be suffering from "house lust."

This book was featured on NPR. Here is a little house lust quiz for you:

Do You Have House Lust? Answer the questions and Take the Poll!
You might have "house lust" if you answer yes to more than a few of these questions:

1. Have you ever attended an open house of a home you have no intention of buying, just to be nosy? YES

2. Do you read the Sunday real estate listings at least once a month? NO

3. Are Zillow, Trulia, Propertyshark, Curbed or among your Web browser "favorites"? NO

4. While on vacation, do you stare in storefront windows at real estate listings? YES

5. Do you know what the house on either side of yours last sold for? YES

6. Can you draw, in five minutes or less, the ideal floor plan for your dream house? YES

7. Have you ever thought that it would be fun and lucrative to be a real estate agent? NO

8. Would you rather shop for bathroom tile than shoes? HELL NO! Are you joking? I still maintain some of my sanity!


I come from a family of DIYers. My mom and sister are amazingly crafty and I have a reputation among them for coming up with these great projects that I am going to make, only to have most of them end up being made by either one or both of them. First there was the fabric in the LA Fasion district that I was going to make a lovely silk robe out of, then there were these trash bags that I "made" for friends, and then there was the time I almost gave myself an anxiety disorder learning how to crochet a hat that ended up being too small for me. Probably the most famous "DIY" project I dragged them into is the duvet cover above, which I came up with after not wanting to pay the exhorbitant price of one I saw and loved. I think I may have cut the little squares out and that's about it. Thank goodness for family.

So, imagine my surprise when my mother gave me a sewing machine for my recent birthday! Since some types of crafting do not come naturally to me, I am definitely one of those that is better tackling DIY by myself b/c then I can swear, cry, and keep going until the project is done without offending anyone (vague memories of making my wedding invitations are popping up in my mind...). Nate got word of the sewing machine and think that my first project should be curtains for our entryway to replace these badboys:

My response, "Um, I thought I would start with something simple like a totebag!

BTW, if you are interested in making your own duvet cover, check this Good Thing by Martha Stewart out.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Go Green Tips

Whether your motivation for using the following is to be in the green environmentally speaking, or in the sense that green=money, here are some things that Nate and I have done. Our motivation tends to be a little of both, b/c let's be honest, I work in public health and we have a mortgage. [For all of you non-public health people, the salary ain't that great considering I still owe the great university named Emory three of my unborn children.]

So here goes...

1. Invest in a programmable thermostat. Well, we have a programmable thermostat, but have we ever "programmed" it? No. BUT, we do keep it at a very low temperature (63) when we are home and turn it down to 59 when we leave in the morning. I have read that it takes 8 hours for you to see the savings of turning down the thermostat, although if you asked me the source of that comment, I couldn't give you an answer!

2. Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees or below. We just did this last night b/c it turns out our water heater was set incredibly high - to a level that would scald you in 5 seconds. (At 120, it would take about 5 minutes to scald an adult.)

3. Take your name off catalog mailing lists. How does this save you money, you may ask? Well, for one thing, you won't flip through them with post it notes and mention to your husband, "Oh, wouldn't that look great in our ________ (fill in appropriate room)" and then proceed to order it, test it out, and possibly return it.

4. Wash your clothes in cold water. Ok, i'll be honest. I would like to do this, but I still think that whites get cleaner in hot water. So i'm only half sold myself on this one.

5. If you live in a climate with winter, shovel your driveway. This one's for you, Nate. I have been almost to the point of begging my husband to fire up the snowblower my dad gave us, but we always "forget" to get gas for it. Nate tried to sell me on shoveling by saying that it was a greener option. At that point, my aching back did not really care about the environment. I must say though, we still have not fired up the snowblower even though this has been a SNOWY winter (refer to my 10 blog posts about snow if you don't believe me).

6. Reuse ziploc bags. Boy, if my mother reads this, will I be in trouble. Growing up, we used to make fun of my mom for doing this. I think we may have even gotten punished if we threw a ziploc bag away after one use (ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration). I will admit that I have been known to wash and reuse these now!

7. Canvas bags for groceries. Again, I like the IDEA of this, but have I ever done it? No. I HAVE taken bags from whole foods, trader joes, and sendiks (MKE grocery store) back to reuse them, however which should earn us 1/2 point. Some stores even give you a small monetary break on your groceries for doing so.

8. Use CFL lightbulbs.

9. Sign up for e-bills and pay bills online to save paper and postage costs (which are going up AGAIN in May!)

10. Drink hormone free milk. This actually will COST you money, but the fact that you are not adding hormones into your body is worth it, in my opinion. Nate & I are big fans of the Oberweis milk, that comes in a beautiful glass jar that you take back for a deposit at the grocery store. Also, I read that people with lactose intolerance may be able to drink hormone free milk as it has natural bacteria that aid in digestion. I usually don't feel all that great after drinking milk, however, since we have made the switch, I don't have the same symptoms. Is this a case of mind over matter? Possibly, but the milk TASTES great!

Ok, i've reached 10. I'll stop this diabtribe for today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"But I'm a Substitute for Another Guy..."

Blueprint is being substituted with Martha Stewart Living. I have to say I'm not entirely disappointed although I still would prefer the original. The Blueprint blog is still going to be up and running. I understand that blogs are becoming more and more popular but to me, they just do not replace magazines. :(

Home and Garden was substituted with Domino. Another ok substitution by me, as things featured in H&G were really just way beyond any price range I can even aspire to.

And now I will have "Substitute" by The Who in my head the rest of the day.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Party Appetizers

Taco Dip
8 oz cream cheese, left at room temp for a while to soften
8 oz sour cream
Packet of Taco Seasoning
Shredded cheese
Tomatoes, diced
Black olives, sliced
Shredded Lettuce

Combine cream cheese and sour cream. Mix in as much taco seasoning to taste as you like. Spread on platter. Top with lettuce, cheddar, diced tomatoes, black olives and whatever else you may like.

Meatballs (actually from Travis & Sarah)
1 bag of Trader Joe's frozen Meatballs
Equal parts BBQ Sauce and Grape Jelly

Put everything in a slow cooker. Make your brother-in-law continually test to see if the meatbals are still frozen.

Bacon-wrapped Water Chestnuts
2 cans water chestnuts
1 package of bacon
1 cup of mayo
1/2 cup chili sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar

Cut bacon strips into thirds and wrap around water chestnut. Secure with toothpick. Place in a baking dish. Mix mayo, chili sauce and brown sugar and pour over the water chestnuts. Bake at 350 degrees until bacon is done to your liking, about 30-45 minutes.

Chocolate Rum Fondue
32 oz chocolate
1 can of evaporated milk
8 TB rum
Stuff to dip: Graham cracker sticks, strawberries, pineapple, bananas

Finely chop chocolate. In a double boiler over medium heat, combine rum, milk and chocolate. Continually stir until all chocolate is dissolved. Serve in fondue pot with dippers.

Tip - This is a great recipe to use up any chocolate you may have gotten from holidays. We melted a chocolate bunny, a chocolate elf...

Stovetop Spinach Artichoke Dip
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup half-and- half or heavy cream
1 can (15 ounces) artichoke hearts in water, drained and coarsely chopped
2 boxes, 10 ounces each, chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry in kitchen towel
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian 4 cheese blend (provolone, Parmesan, mozzarella and Asiago) available in 10-ounce pouches on the dairy aisle of your market
Salt and pepper
Baguettes cut up

To a medium saucepot (a dutch oven works well for this recipe!) preheated over moderate heat, add about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream. Add butter to oil. When butter melts, add garlic and onions to the pot. Sprinkle in thyme leaves. Saute 2 minutes, add chopped red pepper. Saute mixture a minute more. Sprinkle in flour, stir to coat vegetables. Cook flour 1 minute. Whisk in wine and reduce by half. Whisk in stock and thicken sauce 1 minute. Stir in half-and-half or cream. When sauce returns to a bubble, add artichokes, spinach and cheeses. Keep stirring until cheeses melt and sauce is well combined. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings, to your taste. Serve with bread.

Party On!

101 Easy Makeover Ideas for your Home

I love lists.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok, so I cheated and made these out of a Barefoot Contessa mix that I received from my mother in law. I'm hoping the actual recipe is as terrific as the mix for these!

Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup good unsweetened cocoa
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds good white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix well. Add the cocoa and mix again. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the chocolate with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Fold in the chopped white chocolate.

Drop the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your hands and flatten the dough slightly. Bake for exactly 15 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Source: Barefoot Contessa

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cozi-fying the Living Room

As is obvious, we live in a Cape Cod Style house. For me, this style evokes words like "warm" and "cozy". In working on our house, we definitely always try to make each room one to live in, be comfortable and be a place that we would look forward to coming home to, after a hectic day at work.

Our living room was just not quite there and we could not determine what the problem was, although each element we added to the room served to get us closer to it. So last night after watching about 4 straight episodes of various shows on HGTV (in HD, nonetheless), we were inspired and started rearranging furniture. Now it definitely feels more cozy and conversational instead of everything directed towards the TV. We're testing it out for a while to see what we think. For photos of the progression from Day 1 to now, click here.

We still have a ways to go, for instance getting rid of that 1970s wooden spindle wall, but we are pleased with our progression in this room thus far.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vote Tomorrow!

I encourage all Wisconsin residents to vote tomorrow! Most polling places are open at 7 AM until 8 PM.

Information about candidates, polling locations, etc can be found here.

New Chair...Sort of!

Nate & i had an amazing dinner at Roots Restaurant on Friday night, followed by a trip to Target to contine the search for some curtains for our mudroom/entryway. We did not have any luck with curtains, but did come away with a new toilet seat! Yes, folks, in addition to all of the other wonderful things Target has to offer, toilet seats are now included.

Our old toilet seat was beginning to break when we bought the place, but was never something we remembered to get at all of our trips to home improvement places over the last seven months of home ownership. It was a two person job and caused some sweat, but we got the old one off, did a thorough cleaning and installed the new wood seat with brushed nickle attachments.

Then we realized that it was 10:30 on a Friday night and we were in our pajamas, installing a toilet seat. What losers!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Plant "Experiment"

These are what my nana calls our "experiments" mainly because they look so sickly. I think the shock of moving so many times over the past five years has finally gotten to them.

I have repotted them and am conducting my own experiment based on something I read in Real Simple. Feed plants a mixture of 2 TB Epsom salts to 1 gallon of water one time per month and watch them flourish. It has been a week and there has yet to be "flourishing". I think these experiments are doomed to the plant graveyard.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New "Sport"

I am using this opportunity to publicy say: "Nate, you were right...Snow Shoveling IS a sport". I just received this article in the latest Chicago Athlete e-newsletter. And despite the fact that we do not live in Chicago, I think it is safe to say that "Chicago" can be easily replaced with "Milwaukee" or "Wisconsin" in the article below. Happy Shoveling!

Workout in the Privacy of your Driveway

Snow shoveling--the enemy of all Chicagoans can also be a useful exercise technique, if done properly.

Like virtually every person on the planet, save skiers, boarders and snowshoeing fanatics, I dislike snow. It means that my normal commute of thirty minutes will balloon to over an hour, or maybe even two hours. It also means that I am doomed to slip, slide and sink into masses of cold white powder until March. More importantly, it means that I have to put on my winter layers and slip into my oversized boots to attempt to move the wet menace from my porch, after a long day of work.

But before we throw snow removal into the category of "stuff we don't like, but have to do anyway," let's examine the "sport" of removal. After I shovel snow, I feel the unmistakable twinge of muscle exhaustion. Much like working out, shoveling snow makes me feel the "pain" that is so frequently associated with "gain."

After some thorough research, I found that according to the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, shoveling snow for 15 minutes is considered a "moderate physical activity," meaning that shoveling is the equivalent to walking at a brisk pace or socially dancing. In an additional study by researchers at North Dakota State University, shoveling snow was shown to be a vigorous physical activity during portions of the 15-minute study--based off of heart rate. This result also included young and in-shape participants.

As with most vigorous exercises, or if an exercise is done incorrectly, there is a potential for injury when shoveling. Some pointers for shoveling snow include:

Bend your knees, not your back. Back injury is one of the most common injuries reported from shoveling snow.

Consult a doctor if you've had heart problems before you shovel (shoveling increases the heartbeat substantially).

Avoid twisting motions when moving snow.

Remain hydrated. It's cold out, but you still need water to function.

Pick the right tool for the job. Big shovels carry more snow--if you can't lift a large amount, try a smaller shovel blade.

So there it is, snow is not a bad cosmic joke, rather a gift of free weightlifting equipment from above. Luckily, you live in Chicago--where the heavenly donations keep on coming (see Thursday's forecast).

I Heart/Hate Winter

Most people from this lovely state have a love/hate relationship with winter. The first few snows of the season that occur in November or December are met with "oohs" and "ahhs". "It just doesn't feel like Christmas without some snow". But by this time of the year, people are cursing the snow, except when it gets them off of work.

Cursing was definitely what I was doing last night as my car got stuck in the driveway due to all of the snow that fell...AGAIN. Luckily, the hero was there to save me! he he he The total snowfall recorded in Milwaukee this winter is 75.7 inches, making this winter the 13th snowiest winter ever on record. And we are suppossed to get more snow tomorrow!

Here are the rankings for Milwaukee, in case you are interested:

1 109.8 1885-86
2 94.2 1897-98
3 93.3 1959-60
4 83.2 1973-74
5 82.9 1978-79
6 82.6 1903-04
7 81.9 1993-94
8 80.8 1922-23
9 80.7 1977-78
10 79.7 1951-52
11 78.7 1917-18
12 78.6 1950-51
13 75.7 2007-08
14 74.2 1935-36
15 74.1 1886-87
16 74.0 1964-65
17 73.3 1925-26
18 72.6 1896-97
19 71.0 1904-05
20 69.8 1961-62

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Continuing to (try to) Stay Warm

Last night we settled in with some comfort food, wine and Dr. Zhivago in an attempt to stay warm. This recipe is fantastic!
Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables
2 red peppers, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cremini mushrooms, halved
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix or herbs de Provence
1 pound penne pasta
3 cups marinara sauce (store bought or homemade)
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan and butter pieces. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 25 minutes.

Source: Everyday Pasta cookbook by Giada DeLaurentis

Monday, February 11, 2008

A weekend of chillin' (quite literally)

Big surprise- this weekend we barely got our weekly laundry done, much less any work on the home front due to a certain houseguest pictured above. We did rule out some curtains for the sunroom/mudroom though, so I guess that can be our "accomplishment".

After our guest left yesterday, we settled in our cozy house to avoid the negative temperatures outside with homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese. The soup was not as great as I anticipated - it was a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that I received as part of the recipe tester program. The recipe was a "creamless" creamy soup that substituted bread for cream. It didn't quite cut the acidity the same way that cream does, thus it's back to the drawing board for a homemade tomato soup recipe. HOWEVER, those of you who like making soup, I highly recommend the hand-held Cuisinart blender to avoid having to dump hot batches of liquid into a blender or food processor.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Double H: Houseguests and Holes

We (read: Nate) continues to fill holes in our wood floor with the wood putty. He also has done a great job spackling holes in the walls from all of the random things that the previous owners had, including enormous towel racks along the entire bathroom walls, huge curtain contraptions, and shoe racks. I thought that I would like the shoe racks, but they really were more of a pain. After spackling and painting, we have to get the texture spray and the walls will be good as new.

Along with continuing to patch holes in both floors & walls, we have had a few houseguests this week, including one all the way from Sweden! We always enjoy giving tours of the place, and it is even more fun giving the tours to people who saw our house at the very beginning in the kelly green carpet days. This weekend promises to be fun (and exhausting) as we are again watching my almost-two year old niece, Toni. Hopefully we get can some sledding in with the foot of snow we received on Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The White Album

Nate has finished painting the ManCave white! No more mirrored panels, and no more gross dirty walls! However, the carpeting down there looks even more atrocious. Good thing we are having a "Trash the Carpet" housewarming party!

The house and its contents survived yet another winter storm. I don't have to go to work today b/c this is what it looks like out our door, after we already shoveled an hour ago:

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fixing A Hole (or several)

This weekend, our big home improvement purchase was a tube of wood putty and a container of spackle - hey, that dishwasher set us back a few! The wood putty is the "best $1.98 we ever spent" according to my husband...and you will see why.

We have a lot of little nail holes from where the ugly green carpeting was nailed down over our hardwood floors throughout the house, which look like black dots in the picture below.

After an application of the wood putty, gone!

Unfortunately we have a lot of holes to continue to fill!

Monday, February 4, 2008

New Dishwasher sans Permit

The new dishwasher arrived safely and was installed by two very nice guys from RAS delivery...without a permit! The guy at Home Depot was not aware of any permits being necessary if you are replacing an existing dishwasher as long as all of the outlets for the electric and water were standard, which ours were. Permits are only necessary if a plumber is needed to install new hookups, i guess.

We ran a cycle last night while we slept (which would have been impossible with the Potscrubber due to noise) and the dishes literally came out spotless (another impossibility with the PS). So far, I give it a 10!

We did notice that it makes our cabinets and countertops look even more awful, so we are considering the kitchen remodel being done this summer.

Friday, February 1, 2008

RIP Potscrubber 1978-2008

O Potscrubber Three Series!
Once upon a time, a good dishwasher were you.
Alas, time has not aged you well.
The dishes do not come clean..
You are one loud machine.
Thus, we bid you Adieu.