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

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

VOTE!

"Democracy is...the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people" ~Harry Emerson Fosdick

I Baracked the vote today...did you?

Fearing that I would be in line all morning, I came prepared with reading material. However, I was in line at 6:53 AM, voted and in my car by 7:26! Leaving me plenty of time to swing by Krispy Kreme and Starbucks to get my goodies before heading to the office!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting GOOD Sheet

I first heard about GOOD sheets through the Design Work Life blog.

This week's sheet is a voter guide:



See & print the full size here.

Source: GOOD

VOTE TOMORROW!



Don't forget to get out and vote tomorrow if you haven't already voted absentee. If you need a little incentive to get down to the polls, several businesses are offering free goods if you vote:

Free Tall Coffee @ Starbucks
Free Doughnut @ Krispy Kreme
Free Ice Cream @ Ben & Jerry's



Images from Tomorrow Partners

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Will Run For Chocolate



A few months ago, a co-worker asked me if I wanted to do the 1st annual Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago with her and her BF. I said "Sure!" "Fun!" and we signed up to be in the first 2000 to get a fleece jacket instead of the t-shirt.

Last night when I had to set my alarm for 4:30 AM, I wasn't thinking "Sure!" "Fun!". And when it started sprinkling on our drive down to Chicago this morning, I also wasn't thinking, "Sure!" "Fun!". However, the drizzling stopped once we arrived at Montrose Harbor and it turned out to be one BEAUTIFUL day to do a 15k.

I still consider myself recovering from the marathon so wasn't really sure how I was going to feel, coupled with the fact that I have only run a few 4 and 5 milers since then. We started in the way back and right before I was about to cross the start line, I noticed that I did not secure my chip to my shoe and it went flying off! So i had to backtrack into an oncoming herd of runners, grab my chip, and then touch it to the mat to make sure it started. Not the best way to start a race, no matter how easy you plan on taking it!

Despite doing a bunch of races in Chicago and running along the lake frequently when I lived there, I was surprised with a new course which was fun. I felt really good the whole time and did my mileage pretty consistently, although looking back I maybe could have pushed myself beyond my comfort zone a bit!

I finished in 1:13, which is about 7:54 miles. Again, when I finished, I had to bend down and touch my chip to the mat to make sure my time counted!

Another great feature of this race was that the post race food consisted of chocolate fountains with graham crackers, marshmallows and bananas for dipping, hot chocolate and lots of Hershey candy, which you can be sure I took full advantage off!

I was happy to have an enjoyable, feel-good run. I really hope that 15Ks become more popular as I loved the distance and I would like to truly race one.