Friday, October 29, 2010

La Guitarra or New Strings

As some of you may have noticed, a few of my 130 before I'm Thirty goals have to do with playing the guitar.  I began playing my freshman year of high school after I became obsessed with the Dixie Chicks.  I took lessons throughout high school and played off and on in college. Since then my guitar has sat in its case, unplayed and unloved.  Until recently.

My guitar, covered in stickers from high school including 2 Dixie Chicks ones

Much to my chagrin, I did not know how to restring it.  This was one of the major roadblocks to me starting to play again.  My guitar teacher always did this for me.  I think at the time he thought he was doing me a favor but in retrospect, he really was doing me a disservice because I didn't know how to do it myself.  At least until a week ago.

I went to a local music shop, armed with new strings and a determination to figure this out.  When I opened the case, much to my and the store employee's surprise, the strings my friend had helped me put on two years ago were still good.  The employee helped me unwind two of the strings and then restring them.  Now I not only know how to restring my guitar, I have extra strings ready and waiting when the time comes.

Since then I have been playing up a storm.  I remember a lot more than I thought I would and I have the start of calluses on my fingers again.  It's great to be back!

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

As I mentioned in my reading list post, I have been waiting quite a while to get my hands on this book and it was definitely worth the wait!  When I saw that Matthew Pearl who authored The Dante Club, a book I really enjoyed, wrote a review of it that was featured on the back cover of the book, I knew I was in for a treat.

Let me start by sharing with you something about the author.  According to her biography on the back flap of the book cover, Katherine Howe is a doctoral candidate in American and New England Studies who can trace her lineage back to not one, but two, women who were accused as witches during the Salem witch trials: Elizabeth Procter, who was made famous as John Proctor's wife in The Crucible and survived the trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not survive.  This blew me away! I am always fascinated by family trees and often wonder what sort of interesting characters there are in my background.  I suppose that's why one of my 130 Before I'm Thirty goals is to research my family tree.  You never know who might be back there just waiting to be discovered!

Back to the book.  The protagonist, Connie Goodwin, like Katherine Howe, is a PhD student in New England studies at Harvard.  What starts out as a reluctant favor for her mother when she is supposed to be researching her dissertation becomes a hunt for a book, a physick book, that puts her life and the life of those around her in danger.  It appears that the Salem witch trials, long over, are closer to Connie that she may think.

The book manages to move seamlessly from Goodwin's story in 1991 and that of Deliverance Dane, whose physick book Connie is trying to find.  One difficulty, one that perhaps readers who are accustomed to either reading books written in a Bostonian/New England accent or are more familiar with the accent than me (i.e. live or have lived on the East Coast) may not struggle with, was understanding some of the dialect as Howe wrote it.  At first I was a bit frustrated and confused, but once I pictured how John F. Kennedy (or any Kennedy for that matter) would pronounce the words, I did a lot better.

Spoiler alert!  For those readers who have read the book, please highlight the text below for a brief discussion:

I enjoyed the twists and turns in this novel very much.  I also appreciated that the chapters were substantial in length, something that annoys me about Dan Brown's books.  One and a half pages does not a chapter make, at least in my opinion.  This was especially helpful since the book moves through time fairly often. 

I must admit I suspected early on that Connie was related to Deliverance somehow.  At the very least, I suspected that the house once belonged to her or a relative.  I did not make the connection regarding the names, however (Deliverance, Mercy, Prudence, Patience, Sophia, Grace, and Constance).  That was a great twist and a fun discovery! 

I also enjoy in books and in film when the reader or viewer knows something the characters do not.  I appreciated Howe's effort in this regard when the reader learns what happened to the physick book before Connie does.  You want to scream at Connie: she sold the book!  It's not there!  But alas, you must keep reading to see what happens.

Overall, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a great book and definitely worth reading.  You will learn a great deal about early New England life, academic culture at Ivy League colleges and yourself, all while enjoying a thrilling and fast paced yarn.

Happy (early) Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's The Little Things

Like a Visa gift card from your wedding a few months back that you find in your pocket one day and decide to eat sushi with it, only to find out the sushi restaurant has a great happy hour that allows you and your hubby to basically double the amount of food for your money.

Like finding the perfect presents for your mom and mother-in-law for Christmas a few months ahead of Christmas.

Like a stranger at Macy's that helps you pick out a great wrap for a wedding this weekend to match the new shoes you bought on sale who made you happy and left you smiling when he really didn't have to.

Like the smell of lavender soap to elevate a dreaded chore like laundry.

Like a warm cup of tea with milk and sugar.

Value Village, or Thrift Store Finds

The last Wednesday of each month my favorite thrift store, Value Village, has half off days where everything in the store is half off.  Everything.  Last month I got a red pea coat for $6.00!

Yesterday Ashlee, Clever Betty, and I went over our lunch hour to see what treasures we could find.

I made out like a bandit and as a result, I now have a few projects I can't wait to get started on.  Here is a picture of the loot:

First, I re-found this little number.  It is re-found because last month during their half off day I saw it and decided not to get it.  A decision I immediately regretted and wished I could go back to pick it up.  Happily it was still waiting on the shelf for me this month!  It became mine for $1.62.  Believe it or not, but this was the most expensive item I bought all day.  Keep reading to see the savings!

My plans:  I would like to fill in the slot on the side with wood filler, sand and paint the base white.  I'd like to then use it to display flowers, pens, and other small items.

The next item I found was another owl, this time a cookie jar!  It has a few cracks and a slightly chipped ear, but otherwise is in pretty good shape.  Its price: 90 cents!

My plans: Spray paint the owl and use to store Woods' cat food.

 The third object that made it into my basket was a pretty milk glass vase.  I fell in love with the scalloped edges and rounded studs and knew it would look great in our dining room hutch.  Price tag: 75 cents!

My plans: Reorganize and redecorate the hutch, incorporating the milk glass and some other objects I've picked up recently.

My fourth purchase was a small green glass tray.  The geometric pattern looked so modern and fresh, I had to scoop it up.  Cost: 60 cents!

My plans: I think it will look great filled with fresh fruit or silver round Christmas ornaments come December.

My fifth and final purchase was a vintage polka dot and striped scarf, seen in the picture below.  Price tag: 99 cents!

My plans: I think it will look great accessorizing an outfit or even tied to one of my purses.

So there you have it, that's how I, with under six dollars, acquired several new projects and some exciting decor for our home!

Now it's your turn.  Have you found any great thrift store deals lately?  Are there any Value Villages near you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall Soup

Last night I made Roasted and Curried Butternut Squash soup for dinner.  It makes eight cups--plenty for J and I to have for lunch as leftovers over the next few days.  As a bonus, I got to use our new food processor which we got for our wedding but had yet to use!  It is a beut:

The blades and discs come in their own little box that latches closed and has a drawer that stores the discs. The bowls fit inside each other so you can use the food processor several times during a recipe and not have to wash out the bowl between uses.  It pureed our butternut squash soup with ease. The lid snaps on securely and it all is very easy to clean.  Basically, it is amazing.

Anyway, I wanted to share the recipe with you because it is delicious, easy and low fat!

Roasted and Curried Butternut Squash Soup, borrowed from

1 butternut squash, halved
2 large yellow or white onions, peeled and quartered
1 head of garlic, with the top cut off
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock--I used chicken because it was what we had on hand
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup plain yogurt--we used fat free
salt and pepper to taste

Kitchen Supplies:
Food processor or blender--if you use a blender, you will have to puree the mixture in batches 
Sheet pan
Large stock pot

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place halves of butternut squash and quarters of onions on sheet pan covered in foil.  Wrap head of garlic in foil and add to sheet pan.  Roast in oven for 45-60 minutes until squash is tender (in my oven it took the full 60 minutes).  Remove from oven and let cool.  Squeeze garlic paste out of each clove and add to food processor or blender.   Add onions and flesh of the butternut squash to processor.  Pour in 1 cup of stock and puree until smooth.  Pour mixture and remaining stock into a large stock pot.  Add brown sugar, bay leaf, cinnamon, curry, oregano and nutmeg.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for ten minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in yogurt.  Remove bay leaf and serve.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Weekend's Over

The weekend is over and it went by rather quickly, especially considering the weekend before I was working the entire time. Even still, I managed to get some things done and have fun in the process.

Friday night, J and I went out with Ashlee and her hubby and some friends from her work to Fast Eddie's Bon Air in Alton, IL (this link plays music so if you are reading this at work or in a library you may want to turn down/off the volume before clicking on it).  It is a bit of a hike for us in StL but totally worth it!  Where else can you get freezing cold beer, 29 cent peel and eat shrimp, dollar hamburgers and hot dogs, to say nothing of their Big Elwood on a Stick (marinated beef tenderloin with peppers) for 1.99 a stick?  Nowhere but Fast Eddie's!  After gorging ourselves, we stopped by Alton Cemetery, where an early martyr to the abolitionist cause and newspaper man Elijah Parish Lovejoy was buried, among others.  It was dark, there was a full moon and plenty of Civil War-era graves to look at in the moonlight.  What a perfect October night!

On Saturday I had a tea party with the girl I mentor.  We made cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches (my favorite!), egg salad sandwiches and PBJ sandwiches just in case.  We also had scones and strawberries with homemade whipped cream.  It was her first time trying egg salad sandwiches, tea and cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches.  She liked everything except the cucumber cream cheese which was okay because it meant more for me!

Sunday J and I got up early and went to church then met some friends for breakfast crepes.  In the afternoon while J studied, I read some more of my book and watched The Blind Side.  We finished our weekend like we often do, making Sunday Night dinner together.

Here is what was on the menu this week: Baked Cod with Capers, Olives and Limes with Green Rice.

How was your weekend, friends?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Goodwill Finds

I stopped by Goodwill on my way home from work today and ended up bringing home a few treasures I'd like to share!

The first is a ceramic owl perched on a log.  I bought it for four dollars and plan to spray paint it white or punchy yellow (the color of the handles on our dresser).  It reminded me a lot of the ceramic animals Sherry Petersik and Katie Bower have blogged so much about.  In fact, I think my owl would fit perfectly in Baby Will's nursery!

I also grabbed two red mugs for fifty cents each with the hope to work them into our Thanksgiving and later Christmas table decorations.  At the moment I'm thinking I pair them with white bowls and fun napkins.

The last addition to my shopping cart was a small green vase that I hope to fill with a fat pillar candle, again for our holiday decorations.  The cost of this gem: two dollars.

So there you have it.  My most recent Goodwill loot.  A pretty good way to kick of a weekend if you ask me.  Oh, and I had to include this photo of Woods who kept interrupting me.  He hates having his picture taken but loves getting into shots he's not supposed to be in...

What do you think?  Should I paint the owl?  If so, what color?  White or yellow?  Have any of you found some great thrift store finds as of late?

Happy weekend everyone!

More Books

Recently I visited the local library to add a few new books to my to-read list. I thought I would share what new books made it home with me.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
I originally saw this book at Barnes and Noble this summer and immediately wanted to read it. I have started using the notes app on my iPhone to keep track of books I come across that I want to read with the intent of finding them at the library in a few weeks or months later where I can read it for free. This novel is about two women separated by time: Connie Godwin, a Harvard graduate student, and Deliverance Dane, a Puritan woman who lived in Salem during the witch trials in the 1692. I am beyond obsessed with these witch trials. As a child, my favorite movie was The Crucible. I hope one day to visit Salem, MA.  With Halloween is just around the corner, I am excited to devour this book.

Web Design in a Nutshell
Some of you may have noticed I have changed the background on the blog and have been making little tweaks here and there. I would like to learn more about html coding and spiff up the blog a bit. I'm hoping this book will help me do that!

I have a few other books on the docket here at home, but with Halloween around the corner, I think Deliverance Dane will get bumped to the top of the list!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bedroom Redesign Post #5: A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

I apologize for the much used cliche, but it is especially fitting when you hear how I transformed the walls of our bedroom--on the cheap no less!

Before taking on this project, the walls of our bedroom were mostly bare and devoid of personality. We did not have any pictures of ourselves, Woods or our family and friends. For a room we spend a great deal of time in (it has the best TV in the house!), that needed to change, pronto. Here's how I did it.

I knew I wanted to incorporate a photo wall somewhere in the room, and with the air duct running through the wall above our bed, I settled on the only other available wall--thanks to the large window and closet doors that occupy the other two walls.

I also knew I wanted an asymmetrical frame design, similar to the one seen here.  I then decided on a frame color: black.  While we have quite a bit of white in the room with the telephone table, nightstand and tallboy dresser, much of our other furniture in the apartment, including bookcases, coffee table and entertainment center, are black.  Since we are renting, I wanted to use black frames in the event the frames ever have a different home--in say a living or dining room.

Armed with several coupons, I headed to Michael's and I bought ten frames in a variety of shapes and sizes, some with mats and others without.  I also included one shadow box to display some of our wedding mementos. While I was there, I picked up some scrapbook paper for a little art project to fill some of the frames in colors that complimented the bedding: orange, white and blue. 

Inspired by this blog post and armed with an exacto knife and images of Woods that I printed from the computer, I created two silhouettes of Woods and framed them.

Next, I spent some time scouring J's Vanity Fair and The New Yorker subscriptions for a magazine monogram like the one seen on YHL.  I finally found an article that started with the word R: a Vanity Fair article about Norman Rockwell.  Even better, the font for the R was a reddish hue, which matched the colors in the bedroom perfectly.  I cut out the section and went to my local Kinkos, where they helped me blow up the little piece of a magazine article to something that would fit in an 8" by 10" frame.

While reading up on an art related post on YHL which I cannot find for the life of me now, another reader posted a link with a unique idea for wall art:  I decided to create a word cloud using the words from our wedding vows.  With a bit of tweaking, I was left with this:

I love that our names appear in the center of the cloud and are connected by the word join.  I often catch myself reading over the words and singling out different words of the vows each time I look at it. Sometimes it's love, sometimes it's life, sometimes it's sickness. Whatever my mood, whatever is going on, I can look at the vows and remember the promises we made to each other.

I also printed and framed this photo of us from our wedding.  It was taken during our first dance as husband and wife.  It is one of my favorite photos from that day because if you look closely, you can see my parents in the background watching us!

I added a few more photos, including maps of our respective home towns and a photo of Creighton University, where we met and fell in love. 

When it came time for arranging, I tried, at the suggestion of my friend Ashlee, to group the photos in a somewhat chronological fashion: beginning with the maps of our hometowns, continuing with the photograph of Creighton, our Save-the-Dates, the silhouettes of Woods, a picture of our first apartment and so on.

I also added a mirror to that wall to reflect light and make the somewhat small bedroom seem more spacious.  Woods, the vain cat that he is, likes to look at himself in this mirror quite a bit.  I had originally intended the mirror to hang on the back of our closet door but after losing the screws, it spent several months propped up against my desk in the office.  I was happy to repurpose it and finally give it a proper home.

Some of you may notice that the mirror was attached to the wall with Command hanging strips.  While this may not be the classiest way to hang a mirror, it works great for renters like us!  Some day we will be able to mount heavy things like mirrors directly onto the wall.  Or better yet, DIY a large mirror like this one and lean it against the wall.  Until then, our silver mirror mounted with Command strips works just fine!

After rehanging some of our other decor items, like this crescent moon J bought me on Spring Break a few weeks after we started dating, I was finished. Our room looked much less bare and much more personal!

So there you have it, that's how, with a little inspiration and some creativity, I created meaningful and cheap art for our bedroom!

Two Peas in a Pod Risotto

Some of you may be curious about the title of this post. It is so called because Tuesday marked two years since J asked me to be his wife. Remembering back to that time and reflecting on all that has come between then and now (our cat Woods, our first apartment together, our wedding, marriage), I decided I wanted to make something special to commemorate the occasion. On my way home from work I went over the ingredients I had in my pantry:
  • White wine from a few weeks ago when we hosted the officiant at our wedding
  • Prosciutto from pizzas we made on Sunday night
  • Onion from said pizza
  • Peas from our Sunday Afternoon pasta
  • Gruyere cheese, again from our pizza
Then the light bulb went off. Risotto, my old friend! My dad gave us a five pound bag of Arborio rice a few months ago and since then, we have made many risotto dishes. Risotto can be intimidating because of the time and care involved in making it, but once you learn the system it is quite easy.

My favorite way to make it involves opening a bottle of white wine and pouring glasses for J and myself before cooking with some of it. While I stir the rice, J and I talk about our days and catch up with each other before sitting down with big bowls of steaming rice and more wine. It was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of our engagement!

Two Peas in a Pod Risotto, adapted from Best of Cooking Light's Champagne-Feta Risotto

1/2 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 (15.75 ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice or other short grain rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 ounces prosciutto, sliced
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/3 cup peas--I used frozen
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Kitchen Supplies:
Medium stock pot or pasta pot
Wooden spoon--because you will be doing a lot of stirring at some high temperatures
Cheese grater
Wine opener
Small strainer, if using frozen peas

Combine first three ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer (do not allow it to boil). Keep warm over low heat. Note: I have made this with the cans as suggested above and with chicken bouillon cubes and hot water. Both work fine. If you are looking to limit your salt intake, I recommend the canned broth.

Heat oil over medium to high heat and add prosciutto. Stir for two to three minutes until the prosciutto is crispy and golden brown. Remove prosciutto and set aside. Add onions and saute for three minutes. Add rice, sauteing for two minutes until the ends of the rice start to become translucent. Stir in white wine to deglaze the pan. Stir constantly until liquid is absorbed, approximately one minute. Stir in 1 cup of broth mixture and cook for five minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next. This will take approximately 25 minutes in total.

Rinse and drain peas with a strainer to take the chill off of them and to ensure you do not add extra liquid to the dish. Add prosciutto, peas, and Gruyere cheese, stirring to combine. Spoon into bowls and top each with half of the Parmesan cheese.

Pour yourself another glass of wine and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: Mercy

I am an avid reader of Jodi Picoult books.  To date, I have read eleven of her fifteen books.  Eventually, I'd like to read them all.  Mercy, the oldest vintage of books I've read by Picoult to date (published in 1996), is also the latest book I've checked off that list.

One of the things I appreciate about her as a writer is the amount of research she does for each novel and the extent to which she, and the reader who is along for the ride, explores different worlds, hobbies and careers against the backdrop of a larger story and struggle.  Over the course of several novels, I have learned about America's dark, secret world of eugenics, graphic novels, the Amish, and in this novel, Scottish clans and the secret language of flowers.

Mercy deals with the issue of euthanasia and the right to die.  It was written at a time when these issues were extremely hot button and new, given the Kevorkian trials and so forth.  Having recently watched You Don't Know Jack on HBO about that time in recent American history, I found the story interesting, fresh and compelling.

However, unlike some of her other, more recent works, I felt as if the issue, euthanasia and the character who dealt most directly with this challenge, were secondary players in the larger story which looked at love and marriage.  Typical Picoult novels address contentious issues through its major, not minor, players.

My next comment falls into the spoiler range, so, like Kate at Twenty-six to Life, I have written it in white text to allow those who would like to read it to highlight it and those who like their stories unspoiled to continue reading this post in ignorant bliss:

I must admit that I kept waiting for that typical Picoult twist (sometimes I think she is the M. Knight Shyamalan of modern literature, minus the bad movies like The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening).  In Mercy, it never came.  My mind kept reeling, trying to predict the way Picoult would trick me and trip me up.  In the end, the story was largely twist-free.

This novel also dealt with the supernatural and ghosts more than any other Picoult novel I've read to date, save Second Glance.  Surprisingly, in both cases, the introduction of ghosts and the supernatural felt organic to the telling of the story.

As with almost all of Jodi Picoult's novels, Mercy did not disappoint.  It left me with questions and hungering for more, pondering what happened to the characters once the story ended on the page.

One more Picoult novel down, only a few more to go...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Way to Spend a Monday Afternoon

After a very busy weekend at work--that's right, I was working all weekend!--a relaxing Monday afternoon was extremely welcome and much needed.  Here's a breakdown of how I spent it:

  • Went to the library and checked out a few new books since I'm almost finished with the four I checked out a few weeks ago.  More on what made the cut and reviews of the books I've finished reading in future posts.
  • Made myself a cup of tea with milk and sugar
  • Drank said tea and finished reading Mercy by Jodi Picoult
  • Sat and cuddled with Woods 
He really does love me, he just dislikes having his picture taken!
It's the simple things in life, right? 

130 Before I'm Thirty

I'm a big fan of lists: to do lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, you name it.  So, inspired by Twenty Six to Life's 101 in 1001 Days and Making It Lovely's 30 Before I'm Thirty, among others, I decided to create my own list, with a twist.  Here is a list of 130 things I want to do before I turn thirty.

My 30th birthday is December 12, 2016.  Think I can do it?  I'm sure going to try and blog all about it along the way, of course!

Note: I've been working on this list for several weeks, but because work has been hectic lately and I worked all weekend, I haven't had a chance to share it before now.  That's why one of the items, number 57, is still on the list even though I accomplished that last week! I'm not cheating, I swear...

130 Before I'm Thirty


1. Plant a garden and can the fruits of my labors
2. Grow a pumpkin from seed
3. Grow two heirloom vegetables
4. Grow a fresh herb garden with thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, and oregano
5. Grow my own lettuce
6. Grow potatoes
7. Go to a grape stomping, like this one
8. Start composting
9. Plant a tree

10.  Make Ina Garten's homemade chicken stock
11.  Make Beef Wellington
12.  Make Boeuf Bourguignon
13. Bake homemade sour dough bread
14. Start a wine cellar
15. Cook and eat an all locally sourced meal
16. Cook my way through an entire cookbook, Julie and Julia style
17. Make pasta from scratch
18.  Make homemade gnocci
19.  Buy an immersion blender
20.  Make an authentic Spanish meal, complete with tapas and Paella
21. Make an authentic French meal
22. Make an authentic Indian meal
23. Join a supper club
24. Go vegetarian for a month
25. Complete a Chopped-style challenge at home
26.  Cook with a meat I've never cooked with before, like bison, duck, or goose
27. Write my own recipe for one dish

28. Read all of the books on my friend JDP's Must Read Book List
29. Join a book club
30. Start a book club
31.  Go to a book signing
32.  Meet Nancy E. Turner, author of my favorite book, These Is My Words

Civic Engagement
33. Volunteer on a Native American reservation
34. Volunteer for a political campaign
35. Have a letter to the editor published
36. Write a letter to a public official about an issue I am passionate about
37. Vote in every election
38. March in a political parade or participate in a sit-in

39. Travel to Europe
40. Go to either the Kentucky Derby or Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event
41. Visit Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park or Niagara Falls
42. Go backpacking with J
43. Go camping with J
44. Sleep on a boat overnight
45. Go on a cruise
46. Visit at least 3 presidential libraries with J
47. Plan and go on a staycation with J
48. Go to NYC to visit Megan
49. Take a trip by train with J and sleep on a train overnight
50. Visit a local museum in each new city we visit
51. Write postcards to ourselves on each trip we take

52. Host a giveaway on the blog
53. Learn how to use Photoshop
54. Buy Photoshop
55. Get own domain
56. Have 50 followers on my blog
57. Get featured on a blog--accomplished 10/15!

58. Blog twice a day, five days a week for two months straight
59. Buy a good camera
60. Comment on 10 blog posts in one day

61. Relearn Spanish
62. Research family tree
63.  Attend an academic lecture for fun
64. Take guitar lessons
65. Learn finger picking on the guitar
66. Take voice lessons
67. Learn to restring guitar

68. Reupholster a piece of furniture
69. Sew our wedding quilt
70. Scrapbook our wedding pictures
71. Refinish and restore a piece of furniture
72. Learn to knit
73. DIY a home improvement project in our own house
74. Give all homemade gifts for Christmas one year
75. Buy a sewing machine
76. Create craft room or craft desk

77. Join a couples bowling league with J
78. Carry a 150 average in bowling
79. Bowl a 160 game
80. Get to ideal weight
81. Learn to play tennis
82. Buy bicycles for J and I
83. Complete a Half Marathon
84. Complete a Triathlon
85. Take ballroom dance lessons with J

86. Buy a dressage saddle
87. Compete in a Dressage training level horse show
88. Own a horse again
89. Go on an overnight trail ride
90. Volunteer at a equine therapy facility
91. Learn Parelli games
92. Teach my future horse Parelli games
93. Buy a horse painting
94. Attend Chincoteague Pony Swim
95. Spend time with a foal

Big Purchases
96. Buy a new car
97. Buy at least a queen size bed, if not a California King
98. Buy a house

99. Pay off new car (when we get one)
100. Save 20% of income for 2 years
101. Create a 6 month emergency fund
102. Create a 9 month emergency fund
103. Overpay on mortgage payment at least three times (when we have a mortgage)
104. Pay back J's student loans
105. Deposit one year's tax refund directly into savings account

106. Learn to drive a stick shift
107. Learn how to change my oil
108. Learn how to change a flat tire
109. Learn to sail
110. Start writing letters to my sister again and write consistently with her
111. Go on a retreat with J

Health and Beauty
112. Go to the dentist
113. Learn to French braid my own hair
114. Grow my hair out
115. Dye my hair brown
116. Cut my hair short and donate to Locks of Love
117. Get eyelash extensions
118. Get a couples massage with J
119. Buy a great pair of jeans
120. Buy J some new great smelling cologne
121. Wear makeup every day for one month

122. Attend a local play production at least once a year
123. Watch ten new-to-me films that won the Oscar for Best Picture
124. Watch Citizen Kane and It's a Wonderful Life
125. Watch five new-to-me Broadway musical films then see a live production of the same musical
126. Watch all of Alfred Hitchcock's films
127. Go see all of the Best Picture nominated films during Oscar season one year

128. Go to a drive-in movie with J
129. Go to a dinner theatre
130. Attend a murder mystery dinner

What do you think?  Do you have a similar list with less or more items on it?  Would any of my "to do's" appear on your list?  Let's hear it...

Friday, October 15, 2010

I've Been Featured!

Beth and Nick of Sawdust and Embryos have been kind enough to feature my dresser makeover on their blog today.  It is such an honor as I truly love their blog and enjoy following their life in Iowa.  Being married to a Midwestern boy and having lived in Nebraska for 4 1/2 years, I feel right at home when I read their blog.  Their amazing creativity and the honesty with which they approach their blog doesn't hurt either!

So head on over and check it out!  Thanks again Beth and Nick for featuring my little project!

Also, a special welcome to any guests from Sawdust and Embryos who are visiting for the first time!  Welcome to my humble blog.  Feel free to look around and I hope to see you back here soon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weekend Wrap-up, mid-week

There has been blog silence due to an upcoming event at work that has had me working until at least 7 every night this week.  I have not abandoned you, I promise!  I will be back with recipes, book reviews, my Bedroom makeover wrap-up and more in the upcoming days and weeks!!

In the meantime, here is a little recap of my weekend festivities and a yummy family recipe that we made this weekend!

Apple picking in 89 degree weather just didn't seem right.  Instead, we went and got ice cream at The Fountain on Locust which was delicious!  The decor is very Art Deco and the drinks remind me of Mad Men.  We tried their ice cream which is shipped straight from a family dairy in Wisconsin!

I had butter pecan ice cream in their signature pretzel cone.  The combination of sweet and savory was amazing!  J had a malt topped with fresh whipped cream, which was also very good.

They even candy their own lemon peels there--I definitely recommend it to anyone in the area!

On Saturday I made Halloween sugar cookies with a girl I mentor.  We made ghosts, pumpkins and star cookies.  Here's the recipe:

Grandma's Halloween...err Christmas...Cookies

1 cup shortening
2 cups of sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup of milk
4 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting:
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup of milk
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Kitchen Supplies:
Various cookie cutters
Hand or stand mixer
4 baking sheets
Food coloring
Small bowls for mixing colors, I used our ramekins
Sprinkles, optional
Tupperware and freezer paper for storage

Sift dry ingredients together in a small bowl.  Cream shortening and salt with either a hand or stand mixer.  Crack eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and add to the batter, continuing to cream with the mixer.   This helps ensure one bad egg doesn't run the whole batter! While mixer is running, add milk and sifted ingredients until the mixture has come together.  Add vanilla and almond extract and mix well.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes.

Remove a small portion of dough from the refrigerator and roll out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface.  Coat cookie cutters lightly with flour, press into dough and place shapes on an ungreased sheet pan.  Repeat process until all dough has been used.  Note that by keeping the dough you are not working with in the refrigerator, it rolls out much easier.

Bake at 375 degrees for 9-10 minutes.  Do not allow the cookies to brown.  Place on cooling racks or brown paper bags to cool.

Next, cream thoroughly butter, salt and 1 cup of powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Add remaining sugar and milk, alternating blending until smooth and of blending consistency.  Add vanilla.  Mix well.  Spoon equal amounts into small bowls.  Add food coloring and mix well.  Decorate to your heart's content.

Store in airtight Tupperware containers with freezer or contact paper between layers.  Makes approximately two dozen cookies.

My grandma (my Dad's mom) usually makes these around Christmas time, but they work just as well any other time of year!

Buy a cookie cutter like this and make a batch for a new neighbor.  Surprise your sweetheart with some sweet treats on Valentine's Day or an anniversary with a cookie cutter like this.  Or make some cookies for a baby or wedding shower.  Any way you cut them, they are great cookies! Enjoy!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekend's Here!

My plans for this weekend are:
  • Finish reading two of the four books I borrowed from the library that are due next Tuesday
  • Spend time with J, maybe going apple picking and pretend it is truly fall despite the 80 degree weather we are supposed to have this weekend
  • Make Halloween sugar cookies
  • Clean the house and get ready for a visit from Father Collins who presided at our wedding
  • Restring my guitar
  • Relax!
Me apple picking last year
What are your weekend plans, friends?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Luncheon Tea

I have always loved afternoon tea and tea sandwiches.  In fact, growing up my sister and I would go have afternoon tea at a place up the street from our house in California at least once a semester.  We would gorge ourselves on chicken and egg salad, cucumber-dill, olive tapenade, and pumpkin cream cheese sandwiches.  Then we would wash it all down with a big pot of tea.

While on my lunch break yesterday, I decided to make myself some tea sandwiches.  Because I had shredded chicken from dinner the night before, raisins, walnuts, cucumber and cream cheese in the pantry and refrigerator, I decided to make curry chicken salad and cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches.  Of course I drank tea.

Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

1 roasted or poached chicken breast, shredded
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans--I used walnuts
1/3 cup raisins--I used golden raisins
1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, to taste
salt and pepper
White bread with crust cut off

Kitchen Supplies:
Bread knife
Cup of tea with milk and sugar of course

Combine above ingredients, adding more mayonnaise if necessary.  Spread even layer over one side of the bread.  Build sandwich and carefully cut into four small squares with a bread knife.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cleaning House, err Closet

This weekend, as promised, I cleaned out my closet and boy was it in need of cleaning!  It had gotten to the point that when I opened the closet, things would just come tumbling out.  Not a good situation and definitely not safe for Woods, who tries pretty regularly to play in our closets.

Worse, I could never find anything to wear, despite my bursting at the seams closet.  After reading a few blog posts about frugal living and clothes (here and here are some good ones) I felt ready to attack the closet.  Because I want to keep it real on this blog, here is a before picture of my closet.
Woods carefully inspects the danger zone
The first thing I did was make the bed so I had a large flat surface to work with.  Then as I took out of the clothes, I sorted them by type: short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, dresses and skirts.  Any summer clothes (extra pairs of sandals, shorts, tank tops that don't layer well) went into two long plastic containers to be stored under our bed until next spring/summer.  While I was at it, I also emptied every single drawer, continuing to sort and store as I went.

Woods helps sort clothes
Once absolutely everything was out on the bed and dresser, I began paring down or editing my wardrobe.  I created two new piles: items headed for consignment or those headed to a thrift store.  I tried on every pair of pants and those that no longer fit went into one of the two piles.  Any item that had not been worn since we moved to St. Louis or was stained or torn also went into the piles.  All in all, I was left with one brown paper bag for consignment and two paper bags for thrift stores.

Next, I sorted the remaining items by color, from dark to light.  The idea here is that it will be easier to find clothes to wear for work if I can match colors quickly.  Once they were pared down and sorted, back into the closet they went.  I also visited Hobby Lobby on Saturday and got two fabric hat boxes for belts and other odds and ends that needed corralling.
My purses and bags that were previously deflated and bunched up on the floor got wrapping paper stuffed inside them to help them maintain their shape and found a new home on the shelf in the closet.  A red plastic bin that I had gotten a while back the Dollar Store found a place on the lower shelf to store my perfume, watches, hair ties, and so forth.

So there you have it, that's how, after several hours and a fierce commitment to simplifying my closet and my life, I cleaned house, err closet.
Woods inspects the final product
I must say that having a clean and organized closet has definitely made getting dressed for work in the morning easier!  I can clearly see what items I have to work with.  I am also more motivated to hang clothes up as soon as I am finished with them, since they have such an orderly home to go back to, keeping the whole bedroom clean and tidy.

Have you recently cleaned out a closet?  Any tips for ruthlessly paring down your wardrobe?  Please discuss...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shamrock Carrot Cake Cupcakes

This weekend I made carrot cake cupcakes to bring to my cousin's house for the Notre Dame-Boston College came on Saturday night.

Notre Dame finally won a game, but sadly it was not on TV.  No matter, we had a great night with my cousin and her husband eating chili, cornbread and carrot cake cupcakes and talking and laughing together.  I wanted to share the recipe because it was delicious and because I had a such a fun time decorating the cupcakes!

Shamrock Carrot Cake Cupcakes, modified from Joy of Baking's Carrot Cupcake

For the Batter:
2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated carrots, approximately 3-4 carrots depending on their size
1 cup grated apple, approximately 1 large apple
1/2 cup walnuts--you can also use pecans or omit for nut allergies
1 cup raisins--I used golden raisins because of the color they add to the cupcakes

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
8 ounces (1 package) of cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar), sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Kitchen Supplies:
20 paper or foil muffin cups
1 toothpick for testing doneness of the batter
2 pipe bags and tips for frosting cupcakes and creating shamrocks
Green food coloring
2 24-cup muffin tins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill muffin tins with 20 muffin cups.   In a small bowl, whisk together sifted flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  In a larger, separate bowl combine 4 eggs, sugar and oil until slightly thickened.  Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until incorporated.  Fold in shredded carrots, apples, raisins and walnuts.  Spoon into muffin cups, dividing evenly between the 20 cups.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks.

Once cool, combine butter and cream cheese in a small bowl with a hand or stand mixer.  Beat until smooth.  Gradually add sifted powdered sugar until smooth and creamy.  Beat in vanilla extract.  Spoon approximately three-fourths of the frosting into a pipe bag and pipe onto cupcakes.  Add two to three drops of green food coloring and mix well.  Add remaining green food coloring to other pipe bag.  Pipe three connected circles and a stem to make shamrocks.  Unwrap and enjoy!

Fall into Decorations

With October in full swing, it was time to bust out our Halloween decorations.  Last year, I was given a few items from my aunt who was lightening her load before her big move to South Korea.   This year I was determined to use as many of these decorations as possible, as well as keep any additional spending I did low.  Friends, take a look at what I've done and let me know what you think.  I think I've succeeded on that front!

First, I bought three small pumpkins from Trader Joe's.  The two larger pumpkins are pie pumpkins, which means I can turn them into pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie in a few weeks when I get tired of the decor.  I love it when decorations multitask like that!  Total cost: under four dollars.

Next, I layered two green place mats over each other to serve as a table runner.  On top of this I put a brown woven mat for added texture.  I finished it off with some green tea lights and small candle holders, which I removed from their iron bases and turned upside down to resemble bell jars.

After the dining room table had been set, I moved onto the living room.  I placed my two light up pumpkins strategically throughout the room, moving the floor lamp by the couch to make room for the stack of pumpkins.  I know the stack would normally be seen outside of a home, but with no overhead lighting in our living room, both of these lights add a lot of light and warmth to the space.

Finally, I took the covers off of three books with scary-sounding titles and topped the stack with a larger bell jar and apple.  I love this display: it reminds me of Snow White's poison apple and I like that the "theme" of bell jars has been carried throughout the space.  Also, these chairs face our fireplace and little library, so it is the perfect display for this corner of our home.

So there you have it, that's how I, with under four dollars of new materials and a little creativity, decorated our space for Halloween!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Pasta

Today, after watching some of my favorite Food Network shows including Giada At Home, Nigella Kitchen and Alex's Day Off, I was inspired to cook.  Normally I would harness this energy to make our Sunday night dinner, but because we are heading to our neighbors' wedding and reception in a few hours, I made a very nice lunch for us instead.

I still had cream and prosciutto left over from last Sunday's Pasta Primavera, which inspired an idea: Fettuccine alla Carbonara.  I consulted my BHG New Cookbook and made a few changes and additions.  The result was warm, inviting and delicious.  I hope you try it and enjoy some Sunday afternoon, or anytime!

Penne alla Carbonara, adapted from BHG New Cookbook

3 slices prosciutto, cut into 1 inch strips
 1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup frozen peas
4 cups penne pasta, or whatever you have on hand
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup half and half or heavy cream--I had cream on hand from last week's recipe so I used that
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Coarsely ground black pepper

Kitchen Supplies:
Pasta pot
Small saucepan

Put a pot of water onto boil.  In a small saucepan, saute prosciutto and olive oil over medium heat until the prosciutto turns crispy and golden brown.  Remove prosciutto from pan and set aside.  Add onions and saute in the brown bits from the prosciutto for 1 to 2 minutes until translucent.  Remove from pan.  Salt pasta water and add pasta.  When six minutes remain in cooking time for the pasta (our Penne took 11 minutes) add the butter and allow to melt slightly.  Add cream and egg, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the consistency is such that the sauce just coats a metal spoon.  Strain pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid.  Add peas to the strainer you used for the pasta.  Run cool water over them briefly to remove any frost and take the chill off the peas.  Return pasta to the pot, then add sauce, Parmesan, peas, onions and prosciutto.  Toss and if the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen.  Serve with pepper to taste. 

The original recipe called for bacon which you browned up in a separate pan.  When reading it over, I realized I could use one saucepan (less cleanup) and take advantage of the brown bits at the bottom of the pan in the rest of the recipe (more flavor).  It was totally worth it.  Hints of the salty, smokiness of the prosciutto were in every part of the dish, including the creamy sauce.

Traditional Carbonara is served with fettucine, but thanks to our Sam's Club membership, we always have several pounds of Penne on hand, so that's what I used.  The small lines on Penne actually worked quite well with this dish, as the creamy sauce really clung to the pasta.

I also added onions and peas, because to me, Carbonara is not the same without them!  Enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Weekend's Here!

The weekend, and October, are finally here!

This weekend is shaping up to be a little bit busy but mostly relaxing.  I am hoping to get a lot of reading done and finally tackle my closet!  With the change in weather around here lately, I need to put summer clothes away in preparation for warmer clothes and cooler temperatures. 

Tomorrow night I am making these carrot cake cupcakes for a Notre Dame football party at my cousin's house.

Sunday we are attending our neighbors' wedding, which will be very fun and exciting!  The wedding is at the Jewel Box in Forest Park, which is a beautiful place to have a wedding.  We can't wait to celebrate with them!

What are your weekend plans?

A picture of my parents at our wedding

Also, a very special shout out to my dad today on his birthday.  I hope you have a fantastic day Dad and wish I was there to celebrate with you!!