Sunday, September 28, 2014

Year Four Goals: Quarter 1 Check In

It  has been a few months since I wrote up my next set of goals...let's check in and see how we're doing.

Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 Books - Between Book Club and a Leadership Program I am in through work, I don't think I'll have any problems at all with this one - I've already fit in 11 since January!
The Light Between Oceans - dragged a bit towards the end, but I enjoyed it overall.
Crucial Conversations - part of my leadership program homework. Helpful ideas for success at work and in life!
Made to Stick - Another in the leadership series (this will become a common refrain this year!). Great thoughts around making your ideas last.
The Marriage Plot - While it took me about 50 pages to get into it, enjoyed it while not like any of the characters - a feat. Note to self: re-read Middlesex.
Playing the Enemy - The book Invictus was based on. I went in thinking the book would be mostly rugby, but it was so much more and taught me a lot about Mandela's life and rise to leadership.

2. Watch 120 Movies - The habit continues. Latest Netflixes at home - getting through the tail end of the Woody Allen pics I have yet to see. Highly recommend The Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters.
34 since end of June. Plowed through Homeland: Season 1. Loved The Lives of Others. Could have done without 2 Guns.

3. Visit 2 Museums - I just came back from the WWII Museum in New Orleans - amazing exhibit. Ready to tackle a couple new ones, and maybe an old favorite like the Art Institute!
June - Bob takes me to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for the evening. Bonus points: we find that they have live jazz on Tuesdays in the summer!

4. 2 Trips to the Theater - Breakdancing with Bach is coming up this weekend, that's definitely something new!
August - Not sure if this fully counts, but I took in a Broadway themed Concert in the Park! 11 Chicago-bound shows were highlighted with live performances. I'm counting down 'til I can see Newsies!

5. Visit 3 New Cities - If I want to keep up with my 15-places-in-15-years list, I think I may need to be crossing Austin or Savannah off in 12 months time. . .
An August wedding in Encampment, Wyoming allows me to cross State Number 30 off of my list.

6. Plan an International Trip - Peru was a hit, but after several trips learning about ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Incans and Mayans), I think we're ready for something completely different.

How Entertaining
7. Create 4 New Freezer Meals - We've been getting lazier in the kitchen lately, all the more reason to have more grab-and-go meals to pick from. 
August: Homemade Tomato Soup gets the freezer treatment.

8. Cheesemaking, Second Phase - attempted mozzarella, with room to improve. Shall we try the next level up afterwards?

9. Host 2 Parties - Our annual Harvest Party is a given, but also hoping to fit in a late summer bash to celebrate a (hopefully) done second bathroom.

Health and Wellness
10. Get Outdoors More Often - I'm a self-described indoor kid, but here's to long walks, camping trips and afternoons on (someone else's) decks.

11. Learn how to Swim - I shouldn't admit this since I grew up a lake, but I can barely swim. I don't love the water, but know I need to learn how to do more than flounder. Maybe I let Bob take me to the pool once or twice. . .

12. Keep Drinking More Water - Already doing more than I ever have before thanks to a steady supply of cucumbers and strawberries added to our drink dispenser. Keep it up.

13. Make More Appointments - I hit up the eye doctor and dentist for the first time in a long time this month. I told my eye doctor I thought it had been about a year and a half since my last visit. It had actually been close to 4. Make the follow up appointments early and stick to them.
I actually made my 6-month-from-now appointment for the dentist. That never happens. See you in January!

Adventures in DIY and Home Ownership
14. Sew Something Else - I promised my family their very own mantel scarves, and also had visions of a puppet theater stage for the nieces. First step: Detangle the thread that jammed up the machine last time I used it.
3 custom made mantel scarves are on their way to my mom, aunt and sister after this weekend. Post to come!

15. Second Bathroom Renovation - Tub, sink and tile has been taking over the garage storage area. We're gearing up for demo days in July and preparing to learn a lot.
Drywall is up, mudding is almost complete, painting is next. Lots of surprises along the way, but it has been fun and our budget loves us.

16. Closet Organization - Thanks to a revamped laundry room, our coat closet has mucho storage space and the wheels are turning with how to use it.

17. 12 Pinterest Projects - Recipes, crafts and holiday decor here I come.
Some pinspiration gave me a new way to decorate for Halloween using an old printer's drawer.

18. Complete Entryway Decor - With a church pew benchentryway table, some art on the walls and a storage crate, we're well on our way to calling this area done-zo. Now to finish off the wall above the table and pick up an umbrella holder.

19. Purchase New Nightstands - Our nightstands are ridiculously short compared to our bed height. We finally picked up new bedside lamps, so the end tables can't be far behind, as long as we find the perfect ones.

20. Find a Buffet - Sigh. We came very close last month when we spied this awesome buffet at an Antiques shop in Andersonville at 75% off. Someone else had it on hold and swooped in before we could make it ours. Might this be the year we discover our match?

21. Install New Ceiling Fan/Lights - We bought a ceiling fan a year ago. so in the box it sits. We moved in three years ago and can't reach the dining room lights even with the ladder, so in the dark we eat. Time to make a change here.

22. Make 50 Cards - Using my new Cricut machine to be sure. I'm running out of birthday cards, so a pile of those is next on my list.

23. Update Photo Albums - The wedding album is complete, but stacks of photos stare at me from their bin, waiting to be cut up and added to the memory books, including trips to London, Italy, Belize and Peru!

24. Make the Advent Calendar - I have a vision of creating wooden blocks that fit within a printer's drawer. The drawer was bought on eBay a year and a half ago and there it sits.

Professional and Personal Development
25. Learn Guitar - I received a guitar as a gift a couple years back. It is a nice display item, but it turns into a bit of a joke when I realize I don't even know how to hold it properly.

26. 65 Blog Posts - I'm trying to be a little more realistic, bringing this number down a bit from past years - but at the same time, would like to make sure that I hit at least 5 or 6 posts a month.
Only 12 in 3 months - should pick up a bit more now that this bathroom remodel is coming to fruition, but I finally made a list of potential posts to keep me motivated. The list has 22 items on it, so now it's just a matter of sitting down and writing.

27. Keep Driving - I haven't taken the car out as often as I should to keep up the practice, but here's to another year of behind the wheel, one trip to Target at a time.

28. Support 3 Charities - Whether it be time or cash money, here's to supporting the causes out there.
Good luck on your Walk to End Alzheimer's, Meika!

29. Find a Speaking or Writing Opportunity Through Work - I've had a chance to write an article and present in front of the department in the past 6 months. I'll proactively look for more opportunities in the professional arena.

30. Volunteer Once a Month - Chicago Cares, Ronald McDonald House and more on are on my regular rotation. Is this the year to try out something new?

31. Create 2 Positive Rituals - After reading the wonderful book, The Power of Full Engagement, I'm going to focus on finding at least two areas to create positive rituals to help manage my energy.

Money Matters
32. Purge 100 items - Last year I collected several bin-fulls to sell at our yard sale. Between clothing, old games and never used household items, I see some craigslistin' and yard sellin' in our future. 
25 items of clothing = gone from the drawer. I also made some tough decisions and pared down our pile o' reusable bags. We really only use a few, so goodbye to 8 rarely used or starting-to-rip ones.

33. Meet Savings Goal - A year and a half ago, I made up a goal to get to by our 2 year anniversary. We're getting closer, but hit a couple roadblocks called "Special Assessments" and "Elaborate Vacations." Not that I would give up our holidays, but if we can hit the goal by the end of 2014 you can count me as a very happy camper indeed.
Well, this would not have been a problem at all, except we recently found ourselves with an investment opportunity. We took advantage, which set back my goal a bit, but in the end we believe we'll come out ahead. 

34. Find 3 Extra Cash Opportunities - Between Lollapalooza Year Four, the odd focus group and collected pocket change, there should be at least a handful of extra moolah opportunities coming soon to a wallet near me.
I've had a nice surge in Etsy sales for my Every Holiday Blocks - sold out of my available 8 sets! Time to make some more, methinks. As mentioned, Lollapalooza gave us another round of easy cash in early August.

35. Back Up eFiles - This blog alone has hundreds and hundreds of photos attached to it, not to mention thousands of words. Between my music, my photos and my personal documents, it would be a good thing not to lose them all suddenly to a virus or sledgehammer to the computer.

36. Complete an Inventory - I always read about how you are supposed to have a home inventory on hand in case of a fire or disaster or a robbing rampage hits our house. Research how to put this together and make it happen.
The list has begun in GoogleDocs. Now I just need to work through model numbers, price estimates and finish it up.

And. . .
36.5. Be a great wife, aunt, sister, daughter, friend, boss and co-worker.
The old "do unto others" thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

With a Cherry Tomato on Top

A weekend at my parents' house meant lots of garden goodies to behold. Their kitchen floor was covered in boxes of tomatoes, their shelves were lined with canned veggies and the pumpkin patch was. . .sadly down for the count. Yes, we might have only gotten 4 small pumpkins and 5 miniature gourds out of this year's crop, but the rest of the garden definitely delivered.

One benefit of the harvest was this Cherry Tomato Bruschetta from Family Circle. We had this as our appetizer ahead of a pork tenderloin and grilled zucchini dinner.

Makes 16
1 small eggplant, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
5 Tbs olive oil (divided)
1 loaf italian bread, cut about 1/2 inch thick into 16 pieces.
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves plus some for garnish
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt (divided)
12 tsp pepper (divided)
2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 Tbs lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss eggplant with 2 Tbs olive oil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat grill pan or grill to medium-high. Brush bread slices on one side with remaining olive oil. Grill, oil side down, until toasted and lightly marked. Brush tops with olive oil and toast on opposite side. Remove bread from grill and arrange on platter. 

Mix together the ricotta, 1 Tbs basil, lemon zest and 1/4 tsp each of the salt and pepper. Rub cut side of garlic clove half on four of the bread slices, repeat with remaining cloves on bread. Toss eggplant and cherry tomatoes in a small bowl with remaining olive oil, remaining basil and 1/4 tsp salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Spread ricotta mixture on grilled bread slice, top with spoonful of tomato mixture and garnish with basil.
The orange and red tomatoes against the green and brown of the eggplant created some unique colors for bruschetta indeed.
And it was good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tub, Set, Match

As we approach Month 3 of our bathroom remodel, the biggest jobs are nearing completion: the thermostat is moved, the pocket door kit is installed, some of the drywall is up. . .and the tub is in! Since we still have one last step to finish up before I write about the Nest and the "door" part of the "pocket door kit" left to install, I thought I'd spend a few minutes extolling on the intensity that was our tub install.

You may recall our first surprise was finding out we had a cast iron tub on our hands. After demolishing it and recycling the pieces for a cool 24 bucks, we were left with a big open space. And somehow, out of the 194 photos of this remodel I've taken so far, I didn't get a close up shot of the open space left by the taken out tub!
The weight of the tub meant it had nothing really holding it in place beyond the sealed in drywall edges. With our acrylic drop-in tub taking over the lease, this wasn't going to work. The instructions included info on how to set it in a mortar bed, so we knew that was our end goal.
But first, the excitement of getting our drain pieces to fit. We purchased the Kohler Slotted Overflow and Bath Drain from eBay, saving about $15 from the same version available on Amazon.com. Moving from metal piping to PVC meant researching the connectors that were going to adapt the best way. In the end, we spent just a few dollars on a ring and grooved connector that created a tight grip on the metal pipe and allowed the pvc pipe to securely connect.
The bigger issue was the height of the existing drain. After quite a few "measure twice, cut once" tasks, we sliced down the metal pipe with a saw, cut a larger opening into the floorboard and sliced up the PVC pipes included with our kit to get the drain and waste overflow in just the right spot.
After using Oatey purple primer and PVC cement to seal in the drain pieces, we used foam filler to fill in the extra space we created with our larger hole.
In tandem with setting the drain in the exact right place, Bob was hard at work building a wooden frame for our drop-in tub. Three sides came together just fine, but when we realized that the 2x4s were a little too wide to fit in the tight space at the front end of the tub, Bob used some extra metal stud pieces to build out the fourth wall. These also helped make sure the drain kit wasn't blocked at all.
After securing the frame to the floor and using some strategically placed 2x4s, the tub felt fully supported and was completely level.
However, everything we read said that the frame itself should not be what is supporting the tub. That meant our next step was laying our mortar bed. Structo-lite was recommended by our local hardware store for this task, and 1 1/2 bags was enough to do the trick.

How to ensure the mortar didn't spread all over or risk going down the drain? Bob built 2 "ears" alongside the drain using metal sheets picked up at Home Depot. By screwing these and three other wooden walls into place, the bed was created.
Bob mixed up the Structo-lite in our buckets with a drill attachment mixer and poured it over a sheet of polyurethane. 
After smoothing it out and making sure it was a tall enough mixture, the sheet of polyurethane was brought over the top and tucked into the edges of the barrier, creating a Structo-lite burrito. This meant that the tub would mold to the shape of the Structo-lite, but would not be completely stuck in the mud should we ever need to remove it.
The tub was secured into place, the levels were checked (all good!) and then we let it sit overnight with a box of tile and bags of thinset stacked inside to give it some hefty weight.
The Structo-lite hardened completely, and within the day there were no creaking noises at all when you stepped in the tub. 
With the tub in place and the drain draining just like we need it to, our next step involves covering the walls and side of the tub with cement backerboard before we tackle the tile!
I've been taking photos every step of the way of our bathroom remodel, here's a quick snapshot of where we were to where we are now. Progress may be slow, but it is steady.




Saturday, September 13, 2014

Great Printer's Ghost!

It doesn't seem possible that we are headed into mid-September. I had all of these great summer plans. . . 

While I'll continue to blame the fickle Chicago weather for denying us a real summer, my own procrastination certainly can't be ignored. Otherwise I would have had posts to share such as "I Finally Updated my Photo Albums after 2 Years," "and "Picnic Ideas for Movies in the Park." Alas, nothing completed along those lines, so why not just head straight into Fall?

After three weekends of travel, I was looking forward to a Saturday at home. Bob and his buddy tackled the first of the drywall installation for our bathroom remodel. I helped by making lunch and running to Ace (we average 3 visits a day when working on a bathroom project). At some point, I got a look at our mantel and realized it was time to decorate for Halloween!
My ever-growing holiday collection is kept in the basement garage spot, and it didn't go without notice that I've managed to increase my fall-themed tote collection by 1 from last year. I'm going to see if I can make this a "no-spend" halloween, but somehow doubting it. 

I think part of why I end up buying at least one new piece each year to add to the collection is because it is requires a tad less effort to create an original display when you've got new things to show off. Earlier this week, this pin caught my eye on Pinterest and I realized I had an answer for how to make old things seem new.
photo source
I bought a printer's drawer about 2 years ago with hopes of creating an advent calendar with decorated wooden blocks. That project is still on my list. Literally, it is one of my 36.5 in 365 goals this year! But in the meantime it has just been gathering dust in the closet. I pulled it out along with all of the fall decor and started playing around to see what we had to work with.
Pretty quickly I could tell it was going to be a great addition to the mantel. While it does stand upright on it's own fairly well, I stacked books behind the drawer and put a heavy hurricane in front of it to keep it in place. I also made sure it didn't touch the painting behind it as it tends to leave marks.
A few little figurines, candles and stamps I had on hand fit in just right in various squares. 
I employed my Every Holiday Blocks in a slightly different way, taking up one whole corner of the drawer.
The discolored wood of most of the squares already made for a great background, but to jazz up a few I took a scissors to some Martha Stewart Halloween paper. 
A random white feather was in the drawer when I grabbed it from the closet - it fell off of a feather Christmas tree that is also stored there. I figured I'd run with it: I grabbed a sharpie to it to turn it into a raven's feather and found a spot in the display for it.
Surrounding the drawer display are some Pinterest Projects of the Past: Pumpkin Diorama, Yarn Ball Owls and Halloween Mantel Scarf
In the "not new, but new to me" category, I was pretty jazzed earlier this year when my mother gave me the bendable black tree that had always been displayed in our house. I wrapped the bottom in a scrap of fabric and added small pumpkin candles and a craft skull I picked up for $1 at Michaels last year.
Two hours after I started, the mantel was looking pretty complete.
A few leftover pieces were added to the bookshelves, designated on a shelf that now contains every creepily titled tome we own, from Frankenstein to Devil in the White City to American Psycho.
I lined the dining room table with a fall themed runner we received from my mother in law last year and added a few candles. A silver lantern (leftover from our wedding centerpieces and set aside for holiday projects like this) was stuffed full of pumpkin figurines of all shapes and sizes.
We're headed up north to my parents' house in a couple weeks, which means some REAL pumpkins from their garden might be making their way to our tablescape and displays. Wahoo for Baby Boos!

Linked on I Heart Nap Time and Tatertots and Jello.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy

I promised more recipe posts, and more recipe posts I shall deliver. 

This light and fresh salad comes from Cooking Light. It was originally included as part of a series of recipes focused on increasing your water intake outside of drinking 8 glasses a day. This is perfect for a girl like me who has to force herself to drink one glass a day (read more about how I tricked myself into drinking more by creating spa water here)

Cucumber, Pear and Watermelon with Ricotta Salata
8 servings
2 cups cubed seedless cucumber
2 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1 pear, peeled and diced
2 cups halved red grapes
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbs honey
1 1/2 tsp grated lime rind
2 Tbs lime juice
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
3 oz crumbled ricotta salata cheese for top

The fruit was mixed together and set aside, and then it was as easy as lightly tossing it with the sour cream through red pepper mixture. The little bit of pepper gave the recipe a surprising kick.
This also gave me the excuse to try a new cheese. The recipe said feta could be used as a substitute, but I found the ricotta to be a fresher taste than a typical feta.
All in all, a tasty treat for a summer weekend lunch!

PS. This post title comes from a Wiggles song that my niece used to listen to (or maybe we just kept playing it over and over and she couldn't have cared less? I can't recall).  I enjoy the intensity of the phrase "Fruit Salad!" at the end of the chorus.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tools of the Trade

Having never worked on a home remodel before, Bob and I were severely lacking in tools to get the job done. We manage to fit quite a bit in the plastic tote and toolbox that sits on the bottom of our closet floor, but mainly things for the odd job around the house: hammers, cordless drill, pliers set, no less than 4 tape measures. . .

We knew that this bathroom remodel was going to gain us some tools, but even I am surprised at how many we've managed to pick up over the last 2 months. While I'll still count them towards our overall expenses for the bathroom (I'm estimating $400 of our budget will be tools that can be re-used), the nice thing is that we can anticipate using all of these again over the years for future renovations and DIY projects.

So what sorts of things have we found a need for that we didn't already have on hand? Here's a breakdown, and I know we'll have a few more items added to this list before the end of this project!
Lantern/Flashlight ($20) - We had a great lantern that could be used as a flashlight or stood up on end to act as a light source. Originally bought for camping trips, we found it handy as we gazed into the crevices of the wall we were ripping out and the bathtub drain to find obstructions. And then we tripped and it went flying. Our broken lantern was replaced with an even better one that has a handle for hanging.

Sledgehammer ($35) - I wanted to avoid this purchase, as it seemed like our demo was going smoothly with just a hammer and mighty swing, but then we discovered we were dealing with a cast iron tub. Time to bust out the big guns.
Chalkline Kit ($6) - We used itas a plumb bob to ensure our pocket door kit install was perfectly spaced, but I am sure we'll find another task or two for this one.

A Longer Level ($15) - We sprung for a five footer once we realized our mini-level wasn't cutting it.

Chisels ($15) - We probably only needed one, but we picked up two so that we could both tackle the wall tile at the same time. The flat edges made lifting up floor tile like this a snap.
Cutting Tools ($35) - we've been slicing and dicing through wood, drywall and metal, so had to pick up the right saw for each job. We look forward to the day of having power tools - and the space for them - in our lives.

Tarp ($15) - My usual dropcloth of an old sheet got the heave-ho for the time being, replaced with something heavier duty to protect our floors. We also used it to block the cats from entering the bathroom once we removed the door and outer wall, before we were able to clean up all of the sharp debris from the tub removal.
Tin Snips ($10) - Our studs are metal, which meant a few of them had to get cut down for us to properly install the pocket door kit and create a new header.

Protection ($25) - Respirators for when we're tearing into the drywall, disposable gloves for when we're touching gross stuff (like the waxy ring holding the toilet in place), safety goggles for when tile shards are flying and work gloves to protect my hands (Bob already had a pair). I am all about the precautions so that our budget doesn't take an "emergency room visit" type hit.
2 Buckets ($5) - Not pictured, but already very useful for hauling debris downstairs and soon-to-come grout mixin'.

Frog Tape ($10) - Thinking further ahead with this one, but we'll be doing a lot of re-painting soon enough. I have heard good things about Frog Tape vs. the usual blue that I buy, so we'll give it a whirl.

Tub Drain Wrench ($15) - Designed to reach into the small space of the tub drain to remove it, we used this tool for exactly 5 seconds, but it did the trick. 
Tile Tools ($90) - grout float, tile cutter, tile nippers, mallet and trowel. We'll still need a wet saw rental at some point to take care of our 24" long floor tiles that need a beveled edge, but the 12" one we picked up for $45 should be all we need for the wall tile and shorter side of the floor tile.

Drywall Installation Tools ($20) - Since we haven't gotten to this part of the remodel yet, I have a feeling we'll still add a few more pieces to this list, but so far we've picked up a mud pan and 12 inch taping knife. 

In the meantime, we've given our hallway a bit of a break from looking like a war zone. With weddings taking up our next couple weekends, and lots of other "life stuff" going on, we're going to revisit our remodel come September!
Ahh, so much cleaner. Plus,  you get a sneak peek of our pocket door kit and tub frame! 

Wait, no! Don't go in there! Don't go in the second bedroom!!
And that's why we keep the door shut.