Sunday, May 31, 2009

Moving On Up - The Daunting Task


Moving Day is upon us!  We are expecting our movers tomorrow at 8am.  Let's hope the weather holds out and we have as nice a summer day in Chicago as we did today.  After moving me out of my apartment last month ourselves (with the help of a brother-in-law with a tahoe!), the idea of hiring movers for this leg of the journey was a no-brainer.  The above picture is about 1/3 of our basement full of boxes.  And we don't even own much furniture!

A few tips when hiring movers:
  • Ask your friends who they have used and what their experience was.  We picked Jay Movers based on the numerous positive recommendations from co-workers. 
  • Want it on the cheap?  Check out craigslist.org.  Your neighbor with a pick up might be happy to help you move a truckload for $50.
  • Read the fine print: Will the movers take a credit card the day of the move?  Is there a minimum travel time, a seperate truck fee, moving boxes included? 
  • Have bottled water or soft drinks on hand the day of the move.  Those guys are working hard so you don't have to!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Moving On Up - Splitting the Bill

With Bob and I moving in together, we faced the question of how to handle bill payments, rent checks and joint purchases.  We both use Chase for our banking so we opened a joint account seperate from our primary checking accounts.  Be on the lookout for cash back awards for opening an account - we got $125 from Chase by meeting the requirements and having direct deposit applied to the account.

After estimating how much rent, electric, cable, groceries and other household bills will be each month, we halved that amount and submitted forms for our direct deposit paychecks to allocate a certain amount to the joint account each pay period.  Although the amount is an estimate at this time, after a couple months we should be able to accurately gauge how much is going to hit for bills each month.

My primary credit card earns me points with Amazon.  While it's nice to get a free CD, Book or DVD every few months, the stakes have increased as we made our list of all of the furniture and household needs we'll have for the new place!  After doing some research on high return credit cards, the Discover More Cash Back Card seemed to be our best bet, especially since you can sign up to get 5% cash back on home stores and restaurants!  All moving expenses, furniture purchases and items for the new apartment have been going on the Discover card.  After one month we have already earned $17 from just 1 rug, a wine rack and the deposit on the couch!  We will also plan on using the card for all grocery store trips and restaurants and pay it off each month out of our brand new joint checking account.

I'm ready to start getting paid for all of my shopping!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Moving On Up - Introduction

This blog series will detail the moving experience for me - hard to accept after 4 years in the same place, but I have a great new place to look forward to. And I'll be living with a boy!

This series will be closely tied to another, sure to be on-going, series concerning Interior Design to include "Finding our Perfect Couch," "Making a Coffee Table," and "Finally, a Balcony to Call Our Own."

Moving On Up - Finding an Apartment

Upon deciding to move, the big question was WHAT NEIGHBORHOOD? We were pretty open to any neighborhoods on the north side, with preferences being Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square and East Lakeview. After spending a good portion of just about every day on Craigslist, I knew we had to narrow things down so the apartment search was not months long.

I love a good spreadsheet, and this one came in handy. I thought about everything I wanted in an apartment - and everything I didn't want - and put priority levels to them. This list was originally created with two columns: 1 for "needs" and 1 for "wants." Breaking them further into priorities gave me the chance to quantify each of the needs. Of course, Bob had input every step of the way. Well, as much as he chose to embrace my love of excel.

The balance was finding an apartment with the amenities we hold dear (new kitchen, 2 bathrooms, etc) with a well-populated neighborhood (drugstore/market close by, well lit, near transportation). The Craigslist and web searches continued, and with our priorities determined the neighborhood all hands pointed to Uptown.

We were able to give our realtor friend this spreadsheet and he provided some great apartments from the MLS that met our needs. We signed the second apartment we looked at!

If the Craigslist and Web research had not been done to get a gauge on what was realistic for a neighborhood's apartments, we most likely would have spent many more days looking at places in-person. Our realtor friend agreed that he hits roadblocks when renters/buyers cite lists of needs and a maximum price but are not willing to explore other neighborhoods beyond the one they are focused on.

Overall, this priority sheet was a great tool in our apartment search. The ranking part was difficult for some areas - "okay, I suppose laundry in unit is not really a need. . ."

The best news? Our new apartment meets just about all of our needs and wants - and then some! More to come on that. . .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Planning a Baby Shower - Food

Light Lunch Menu
Croissants or Rolls with:
o Egg Salad
o Chicken Salad
o Cold Cuts, Cheese, Lettuce
Tomato
Veggie Platter and Dips
Chips
Fresh Fruit
Caprese Salad

Chicken Salad Recipe
8 servings, Great to make the day before.

Ingredients:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon poultry seasoning
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups diced, cooked chicken

1/2 cup finely chopped celery
½ cup chopped green onions
1 (4 oz) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 cup diced swiss cheese
1 cup halved green grapes

Directions:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, salt, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, pepper and lemon juice.
In large bowl, toss together the chicken, celery, green onions, water chestnuts, swiss cheese and grapes. Add the mayonnaise mixture and stir to coat. Chill until serving.

Easy Egg Salad Recipe
6 servings

Ingredients:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup diced sweet onions
12 large hardboiled eggs (diced)

Directions:
In large bowl toss together the eggs, onions, celery salt & black pepper. Add mayonnaise until desired consistency.

Thank you Karina for the recipes!

Cake
The cake was from
Deerfield Bakery which has amazing
cakes. We had a hot air balloon design added because that
is one of the nursery themes.

Planning a Baby Shower - Drinks

Drinks
Depending on the time of day, location and guest list for your party, you might want to offer a couple alcoholic options along with the non-alcoholic drinks that need to be on hand for the mother-to-be, like sodas, Oberweis Lemonade and Sparkling Juice from Trader Joes or Cost Plus World Market. Don’t break out the glassware – buy plastic flutes or wineglasses at a party store for the mimosas!

Mimosa
Ingredients:
Champagne
2 ounces of cold orange juice
Orange slice for garnish
Crushed ice

Instructions:
Pour orange juice into a champagne flute (I use just a tiny bit of crushed ice in mine)
Add champage to fill the glass but be careful not to overfill
Garnish with a slice of orange
If you want more ice, use a large wine glass and pour 3 parts of champagne in the glass
and then add 2 parts orange juice.

Variations of the Basic Mimosa Recipe
Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier and you'll have created a Grand Mimosa
Use cranberry juice instead of orange juice and you have created a Hibiscus or a Poinsettia
Use pink grapefruit instead of orange juice and enjoy a Lilosa
A Fauxmosa is a virgin Mimosa (no champagne). Use 7 UP or Sprite in place of the champagne


Strawberry Shrub
Ingredients:
3 16-ounce packages frozen unsweetened whole strawberries or three 12-ounce packages frozen unsweetened red raspberries, combination of both
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons whole pink peppercorns (optional)
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves or 2 tablespoons dried sage, crushed
4 to 6 cups ice cubes
2 750-ml bottles champagne or two 1-liter bottles club soda, chilled
Fresh sage leaves (optional)
Fresh strawberries or raspberries (optional)

Directions:
In a 4-quart Dutch oven combine frozen strawberries, sugar, honey, water, lemon peel,
lemon juice, and peppercorns. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat until mixture
comes to boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in sage. Let mixture
stand, uncovered, for 1 hour.

For syrup, press strawberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve; discard solids (you
should have 4 to 5 cups sieved syrup). Syrup may be covered and refrigerated up to 3
days.

To serve, combine the syrup and ice cubes. Slowly add champagne. Garnish with
additional fresh sage leaves and fresh berries. Makes 14 to 16 servings.


For a simpler Strawberry drink try:
Strawberry Champagne
Ingredients:
A leaf of fresh mint
large handfuls of strawberries, washed and drained
A bottle of bubbly

Instructions:
Place mint leaf and the strawberries in a sieve. Push the strawberries through the sieve
into a bowl, using the back of a spoon. (You're not really after the pulp, just the juice).
Chill until ready to serve.
Divide the strawberry puree between six Champagne glasses, carefully fill with bubbly
and enjoy!
(Jamie Oliver)

Planning a Baby Shower - Decorations

Wall Calendar Decoration
This wall calendar was pretty easy to make. Whatever month the baby is due, draw an enlarged calendar on a roll of paper in black marker (if you don’t have a roll of white paper the back of wrapping paper works too!). Make a target or arrow pointing to the due date. This one was just for decoration, but you could make it an actual betting pool by having guests sign what day and time they think she’ll deliver.


Useful Balloon Weights
This is an idea taken from another baby shower I was at. Go to Walgreens or Target and stock up on baby needs under $5 each (wipes, teething ring, baby powder, etc). Tie balloons to these and they’ll act as weights that the mother-to-be can keep. Rather than buying pre-filled mylar balloons from the store and filling her car to the brim, one of the planners bought a
disposable helium tank and filled over 30 pink and white balloons at the party! Don’t forget to add a few balloons to the front porch/entrance so guests know where the party is. (http://www.maxcostumes.com/p-24500-disposable-helium-tank.aspx)

Picture Frames
To personalize the decorations, ask the grandparents-to-be to send you 10-12 photos of the mother-to-be from her early childhood. Re-purpose frames you already have around the house for the day and add a note as to what age each she is in each of the photographs.

Planning a Baby Shower - Prizes & Favors

Where there are games, there are prizes. I bought two fun travel umbrellas from Borders, $12 each, to play on the “Shower” theme. The winners of Baby Shower Bingo and the M&Ms contest won those.

Did I mention Google search is my favorite tool? After searching for “baby shower favors” and finding nothing but candles and scented soaps as recommendations, I stumbled on Babygiftstation.com and was drawn to the individual coffees as favors for all guests to take home. I personalized the stickers to say “Alanna’s Baby Shower” and “A Baby is Brewing.” Note: the ribbon on the coffees did not come pre-attached so I spent about 20 minutes tying them into bows and attaching to the coffees. This site also has fast processing and shipping if you need them in a pinch.

Planning a Baby Shower - Games & Activities

Through a Google search of “cute baby girl” I found a photo to use on all the game sheets. This is most likely someone’s actual baby and I have stolen her image. . .but I liked it more than the generic clip art I was finding. If the mother-to-be has a nursery theme like butterflies or airplanes that might be another way to tie a baby shower theme together. Unfortunately, the clip art and colors were determined after the invites went out, otherwise my invitations would have looked more cohesive with the activity templates.

M&Ms Counting Contest
A less intensive game and something guests can do when they first arrive. I bought 4 bottles of different types and sizes and used 2 large bags of M&Ms to fill them. The mother-to-be can use the bottles afterwards (once the candy is all eaten, of course). Although, the M&Ms might stain the bottles a bit so you would have to wash them thoroughly. Another idea is be to fill clear milk storage bottles and add a carrier case to the set up so the mother-to-be can use them right away.





Onesie Decorating Station

I got this idea from another baby shower I attended. It is a nice activity that has a more casual feel than an organized game. Determine how many guests you will have or how many people you anticipate wanting to decorate. I bought three 5-packs of white onesies, each pack a different size so that they can be used throughout the baby’s first year. I bought fabric markers at Blick for $6. Set up an extra table with the markers and onesies and let people’s creativity take over. Take it a step further by hanging a clothesline against the wall and having people clothespin their finished products for display.

Baby Shower Bingo
Bingo is an easy game that gets the guests more involved in the gift opening process. I found many templates online, but most of them were pre-filled and meant not for the giftopening
but for an actual bingo game activity where someone calls out the drawn words (stork, nursery, etc). I made my own template by adding a table to word and a couple pieces of clip art. On another Web site it spelled out a selection of words that can be used in this type of game so I added those to get people thinking about what words to add to their squares. It only took about halfway through the gifts for someone to win.

Planning a Baby Shower - Invitations

Making Your Own

Scour “Google images” for clip art or photos you like and that fit your theme. I also searched for “baby shower invitations” to get several templates on how to word the invitation. I made these simple invitations by cutting blank cards in half with craft scissors and glued the template to the front of the card, adding a few punched out designs. I bought a footprint stamp for the back of the card and printed part of a poem I found (again, Google search) on clear labels so it looked more like it was printed right on the card. Since I have horrendous handwriting, I also printed addresses on clear labels and used my return address labels. If you have good handwriting, a more personal touch on the invites might be a better way to go! I spent about 3 hours designing, creating and mailing 21 invitations. I used blank cards and paper I already had so the only cost was the stamps.

**Don’t forget to include directions to the location if there are invitees who have never been there!

Basket of Books

In each of the invitations I included the following request. Collect all of the books as the guests arrive and present as a surprise during the gift opening. Check the gift registry to see if the mother-to-be asked for any storage bins or baskets so that you can make the book holder a gift in itself.

Help build the library! Bring one of your favorite
children’s books, unwrapped, for a “Basket of Books”
we will give the mother-to-be during the shower.
Be sure to sign the inside cover to “Baby xxxx”
so the baby knows who gave her each book!

Planning A Baby Shower - Introduction

I was so excited to plan my sister’s baby shower with help from two of her friends. The goal was to create a casual, fun shower without games that had guests eating baby food or guessing how big the mother-to-be’s stomach is. Splitting up the work with other planners is a must so you don’t go too crazy or too broke. I handled invites, games, prizes and decorations while my sister’s friends took care of all the food and dinnerware and my mother brought the drinks. We started planning one month ahead of the event. This baby shower had 19 guests with an age range of 22-60. The shower started at 1:00pm with guests grabbing a drink and eating as they arrived. Gift opening started at 2:00pm and cake was served afterwards. The shower wound down by 3:30 -4:00pm.

This Blog series contains templates and ideas for the following areas:

Invitations
o Making Your Own
o Basket of Books

Games & Activities
o M&Ms Counting Contest
o Onesie Decorating Station
o Baby Shower Bingo

Prizes & Favors

Decorations
o Wall Calendar Decoration
o Useful Balloon Weights
o Picture Frames

Food & Drinks
o Light Lunch
o Mimosas
o Strawberry Shrub
o Strawberry Champagne