Thursday, July 30, 2009

Room by Room - The Dining "Room"

Our apartment is set up with an open floor plan which means past the unusually high kitchen counter it is one big space for dining, lounging, reading, tv-watching, etc. Personally, I love this type of floor plan but it can take some creativity to get everything to fit without feeling like your dining room chairs are on top of your couch.

After eating at a coffee table since, well, junior year of college, I couldn't believe we were actually going to have a defined place to eat our home-cooked meals! Before moving in we searched and searched through affordable dining room table and chair sets at Target, ValuCity, World Market, Pier 1 and more. Knowing the space, anything bigger than a 4 person table - or 6 if it had a leaf - was ruled out. We found a few good options and loved the idea of a beautiful dark brown wood. All this time, my sister had been pushing us to take their IKEA kitchen table and chairs. We gave in and quickly realized we found the best fit. As much as I wanted dark wood, the clear glass top makes the table seem like its taking up less space in the already tight dining corner. And we couldn’t deny that the modern blue set matches our design scheme. I fought against my aversion to hand-me-downs (I really need to get over that. . .), and we got an extra $400 back in our decorating budget!

Like “The Big Knife” which hangs in our Library area of the living room, I got my Italian Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster from allposters.com. I had been looking at foreign posters – movies, ads, vintage travel – and fell in love with this one. I heart Audrey, but didn’t want the same old Breakfast at Tiffany’s posters you can get in any shop. I also like the placement of this piece in the apartment, a necessity because of the location of the windows, it tops out at just about eye level.

For a table centerpiece, we used a set of 4 blue placemats found at World Market and a hurricane from Crate and Barrel. Instead of filling the hurricane with rocks, glass stones or sand we opted to bring a little bit of green earthiness into the room by taking a fake stem with berries - purchased from Michael’s for about $2 - and bending it around the candle. We’ll be able to change this up for the holidays by switching out the candle and accents. Autumn can't come quick enough for the decorative opportunities alone! The very zen salt & pepper shakers were a housewarming present found at CB2. So cute, thanks Jen!

We wanted a bar cart to hold wine glasses, bottles and other bar accessories, but it was definitely far down on the list when it came to apartment needs. As I looked around the net to gauge prices, I couldn’t help but notice that many of them resembled my bathroom cabinet, a Target purchase for $35 about four years ago. Could we re-purpose and save some cash? One issue is that the cabinet is not quite deep enough to hold a horizontal wine bottle and still shut the door, so we are hard at work at extending the back using some wood pieces from Home Depot. Stay Tuned for that project breakdown. At the Crate and Barrel outlet we found a $20 wine rack that you can configure yourself which fits perfectly in the bottom shelf. Find a similar one here. The top shelf had room for about 10 wine glasses and the drawer is filled with wine charms, bottle openers and extra coasters. We decorated the top with a glass jar filled with corks, an ice bucket Bob inherited from his Uncle and one wine bottle dressed in a Chinatown purchase. We’re going to try to always keep fresh flowers around – lucky for me, I have a nice boy who likes buying them for me! I thought we would need to paint the cabinet to get the image of it holding towels, curling irons and blow driers out of my head, but the white actually works well with the trim in the living room!

If we had a completely separate room for the dining table, I doubt we would be using it every day, but because it is part of the living room with a more casual feel - and I'm deathly afraid of spilling on our new couch - we eat dinner together at the table just about every night!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Flashback: The Walls that Came Down

This may come as a surprise to some, but Bob and I do not always agree 100% of the time. Crazy, I know. When it came to which wall in the bathroom this picture, a birthday gift from my Aunt Christine, would hang, we were at odds. But we saw each other's point and each location would work. And so, we let our first houseguest (Kara visiting from Colorado) make the decision for us.

The bluest blue of the cats in this picture got me to thinking back to some of the art I had in my old apartment and how blue was an overarching theme. . .

I couldn't paint my walls, but my wall dividing the kitchen from the living area of my studio needed a kick. "The Big Knife" print did its job, but something was missing. At a design store in Bucktown I found my answer for a mere $25. Mozaikit consists of 225 vinyl squares in different shades of a signature color. I bought blue which gave me 3 shades of blue, 1 black and 1 gray. Peel each sticker off of its backing and make a design. I love clean lines so in my design I kept things pretty orderly. Check out their Web site for more ideas from the bloggers to get really creative with it.

The best part of having a color printer at home? Easy art! I printed off an 8.5x11 image of one of my favorite characters, The Little Prince, with a favorite french quote from the book. 2 smaller images were printed with their descriptions ("This is a snake who has eaten an elephant" and "This is a sheep in a box") and put into 4"x4" frames. I added borders to each for extra definition. Hung together, it might have looked like I bought the prints at a used bookstore. Or, it might have looked like I printed them out from a Word Document on my Canon BubbleJet. Either way it didn't really matter because I had an important memory from childhood - reading The Little Prince at Grandma and Grandpa's house - up on the wall.

Where else can you find the color blue? On most of a map! This project was one I've always wanted to take on and was so happy to have it brighten up one of my blank walls. I bought a world map from Borders - at the time it was $6 for both the world map and one of the USA. At my local art store I picked up two large pieces of foam board and taped them together. The map was taped to the foam board and nailed to the wall. This way, I could get away with a cheaper option than framing while still having something to put the pins in. It was a great way to show off where I've been while realizing I have a lot of places still to go (Asia and South America were lookin' pretty sparse!). I don't think I snapped a pic of the one I had up, but I look forward to re-creating this soon in the library we'll someday have. Guests will say, "Where's your map with the pins?" and I'll reply, "Oh, it's just in the library, you know the room down the hall from the wrapping paper room and the home theater." Ahh, but I get ahead of myself. . .


Sitting atop my bookshelf was a framed collage containing blue-hued photos. I took this idea from a Pottery Barn book. None of the pictures are from the same series and that is part of the fun. A pic of me rolling a snowman in Northwoods Wisconsin sits below the Arc de Triomphe and next to a Romanian Church. Stacy and I, circa 2001, hang out beneath Jake's wall tapastry while Hawaii and Mt. St. Helens frame the bottom of the collage. This piece didn't make the cut at the new place, so I've re-created the order as best I could here!

Whew, that's a lot of blue. . .time to move on. . .

My other signature color is red. Which red? Badger Red! If you said Buckeye Red, please navigate off this page and email me an apology. For graduation I got a shadowbox from Pottery Barn that I quickly made use of. A football ticket from my freshman year, shots from the Badger Games, a print out of the music for On Wisconsin, the obligatory graduation day shot, my tassle and, most importantly, me and Bucky himself. Add it all up and I had a more personal item to hang on the wall to share my school spirit than just framing my diploma. (Is a BA in English really anything to brag about these days?)


Finally, my piece de resistance. Or, by another name, "Lydia Cannot Draw and So it Shall Be Abstract." I mentioned this in a previous blog about creating your own art by buying a canvas or two. At museums I am always drawn to the enormous panels that tell a full story even if they are split into several seperate pieces. Materials for this piece cost about $50 and included 3 canvases, red paint, masking tape and brushes. I cannot draw in a straight line so the ruler was my best friend. I used masking tape over the areas I wanted to keep white and went to town with the red paint. If you stare at it long enough you can see where I nicked the white section with a smudge or angled slightly up a degree or two, but I like to think that is part of the charm of making your walls your own.

Back to our new print "Escher's Blue Cats." Found at the Art Fair on the Square in Madison, this is a Linocut print. This is a printmaking technique, similar to woodcutting, in which a sheet of linoleum is used for the relief surface. It fits perfectly with the yellow walls and bright blue hues in our 2nd bathroom. And I'm a big enough person to admit this: Bob's placement won out in the end.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Planning a Housewarming Party - The Drinks

I'd like to think it was our good company and great apartment that kept guests there late into the evening, but I have a feeling it had a lot to do with a fridge full of beer and a counter full of wine.

We let guests know that we would have a selection of beer and mixers, but asked folks to bring a six pack or a bottle of something. And they delivered. Bob gave me a strange look when I said I wanted to go through our recyclables and count the number of empty beer bottles from the party, so I settled on counting the six and twelve pack cardboard carriers. If I counted correctly, we have at least 132 empties along with a few wine bottles to recycle . I should probably mention here that we had about 30 people total over the course of the night at our place. Hopefully that makes the high number sound a little more reasonable!

It was such a beautiful night that a lot of folks stayed out on the balcony. We made sure to stock my beverage tub - a recent Target purchase - with ice and a selection of beers so they wouldn't have to keep coming back to the fridge.

The empties can add up quickly and I didn't want to spend half the party emptying the garbage can to make more room. I put an extra large garbage bag in an oversized tall box and set it against a wall next to the kitchen. I threw up a "Recycle" sign so all bottles would end up in one place. Make sure to have a garbage can/bag outside on the balcony as well.

I wanted to highlight a few of the beers we had as our guests brought such a variety from smaller breweries. Thanks to everyone who helped supply our thirsty guests!

From New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire, 2 Below), a citrus-y lighter taste for summer.
Amber colored ale from the Two Brothers Brewing Company in the Western Chicago suburbs.
From the Leine Lodge, perfect for a cook out.
Spicy and Fruity American wheat ale from Bell's Brewery of Michigan.

For a non-alcoholic option, I was inspired by the infused waters I had at a recent conference. I knew about lemons and cucumber, but here were pitchers of starfruit water, raspberry water and blackberry water.

Basil Lemonade
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh basil leaves, plus 8 sprigs for garnishing
8 cups lemonade

Directions
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, bring the sugar and 1 1/2 cups cold water to a simmer. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, add the basil, and let cool to room temperature. Strain the syrup into a resealable container and discard the solids.

Pour 2 to 3 teaspoons of the basil syrup into each of 8 ice-filled glasses, then fill with lemonade. Add alcohol if you wish to spice it up. Garnish with an additional sprig of basil.

(You can cover and refrigerate the remaining syrup for up to 2 weeks.)

Planning a Housewarming Party - The Food

Simple finger foods, a good variety and easy to prepare. These were the goals when planning the spread for the housewarming party.

One of my favorite Web sites is www.allrecipes.com. Apart from the sheer number of recipes you can peruse, almost every recipe has several comments and ratings so you know what's really good and what you can pass on. I clicked on their appetizer category and looked at "Top 20." After finding a salsa recipe that looked tasty, I had a revelation on the theme. . .

Salsa Bar!
For the main spread, I decided to make three types of salsas as well as guacomole. Add in an endless chip bowl and you've got a party. Yes, I made tent cards for each type - the main reason being each of these had so many ingredients I wanted to make sure people realized if one was chock full of jalepenos or if one had something there might be an allergy to. The other reason being that I'm just that crazy.

The clear winner of the night was the Avocado, Tomato and Mango
Salsa. I doubled the recipe based on comments from the allrecipes readers and it went FAST. This recipe was promised to several of our guests. . .

For variety, we also had Guacamole and Salsa de Tomatillo. I never knew these little green guys existed and apparently never thought about how salsa verde got the verde.


The Fruit Salsa was super easy to make, and we ate it in bowls the next morning like a fruit salad. Bob made the cinnamon tortilla chips which was actually much less time consuming than I thought it was going to be.

Salsas are easy to make, but the time it takes to chop all the veggies and fruit was a bit of a drain! Luckily, we just got our new Wusthof Knives that made cutting through the tomatoes and peeling the avocados a breeze. I'd also recommend a food processor and this handy little tool I got as a birthday gift a couple years back! (warning: the Web site has sound that starts immediately, so unless you want everyone in your cubicle area to hear "Tired of all that chopping?" I'd turn the mute on!)

The Cheese Plate
Gotta have a cheese plate. It's not just a sterotype: Wisconsin girls love their cheese.

We stopped at the cheese shop in Binney's saturday morning after buying them out of their New Belgian beer selection. Who came up with this convience of having a cheese stand right in your neighborhood liquor store? Very smart. We decided to go with a mix of hard and soft cheeses. Port Salut is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from Brittany. It has a mild flavor and has always been one of my favorites. We had a Cheddar flavored with onion to give the plate some color. And, of course, no party is complete without a wedge of Brie. I used a bamboo lazy susan I found at Marshall's ($10!), threw some grapes in between the cheeses and voila. My original plan was to make photocopies of the page in my cheese book - of course I have a cheese book - that talks about each of these types and place the pages underneath each wedge. Alas, time ran short and I had to just print off the names and tape them to the side of the plate. Points off, I know.

I had also found a goat cheese recipe I just had to try. This appetizer took literally 5 minutes to put together, and when Jewel is having a 2 for 1 sale on goat cheese you have to take advantage and double the recipe!

Creamy Goat Cheese and Honey
4 oz fresh goat cheese
2 oz finely chopped pecans (you can find packets in the baking aisle)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

Divide the goat cheese into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Combine the crushed pecans and cinnamon in a bowl. Roll each goat cheese ball in the pecan mixture until covered. Gently pat the balls into patties. Transfer to a serving plate. Drizzle honey over the patties and sprinkle rosemary on top. Serve immediately.

Desserts
We kept it simple with chocolate chip cookies and brownies. This brownie recipe is from Cooking Light and one I've made before. I was a little concerned after I accidentally added an extra egg
white to the batter, but I couldn't really tell the difference once the finished product was ready for taste testing.


Now, chocolate chip cookies are about as easy as you can get. I've made them numerous times and have never had a problem. The last time we used the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag, I chalked them turning out poorly to Bob forgetting to add a whole cup of sugar to the mix. However, I followed the recipe to a tee this time around and was sorely disappointed. Really flat, really greasy and not much taste. Again, I turned to allrecipes.com and looked up the highest rated chocolate chip cookies. I made the recipe (this is why I buy 2 bags of chocolate chips at a time when I'm in the baking aisle) and was not 100% convinced with how they would turn out. I wasn't used to cookies with this much texture and such a light color after 15 minutes in the oven. The cookies were a crowd pleaser though: hard outsides with soft, chewy insides. Yum!

Planning a Housewarming Party - Introduction

After making such a nice place to live we have to show it off, right?

We planned our housewarming party for a month and a half post move-in day which was a good amount of time to have most everything in its place, with just a few empty walls and missing pieces of furniture. I wanted to get the evite out extremely early since summer weekends tend to fill up quickly. Hence, the evite for the party went out in late May, before we had even moved in

The party was going to have a 7:00 start time, but we planned on having a few people over earlier to grill out at 5pm for dinner. This earlier time was a convenience for my new little niece who, try as she might, was not going to be able to make it for the late night portion. We asked people to let us know ahead of time if they were interested in grilling out so we could plan to buy the right amount of brats, burgers and chicken. Everyone that came early brought a side which helped out since we were covering all of the food for the party portion of the evening. I learned that it is okay to ask people to bring a dish and the host does not have to feel responsible for everything involved with the night.

Jen brought a great salad and was nice enough to share her secrets!

Black Bean, Tomato Mango Salad
1 large mango, diced, divided* (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp table salt
15 oz canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup tomato, diced
1/2 cup onion, sweet, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, cut into thin slivers
1 tbsp canned jalapeno peppers, or fresh, minced (if using fresh, do not touch seeds with bare hands) – I used 1 whole jalapeno seeded

In a large bowl, mash 1/4 cup of diced mango with a fork; whisk in lime juice, water, oil, cumin and salt. Add remaining diced mango, beans, tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno to bowl; toss to mix and coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 1 day. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.

Grilling out with a smaller group was a great relaxing way to kick off the party while having a more intimate gathering with some close friends.

And then the real fun began. . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Room by Room - The Media Center


You know how on home decorating shows they always hide the television in an armoire, the DVDs in a cabinet and the AV components behind glass doors? Then, during the “reveal,” all the homeowners seem to own are strategically placed plants, 2 framed black and white photos of their kids and lots of lit candles?

Well, we decided to go in the opposite direction.


We own a lot of movies and wanted to display the collection. I bought this DVD shelf from Target years ago (Best Buy has a similar style) and when Bob and I merged collections I had to add a few of the shelves back in. I organize by genre. Drama blends into Action-Drama which blends into Action-

Adventure which blends into Kung Fu. Heist movies take up a whole shelf. Family is on one of the lower shelves. (You know, for easy access by the kids.)


In college I would go a little nuts at the annual poster sale (where every odd student buys van Gogh’s Starry Night and every even student buys that Pink Floyd one with the naked backs). I have a collection of 8x10 black and white movie stills that I used to have framed. I’ve kept a couple of them on the DVD shelf for old times sake – Swingers and Indiana Jones. Indy sits with his trilogy and an antique spice box that I bought at the Bazaar in Istanbul – “it belongs in a museum!”


What’s better than free art? Knowing the artist personally! The canvas above the DVD shelf was done by Bob’s friend Eric Nelson. If you are looking for something new for your house, buy a blank canvas or two from the Art Store and get creative (or commission your creative friend). I cannot draw in a straight line and my art skills are elementary at best. When I made something a couple years ago the result was very abstract, but I loved it because it was original and only cost about $50 in supplies (3 canvases, paint and brushes).


Our storage unit and media center are from Ikea and purchased in the same black-brown color as the bookshelves. The media center is exactly what we were looking for: simple, holds 6 components, has a back to hide the wires, no doors. I would have expected perforated holes in the back for the wiring but it was solid. Bob fixed this with his cordless drill to create 1” circular holes in each area. Our receiver ends up sticking out a bit so we may have to get creative and cut a hole for it to sit through on the other side a half inch or so. For more details on the receiver read this post and enjoy the saga!


The storage unit is from the Ikea Malm collection and fits perfectly under the window sill to hold additional VHS tapes and all of the gaming systems and controllers other than the Wii. The great thing about this piece is that the top is on a sliding mechanism so you don’t have to move the stuff on top to access the inside. Eventually, we’ll attach a couple cushions to the top with double sided tape and it will act as a “bed” for our 2 cats – cats that don’t actually exist in our house yet. . .check back in a few months for progress on that one!


I thought we had no chance of sticking to the established $150 budget for a media cabinet based on what we were seeing in stores, but both this storage unit and media center came to exactly $150 at Ikea – woohoo!


Bob’s Mac laptop is sitting on top of the media center because he has plans to connect the wiring to the TV and buy a wireless keyboard so we can surf the internet on the big screen. You might think this is a frivolity, but consider this:

o Watching Hulu on an actual television

o Viewing a recipe and keeping it on the screen while making it in the kitchen

o Listening to Pandora on the surround sound speakers

o Showing your friends a slideshow of pictures from your recent trip to fill-in-the-blank


Since our TV is hung on the wall above the fireplace, the top of the media center just holds 3 candlesticks from World Market with candles from Michael’s. I LOVE Michael’s and Jo Ann Fabrics. If you are a card-making geek like I am, the wall of Jolee’s Boutique stickers alone will keep you in the store for hours. They also always seem to be in perpetual SALE mode. I have never been to either of these stores without almost all of my purchases being 50% off. I got these three candles for $10 whereas it might come to $40 total at a store like World Market or Pier 1. Don’t even get me started on non-clearance candle prices at Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel! We are keeping the wall a blank canvas for now until that perfect piece of art finds its way into our hearts and wallet. Maybe it will be a Lydia Original. . .

Room by Room – The Living Room


It is where we will spend the majority of our time (not sleeping), so making this room attractive and comfortable was key.
The couch in my previous apartment was a $100 thrift store find covered with a $100 slipcover. It did the trick for four years, but was not going to make the cut for our new place. After attempting to sell it on Craigslist and the buyers not being able to get it out of my doorway, that couch was sawed in half and left out in the dumpster area. A sad death, but I had our new Genessa Sofa from Rubin’s Furniture to lift my spirits. Rubin’s has a store in Madison so I knew of their contemporary yet affordable styles. This particular couch is sectional style so we could pick and choose from loveseat to sofa to chaise, etc. The floor model was a loveseat plus chaise – we decided to go with the loveseat, chair and ottoman which gets us the exact dimensions for the chaise, but with the flexibility of being able to move the ottoman where needed

  • One thing I’ve learned through all this has been to ALWAYS NEGOTIATE. Especially in today’s economy, I’m finding that the stores are just happy to be making the sales. On our first trip to the store, we were misquoted the price (they gave us a quote for loveseat and ottoman without the chair). If we had heard the original price we probably would not have gone back a second time as it was out of our price range. However, once the issue was discovered we were able to meet halfway between the quoted price and the actual price and saved almost $300.
  • Since we ended up paying more than originally intended, we decided to get around the $95 delivery fee by borrowing my sister and brother-in-law’s Tahoe for the day. Luckily, the sofa is sectional and our pieces were delivered in three pieces. 2 trips and we were all moved in. Be sure to measure your vehicle’s dimensions and review the furniture’s dimensions so you can plan ahead for bringing bungee cords – or a bigger vehicle!
All of my rugs have been from Ikea and have cost less than $30. Going to a real rug store was intimidating as I did not think you could buy a nice one for under $400. We remembered driving by a small store on Clybourn that had contemporary rugs in the window so we decided to stop by one day to check it out. The store is called Rugs & Interior and when we walked in we were told everything was 50% off! We found our 5x8 rug in a matter of minutes and only paid $125. It matches our style and is really comfortable. I just went to their Web site again today to check on the link and it looks like they have re-vamped the whole site. To my Chicagoans, I encourage you to visit the site and the store to look at the styles they have to offer –the 50% sale is through the rest of July!


You know and love the story of how the Coffee Table came to be. Read about it again here.
MAKE YOUR OWN PILLOWS

The pillows on the couch were yard sale finds that my talented Aunt Christine sewed new covers for. We spent some time at her favorite quilting store and picked out styles for both sides. All you have to do is cut 2 squares of your fabric about 1 inch wider and taller than your pillow on all sides. Lay them inside out from each other and run 3 sides through the sewing machine at that 1 inch mark.. Reverse the pillowcase. Stuff in your pillow filling, fold in the remaining side and close’r up. We used the same concept a year later when she helped me make bean bags for our Bags game. 5 had Packers fabric, 5 had Badger Fabric and they were filled with beads from the craft store. If you would like to sew a removable slipcover for your pillow, here are some easy directions. http://sewing.about.com/od/freeprojects/ss/envelopepillow.htm

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sonys and Yamahas and Denons. . .Oh My!

“Wow, we just got a high end receiver for only $150. This is so easy!”

So we said a month and a half ago when we were at Best Buy and negotiated an open item down from $200 to $150. (Did you know you could negotiate at Best Buy? I didn’t until my brother-in-law successfully did it!)

And so begins the saga. . .

Our new apartment has built in surround sound speakers, speakers in the 2 bedrooms and was all set up for my plasma to hang on the wall above the fireplace. We got the
Sony 7.1 receiver that we bought for a steal hooked up and found the following:

o Video from the DirecTV box to the TV works
o Audio from the front two speakers work
o DVD/Wii/VCR audio works
o DVD/Wii/VCR video does not work

We took it back to Best Buy and claimed ignorance as to what we needed the receiver to do. We purchased a
Yamaha Receiver with our missing link, the HDMI Switching, at the suggestion of the Salesperson. HDMI Switching is needed because we only have one cable running from the TV to the receiver that will take care of all of our components. Apparantly, no Sony does this. Okay, so we’ve spent another $100, but it’s still sort of a deal right? We get it home. . .
o Video from the DirecTV box to the TV works
o Audio from the front left and rear right speakers work
o DVD/Wii/VCR components do not work

After a couple weeks of watching DVDs by plugging in an unusually long red/yellow/white cord from the side of the TV to the DVD player over the front of the fireplace (classy), Bob headed back to Best Buy without me for Round 3.

Our trusty Salesperson who sold us the Yamaha checked on its compatability and found out that it did not indeed do what he said it would. Apparantly, along with HDMI Switching, our keyword for the day was “Up-Conversion.” And these only come in models in the $450+ range. Bob informed him that we were not looking to spend that much and was promptly shown a Denon receiver that would do the trick and was also on sale. The Best Buy team tested the receiver in the store and proved that it worked with our set up. Bob negotiated the $380 sale price down to $330 and they promised a Geek Squad guy would come check on installation free of charge (normally a $100 charge).

Bob left the store to put more change in the meter and was then told by the Salesperson that there was “bad news and extremely good news." They did not have the receiver that we were looking at in stock...but they decided to give us the next level up for the same price!

And so, does our story end with the Denon $500+ valued receiver purchased for $330? Of course not. . .
o Video from the DirecTV box and all components work
o No audio works from either the TV or the surround sound speakers

Our Geek Squad guy was at our house for almost three hours and could not figure out what was wrong with our speakers until he determined that the amp in the receiver we purchased must be faulty.

“Okay,”
we told ourselves, “this is the last trip to Best Buy before we throw the receiver through their front window and go to Abt.”
We exchanged the Denon for the same model and brought it home. Lo and behold, Bob was able to hook it up in a matter of minutes!

Lessons Learned
o All receivers are not created equal. If some are $300 more than others there is probably a reason.
o HDMI Switching – Multiple HDMI devices with only one HDMI port to plug them in.
o Up-Conversion - Converting video signals from one size or resolution to another: a video signal from a low resolution (e.g. standard definition) to one of higher resolution (e.g. high definition television).
o Our Geek Squad guy had a cool trick to test that the speakers were working: he connected the ends of the speaker wire to the positive and negative ends of a battery and noise came out of the speaker. This way we knew the fault was with the receiver set up.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Room by Room - The Hallway


Having the bedrooms separated from the main living area and kitchen by a long hallway really made this apartment stand out. Our art inspiration for one of the wall sections was the great city we call home. Bob also had the opportunity to create a wall that paid homage to two of his
relatives who have big ties to Chicago.

Bob's Uncle Bob (and the reason Bob calls himself Bob*) was Commissioner of various departments under our first Mayor Daley. We hung up three signs that were inherited including Bureau of Streets, Bureau of Sanitation and Bureau of Forestry, Parkways & Beautification.

Bob's Uncle Jack (he of the constant puns) also has a claim to fame in Chicago. His photography firm Hedrich Blessing is responsible for some of the most notable architecture photography in and around Chicago including Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Waters. Bob had several old calendars of their photography so we took our favorites (Merchandise Mart, Water Tower, etc) and framed them with black frames I already owned.

One of these is of the Wrigley Building and includes a shot of the building I work in (401) not existing yet!

I feel as though our final addition to the wall is becoming so popular that it is no longer a unique item to have in one's house, but I still love this piece. The Chicago Neighborhoods poster can be seen in the window of just about every framing store in the city and you can get your own of Chicago, San Francisco, Manhattan and more at www.orkposters.com. Our frame is from Target, and while this 18x24 frame isn't fancy by any means, it gets the job done for $20!


*Fun Fact: Bob's name is actually Edward Robert.