Friday, April 30, 2010

"I Could Make That" - Console Table (Part 1)

The search for a hallway table is on!

Affectionately called the "not-an-entryway" table, we are looking to add a table to the start of our long hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Not-an-entryway table because I originally thought after seeing the apartment that it could go in between the front door and the coat closet. Then we moved in and I realized I sorely misjudged the amount of space (its more like 12 inches).

 So, the idea for a table to hold keys and decorative items moved to the hallway but it was definitely far down on the list of apartment needs. Hence, we are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of living here and it still hasn't been added to the decor!

A few months ago our need for a hallway table grew a bit more pressing. With no really good spot for our kitties' litterbox in the house, it found its home in the hallway. Being able to put it underneath a table would at least hide it a bit from view when you are heading around the corner.

I also like the idea of finding a thrift store/Marshall's mirror to hang above the table, basically doubling the perceived length of the hallway. Depending on the quality of the mirror, there may be the opportunity for some painting and additional DIY action.

Trolling Craigslist has not come up with much. The challenge is that the table cannot be as long as a typical sofa table as the hallway is only 42" wide. It also can't have anything in between the legs as the litterbox will have to fit underneath (either sideways or facing front as we have it now).

That means the extra shelf on the bottom that I would have loved to stack some inspiring coffee table books on is out of the question. Here's
one from JC Penney I liked.

Clean simple lines like this one from Crate and Barrel are also pretty attractive - the price and I aren't getting along, but it is simple tables like this that lead to believe Bob and I can make one ourselves. . .
We found such a table browsing through JC the other day and will start to figure out if building it to our needed measurements is plausible this weekend. It may involve metal tubing and will definitely include multiple trips to Home Depot!

I am not being coy by not sharing the photo of the table we plan on re-creating. I saved the photo to my work computer which I don't have with me right now. Am glad I did save it because it seems to have disappeared from the JC Penney Web site overnight! It must have been too good a deal for everyone to pass up (50% off meant the table was only $109 - if we didn't have this in mind for a good DIY project, I'm sure we would have been fine plunking down that much cash!) And so, you will just have to believe me when I say the table definitely fits our style and we are going to have some fun trying to build it!

If you want to see our minimal history with furniture re-dos, check out the coffee table we "made"
here! Also, check out this console table DIY from Design Sponge - I saw this a few months ago and this helped get us thinking about building the table ourselves.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What a Lemon!

A weekend dinner get-together at a friend's house meant Bob and I were tasked with bringing dessert. Looking to try a new recipe, I sifted through the usual sites and decided to try my hand at lemon bars! Never before attempted, but frequently consumed as this was one of my mom's bake sale staples. It had been awhile since I had last had one and I was ready to embrace the nearly-here warm weather with a fruity treat.

Jewel had a sale for a bag of lemons which meant buying in mini-bulk made sense as opposed to buying 3 single ones. And hey - look at that! Instant centerpiece update! Our "lemon-inspired" spring makover just got real.

I didn't actually take any pictures while making that first batch, so my co-workers will reap the rewards tomorrow from tonight's Round 2!

The recipe that most appealed to me was from the Smitten Kitchen blog - her foodie photos will make you drool. Here's a
direct link to the recipe, I used the thinner lemon layer so it was not too overpowering.

After making a buttery crust, the lemons were squeezed and zested (is that a word?) to create the filling. I tend to "under-do" things in recipes, much to Bob's chagrin: less salt, less spices, etc. Instead of 3-4 lemons I only zested 2 and put in just under the recommended 2/3 cup of lemon juice. "Tartness" is definitely a flavor you do not want to be too overpowering in a recipe so keeping these a bit conservative still produced some great tasting bars.

The bars bake for about 35 minutes and the sugar makes a slightly caramelized topping. 
 When I made these this weekend it was a race against time as we did not get back from the grocery store until an hour or so before we had to head out to dinner. This meant little time for "cooling" and the lid was thrown on the bars as soon as they came out of the oven. I was a little worried what this might do to them, but we didn't taste any difference (maybe that was the secret to making them taste great??)

A little powdered sugar dusted on top, and Voila! Bring on Summer!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Making More Scrapbook Art

Preparing for my niece Ella's first birthday party (wait til you see what we have planned for that!), my sister and I spent an afternoon making a few more scrapbook pages to display her memory book. We took on Halloween, Daycare and Father's Day in this go 'round.

Halloween was a fun - I had a pack of black and white paper that I had previously used for my Christmas cards. One page made a particularly fitting background, but when she tried to put it in the book, my sister realized the page was about 1/2 an inch too tall - aren't all of these books supposed to be standard size??

Ella was a spiderweb and her parents went as a fly and a spider - the creepy crawly family looked pretty impressive that night. With an American Apparal black long sleeved onesie and hat, spiderweb Babylegs and a white onesie with a fabric marker design, Ella was really embracing the holiday! 

Using a stencil to cut the photos for a half circle, we realized we could make the top of a pumpkin with the orange background we were going to use. And when I saw "we" I mean Bob sitting on the couch watching baseball looked over and said, "Oh - its a pumpkin!" Yeaaaaahh, that was our plan all along :-)
The cupcake stencils are from Martha Stewart - we used a square craft punch to make the little cut outs for the bottom section, allowing us to put the rest of the cupcake picture to good use. 3D spider stickers crawled all over the page and candy corn stickers rounded out the design. Can't wait until next year when she might actually comprehend what dressing up is - and what trick or treating is!
Ella's Daycare page features one of her art projects (they start them off young!) and a few pictures that the daycare provided to her parents. Looks like she is having a lot of fun while mom and dad are working hard!
Love this "B is for Baby" stamp that my sister found - using scalloped scissors gives it a fun edge. Some flowery brads are used for additional design on an otherwise fairly simple page.
Finally, we focused on my brother in law's First Father's Day! Going back in time, Ella is only a month old here - she was actually born just a few days after Mother's Day in 2009 so we are looking forward to celebrating Mother's Day this year just a day after her first birthday party - the grandmothers will also be in town so perfect timing for a nice Sunday brunch! we used a footprint stamp and layered construction paper for the photo backgrounds. Wondering if Ella picked out that cake herself - looks yummy!
If you want to see the other pages we've made for this little lady, check out this post for Bath Time, Baby Announcement and her Strawberry Outfit and this post for the Baby Shower.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pack it Up

A Vegas work trip this week meant I had little blogging time the last two weeks - sad stuff indeed. 

Arriving home at the airport past midnight after a delayed flight meant that I was thankful once again for my carry-on only policy when it comes to work trips. Not only to save the fee for checked baggage, but also to save the time sitting at baggage claim! I think I once spent an hour at the baggage claim at the international terminal only to discover my bag had not come back with me - it decided to take a detour through Germany.

My other challenge is making the bag light enough to be able to lift it over my head to put in the overhead bin. I have little to no upper body strength. I once spent a disastrous 10 minutes on a train in Austria attempting this and failing completely.   Luckily, someone came into the compartment after some time and helped me move it out of the seat next to me!

I have a standard way of packing that I rarely deviate from and, of course, it starts out with a list.

All pants and skirts are rolled tightly and lined up on one side. Love the roll method!

Typically I will have to wear a logo'd polo or button down for work which means I don't have to think much about what I'm wearing during the day. If I'm packing for vacation, I am all about the layers. tissue tees and long sleeved shirts fold up pretty tiny and can be interchanged with each other easily.

The tee-shirt or tank top I wore during the day could then turn into a pajama top for the rest of the trip. I'll usually bring both pajama pants and shorts as I can't be sure how the hotel will be at night: sweltering or over-air conditioned

I never go anywhere without a cardigan or light jacket since I'm always cold - 1 or 2 will make their way into the suitcase.

Bring an extra bag to keep dirty clothes separate from what you still haven't worn. I used to bring a couple of the clear plastic bags that bedsheets come in - 1 for shoes and 1 for used clothes and beach clothes.

After packing, look at everything again and take at least one thing out - think about why you packed 10 shirts for a 4 day trip and what you might be able to wear twice or layer with something else for a different look.

I rely on the hair dryer in the hotel room, but might pack a straightener or curling iron if I have the space.
My in-flight outfit consists of jeans (or dress pants if I have to go straight to work when I get in), long sleeved tee, cardigan and blazer. Flying in winter means you might have to pack a winter coat - I try to shove that in the suitcase so I don't have to deal with a giant coat in my little seat. I'll throw on a pashmina I can use as a blanket, scarf or pillow. I wear my heaviest shoes that I'm packing and comfy socks. I always wonder how the gals who get on the plane in shorts and flip flops get through the flight - it is freezing up in the air!

Of course, this also means i tend to be wearing virtually the same thing in many of my travel photos:

San Francisco:

Krakow, Poland:
Instead of a purse and a laptop bag, I pack my purses and use my laptop backpack for all of the in-flight essentials: book, computer, bag of 3 oz. liquids, wallet, etc. When I get to the airport I put my boarding pass in the same place each time - back pocket of my jeans - so I am not scrambling trying to find it at the last minute!

I also use a small zippered bag for all of my electronics: phone charger, iPod/headphones, netflix, camera, camera battery charger and cord, etc. Since you don't need your house keys when you are traveling, I make sure to throw those in this little bag for safe keeping for the length of the trip. One time I arrived home realizing that I had thrown my keys in my checked baggage - I was very thankful my luggage had not gotten lost on that go-around!
So what other packing tips are out there? Here's a few goodies:
  • Put your business card or another luggage tag inside your bag in case the outside tag falls off
  • If you have a boring black suitcase, pick up a handle cover like this one to make it stand out in a crowd
  • Be sure to check the weather for your destination. Bring a travel sized umbrella, just in case
  • If you don't want to buy travel sizes for your contact solution, lotion, etc pick up a travel kit. I got one complete with labels to help identify the items.
  • Think about what you will need to pack if you plan on working out on the trip - running shoes, gym clothes, etc.
  • Make sure to leave space in the bag for anything you might buy if you know you will be doing some shopping - otherwise what you might be buying is another suitcase to pack it all in!
  • A good list from Fodor's that goes into more detail
Now comes the real challenge - getting around to unpacking the suitcase and doing laundry. . . . 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Tackling a balcony garden with little to no experience? Sounds like fun.

Last year, our balcony focused on flowers, but this year we thought we'd make it work for us a bit harder. Tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and a few herbs grown from scratch should save us a little money in the long run. Of course, that relies on our seeds actually taking hold and producing.

Home Depot kicked things off with a Burpee seed starter kit, some new soil and a smattering of seed packets. Cherry tomatoes, basil, chives, cilantro and a couple types of peppers got us ready to start a balcony garden. Of course, buying a $1 seed packet is one thing. Knowing what to do with the seeds is another, and I cannot say I'm sure I've been doing things correctly. . . 

We started by sowing the tomato seeds in the starter kit. The soil pellets expanded with a little bit of water and 2 seeds were put in each pot. These will stay inside to germinate and grow its first leaves before we transplant outside and leave it to the elements. 
Andersonville has an adorable garden shop called Gethsemane Garden Center - we headed there to pick up a large enough pot for the lettuce and a trellis system of some sort for the tomatoes. Won over by the already colorful leaves of the mesclun lettuce, we decided to take the easy way out and forgo starting the lettuce from seed. 
My mom suggested using gravel for the bottom of the larger pots so you don't need to use up all of your soil. Instead, we tried using a layer or two of craft shop rocks that were back up for filling our hurricane centerpieces.
After transplanting the lettuce babies, we'll keep them watered and see how mature they get in 40-50 days. We paid just over $3.00 for the lettuce, which is less than I typically pay for a bag of lettuce in the grocery store - inevitably wasting half of it as it sits in the crisper and I go salad-less before the expiration date.
While at Gethsemane, I also got an idea for a future project after seeing this terrarium. I couldn't help but think to myself, "Hey! I've got one of these glass fishbowls at home! I could make that!" Stay tuned for what develops there!
I'll be sharing more updates as the seeds start to grow (hopefully!) and the vegetables start coming (hopefully!). Please share any tips you may have - as I said, little to no experience means I've been relying on blog searches, the seed packet instructions and frantic calls to my parents!

PS. The title of this post comes from a song from a kid's record we had growing up that I regularly get stuck in my head. "Inch by Inch, Row by Row. We're gonna make this garden grow. All we need is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground." Come on, sing along!
PPS. I just spent 10 minutes trying to find this album cover only knowing that one guy's name might be Gary. Not too shabby, google search.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pret a Manger

Ready to eat? Yes, please!

My sister Alanna, and I took advantage of a recent Groupon by setting an appointment for a Dream Dinners session. First things first - what's Groupon? A daily email featuring a healthy percentage off one service, restaurant, activity and more in the Chicago area. I've gotten 40% off an Art Institute membership, 60% or more off multiple restaurants and even a discounted trip to a Driving Range to improve the golf game. Groupon and the like exist in many cities - I definitely encourage you to check out what may be offered for you!

Back to the Groupon at hand: Dream Dinners. For $55 we could create a menu worth up to $110. The menu changes monthly, so my sister and I decided to book a session in April based on the offerings we saw. You can pick 3 or 6 serving sizes for most items and choose from ready made meals and sides/desserts as well prior to the session. This is a franchise company and I have seen similar dinner creation experiences out there, but have never tried it myself before today.

Bringing a cooler and a few extra bags to carry the loot home, we walked in not quite knowing how interactive the menu building would be. Would we literally just load up our cooler with ready made freezer bags and head out? Or would we be taking care of the whole dish from scratch?

The organization queen in me loved the personalized nametags on each bin and shelf in the cooler so you always knew where your items were. Slapping on some gloves and an apron, we got started with our personalized menus at the first station.

Using color coded measuring cups and directions alongside labeled ingredients, the prep was the perfect amount of do it yourself and "really hard to mess up." 

Alanna started things off with a creamy chicken risotto. We were very curious how many ziplock bags this company goes through in a month - the ingredients are typically split up this way for easy travel - ie. a sauce in one bag, the chicken in another and both in a gallon size bag to throw in the freezer in one fell swoop.
For each meal, there is an instruction sheet with how to finish cooking once at home. Alanna shows off a completed meal before putting it in the cooler for the rest of the session.
Yum. . .Sizzling Chicken Tortilla Bake for 6 - when's the dinner party scheduled for??
Not just main dishes for suppertime, I couldn't pass up the Peach Pecan French Toast. Looking forward to having people over for brunch sometime soon!
All in all, we both left with about seven 3-6 serving meals and a couple side dishes (I got sweet potato fries, Alanna picked out the gorgonzola mashed potatoes). Not bad for $55 and change. The compact ziplock bags make it so you can fit quite a bit in the freezer, even a skinny side freezer like we have.

I also felt inspired to take a weekend this summer and devote it to cooking for future meals: lasagna, soups and chili are some of my favorite things to freeze in individual portions and grab when needed. 

Does anyone else take advantage of prepared freezer meals that don't come in a Lean Cuisine box? We did not sign up for a May session, but may try to fit another one in for June. Until then, it feels nice to have some of our meals planned out for the rest of April! 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning in this household has begun in full force. Here's what we've done so far and what we have planned:

Closet Purge

I did an honest assessment of the wardrobe and cleared out anything that I have not worn in the last year (save for some of the dress clothes that are the exception to the rule). This gave me about 20 free hangers in the closet that I can save for some new spring duds - I think a trip to J.Crew soon is in the cards for me.

The clothes that no longer had a home in my home were donated to the Salvation Army.

Craigslist is Your Friend

We had a few big items taking up precious real estate in the apartment including a 4 drawer file cabinet and Bob's old TV. This took some perseverance - especially for the file cabinet. We ended up posting three different times before it got someone on the hook that followed through, but within a few days of each other both were out of our lives and Bob had an extra $90 in his pocket!
Electronics Be Gone
Our closet has a bag full of old cell phones and chargers, my deceased laptop (R.I.P. Dell) and some old printer ink cartridges I was never quite sure what to do with. Time for a trip to the recycling center. When I moved out of my old place I took an old printer and a broken DVD player to Best Buy customer service as part of their recycling program. Cell phones (and batteries for that matter) have kiosks set up in various places for collection of your used items. It is also a good time to go through the junk drawer and the toolbox to see what we have been keeping for no good reason. For instance, have you ever found a power cord with no recollection of what it is for and it just sits in your closet? Chances are, if you haven't had to plug it in in a year you probably won't need to (or you threw the item away awhile back!)

Refrigerator Reno

Leftovers are good. Leftovers that outstay their welcome in your fridge are not so good. We started to realize we had no tupperware left and that they were all being held hostage by food we were never going to eat. It's amazing how full your fridge can look without having any actual food inside - after purging it looked like we only ate mayonnaise and Miller Lite (yes, a whole shelf full of cans still left over from our Super Bowl Party!). The shelves got a much needed disinfecting and we could finally do a real assessment of what staples we needed to pick up at the grocery store.

My inspiration for a great looking fridge?
This article from Real Simple:

Next up for us is getting our balcony ready for spring including planting flowers and a veggie garden. This means we have to first clean out the baskets and pots we left for dead to be covered with snow all winter!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

To Dye For

Time to dye eggs!

Last night we embraced our inner Easter Bunny and dyed a dozen for Bob's family's Easter celebration. Food coloring + 1 teaspoon vinegar + 3/4 cup hot water is all you need. Oh yeah, and eggs! There are lots of kits out there with dissolving tablets, but they never seem to give as brilliant a color as you can get mixing food coloring together. 

In addition to dipping the eggs to build the color up, we also experimented with applying drops of food coloring right on the egg and letting the color bleed once underwater. That gave us the look you can see in the red and blue eggs below.
I'll leave you by linking to's Top 20 Deviled Egg recipes - get creative with what you are bringing to the pot luck, picnic or party!

Enjoy your Easter Sunday!