Friday, December 31, 2010

Quarterly Goal Check In

That's all she wrote!
Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 books
Between book club and random reads, I think this is a pretty realistic number. I just read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer on my latest trip. I had previously read Everything is Illuminated so I had high hopes, although I'd still take his first novel over Extremely Loud, it was a great and interesting read.
A Year in Provence: Peter Mayle - I prefer to read books about travel and foreign adventures when I am taking a trip. This one made the 4 hour plane ride to Las Vegas rather enjoyable! Ash cloud, please subside so I can book a trip to France!
Last Night in Twisted River
 - Typical Irving: lots of untimely deaths, a bear and close-knit family. Happy to say I liked this one more than his most recent books- my all time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Seeing what all the fuss is about - can't wait to read the next one! 
Best Friends Forever - chick lit I didn't expect much from and was pleasantly surprised. Wrapped up a bit neatly, but doesn't that define chick lit? 
The Art of Racing in the Rain - narrated by a dog. who thinks he should be human. and whose owner has possibly the worst luck ever. yet I raced to finish it. . .huh. 
The Lost Symbol - Like DaVinci Code, entertaining and kept me reading, but a whole lotta explanations make up the story. 
The Girl Who Played with Fire - loved more than the first one, I think because I'm more invested in the characters. 
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - a little slow in the middle (they sure are all about procedure in Sweden!) but love the trial scenes at the end!  
Kindred - Time Travel to Slave Days for a Modern African-American Woman? Sounds crazy, but really holds your interest and is a good twist on sci-fi. My book club pick for September!
The Plantation - another about slavery - I've stumbled onto a genre without realizing it! Unfortunately, the dialogue leaves much to be desired, but I did want to keep reading to see what happened so I guess he hooked me there. . . 
The Lovely Bones -  Finally got around to reading this heartbreaking book. 
Brooklyn - A bit slow for a book club read. Kept waiting for something to happen, for the heroine to actually be a heroine. Ahh well. 
The Alchemist - Really enjoyed this philosophical read. Super fast book to get through - I read it in one sitting!
Memories of My Melancholy Whores - Marquez novella that says it all in the title. Not sure I got that into it.
My Sister's Keeper - Finally got around to this one - I hear the movie is quite polarizing.

Angels and Demons - Another fast read, just kept picturing Ewan McGregor. Not that that is a bad thing!
Pillars of the Earth - A mighty tome. My holiday read, thank god I had two weeks off of work or I never would have gotten through it. Very engaging (the made for Starz miniseries not so much)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - in a fitting twist, this story of an unwanted child comes from a book that neither my sister, aunt, mom or I claim is our copy. I figured I might as well take my turn and read it until the real owner discovers that it is missing off of their bookshelf
New York - sweeping novel running through 300 years of history and the family Master at its center. Loved it!

2. Only buy 3 of those books
Here will be the real challenge - our bookshelves are getting fuller and fuller and I am a little ashamed of how much I spend at Borders when I have a library card burning a hole in my wallet.
Although I bought some as gifts and received some as gifts, only 1 was just for me. Not too shabby. I did miss one of our book club books because the library hold never came through in time, although it was my own fault I did not check in with the other girls to see who finished the book early and could pass it along! Stuck with this one pretty successfully, although I did fall into the "Store Closing" trap of Borders and picked up one at 30% off. I even filled a box or two with books to donate to make even more room on the shelves!

3. Have a "Day of Fun and Culture"
Take a day off work with the boy and take in the sights, sounds and food of Chicago like a real tourist!
Kari and I set our sights on the Museum of Contemporary Art. Check out our day here.

4. Visit 3 museums
Sort of sad that I haven't been to the Art Institute in years considering I work down the street and I have a membership that will let me in for free.
April 2 - Half Day of work for Good Friday? That means a trip to the Adler Planetarium and a nice long walk around museum campus!
February - Museum of Contemporary Art!

5. 2 trips to the theater
Check one off the list at the end of March - tickets to Billy Elliot have been purchased!
March 27 - Billy Elliot was great! I love a good Angry Dance (see also: Footloose, Flight of the Conchords)
June 2- Acrobatics galore! Scored tickets to Cirque Dreams: Illumination through work. Highlight of the night was Bob getting picked for an audience participation bit and performing in front of Chicago! 
October 7 - The Lion King was amazing - great seats meant we could see every expression and analyze the animal contraptions that are straight out of a child's imagination.

6. Watch 120 movies
Now this is my kind of goal - sitting on the couch watching movies! Honestly though, films are my favorite ( has been my homepage for 14 years) and netflix has been instrumental in opening me up to Almodovar, Kieslowski, a slew of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and TV shows I now wish I had watched when they were on (hellooo, Battlestar Galactica!). One thing I wish Netflix had? A "shuffle" option - 5 or 6 David Lynch movies in a row and you start to get a little freaked out!
143 from March 17 - March 16

A few awards

Best Movie I Wasn't Expecting - Hamlet 2
Movie that Made me Want my Two Hours Back - Paul Blart: Mall Cop
TV Series that I Can't Get Enough of - Flight of the Conchords

Advice - see Inception in the theater while you still can, rent In the Loop and put the subtitles on to catch all the funny.
Dedication - going to the movies in between the ceremony and reception in full sari-garb.

New Love - Instant Netflix via the Wii. Was life ever this good?

7. Book an international trip
The travel itch has turned into a full on rash. Okay, that is some horrible imagery, but I am jonesing for an overseas trip!
Booked! A trip to Egypt and Italy is a go in two weeks!

8. See my best friends
They are spread all over the states, but the fact that I haven't seen my college roommate in over a year is just PATHETIC! Visiting is always fun for me, but I invite everyone to stay with me here in Chicago, or we could plan a trip together (like Kara and my annual NYC trips!)
It's great to see friends and experience big life changes with them! I got to be in a wedding, see a new baby, explore new cities and more!

9. Visit 3 new U.S. cities
I'll be headed to Nashville in May and Bob and I are trying to plan a trip to New Orleans, where might number 3 be??
May - Nashville was a heckuva fun time, despite major flooding issues just two weeks prior!
August - a weekend world tour of Colorado let me cross Vail, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction off the list.

March - A work trip to Colonial Williamsburg!
10. Head up to Madison
Ahh, my alma mater. How do I love thee? Let me count the number of chairs at the Terrace, the steps it takes to get to the top of Bascom Hill and the number of bars that line State Street. . .it is time you and I had a reunion!
Crossed this off the list in late September. A perfect fall Saturday.

In the Home/DIY/Crafty
11. Redo bedroom
I discussed plans in this post - let's see what comes to fruition!
March 20: Jewelry Organizer, check! We've decided to hold off on a king bed until the next place (and we see the size of the bedroom we'll get!) Hmm, didn't end up doing much else to the room. Ahh well, just think about the savings instead. . .

12. One furniture redo
A la this coffee table or this nightstand or this bathroom shelf turned wine cabinet. Number one contender? A hallway table to replace a ginormous file cabinet we can't seem to sell on craigslist.
Our console table is still in the planning stages - although we did just buy some of the materials. In the meantime, a very recent update to the house included these revamped dining room chairs!

13. 1 room makeover for Mom
Redoing her kitchen with her was energizing and draining at the same time! I've got my sights set on a downstairs bedroom that could use a lot of fixing up (and will give me somewhere to sleep when the whole family is in the house!)
Unfortunately this one is not going to happen just yet - some delays on our side in what to invest in!

14. Mod Podge something
I bought a bottle a few months ago and it has not found a project yet! Thissign project from Young House Love is very inspiring. . .
All done - check out my Mixed Up Movies here.

15. 8 scrapbook pages for Ella
We have 4 down and want to add a few more to her scrapbook before her big 1 year old bday bash in May. This little girl is going to have so much documentation between her scrapbooks and her mama's blog she'll never have to wonder what she was like as a baby!
16. 100 blog posts
I am about to hit the first 100 in just under a year and noticed I have been cranking them out a bit quicker in recent months. I do not think I will ever be a post-a-day blogger - I just can't think of that much to write about and would rather have quality posts than quantity. At least I hope the posts I'm sharing have been viewed as quality!
113 in the end! Good estimation, Lyd!

17. Redesign the blog!
Along with the goal of "Web Design Certificate" some new HTML and Photoshop skills should allow me to give Next Step a boost in both look, search options and organization. Stay tuned! 
Blogger is upping the ante by allowing me to add pages, play with the template design and columns and even improving the photo upload/posting section. Good on'ya!

18. Grow a Garden
Our ample balcony space means we should be using it for a container vegetable garden. I started small last summer with some herbs, but am ready to expand to tomatoes, peppers and 1 or 2 other endeavors. I've been soaking up blogs on balcony gardens like this one and plan on picking my mom's brain (and her seedlings!)
With summer almost over, our crisper has been chock full of tomatoes, granted they are all the size of a dime, but they are mighty in number. We also got a month's worth of salad back in June/July and lots of basil for all our recipes. Even the flowers eventually sprang up - though I don't think I would do those from seed again!

19. Throw 4 parties
We love having people over, but I think any more often than quarterly parties could stress me out! We will probably repeat our summer cook outand harvest party - maybe throw in an Oscar party and game night to round out the year. I promise lots of new appetizer recipes!
We held an almost-impromptu Memorial Day cookout (meaning we planned it in one day). We've been trying to schedule a Seinfeld Trivia Party but summer weekend craziness has been thwarting our plans. . .Our summer cook-out became a Sunday Funday over Labor Day weekend (appetizer recipes here!). Maybe our new thing will be Memorial Day/Labor Day parties. "Begin and end summer with us!" 2nd Annual Harvest Party was a success - read all about it here. We also hosted a Packers/Bears NFC Championship game - and guess what? The Packers are going to the SUPERBOWL!

Personal & Professional Development

20. Web Design Certificate
I only need to take 5 classes to fulfill this certificate at my local city college and have already completed HTML, just starting Photoshop. Short term, I can use the newfound skills to improve this blog and in some of the online work I do. Long term, who knows!
3 courses completed - Flash and Dreamweaver have been put on the back burner for a bit.

21. Present at a conference or training
Since I work in education and directly with speakers, it is sort of funny to see myself on the other side of the coin - I'm usually the one making sure the microphone works, not the one clipping it onto my shirt. I have presented internal trainings before and would be game for another one within the company or look into presenting at an outside event.
Didn't make this happen just yet, but certainly had opportunities to present in front of colleagues over the past year!

22. Update resume
Okay, if any of my co-workers are reading this - don't panic! No plans to leave, but my resume hasn't been touched since I first moved to Chicago and was temping so it could use some sprucing up! In its current state, my biggest accomplish boils down to "filing properly."

23. Volunteer with Chicago Cares once a month
I get weekly emails on volunteer projects and have enjoyed volunteering at a nearby school library - there is not a full time librarian so volunteers help shelve books, re-label and organize where needed a couple times a month.
Overachieving! I've been volunteering every other week the library maintenance job and read-with-me nights with 3-5 year olds. Learning quickly how long a 3 year old's attention span lasts! I also participated in a Serve-a-Thon activity for all Chicago Cares volunteers in June.

Also having fun making dinners at the Ronald McDonald House in Lincoln Park!

24. Donate money to charity events three times, participate in a fundraiser activity once
My friends always impress me with the fundraising activities they are involved in and I've been glad to donate when they sign themselves up for crazy things like walking for 3 days straight (the Susan G. Komen for the Cure) , stair climbing in a 30 story building (to benefit the American Lung Association) and taking a Polar Plunge (for the Special Olympics). I will donate where I can and also help organize and/or participate in at least one activity (like the Bowling for Big Shoulders fundraiser I attended the other week).
Good luck with the Bike Ride, Claire!

Good luck with the Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, Katie!
Good luck with the run, Joel!
The 5K run I did in November benefitted the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute.
25. Stick with a workout plan
I'm in no shape to walk for three days, climb 30 flights of stairs or jump in ice cold water. I recently went through Wii Fit initiation where it deemed my Wii Fit age to be 41. I'm actually 27. Apparently, being underweight with no sense of balance and bad reflexes is NOT good for me. Whether it be actually dusting off that Pilates DVD, working with weights or - gasp - even joining in a gym, it is time to do something to build up some strength and flexibility. Oh, and did I mention I have high cholesterol? My all-cheese diet finally catches up with me. . .
I thought maybe yoga, a water aerobics class or maybe busting out the old ab roller, but I surprised myself by diving into. . .running! Based around a challenge for Bob to complete a triathlon and to get my family to stop hounding me to do a 5K with them I have begun training. November 6: success! I ran the 5K in 37:01 at an 11:55 pace. I only had to walk for less than a minute based on a congested route. Way too many people for this one for such a narrow course!

26. Learn how to use the grill
While Bob's summer goal is to become a grill master, I am content with just learning how to turn it on and cook a piece of chicken!
May 4: Successfully grilled the brats we had for dinner! Wahoo!

27. Drive a car
This probably seemed like an unfinished sentence as you are reading ("drive a car. . .with stick shift, across country, in the Indy 500) but I really do just mean drive a car. It has been years since I have driven. Sometimes I wonder if I don't drive because I live in Chicago and there is plenty of public transportation or if I live in Chicago because I don't drive! City driving scares me more than it should and it is time to suck it up and get out there! Now, who is going to trust me with their car???
We are getting a new (well, new to us) car that is an automatic which made driving for me more of a possibility. I headed out to my sister's in the suburbs by myself for our Christmas celebration. Arrived safely, if a bit shakey, but getting better all the time! And I totally own the Target that it is our neighborhood (keep in mind it is only two blocks away and the equivalent of four turns).

Money Matters
28. Less spent on lunches
I originally wrote "bring lunch at least 3 times a week" but I know how hit or miss that can be depending on the type of week I'm having. Maybe instead this means getting a foot long from Subway and saving half for tomorrow or making sure to have leftovers from dinners we make. I will add up what I've spent via debit card for the past year and again after one year to see how I did. I'll also check my ATM visits in case I try to trick myself into just paying cash for lunches so it's no recorded!
Here's a start: Without fail, I buy a 65 cent can of soda every day at lunch. I just picked up a great deal from Dominicks: 5 12-packs for the price of 2. I paid $11 for 60 cans of soda as opposed to $39 on individual cans. The real savings would be if I learned to cut out soda and just drink water but I know my need for caffeine isn't going to let that happen.

Can you say nerd alert? I started a second Google Calendar to track lunches and am pleased to see my spending going way down vs. how often I used to buy! Instead of $20 a week I'm down to $20 a month.

29. Double amount in my ING savings account
Keeping up with established monthly transfers and adding in "extra" money like tax refunds, gifts and bonuses should do the trick. Of course, the ever-declining interest rate I am earning is not encouraging me at all. The challenge will be trying to stop myself from cashing it all in for around the world trips!
Some challenges along the way might cause me to tweak this goal. We have started a joint savings specifically for our planned trip to Egypt! By putting automatic payments on the money will add up without us even realizing it. And after the trip is done we can focus on the next big thing to save for - whatever that might end up being!

30. Create 1 place to track all finances, bills and budgeting
I just learned about and like what I see. So far I've been decent at budgeting, keeping up with bills and managing logging in to 50 different sites to view latest activity and assess what will be hitting my checking account when, but 1 snapshot could help me see things differently!
I tried out, but so far am not getting won over. Cancel.
31. Pay off one student loan
I increased my payments from the minimum for both loans a couple years ago and am well on my way to closing out one of them - the other should be done after another year. Wahoo!
Because I seemed to have equal parts goals where I spend a lot of money and save a lot of money, something had to give - I decided to go back down to minimum payments for the time being to put more money into our house fund. Interest rates make me feel as though I made the right decision.

32. Research buying a place
I don't want to commit to saying we will have bought a place in a year, but we have been talking about it as our next big step and I want to make sure we know what we are getting into!
We have been going to a few open houses, getting ideas about neighborhoods we like and are figuring out what budget is going to work for us. Dreams of a third bedroom/craft room dance in my head. . .

33. Stick with an organizer option
I feel as though I've been getting busier and busier (birthday party here, class there, book club here, eye appointment there) my head is probably not the best place to keep all of the info. Either pull out the old Palm Pilot, beef up my Google calendar or carry around a handwritten journal.
Google calendar, you are already making things easier! It's amazing how full my month can look when I put it all down in one place. 

34. House purge
Part of this year's spring cleaning plan - are we using it? No? Get rid of it! I want photographic evidence of a decent pile of junk that will either be tossed in the dumpster, sold on Craigslist or given to Goodwill.
Thank you Craigslist: giant file cabinet, check! Old TV, check! Now we just need to get rid of our old computer desk chair thanks to the new one we picked up at an estate sale! A minimalist in training: Each weekend this spring I'm tackling one new area: bathroom cabinets one Saturday, pantry the next, etc.

35. Replace wardrobe, not add to it
I just finished a spring purge of the closet - if I hadn't worn it since moving here (exception: some of the dress clothes) it was gone. I'm not putting the kibosh on buying clothes this year, in fact I would like to overhaul my wardrobe a bit, but I do want to make sure I'm replacing and not just filling up the closet. I will just have to keep asking myself, "If I buy a sweater, which one am I not wearing and can donate?"
2 bags of clothes gone to Salvation Army = 2 new dresses for weddings/summer fun, embellished tank tops for summer, a couple work shirts and - most exciting - a new suit! An ill-placed "pen in pants pocket" caused a dryer accident that inked a few of my work shirts beyond repair. The question is, why did my replacement trip to Benneton result in me buying no tops and more pants?

1/16 - one more laundry basket full of clothes ready to head to goodwill!

36. 40 new recipes added to book
My recipe book currently has about 45 typed recipes - once again, loose pieces of paper and printouts have been adding up and bringing me back to the brink of disorganization. Time to consolidate and fill up the rest of the book!
May 2: 15 added to the book! Realizing that if I am going to add 40 I may need a second book. . .
November: I decided to make a second book that is centered around our annual Harvest Parties. All fall recipes, photos from the events and some great autumn-themed background papers. Stay tuned for a post about how that is coming along!
This is a big project for the upcoming weekend to round out the goal year!

36.5 Be a good aunt to little Ella (look at that picture and tell me she's not the cutest thing ever!) 
Also, be a good sister/ daughter/ niece/ girlfriend/ friend/ co-worker/ etc. . .
While I can't really measure this one (unless all involved parties would like to take a written survey at the end of 1 year for me), I do hope that everyone I hang around with will want to be hanging around with me after a year of me talking about all of these goals!
Ella is thisclose to being able to say "Lydia!" Hey, it's a tough name for a 22 month old! So great to be able to see her often!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holly Days: Cards 2010

Now that Christmas is over and all of the mailed cards should have made their way to their rightful owners, I can post about my 2010 Christmas cards!

I had the idea to take a few of my holiday movies and immortalize some of the best quotes to make the cards. Starting with a google search, I saved some higher quality photos from A Christmas Story, Elf and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Simply pasting them into a word doc, I formatted to the appropriate size for my card stock.  I printed on photo paper and used some new color ink that had just been purchased for my printer to try to get these as high quality as possible without going pro.
I printed off two copies for each card because I like to do a layering technique that allows part of the card to stand out. You can sort of see how I used double sided foam stickies here to make Poor Flick even more prominent.
Even though I didn't have to use stickers and stamps, all of the cutting, gluing (using lots and lots of glue dots) and finding the right quotes took a good chunk of time. Red, green and blue paper backgrounds added another layer and leaving some white border around the print outs give them an even more apparent photo quality. I made at least two cards of each design, ending up with about twenty good ones to send out.
Here's a few close ups - I used direct quotes for the front of the cards, my own greeting inside with some snowflake sticker flair.
I had been searching for a way to personalize each card I make with a "homemade" seal of approval. I picked up this "With Love" stamp in the $1 bin at Michael's. Being very careful as this was going on the backs of finished cards (I only messed up one with not enough ink), I stamped away and added a little "made by lydia" above it.
So there we have it: Cards 2010! Already thinking ahead to next year's options. . .

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Martha Challenge - With Bells On

I saw this photo about a year ago in the Martha Stewart Living Christmas issue. I have thought about making a wreath before, but never one like this. Not only did it look super easy, it also had a unique look to it apart from the usual circular guys that adorn front doors. We kept the boughs that were trimmed off of our Christmas tree and stored them on the balcony while I picked up the supplies.
Attempting to find large silver bells proved harder than I imagined. Home Depot had some perfect ones but they were only in red and gold. An online search came up empty. Then there they were, at Michaels, tucked away on some random shelf - a pair of red bells that were the perfect size. 
 I decided I could get around my refusal to compromise on color scheme by spray painting the bells silver. You can't buy spray paint in the city limits of Chicago, so rather than take a trip to the 'burbs I thought about what I had at home. Some blue glitter was just sitting there, unopened, so I decided to try my hand at this. Recently becoming a glitter expert from another Martha project involving pumpkins (read all about it here) I got to work. The glitter glue was applied, the glitter was dumped on. It was starting to look pretty good.
Of course, the red ribbon was a sharp contrast to the color scheme I was aiming for. Taking a pair of scissors, I carefully cut out all the red bits I could and instead tied some blue ribbon into a bow on top.
Next up was putting together the actual wreath. Simple enough - taking boughs of similar size and a few smaller ones for the top and twining them together from the stems so they hang down.

I had found some silver jingle bells in a couple different sizes at Family Dollar - an unorthodox store choice for me one day as I wandered around Uptown. However, I can't deny the $1.50 price tag. Using twisted ornament hooks, I fastened the bells all over the boughs. I didn't take any pictures during this process - woops!

Next step was attaching the glittery bells to the top of the wreath. It was ready for hanging. Originally, I was going to hang on our front door, but being in an apartment building near the top, there wouldn't be many people to pass by and see it. So I thought I would hang it off of our balcony instead for a little outside charm.
Here's where you'll see my two mistakes with this project.

Mistake #1: While I was glittering away, it did not occur to me to do the insides. After all, when I held them at eye level they looked perfectly covered, why waste the glitter?

However, hanging three floors up off of a balcony, the insides of the bells are about all you see. Geez.
Mistake #2: Glitter is not weather-proof. Gross.
Ahh well, I'm still calling this one a success because from street level you can't see these imperfections and it actually looks pretty nice. Next year maybe I'll think through things a little more before hanging up a wreath!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holly Days: Tag, You're It

When I bring my material for projects over to my sister's house, we instantly double the amount of choices we have to make pretty things. She has a great selection of Christmas and holiday rubber stamps and paper. I wrote about the square hole punch decor I made already. We also broke out some manila tags I had picked up awhile back and got to work on making gift tags for the Christmas presents we'd be doling out to the family in the next week.
I stuck with with the red family to match the red wrapping paper, tissue and ribbon I was focused on for a wrapping paper theme this year. The "To/From" goes on the back of each.
My sister's were a bit more eclectic. I love that snowman stamp of hers. I used the little snowflake cut-outs from her border punch for one of my tags above - one little glue dot on the back does the trick.
We ran out of tags before I ran out of gifts that needed tags, so I bought another pack at Michael's the next day. However, they did not have the manila ones in stock so I had to settle for white. No matter.

Again, sticking with the red theme, I thought of a few more ways to make each one unique including using a sponge to get the red ink to cover the tag in a sort of pattern.
 Here's one on a finished product. Stay tuned for a post about the red, red, red wrapping paper theme this year!