Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

We are just starting a string of nice days here in Chicago that will hopefully make the wool coats, winter hats and  boots stay in the coat closet for good. Must be Spring!

My Aunt Christine came down to visit this past weekend, and our big activity besides going to see Billy Elliot the Musical on Saturday night was a card-making afternoon. Combining our crafty forces resulted in us taking over the kitchen counter, the coffee table and the dining room table to the point that it looked like Michael's exploded in our apartment.

The challenge? Easter cards.

Here are some of the highlights:

By picking up a pack of manila tags from an office supply store, you can get creative with gift tags, decoration and more.

My aunt taught showed me a great trick to adding a little extra depth to your cards and tags. Take the ink pad and rub it along the edges of the card. Just the right amount bleeds onto the sides and gives them a finished look. We used some spring-like stamps (including a "happy easter" phrase stamp that really made the rounds) and finished them off with some colorful ribbons.
A great pack of cardstock that Bob got me for Christmas makes the perfect size backgrounds for the fronts of cards. We used craft scissors and the ink-edging trick I cited above on a whimsical Easter egg stamp. I like 3D elements on cards, so having double sided sticky foam squares allows certain elements to stand out. Of course, making it too raised might result in an oversized card that the post office deems too big for the one stamp you put on it. Personal experience - my Mom received a 30 cent bill from the Post Office along with my Christmas Card this past holiday!
Using a similar stamp theme, this card uses a couple different elements including a perfectly sized patterned background, polka-dotted brads and green stamp pad ink rubbed on the background with paper towel. We also used an applicator "pen" to dot the insides of the stamp with ink.
Using the same rubbing technique for the background gave us a cloud look on the next card. Craft scissors provided the jagged look for the photo of grass, and we used the same applicator "pens" from above to get different colors on the tiny flower stamps. I like having an alphabet stamp set, but I have never been able to master applying them in a straight line - always have to rely on them "meaning" to look crooked and whimsical, I guess!
Last, but not least. an Easter Egg themed card developed out of using an oval cut out as a template for the large egg and the stamp in 2 of the previous cards as a template for the smaller eggs. A mix of blue and gold ink is rubbed in the background to match the colors in the papers I cut up.
3 hours later we were exhausted and ready to put our feet up! For some reason we had stood the whole time at the kitchen counter working as opposed to sitting at the table so our feet were killing us! Good thing we had a 3 hour Broadway show to sit for that evening!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Iron Chef: Potatoes

Last fall, hot on the heels of a trip to the Long Grove Apple Fest, I wrote up an "Iron Chef: Apples" post that featured recipes from beverage to main dish to dessert that featured one ingredient. I'm back with a write up focused on that delicious "apple of the earth": the Potato!

We just picked up 2 big bags of russet potatoes during a 2 for 1 sale at the grocery store so our imaginations - and recipe searching - have been working overtime. What a staple to have on hand though! So far we've made home fries, twice baked potatoes, potato cornflake casserole and - my favorite - Baked Potato Bar Night!
Baking a potato can take up to an hour in the oven. I always microwave mine. Here's a handy set of instructions:

Wash potato and puncture with a fork. While potato is still wet, wrap in paper towel to keep the moisture in. Cook on high for 4-5 minutes for the first potato, plus 2-3 minutes for each additional potato. If they are large or small, adjust time accordingly.

And so, without further ado (and a lot of help from allrecipes.com for recipe and photo sources!), in all of their mashed, baked and fried goodness. . . Iron Chef: Potatoes!

"Good Morning!"
"Indeed, she's starting the day off right!"
Potato Pancakes
4 servings
5 potatoes, peeled and shredded

2 eggs, beaten
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, stir together potatoes, eggs, onion, flour, salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Drop large spoonfuls of the potato batter into the skillet and flatten cakes slightly with a spatula. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve immediately.

"Cheese, onion, sour cream, bacon. What can't you put in a baked potato?"

"That seems like a loaded question."

Twice Baked Potatoes
8 servings

4 large baking potatoes
8 slices bacon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
8 green onions, sliced, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bake potatoes in preheated oven for 1 hour OR in the microwave (see above directions). Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside. When potatoes are done allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; save skins. To the potato flesh add sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 the green onions. Mix until well blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese, green onions and bacon. Bake for another 15 minutes.


"Mmm. . .a hearty soup just in time for the cold weather!"

"But it's almost April."
"Yeah, but I live in Chicago. We can always count on cold weather being just around the corner."

Herbed Potato Soup
5 servings
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups milk

Place potatoes and water in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat until tender. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, saute onion butter until tender. Stir in the flour, salt, thyme, rosemary, and pepper. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add potatoes with cooking liquid; heat through.

"The eggs are telling me it's breakfast, but the chicken is telling me it's dinnertime!"
"So you are saying your food is talking to you? You should really get that checked out. . ."

Chicken and Potato Frittata
8 servings
4 cups diced peeled potatoes

1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
2 onions, diced
1 cup self-rising flour
2 cups milk
6 eggs
1 cup chopped fresh broccoli
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup cooked, diced boneless chicken breast half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Place potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 10 minutes, or until tender but firm; drain. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, and saute garlic and onions until tender. In a small bowl, mix the flour, milk, and eggs. In a medium bowl, mix potatoes, garlic and onions, flour mixture, broccoli, mushrooms, Cheddar cheese, and chicken. Transfer to a medium baking dish. Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until eggs are no longer runny and top is lightly browned."

"Now this is interesting! Mashed Potatoes in your Dessert!"
"Great reviews, but I can't help thinking this was one of those 'accidental' inventions!"

Idaho Potato Cake
12 servings
1 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped nuts

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in potatoes and vanilla. Combine flour, cocoa and baking soda; add alternately with milk, blending well after each addition. Stir in nuts. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool on a wire rack.


I'm thinking of making Iron Chef a monthly feature - I should note that I have not actually tried all of these recipes, but I do make sure to find highly rated recipes that should ensure their yumminess to some extent!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Making Memories

One of my goals for the year is to help my sister with creating scrapbook pages for my niece, Ella. I wrote about the first set we did a few months ago and two hang on the nursery wall in frames. When she's ready to switch them out, a scrapbook is there ready to collect.

We got through one more page a couple weeks ago that definitely took a step back in time: the baby shower! Using photos from the event and cut outs from some of the decoration, this page built itself! We have a weekend planned soon to focus on other milestones like Baby's First Christmas, Playing Dress Up on Halloween and Supermodel Baby (she's definitely a budding Fashionista).

Personally, I have scrapbooks going back to Kindergarten. I actually had to re-do my K-8 grade book a couple years ago because it completely fell apart. Since I moved to a more traditional scrapbook type, I picked up an accordion filer for the yearbooks, art projects and 3D additions - basically all of the stuff that was causing the book to fill beyond capacity and fall apart!
In High School I switched to sticky page photo album binders for my photos and school stuff - that book is still at my parents' house in 1 of 2 boxes labeled "Lydia." When I left for college I knew the folks were planning on moving soon, so I packed my entire room up - reducing what I didn't take to college to 2 boxes. My anti-pack rat of a mother keeps threatening to throw them away, and as soon as I have a real house with an attic or other ample storage space I promised to take them off of her hands!

I do have my 1999 French Trip binder on hand, however. Created half because it was a required post-trip assignment for French Class and half because I probably would have done one anyway. As fun as the trip was (milestones: first time on a plane, out of the country) this album makes me look forward to a future trip to France that will hopefully not be with a group of forty 16-year olds! I'm sure I will see things a lot differently on that subsequent visit. . .
Senior Year of High School got its own book, I got the scrapbook and all of the material as a birthday gift so it came together pretty easily! 
Since Freshman year of college, I have kept a hybrid of scrapbook and photo album. Sometimes I get frustrated with proper scrapbook pages that look beautiful but only feature 1 or 2 photos, but then again photo albums never tell the whole story. After all, how would I be able to capture our "Ed" nights (coincidence the show lasted only the four years we were in school? I think not!) or the time that we spent the entire day and evening sitting in the school cafeteria with the pretense of studying but the reality of people watching and documenting every minute?
The books fill up pretty fast, especially if there is a wedding or trip that takes up a few pages just on their own. In a couple cases, a trip gets its own book, like my 2 1/2 week Australia excursion!


Amongst the photos, you can find invitations, cards and lotsa tickets. I have saved every movie/show ticket since as far back as I can remember - Let's put it this way: I have proof that I saw "The Rockateer." I do regret throwing out a stack of Playbills I had collected in a major purge a few years ago. I would have liked to have gotten one of those specialty binders that you can collect those in. Ahh well, at least I'll always have the ticket for the show! Umm, and yes - if you look closely at the photo before you can see that I paid to see Jason X in the theater.
Ever since I started photo sharing through Facebook, I have been a lot worse at printing photos. I use Snapfish and would always load them up to send to friends and family and ordering prints was the logical next step. I am actually amazed that Facebook has not partnered with the Snapfishes, Kodaks or Walgreens' of the world to offer print ordering through their photo album application. I have a backlog of photos to add to the book - and for the second year in a row I forgot to order pics from Halloween, skipping right to November and December - hoping to set aside some weekend time with scissors, tape and gel pens to caption out the past few months!
I sort of wish these books all matched, but I have to go with the product that's available at the time I need a new book. . . I guess it adds to the charm and makes me seem less like Kevin Spacey in Seven with all of his b&w marbled composition notebooks. I couldn't find the black cover/black pages books I liked at Michaels, Target or Urban Outfitters (my past suppliers), so the last couple books have been picked up from Borders and have similar but different colorful covers - they also have a lot more pages so the books have been lasting me for at least 1.5-2 years each!

Monday, March 22, 2010

"I Could Make That" - A Place for Baubles, Bangles and Beads

What a productive couple of days! A rare weekend opened up without obligations to head out to the suburbs, take a trip out of town or go out with friends led to a nice little checklist:

Clean the house top to bottom, do laundry, get rid of a couple items on craigslist, fill out the census, do a couple crafty projects and top it off with seeing a movie on Sunday as a reward.

So what were the craft projects? I talked about plans to organize our desk area in this post about our still in progress bedroom. Here's what we started with:

I started making plans to buy a corkboard, some fabric and hooks to re-create this DIY endeavor. Then I scrolled down a bit and and found a link to a similar blog post that showed using a shadowbox as a necklace holder. Of course! Why didn't I think of that! I should have thought about the possibility of the cats being tempted by hanging jewelry that would lead them to jump on the desk and wreak havoc. Bonus? I already had a shadowbox that wasn't being used. I wrote about my Ode to the Alma Mater in this decorating post but it was currently collecting dust in the closet. 
Thoughts of lining the back with fabric or scrapbook paper crossed my mind, but I decided to add colorful hooks instead. A trip to Blick (buying paint supplies for Bob's big art project - stay tuned!) turned up a magnetic strip and magnetic hooks. I knew when buying the 14" strip that it might not work the way it should - it only fits lengthwise, but necklaces are a little too long to hang in a horizontally-turned shadowbox. Although they are affixed with double sided tape for jewelry organizer purposes, in a future life I can see this used against a magnetic board/fridge. 
Necklaces hang from these hooks and pins hold my hoop earrings in place.
The new and improved shadowbox is hanging on the wall alongside my 8x10 prints of Elvis, Audrey and James Dean - good folks to channel when accessorizing, don't you think? 
With the jewelry out of the way, that cleared off the desk almost entirely. I found new homes for my box o' change (can't wait to cash that bad boy in after a year of saving come June) and a couple other tchotchkes. We picked up this scroll tray from CB2 and a mail sorter from World Market. Bob can use this area to collect all of the stuff that typically builds up on the kitchen counter.

One productive weekend checked off of the list - we even had time on Sunday to go out to brunch with friends and head to the theater to see Shutter Island. A good way to put off the inevitable Sunday night doldrums & Monday morning blues.



PS. This is Post #100! Wahoo!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"I Could Make That" - Cat Perch

As adorable as Fredo looks hanging out as a part of our centerpiece, the place where we eat is probably not the best place for him to be taking a nap. Rather than spring for cat beds (buying two of everything for our little men is really adding up!) I thought I'd convert our storage bench into a comfy place to sleep. I first wrote about this storage bench in a post about our media center. Part of the IKEA Malm collection, it has a sliding top so you don't have to remove display items in order to open it. Housing old VHS tapes - a purge of which should really be considered for an upcoming spring cleaning extravaganza - and video game consoles, it sits under a sunny balcony window. 

We had also picked up two red chair cushions from IKEA for our barstools. Because our bar is abnormally high, the barstools we borrowed from my sister aren't getting much use - sitting in them makes you feel a bit like a two year old at the dinner table, peering over the edge. So, I did not feel too guilty about removing the cushions and affixing to the storage bench with velcro.
Why velcro and not just double sided tape? If we do have use for the stools - like when we had our SuperBowl party and needed the extra seating - it's easy to move the cushions back and tie to the chairs without ruining the sticky sides.

Keeping one or two of their toys on the bench is slowly getting Sonny and Fredo accustomed to taking a quick cat nap on their bench. Ahh, that's better!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gooooal!

When January 1 hit, I started seeing a lot of blogger lists: 101 in 1001, Project 365, etc. I'm not the best with a camera and the idea of looking ahead 1001 days sort of freaked me out, so I decided to do my own spin on personal goals for the year.

36.5 in 365.
1 year, 36 and a half goals. I'm a little behind to start things off for a January-December cycle, so let's call it March-February! I will link to this post on my sidebar and you can check in on me throughout the year. Feel free to yell at me if I'm not making progress!

Does the list seem realistic? Too high of hopes, not high enough? Let me know what you think and what your own goals are!


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!

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.
I have only bought one book since March, and it was a gift. 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!

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!

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!


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 (IMDB.com 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!
72 from March 17- September 17 - I'd say I'm on track to exceed the target. Although the impending new fall TV line up could put a damper on a few of those movie nights. . .

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?

Travel
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 for next spring!!


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!)
With a certain wedding in October and a certain bundle of joy arriving soon enough I think the need to spend time with close friends is even more apparent!

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.

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!

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!)

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. . .

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!
Done!
 
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!
56 since the goal post (ha - "goal post"). Pretty good for the halfway mark!

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.


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!
On Course #3 and really enjoying Illustrator. My newfound HTML skills have already been coming in handy for a work project!

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.

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!

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???
I'm not going to count this, but I did drive my sister's Tahoe from our parents' bar to their house. Half a mile in the backwoods. So, I still need the opportunity to drive to present itself!

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 - whatver that might end up being!

30. Create 1 place to track all finances, bills and budgeting
I just learned about mint.com 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 mint.com out, but so far am not getting won over. I think I need to take a little more time to adjust and use it to its full potential.

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!


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've named September "Research Month" so we'll see what nuggets of info we have to share after the close of the month.

Organization
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!

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?

36. 40 new recipes added to book
My recipe book currently has about 45 typed recipes - once again, loose pieces of paper and allrecipe.com 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. . .

Finally,
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!
Hope I'm living up to this goal!