Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cashing Out the CDs

In an effort to slowly "purge" before we move - a date has not been set but 2011 may be the year to buy - I set aside a couple hours this past weekend to rid myself of the hundreds of CD cases that were taking up room in my closet.

At my old apartment, I had all of my CDs in a tower unit that didn't make the cut in the new place. I was convinced I'd come up with a new way of storing them - either using a "back of closet door" elfa system like my sister has or maybe making room on some bookshelves for the stacks. The idea never came so for a year and a half they have been piled up in our guest room closet, making two of my storage bins helpless to other uses.
Deciding to move towards a CD-case free life was a hard decision for me. I shook my head at the move to digital music and the idea of the cloud for a long time because I love going to the store and sifting through the racks to find some gems - would I have ever bought the soundtrack to "The Saint," the '90s movie starring Val Kilmer which I still haven't seen, if I hadn't checked out the back and been won over by the inclusion of Duncan Sheik, Sneaker Pimps and Duran Duran?

However, I had to face facts. Most of my music was already digitized - on the computer so in turn it was on my iPod. And I haven't bought a new CD in over a year. Okay, guess its time to de-case.

My music definitely dates me - a slew of mid-90s soundtracks from Clueless to Empire Records to Honeymoon in Vegas. I definitely went through a soundtrack phase, I think they make up a third of my collection! I can also tell what years I was in the Columbia House or BMG music clubs. Quite a few random discs that must have been that tenth or twelfth free one you just settle for to place the initial order. PS. At one time I was in BMG, Columbia House and Columbia House VHS club. That is A LOT of mid-90s pop culture! Speaking of, is anyone looking to buy VHS tapes? I've got a binful!
I picked up a no-frills CD book from Target for about $25. It holds 208 which ended up being almost the exact right amount. I had a bit of an overage so decided to save my Harry Connick Jr. collection for its own display somewhere. I can see these being thrown on a shelf in my future craft room/craft nook/craft table shoved in a corner.
The whole process took longer than I thought - about an hour and a half later I was all done. The aftermath:
If they fit in the slots I saved the inserts, but I had to let a few oversized booklets go - mainly from "Greatest Hits" collections.
So there we go - the space taken up by my CDs has decreased tenfold. And the cats have two new bins to jump into and play in until I come up with a use for them!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bob's Bday - On a Mission

It is that time again - come mid February I look to outdo the previous year's celebration of Bob's birthday. It started the first year we were dating when I put together an indoor campsite in my studio apartment, followed up with a LOST theme weekend the next year. In 2010 he got an around the world tour within the walls of our apartment.

This year I was inspired by Bob's recent interest in all things James Bond. I own a few of the stories and a couple movies, but not quite enough for a marathon movie watching weekend. Instead, I figured out a way to make Bob finding his gift a bit more interactive.
The present itself came to me a few weeks ago along with the theme - I love the pulp-y covers from this line of Penguin published Bond stories and found a half dozen on Amazon. PS. Also a huge fan of the Penguin Deluxe Edition covers for classics like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women andThe Three Musketeers. I want to collect 'em all!
To find his gift, hidden somewhere in the apartment, I set up him up for a spy mission. I wrote the script in just a few minutes on a plane and was ecstatic when I found out that my new version of PowerPoint lets me record audio right into the slide so there could be a voice over with the slides.

The premise would be that there were two clues hidden somewhere that, when pieced together, told Bob where the "parcel" would be found. It had a self-destructing bomb attached, naturally, so a race against time.

Since I made Bob leave for a few hours while I set things up, I made sure he knew to come in through the back and go straight to the back bedroom first. There he found the powerpoint that he would start with my audio-recorded instructions and his spy gear.

A) a cat toy to distract the cat who had one of the clues taped to his collar
B) a second copy of the seventh Harry Potter book (for some reason we have 3!) - he would have to replace the one that was in the library and held the second clue.
C) a watch with a countdown timer synched to the bomb (not really, just a countdown to see how long it took him)
D) his suit to change into with a Vegas shirt I bought him on my recent work trip.
When he was all set, he came in to the living room where I had Bond theme music playing, Goldfinger on the TV and a Martini all set for him - shaken not stirred. Sonny played his part beautifully as the kitty henchman - I was worried when I tried to put the collar on him at first because it made him go a bit nuts, but luckily he calmed down (the clue was taped around the tag).
I even got in on the fun - dressing up, doing my hair differently and wearing sunglasses to play his contact at the "cocktail party." When he found both clues it was pretty easy to go from there: "Sam" and "Sonite" = "Samsonite." He said he thought I bought him a new suitcase when he read that so I'm hoping he wasn't too disapointed to find out that I just hid his real gift in my carry on suitcase in the closet!

I wrapped some markers to look like dynamite and taped them to the gift with a countdown timer. I actually ended up replacing the one pictured with another timer that makes a loud ticking sound - if you listened you could hear it outside the suitcase!
All in all, the "game" lasted about 15 minutes and was actually timed pretty perfectly to the dinner I had going in the oven. We sat down to Chicken Parmesan and Garlic Bread and then settled in to watch Goldfinger!

What do you think? How to top this next year? How long before I run out of ideas and when Bob comes back from a few hours out of the house he just finds me sitting on the couch exactly where I was when he left me??

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Travel Tip That Might Only Apply to Me

Just back from a quick work trip to Sunny Las Vegas and I realized something very important: I have discovered my perfect formula for going through the security line!

The order of what you put through that conveyer belt might not seem that important in the long run, but when you are like me and hate getting rushed to put your sweater and shoes back on in front of a crowd, you want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

And so, my new procedure will be:
First, the laptop bag
Second, the laptop in its own tray, per the rules
Third, a tray holding my sweater/coat/scarf, bag o' liquids, shoes and boarding pass/license that I just used to get into line.
And bringing up the rear - my carry on bag.

When I successfully pass through the scanners, I can open up the laptop bag and work to shove in the computer which is just the slightest bit bigger than the pocket the bag holds.

While the bag is open I can throw my ziplock of liquids back in, slip on my shoes, and put my boarding pass and license away. As the roller bag comes down the pike I can grab it in one hand, my jacket and sweater in the other hand and be on my way.

A simple formula. To be honest, one barely worth writing about. But looking ahead to the monthly flights I have coming up over the next half year I'm looking forward to getting through that security line just a tad quicker. Now, if I get picked for a random search and pat down (which has happened) or go completely blank and forget I have a bottle of wine, jar of salsa and a travel sized bottle of vodka in my carry on (which has happened), well, that's a whole other story. . .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Day in the Kitchen

It was quite the Sunday in the kitchen. I went into the weekend with a plan:

1. Fruit filled crepes for Sunday brunch
2. Pumpkin Bread to finally use up the last can of pumpkin leftover from the holidays.
3. Lasagna for dinner and to freeze for later
4. Saving the leftover crepe batter for savory crepes for a Valentine's Day dinner (one of Bob and my first homemade dinners together was cream of mushroom/asparagus/chicken crepes.)

Bob decided to add in some guacamole as a mid-day snack after grabbing an extra large avocado at the store on Friday night.

I've been digging into my new copy of Joy of Cooking, which is where I found the recipe for Pumpkin Bread.
Pumpkin Bread
from Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 groung cloves
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) softened butter
1 cup sugar + 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin

Whisk together flour through cloves, set aside. Combine milk and vanilla in smaller bowl. Beat butter and sugars in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin and beat on low until blended. Add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk mixture. Pour into greased 9x5 loaf pan and spread evenly. Bake about 60 minutes at 350. Let cool before removing from pan or slicing.

Sweet Crepes
from Joy of Cooking
Makes 12
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 eggs
1/4 cup (half stick) butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs sugar

Combine in bowl and mix until smooth. Usea small to medium skillet. Ladle enough batter to cover the entire bottom with a thin coating. Tilt and rotate the pan, cook until the crepe bubbles and bottom is lightly browned. Flip carefully and cook second side until slightly browned. Slide crepes onto wax paper covered plate, with wax paper or tin foil between each.

Practice, practice, practice when it comes to crepes. Bob has become our resident expert, I have yet to try my hand. While he made 6 crepes (and put the rest of the batter in the fridge for our dinner tomorrow), I focused on the filling. I picked up some whipping cream and beat it on high with my KitchenAid hand mixer. Once it took on a thicker consistency, I folded in some blueberries I had left over in the freezer from a holiday coffee cake. They seemed to sink to the bottom, but I swear there are blueberries in here!
Filling the crepes (I over-did the filling on the first couple!), rolling them up, adding a little butter over the top and a dusting of powdered sugar. . . brunch was served.
Don't worry, the guac and lasagna got made as well - just not picture worthy! The lasagna was actually one of the best I've made, but for some reason looked pretty sad in the photos I tried to take. Wah wah. We threw about half of it in the freezer, which is also newly housing another batch of Dream Dinners (read about my first trip to Dream Dinners here) - I think we are set for quite awhile!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Open for Business

I had to share some photos from a recent visit to my friend Kara's house out in Colorado. They recently overhauled their kitchen - a project that included new appliances and cabinets, creating a laundry room off the side and - oh yeah - widening the room and knocking a hole in the wall to create a more open feel!

So just a small, tiny project to take on. . .
The IKEA cabinetry and stainless steel cabinets play off each other so well. I love the frosted glass to house glasses, bowls and food for an airy feel without having to say, "hey, look at the brand of cooking spray we use!"
The extended length open shelving on the opposite wall highlights crisp white dishes and some adorable Anthropologie finds.
Thanks for the inspiration should I ever get the chance to renovate a kitchen! Might be sooner than we think as we start some heavy house hunting in the coming months. I've already seen a few gems that we'd like to get our hands on . . .all in good time!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mixed Media Movie Mod Podge

One of my goals for the year was to "mod podge" something. It had been at least a year since I had purchased a container of the sealing craft glue and had yet to find a project for the stuff. I started thinking about a mixed media project, something I have no experience in, after reading an article in Cloth, Paper, Scissors Magazine. The artist, Dae Rebeck, had created a series called "Our Ladies of Perpetual Debt." Painted images of women were halo-ed by shredded credit cards, dollar signs covered their skin. I thought these were great images and it got me thinking how I could use canvas and paint myself.

Struck by inspiration (actually just checking out the contents of a shoebox shoved under my bed), I found a magnetic poetry kit of movie quotes I had up on my fridge in my old apartment. My current stainless steel does not allow for such coverage so under the bed they went. I decided to mix up some of the movie quotes and create some mash ups - like a true Glee fan.
I bought four 5x7 canvases from Michaels (using a 20% off entire purchase coupon) and a few embellishments that could work for some of the scenes I was looking to create. I have to give a shout out to this new line called "Industrial Chic." Such random stuff, but all very cool and hard to choose only a couple to buy!
First up, combining Gone with the Wind with Planet of the Apes (Gone with the Apes?). Printing out the iconic movie poster artwork to scale for the canvas was an easy start - all I use special is photo paper and color ink. I wasn't happy with any of the images I was finding from Apes except for the statue of liberty. By searching for "toys" I stumbled onto a few images of head to toe apes. The fact that they are plastic toys and not the real actors I think adds to the surrealism of the piece. I painted the background of the canvas brown and glued all of the layers, including the magnet quote, with a dose of mod podge on the backsides. Brushing more mod podge over the top and letting it dry added some texture to the piece and also ensures that the photos aren't going anywhere.
Next up, Scarface meets Jaws (Jawface?). Ths time around the canvas got a blue background and we find Tony Montana hanging out with a fun-loving family on their pontoon boat. Unfortunately for them, a great white shark is also in the mix - I took a cue from my Planet of the Apes find and printed out a toy version of Jaws. PS. I like thinking about what scene would have been created if I had used the opposite version of the quote, "You're gonna need my little friend!"
Can I still call these mixed media if I only paint the background and not over the photos? I'm not sure the hard and fast rules. Either way, I'm loving how these are turning out. I have two more in mind right off the bat that I'll slowly but surely finish up along with a larger scale "Wizard of Oz" scene. Stay tuned!

Check out the Second Post in this series where I combined Star Wars and Apollo 13!
Shared on Sew Can Do

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Decision

One of my goals for the year was to book an international trip. How excited we were to head to Cairo this coming April. . .until the last week that is.

With the news growing bleaker in just the last two days after what seemed like a step in the right direction, we face the decision of keeping our trip as is or changing our itinerary to perhaps spend the entire 12 days in Italy instead of a half and half trip as we had planned. Not the worse thing in the world to spend extra time in Italy. Of course, with that comes the challenge of cancelled flights/updated itineraries that could result in fees. Cue my frowny face.

In two months will the political realm improve enough for us to feel comfortable keeping our trip intact? Possibly, but the chance that there might be continuing strife eats away at us. Currently, EgyptAir is offering waived fees and refunds for flights booked through February 28. Will they extend the waiver to us if we cancel in the next few weeks and the situation continues? Alitalia, which is our carrier for most of the trip, does not show flexibilty policy currently on their website (in fact, they only show rescheduled flights to Cairo, not cancelled flights). I think I have a long line of phone calls to airlines ahead of me. . . and I may be perusing this website on how to get a refund! I  have been google searching up a storm for FAQ articles. Here's one that gives me a phrase for what we'll probably be claiming, "Disinclination to Travel." I'm pretty much willing to accept that we wouldn't get a refund for the cancelled legs of the trip, but if we can avoid additional fees that would be amazing!

No, I did not purchase travel insurance. Zing. We bought tickets through Expedia so I also worry about receiving refunds because we booked through a discount site. In order to plan our trip successfully, in whatever capacity it ends up being, I would prefer we make the deicision by March 1 giving us a month to book hotels and trains for Italy. Luckily, we have procrastinated long enough that we aren't booked into certain days yet for that leg of the trip!

I try to stay optimistic, and understand that a country does not have to be a peaceful paradise to tour. I love the idea of visiting areas much different than the western world and experiencing their culture. To compare, I hope no one would forgo a trip to Chicago because of news reports focused on a recent shooting or two. However, when the news reports are focused on the exact area we would be staying and the "urban battle" does not seem to be coming to an end I have to consider we may have to amend our travel plans to our dissapointment.

Of course, this is all much bigger than me and my travel woes. I found this Q&A from MSN very helpful in understanding the conflict in Cairo better and why things have seemed to so suddenly turn.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Carmel v. Caramel

I hope you are staying warm tonight if you are in the Midwest like I am. Snowmegaddon is upon us. Luckily I snuck home on one of the last flights out of Denver last night so I could be home this week instead of working out of an airport hotel room!

If you are stuck inside the house like me, maybe that means it is time to make some guilty pleasure sweet treats!

I received this recipe to share from my friend Kari's Aunt Sylvia. Homemade Carmel Corn was given away at Kari's October wedding as a favor to guests. Completely addicting!

Carmel Corn
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Combine brown sugar through salt and boil for 5 minutes (time from beginning of bubbling). Remove from heat, add baking soda. Pour over 6 quarts popped corn in 2 lightly greased 9x13 pans. Put in oven at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Put on waxed paper, breaking it up as soon as it is cool enough to handle.

You could also add nuts as an optional ingredient.

Enjoy and I hope you have a good supply of Netflix at home this week!

PS. I just spent about 10 minutes searching google to determine if it should be "carmel" or "caramel." I am still unsure.