Friday, January 27, 2012

Goals Year Two - Q2 Check In

Has it been six months already? Time to check in to see if I am on track to be able to complete my goals in half a year.
Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 books - I succeeded in this goal last year and thought I'd tackle it again. Between book club and random reads should hopefully not be a problem. Now as you read down the list at some of the other projects I am putting on tap for myself one might wonder when I will have time to read. . .
The Hunger Games - okay, consider me hooked.
The Paris Wife - Hemingway's First Wife Historical Fiction, call it "Loving Hem"
We Need to Talk About Kevin - disturbing, but engrossing, emphasis on the gross. Not sure I am going to be able to stomach the movie.
Unbroken - great story, filed in the "can't believe it's true" category.

2. Watch 120 movies - time to expand the horizons even further! Maybe this will be the year I finish out the Woody Allen oeuvre.
about 55 in so far. Just a tad behind at the halfway mark, better pick it up! Right now I am watching the Up documentary series and loving it all!

3. Two trips to the theater - My sister and I take an annual trip to see a show and this winter A Christmas Story is going musical! Methinks tickets shall be purchased!

4. Visit two museums - culture me, Chicago, culture me.
8/13/11 - a trip to the Art Institute turned a little special - Bob and I got engaged!

5. Travel to three new cities - Will this finally be the year I make it to New Orleans? What about DC? Or a road trip through Maine? Big plans in my head, lets put something on the calendar.
Consider me covered - Charleston, SC followed by San Antonio. Two February work trips include Boston and New Orleans - first time visits for me. We'll be extending our New Orleans trip for some fun!

6. Book an international trip - chant it with me now: London 2012! London 2012!
photo source
8/16/11 - the trip is booked! April 2012 here we come. . .

7. Have a day of fun and culture with my niece - she'll be coming up on three years old in May - time she got familiar with downtown Chicago! I think we might put off a trip to American Girl Place for another year though. No sense starting too early on that money train.

8. Walk the Willis Tower Ledge - I've been to the observatory deck of the then Sears Tower, but not since the glass box had been added. Face a fear and take the step out!

How Entertaining
9. Make a cheesecake - I have already borrowed the springform pan from sister. Time to try my hand at this new endeavor!

10. Bake bread - After reading through some recipes at a friend's house, I started to think that baking bread (without a breadmaker) was quite doable indeed. Challenge accepted: will it be sourdough or pumpernickel?

11. Love the crockpot - I loves me my meatballs recipe and chicken enchilada recipe, but lets get creative with the crockpot. 4 new recipes in this next year.
Made Taco Soup and a Sweet Chili.

12. Host 3 parties - Last year I took on 4, but with our impending move and a few months of potential dissaray at our casa makes me rethink how many we should commit to. I will tell you this - I am already planning a massive housewarming/holiday party come December!
Housewarming party check.
13. Plan someone else's party - If I can't host at my house I'll take my business elsewhere. Calling on friends and family: bring on your baby shower, your bridal shower or your bar mitzvah and let me take a crack at it.

Health and Wellness
14. Drink more water - My name is Lydia and I am dehydrated. I have never loved water, the taste just doesn't appeal to me. But the positive effects can't be denied. I will try to commit to filling up a water bottle each day at least a couple times.
Been making a considerable effort to fill up the bottle at work. It stares at me from my desk, but I've been good!
15. Run another 5K - time to get back out on the sidewalk and improve my game. When this intense heat finally goes the way of the buffalo I will strap back on the shoes and hit the pavement.

16. Go to the Dermatologist - This fair, freckled face should finally get checked out. Too many scary stories of skin cancer scares out there not to.

17. Build an Indoor Garden - is this health and wellness? I can't figure out what category it would go under. If the purchase of our next place goes through we may be sans outdoor space. How can I still incorporate some greenery?

Adventures in DIY
18. Build a craft table - because I can't bring myself to pay a fortune for this Pottery Barn beauty to the left, lets see how two bookshelves and my old IKEA Malm headboard look together.
It's done and it is wonderful! Check it out here

19. Pinterest Projects - use the knowledge base and take on at least one new project a month based on the wonderful pins that make the world go round. 
Count 'em up with me: Thumbtack Vase Fillers, Egg Roll Wrapper Mozzerella Sticks, Yarn Wreath, Plant Markers, Housewarming Party apps

20. Make a rug - Speaking of Pinterest projects, this one is a doozy. Do I have 60 manhours to commit to making this bad boy? Will I get two steps in and realize I don't know what I'm doing? We'll see what develops. . .
All done! Check it out here

21. Make 100 cards - seems daunting at first, but considering I get about 25 out of the way come Christmastime I could be able to make this one happen.
Christmas has been the only cards thus far, need to get going!
22. Plan a renovation - this one has some considerations. a) We need to be in our next place. b) It needs to have enough wrong with it to look at totally rehabbing a room. c) we need to have some moolah saved up.
The wedding may put this one on the back burner!

Professional and Personal Development
23. Join a networking group - For a person who works in association management, I haven't taken advantage of many career enhancing opportunities myself.

24. Do something with the Wisconsin Alumni Association - I miss my Badgers!
I did go to a Badger game in October. Does that count??

25. Volunteer once a month - keep it up with Chicago Cares, those little three year olds we read to are too adorable for words.
Knocked out signing up for three months at a time to close out the year with a Library Maintenance activity, Read With Me night with the little kids and making dinner at the Ronald McDonald House!

26. Donate to 3 charities/fundraising activities - Lets help some people out in the things they are fighting for, or fighting against.

27. Look into an Etsy shop - could I possibly turn some of my little endeavors into a selling opportunity? I'm not committing to anything, but will definitely look into what it might take to set up a shop and invest the time.
I just bought 500 one inch blocks to make a bunch of my holiday blocks. So I better start looking into how I'll be offloading them!

28. Learn how to use my camera - I really don't know what I am doing yet with my point and shoot. Time to make a change.
Oh my gosh - there is a setting for incandescent lighting! My indoor photos look 10 times better!

29. Implement video into the blog - I recently got a Sony Bloggie. Let's play.

30. 100 blog posts - with an impending home purchase this shouldn't be a problem at all. There has been a struggle to find enough quality stuff to write about the past few months once the old apartment was pretty much the exact way we wanted it. But the idea of a brand new place? Bring it on blog.
About 45 in so far, still some work to do to hit 100!

31. Develop Adobe skills - Photoshop, thy will be tamed.

32. Wardrobe rehaul - now this is a fun goal: spend lots of money on clothes! It has been awhile since I invested in some new pieces. Already got a jump start by finding the perfect pair of jeans for Casual Friday at Gap this week.
photo source
I plan on treating myself to a couple new outfits for engagement photos - the plus side being that they should also double as cute London trip outfits!

Money Matters
33. Pay off one student loan - Sort of cheating on this one because I already have a plan to get my ECSI loan out of the way come August 1. I decided to take a little bit of extra cash I had and put it towards my smaller loan. After putting the extra minimum payment against my larger loan I should be able to get that one done with in 2012!
8/2/11 - one is done. Ahh, that felt good.

34. Increase percentage of 401K savings - I believe I am already on my way to a healthy retirement considering I was able to start my account at age 22 and take advantage of a company match. However, there is always room for a little more. Look at increasing by a percentage point or two to bring even more money my way when I am in my wisened older days.

35. Assess the portfolio - Do I know what that 401K really means? Not really. I haven't readdressed the investments I am working on in quite awhile so it may be time to make sure I'm doing the best for myself.
Done! We have complimentary access to UBS advisors through my work so I set up a meeting and re-adjusted where I was putting my money. Feeling smarter already.
36. Find three ways to earn extra cash - And no, I won't turn to a life of crime. Working a street festival weekend, market research studies or simply selling off unwanted stuff can help me pad the bank account little by little. Bob and I are going to be able to buy our new bed for the next place based off of a three day weekend working at Lollapalooza!
photo source

8/7/11 - Now that was an exhausting 3 days but the money earned on Lollapalooza weekend will help pay for our new bedroom.
9/10/11 - Worked another fest - this time the Wells St. Fall Fest in a beer tent. Not a bad gig when Sixteen Candles, the 80s music cover band, is playing on the stage right next to you.
9/13/11 - Those focus group sign ups pay off with another one! $150 free in my pocket!

36.5 Be an excellent Aunt to one - no, make that two - little girls! With a new niece on the way this fall I have plenty of auntie love to go around.
That new niece is here and she is quite something! And I think I'm starting to earn some cool Aunt points with Ella - check out the book I made her for Christmas here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Smoothie Sailing

Bob has impressively been rockin' a raw diet for the last week and a half, which will continue to the end of the month. Though I am not riding this wave with him (in fact, just yesterday I ate a giant slice of cheese pizza right in front of him), I did spend some time in the produce aisle myself to stock up on ingredients for smoothies. I decided to go on a bit of a smoothie kick this month and have been getting to know our blender quite well because of it.

I started with some good old fashioned google searching on different ingredients to amass a shopping list. Here are a few of those that have made the cut:

Carrot-Apple Smoothie
2 whole carrots
1 apple (peeled)
2 cups baby spinach or leafy green
1/2 cucumber
1/2 cup water
This was my first attempt so I don't know that I pulsed it for as long as I should have. It was pretty thick so I added some orange juice to lighten it up. You can definitely taste the carrot! This may have been the greenest thing I've ever drunk.

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
1 banana
1 cup strawberry yogurt
4 ice cubes
1/2 cup milk

Now this one holds a special place in my heart as it is from a Better Homes & Garden Junior Kids Cookbook that we grew up with. It gets pretty frothy and is not quite as filling as some of the others but still pretty tasty.

Mango-Banana Smoothie
1 banana
1/2 cup mango pieces (I just used a whole mango)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice

This one was nice and thick, very nice. I think I forgot to take pictures even though I made this twice! Mango just makes everything a little better, doesn't it?

Pineapple-Parsley Smoothie
1 cup pineapple chunks
2 bananas
1 cup loosely packed parsley
2 heads baby bok choy, chopped
6 oz filtered water (you could also use coconut milk)
This was a delight - the bite of the parsley taste with the pineapple made this smoothie ultra-fresh. I recommend! Also, mark it down as a first foray into bok choy!
I did not remember to flag all of the webpages that I was using to build my shopping list, so as I look at the box of flax seed I bought I'm at a bit of a loss! Ahh well, I'm sure a good looking recipe will present itself soon. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mantle in Progress

As Bob nears the completion of his painting (all that's left is to dampen the color of the white dots so they aren't so bright and then add in all of the black paint), I look to how to best complement it with mantle decor. Since we moved in last October, our fireplace has been host to Halloween, Fall and Holiday decor. I haven't had to worry about a year round option until now!
Months ago we decided on a color scheme of ice blue, berry and grey for this library/sitting area. The comic book inspiration for Bob's painting had similar shades. On another note, I am in the middle of making a grey shag rug out of a couple dozen cut up white t-shirts (a pinterest find). Cross your fingers this rug turns out well! We have been keeping our eyeballs open for the perfect two chairs. This beauty from Crate and Barrel made us look twice, but the price tag of $900 might be a little beyond what we are willing to shell out!
As for mantle decor, I brought out the vase filler thumbtack balls I made this summer (another pinterest find, check out my how-to here) and also snagged some dried eucalyptus that has been at home in this same white vase in our bathroom for the last two and a half years. I love the layering the branches add in front of the painting! I should also note that the plan is to hang the painting, not just lean it against the wall, so we'll have a little more brick background at the base.
We have these three black candlesticks, but no candles for them just yet. I'm not sure if they will be staying put above the fireplace or if we'll find a different option to jazz up the space. Only time will tell.
So while I can't say just yet that the mantle is a finished product,  I am very pleased at how it is coming along! We'll also likely paint the fireplace, but what color????

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Idea's Got Legs

You may recall a couple months ago I filled you in on our idea to turn 10 IKEA Lack tables into a wall panel/entertainment center.
Well, we are drilling holes into our brick wall as we speak and should have the finished product all up in the next couple weeks to show off!
In the meantime, I had to ask the question, what are we going to do with all of these legs? 10 tables x 4 equals 40 random pieces of wood I don't really have a use for. . .unless. . .I took some inspiration from end tables that consisted of bound together logs or individual pieces of wood, and started creating a 6 leg x 6 leg piece.
Ignore the twine around the "table" - for now I just tried to bind them together as best I could to drag it around easily. As it turns out, we are only planning on using 9 of the Lack tabletops for our wall piece, which leaves the extra tabletop as the perfect fit for this little makeshift table base. Picture it between two cozy chairs in front of the fireplace and I think you may be on to something!
However, the big question is how to get the 36 legs to stick together? Is the answer as simple as wood glue? Interior screws somehow? I suggested stapling and Bob quietly shook his head at me. The cool thing would be to bind them together from the outside, like with something that looks like a belt, but the sturdiness factor would probably take a hit. Here's an image taken from this blog. I suppose we could still keep the belt as merely decorative if screws were in place holding the table itself together. Lots to think about!
I am open to suggestions and will be on the lookout for ideas. Happily, the blogs I just stumbled on trying to find the inspiration pictures had some good ideas for screwing them together!

Next step is making the rug for under the table and finding our perfect fireside chairs!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

But a Trifle

Every few months I have the opportunity to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald house associated with the Childrens' Memorial Hospital to make dinner for the houseguests. You can read about the Hawaiian Night dinner we put together here.

Right ahead of the holidays, the dinner organizer (who always comes up with creative dinner night options!) put me to work making the dessert: a Christmas Trifle! Intimidating at first, once I got started it really came together easily. So easily, in fact, that I decided to recreate the recipe for our own family Christmas!

The recipe calls for green maraschino cherries. I searched high and low (make that, I went to three stores) for these little green guys. I have taken it upon myself to declare that they don't exist. On another note, I have to say the pudding mix with egg nog is a pretty amazing combo. This might be a dish all in itself next holiday season!

Christmas Trifle
16-20 servingsTaken from a Taste of Home recipe.
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple

3 medium firm bananas, sliced
1 jar (10 ounces) red maraschino cherries
1 jar (6 ounces) green maraschino cherries
3-1/2 cups eggnog, chilled
2 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 prepared angel food cake (8 to 10 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 carton (16 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed

Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Dip bananas in juice; drain and discard juice. Set aside pineapple, bananas, three red cherries and three green cherries. In a bowl, whisk the eggnog and pudding mixes until slightly thickened.

Place half of the pudding in a 4-qt. serving or trifle bowl; layer with half of the bananas, pineapple. cherries, cake cubes and whipped topping. Repeat layers. Garnish with reserved cherries.

My sister was all to happy to use her trifle dish again and it was great to add a dessert to the Christmas Dinner mix (although we definitely had our fill of cookies and snacks before we sat down to our meal!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another Martha Challenge: Homemade Snow Globes

I was a smitten kitten when it came to Martha's homemade snow globe idea. I tackled this one for Christmas and was overall pleased with the results.

You can find the play by play instructions on her website here. I made a couple minor tweaks here and there when it came to making my globes, including skipping the glycerin.

First off was figuring out what scenes to create in the jars. Although my first step REALLY should have been finding the jars. I bought a couple little trinkets thinking they I would find jars to fit them and it didn't exactly work out that way. I also made less snow globes than originally intended so I have a few extra pieces lying around for next year.

I picked up a reindeer and two fawns from the safari display at Michaels. I used to work in a zoo gift shop so I am all too familiar with the vast array of the safari animals! Also at Michaels, I found a package of trees meant for holiday village displays. I picked up the snowmen (I think for $2 at Walgreens!) with the idea of doing a set of three globes, but this project may wait until next year!
Another toy shop garnered me the little santa figurine above. Unfortunately for all involved, Mr. Santa was actually made out of a clay substance and when I immersed him in his watery globe he started to flake apart. Calling it a wash, I opened the lid and he immediately disintegrated! Poor little guy. I guess Martha's tip on knowing the material of your pieces is that much more important to me now.

I used a large jar I had on hand to make a reindeer and tree display. He is quite heavy once I filled it with water, so I hope this one doesn't get dropped! I painted the white lid green and made quite the mistake by painting the inside lid as well. The gorilla glue I used stuck to the paint and not the lid, so when the acrylic paint flecked off when immersed in water the figurines went with them. Take two went much smoother! A healthy dose of glitter later and voila. . .
The next globe was a gift for my Aunt. I used the same "deer and tree" scene and a pickle jar this time around. No paint involved as the gold lid already screamed holiday decor. I noticed in both snow globes that I had a little bit of leaking in the first couple minutes but then I think it made itself water-tight. I chose not to glue the lids on just yet as I wasn't sure if I would need to re-do the water eventually. Sure enough, the water started to get a bit cloudy - I believe the trees I used flaked some green dye into the water. After a quick re-fill these have been back to normal water colors!
Have you tried to make the homemade snow globes yet? What fun scenes can you imagine putting together? What about some without water in them at all? A quick snapshot from Pinterest searching for "homemade snow globes" is inspiration alley indeed!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pinterest Project - Corky Plant Markers

Pinterest is definitely not lacking when it comes to possible projects for all of the wine corks you have lying around the house! Message boards, bath mats and jewelry holders - oh my!

I wanted to use my bag o' corks for something this holiday season and nodded my head enthusiastically when this one found its way to my browser. My mom is an avid gardener, so I thought some herb garden markers for her indoor plants this winter could be a nice little gift. Here is the original project post.

The materials: my alphabet stamp set, corks, bamboo appetizer forks and a sharpie (since the stamp ink is water soluble and these may get wet after the plants are watered.)
I started with corks that did not have too much writing on them and did the stamping. Then I traced the letters with the sharpie. I could have tried this free hand but have bad handwriting. For some corks the bamboo forks went in smoothly, but for others I had to use a sharper toothpick to start the holes the forks would sit in to ensure a hold.
The bamboo forks added a little extra flair in their design, but longer skewers or other stakes found at the garden center would work just as well.

I did a test in one of my plants to ensure the ink does not run and the bamboo holds up, and we see to be in the clear.
I included a couple blank plant markers and a sharpie in the gift box when I gave these to my mom for Christmas. In case she has a few more exotic options I did not think of!

So there's one of the more simple cork projects out there. What cork projects strike your fancy? Do you agree with me that this bath"mat", while attractive, could really hurt the feet if you stub your toe on the wooden sides?? (original project post here)