Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Nature of It All

Whenever I watch a season of a television show via Netflix I find myself morphing my personality and immediate desires to whatever show I am watching. When it is Gilmore Girls, I want to spend more time with friends in coffee shops. When it is Mad Men, my career drive kicks into high gear and I want to move up the ladder at my company. When it is Lost, I want to take a tropical vacation (okay, that one's a joke). 

So when I started watching Season 4 of Northern Exposure this week, my contemplative side emerged once again. I started thinking about the characters on the show and how often they get back to nature and focus on the simple things in life. They are constantly camping alone in the woods on that show. I thought that was a good goal for the summer - if I can't make a trip up to Alaska, maybe instead I will just try to get outside more often. 
I am most definitely an indoor kid, more comfortable sitting on my couch watching Bend it Like Beckham than out on the soccer field myself. Definitely more comfortable watching Titanic than jumping in a pool. But I will fight that urge and, assuming we have as nice a summer as the last couple weeks in Chicago have been, get outside more!

What will this entail?
- Regular walks around the neighborhood with a friend and the cutest baby this side of my nieces.
- Training for and running another 5K (it is one of my goals, after all)
- Camping 
- Explore at least 2 new Chicago neighborhoods (new to me, not new to Chicago!)
- Dinners at restaurants with outdoor patios
- Beer Gardens (okay, twist my arm)

Now, the only requirement will be that I wear big floppy hats and lather up the sunscreen come August - I do not want to walk down the aisle rockin' a tank top border sunburn!

Does the idea of getting into a TV show a bit too much ring true to you? If so, what do you find yourself doing? Signing up for surf lessons or maybe breaking out the computer to write the next Great American Novel? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Save Me

And the wedding planning marches on. The caterer is booked, the venue deposit has been made, the DJ do-not-play list is underway, the dress is bought. That means our next step was to get out our Save the Dates!

Now, I am not one of those girls who has had their wedding planned out years ahead of the ring. I didn't know what I'd be wearing, where we'd be or what color the bridesmaid dresses would be, but for the last four or five years I have known what my unique Save the Date would look like. Just as I had known for awhile what my Bridesmaid Invites would look like (check those out here) Without further ado. . .
I'm not sure how it popped in my head, but the idea of "saving the date" in the literal sense seemed to be a fun spin on the Save the Date. I keep looking on Pinterest and other sites and have not seen the same concept yet, but I'm sure I'm not the first to think of it. Original thought was to photoshop the date into Bob's hands. Unfortunately, we do not have photoshop and I wanted to make sure it didn't look too cartoonish or fake. Michaels had a healthy supply of wooden craft letters, but they all ran a little small or flimsy for our purposes. I perused some websites and stumbled upon I ordered "82512" in 12 inch letters, 1/2 inch thick. Instead of having to glue them together when they all arrived, we had the option of ordering the numbers scrunched together - perfect! Upon arrival we painted the sign a mustard yellow to match our wedding colors and I added a couple painted blue cardboard dots to mark the date distinction. I almost ordered "8-25-12" but didn't want to pay for an extra two characters.
The photo we would use came out of our engagement shoot. This took place on a chilly February Saturday Our photographer, Gilbert Reyes of GReyes Photography, and his wife were troopers as we dragged them around from the loop to museum campus. We fit in a costume change, but it actually looks like we had more outfits than we did because there were certain shots I just flat out refused to take off my coat. Did I mention we did this shoot in the middle of a Chicago February? Check out highlights from the shoot on GReyes facebook page and be sure to email him for any photo shoot needs you may have!
Gilbert passed along our winning photo straight away so we could get our postcards ordered. I used paint to add a word bubble to solidify the joke, but at the last minute realized the photo quality diminished greatly when I saved it as a .jpg. It looked okay on the web, but might look pretty poor when we ordered our postcards. Instead, I used the free (but not available for much longer) site Picnik to create the card.

This was then uploaded to Vistaprint where we created the front and back of a postcard and then uploaded a mailing list to have them mail the cards directly. This freaked me out a little bit, not seeing the finished product before they went out in the mail, but it was definitely a time savings. 
We ordered an additional supply to mail out as one offs for the few folks we didn't have addresses for/extra invites that occur along the way. I had purchased a Groupon last month for Vistaprint, which got us $70 for $17. This savings was very helpful, considering I spent about $60 on the wooden numbers.

The order was placed and a week later the texts started to come through that they were finding their way to recipients' mailboxes. I breathed a sigh of relief that the order stayed intact.

So there we have it, the story of the Save the Date. I'm just glad Bob thought it was an idea worth pursuing! I also know what the Thank You cards will look like, but that's another story for another day!|

I'll let you use your imagination, but if budget and time were no option, here were my alternate ideas for  "saving the date"
- Bob and I are dressed as lifeguards on the beach and the date is drowning (I'll say it again: mid February in Chicago. Swimsuits may not have been the best idea.)
- I'm driving a car and Bob pushes the date out of the way as I'm about to hit him (considering my fear of driving, this one might have given me a complex)
- We are dressed as surgeons and the date is on the operating table ("Clear!")

So how would you save the date?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prove It - Part 3

Let me introduce you to the latest lady in our life. . .
Bob has been hard at work the last couple of weeks finishing up his painting: the black streaks in her hair, the "prove it!" word bubble, her eyes and lips. And I have to say, this is one impressive work of art!

It all started last summer when Bob was leafing through an X-Men comic I inexplicably own and found an image he thought he could paint. I skimmed through it myself and when we landed on this cell we knew we found a winner. 
The dimensions were perfect for above the fireplace at our new condo and the color scheme matched the look we were going for. And, of course, the dottiness of the comic book cell would bring a little bit of pop art into our lives. Hey, when you can't afford a Lichtenstein original, you create something yourself! Or, you find something you can copy completely to hang in your house. To that point, allow me to cite the original artists. The cell was taken from The Uncanny X-Men #213: Psylocke. Chris Claremont, writer; Alan Davis, guest penciler; Paul Neary, guest inker; Tom Orzechowski, letterer; Glynis Oliver, colorist; Ann Nocenti, editor and Jim Shooter, editor in chief.

Read all about the painting's creation here and follow the saga of how to make dots here. I should mention  that Bob took some time to dampen the dots bright white color into a more muted look as they got a little overpowering. He used a chamois type cloth with a dab of water to get the right effect.
It's been a long journey since we bought this 5 foot tall canvas at Blick last summer, but its been fun. Well, fun for me watching Bob work and asking him every other day, "are you going to work on your painting today? Are you going to work on your painting today?"
Congratulations Bob! Now we just need to hang 'er up and call it a day. I'll leave you with a shot of how our library is coming along. . .the DIY shag rug is in place, three IKEA Billy Bookshelves stacked full and a perfect space for a pair of armchairs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pinterest Project - Cutting a Rug

The makings of this Pinterest Project go way back to last summer when I first pinned this DIY shag rug. I added it to my list of goals for the year, and in January decided to finally get started on it. The tutorial warned of the time commitment involved, and while I believed her I still thought I would be able to knock it out in a few weeks.
Well, make that two months and you might be on to something!

The timing of this pinterest project's completion couldn't be better, considering Young House Love and Bower Power just announced another Pinterest Challenge!
In the same way that I am a good cook because I can follow a recipe to a tee, I could not have made a successful rug without the detailed tutorial on Xoelle. She even dyed her rug the same color I planned on making, so it really is a basic clone.

Here are the supplies:
  • 1 latch-hook rug canvas (30" x 60") - bought from Amazon - $15
  • latch-hook tools (4) - I bought 2 at Jo-Ann Fabrics to start and broke them both about half-way through, I think I pulled too aggressively! - $10
  • Rit dye in Pearl Gray (4 boxes) - also from Jo-Ann Fabrics - $15
  • @28 white t-shirts - I used as many old t-shirts that Bob had lying around the house as I could, but the logos on some of them wasted some good real estate. I found a great deal at Target that rivaled the local thrift stores and meant I didn't have to scrounge for old shirts - a pack of 9 XL white crew neck tees for $16. Picking up 2 packs of those I had enough on hand to get started. - $32
  • Rug binding fabric - $5 - Michaels (though it was technically free with a gift card)
First off, I perfected the art of cutting t-shirts into 4" x 1" strips. By the end I was knocking them out pretty quickly. Using my self healing mat as the cutting surface helped me keep up with the correct measurements. I found I could get about 300 strips to a shirt if I maximized every inch. With 286 squares on the canvas and 25 strips to each square, my aim was to get to about 8,000 strips. The tutorial I followed mentions using a rotary cutting tool, but I just used normal scissors and it worked out fine, although I ended up with a couple blisters to show for it.
I didn't know if it would make a difference, but many of the strips were stuck together because of the stacked layers I created in the cutting process. I didn't want them to stay stuck together in the washing machine and not fully dye themselves, so we took the length of a Law & Order to seperate all of them. Sonny jumped in the laundry basket and allowed himself to get basically buried underneath the t-shirt strips!
I followed the directions on the Rit dye box, though I was nervous how true a color I would get considering each box said "good for 1 lb of fabric" and I had about 8 lbs. Call me cheap, but I didn't want to buy 8 boxes of dye. So I halved it and hoped for the best. In the end, I wasn't disappointed.

I did have a near disaster with the washing machine - It was filled with the dyed water and I suppose I took too long to put all of the strips in machine. Suddenly it started draining itself and I could see visions of wasted dye! I ran back to get the rest of my strips, slipping and wiping out on some water that I had spilled by the washing machine! Lesson learned - if you see a puddle of water on the floor and say, "I should probably wipe that up now" - you should do it then.
Ahh well, crisis averted and wash one cycle later I had some lovely gray strips on hand. They even did what the tutorial's photos promised and curled up nicely. I like this curled up look more than the flat strip look that some people take with their DIY rugs.
So the hard part was over, and the monotonous part was about to begin. Youtube taught me how to latch-hook properly and after a few attempts I started to get on a roll. I had previosly decided to add 25 strips to every square, so that 1/4 of the little squares were used. The tutorial I followed used double this amount, but she even admits that hers is very thick rug and halving it would not be an issue. Now, by the end of the rug, I was able to cut my time by more than half, but after the first couple hours I realized it took me 20 minutes to finish 1 square. At this rate, I wasn't going to finish the rug until summer. Yikes.

Bob was very encouraging throughout the process, even with just a couple rows done you could see how the rug would turn out. Here are two other little men who loved the whole process. About every two seconds I had one of them jumping in my lap and positioning themselves completely on the square I was working on!
I pressed on, watching a lot of Downton Abbey and the entire 7 Up documentary series in the process. I gaurantee I spent about 60 hours on this bad boy - but again, most nights I would have just been sitting at home watching TV, so we might as well put something in my hands to multi-task. I did encounter some delays, including breaking both my latch-hook tools and a couple out of town weekends, so this step took about 4 weeks to complete.
As I neared completion, I realized I was going to be a little short. What can I say, math was never my strong suit. I made sure I didn't leave half a row hanging, and in the end only missed out on 1 last row of squares. The last step includes binding the back of the rug to make sure that the ends do not fray. Even just the act of folding the edges underneath the rug really helped complete the look!
Here she is in her $70 glory. Keep in mind our fireplace/library area is not yet complete, we still want to find the perfect 2 chairs and a small table to create a sitting area. This IKEA chair is in its temporary place, mostly to keep the rug from being pushed around the room by those cats. Look closely and you'll also see a sneak peek of Bob's almost finished painting.  He has started to add the black which has not only given her eyes, but I must say looks amazing!
I am so happy with the result, and it feels great underneath the feet! Cross this Pinterest Project off the list! Next up, DIY Pottery Barn Bedford Project Table. . .this one has been calling my name for at least a year. . .

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fondant? Fondue!

For my brother in law's birthday, Bob and I decided to try our hand at making an extra special birthday cake. Using some cake decorating tools that Bob received for Christmas, and some fondant skills he picked up during his gingerbread house making days we got to work.

We started with a chocolate cake recipe from America's Test Kitchen, but instead of using 1 9x13 cake pan, we split the batter into 2 round cake pans. After letting them cool, I attempted to file off the uneven tops. I won't say no to extra cake pieces to snack on! I used a dark chocolate frosting recipe, also from America's Test Kitchen, for the filling in between the 2 cakes. I tried to make less than the recipe because I always end up with way too much filling/frosting/sauce. Unfortunately, I think cutting it to 1/4 the original might have been a little too light as I could have used a little more in the end!
Bob pulled out some fondant that he had purchased awhile back and started to roll it out. Uh oh, I think we have a problem. This is not going to cover the cake!
It was time for Plan B - did I mention we were supposed to leave for my sister's house in just over 1 hour? We consulted The Cake Boss. Well, at least the Buddy Valastro cookbook we had on hand. First off, we mixed up some buttercream in the mixer and I frosted the cake - or "dirty iced" it as Buddy says.
Bob found this recipe for a marshmallow based fondant after googling "homemade fondant."

1 lb mini-marshmallows
2 to 5 Tbs water
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/2 cup Crisco

Perfect-o. We threw in some color and before long had it stretched out to a 15" circle, more than big enough to drape over the cake.
Using the smoothing tool, Bob affixed the cover over the cake and cut it to shape with another pastry tool.

Next up, Bob used a little bit of water to rid the cake of the excess powdered sugar. With a clean look accomplished, we thought about how to elaborate on the cake. After adding some more blue to the leftover fondant, Bob cut a strip to act as a ribbon around the base of the cake (although I think it helped it resemble a blue "easy button" from Staples!). I used a couple star shaped cookie cutters for a simple top, and also attempted to pipe in a buttercream base using the pastry bag. This could have been cleaner, but I think our buttercream was a little too hard in the end - did not spread very easily.
The cake may have been finished, but the kitchen clean up was not. Oh boy. Why yes, that is my iPad thrown in with the rest of the mess on the counter!
End result? Fondant is not that scary, in fact the recipe was made in less than 10 minutes. What do you think? Are you willing to give fondant a try one of these days? Do the stars I added to the cake make it look a little like its for a 10 year old as opposed to a 34 year old? Just a little bit.

Happy Birthday Ike!