Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Goals: Year Three Quarterly Check In

So how are we doing so far with this year's list of goals? Let's do a "little more than" 3 month check in:

Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 books - Book club always helps out with this goal. Although without the 1-2-3 punch of The Hunger Games books this year, how quickly will I be able to add these up?
The Forgotten 500 - a WWII book club pick that most said was too textbooky, but I liked. I considered it a cross between Unbroken, Argo and In the Garden of Beasts.
The Accidental Tourist - enjoyed this one. Looks like its time I put the movie on my Netflix list. 
Lottery - a bit schmaltzy for my taste, but a quick read.
Lean In - great book club discussion and a business book I actually enjoyed reading! 
**almost done with Michael Chabon's latest, Telegraph Avenue, and about to start The Last Lecture for book club! 2 upcoming flights will be sure to cross these off the list.

2. Watch 120 movies - The Netflix queue never has had less than 100 movies on it (yes, we still rock the hard discs in the mail). 
31 since February 1. Looks like I'm just about on target.

3. Two trips to the theater - We just got back from The Book of Mormon after originally purchasing the tickets last summer. I can't stop singing the soundtrack. Of course, not out loud - I might get fired!

4. Visit two museums - last year we checked out the Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute - what's coming up there this year?
Certainly got my fill in DC. Highlights included the Newseum and American History Museum.

5. Travel to three new cities - Work always helps me out here, with a planned trip this summer to Park City for an event. Add to this a potential DC/Baltimore visit in April and our big New England Road Trip for the fall and this one is in the bag.
DC - check! Baltimore - check! About to add Park City, Utah to the list!

6. Book an international trip - OK, this might be one that gets put on the back burner, but hopefully not. With our New England Road Trip being our big to-do this year, here's hoping we'll have at least started talking about what 2014 has in store for us. Fingers crossed I finally get to cross South America off of my list!

7. Have a day of fun and culture with my niece - She's nearing four years old - the perfect age to check out the Shedd Aquarium if I do say so myself.

How Entertaining
8. Take a knife skills class - Okay, I'm cheating just a little here because we just accomplished this long-standing goal this past week at The Chopping Block. Never fear me with a chef's knife again!

9. Make bread and cheese - We received a breadmaker as a wedding gift, and although it has gotten quite a bit of use already it has been driven by Mr. Kamicar. I'd like to find a couple recipes to try out. The idea of making my own mozzarella keeps popping up on Pinterest and I figure its time to give it a shot.

10. Invest in freezer meals - My recipes posts as of late have certainly had a theme - and our freezer is reaping the rewards. Keep 'em coming with at least 4 more meals like these breakfast burritos or this delish pasta.

11. Host 3 parties - With the wedding yesterday's news, I am ready to plan a few smaller scale bashes. Not to mention we still have a ton of liquor left over from the reception.
I hosted a Bunco party in February for a group of gals, and a big party is on tap for June 22!

12. Clean up as we go - I'm sure I am not the only one with this bad habit. I make a great meal and the dishes sit in the sink. Sometimes rinsed off, sometimes not. Why don't I just put them in the dishwasher you ask? Well, it is probably filled up with clean dishes we haven't put away yet! It is time to clean as we cook. I think we'll all be a lot happier in the end.
We have been doing a great job with this one! It is finally relaxing to look into the kitchen.

Health and Wellness
13. Cut down on soda - I don't think I overdue it to begin with - I'm not guzzling three before noon or anything, but some days I realized all I have had to drink that day is a soda for lunch and a soda with dinner and I get a little sad for myself.

14. Run another 5K - I failed miserably at hitting this goal last time. Literally got out to run three times since my big 5K of 2010. But I'm not giving up on me yet.

15. Safeguard - I'm talking wills, emergency plans and kits, checking out life insurance and all that good stuff you really don't ever want to tackle.
I started an emergency kit over Memorial Weekend, including buying a fire extinguisher for the house (there is one in the hallway of our condo building, so I wouldn't have had to go far, but still... 

My inspiration came from this blog post from A Bowl Full of Lemons, but I don't know that I have the space nor the energy to make one this ambitious. 

16. Make appointments - It is a strange thing. I'm not scared of the dentist, I don't shudder at needles, and I can't say I am that bothered by wasting time in a stale waiting room reading an old Ladies Home Journal. What I am is a procrastinator. The type who doesn't make a dentist appointment until half her tooth breaks off because the temporary filling on the root canal she had seven months ago finally gives out. True Story. So, let 2013 be the year I make regular check up appointments for no other reason than keeping up with  keeping my health.

17. Eat more Fruits and Vegetables - Wait, how many servings a day are you supposed to have? Does pizza count? What about cold pizza? I'm thinking an easy way to start is to never leave home in the morning without a small container of grapes, carrot sticks, apple pieces, etc for snacks during the workday.
Check out my DIY Bistro Boxes.

18. Wake up earlier - I sleep until the last possible second and then rush to get ready for work without time to even sit down. The sad part is I am not even sleeping that last hour. Just shutting my eyes and curling up tight to avoid getting up. If I can find a way to give myself an extra half hour at least a couple times a week I think I'll be a happier camper.

Adventures in DIY and Home Ownership

19. The Second Bathroom - This could be a big one for the year - but luckily it is a small bathroom. A little bit of new floor tile, a pedestal sink, add some storage and we will be good to go.
We have begun looking at tile options and Bob is working up a model of the bathroom via SketchUp.

20. 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. Last year I made a rug and a project table. What will I find this year?
Check out: Christmas Tags (a little ahead of the season), Tomato Soup Mac & Cheese, an Easter Centerpiece, Cork Trivets

21. The Entryway - A small area, but with three potential additions: 1) hooks along the wall for coats and scarves. 2) a bench for putting on our dancin' shoes before heading out the door. 3) a small table with an option to collect our junk mail, keys and such.
The church pew is here!

22. Learn how to sew - the sewing machine Bob's mom got us for Christmas a couple years ago sits forlornly in my Project Table shelves. But, come March, my Aunt Christine will be heading down for ScrapFest 2013 (check out the 2012 festivities when my crafty aunt, sister and I all get together) and she's going to impart some knowledge.

23. Do something with all those Yarn Balls - I have 150 from our wedding centerpieces. So far I have used 1 to create a cute felt owl. Now I have 149. All ideas are welcome. 

24. Pillows, pillows everywhere - It is a sad home indeed when you don't love any of your pillows. The couch pillows are flat and boring (and once so new and bright in this post!). Our bed pillows misshapen and unsupportive. It's time to upgrade.

25. The Laundry Room - like the Second Bathroom, this one takes a bit of doing. Our laundry room is less a room, and more a "large closet" but the walls go vertical forever so visions of a stacked washer and dryer and shelving as high as the eye can see for additional storage has had our wheels turning for quite some time. And, of course, we'll keep it classy with the cat litter box.

26. Build a hamper - this sort of goes along with the Laundry Room re-do, but our current method for collecting dirty clothes is by shoving a laundry basket in the corner of our bathroom. The cats have adopted this as their new bed. The idea is to use all of the wasted space against our bathroom wall and create an enclosed hamper with additional storage.

Professional and Personal Development
27. Start driving in the city - Okay, so you can drive to your sister's house in the suburbs. That don't impress me much! Yeah, yeah Shania - I hear what you're saying. It's time to get over the fear and start tackling city driving (=one way streets, parallel parking and crazy Chicago cab drivers!)

28. Volunteer once a month - Between dinners at Ronald McDonald House and a couple different Chicago Cares activities, it's just a matter of remembering to sign up months in advance!

29. Donate to 3 charities/fundraising activities - Lets help some people out in the things they are fighting for, or fighting against.
Supported Global Explorers Kids by going to a benefit fundraiser on a recent Friday night with friends.

30. Get better about birthdays - I'm not sure what happened. I used to be the one who always remembered a card, sent a gift at least a couple days in advance or generally kept your big day on my mind. 

31. Finish scrapbooks - I have kept scrapbook photo albums since freshman year of college (and scrapbooks in general since kindergarten) so it is a bit shameful that I haven't made my wedding scrapbook yet, let alone added any photos to the books since Christmas 2011. Yikes.
Almost done with the wedding book - but Michaels was out of the photo corners I like. Wah wah!

32. 80 blog posts - I have had a lackluster year in the post department - hopefully I can commit myself to at least a post a week and sometimes more to help keep the momentum up!

Money Matters
33. Have at least 2 "no-spend" weekends - I wrote about one of these a long time ago in this post. I came close last weekend, but we had a quick run to Whole Foods which bumped us up to $30. It is amazing the dent it helps take out of our credit card bill when we decide against a drive to the suburbs for the day which results in going out for lunch, hitting up the stores, etc.
Almost made one of these work...and then I went to Benetton Friday after work and spent $100. Still on the list...

34. Achieve money goals - Bob and I set up a somewhat lofty savings goal for our first two years of marriage (you know, to prepare for....well, whatever might come next after love and marriage!) Let's stick with it Kamicars!

35. Sell those blocks - I recently set up my Etsy shop for my Every Holiday Blocks. I am not sure how much like hotcakes they'll sell, but let's at least try to get them to sell like the tiny pancakes you make with that little bit of extra batter.
3/17 - 2 sold!

36. Donate at least 1 bag of clothes - I think I do a good job regularly purging my closet, so keep it up. Bonus: this means more room for new clothes that you like to wear!


36.5 The Standard Goal: Be a terrific Auntie to the best girls around! And a good wife, a good daughter, a good sister, a good co-worker, a good friend. . . .

Monday, May 27, 2013

Filed Away

This Memorial Day weekend, I knew I wanted to tackle at least one organization project. So in between grilling out and Arrested Development Season 4 episodes, I tore apart the second bedroom and Bob's file cabinet to lend a little filing his way.

Years ago I created a filing system for myself with colored hanging folders and a double stack of plastic file cabinets from Office Max. (here's a post about getting that back in shape after a few years of neglect.) I never really needed the second one though, so after moving in with the boy it became home to his documents. To his credit, there were manila folders within his hanging folders for many of his areas (ie. taxes, family stuff, utilities), but the cabinet ended up getting so stuffed that we had nowhere to put any new papers that came his way. So, with his permission, I dove into the cabinet and a few additional stacks that had built up over the months and spent the last two days organizing Bob, 2003-2013.

I forgot to take a before picture of the super full file cabinet, but here's a shot after I unloaded everything initially.
Just a couple hours later, individual piles for each subject area had begun to spring up all around the room. 
After making an assessment of all categories and what we could combine, a quick trip to Target loaded us up on new file folders to help finish the job and make it match it's top twin. I wished the new folders had colored name tags like my first set had, but alas, it was clear all the way. In the end, we shredded a lot, combined some areas (my electric bills + his electric bills = our electric bills), and took a few trips down memory lane.
With the organizing bug in full force, I finally took a good look at the accordion filer that I keep scrap paper, stickers and crafty goodness in. 
Unfortunately, the thing has become a catch all over the last couple years and was extremely disorganized. Even I was surprised at how much came out once I emptied it:
I decided to go in a different direction and use up a few of the blue boxes leftover from my wedding centerpieces. Christmas stuff went in one box, odds and ends like felt flowers, bits of paper and googly eyes ended up in another, and "kidstuff" was a catch all for stickers and pieces that were great for niece projects and cards for kids. 
A much thinner plastic folder is now being used to hold things that were more in the 8 1/2 x 11 category and wouldn't fit in a blue box. These fit nicely on the closet shelf alongside the plastic carriers of 12 x 12 scrapbook paper. Without a label maker to my name, glittery stickers left over from my Every Holiday Blocks proved useful to label the boxes. 
Cleaning out the second bedroom also meant organizing underneath the computer desk - we had no less than three old laptops stacked up with various cords strewn about. Time to set those aside for a trip to the Best Buy in the sky....It's finally a clear space for our feet!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chef's Choice

Last week on the train ride home from work, I was thisclose to convincing myself to stop off for take out before it suddenly dawned on me I had all the makings of a Chef's Salad.

This is one of those meals that always reminds me of my childhood. We'd grab oversized bowls usually meant for mixing or serving and fill them to the brim with iceberg lettuce, hard boiled egg, cheese, tomato and slices of whatever lunchmeat we happened to have handy at the time.

A quick text to my partner in crime, and this dinner was going to be created in short order. Bob was kind enough to start the chopping, dicing and frying of bacon before I walked in the door. I stopped at the little market to grab an avocado, because everything tastes better with an avocado and the creaminess it added meant I didn't even need to add a dressing. 
Incidentally, the reason I had so many of the right ingredients was because of another old favorite we had made the prior weekend. In my family, Sundays meant watching the Green Bay Packers and making sub sandwiches for lunch. We'd pick up a big french loaf and "build our own." Sandwiches really are some of the best things on earth. With my sister's family over for a visit, I figured this would be an easy to please meal. But even I was surprised when my ultra-picky four year old niece declared it, "the best lunch."

We kept it pretty traditional with deli ham and turkey, muenster and provolone cheeses, thinly sliced tomato, avocado (there it is again!), and lettuce. I I don't always like the taste of mayo, so I decided to change up the spread option by mixing cream cheese with a sprinkling of dry ranch dressing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Fennel Countdown

Our credit card statement is in amazing shape this month, partially because of us not making a big grocery trip since early April. On the downside, we haven't made a big grocery trip since early April. This means dinners have been a bit random as of late, including more take out than we're used to having or rifling through the cupboards trying to come up with something of interest.

I forced myself to make a grocery list last weekend and to find a few new meals to focus on over these next couple weeks. Flipping through an insert that has been arriving with my Martha Stewart Living subscription the last two months, a recipe for prosciutto-wrapped chicken caught my eye. We have a good amount of chicken in the freezer, thanks to recent "buy one get one" offer so this seemed like a good one to take advantage of. Although, let's be honest, the recipe had me at "prosciutto-wrapped!" 

The recipe itself called for a whole chicken, but our chicken breasts would work just as well. 

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Fennel
1 whole chicken (or equivalent chicken breasts)
4 oz prosciutto
1 large Fuji apple, cored and cut into 8 slices
1 fennel bulb, cut into 1/2 inch wedges
1 bunch leeks (about 3), cut into 1/2 inch slices
salt and pepper
2 Tbs olive oil plus 1 tsp olive oil
10 Sage leaves

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Salt and pepper the chicken, then cover with overlapping prosciutto slices, tucking underneath. Toss apple slices, leeks and fennel with 2 Tbs olive oil and salt and pepper, line the pan alongside the chicken. Toss sage leaves with remaining 1 teaspoon oil and place atop the chicken. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until chicken is done.
We got everything set on the pan, and looked at each other like, "so that's it?" It was such an easy meal to pull together we had to re-check the recipe to make sure we weren't skipping a step!

I will admit to making a common Lydia Mistake: when I wrote out my grocery list, I wasn't as specific with some of the areas as I should have been, so ended up coming home with one leek instead of a bunch of three. Oops! I tend to do the same thing with dairy products - I'll write down heavy cream but then not know which size container to buy once I am staring at the options in the grocery store aisle. 
I love these "one pan" meals - the vegetables and apples made a great side for the chicken, and I think Bob and I have a newfound love of fennel. Who knew? Plus, did I mention "prosciutto-wrapped?"
*This blog post's title is a subtle ode to Arrested Development coming back to us! I hope the Netflix servers are prepared for the streaming overload sure to take place after May 26th!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Closet is Experiencing Layoffs

One of my goals for the year was to donate at least 1 bag of clothes. I'll see your one bag and raise you another. 
A few weekends ago I stared into the abyss that is my clothes closet and decided to do a purge. The deciding factors in getting rid of an item:
1. Haven't worn it in a year (dresses can be the exception)
2. I wear it, but don't like how it fits/how I look in it.

I would say I do this type of purge about once a year, but typically only focus on deciding factor #1. By being honest with myself about what I don't feel good in, it certainly limits the items of clothing I'll have to work with, but also forces to me to lose all that dead weight. A couple pieces that survived the last two purges finally saw themselves shoved in a bag.
I waited until the start of the spring/summer season to take on this activity so that I was able to take a good look at the sweaters I was about to pack away. Some I hadn't touched all winter, some I avoid wearing because they are stretched out or too pilly. As the survivors got packed away and the shorts and polos came out, I gave the summer clothes a yay or nay before it got hung up/put in the drawer.

Most of these items of clothing can be donated, but a few are too ragged to justify giving to Goodwill. We found a site to mail in old jeans to be recycled that we need to take advantage of.

In the end, I "laid off":
3 skirts
2 hoodies
11 tops
5 cardigans
9 sweaters
1 blazer
4 jackets (I let the coat closet get in on the action)

This freed up about 25 hangers. I'm sure they'll make their way back to the rack eventually, and so until another purge....
Of course, the news isn't all grim. New closet entries include colorful ankle pants from The Limited, a threesome of Benetton sweaters, light enough for spring but heavy enough for our air conditioned office, and a couple more work tops that force me to step out of my Cotton Comfort Zone.

What's new in your closet? Are you good about replacing or are are you continually "adding to?"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pinterest Project: Christmas in May

As if I needed an excuse to get crafty. 

Young House Love issued another seasonal Pinterest Challenge along with Bower Power,  Sparkle Meets Pop and Red Bird Blue. (Links go to their projects!) I looked over some recent pins and landed on a not-so-seasonal decision for this weekend's project: Christmas present gift tags!
For years I created a wrapping paper theme for each year (check them out here), but after seeing red in 2010, I decided to simplify matters and stock up on brown kraft paper from Staples. I was sold after spending $5 on a giant roll and bought two more for the next holiday season. So now the key is to jazz up the brown paper in different ways each year. Here's a pin I'm keeping on hand for future reference: making it look like mail.
The last two years I used my alphabet stamps to apply the to/from directly onto the paper., but I think I'm ready for a change....
I have tackled tags a few times over the years - my Aunt Christine serves as an inspiration as she makes some pretty cool ones out of rubber stamps and paper goods. A couple examples from an Easter themed craft day:
Speaking of red, a quick shot of the tags from 2010 - definitely heavy on the stamp ink usage!
Two years ago, I created a set as a thank you gift for a friend, with generic tags, congratulations tags, birthday tags and more.
This time around, I used this pin's comment to drive the project: "Old Christmas Cards"
A quick trip to Michael's stocked me up with tags of different shades and sizes. I decided to start out making 20 Christmas tags, with at least another 20 to make over a future weekend. This still leaves another 40 tags to make non-holiday specific tags when the mood strikes!
The toughest part of this project? Remembering what holiday bin I put the bag full of old cards! I save all Christmas cards and many have come in handy over the years for display purposes. It also allows me to cheat and look like I have A LOT more friends who all send their cards out by the first week of December!
I sorted out the cards I couldn't bring myself to cut up, and then took to the scissors and glue dots with the ones that would make great tags.
Its amazing how my craft supplies can seem to explode all over the room...I finally brought myself to clean up three days later! That's the nice thing about having it all contained to a second bedroom that I can close the door to at the end of the day....
20 tags later:
To highlight a few favorites, this one was cut out of a piece of scrapbook paper, trimmed to size and glued over a tag that was dabbed with cranberry colored stamp ink.
A card that featured stand up reindeer when opened came in handy when I cut them out individually! There were more than a few tags like this snowman one that I covered completely with the card's design. One hole punch later and it was done-zo.
A few 3D elements were created with cards, stickers and raised double sided tape squares.
Another pin helped me solve the issue of where to store these new tags.
I ended up repurposing a tin that previously held a set of alphabet stamps I never use. The stamps got downgraded to a ziploc baggie and the tin got a facelift with scrapbook paper and some leftover letters from my Every Holiday Blocks.
The perfect size, with room for a few more - looks like "Tags 2: Electric Tagaloo" will be coming to a weekend near me soon.
On another note, we built the project table and I took over the second bedroom in order to avoid making the couch the craft workstation - I kept losing things between the cushions.
Yet, there is one thing I can't seem to avoid even with a dedicated space: "helpful" cats!
Later, Sonny expresses his joy in working on gift tags....
Okay, that's enough cat pictures for one post. What projects are you working on months ahead of time? Does reading this make you want to pop in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation like I almost did?